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Platoon Watch: Players Who Could Earn Starting Roles

Every season we see fringe players carve out roles on their respective teams during the spring, but in some cases, it's only a short-term solution. In other instances, players wait in the weeds during the regular season and pounce on their opportunity to solidify themselves into the everyday lineup.

In this article, we’ll look at five players who could gain a more significant role with their respective club by Opening Day, or in the early part of the season. All these players have ADPs after 500, so they are primarily options for deep leagues or league-specific formats. At a minimum, they should land on your watchlist because their time might not come straight out of camp, but you’ll want to be ahead of your league mates on the waiver wire when it's their time to shine.

Knowing the depth of the player pool is extremely important, especially in the late rounds of your Draft. There comes a certain point during your Draft where ADP can become ignored, and you need to reach for players with more upside or those who can fill specific categories where you lack the most. If your league only drafts 360 players, for example, bumping up the guys you like in the 400-500 ADP range makes sense if you have a good feeling on them. Below are a few players who might fit these criteria:

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Franchy Cordero - OF, SD

ADP: 510

The departures of Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe, and Manuel Margot over the last six months has cracked the door open for Cordero to seize playing time in the Padres' outfield. With Wil Myers on the trade block and youngster Trent Grisham yet to prove himself over a full season, the time may be coming sooner than later for the 25-year-old Cordero. Elbow and quad injuries limited him to just 15 games played combined in 2019, so we need a little bit of a reminder of what he brings to the fantasy table.

Through 70 big league contests between the 2017 and '18 seasons, Cordero popped 10 long balls with six steals to a measly .234 BA. That's nothing too exciting, except that his Sprint Speed ranked in the 98th and 94th percentile, respectively, in each of these campaigns. He never played a full season in Triple-A, but in his 115 games spread across four years, he swiped 18 bases in 22 tries, making him a potential 20-stolen base candidate at the Major League level.

Cordero also launched 21 big flies during his Triple-A career, a number that will undoubtedly carry over by looking at his Statcast metrics during his Major League sample. He posted marks well above the league average in barrel percentage (12.6%), exit velocity (91.3 MPH), and hard-hit rate (45.3%), so the power is there for at least a 20-homer bat, even if these figures drop a bit.

Whiffs remain an issue for Cordero after a 29.2% career K-rate in Triple-A led to a worrisome 38.8% mark in the Majors. He managed to hold a .305 BA with El Paso, but it’s hard believing he’ll hit anything over .250 in the bigs with a middling walk rate. Still, a potential 20/20 bat is in the cards if he can find enough plate appearances. His next to no cost is appealing for a stash in deep leagues and NL-only formats, but be prepared to pounce if Myers gets dealt or an injury occurs elsewhere in the outfield.

 

Manuel Margot - OF, TB

ADP: 515 ADP

While we’re on the topic of Padres outfielders, the recently dealt Margot now finds himself in the most hitter-friendly division in baseball after playing in the NL West for his entire career. He joined the Rays organization as additional outfield depth, but anyone directly behind Kevin Kiermaier on the depth chart will always stand on the doorstep of increased playing time.

There’s no denying that Kiermaier is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, but his willingness to sell out for catches has taken a hefty toll on his body with just one career season of at least 130 games played. Not only does Kiermaier have trouble staying on the field, but his .223/.280/.386 slash line over his previous two seasons is anything but desirable. He’s in the middle of his six-year, $53.5 million deal, so the thrifty Rays will still want to play the soon-to-be 30-year-old despite his lackluster bat. With a legitimate shot at the division title this year, however, they may want to sub him out for more offense.

Margot doesn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball with a career .248/.301/.394 slash line, but the move to the AL East will give him a slight boost with an all-round improvement in Park Factor. His right-handed bat will put him on the weak side of a platoon to begin the season, but after hitting .330 against lefties last year, it could benefit his case to seize more work against right-handers.

Still, at 25 years old, there’s room for growth on his 12-homer, 20-steal campaign from 2019, he’ll just have to bide his time to capitalize on an opportunity to take over the centerfield job. Margot is, at minimum, a cheap source for steals in AL-only leagues, but he could find himself mixed-league viable much like he did through parts of the '19 season.

 

Corbin Burnes - RP, MIL

ADP: 537

Burnes found himself gaining momentum on draft boards entering the 2019 campaign after breaking camp with a rotation spot. He drew quite the buzz for himself in his first start of the season, striking out 12 Cardinals in five innings, but it wasn’t so rosy over his next few appearances. Burnes lost his rotation spot after four starts since he allowed 21 runs, including a whopping 11 homers, before quickly getting demoted back to Triple-A.

Despite returning to the club in a bullpen role for the remainder of the season, Burnes’ ghastly year-end numbers (8.82 ERA, 1.84 WHIP) paint a bleaker image than what his underlying metrics suggest. The right-hander held a respectable 3.37 xFIP and 3.55 SIERA while maintaining an excellent strikeout clip (29.8% K%) thanks to his swing-and-miss ability.

Burnes’ slider, which he threw 31% of the time last season, generated an outstanding 58% Whiff percentage and a .181 BA against. His curve and changeup, that he tossed at a combined 11.9% frequency, also had whiff rates above 42%, but unfortunately, his fastball was too hittable. Although he can hit 99 mph on the gun, hitters tagged his four-seamer for 13 dingers and a .425 BA since he threw it in the zone far too often (56.0% Zone%).

Some early season hype has restored for Burnes since the Brewers have an opening once again at the back end of their rotation. The 25-year-old has spent the offseason refining his wipeout slider, which has paid dividends since his velocity has touched 94 mph on the gun during camp. He maxed this pitch out at 91.7 mph in 2019, so this increase in speed may help his fastball sneak by more batters who mistake it for the breaking ball.

Burnes may struggle with ratios if he earns a spot in the rotation, but his high-strikeout arm is appealing, given the cost where you can utilize him as a streamer at minimum.

 

Mike Ford - 1B, NYY

ADP: 634

On the outside looking in, Ford has a shot at finding regular playing time this season, but let’s look into his numbers before we determine how this could transpire. Last season in 79 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the first baseman clubbed 23 taters while slashing a crisp .303/.401/.605 aided by elite plate discipline numbers. Patience at the plate led to a salivating 15.8% K-rate and 13.2% walk rate, numbers that also nearly translated to the Majors after a promotion to the Bronx in July.

In 163 PA for the Yankees, Ford kept his keen eye by walking 10.4% of the time while holding his K-rate to a respectable 17.2% in his big league debut. The lefty swinger also maintained his power stroke by keeping a 33% fly ball rate and 42.6% pull rate, a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium.

Despite Ford's favorable home-field advantage, it was curious to see only two of his 12 bombs were hit at home. His left/right splits were also out of the ordinary since he blasted seven homers versus southpaws to a .333 BA compared to a .236 mark off right-handers. It’s reasonable to expect both these numbers to level out towards each other with a larger sample, but it’s encouraging nonetheless that he could handle same-side pitchers in the Majors.

The glaring issue for Ford is a path to playing time, but he found consistent at-bats a year ago when starting first baseman Luke Voit struggled with health throughout the second half last season. Despite being two years older, Voit has the same amount of Minor League options as Ford, so it’s not like he has a stranglehold on the position. Miguel Andujar will also get some reps at first when he's not serving as the designated hitter, but his defensive woes across the diamond will likely make him a liability even if he does find playing time there.

Ford has a decent shot at cracking the Opening Day squad since rosters have expanded to 26 players this season. Perhaps the 27-year-old could work out a platoon scenario with Voit, where an injury could propel him into everyday at-bats as it did a year ago. For now, Ford is only worth considering in AL-only setups, but managers should keep him on the radar since he'll become a serviceable corner infielder with an everyday role.

 

Kevin Cron - 1B, ARI

ADP: 626 ADP

Christian Walker is becoming a popular consolation prize for fantasy managers who miss out on the first few tiers of first baseman in their drafts. The impending emergence of Cron, however, may give Walker some fool’s gold value this season.

Cron turned heads in the Cactus League with three long balls in 29 at-bats for the D-backs, but that’s nothing compared to the 38 he mashed in 82 Triple-A games last year. He also posted excellent plate discipline metrics for a slugger (20.4% K%/16.2% BB%), perhaps forcing the issue for another Major League promotion.

The brother of C.J. Cron had mixed results in his 78 plate appearances in 2019 with the big league club. He walloped six big flies spread across his four stints with the D-backs, although his 35.9% K-rate was ghastly. We could chalk up his propensity to strike out due to a lack of rhythm and flow with his constant options up-and-down between leagues, but it’s also natural for a Major League debut to battle some growing pains.

Whatever the case may be, Cron’s lengthy track history of K-rates in the low 20% range is a more telling sample for what to expect in the future.

With two Minor League options available, Cron is destined for Triple-A to begin the season with Walker returning to the role as the team’s primary first baseman. Walker will be 29 when the season starts, so it’s not like he’s the prospect they’ve groomed as their long-term solution at the position. If he were to go into a slump or have a sluggish start to his year, it could pave the way for an opportunity for Cron to take over. He’s not exactly a "can't miss" prospect at age 27, but the power in his swing could force the club to make a switch at some point during the season.

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