Let’s keep those MLB futures rolling.
We’ve been through a number of them already, but it’s time to focus on the National League and, more specifically, candidates to win the NL batting title.
We continue to cruise through BetOnline’s list of MLB futures and stat leader predictions and we have some interesting names on the board when it comes to NL batting title candidates.
As always, I’ll be selecting three players from separate tiers of odds so we can at least strive for some additional value as anything can happen in the game of baseball.
With that in mind, let’s get going and see who can lead the NL in batting average in 2020!
3 Players Worth Backing to Lead the NL in Batting Average
Mookie Betts, Dodgers (+1000)
There are actually four players sporting triple-digit odds to win the NL batting title, but I among the top handful of names I want to nab Betts at a cool +1000.
After all, he’s just one season removed from an American League batting title when he hit .346 with an insane 10.4 fWAR in the 2018 season, taking home AL MVP honors in the process.
Small in stature, Betts packs plenty of punch in his bat, but also hits for average with a .301 career mark. Even in his “down” 2019 season, Betts hit .295.
It didn’t take his bat long to mature at the big-league level. He hit .291 in his first two seasons in the league before going up all the way to .318 in the 2016 season, a number that tied then-Red Sox teammate Dustin Pedroia for second in the American League that season.
He’s certainly a patient hitter as evidenced by his career 10.2% walk rate, a number that been in excess of 13% in each of his last two seasons while he is annually one of the more difficult players to strike out.
Also, when he does swing, he often makes contact as his swinging strike rate was a minuscule 5.1% last season, a number identical to his career mark in that department.
That 5.1% swinging strike rate tied him for the fourth-lowest in baseball among qualified hitters in 2019 alongside former Nationals and current Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon.
As we can see, there’s few, if any holes in Betts’ offensive game.
There’s also the additional factor of Betts playing for a mammoth contract when he hits the open market following the 2020 season.
While there’s an increased likelihood that star players could settle for one-year deals and hit the open market the following winter while allowing MLB clubs to regain financial flexibility, there’s little doubt that this is the biggest season to date for the 27-year-old in terms of opportunity to earn long-term financial security.
He already has one batting title under his belt, however he now has the opportunity to become the first Major League Baseball player to win a battle title in both the American and National Leagues.
Nick Castellanos, Reds (+1600)
There’s an intriguing case for the former Tiger and Cub to win the NL batting title in 2020.
Castellanos’ ability with the bat has never been in question. He’s a career .277 hitter with a 112 wRC+, however he’s hit at least .285 in three of the last four seasons and maxed out at .298 in the 2018 campaign with Detroit.
The issue with Castellanos from an all-round standpoint lies in his defense, a factor that has limited him to a career-high of 3.0 fWAR from that 2018 campaign.
He began his career as a third baseman but was moved to right field in recent seasons while first base always seemed like his final destination.
He was pegged for right field duties in his new digs with the Reds, however the universal designated hitter being implemented this season means that Castellanos will almost certainly act as the Reds’ full-time DH in 2020.
In turn, he will be afforded the opportunity to focus almost entirely on his bat without worrying about everyday duties and reps in right field.
To me, that’s a positive when it comes to his NL batting title quest.
And if he comes close to replicating his home stretch last season with the Cubs, he has a real shot.
After the Tigers dealt him to the Cubs at the trade deadline, Castellanos caught fire with his new club, hitting .321 with a 1.002 OPS to go along with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in just 51 contests.
In fact, his 58 doubles between the Tigers and Cubs in 2019 led all of baseball and rank 10th on the single-season doubles leaderboard. They were also the most doubles in a season since Todd Helton clubbed 59 for the 2000 Rockies.
Nicholas Castellanos picks up his 58th double of the year!
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 21, 2019
In other words, dude can rake.
He’s hit the ball at a hard-hit rate north of 42.2% in each of the last three seasons and is a line-drive machine, hence the wealth of doubles from last season.
A feather in his cap come in the form of the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati as opposed to the pitcher-friendly grounds of Comerica Park in Detroit where he’s spent the bulk of his big-league career to this point.
He’s not without his flaws, but with the focus almost solely on his bat this season, look for Castellanos to have a big year in his first tour of duty with the Reds in 2020.
Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (+2000)
We aren’t going too far down the list from Castellanos to Rizzo, however none of the longer shot names behind Rizzo intrigue me, so I’ll go with the veteran Cubs slugger.
He’s actually never eclipsed the .300 barrier or even hit higher than .293, but he’s hit at least .292 in two of the last four seasons while that .293 mark came just last season.
Like Betts, Rizzo takes his walks in the form of an 11.2% walk rate while he handles the bat extremely well with a 15.9% K-rate that has fallen to 14% or less in each of the last three seasons.
His career-best batting average in 2019 didn’t come with any sort of extreme BABIP-related fortune as he posted a .306 mark, a number slightly over his .289 mark, but nothing outrageous.
He did post a 37.3% hard hit rate that was good for a career-best number and he actually didn’t net as many infield hits as usual with just 3.3% of his knocks coming as infield hits as opposed to his 4.3% career mark.
His 25.3% line-drive rate from a season ago was a big reason for his success, and, you guessed it, it was good for a career-high and well above his 21.9% career mark.
It’s not much of a surprise to see a player hit the ball harder than ever before and hitting more line drives than ever before netting a career-high batting average.
Rizzo pulls the ball a lot – 42.9% of the time in 2019 – which doesn’t allow him to take advantage of the jet stream flying out to left at Wrigley Field, and right field doesn’t allow for cheap home runs at Wrigley, either.
Nonetheless, Rizzo has the tools and makeup of a player that can hit for an extremely high average, and as far as the long-shots go, he’s worth your wager at +2000.