Couple of caveats here:
First, these rankings are as of February 11, 2017. They are fluid. They will change as the offseason progresses and we see how players perform in spring training. Absent injury though, I expect the rankings to fluctuate more in the 40+ outfielder range and not so much within the top 40.
Second, I have a preference for power. Call it confirmation bias, but in my research for these rankings I stumbled across an interesting article by Eno Sarris at Fangraphs detailing a shift from the bat-first-lumbering-corner-outfielder to the current, apparent emphasis on defense and athleticism. Look at, for example, what Seattle is doing in their outfield and their moves this offseason for proof of this new emphasis. Long story short, despite the 2016 power-surge, at least when it comes to outfielders, a profile with a lot of power and no speed, or power and a sprinkling of speed is preferable to the high/moderate speed and a little bit of power profile. I would rather be searching for the latter profile later in the draft versus scrambling to find power. I know that steals are down across the league, but I am not going to panic and overdraft speed because of it.
Third, and on a related note, with the demise of Adam Dunn like players in corner outfield spots, the outfield seems kiddie-pool shallow this year. After the top 7 here, some real risk starts to emerge. Plan accordingly and factor that risk into your subsequent picks. If you pick Stanton, prolly want to avoid Upton or Cargo or Schwarber, for example.
Here we go.
THE MIKE TROUT TIER
(1) Mike Trout
Don’t get cute. Don’t. Get. Cute. I understand Mookie Betts finished ahead of Trout last year. Trout, however, is building a resume for the inner circle of the Hall of Fame. Over the last five years, his average line is .310, with 33 HR, 27 SB, 115 R, and 96 RBI. I see nothing to indicate this isn’t a very reasonable prediction for where he ends up at the end of ’17. Don’t get cute.
FIRST ROUND EARLY
(2) Kris Bryant (3B, LF, RF)
(3) Mookie Betts
Bryant, the second coming of Mike Schmidt, only with outfield eligibility. Coming into ’16 Bryant needed to do one thing to enter the realm of superstardom — cut his strikeout rate. Bryant proceeded to shave about 8% percentage points off said rate on his way to his first and likely not last MVP. His line was glorious: .292/39/8/121/102, with nothing about his profile screaming regression. The average may drop a bit if the strikeouts tick back up, but I can’t see him giving the whole 8% back. Regardless, the guy hit .275 with his old strikeout rate as his hard-hit rate is elite. The scary thing for the NL Central is that I think there’s room for growth given he just turned 25 in December. Forty home runs, a handful of steals, and 220 R/RBI with a batting average hovering in the .280 range seems about right. Gimme, gimme, gimme.
Betts is coming off a .318/31/26/122/113 year where, like Bryant, nothing in his profile seems out of line. The average came with a .322 BABIP (.310 in ’15 and .327 in ’14) and a stellar 11% strikeout rate, i.e., dude puts the ball in play and has wheels. I would take the over on .300+. The power spiked a bit, with his HR/FB jumping from 8.2% in ’15 to 13.2% in ’16, but I see this as more of a natural progression for the 24 year-old as opposed to luck. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him top 30 home runs again, butI agree with the Steamer projections that have him more in the mid-20s range. When combined with 20+ steals and elite counting stats, you’ve got a fantasy monster on your hands. The Red Sox lineup is taking a hit with Big Papi hanging it up, but I think that’s mitigated by the potential for growth from the young star.
Why Bryant over Betts you ask? If I were to go to a steakhouse 5 times a year, I’d likely order the ribeye 3 times and the strip twice. Both delicious, both awesome, fuck my waistline, gimme the chocolate cake each time and 4 Manhattans, rocks. Same thing with Betts and Bryant; if I were to complete five drafts this year and have to choose between the two in those 5 drafts, I would likely choose Bryant 3 times and Betts twice. I like Bryant’s positional flexibility for one and with third base deep this year, I could hope to catch lightning with Franco or Moosetacos or someone like that in the later rounds. More important for me is that I like Bryant’s overall profile better. I see it as trading some batting average and 10 to 15 steals for 10 to 15 additional home runs and the potential for an absolute monster high-40 home run season with 15 steals and 230 R/RBI. You do you, though. Just don’t order the chicken.
FIRST ROUND LATE
(4) Bryce Harper
The consensus, with which I agree, is that Harper was hurt in ’16 on his way to putting up a disappointing, for him, .243/24/21/84/86 line. His agent Scott Boras seemed to confirm this recently. Given the hysteria that surrounded his down season that line doesn’t look that bad, no? I mean 20/20 with 170 R/RBI. Nothing to sneeze at, until you look back at ’15’s .286/.460!/.649! slash line with 42 home runs at 22 years old! Daaamn. Just damn. I wouldn’t draft Harper expecting quite those numbers, but 30 to 35 home runs, 10-15 steals, and elite counting stats as a baseline is well worth a late first round pick. Not too often can you find this much upside in the first round. Then again, not many 22 year-olds put up a 1.109 OPS.
SAFE AND SOUND IN THE SECOND OR THIRD ROUND, WELL, EXCEPT FOR DESMOND WHO’S GOING AROUND PICK 50 BUT SHOULDN’T BE CAUSE HE IS ON THE ROCKIES AND WILL PLAY HIS HOME GAMES AT COORS FIELD AND OUTSIDE OF HIS DISMAL START IN ’15 HAS BEEN PRETTY AWESOME
(5) Charlie Blackmon
(6) Ian Desmond
(7) George Springer
Blackmon is fine. Nitpicking here, but the issue with Charlie is thatI don’t really know what I am drafting. He’s a year removed from a 28 home run season and two years removed from a 43 steal season. I don’t believe the 28 home runs as it was accompanied with a 16.2% HR/FB rate, which is about 6% higher than his previous career high. I think he’ll top out around 30 steals, absolute max too, as his 17 steals with 9 unsuccessful attempts last year doesn’t exactly foreshadow an increase in attempts, let alone another 40 steal season. His average will come down a bit too with a .350 BABIP in ’16 after .325 and .315 the previous two seasons. It’s not all doom and gloom. Charlie plays in Coors, the lineup should be great, and he’s been in the top-30 overall the last two years one way or another. Just don’t go in expecting a .300 30/30 season and you’ll avoid disappointment. Somewhere around .290 20/20 and a shitload of runs seems about right. Probably won’t see much of Charlie on many of my teams given the asking price. He kind of reminds me of that scene from the Office where the staff is debating whether Jennifer Garner is hot. I would say that Charlie is just good looking, not hot . . . in a fantasy sense, of course. I am looking for hot in the second round. Per the ADP data available at fantasypros.com, Blackmon is going 5 picks ahead of Carlos Correa. That doesn’t seem right to me given that Correa will give you similar stats, has some upside, and plays shortstop.
If you think that I am going out on a limb with Desmond at 6 ask yourself, why? He’s coming off a .285/22/21/107/86 season. Excluding the ’15 season, since ’12 he’s averaged .278/22/21/82/82 over four seasons. ’15 happened, so we have to look at it. He had a horrible, horrible first half in a contract year after turning down $100 million. The second half of ’15 saw the same old, same old with a .262 average 12 homers and 8 steals. To me, ’15 and more specifically, the first half of ’15, were the anomaly. Had Desmond not been traded to the Rockies, I would share the apparent skepticism. He’s in Colorado now. Mark Reynolds hit .282 in Coors last year. Mark. Reynolds. Moreover, he should slot fifth behind Blackmon, DJ French Sounding Name, Arenado, and Cargo. That’s a prime spot in a prime park. I think we see a line from Desmond on par with his career numbers, only with a boost to his HR total and corresponding RBI total. A .280/28/20/80/95 season is a top-30 player. As a veteran Desmond owner, I must warn you that he has hot and cold streaks that will drive you bonkers. Go Ron Popeil with it; set it and forget it and by the end of the year the stats will be there despite the journey being a bitch. If you want to debate this, please call me, we can talk about it. Phone number is 844-468-0990.
Springer is in danger of leaving this tier based upon his success rate stealing bases last year. He stole 9 bags last year and was caught 10 times. Not good. Because of his contact issues, his average will hover in the .250 to .270 range. He’ll hit somewhere around 25 homers. He’ll score a ton of runs at the top of a strong Astros lineup and won’t hurt you in RBIs. It all loops back, then, to the stolen bases. If he can steal 17 to 20 bases (he stole 16 in ’15 in 102 games, only being caught 4 times), then he’s a stud. If not, he’s Jackie Bradley at a significantly higher cost. His record of stolen bases in the minors and ’15 show that he has the ability to be a good base-thief, so we’ll leave him in this tier for now. Depending on the cost and the dearth of safe picks in the outfield, I might take the leap and hope for .265/27/17/110/80.
DIRECTED BY ANG LEE
(8) Ryan Braun
(9) Nelson Cruz
(10) Giancarlo Stanton
I just can’t quit you, Giancarlo.
(11) J.D. Martinez
(12) Gregory Polanco
He, he. Baby giraffe.
(13) Trea Turner
(14) Starling Marte
I think that Braun gets unfairly knocked for the PED thing. In just 135 games last year Braun put up .305/30/16/80/91, after similar production over a decade. He’s like Cabrera in a sense, but Cabrera chose to abuse alcohol and Braun steroids … Let’s talk about games played for a second with respect to the outfield. While you’d love Braun to play 150 games a year, it’s just never going to happen again. He’s played 135, 140, and 135 in the last three years respectively. With outfielders in most leagues (where you can and should have one playable OF on the bench or playing in the UTIL spot), this shouldn’t scare you that much. With Braun playing 135 games next year, fingers crossed, you need to fill in 27 games in the outfield. You can do that with your bench players and if you’re scared to plug in a bench outfielder, that player shouldn’t be on your team. With weekly leagues, this calculation changes, but weekly leagues remove daily lineup tinkering, which is 94% of my life during fantasy season. So, if you plug in another generic guy to provide you with some fill-in stats, you’re golden. Second note, I love what Braun provides in terms of not pigeonholing your team into requiring something in the later rounds. He’s balanced across the board and that’s what you should be looking for in the opening rounds of your draft. I am not going to start looking at his inflated HR/FB rate or too many of his underlying stats cause he’s done what he’s done for so long. In ’17 I’d expect .285/25/12/80/85 in 135 games, with a decent chance of repeating last years’ production.
If Cruz were in his early thirties he would be a first-round draft pick this year. He’s turning 37 during the ’17 campaign and while he’s put up 40, 44, and 43 home runs over the last three years, he was never a pinnacle of health prior to his late-career boom and now he’s a year older. Nothing, however, was fluky about Cruz’s ’16 season. He had the highest average exit velocity in the league, i.e., he smoked the ball while barreling it up at one of the best rates in baseball as well. He spent the majority of time at DH last year, though he did play the field on pretty regular basis. I’d hope that Cruz goes to full-time DH with the new emphasis on defense in Seattle’s outfield and with an eye toward keeping him healthy all year. As far as how Cruz compares to the next two guys, he’s done consistently for three years what we’ve hoped for over that same period from Stanton and to a lesser extent Martinez. Don’t go all crazy and pay more that you need for Cruz, but when the third round rolls around, take a hard look. We’ll go with .270/39/3/90/100 for ’17.
To be honest with you, I am not really sure how Stanton ended up at 10. He went from 12 to 17 to 13 to 109 to 43 to 10. Here’s what really happened: I love J.D. Martinez this year. When healthy, he’s been awesome. I see no reason, barring health, that he couldn’t replicate his ’15 line of .282/38/1/93/102. I am all in on him. Only thing is … ’15 was his only full season. So that’s how I feel about that … But, if that’s my feeling on a Martinez — that with his power it’s worth the risk of him staying healthy — then, DAMMIT, by that logic Stanton’s potential to put it all together and hit 50 is worth the risk too. I realize he’s never hit 40 in a season. I realize that. This is it, swear to god. After another disappointment, I am out. I’ll note here for the record that the choice between Martinez and Stanton (and Cruz really) is a coin flip for me at this point. Or dice roll or however you figure out how to pick 1 of 3.
Polanco is another guy that I went back and forth on before deciding that he should fall at 12. We’ve been so spoiled with Trout, Harper, Seager, Turner, etc. that we forget player development is sometimes more measured. Polanco certainly took a step forward last year. His OPS jumped 85 points to .785 boosted almost entirely by an 80 point jump in slugging percentage. His splits that were so concerning in ’15 weren’t a problem at all last year with a wRC+ of 108 against righties and 106 against lefties. He did fall off a bit in the second half with a wonky knee, but with another moderate step, Polanco could climb even further in these rankings. Let’s put together his best number a from the last 2 years and call it his projection for ’17: .258/22/27/83/86.
I am concocting quite a word salad here, so I will be brief on Turner and leave it to my colleagues handling 2B and SS on the site to handle the heavy lifting here. You’re not drafting Turner to stick him in your outfield anyway. Bottom line, Turner smells to me of Carlos Correa in ’15. Great debut, followed by inflated expectations and unjustified disappointment. In limited action, Turner impressed – to put it mildly – and looks to be a future star. Thing is, Major League pitchers adjust and the major league season is loooong. I expect a few stumbles on the road to stardom, aside from the regression in the .388 BABIP and home runs in the single digits to low teens (he never hit 20 home runs in the minors, in total), along with 35 steals. Young players are fun to watch and I follow the Nationals (I’m from Baltimore) so I am rooting for Turner, but I’m just not paying a second-round pick for him. If he lives up to the hype, he’ll be an early first round pick next year. Hope it happens.
Marte makes me nervous and his price doesn’t reflect the true risk here. On the one hand, he stole 41 bases and hit .311. On the other, he hit 9 home runs, had an inflated .380 BABIP, and drove in only 47 runs. 47. The last time he stole 41 bases in ’11 he drove in 35. 35. At least last year, he spent a lot of time in the 4 and 5 holes, so it’s hard to see how he only drove in 47. If the average comes down to career norms, he hits 12 home runs and steals 30, you could be looking at a .285/12/30/75/50. That is a floor for Marte but, with my number one outfielder, I am hesitant to dig stat holes and Marte could create two at HR and RBI. Even if all goes as planned, you better be looking at some power bats later in the draft. His floor stat line also looks really similar to Odubel Herrera. Might as well take a late flyer on Keeeeeeeeeooooon Broooooooxton (, at least I got chicken), who could give you a 15/40 season . . . with a .240 batting average. We’ll talk about him later.
A LITTLE MORE RISK
(15) Justin Upton
(16) Yoenis Cespedes
(17) Andrew McCutchen
(18) Carlos Gonzalez
(19) A.J. Pollock
(20) Wil Myers
It’s weird to think of a 29 year-old with almost 30 career WAR as a disappointment, but man, the potential 6 years ago. That clip was from 2011, the only other year in his career when Upton hit 31 home runs. Upton’s borderline acceptable final line of .246/31/9/81/87 masks a horrible year. Thirteen of Upton’s home runs came in the final month of the season. In May, Upton had an OPS of .569. In June, .612. That’s really, really, catastrophically bad. Like accidental-hard-fart-in-church terrible. Unfortunately, at that point in the season and with a lot invested in Upton, it was hard to bench him and when he finally turned it on, it was late in the season and you just didn’t care anymore. All that said, Upton’s 29 years old and the pressure of the big contract he signed is hopefully behind him. His Steamer projections show a .260/27/10/77/84 line and that’s the floor for me at least as far as the counting stats. The lineup is great, though getting older, and he’ll be in the heart of it. He’s always been streaky and always a pain in the ass to own, but man. For just one year if he could put it together … Like Stanton, we’ve been saying that for 5 years now and they’ve yet to really deliver This is it for me. Regardless, detach the name Upton from his Steamer projection. Now, look at them again. That’s how Upton ended up at 13 in my rankings.
Cespedes is what he is at this point. What he is is consistent and boring and likely to put up something close to last year’s line: .280/31/3/72/86, which he did in only 132 games. Remember when you used to spend a high pick on Adam Jones and not really regret it, but weren’t excited either. Cespedes has that feel to me now. I won’t seek him out in drafts, but if he’s around and I need an outfielder, I wouldn’t feel bad about clicking “draft”.
McCutchen looked to be breaking down last year. His numbers have fallen across the board for the second straight year. OPS cratered to .766, he only stole 6 bases, and he drove in less than 80. I don’t think that McCutchen is done but he’s definitely past his peak. Go in with eyes wide open and draft McCutchen hoping for.275/20/5/85/85, and I think you’ll be fine. I don’t think I will own him anywhere. Too much risk with not enough reward. Kinda sad, as a baseball fan it’s hard to see one of the more likable players start his decline.
Well, Gonzalez has played 150 games for two seasons in a row now. Feels like you’re playing with fire if you draft him this year. I’d do it though in the hopes of a .290/30/2/90/100 season under the right circumstances and at the right price. Whether you want to shoulder the risk that comes with Cargo boils down, in large part, to how your draft is shaping up to this point. If you’ve drafted relatively safe on the offensive side, it might be worth the risk to take Cargo (or McCutchen) over Cespedes. If you’ve taken some gambles early or taken a pitcher in your first couple picks, you might consider Cespedes over Cargo. In other words, don’t forget Cargo’s injury history and make sure that you can handle that risk if you choose to draft him.
Speaking of risk, there’s A.J. Pollock. After a monster ’15 with 20 home runs and 39 steals, he came back from an elbow injury late in ’16 and seemed to respond well with a couple of home runs and 4 steals. Pollock’s the perfect example of someone that could shoot up draft boards with a solid spring. Until then, I am hesitant to pay his current price. For now, I will stick with Steamer, which has Pollock with a line of .281/16/25/82/63. Looks like a poor man’s Charlie Blackmon, only the 20 or so pick savings isn’t quite enough of a discount for me to bite … yet … I’ll keep an eye on him, though.
Side note, make sure to check your eligibility rankings, Myers has OF eligibility in Yahoo but I am not sure about other formats yet. Myers, the top-tier prospect that was the centerpiece of the James Shields from the Rays to the Royals deal in 1984, surprised everyone last year to the tune of .259/28/28/99/94. The thing is, Myers has the issue of dual risks: health and performance. There are guys like Cargo that you know will perform if healthy and there are guys like Turner where you’re wondering if the high level of play you’re seeing is for real. With Myers, it’s both. Prior to last year, he hadn’t played 400 games. Then you have to wonder about whether the steals are for real and whether the second-half swoon was indicative of a broader trend, not to mention the Padres lineup looks like hot garbage. Too many questions for me. If he does it again this year, it’s a different story, but for now, I would prefer to wait for one of the next three guys. To be clear, if the choice were between Myers and Yelich, Bradley, or Piscotty, I would go Myers the majority of the time. But that’s not the choice. Based upon ADP data it’s going to be between Myers, Desmond, and J.D. Martinez. No doubt Myers is third on that last for me.
THE PERFECT DEUCE
(21) Christian Yelich
(22) Jackie Bradley, Jr.
(23) Stephen Piscotty
By perfect number two, I mean that for various reasons they could serve as the perfect compliment to your first outfielder.
Have some average concerns from your early picks in the draft? Yelich is your man. His HR/FB jumped over 11 percentage points, which isn’t sustainable so the HRs will come down. Dude also hits too many groundballs. His batting average is a lock, though. He’s 25 and looks like he’ll be in the three hole for the Marlins. A .300/15/15/80/85 line seems about right. Can’t really go wrong with that as your second outfielder.
If you piece together Bradley‘s second half from ’15 (.267/9/3/41/41) and his fist half from ’16 (.296/14/7/51/55), you have a hell of a player. Unfortunately, the first half in ’15 and second half in ’16 happened. Still, though, he ended both seasons with an OPS north of .830. Still yet to turn 27, I think there’s room for a little bit more here. His strikeout rate dropped 5% points, showing that he can adjust and, for the price, I would take the chance that he continues to make those adjustments. There is another reason for optimism if you think that Bradley could move up in the Sox lineup like I do. Pedroia doesn’t like to hit leadoff and with a hot spring, I could see Bradley slotting in there or fifth behind Hanley regardless of what they say about the Panda’s guest appearance on the biggest loser. Bradley scored 94 and drove in 87 last year mainly from the bottom of the order in a stacked Boston lineup. Imagine what he could do leading off or hitting in the meat of the order. I’d say that his predicted ’17 line of .260/25/10/90/80 is, again, a great option for your second outfielder.
Maybe it’s the Cardinals jersey, but Piscotty feels to me like a Matt Holliday lite, in that I think we’re starting a streak of consistent production that will last for years. I don’t think that we’ll see the averages or quite the same power that we did with Holliday, but .273/22/7/86/85 and hitting in the heart of the Cardinals order looks to me like the norm we can expect from the 26-year -old Piscotty for the foreseeable future. Not hot, but good looking. Draft him expecting his ’16 line, hope for a little batted-ball luck, a couple of just-enough home runs, a couple of extra steals, and you have yourself a .290/28/10/95/100 season. Don’t bank on it but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Piscotty should also be a perennial first rounder in leagues where points are awarded to players that look like they should be named Herb.
DIFFERENT PATHS TO THE SAME LOCATION — 30 OR SO HOMERUNS
(24) Kyle Schwarber
No bullshit, I was in trade negotiations with a team in my keeper league for Schwarber as I was watching him play and saw the injury live. I though his career was over. It was nasty. Happy that he bounced back.
(25) Jose Bautista
Schwarber and Bautista are better hitters than their 5 x 5 stats give them credit for. Bautista, in a down year, still hit 22% better than league average, but the overall line was bleh, .234/22/2/68/69. For Schwarber, I haven’t seen any projections that are too far off of a .250/30/5/75/75. His ’15 breakout was fueled by a 24% HR/FB rate, all while striking out 28% of his plate appearances. He’ll never hit .300, but Steamer sees a 5% drop in strikeout rate that I don’t see justification for, so .250 looks realistic to me. I am also worried about how his knee holds up over the course of the season. He looked fine in the playoffs, but a 162 game season with no rest as a DH, after a catastrophic knee injury is another story. Second, with Maddon at the helm, I am not sure that he doesn’t end up in a strong-side platoon or resting against lefties, which is fine, but you’ll need to plan for that. Lastly, for whatever reason, and I think it has a lot to do with him being on the Cubs, I see people treating him as if he has already hit 40 homeruns in a season. He’s never done that and I won’t be buying Schwarber at market value (which is right around where Polanco is being drafted). If he drops in drafts or in OPS leagues, 100% in. Don’t overpay though for what I think will be a .245/29/2/80/70 season. Speaking of .245/29/2/80/70, that seems about right for Bautista too. In an OPS or OBP league, I am all over Bautista. Guy is apparently a fitness buff and takes good care of himself, so my guess is that last year was more of a blip than fall off a sheer cliff. Also seems like an asshole too. Good hitter though, but like Schwarber, most leagues aren’t going to reward that accordingly.
Till next time.
(Click the RED link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday February 12th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #75 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is our first show of the 2017 season. We will discuss the important player movement and how it affects their value for the 2017 season.
Our guests this week are the “Legend” Lenny Melnick and Joe Iannone. Be sure to visit Lenny’s website lennymelnickfantasysports.com, and listen to his Sirius satellite show on the fantasy sports station from 7-10am every Sunday morning with host Craig Mish. Joe is a writer with MLFS and you can check his articles every Sunday morning throughout the season.
You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”