2016 Rankings Sneak Preview: Corner Infield

At this point in the year, a lot of fantasy managers failed to make the playoffs, or they’re well out of the running for the 5×5 trophy. It’s no surprise that many give up on teams in September and focus instead on fantasy football. For those who need a year-round fantasy game fix, the Assembly team is here to help with football articles for the 2015-16 season. However, I’m a one-sport guy, and my knowledge of the NFL only goes as far as the names of top quarterbacks. If you wanted me to name you a full roster, the best I could do would be to name the 1990-91 Bears and Oilers (thanks to Tecmo Super Bowl — watch this just because).

In the next few months, I’ll be turning my thoughts to 2016 baseball rankings and keeper values, as well as some more prospect pieces. I invite you to comment on my articles to ask your keeper questions, or you can use our Ask the Assembly feature. I’ll add answers to questions at the end of my weekly articles.

As for this week, I’ll take a look at corner infielders and my early 2016 rankings. Specifically, I’m looking at issues I need to resolve in my rankings, major hits or misses from last year, and other thoughts about a few players.

What Did I Miss in 2015?

Well, ranking Joey Votto #20 at the position is the obvious standout. A career low in HR/FB and BABIP from 2014 (as well as several injury issues) made me wary of assuming he could bounce back all the way to be a strong redraft pick. Going into 2015, he had missed significant time in two of the last three seasons. His value was great for OBP leagues, but in standard 5×5 the lower expected power numbers and the injury risk made me shun him as a primary 1B. I knew someone would take him well before 20th at the position, but it wasn’t going to be me. In 2015, he’s putting up the second best HR/FB of his career, which has him on pace for 30+ HR for the second time. His BA and BABIP have bounced back despite his worst LD% in five years. For 2016, I have to put him back among the top-10 at the position. I could almost go top-5, but the injury history still scares me away. Votto is likely the Tulo of 1B: capable of being a top-3 option, but you’re always worried he could get hurt.

I’d say that I missed on Joe Mauer by ranking him too high, but I didn’t even put him in my top-25. Despite this, he’s out of the top-35 in one of my 5×5 leagues among 1B eligible players (10 games), and he’s #204 overall. It goes to show that if you have zero power, your value is very limited at first base. And if you then lose your former ability to hit for BA, you’re barely roster worthy.

I had written off Mike Moustakas, along with a lot of other owners. In my 2015 preseason rankings, he ranked #25. He’s currently standing at #15, so 10 spots higher warrants some attention from me. Compared to his two down years, he’s striking out less, making harder contact, and avoiding bad luck in BABIP. I’ll be a bit wary of drafting him in the top-15 for 2016, because I’m not sure his 2015 BA will hold up, but he’s a worthy CI or backup 3B.

Finally, there’s 2016 Kris Bryant. I didn’t “miss” on him per se, because I simply didn’t project a lot of playing time for him on a team that I figured was another year away from contending. That, plus his low contact rate and high K%, had me tempering my expectations and assuming he wouldn’t pull a Mike Trout. It turns out you don’t have to be Mike Trout to have a ROY caliber season. I get the feeling that, like many CI, his double-digit SB won’t hold up very long. That being said, in redraft leagues can I really slot him in the top-5 for 2016 third basemen? A lot of players suffer sophomore slumps, though it’s not a sure thing. The contact rate and K% are still a concern for me, because I put a lot of weight on those when they’re this bad. In keeper leagues he’s a clear top-3 guy. In redraft leagues I may slot him outside the top-5. But then again, my Cub fandom may force my hand. We’ll see in a month!

Questions for 2016

Where do I put Kendrys Morales? The guy showed general skill decline in things like expected BA and HR/FB, and it culminated in an awful 2014. Now he bounces back, and though he won’t be pulling any 2009 impressions, it does seem possible he could go .280 with 20+ HR and 90 RBI in 2016. Of course, like Votto there’s a history of injury risk in his game. How will I rank him compared to guys who did worse in 2015 but may have more room for improvement moving forward? I generally favor veterans over pre-breakout players, so he may crack my top-15, but I don’t see the top-10 in his future.

I really bought high on Chris Davis for 2014 in a redraft league, and he rewarded me with a horrible campaign. This year I avoided him in most formats, and he’s bounced back pretty well. How do I rank him for 2016? The BA is still below his 2012-13 level, but I’m not sure it’ll rise any more in the future; that depends a lot on his BABIP, and his rate in 2015 is above the MLB average but not as high as his peak, which means .260 may be his new ceiling. The important thing is that his power returned in full force, and he’s matching his HR/FB from 2013 (30%). In today’s game, where 30+ HR is harder to find, once again I’m going to weigh his power ability heavily for 2016.

Todd Frazier sure hasn’t done well since the All-Star break. That’s now the second year where he’s dropped off in production, though 2014 was a little less extreme. Mostly that’s because he simply exploded in the first half of this season. However, you can’t ignore the dismal second half when ranking him for 2016 redraft. I’m actually surprised, because one of my favorite fantasy sites, in an analysis of his season in mid-August, said nothing about his second-half struggles and only looked at his whole season stats, stating he’s a top option at 3B. I realize even half a season can be considered a small sample size for statistical purposes, but like I said, I can’t ignore the drop in production. It may be because of a hidden injury. Perhaps he’s simply pressing and is getting in his own way mentally. I can’t pretend to know everything about baseball players, but I have to mark Frazier with a red flag going into 2016, and he’ll lose a few ranking spots because of it. This is assuming his September continues along the same path as his July and August. If he does right the ship and have another hot month, I’ll be more willing to erase my doubts.

Early Sleeper Picks

Playing time is always an issue when it comes to picking guys I think could break out further, but one I like is Chris Colabello. He sports a BA over .300 and 13 HR in less than 300 AB this season. The simple but unreliable concept of “double his numbers” means he could hit 20+ HR over a full season. His second half HR/FB of 33% may not be sustainable, but his first half at 18% was still over the MLB average, and his season number of 24% could be repeated. His BABIP is too high to be repeated, and though it’s helped by a high LD%, he’s not really hitting the ball overly hard to sustain it for a full year. He made contact gains in 2015, but he’s only reaching MLB average at 73%. Still, it’s better than being below 70% (remember my article about contact rate?). The issue with his sleeper value is that he’s not young, at 31. Even so, Ryan Howard got a late start to his career, and Jose Bautista took several years in the MLB to figure out his game and break out. In deep redraft leagues, at the end of the draft you are often forced to pick players who may not get full playing time. Colabello is one I’ll take even before the end, and even if he doesn’t have projected full-time AB.

Another guy along the same line of thought is Mitch Moreland. He’s had a few okay years, but he’s been bad as well, and he’s missed time due to injuries. It seems he’s now put it together in 2015. With 19 HR in under 400 AB, plus a fair BA, he’s someone who could provide a profit late in 2016 drafts. Given that he gets platooned a bit, and given his injury history, I’m not banking on a further, huge breakout. However, he may be capable of .285 and 25 HR with a little luck in batted ball and in health.

If you want a pretty sure thing for 20 HR at 3B, then look no further than Trevor Plouffe. I didn’t rank him at 3B for the 2015 preseason, but that was because at the time I couldn’t assume he’d get a lot of AB. He’s been someone I’ve turned to in previous years, and he’s always displayed solid power. An unlucky BABIP has his average lower than it could be, but that means it could get above .250 in 2016. His HR/FB history seems to point to 2012 (17%) as an outlier, but I think he could manage to improve upon 2015’s 11% in the future. He hits the ball pretty hard and has a contact rate a bit above MLB average. He’s not flashy but will get the job done for you at a discounted price.

To some, Plouffe and Moreland are a bit old for sleeper picks. If you’re looking for a younger player to break out like Matt Duffy did this year, it’s harder because the young guys are pretty well-known (Sano, Franco). Joey Gallo has immense power but worries me too much in contact and K% to be sold on him for 2016. The fact is that in terms of prospects, all the options are pretty big names. That’s why I’m betting on Josh Harrison. Most people were surprised by his breakout 2014. Then when you glance at his 2015 numbers, it’s a disappointment. He likely had some good luck in BABIP for 2014, which got his BA over .300. This year he’s just average, and so is his BA. His HR/FB and hard hit rate are down from 2014, but he dealt with a thumb injury, so that’s going to affect holding the bad and his swing. I don’t expect him to fully return to 2014 levels and put up a .300, 15 HR, 20 SB season, but with health and his versatility, I do anticipate something near .280, 10 HR, 15 SB. If he comes cheaper in 2016 than in 2015, which is likely, he will produce profit.

Previous Positional Previews
Middle InfieldOutfield Starting Pitcher

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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