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As the wait for Major League Baseball to start playing in 2020 continues, there does appear to be a strong sense of hope there will be games played at some point.
Passan did note the optimism is guarded and loaded with caveats. And it seems all but certain this season, assuming it does happen, will be shorter than 162 games.
However, even a shortened season seems unlikely to have a significant impact on the order of things in your fantasy draft. There will be a shorter window for players who get off to slow starts to turn their season around, but for the most part, the best players will still be the best players.
Here’s a first-round mock draft for a 12-team standard league, as well as a look at which players are most likely to disappoint this season.
2020 Fantasy Mock Draft
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
3. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
6. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
7. Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
8. Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees
9. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
10. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
11. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
12. Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
2020 Fantasy Busts
Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros
One player who benefited from the season not starting on time was Justin Verlander. The American League Cy Young winner dealt with injuries during spring training and had groin surgery on March 17.
The procedure required him to miss six weeks. Whenever play resumes, it would be reasonable to expect he will be fully recovered to take the mound for Houston’s season opener.
Despite that hope, though, there are still reasons to think Verlander could be in line for regression in 2020. The eight-time All-Star was removed from a March 8 spring start against the New York Mets due to soreness in his triceps.
The triceps issue could merely be attributed to usual spring fatigue, but it’s also fair to note Verlander turned 37 in February. Even though he has seemed immortal, posting a 2.55 ERA and 590 strikeouts in 437 innings over the past two seasons, eventually age will catch up to him.
This isn’t to suggest Verlander will fall off the cliff in 2020. I would still bet on him being a top-15 fantasy pitcher, and Fantasy Pros has the right-hander ranked as the No. 5 starting pitcher, ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Jack Flaherty and Shane Bieber.
That trio can’t match Verlander’s career resume, but all three feel like safer bets at this point to produce at a higher level.
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun hasn’t had a late-career spike like Verlander, but the former National League MVP did have a solid 2019 that provided some hope he can be a fantasy starter again.
In 144 games last season, he posted a .285/.343/.505 slash line with 22 home runs, 75 RBI and 11 stolen bases. His average on-base percentage, slugging percentage and homer total were his highest since 2016.
Digging deeper into the numbers, though, suggests Braun was playing over his head. The six-time All-Star had his highest batting average on balls in play (.325) since 2016, despite posting the second-lowest walk rate (6.7 percent) and third-highest strikeout rate (20.7 percent) of his career.
Last season also marked the first time since 2015 that he was able to play in at least 140 games. He’s 36 years old, so betting on durability at this point in his career is a tall order.
Fantasy Pros has Braun ranked as the 61st-best outfielder this season, but he’s still ahead of more intriguing options such as Cincinnati Reds top prospect Nick Senzel (No. 64), Hunter Renfroe of the Tampa Bay Rays (No. 68) and Corey Dickerson of the Miami Marlins (No. 71).
Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
Adalberto Mondesi is an interesting fantasy player because the only tool he has that makes an impact is speed. The Kansas City Royals shortstop tied for the MLB lead with 10 triples and finished second with 43 stolen bases last season.
Aside from that ability to create plays on the bases, he doesn’t offer much of anything else. He had a .263/.291/.424 slash line with nine home runs in 102 games in 2019. There was some hope the 24-year-old was evolving after 2018 when he hit .276/.306/.498 with 14 homers in 75 games.
Based on ZiPS model (h/t FanGraphs), Mondesi projects to see another reduction in his overall production in 2020 with a .249/.285/.423 slash line.
The system has him hitting 14 homers and stealing 42 bases, but that was factoring in a 162-game schedule. Playing a reduced schedule will significantly impact his overall value more than a lot of players because he doesn’t hit for power or get on base.
Fantasy Pros has Mondesi ranked as the No. 9 shortstop, ahead of Manny Machado (No. 10; also eligible at third base), Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien and Tim Anderson.
Those players are much better hitters than Mondesi has ever been in MLB. Thinking he will continue to hit for enough average to utilize that speed on the bases is a long shot.