Now that the Super Bowl has concluded, it's time to start looking towards Spring, which means baseball is right around the corner.
The hot corner to be exact.
The return of the MLB also means that it's time to start doing your research for your fantasy baseball league. We will get what should feel more like a normal baseball season in 2021 after the truncated 2020 campaign, which saw the L.A. Dodgers defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. We saw some star players deal with some significant struggles in 2020, including recently traded third baseman, Nolan Arenado, who will hope to rebound in his new home of Saint Louis this year.
Yadi says he's been friends with Nolan Arenado for a while now ("I've been talking to him since the two years") and… https://t.co/Zs9GhbvJP3— FOX Sports Midwest (@FOX Sports Midwest) 1612917074.0
It is difficult, however. to hold any poor performances against any player considering the length of the season and the conditions they were playing under. As we know, baseball is a game of hot steaks and cold streaks and considering the MLB only played 60 regular season games last year, nearly two-thirds of the season wasn't played. Players can go through a cold streak of that length and then turn it around in the second half of the season.
We have seen perennial MVP candidate, Jose Ramirez do just that in 2019. In the first half of the 2019 season Ramirez hit for just .218, seven home runs, and 35 runs batted in over 85 games. After the all-star break Ramirez slashed .327, 16 home runs, and 48 runs batted in over 44 games.
The Cleveland Indians a 9-2 winner over KC today. Jose Ramirez 2 HR. The feel good story is Cookie 🍪 Carrasco’s ret… https://t.co/bfQfYfGKdJ— Tom Brunswick (@Tom Brunswick) 1595796385.0
As fantasy managers we know that talent always shines through, so there will certainly be some players to target in your upcoming fantasy baseball drafts that may slip farther than they should based on last year's stats. Don't be the one that loses out on a league winner because of one down year.
Let's look at three players looking to have big bounce back seasons in 2021 that should help you win your league this season.
J.D. Martinez Boston Red Sox DH
So this is the lowest hanging fruit here. Martinez had a flat out terrible 2020. J.D. hit just .217 with seven homers and 27 RBI over 54 games. The entire Red Sox organization felt off last year, and Martinez may have been the biggest example of that. Usually one of the most consistent power hitters in the game, and someone that was coming off draft boards in the first three rounds of drafts last year, was possibly the biggest fantasy disappointment in baseball in 2020.
JD Martinez when he sees this news https://t.co/vbmDYg6bE3 https://t.co/yG7RlEgxSu— Fitzy Mo Peña (@Fitzy Mo Peña) 1612883114.0
In 2019 Martinez hit for .306, 34 HR, and 105 RBI. In 2018 he slashed a line of .330, 43 HR, and 130 RBI and finished fourth in the American League in MVP voting. Boston's roster isn't quite as good as it was during those years, but they do still have Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers to help provide some protection in the lineup for their DH. Considering Martinez is a power hitter that you can likely grab in rounds 6-8 this offseason, if you are lacking power after your first few picks J.D. Martinez will be worth adding in the mid rounds.
Joey Gallo Texas Rangers OF/1B
Gallo has always been a polarizing commodity when it comes to fantasy baseball. His power has always been undeniable, but his batting average has never topped .253 in a season. In 2020 Gallo still wasn't able to hit for average, but his power also betrayed him leaving him with a final line of .181, 10 HR, and 26 RBI in 57 games. This has caused Gallo to be all but forgotten about until the end of drafts heading into 2021.
Kris Davis & Joey Gallo in the same lineup👀 https://t.co/XFXFHH4XqL— Uncle Jay$ell (@Uncle Jay$ell) 1612646139.0
But if you go back to the 2019 season, Gallo was having another fantastic power hitting season and was on pace to have his best statistical season before a wrist injury ended his season halfway through the season in July. Gallo had a .986 OPS, 22 HR and 49 RBI through 70 games before hitting the injured reserve list. Now you can't ever expect Gallo to become a .300 hitter, but at just 27 years old, you should expect Gallo to return to his home run hitting ways before this season is over.
Gallo is projected beyond the tenth round in most formats currently, and if you target him around there you can stack up on pitching or focus on filling out other stat categories with other players before snagging your power hitter in Gallo late.
Carlos Carrasco New York Mets SP
Carrasco will likely be drafted ahead of the other two players on this list, but depending on who's in your league and the depth of their baseball IQ, Carrasco could also fall a lot farther than he should be in this year's draft. If you remember, Carrasco dealt with battling leukemia in 2019 while he was with the Cleveland Indians. He returned in 2020 and started 12 games, going 3-4 with 82 Ks and a 2.91 ERA.
Now with the New York Mets, Carrasco will be behind Jacob deGrom and ahead of Marcus Stroman in the rotation. Last season we saw Carrasco pitch beyond the sixth inning in nine of his 12 starts, which is important as his stamina and effectiveness were in question once he returned.
He's always been a work horse pitcher that is expected to carry a big innings workload, so to see he was able to do that in short order after his return gave the Mets confidence to sign him, and it should give you confidence he will flourish in this new rotation.
Look I get the frustration to a point, anyway, but any offseason where you add Francisco Lindor AND Carlos Carrasco… https://t.co/Jrwj5m7qgM— Christopher Crawford (@Christopher Crawford) 1612557689.0
Not only do the Mets have a formidable rotation, but they have a dangerous lineup and the addition of Carrasco's former teammate in Cleveland, Francisco Lindor, gives the Mets a middle of the lineup that includes Lindor, Michael Conforto, and Pete Alonso. The Padres, Dodgers, and Cardinals have all considerable improvements as well this offseason, and the NL will be hotly contested. But if you want to run away with your fantasy league, drafting Carrasco to be your first or second pitcher will help get you there.
With baseball set to begin activities later this month, the 2020 season will be unique as the shortened season will certainly have an affect on players from a fantasy perspective.
With fewer games to dig themselves out of slumps, the players that will flourish this year will be ones in good situations provide plenty of opportunity for production. Also, players that have the tendency to show levels of consistency will be important to fantasy baseball managers this season. The following are some players coming off of poor 2019 campaigns and that are being undervalued because of it from a fantasy perspective.
Khris Davis—Oak OF/DH
Davis' first three seasons with the A's were fantastic displays of power and about as consistent as you could want from any fantasy player. From 2016-2018, Davis managed to slightly improve upon his fantasy production maintaining an average of 44.3 home runs, 112 runs batted in, and an OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) of .857. 2019 was a down year in every offensive category (except base on balls) since joining Oakland, highlighted by his paltry .681 OPS which was .170 points lower than his career average before last season. Davis has never been a player that hits for a high average so the .221 he put up last year wasn't as concerning as the drop in OPS which is an indicator that a player is hitting for power and producing runs.
The good news for fantasy owners is that Khris Davis is one of the most likely bounce back candidates in the fantasy baseball landscape heading into the shortened 2020 season and he will be coming at a deep discount. Considering Davis' appeal is largely centered around his home run ability, and that 2019 was the first season in his career that that number didn't increase, it's very likely that we will see his counting stats improve as he rediscovers his power swing this season.
Justin Upton—LAA OF
Upton enters this season coming off an injury riddled 2019 campaign where a toe sprain kept him out to start the year and patellar tendinitis ended it early. Once he was back Upton struggled to return to form as he was tasked with being the sole protection for Mike Trout in the lineup as Shohei Ohtani and Tommy La Stella dealt with their own injuries throughout the year. Upton has never been exceptional but he has always been consistent. With a career .266 batting average and 30 home run potential, Upton will benefit from a healthy Ohtani and La Stella in the lineup. One of the biggest offseason transactions was the Angels' addition of third baseman Anthony Rendon from the Washington Nationals who finished 3rd in NL MVP voting last year. With Trout, Rendon, and Ohtani expected to bat ahead of Upton in the lineup, there is a lot of potential for RBI production especially if he can hit for power. You would have to think that the lower body injuries last year affected Upton's swing, so if he can enter 2020 healthy keep him on your draft radar as he could be a steal as your third outfielder.
Matt Carpenter—STL 3B/DH*
Matt Carpenter is a bit of a fantasy enigma in the sense that he has consistently been a positive contributor for fantasy owners while never excelling in any one category outside of the outlier of 36 home runs in 2018. But he manages to continue to make an impact in multiple categories by being a patient hitter that can draw walks and knock a few out of the park. Carpenter even set a career high in stolen bases last season at age 33, swiping 6 bases in 7 attempts.
There are certainly question marks entering 2020 as we saw his batting average drop 43 points below his career average and 21 less home runs in 2019. Add to that Carpenter is 34 and it almost sounds like I'm trying to talk you out of drafting him. But a wrinkle to the shortened season is that the MLB is instituting a universal DH rule this season to allow National League teams to utilize a DH for the first time in league history. Carpenter projects to be the primary DH for the Cardinals and by limiting him to only offensive duties, it may be enough to keep him healthy and focused on bringing his average back up which would help his overall fantasy production. If you can stash Carpenter as a bench player, he could get hot in a short season and help get you to your fantasy postseason.
Starlin Castro—WSH 2B
It feels like Castro shouldn't be on a list like this as he had one of his best fantasy seasons of his career in 2019. But playing for Miami provides little exposure on a national stage and his solid .270/22/86 slash line flew under the radar while being quite impressive fantasy production in that Marlins' lineup. Fast forward to 2020 and he is going to be batting in the heart of the reigning World Series Champion Washington Nationals' lineup. Projected to be hitting third and protected by Juan Soto hitting clean up, Castro can easily improve his counting stats across the board. Castro's ADP is surprisingly 247 according to Fantasydata.com which is way too late for a second baseman with the upside Castro enters 2020 with. Feel free to draft Starlin Castro above his current ADP, I would feel comfortable with him as my everyday starting second baseman. A lot of the guys in front of him in ADP are younger players that haven't shown they can consistently perform at the MLB level (Keston Hiura, Cavan Biggio) and in a short season those guys could struggle more than a veteran like Castro.