By Leo Howell, MLB.com
Special to Yahoo Sports
Fantasy baseball players are always seeking an edge over their opponents, no matter how that goal might be achieved. One surefire way to an advantage is to be ahead of the curve when it comes to baseball’s top prospects.
So if you’re looking for the young stars who are the most ready to break out and make an impact this season, we have just what you need. Here are MLB Pipeline’s top picks of the prospects poised to make the biggest Major League impact in the key statistical categories your fantasy league is riding on.
He might be an ounce or two of plate discipline short of five-tool status, but from a fantasy standpoint, he can do it all. Coming off of a 30-30 season in the Minors, Robert was signed to a long-term deal and is slated to be a regular for the White Sox this season. Expect power and speed from the start, but there’s reason to worry about his average. Even still, the potential for a 30-30 pace over the shortened season makes him the easy choice for the top spot.
Lux put together an impressive 50-game on-base streak last season ahead of his eventual promotion to the big league club and it’s hard to imagine any player on this list will have a better combination of skill and supporting talent in the lineup. While he might not have Robert’s speed, he’s a proven on-base machine with enough pop to give you solid numbers across the board. An everyday spot in a potent Dodgers lineup is just icing on the cake.
May matched Lux in having an impressive 2019 campaign that ended with the MLB club, and he demonstrated that he’s more than comfortable on an MLB mound. Just how Los Angeles chooses to deploy him will ultimately determine his fantasy upside, but the floor is there: He hasn’t finished a professional season with an ERA over 4.00, including his short stint in MLB, and he regularly records at least four times more strikeouts than walks. He’s not going to win you your fantasy league, but he certainly will not lose it, and his upside for wins as a part of one of the best clubs in the league is a nice tiebreaker if you’re having trouble making a pick.
Be sure you know how your league handles two-way players before selecting McKay for his hitting or pitching prowess. The southpaw is well known for his ability on the mound, and that should be the focus when considering his fantasy value. Armed with a great mix of pitches and solid command, the Louisville product started off strong in his 2019 debut, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Rangers. He also went yard in one of his 10 at-bats, but on a team loaded with offensive options, don’t expect to see McKay’s bat in the lineup often enough to merit a hitting spot on your fantasy team. Focus on that left arm and draft him as an upside arm with win potential on an American League East contender in Tampa Bay.
Kieboom managed only five hits in his 39 Major League at-bats last season, but he turned things around in a hurry when he rejoined Triple-A Fresno. He finished the Pacific Coast League season batting over .300 with 16 homers in 109 games. The main appeal for Kieboom this season is playing time in a solid lineup, as he looks to be the club’s top option at third base to replace Anthony Rendon. Expect a solid all-around profile as a fantasy hitter, lacking speed upside but with the potential for a 20-plus-homer pace and plenty of RBIs.
Luzardo made a big impact on the A’s at the tail end of last season, showing off impressive velocity in important games down the stretch. He figured to be one of Oakland’s starters to begin the 2020 season, but a positive test for the coronavirus means his status for the beginning of the season is uncertain. Keep an eye out for updates on his progress, because his electric stuff will lead to plenty of strikeouts, which fantasy players will always want out of a pitcher.
Luzardo’s battery mate was also called up late last season and he made some noise, hitting four homers and getting on base a third of the time. Catchers are often afterthoughts in fantasy drafts considering their lack of playing time and production relative to other positions, but there’s a lot of upside for Murphy. He’s got a great bat and is good enough behind the dish to serve as the team’s primary backstop. If you’re waiting to take your starting catcher, Murphy makes for a great option.
Pearson has one of the best fastballs in all of baseball, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s throwing it for Toronto at the big league level. Whether he winds up as a front-line starter or an elite closer is yet to be seen, but in either role, his strikeout upside is through the roof. Capable of topping 100 mph with ease, Pearson is a great late-draft flier heading into 2020 fantasy leagues.
A breakout star for Double-A Springfield, Carlson slugged 21 homers in just 108 games while swiping 18 bags before earning a callup to Triple-A Memphis. He was even hotter during his 18-game spell with the Redbirds, suggesting that he’s ready for the leap to the Majors. Whether he has an everyday spot in the Cardinals’ lineup is yet to be seen, but the potential for 30 homers and 20 steals with a healthy average is on the horizon for Carlson.
A perennial member of top prospect lists, Rodgers made his long-awaited big league debut last year only to succumb to a shoulder injury and sit out the rest of the season. A middle infielder with considerable pop playing in the best hitting park in the league, Rodgers has all the upside a fantasy player needs, but he’ll need to stay healthy and put it all together in 2020 to deliver on his prospect promise.
Keller stumbled in his first taste of Major League pitching in ’19, but settled into a routine as the season went on. He struck out 14 batters over his final 10 innings on the mound in September while allowing only three runs, and he was known for excellent strikeout-to-walk ratios in the Minors. The Pirates should give Keller every chance to be a rotation mainstay and he could take a step forward heading into the upcoming season.
Widely considered the best defensive first baseman in the minors, White also has a solid bat and finished last year with a .293 average and 18 homers over 92 games for Double-A Arkansas. The Mariners rewarded him with a big league deal heading into this season, and he should be in the team’s plans at first base for years to come. He lacks elite power upside, but has more than enough power and an average floor to be an everyday option for fantasy players seeking a corner infielder late in drafts.
Whitley has struggled with injuries, inconsistencies and a suspension in recent years, but when he’s on his game there aren’t many prospects with his upside on the mound. The 2017 breakout star version of Whitley would be the No. 1 prospect on this list, and that player is probably still somewhere to be found inside the Astros righty, so he’s worth a gamble if he earns a spot with the Major League club.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers
Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox
Nick Solak, 2B/3B/OF, Rangers
Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners
Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves