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2020 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Late-Round Fliers & Upside Plays

As we all know, many aspects factor into being a successful fantasy baseball manager. Obviously, the first several rounds are highly important in establishing a solid core, but the late-rounds can be equally as important. And honestly, hitting on some late-round fliers and upside plays can be what separates the men and women from the boys and girls. The contenders from the pretenders. And this season, there are countless targets in the late-rounds that have value and/or upside written all over them. So much, in fact, that I had to split this into three articles (INF, OF, P) after originally planning on just one. Leading off, we have outfielders with plenty of power/speed targets after pick 200.

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Late-Round Fliers & Upside Plays: Outfielders

ADP Range: 200+

Nomar Mazara (OF – CHW)

Current ADP: Fantrax 240.4 | NFBC 246.5

For the longest time, I wasn’t a Nomar Mazara supporter. Far from it actually. It wasn’t entirely due to the player though. Mazara has some nice power upside but when he was being taken well within the top-100 players in drafts, I scoffed at that ADP like my children scoff at most things I try to feed them for dinner. But now that Mazara’s ADP is well outside the top-200, this is the time to pounce, especially now that he’s in a potentially loaded White Sox lineup. Roster Resource projects Mazara to hit 7th in the lineup, which usually isn’t overly ideal for fantasy value. However, that’s right behind Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, and Eloy Jimenez, right in front of Luis Robert, and eventually Nick Madrigal as well. That’s about as good of a lineup around you from the 7-hole as you can ask for.

With the modest ADP, Mazara has gone from annual disappointment to a potential value play in 2020. On the surface, 2019 was just another so-so season for Mazara, but when you dig deeper, you find some encouraging signs. First, his hard contact rate jumped 7.8%, his ISO from .178 to .200, and Mazara made major improvements against offspeed pitches. He still struggles against breaking pitches with a .255 wOBA in 2019, but the improvements against offspeed (changeup, splitter, etc) is encouraging. In addition, Mazara’s flyball rate rose from 26.6% to 32.7% last season. If he can sustain these gains and take another step forward in 2020, this ADP near 250 could easily wind up as a steal.

Alex Verdugo (OF – BOS)

Current ADP: Fantrax 254.3 | NFBC 221.9

This one is a no-brainer. Alex Verdugo is a trendy name right now after being the main piece of the return package going to Boston in the Mookie Betts deal. As I mentioned in my Betts trade analysis piece, Verdugo has never been the flashiest player around or a sexy prospect name. Sure, he’s been ranked fairly highly in the top-50 on many prospect rankings over the years, but as more of a floor guy than a high ceiling one. That all remains true as we enter 2020, but there’s a lot to like about Verdugo in Beantown and at this late-ADP as well.

Throughout his professional career, Verdugo has displayed a plus hit tool and a sound plate approach. In the minors, he hit .309 with an 11.4% walk rate and 13.7% strikeout rate. The walk rate in the Majors has dipped to 7.4% but that strikeout rate has remained right at 13.7% on the nose through 158 games. So at the very least, you can pencil in a solid batting average in the .280-.300 range for Verdugo this season. The rest of what he’ll bring to the table depends on a few things.

First, Verdugo is recovering from a stress reaction in his back which has put his availability for opening day in doubt. I’m sure Red Sox Nation will love having their Mookie Betts replacement start his Boston career on the IL. Beyond that, Verdugo’s place in the batting order is still up in the air. The Red Sox could hit him second due to his solid AVG/OBP potential or put Andrew Benintendi up there which would slot Verdugo likely in the 5-6 range. Both of these options are fine for his value, but it will change if he’s more of an RBI or runs scored threat this season.

Regardless, if we can get 500+ at-bats out of Vergudo once he’s back from his back injury at some point in April, a .290/15-20 HR line with 150 combined runs and RBI is within reach. That’s certainly a far cry from Betts’ territory, especially with minimal speed, but that type of line works just fine outside pick 200.

Sam Hilliard (OF – COL)

Current ADP: Fantrax 333.5 | NFBC 295.5

The Colorado Rockies have a chance to make up for a small portion of the frustrations they’ve caused me over the last two years with the likes of Garrett Hampson, Brendan Rodgers, and Ryan McMahon. Two of those three are still blocked, but now Sam Hilliard is banging on the door and Colorado better be ready to open that door and let him in. Will they? They should, but Charlie Blackmon is locked into one outfield spot and David Dahl, if healthy, should be locked into another. That leaves one spot for Hilliard to duke it out with Ian Desmond and maybe even Hampson in Spring Training.

The case for Hilliard is very simple. It’s an equation anyone can follow, even for those “I hate math” people out there.

Power + Speed + Coors Field = Good things for Fantasy Baseball.

See? Simple math right there. With a strong and athletic 6’5/240 frame, Sam Hilliard has shown off both plus power and plus speed throughout his minor league career, averaging 24 homers and 33 steals per every 150 games played. And during his time with Colorado last season, Hilliard had a 98th percentile sprint speed and a well-above-average 90.8 mph average exit velocity while swatting seven homers in 27 games. The strikeout woes and contact skills likely won’t lead to a batting average above the .250-.260 range, but this type of power and speed upside outside of pick 300 is a fantasy gold mine.

Teoscar Hernandez (OF – TOR)

Current ADP: Fantrax 350.1 | NFBC 376.0

There are a bunch of players that you can utter the phrase, “Well, if they just had a better plate approach, they’d really flourish.” That’s exactly the case here with Teoscar Hernandez. In just 125 games last season, Hernandez cranked 26 homers and added six steals for good measure. That’s a nice 33/8 150-game pace right there. But the problem is that a .230 average and 33% strikeout rate accompanied it. Hernandez can take a walk no problem with a 9.7% walk rate last season, but his contact skills and chase issues leave a lot to be desired.

When looking at the statcast sliders above, yes, the xBA and xwOBA stink, but the exit velocity, hard hit %, and spint speed are all well above average, ranking in the 85th, 71st, and 94th percentiles respectively. When Hernandez makes contact, it’s usually of the loud variety. But doing that consistently has been the problem. Now, there were some slight improvements in 2019, dropping his SwStr% 3.1%, dropping most of his swing percentages 2-3% and increasing his contact metrics slightly as well. With some additional improvement, .250 isn’t out of the question with 30 homers and 10 steals along with it. If he does that, getting him outside pick 300 would be an absolute robbery.

Ian Happ (OF/2B – CHC)

Current ADP: Fantrax 352.4 | NFBC 360.4

Ian Happ has long been a favorite of mine, dating back to his days as a prospect. But inconsistent play and a usually loaded Cubs lineup have kept him from really having anything more than a Utility or fill-in starter role. But after a strong end of the 2019 season, Happ appears to be the starter in center field as Spring Training gets underway. Obviously, that’s a big boon to his 2020 fantasy value. And by the looks of his ADP, drafters haven’t quite adjusted accordingly yet. This is where you swoop in, snag Happ late, and reap the rewards.

After making his debut in 2017, Happ has accrued 891 at-bats over 305 games. During that time, he’s recorded 50 homers and 18 steals which equates to 31 homers and 11 steals per every 550 at-bats. Included in there were his 11 homers in 140 at-bats last season for a 43-homer pace over 550 at-bats. Happ was especially lethal in September, hitting .311 with six homers in September.

His batted ball profile doesn’t support that type of average, but you’re not targeting Happ for a high batting average. You’re targeting him for the late-round power and maybe even double-digit steals over a full season. The 31-homer pace Happ has been on with the Cubs over parts of three seasons is very legit. In each season, Happ has ranked among the league leaders in barrel% and increased his flyball rate by 6.6% in 2019 while steadily increasing his launch angle from 12.9 degrees in 2017 to 14.1 in 2018 and 15.5 last season. Happ also cut his strikeout rate drastically from 36.1% in 2018 down to a much more manageable 25.0% last season while keeping his walk rate above 9.4% for the third straight season.

The improvements above plus a full-time gig give Happ big breakout potential in 2020, especially in the power department. A .250/25/10 line over a full season shouldn’t shock anyone. I’ll take that all damn day after pick 300 in fantasy drafts.

Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals

Current ADP: Fantrax 425.5 | NFBC 484.1

The ADPs you see above are bound to rise as we get closer to opening day. However, there’s still a great chance you’ll be able to land Tyler O’Neill outside the top-300 regardless of when your draft takes place. O’Neill is another talented name on this list that hasn’t really received an extended chance at full-time at-bats at the Major League level as the Cardinals have usually been loaded in the outfield over the past several seasons. Okay, “loaded” is a bit much, but they’ve been full out there with no real spot for Mr. O’Neill. Until 2020 that is. With Marcel Ozuna in Atlanta and Randy Arozarena in Tampa Bay, O’Neill has the best chance he’s had in his career to win a starting gig and run with it. And with his upside, fantasy owners need to have him on their radar.

One thing that has always been apparent with O’Neill is his mammoth raw power and strength in general. The guy is a physical specimen and could easily exceed 30-homers over a full season. But an aspect of his game that often gets overlooked is the fact that O’Neill is pretty quick and athletic as well. In his 60 games with St. Louis in 2019, O’Neill was in the 99th percentile for sprint speed and was tied for 9th overall. Who was he tied with you ask? Adalberto Mondesi and Terrance Gore, two notorious speedsters.

Before everyone starts freaking out, let me clarify something real quick. I’m not saying O’Neill is going to be a big source of steals. He never showed big SB upside in the minors, but did have three straight seasons in double-digits from 2015-2017. Over a full season, it’s not crazy to anticipate 5-8 or so to go along with 25-plus home runs.

A 25/5 line is great from a late-round selection, but the batting average likely won’t be anything to write home about. While O’Neill can really drive the ball, his contact and chase metrics are well below-average. For his Major League career, O’Neill has a 21.4% SwStr rate, 36.3% O-Swing, 37.5% strikeout rate and 58.6% contact rate. This profile smells like a .240 average, but again, .240 with 25-plus homers and maybe 5-8 steals is still solid value after pick 300 in drafts.

Franchy Cordero (OF – SDP)

Current ADP: Fantrax 450.1 | NFBC 531.4

This is one of my favorite late-round lottery tickets this draft season. Will he start? Maybe not, but if he does, Franchy Cordero has the upside to be a fantasy force from this extremely late ADP. There’s literally zero risk in drafting Cordero. None. Zip. Nada. If he doesn’t win a job out of Spring Training or does and stinks up the joint, you drop him for a hot free agent. Simple as that. But if he does win a job and run with it, the upside is quite high. Yes, that’s a big if, but the potential reward here vastly outweighs the non-existent risk.

The reason for Cordero’s inclusion here is his intriguing power/speed blend. At 6’3/175, Cordero has displayed plus raw power and plus speed throughout his professional career, including in short stints with San Diego. During his longest stint with the Padres in 2018 (40 games total), Cordero was in the 94th percentile for sprint speed and has been in the 89th percentile or better in all three seasons. Granted, that’s all been in smaller samples, but the cliff notes version here is that Cordero is pretty darn fast.

Cordero has also flashed his plus raw power in the Majors with a career 45.5% hard contact rate and 91.3 mph average exit velocity. He’s yet to post any big home run numbers as a pro – with a career-high of 17 – but that’s mostly been due to a ground ball heavy approach. With some added loft and a starting gig, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Cordero push 20/20 in 2020. Now, that might come with a mediocre average around .250 or so due to his swing and miss tendencies, but the upside here is worth chasing late in drafts, especially in 15-team leagues.

More to Target

Victor Reyes, DET | Anthony Santander, BAL | Kyle Lewis, SEA, Shogo Akiyama, CIN | Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, TB | Trent Grisham, SDP | Kole Calhoun, ARI | Brett Gardner, NYY | Austin Hays, BAL | Avisail Garcia, MIL |

Media Credit: Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire, White Sox Talk, St. Louis Cardinals, Baseball Savant.

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