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NL Players Who Could Benefit From Extended Rosters

Although we still don't have baseball, we're starting to get a lot of proposals on how we COULD have baseball this summer. The plans may wind up just being a fantasy, but, hey, this is a fantasy site, so it makes sense for us to take a look at it.

One of the facets of the proposal Jeff Passan broke the news of is vastly expanded rosters. Since players won't have had the full lead-up of spring training and have been "getting ready" for the season under varying circumstances, it only makes sense for the league to expand rosters to help keep players healthy and safe. So, if the season were to begin this summer with expanded rosters, which players would that help the most fantasy-wise? I looked at the AL last week, so this week, we'll turn to the NL teams.

Before we dive into that, it's important to throw cold water on all those prospect hounds. Just because the league expands rosters, it doesn't mean teams will call up their best prospects. Many teams will still likely choose not to start service time clocks, and calling up rookies to sit on the bench behind guys who were going to be starters in April doesn't really make much sense. Instead, you're far more likely to see fringe guys who are already on the 40-man roster get the call for the expanded rosters. However, some of them could still be interesting in fantasy leagues of various sizes. (All roster predictions are based on Roster Resource's projected lineups)

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Atlanta Braves

Austin Riley 3B/OF

After a hot start to his Major League career, Austin Riley hit a wall during his rookie season as pitcher began to take advantage of his free-swinging ways. He hit .161 during the second half of the season to finish with a line of .226/.279/.471 and was likely on the outside looking in thanks to the solid performance of Johan Camargo, who is still only 26-years-old. However, expanded rosters would give Riley a chance to make the team as a bench bat with the versatility to play a few positions. He needs to cut down on his 36.4% strikeout rate, but the power is prodigious and it would only take one hot streak for him to usurp Camargo and inset himself into the everyday lineup.


Miami Marlins

Elieser Hernandez, SP/RP

I've written about Elieser Hernandez and his phenomenal slider a few times this pre-season. The 25-year-old is an intriguing arm who limits hard contact and has a solid K-rate built on the back of his one pitch. The slider has a 37.4 Whiff% and limits batters to a .148 xBA and .289 SLG. As is stands, Hernandez likely has been beaten out for a rotation spot by Jose Urena. However, the rotations could be expanded to allow Hernandez a chance to start. Even without that, Urena has been a mediocre jack-of-all-trades for the Marlins, sometimes being used as an opener or even a closer, so it's possible that he fills a variety of roles during a short season while Hernadez takes on the more conventional starters role. If he gets the chance, he could ride his one elite pitch to deep-league fantasy value.


New York Mets

Eduardo Nunez, UTIL

The injury to Noah Syndergaard opened up a rotation spot for Michael Wacha or he would have been the choice here. Instead, we'll go with bench utility asset Eduardo Nunez, but honestly, the pickings were pretty slim here. The Mets don't have a starting pitcher primed to take the 6th spot in the rotation, unless you count Steven Gonsalves, who only is moderately interesting after putting up a 6.57 ERA in his first taste of the majors in 2018 and getting hurt last year. Eduardo Nunez can play in both the infield and outfield and the Mets have proven to be very fragile over the years, which could open up playing time. Nunez has battled injuries himself over the years, but he was hitting .321 in the spring and is only two years removed from a .313, 12 home run, 24 stolen base season. The steals are likely no longer there, but he could put up a 10-10 season if he gets enough at-bats and that's, I guess, something in deep leagues.


Philadelphia Phillies

Roman Quinn, OF

A short season without a proper pre-season will likely mean more rest for older and oft-injured players. The Phillies happen to have two of those in the outfield in Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce. Centerfield is also being held down by Adam Haseley and his .223 xBA and .331 xSLG. All of that indicates that Roman Quinn could be in for a decent amount of playing time opportunities. He's only had moderate success at the MLB level but his over .300 in both of his last two trips to AAA and has speed to burn. His x-stats support him as basically an equal hitter to Haseley, and his three steals in 10 spring training games show that his legs can give him fantasy value in a hurry if he were able to see 2-3 starts a week in the outfield.


Washington Nationals

Austin Voth/Joe Ross, SP

The battle for the Nationals fifth rotation spot was heated in spring training with fantasy darling Austin Voth battling it out against veteran Joe Ross. A shortened season with expanded rosters would likely mean more six-man rotations and both men could see the opportunity for fantasy value. Voth would be my pick here as his solid command, strong curveball, and good four-pitch mix allowed him to pitch to a 3.30 ERA and 17.8 K%-BB% in 43.2 IP in 2019.


Chicago Cubs

Adbert Alzolay, SP

Alzolay made his debut last year, but, according to Roster Resource, was not set to break camp with the Cubs. The 25-year-old would be the frontrunner to be added for an expanded rotation after he pitched to a 4.41 ERA and a 32.3% strikeout rate in AAA in 2019. His MLB performance left a lot to be desired, but he's going to put up a strikeout rate of 20% or higher, thanks to a plus curveball, and should be in a good position for wins on a strong team, even if he winds up in the long relief role. After all, Tyler Chatwood doesn't exactly have a firm hold on the fifth spot in the rotation.


Cincinnati Reds

Lucas Sims, SP/RP

Many people are probably expecting Aristides Aquino here, but the expanded rosters don't help him because the Reds still have an overly crowded outside, and he doesn't have the flexibility to play anywhere else. With Nicholas Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Phillip Ervin, Nick Senzel, and Josh VanMeter already able to slot out in the outfield, the Reds will likely keep Aquino in a place where he can get enough at-bats to iron out his strikeout issues. Instead, expanded rosters would give Lucas Sims a chance to make more starts. I discussed Sims earlier in the pre-season, and think he's overlooked despite being only 25 and having solid AAA numbers. I think there's room for growth and MLB success, and this gives him more of a chance to prove that.


Milwaukee Brewers

Jake Faria, SP

Yes, the same Jake Faria who burst onto the scene with the Rays and became intriguing to fantasy owners for a brief moment in time. Injuries held him back from achieving consistent success after that, but he now finds himself on a Brewers team that has a lot of starting rotation question marks after Brandon Woodward and Adrien Houser. Faria figures to get the first shot with a larger starting rotation since he's only 26 and already has MLB experience. He struggled in the spring, but he had solid AAA numbers for both the Rays and Brewers last year with an ERA under 4.00 and a combined K% of 26.5. With all the uncertainty at the back of the Brewers rotation, there's a chance that a strong few starts could cement a spot for Faria for the rest of the season.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Chad Kuhl, SP/RP

It feels like Kuhl has been around for a while, but he's still only 27-years-old. After missing all of 2019 due to injury. The hard-throwing righty was back in the spring, despite only throwing 1.2 innings, and is giving us reasons to dream on his plus arsenal. Kuhl backs up a high-90s fastball with a curve and slider that both held opponents to under a .200 xBA in both 2017 and 2018. However, he was overly reliant on a sinker that got pummeled. It's possible that the new Pirates pitching philosophy will enable Kuhl to rely on his two solid off-speed offerings and unlock some of his upside, if he's given more chances to throw with the expanded rosters.


St. Louis Cardinals

Daniel Ponce de Leon, SP

The Cardinals have a fragile and aging starting rotation that would likely have given Ponce de Leon a chance to start regardless of expanded rosters; however, he's likely the best option for a larger starting rotation. In 48.2 major league innings last year, the right-hander notched a 3.70 ERA with a 25.6 K% and an 11.1% SwStrk%. His success is supported by three consecutive AAA years with an ERA under 3.00 and Statcast metrics that are filled with red: 96th-percentile Hard Hit%, 86th-percentile xBA and xSLG, 79th-percentile curve spin, and 71st-percentile fastball spin. I'd bank of Ponce de Leon's success in a normal season, so expanded rosters would make him a guy to absolutely target.

(Just to add a non-pitcher to this list, I like Edmundo Sosa as a utility infielder. The Cardinals need to replace Yairo Munoz, and I'm not sure Rangel Ravelo is the answer.) 


Arizona Diamondbacks

Josh Rojas, UTIL

Utility bats like Rojas will be benefited the most by expanded rosters, at least among hitters. The Diamondbacks may not have needed Rojas right out of the gate in a normal season, but his ability to play 2B, 3B, and OF will make him valuable when the team needs to give players extra rest to limit injury risk after this quarantine break. When in the lineup, Rojas has shown good patience at the plate, with double-digit BB% at every stop, and the speed to steal 20+ bases if given regular opportunity. He may level out at a .260 hitter, but a .260 hitter with a strong OBP who can steal bases and will likely hit near the top of a strong lineup when he's active is valuable. The current situation would likely give him two or three starts a week with the chance for more based on production, so he's worth a gamble.


Colorado Rockies

Garrett Hampson, 2B/OF

This choice is also dependent on where games are played. If we have a season in which all games are played in Arizona or Florida, which is possible, then most Rockies' hitters would see a downgrade to their fantasy value because that would mean no games in Coors. However, Hampson's boost in value is based on playing time. Everybody loves his speed, but he was set to start the season on the bench behind Ryan McMahon at 2B and Sam Hilliard in LF. He'd likely have been on the active roster, so he's not helped by expanded rosters as much as he'd helped by more days off. Still, getting Hampson in the lineups three to four times a week, means more chances to take advantage of his speed. At least until Brendan Rogers comes up.

(If you want a real expanded roster choice, look out for Mike Gerber. The LHH outfielder hit 26 home runs for the Giants AAA team last year and could be an intriguing left-handed power bat if any games were played in Coors). 


Los Angeles Dodgers

Dustin May/ Tony Gonsolin, SP

The Dodgers rotation was set with Julio Urias and Alex Wood holding the last two spots. However, expanded rosters mean more chance for the Dodgers to do what they love to do and screw around with their pitchers' innings. Especially given the previous health issues for Urias and Wood, it's possible that the Dodgers baby them until they can be sure they're fully ramped up after the quarantine stoppage. That will give Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin a chance to carve out more starts. Fantasy owners can pick their horse to back, but my money would be on May given his pedigree and success of his 34.2 innings pitched at the big league level last year. With a 3.62 ERA, 22.7% strikeout rate, and .250 BAA, he showed that he has the stuff to ensure fantasy value at the next level.


San Diego Padres

Breyvic Valera, INF

Valera was a deep-league sleeper for me this year in Toronto after hitting .315 with 13 home runs and eight stolen bases for the Yankees AAA team. Then he got released. The 28-year-old latched on with San Diego before the Padres signed Brian Dozier and likely left Valera on the outside looking in. However, his ability to play all over the infield makes him a great addition to the expanded rosters. If he gets a chance, I think he can carve out a role due to his high-contact rate and good batting eye. With the Yankees AAA team last year, Valera had an identical 9.8% K% and BB% and has the ability to be a double-digit home run and stolen base threat if he can earn more at-bats. Since the only two players standing in his way are Jurickson Profar and Brian Dozier, it's not out of the realm of possibility.


San Francisco Giants

Darin Ruf, OF/1B

Ruf may be my most out-there choice since he spent the last three years in the Korean Baseball Organization, but I think he landed in a great spot upon his return. Ruf always had good power but, like Eric Thames, seemed to tap into it more consistently by playing every day overseas and hit 30+ home runs in two of his three seasons in the KBO. During his 14 games of spring training, Ruf was hitting .429 with three home runs and a 1.469 OBP. Obviously, that's a small sample size, but we know that Oracle Park is great for right-handed power, which means that Ruf could have some deep league value if he gets added to expanded rosters.

The Giants currently have Wilmer Flores and Austin Slater to back-up Brandon Belt at first, but both of those guys are capable of playing elsewhere on the diamond and could be more utility bats that would allow the Giants to carry Ruf as a right-handed complement to Belt and a bench power bat.

More 2020 Fantasy Baseball Advice


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