This late February heat wave is a reminder that baseball season is almost upon us. Soon, the boys of summer will be back for another 162 games of America’s Pastime. But first, fantasy draft season must occur. Some quick notes before we begin: these projections are my own. Yes, I consulted numerous baseball sites before coming to my conclusions (it would be irresponsible not to) but ultimately, these are my projections. In addition, these rankings are for standard 5×5 leagues where the scoring stats are runs/homeruns/RBI/average/steals for hitters and Win-loss/ERA/WHIP/strikeouts/saves for pitchers. I will attempt to get through 200 players before Opening Day, but know that life (and school) gets in the way and this merely my favorite hobby. So, without further ado, here are my top 25 for fantasy baseball 2017.
- Mike Trout: Any ranking that doesn’t have Trout #1 is wrong. He’s been in the league for 5 seasons now and has never finished lower than second in the MVP race. He’s also only 25. Projections: 115/34/109/.320/23 and the AL MVP award.
- Mookie Betts: Trout will always be the first pick but 2-6 are somewhat of a toss-up. Mookie had a ton of just-enough homers last year, but he gets away with it by playing half his games at Fenway Park, and has the lineup protection to replicate his absurd counting stats. At 24, he also still has upside. Give me Mike Trout-lite with the second pick. Projections: 120/33/102/.312/24
- Kris Bryant: Bryant gets the edge here (over Arenado) because of his triple position eligibility (1B/3B/OF). That flexibility allows you to choose whoever you want with your second pick whereas if you draft Trout, Betts, or Altuve, you almost have to go for a corner infielder next. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he taps further into his potential and hits above .300 this year. Projections: 115/42/110/.298/8
- Nolan Arenado: You can count Coors against him, but there’s no denying Arenado might be the best power hitter in the game right now. He’s the only player in baseball with 40+ homeruns and 130+ RBI in each of the last two seasons, and unlike other Rockies on this list, there’s no chance he gets traded. Projections: 102/45/134/.301/1
- Jose Altuve: With a line of 108/24/96/.338/30, the 5’6” Altuve reached new heights in 2016. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see him building upon that career year. His HR/FB% has jumped from 3.9% to 7.4% to 13% over the past 3 seasons despite his FB% dropping from 35.2% to 32.2%. He may technically be entering his power prime at 27, but 2016 will be tough for him to replicate without selling out on average or speed. Projections: 104/17/83/.329/38
- Paul Goldschmidt: At this point in his career, Goldschmidt seems like one of the safest bets to return draft value of anyone on this list. His floor is that of a prime Andrew McCutchen and his ceiling is a 40/30 season. Unfortunately, he’s much closer to the former than the latter and has a poor surrounding cast. Because his lineup is so weak, he has been relatively healthy for his entire career, and is a successful base stealer (86%), his steals probably won’t go the way of Machado. Goldy also gets some value with the return of a healthy A.J. Pollock. Really, any of these players ranked 2-6 could slot anywhere; Goldy’s just last because his ceiling isn’t as high as the others. Projections: 101/29/102/.307/21
- Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo and Bryant are almost interchangeable. If you told me Rizzo would win the 2017 NL MVP, I wouldn’t be surprised. They have the same huge power, same sneaky speed, and the same amazing lineup ripe with counting stats. Rizzo just gets less attention for being, well, boring. That’s something to take advantage of if someone reaches on a flashier name like Trea Turner or Carlos Correa at the end of the first round. Projections: 105/35/115/.288/8
- Manny Machado: Macho Man Manny Machado took a step down last year as he went from 20 stolen bases in 2015 to a big fat 0 in 2016 (he was even caught 3 times!). He’s young (24) and another year removed from his nasty knee injury, so he should be good for at least a few steals. My bigger concern is with the Orioles as a whole. They’re very much a homerun or nothing team, and for some reason Buck Showalter decided that Adam Jones (.265 AVG, .310 OBP, 2 SB) would make for a great leadoff hitter. What does this mean? Machado doesn’t hit with people on base often, and because baserunners are so rare, Showalter doesn’t want to risk them being thrown out by having them steal. That said, his 40/20 upside is still very real. Projections: 102/38/100/.302/7
- Bryce Harper: Was anyone more disappointing in 2016 than Bryce Harper? And despite his down year he still hit 24 homeruns and stole 21 bases. The biggest culprit of his down year was his line drive percentage falling from 22.2% to 17.2% and his BABIP falling from .369 to an absurdly low .264. He played the majority of the season with a right shoulder injury, so with full health and a chip on his shoulder, look for a major bounce back campaign from the “chosen one” who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated 8(!!!) years ago at the age of 16. Projections: 104/34/96/.284/15
- Miguel Cabrera: The best hitter of the past decade rebounded from two somewhat down years to slash 92/38/108/.316 last year. Miggy isn’t really getting better with age, he’s just being Miggy. He also gets categorized as boring, because he does the same thing year in year out. He does what’s expected of him, which is excellence. With the inherent risk in Machado and Harper, coupled with Miggy’s consistent production, I may even be ranking him too low. Projections: 98/34/105/.319/1
- Trea Turner: Last year, Turner slashed 53/13/40/.342/33 in only 73 games. Yes, if he did that over a full season he would be the best player in the game. If Gary Sanchez kept up the pace of his first two months in the MLB, he would have hit 60 home runs. Prorating is dangerous. That said, his steals are for real, he’ll hit either first or second in the Nats lineup so the counting stats will be there, and he’ll gain shortstop eligibility after the first few weeks of the season. His average was ballooned by an insanely high .388 BABIP and he only hit 15 homers in his minor-league career before his promotion. Yet with his upside and sheer talent, there’s no way a healthy Turner doesn’t return first round value. Look at my projections for Turner and then look at them for Altuve. The only reason Turner isn’t up there is because he hasn’t done it yet. Projections: 102/16/70/.295/47
- Clayton Kershaw: Checking fantasypros.com, I have Kershaw ranked lower than every professional fantasy analyst (is that an oxymoron?) except for one. That’s not a knock on Clayton, that’s just my experienced belief that you don’t need the best pitcher in the game to have the best fantasy staff in your league. You can stream pitchers against the Padres and Phillies all season and get numbers that resemble an ace. There’s maybe one or two breakout hitters each year that you can pick up off of waivers and, if you’re smart and/or lucky enough, hold on to all season and receive first round value. Use your first four picks on hitters. You can thank me when you win your league. As for Kershaw, you know what you’re getting. I could make a legitimate argument that he’s the best starting pitcher of all time. He could only pitch 150 innings and still be a top 5 overall player; he did it last year. Projections: 21-6/1.98/0.95/280 in 220 innings and the NL Cy Young Award.
- Charlie Blackmon: Blackmon’s 2015: 93/17/58/.287/43. Blackmon’s 2016: 111/29/82/.324/17. Last year was undoubtedly his career year, but the variance in those stats and the strong probability that he’s traded if the Rockies struggle makes his projections difficult. One positive to note is that his home/road splits aren’t as drastic as other Rockies (12 HR .335 at home, 17/.313 on the road), and that, if traded, he’ll go to contender. Projections: 105/23/75/.302/26
- Josh Donaldson: Given this ranking, there’s no chance I draft Donaldson on any team. There’s simply too many negatives to justify taking him before anyone else I’ve ranked. He’s old(er) (31), already had his career year in 2015, and lost his supporting cast with Encarnacion in Cleveland, Bautista starting to wear down, and Tulowitzki proving he’s simply not that good outside of Coors Field. Projections: 94/38/106/.285/5
- Carlos Correa: As a 20-year-old rookie Correa slashed 52/22/68/.279/14 in 99 games. In 2016, he slashed 76/20/96/.274/13 in 153 games while playing through separate ankle and shoulder injuries all season. You don’t think the injuries hampered his line a little bit? Expect the 22-year-old to firmly place himself in the MVP discussion in his third season. Projections: 88/27/98/.286/18
- Corey Seager: Seager’s bat carried him through the minors, all the way up to #1 prospect status and then a third-place finish in the MVP voting to accompany his Rookie of the Year award. As he fills out his lanky frame, expect the power to come. He’s never going to run much but with a legitimate ceiling of a more powerful 2016 Daniel Murphy, don’t be shocked if Seager is a top 10 player at this time next year. Projections: 103/28/87/.315/3
- Freddie Freeman: At this point, we know what Freeman’s floor is, he showed it to us for the five years leading up to 2016. Then last year happened and he broke out. At 27, expect that breakout to continue with added counting stats given the Braves suddenly deep, yet old, lineup. Projections: 103/33/99/.293/4
- Edwin Encarnacion: Signing with the Indians really doesn’t change EE’s value at all. His K’s went up slightly and he is 34, but he still hits the ball as hard as he always has. Not playing the field means he doesn’t deal with the wear and tear of other players and he’s been relatively healthy for the majority of his career, so his production shouldn’t suffer a sharp decline. He no longer hits behind AL MVP Josh Donaldson, but the combined OBP of the projected first three hitters of the Indians lineup is higher, so his counting stats should stay roughly the same. Projection: 91/38/111/.266/2
- J.D. Martinez: This is my darling of the 2017 draft season. Contract year motivation is often shrugged aside as a random fluke, but for a player like the 29-year-old Martinez, who was labeled as a bust and cut by the last place Astros before the 2014 season, there may be no one else with a bigger chip on his shoulder and desire to prove his worth. Martinez is still the 38 homer guy he was in 2015, and with a .307 average in 120 games last year, he may still have some untapped upside. With a big paycheck waiting in 2018, expect a career year from the Tiger outfielder. His runs and RBI could switch depending on whether he hits in front of or behind Miguel Cabrera. Projections: 96/36/105/.296/1
- Francisco Lindor: Lindor starts a run of three straight shortstops that all shine in a different statistical category. Lindor represents the best of this bunch given his five-category excellence. If he continues to develop, he could blossom into a prime Andrew McCutchen at shortstop. He has the speed to swipe 30+ bases, but being firmly entrenched in the 3 spot in front of Edwin Encarnacion might limit his base stealing opportunities. Projections: 107/19/82/.307/21
- Trevor Story: Last year, he hit 27 home runs in 97 homers before going down with a UCL tear in his thumb. Now completely recovered from his injury, Story will reap the benefits of Coors Field. Even with his extreme strikeout tendency (31.3%), he will easily hit above .250 with the help of the thin Denver air. Perhaps his biggest issue may be lineup placement, as he could bat anywhere from second to sixth which would flip flop his runs and RBI totals. One further note, in the minors, Story stole bases at a 25SB/600PA rate. Sure, he may be one of the riskiest players in this top 25, but there is no denying his top 10 upside. Projections: 84/35/97/.264/18
- Xander Bogaerts: It feels like Bogaerts has been around forever but he’s still just entering his age 24 season. The biggest knock on Xander is that neither his power nor speed are necessarily plus tools. He may begin to grow into some power at the cost of speed, but with his secure lineup placement and the benefits of Fenway Park, it’s tough to rank him any lower. Projections: 105/24/92/.305/8
- Rougned Odor: His 7.1 K/BB is abysmal, but more palatable when you realize he only strikes out at an acceptable 21.2%. His current average draft position (ADP) of 43 is absurd when you realize that he’s locked into the top part of one of the AL’s most potent lineups and is coming off of a 33 HR, 14 SB, .271 season as a 22-year-old. With a little bit of luck in the average department, he becomes Robinson Cano with speed. On the other hand, growth isn’t always linear, and if Odor fails to improve on his hacking tendencies, the league will adjust to him. Projections: 92/28/95/.279/12
- Starling Marte: Marte’s 2015: 84/19/81/.287/30. Marte’s 2016: 71/9/46/.311/47. Marte is an absolute enigma because he seems to decide what kind of player he wants to be regardless of where manager Clint Hurdle places him in the lineup. He could be anywhere from a 20/30 middle of the order hitter to a 10/50 leadoff man. Given Andrew McCutchen’s decline, I’ll guess that Marte hits in the middle of the order this year. One caveat, Marte’s OBP is largely fueled by his league leading 76 hit by pitches over the past 4 years. Those nicks and nagging injuries have led to only one season with more than 135 games played in his career. Marte is risky, but his upside is too good to ignore. Projections: 84/18/77/.306/35
- Jonathan Villar: Perhaps the biggest breakout hitter of 2016, Villar went from being an unrosterable backup infielder to a fantasy stud. He always had great speed, but it wasn’t until he got to Milwaukee that he found a starting job. Now firmly entrenched atop the Brewer lineup, the 26-year-old utility infielder looks poised to follow up his breakout with more of the same. On a team with as poor of a lineup as the Brewers, his counting stat potential gets dragged down. Couple that with his career 26.5 K% and some regression should be expected. His power and speed do look legit however, and the Brewers love to run, so he may easily lead the league in steals for the second straight year. Projections: 85/14/56/.265/51
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below, on Facebook, or reach out to me directly. As you have probably noticed, I love talking about this stuff!
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