KEEPERS: 2020 Building Blocks—OF (AL)

We continue our annual off-season series focused on helping keeper league and dynasty owners identify useful targets that may be available in the current off-season. Each week we examine a different position, looking for players (“pieces”) that have potential to be solid parts in the construction of a winning fantasy franchise. We group them under three general designations:

CORNERSTONES – Premium quality franchise difference-makers, essential to the foundation of a true dynasty juggernaut. These pieces are top priority acquisitions, either by draft or trade.

BUILDING BLOCKS – High quality players with potential to be solid elements of a winning core. Desirable pieces that should be targeted as part of the ongoing championship franchise building process.

SUPPORT PIECES – More interchangeable lower grade parts that may provide help in a specific category or offer a lower ceiling than more desirable foundation pieces.

Players are listed with 2020 season age and major league organization, along with a designation for left-handed hitter (*) or switch-hitter (#).

We will attempt to identify top building targets who may be available by using the following criteria:

  • ​Will play majority of 2020 season at 25 years old or younger (25 as of July 1, 2020)
  • Earned less than $10 in standard 5x5 roto in 2019
  • Reasonably projected to be MLB-ready at some point during 2020 season (may extend time horizon for Cornerstones)

Please see the Organization Reports in our Scouting section for more detailed, team-by-team analysis on prospects discussed here. Also, from time to time there may be slight differences between evaluations offered in this series and in our Organization Reports. Use that as your reminder that evaluations can differ. For each individual roster decision, you must factor in your specific team needs and goals.

Previous articles in this series:  C  |  1B  |  2B  |  3B  |  SS  |  OF (NL)

 

This week we complete our look at the hitters by examining outfielders in the American League.

 

CORNERSTONES

Julio Rodriguez (19, SEA) – Aggressively started in full-season A-ball upon his pro stateside debut, Rodriguez was unfazed, posting a strong .293/.359/.490 line that prompted a promotion to an even higher level. He finished the regular season with 17 games in the high-A California League, where the youngster put up a sparkling .462/.514/.739 line, followed by a fine .288/.397/.365 line as the youngest hitter in the Arizona Fall League. If ever a phenom looked like he could vault to the big leagues quickly, it’s this guy. With power to all fields and solid splits, Rodriguez is quickly emerging as a premium investment.

Jo Adell (21, LAA) – The anticipation of Adell’s major league arrival may approach Vlad Junioresque levels if he gets off to a good start in spring training, as his mouth-watering multi-category upside elicit dreams of fantasy greatness, even as issues making contact remain. Adell's splits are solid versus both right and left-handed pitching, which is a good sign. Even his swing-and-miss has been balanced, as Adell has an identical 71.9-percent contact rate against both righties and lefties over his three professional seasons. He improved using the whole field in 2019, especially against same-handed pitching, providing encouragement that he will improve his contact rate as he continues to mature. While calls for his debut may increase, Adell is not on the 40-man roster and could legitimately use some more time at triple-A following a somewhat underwhelming month there at the end of 2019. A good spring, however, could put him in line for a quick promotion.

Jarred Kelenic (20, SEA) – Acquired from the Mets in last winter's Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade, Kelenic rocketed from A-ball to double-A in his first full pro season. A polished approach combined with a compact, line-drive swing give Kelenic an excellent foundation as he develops his power. Complemented by plus speed on the bases, Kelenic offers true five-category fantasy upside. He will likely return to double-A, where he only played 21 games last season, and will likely not debut until sometime in 2021, but will be worth hanging onto until then.

Luis Robert (22, CHW) – Ballyhooed power-speed prospect put together a fine 2019 campaign, with a .328/.376/.624 line across three levels, culminated by pounding the MRB (Manfred Rabbit Ball) for 16 home runs in only 47 games at triple-A. The only blemish on Robert's game as he prepares to make his major league debut is his elite bat-to-ball skills are compromised by struggles with breaking pitches. With the MRB driving an analytics push to discourage big league pitchers from “challenging” hitters with fastballs, it bears watching to see if that chink in the armor suddenly becomes Robert’s kryptonite at the major league level. Regardless, Robert recently agreed to a six-year $50 million guaranteed contract that virtually guarantees he will be in the major league Opening Day lineup, starting in center field.

 

BUILDING BLOCKS

Kyle Tucker* (23, HOU) – A slow start to the season saw Tucker stuck at triple-A for the bulk of the summer, but he finally found enough success at the big league level following his September recall to be included on the post-season roster. While Tucker’s power-speed package grew to the 30/30 level in 2019 at triple-A, his chances to run in what has been a relatively station-to-station-type organization are in question. Though he is slotted behind starters at every outfield position plus DH heading into camp, Tucker has a chance to open some eyes of the new management team with a strong spring. Thirty-three-year-old Josh Reddick would seem to be especially vulnerable in right field. Now could be your last chance to grab Tucker on the cheap.

Alex Kirilloff* (22, MIN) – Top prospect suffered through something of a lost season in 2019 as a mysterious wrist injury not only gave him a late start, but caused his mechanics to get out of whack, leading to subpar production after his return to action. Kirilloff did post a .309/.352/.480 line over his last 60 games, including the post-season, so he will look to come back strong this spring. One concern is that his medical file is getting thicker with the wrist issue added to 2017 Tommy John surgery. The injuries plus rumors of a move to first base where he played 35 games in 2019 see him dropping down a notch from his previous Cornerstone status.

Josh Lowe* (22, TAM) – A power-speed type player with a solid all-fields approach, Lowe spent the entire 2019 season at double-A, finishing with a strong .333/.383/.621 line over the final month. Because he is not yet on the 40-man roster, Lowe should be expected to spend most, if not all of 2020 at triple-A for the methodical-minded Rays. Even with Kevin Kiermaier under contract for three more years, Lowe stands to force his way into the Rays outfield picture by 2021 at the latest.

Trevor Larnach* (23, MIN) – All he does is hit. That used to be considered a compliment, but in the MRBLA (Manfred Rabbit Ball Launch Angle) Era, we all want more. Larnach possesses plus power, but his all-fields approach has led to merely solid offensive production. Though his contact rate slipped to concerning levels in 2019, it is offset by a consistently solid Eye. Perhaps he was consciously going deeper in the count hunting a pitch to drive? Larnach reached double-A in his first full pro season and is on track to be big league ready in the next year. Though he could be big league ready by some point in 2020, his debut will most likely come midway through 2021, based on current outfield depth in Minnesota plus his non-roster status.

 

SUPPORT PIECES

Austin Hays (24, BAL) – The Orioles supposed starting right fielder following a meteoric rise to the big leagues in 2017, Hays was beset by shoulder soreness the following spring and was sent to the minors where he remained until finally returning with a bang as a 2019 September call-up. While the .309/.373/.574 line he posted in Baltimore is likely not sustainable, based on his minor league track record, Hays is in line to open 2020 as the O’s starting center fielder.

Jake Fraley* (25, SEA) – Beset by myriad injuries since being selected by Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2016 draft, Fraley was dealt to the Mariners following an abbreviated breakout 2018 season, opening a much quicker path to the big leagues. Sure enough, Fraley shot from double-A through triple-A to the majors during his first season in the Seattle organization. Unfortunately, he was bitten by the injury bug again, as sprained ligaments in his thumb cut short his audition. A conscious adjustment to his swing following the 2017 season has seen Fraley become much more capable of doing damage at the plate. Much better against righties the past two seasons and with predominantly pull-side power, he could be vulnerable to platoon work, but Fraley projects to play a major role as Seattle’s youth movement provides plenty of opportunity in 2020.

Leody Taveras# (21, TEX) – A switch-hitting power-speed prospect, Taveras has repeatedly underwhelmed as he has climbed the ladder. He now finds himself on the verge of triple-A and was added to the Rangers 40-man roster this off-season. While the speed has been there (32 SB in 2019), his paltry career .358 slugging percentage is the concern. His splits from both sides of the plate are fairly even, so no issue there. He uses the whole field well, but just does not hit the ball hard consistently. Perhaps the MRB will help him find his mojo. Having just turned 21 years old, Taveras could represent an interesting dynasty endgame stash with the hope that his power blossoms along with his manhood.

Victor Reyes# (25, DET) – A Rule 5 pick prior to the 2018 season, Reyes struggled at the plate as he was forced to stick in the big leagues for the entirety of the 2018 season. Once he got his feet on the ground at triple-A to begin 2019, however, Reyes bounced back showing a good line-drive stroke with the ability to add some steals. He may not provide much power, but appears in line for a starting job in the Detroit outfield with a chance to hit toward the top of the order.

Myles Straw (25, HOU) – How does a guy with no power but absolute blazing speed walk more than ten percent of the time he goes up to the plate? One would think that pitchers would be challenging him every single pitch, yet Straw has continually managed a high walk rate, even as he reached the big leagues for an extended stretch. With the ability to spray the ball around enough to hit for a respectable average, the combo gives the 5-foot-10 speedster enough opportunity to put his wheels to work, provided he gets a chance to play, and therein lies the fantasy conundrum. With the loaded Astros outfield, Straw’s chances look to be more limited than they might be on another club. However, he did increase his versatility last year, playing 56 games at shortstop and nine more at second base between triple-A and Houston. With now a multitude of paths to rack up bags, Straw is emerging as a potential sleeper SB source, even worth tracking in mixed league formats.

Daniel Johnson* (24, CLE) – A toolsy athlete who can run and throw, Johnson had a solid 2019, posting a .290/.361/.507 line between double-A and triple-A. While he has sufficient pull power, Johnson struggled on the bases, getting nabbed on 10 of 22 SB attempts in spite of his plus speed. In addition, his platoon splits have been fairly significant throughout his four-year pro career, which could leave him as more of an asset in fantasy formats with daily roster moves. Johnson was added to Cleveland’s 40-man roster this off-season and, with his ability to handle all three outfield positions capably, should be ready to contribute quickly.

Kyle Lewis (24, SEA) – Arrived in the majors as a September call-up and blasted home runs in his first three big league games. Lewis would hit six homers in all while posting a .268/.293/.592 line that belies an awful 59-percent contact rate and 0.10 Eye. His minor league resume is similarly underwhelming, not to mention an injury-prone history as a professional. The power is legit and he will get a chance this spring to build on his strong debut, but odds would seem to favor a low-BA, bottom of the order power source that puts long-term fantasy value at risk.

Daz Cameron (23, DET) – Considered a top Tigers prospect heading into 2019, Cameron lost some luster with a disappointing .214/.330/.377 line at triple-A. While he started the season reasonably strong, an 11-game .053/.140/.132 early June swoon put him in a funk from which he was never able to recover. The biggest issue is a history of subpar contact rates that dropped to an abysmal 66-percent in 2019. Twenty-one subsequent winter ball games in Puerto Rico that saw Cameron labor to a .205/.284/.370 line were no more reassuring. The solid power-speed combo remains interesting and Gold-Glove potential in center field provides sim league appeal, but the whiffs may well be his undoing. It is quite surprising, considering Cameron has what appears to be a solid all-fields approach. Because he draws a good number of walks, he may be well served by simply altering his approach to be more aggressive earlier in the count. (Is that still allowed?) Cameron was added to Detroit’s 40-man roster during this off-season, which leaves him on the short list of reinforcements when opportunity knocks, provided he shows himself ready for the challenge.

 

DON'T FORGET ABOUT...

Cedric Mullins* (25, BAL) – Baltimore’s 2019 Opening Day starter in center field, Mullins struggled so badly that he was demoted to triple-A and then double-A before finally regaining his footing. Unfortunately, part of the problem, at least initially, was an incredibly unlucky .113 batting average on balls in play over his 74 plate appearances in MLB. This may easily have sapped the youngster’s confidence prior to his first demotion. While Mullins will certainly be a forgotten man in fantasy circles this spring, it is worth noting that he remains on the 40-man roster of the Orioles. If he can show enough in spring training to make the club, Mullins still has enough speed (34-7 SB-CS in 2019) to be interesting, especially in AL-only formats.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.