Written by: David Holler
The Elite Tier
- Mike Trout LAA 25
- Mookie Betts BOS 24
- Bryce Harper WAS 24
- Charlie Blackmon COL 30
Mike Trout puts up incredible stats each season, but it’s the consistency that makes him the consensus top pick. Unlike other top players who have failed to stay in the top spot, Trout kills it in every column, every year. If you have the number one overall pick, don’t get cute. Get Mike Trout.
Mookie Betts took a massive step forward last season and finished as the number one overall player in default ESPN leagues. That means a little regression could be in his future, but that still lands the Red Sox star as a top player in fantasy. The loss of David Ortiz could drop the counting stats a tick, but don’t let that dissuade you. Betts is going to fill up the stat sheet this season.
Bryce Harper had a big drop-off from his epic 2015, but I’m seeing that as an opportunity to acquire him at a greater value. Harper does not lack for confidence, and neither should you when deciding who to take. The Nationals have Harper for two more seasons before he hits free agency, and I expect those to be two monster seasons.
Charlie Blackmon and his .933 OPS could have been a one hit wonder last season. Placing Blackmon in this tier indicates a belief that he can repeat his outstanding 2016, or come close. The career OPS is only .814, but this feels more like a late breakout than a one time blip. Playing in Coors is always a major factor that cannot be ignored.
The Big Names Tier
- Starling Marte PIT 28
- Ryan Braun MIL 33
- Carlos Gonzalez COL 31
- George Springer HOU 27
- Andrew McCutchen PIT 30
- Giancarlo Stanton MIA 27
- Yoenis Cespedes NYM 31
- Nelson Cruz SEA 36
Starling Marte stole 47 bases in only 129 games last season. The average came up over .300, the OPS climbed over .800 and he’s in his prime. Figure out how to get Marte in your lineup if you need a guy who will challenge for the NL stolen base crown.
Ryan Braun has the injury and PED devaluation already built into this price. The .300 average with an elite .900 OPS should put him in the first round debate. The Hebrew Hammer is on the wrong side of his career arc and has the aforementioned question marks. Don’t let those factors scare you off if the price falls far enough.
Carlos Gonzalez has stayed healthy and stuffed the stat sheet for two years in a row. The home run total went from 40 to 25 last season, but otherwise Cargo’s stellar production was basically a carbon copy from 2015 to 2016. Expect a .280 batting average with runs in the 80’s, RBIs in the 90’s and an OPS around .850.
George Springer played in all 162 games and scored 116 runs last season. He’s in the prime years of his career, so it’s reasonable that his 29 home runs and .815 OPS could take a step forward this season. He’s not quite the SB threat we hoped he could become, but Springer should have a great season surrounded by other talented hitters.
Andrew McCutchen was a dominant force between 2012 and 2014, batting over .300, producing an OPS north of .900, and finishing in the top 3 of MVP voting in the National League each of those seasons. That level of production isn’t coming back, but it’s reasonable to expect an improvement from last season when McCutchen posted an OPS under .800 for the first time in his career. There is still gas left in the tank, and potentially value at a discount for you.
Giancarlo Stanton has first round talent, but injuries have become the story of his career. Before last season, you could have said “at least he produces when he’s healthy.” A 137 point drop in OPS brings up new concerns of diminishing returns. Stanton is a risky pick, but one with immense upside if he can just stay healthy enough to give you five hundred or more at bats.
Yoenis Cespedes has been a really good hitter since breaking into the majors, but he has been outstanding as a member of the New York Mets. A .942 OPS down the stretch for NY in 2015 and an .884 mark in 2016 shows why he’s such an important player to the Mets. He’s a top hitter that you may not need to pay a top price for.
Nelson Cruz has hit at least 40 HRs and driven in 108, 93 and 105 over the past three seasons. His age dictates a decline at some point which is why he’s going to be available at this point. How far will you let him slip?
The Rock Solid Tier
- Christian Yelich MIA 25
- Gregory Polanco PIT 25
- J.D. Martinez DET 29
- A.J. Pollock ARI 29
- Ian Desmond COL 31
- Billy Hamilton CIN 26
Christian Yelich was supposed to hit for average last season, so the 21 home runs and 98 runs batted in were a sweet surprise for those who invested in him. Now the discount is gone, but I wouldn’t assume he can repeat those power numbers. I expect a little regression to go with another season of a strong batting average.
Gregory Polanco took a leap forward last year in his age 24 season. His slash line of .258/.323/.463 left something to be desired, but his 22 HRs and 17 SBs paired nicely with solid RBI and run totals. If his hitting percentages can improve in 2016, we’re looking at one of the best outfielders in baseball.
J.D. Martinez didn’t quite match his output of 38 HRs and 102 RBIs from 2015. He only played in 120 games in 2016, but his OPS went up to .908 from .879 the year before. There’s definitely a variability of outcomes here, but we can count on Martinez to hit at least 20 HRs and bat over .280, accomplishments he’s achieved in each of the last three seasons.
A.J. Pollock had a monster 2015 with 20 home runs and 39 stolen bases. 2016 was a lost season playing in only 12 games because of injury, but he was already a candidate for regression. Pollock belongs in this tier as a high risk / reward option. You will see the D’Backs outfielder higher on other lists if the author projects less risk and more reward.
Ian Desmond gains his value from the likelihood of going 20/20 this season. His career slashline of .267/.316/.427 is not on par with many of the other outfielders in this tier, so we’re projecting that the Coors effect will give his numbers a bump. Desmond should have another productive season this year, but don’t assume he’s going to morph into Nolan Arenado. Take the new Rockie if the price drops, but this is not a player I would reach for.
Billy Hamilton has stolen at least 56 bases in each of the past three seasons. If you’re in a 5×5 or 6×6 roto league that include SBs, this guy could almost single-handedly win you that category. We are past the point of saying “if he could get on base 35% of the time he’d steal 80!” We know who Hamilton is. The batting average and OBP are going to stink. Take the Red’s speedster to own stolen bases and ignore him in points leagues.
The Fallback Tier
- Jose Bautista TOR 36
- Justin Upton DET 29
- Adam Jones BAL 31
- Kyle Schwarber CHC 24
- Matt Kemp ATL 32
- Stephen Piscotty STL 26
- Jackie Bradley Jr. BOS 26
Jose Bautista averaged 36 home runs and 93 RBIs with a .929 OPS from 2010 to 2016. Will you invest to find out if he can do it for one more season? The answer from MLB general managers this off-season was clearly no. The Blue Jays wisely read the market and re-upped with the slugger at a discount after he found no suitors in the free agency. Bautista should be highly motivated to prove everyone wrong this season, but being placed in this tier means I tend to agree with MLB GM’s.
Justin Upton has become a pretty consistent player at this point in his career, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The batting average will hover around .250, the OPS has been under .800, and the upside is speculating on 30 home runs. Take Upton if you need consistent production, but look elsewhere if you’re searching for a player to elevate your squad.
Adam Jones, like Upton, is consistent if nothing else. Lock in the 31-year-old for a .260 average, OPS just south of .800, home runs approaching 30 and RBI / run totals in the 80’s. It’s boring safe production, but that might be just what you need if you’re in a deep league and the other owners are passing on the Orioles outfielder.
Kyle Schwarber will not be catcher eligible to start the season (except on Yahoo) and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Cubs give him significant starts behind the plate. We know that Schwarber can hit for power, but he will have to take a major step forward to contribute in all the categories. The power is real and the lineup is great. Make sure you’re paying for realistic expected production, not Cubs hype.
Matt Kemp has given us the consistent unremarkable production we should expect from a veteran player. I’d expect a .270 batting average, home runs approaching 30 and RBI’s in the 90’s. The ceiling is not as high as younger players, so take him as a safe draft day bargain if he slips.
Stephen Piscotty is a solid young player and an integral part of the Cardinals lineup. The floor seems safe enough, but the ceiling also feels somewhat limited since he won’t steal many bases and he’s not going to dominate a category. Give Piscotty a bump in points leagues.
Jackie Bradley Jr. seems like the forgotten man in the Boston outfield. He may not have the hype of some of the other Red Sox young risers, but there’s a better than 50/50 chance that his production exceeds Andrew Benintendi. Bradley has only done it for one full season, so there is regression risk. Playing in Fenway in a stacked lineup should lead to another season of excellent counting stats.
The Fall Way Back Tier
- Mark Trumbo BAL 31
- Michael Brantley CLE 29
- Adam Eaton WAS 28
- Khris Davis OAK 29
- Lorenzo Cain KC 30
Mark Trumbo fans were crying foul this offseason when it looked like no one would give him a lucrative contract. The market is saturated with low batting average power hitters that nobody wants, and MLB general managers have taken notice. Trumbo is a career .251 hitter who produced a .742 OPS between 2013 and 2015. It’s possible the 47 home runs last season are repeatable, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The pre-2016 Mark Trumbo was barely worthy of a roster spot in shallow fantasy leagues.
Michael Brantley is a hitter you want in your lineup when he’s healthy. The expectation is that he should be fully recovered from two shoulder surgeries by opening day. Spring Training should tell us a lot about the trajectory of his season. If he’s truly healthy, Brantley should provide good hitting percentages and a solid value based on his assumed draft day price.
Adam Eaton has been almost the exact same player over the past two seasons. He’s averaged 14 HRs, 16 SBs and produced a slashline of .286/.362/.430. The Nationals paid a high price to get that level of consistency, but there’s not a whole lot to get excited about from a fantasy perspective. I doubt he’ll be on any of my fantasy teams this Summer considering the investment.
Khris Davis went off last season in the power department. Davis is going to hit around .250, so he has to hit for a big home run total to provide value to your team. 30 bombs seems reasonable for 2017, but I just can’t see a repeat of the 42 from last season. I’m selling on Davis getting close to the 42 home runs from last season.
Lorenzo Cain finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2015. You may need to read that sentence again. In that season he hit for average, power and stole 28 bases for the second year in a row. That season is starting to look like a distant outlier, but he’ll be an solid value if he can produce a good portion of that production in 2017.
The Lottery Ticket Tier
- Andrew Benintendi BOS 22
- David Dahl COL 23
- Adam Duvall CIN 28
- Marcell Ozuna MIA 26
- Odubel Herrera PHI 25
- Randal Grichuk STL 25
- Joc Pederson LAD 24
Andrew Benintendi was just named the top prospect in baseball according to MLB. Cue up the hype machine. If he hits second in the lineup, as some are speculating, the ceiling is extremely high. The only problem is you’re probably going to have to pay a significant price to find out, and we are talking about a 22-year-old rookie. I’m tempering my expectations, but we could be seeing the birth of bonafide star.
David Dahl really made an impression last season, breaking into the majors with a .315 batting average and .859 OPS over 63 games. We really don’t know what to expect this season in terms of production or playing time, but simply repeating his 2016 over a full season would make Dahl a worthy investment.
Adam Duvall hit 33 home runs and drove in 103 last season. Therein lies his value. The batting average and counting stats leave something to be desired, so this is a flier based on a repeat power performance. Remember that home runs come in bunches, so don’t quit on this guy after a couple of weeks if you choose to invest.
Marcell Ozuna hit 23 home runs in two of his last three seasons. Ozuna will need to take a step forward to pay off this season. The production is lacking in the other categories at this point in his career.
Odubel Herrera had a quietly solid season in 2016, finishing as the 15th rated outfielder in standard ESPN leagues. Herrera didn’t raise eyebrows in any one category, but provided solid production across the board, playing in 159 games and stealing 25 bases.
Randal Grichuk had a tough 2016. He took a step backwards in terms of production, was sent down to AAA for 23 games, and ended up having knee surgery during the off-season. Why is he worth a flier? Grichuk produced impressive offensive numbers in August and September after his recall from the minors. Take a flier to see if the good Grichuk shows up, and cut bait if he doesn’t.
Joc Pederson could put it all together this season and hit 40 home runs. There’s a better chance he hits close to the mendoza line and can’t maintain his position in the Dodgers lineup. Feeling lucky?
The AL/NL Only Tier
- Kole Calhoun LAA 29
- Jay Bruce NYM 29
- Carlos Beltran HOU 39
- Dexter Fowler STL 31
- Melky Cabrera CWS 32
- Jacoby Ellsbury NYY 33
- Brett Gardner NYY 33
- Curtis Granderson NYM 36
- Kevin Pillar TOR 28
- Rajai Davis OAK 36
Kole Calhoun hit 26 HRs and drove in 83 in 2015. A return near those numbers makes him a value. Jay Bruce for Reds last season was having a career year. Jay Bruce for the Mets last season should not have been in anyone’s starting lineup. Carlos Beltran seeing his at bats at DH and slotting into a very good lineup could reap big rewards, even at his age. Dexter Fowler should be a solid addition for the Cardinals, scoring plenty of runs and getting on base.
Melky Cabrera hits for a solid average and produces run and RBI totals in the 70’s. Jacoby Ellsbury should score a solid amount of runs and steal at least 20 bases if healthy. Brett Gardner will challenge Ellsbury for the same mediocre run and stolen base production. Curtis Granderson could make a run at back to back 30 HR seasons. Kevin Pillar is a stolen base flier if you’re running out of options. Rajai Davis has to only get close to his 2016 production to be worth the value at this point.
Low Cost Deep League Sleeper Tier
- Nomar Mazara TEX 21
- Byron Buxton MIN 23
- Keon Broxton MIL 26
- Hunter Renfroe SD 25
Nomar Mazara will be one of the best hitters in the Rangers lineup one day. The lack of stolen bases caps his ceiling at this early stage of his career. Byron Buxton was the top prospects in baseball at one point, so it’s worth a shot to see if he can put it together. A breakout would include solid power and a ton of stolen bases. Keon Broxton is a threat to steal 40 bases with a full season of at bats. Hunter Renfroe is a power hitting prospect who experienced success during his very brief call-up last season.
Playing Other Positions
These players carry more value by playing an infield position. Check out previous tier articles for the breakdown on these players.
- Kris Bryant CHC 25
- Trea Turner WAS 23
- Jose Ramirez CLE 24
- Miguel Sano MIN 23
- Willson Contreras CHC 24
- Ben Zobrist CHC 35
Positional eligibility is based on playing 20 games at the position in 2016. The same criteria is used for ESPN fantasy leagues.
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