KEEPERS: 2020 Building Blocks—SS

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 if left-handed hitter (*) or switch-hitter (#).

We will attempt to identify top building targets within 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

 

This week we finish our look at the infield as we examine the shortstop position.

 

CORNERSTONES

Wander Franco# (19, TAM) – Though still likely more than a year away from making his big league debut, as the consensus number-one prospect in the game by virtually every prospect ranking source, Franco must be considered as a Cornerstone-caliber keeper league acquisition. After spending the second half of 2019 posting a .339/.408/.464 line in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Franco could begin 2020 in double-A, though it will be up to the often conservative Rays as to how quickly they push the very refined youngster. In addition to plus bat and foot speed, young Franco possesses remarkable control of the strike zone. He has walked (83) more than he has struck out (54) in both of his professional seasons. Lack of a spot on the 40-man roster is another hurdle that Franco will need to overcome in order to make a 2020 impact, though a hot first half could conceivably leave him ready to make the jump. How soon he gets the chance will come down to the combination of if the Rays find themselves both in pennant contention and in need of reinforcements.

Bo Bichette (22, TOR) – A sparkling debut has him lined up to be one of the top shortstops in the game during the decade of the '20s. Possessing power and speed, combined with an excellent approach at the plate, Bichette has the makings of a five-category fantasy contributor. Even with the fantasy shortstop pool looking as deep as ever, Bichette deserves strong consideration as a primary piece in the building of a juggernaut.


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BUILDING BLOCKS

C.J. Abrams* (19, SD) – The sixth overall selection in the 2019 draft, Abrams began his career by dominating the Arizona Rookie League to the tune of a ridiculous .401/.442/.662 line while swiping 14 bases in only 32 games. While the hitting and running were expected, the ability of the sweet-swinging youngster to drive the ball was an exciting development. With speed to burn and a strong arm, some feel he could eventually end up in center field. Though Abrams is a long way from the big leagues at this point, he will be worth tracking and getting on a dynasty roster whenever is appropriate for your league format.

Royce Lewis (21, MIN) – While the toolsy, athletic Lewis continues to be considered an elite prospect by most all evaluators, cracks have slowly begun to show in his profile. For one thing, he has posted a subpar combined .241/.300/.379 line between high-A and double-A over the past year-and-a-half. Lewis had a redemptive 22 games in the Arizona Fall League following the 2019 season, which apparently has most analysts overlooking the 173-game “sample” he has compiled since his 2018 mid-season promotion from the Midwest League. Most concerning of all is a contact rate that has been steadily sliding toward red-flag levels at every stop actually sunk to new lows (74.1%) during his status-saving AFL campaign. For genetic biomechanical reasons, "quick-twitch" right-handed hitters with plus bat speed are especially vulnerable to off-speed pitches and breaking balls. This Achilles heel is magnified when they have “moving parts in their swing.” Sure enough, Lewis, who has all of those characteristics, struggled to a miserable .211/.271/.331 line versus right-handed pitching in 2019. He is still young and has enough speed and power potential to dream on, but a rough start to 2020 could signal that higher level pitching is going to be something of a problem.

Carter Kieboom (22, WAS) – An underwhelming cup of coffee in the big leagues after hitting a game-tying home run in his first game may leave Kieboom as something of a post-hype sleeper heading into 2020. Aside from his 12-day run in the majors, however, Kieboom was performing quite well, putting up a .303/.409/.493 line as the youngest hitter in the offense-friendly PCL. While he only hit 16 home runs with the MRB (Manfred Rabbit Ball), Kieboom’s all-fields line-drive approach portends solid production at the next level. He does strike out a fair amount, but his walk rate rebounded from a concerning dip at double-A in 2018. A shortstop exclusively through 2018, Kieboom played 41 games at second and another ten at third in 2019 and will reportedly get a good look all around the infield in spring training. Trea Turner currently has shortstop locked down for the Nationals, but Kieboom could force his way into the picture at second or third with a strong spring. The smart money, however, has him returning to triple-A until early May, allowing Washington to gain another year of control. After that point, Kieboom stands to be a solid fantasy contributor in virtually every area except steals.

 

SUPPORT PIECES

Nico Hoerner (23, CHC) – Looked more than ready during earlier-than-expected major league debut last September. Hitting for average will be his chief fantasy skill, with a handful of steals mixed in. While he hit three home runs in 78 September at-bats with the Cubs, his three in 268 ABs in double-A are probably a better measure of his power potential, though it seems anything is possible with the magic MRB. While he likely qualifies at shortstop in most formats going into 2020, Hoerner should quickly gain eligibility at second base, where he is slated to begin the season in the Cubs starting lineup.

Willy Adames (24, TAM) – Sophomore season may be viewed as something of a disappointment as he saw declines in both BA and OBP. A look under the hood, however, reveals gains in xBA, xPX, and contact rate. With other options at the position getting more hype, Adames could represent an underpriced asset with some upside potential as he continues to play virtually every day for the Rays.

Luis Garcia* (20, WAS) – Rated as Building Block status in this column last year, Garcia’s stock is dropping not because he can’t become a solid big league player, but due to his lack of meaningful power or speed. Though he didn’t drown as the youngest hitter (by 15 months!) in double-A, there was not much in Garcia’s .257/.280/.337 line or 11 stolen bases to get excited about. In addition, his persistent struggles versus lefties are becoming a concern. Garcia has posted a combined .235/.264/.300 line against same-handed pitching over his three pro seasons, though his .248/.283/.315 mark in 2019 was his best yet, even as he posted his worst marks versus righties. The youthful Garcia remains worth tracking, but his limited fantasy upside is becoming more apparent.

Jorge Mateo (25, OAK) – With speed to burn, Mateo offers theoretical big-time SB upside that is undermined by two giant hurdles. For one thing, he is stuck in an organization that historically detests the risks of giving away outs on the bases as much as any. While the possibility of a trade to a new organization could provide hope, it won’t eliminate the larger issue in that Commissioner Gimmickfred has not legalized stealing first base. Yet. While his MRB-aided .289/.330/.504 line at triple-A in 2019 may elicit hope, Mateo’s contact rate remained awful (73%) for a third straight year. Out of options, but with a chance to compete for the A’s open second base job, something’s gotta give. Mateo is a long-shot lottery ticket.

Willi Castro# (23, DET) – Switch-hitter with above average speed and minimal power who earned a promotion to Detroit following a solid summer in which he appeared to break out with a .301/.366/.467 line at triple-A. However, a subpar approach plagued by low contact and walk rates effectively undermines any upside. He will get a chance to win the starting shortstop job for the tanking Tigers this spring, but his head-ducking ceiling dims any reasonable fantasy enthusiasm.

 

DON'T FORGET ABOUT...

Luis Urias (23, MIL) – Former heralded prospect has performed so poorly at the plate during big league opportunities over the past two years that he may be an afterthought in many leagues. With a fresh start after a trade to Milwaukee, playing in a much better home park for hitters, Urias makes for a cheap and potentially useful post-hype target. While he has struggled when called to the majors, his minor league numbers have remained strong, even adding 19 bombs in 73 PCL games hitting the MRB last summer. Especially in OBP leagues, but even in conventional leagues using BA, Urias has upside, as he projects to get a great opportunity to earn playing time with the Brewers.


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