Major League Baseball is back! Here are 15 SEC players worth drafting for your fantasy team
Here at SDS, we tend to cover the actual games, not the fantasy ones. But give credit where it’s due — fantasy sports is big business and of interest to plenty of fans. Given the popularity of fantasy football, some might forget that the whole fantasy sports idea originated in baseball. It makes sense — given 162 games (or 60, in this case), there are plenty of hits, homers, RBIs, strikeouts, wins and saves to track.
Major League Baseball announced this week that it hopes to have Opening Day on July 23 or 24.
So here’s our SEC twist to the old favorite. With fantasy baseball leagues drafting daily, you might want to check our list of 15 SEC baseball standouts who are worth a long look — or even a draft pick — in fantasy baseball.
Obviously, there were tons more players we considered than these 15 suggestions, and we did bend the rules a bit in spots — Max Scherzer did not play in the SEC, but he played at Mizzou, so close enough. But here’s a pick at every potential position, representing most schools of the SEC.
C: Yan Gomes, Nationals/Tennessee
Catcher is usually a tough position to fill, and Gomes is as good of a value as any. He has hit double-digit homers in each season since 2013, except for hitting 9 in an injury-shortened 2016 campaign.
He was an All-Star in 2018 and also won a Silver Slugger award in 2014. Born in Brazil, Gomes played at UT for 2 years and then transferred to Barry University, from where he was drafted in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. The son-in-law of former MLB pitcher Atlee Hammaker, Gomes was a free-agent signee of the Nationals who provided valuable work handling the team’s pitching staff in their 2019 World Series victory.
1B: Pete Alonso, Mets/Florida
All the big kid called “the Polar Bear” did in 2019 was wreck the all-time rookie home run mark with 53 bombs, knock in 120 runs, easily win Rookie of the Year, earn an All-Star spot and finish 7th in the National League MVP ballot despite playing for the non-contending Mets.
Alonso is a Florida guy. He went to high school in Tampa before picking UF. He was a 2nd-round pick of the Mets in 2016 and after pulverizing baseballs in the minor leagues like he had in the SEC, he became the star of the Mets in 2019.
1B: Justin Smoak, Blue Jays/South Carolina
Smoak could be worth taking a flier on. The question is: Can he return to his 2017 form, when he made the All-Star team, hit .270 and whacked 38 homers? Since then, he hit .242 with 25 HRs and .208 with 22 HRs in the past 2 seasons. But given the solid young hitters who will surround him, he could return to form in 2020.
2B: Whit Merrifield, Royals/South Carolina
Merrifield plays for an awful team in Kansas City and won’t grab headlines. All he does is play great all-around baseball. He has hit above .300 and topped 40 doubles in each of the past 2 seasons. He also led the American League in stolen bases in 2017 and 2018. While he’s not a huge power guy, he has hit 19, 12, and 16 homers in his past 3 seasons. He’s also seen time not only at second base, but at all three outfield positions, first base, and third base. The College World Series hero was a 9th-round pick by Kansas City from Carolina after 2010. He’s so good and versatile, MLB Network has had him as a “top 10 right now” at 2 positions (CF in 2020 and 2B last year).
SS: Dansby Swanson, Braves/Vandy
Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft after leading Vandy to the 2014 title and a 2015 runner-up finish. Drafted by the Diamondbacks, he was traded to the Braves, which worked out well for the Marietta, Georgia product. Swanson is still a work in progress, finishing 2019 with a .251 average and 17 homers. He hit .389 for the Braves in the NLDS, and there’s no reason to expect less than a career year (so far) for the 26-year old in 2020.
3B/SS: Alex Bregman, Astros/LSU
Bregman has already been a 2-time All-Star and just turned 26. Normally a third baseman, he played 65 games at short in 2019 and helped the Astros return to the World Series. With 31 homers and 103 RBIs in 2018 and 41 homers and 112 knocked in during 2019, he’s one of the top young power hitters in the game. He’s also going to face a ton of questions about the Astros’ sign-stealing chicanery in 2020. Bregman turned down the Red Sox out of high school (29th round), and ended up going No. 2 overall in 2015 — after Swanson — to Houston after his time in Baton Rouge.
3B: Josh Donaldson, Twins/Auburn
Donaldson is such a familiar face in MLB that it’s surprising that he just turned 34 years old. Leaving aside his injury-plauged 2018 campaign, Donaldson has mashed 41, 37 and 33 HRs from 2015-17, and 37 homers in 2019. He is a 3-time All-Star and was American League Most Valuable Player in 2015. Donaldson was a 1st-round pick of the Chicago Cubs out of Auburn in 2007, but was traded to Oakland the following year in the trade that brought the Cubs Rich Harden.
OF: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox/Arkansas
Benintendi had a slight downturn in 2019, but he’s still one of the outstanding young outfielders in the American League. In his rookie season of 2017, he hit .271 with 20 home runs, earning 2nd place to Aaron Judge in the AL’s Rookie of the Year race. Benintendi is from Cincinnati. He turned down the hometown Reds in the 2013 draft (31st round), and after a couple of years in Fayetteville, he went No. 7 overall to Boston in 2015. Boston will look to Benintendi to improve on the .266/.343/.431 offensive line he posted last season.
OF: Jackie Bradley, Jr., Red Sox/South Carolina
Not unlike Benintendi, Bradley is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2019 season. His best year so far, 2016, had him hitting .267 with 26 homers and 87 RBIs. He helped Boston grab the 2018 World Series, but hit just .225 in 2019 with 155 strikeouts going with his 21 homers. Bradley was a key part of South Carolina’s back-to-back CWS championship teams in 2010 and 2011. Boston took him in the 1st round of the 2011 draft. If he can curb the strikeouts, he could have a huge bounceback season in 2020.
OF: Nick Senzel, Reds/Tennessee
Senzel, who was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2016 draft out of UT, missed most of the 2018 season with an injury, but finally showed flashes of what the fuss is about in his 2019 MLB debut. He hit .256 with 12 homers and 14 stolen bases in 104 games. A hometown guy from Knoxville’s Farragut High, he figures to be representing UT at a high level for many seasons to come.
P: Max Scherzer, Nationals/Missouri
Yes, he will turn 36 in late July, but Scherzer, who capped his career with a World Series ring in 2019, is one of the great mound competitors of this era. A 7-time All-Star, a 3-time Cy Young winner, Scherzer is nearing 3,000 career strikeouts, a figure he’ll likely reach in 2021. He has finished in the top 5 for the Cy Young award in each of his past 7 seasons. A Missouri native, Scherzer turned down the Cardinals (43rd round) in 2003, and ended up being picked No. 11 overall by Arizona in the 2006 draft. His free-agent signing by the Nationals in 2015 keyed their World Series run.
P: Aaron Nola, Phillies/LSU
One of the top young arms in the National League, Nola has won 12, 17, and 12 games in his past 3 seasons in Philly, making the 2018 All-Star team with a 17-6 mark and a 2.37 ERA. He also finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting that year. Nola went to Baton Rouge’s Catholic High, and stayed home for LSU, despite being drafted by Toronto in 2011 (22nd round). He was the No. 7 overall pick in 2014 by the Phillies, who look for big returns in their race for the NL East in 2020.
P: Dakota Hudson, Cardinals/Miss. St.
Hudson is in line to be the next great Cardinals starting pitcher, completing his rookie season in 2019 with a 16-7 mark and a 3.35 ERA. He did end the season getting shelled by the Nationals in the NLCS, but that did little to take the shine off a fine debut year, which included finishing 5th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Hudson was drafted out of high school in Tennessee by the Rangers (36th round) but he chose MSU, and went late in the 1st round to St. Louis in 2016. He’s the young ace who Cardinals face hope will replace Adam Wainwright at the top of the rotation.
P: Walker Buehler, Dodgers/Vandy
Everything said of Hudson is perhaps more true of Buehler, who turns 26 in late July. Buehler chose Vandy from Lexington, Kentucky’s Henry Clay High. He turned down the Pirates (14th round) in the 2012 draft, only to go to the Dodgers after bolstering Vandy’s 2014 title team and 2015 runner-up squad. Last year, Buehler finished 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA. He made the All-Star team and had a sterling 0.71 ERA in 2 starts against Washington in the NLDS. Buehler was also 3rd in the NL’s 2018 Rookie of the Year voting, and has some of the nastiest stuff in baseball.
P: Dallas Keuchel, White Sox/Arkansas
Keuchel went through an awkward 2019 season, missing much of the first half of the year as an unsigned free agent before the Braves grabbed him late. He went 8-8 for Atlanta with a 3.75 ERA, but that’s just touching the surface of his potential. Keuchel won 20 games for the Astros in 2015, and has twice been an All-Star. Signed to a 4-year deal by the White Sox, Keuchel could key that team’s run in the AL Central. Keuchel was a 7th-round pick by the Astros in 2009, after his time in Fayetteville.