This is a continuation of my top 25 for fantasy baseball 2017. These rankings are how I would draft in 2017, not necessarily how I believe they will end up ranked at the end of the year. There will be more on this throughout the post, but I always depreciate the value of starting pitchers because I believe it is smarter to draft hitters with your first 4-5 picks. That’s not to say I would never draft any top starters, but they would have to be available at a position that I would be comfortable reaching for, and for the majority of my rankings, that’s unrealistic. As before, 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.
All statistics come from ESPN, Fangraphs, and Baseball Reference.
- A.J. Pollock: Pollock is completely healed from his 2016 wrist injury and at 29 is still too young to start aging. He broke out in 2015 finishing as a consensus top 5 overall hitter and, while a repeat of that year isn’t fair to expect from him, health is the only thing working against him given his 5-category excellence. It was difficult not to squeeze him into the top 25 right next to Starling Marte and with a strong spring, he could easily wind up as a second rounder in some late March drafts. Projections: 96/18/72/.288/31
- Wil Myers: Myers broke out last year with 28 homers, 28 steals, 99 runs, and 94 RBI all on an awful Padres team. Now the question is: is it for real or will he regress? With a current average draft position (ADP) of 58, my ranking of 26 overall is aggressive, but justified. Myers is a former top prospect that won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013 before missing the majority of the 2014 and 2015 seasons with wrist injuries. With his health fully restored, Myers flourished in 2016. He also probably won’t be pitched around because the Padres are so bad. The biggest question is whether he will remain an asset on the base paths. With an 82% success on his 28 steals, and entrenched as the 3 hitter in a weak Padres lineup, I would wager that he continues to show off his newfound speed. Bad offenses tend to steal more, because their teams need to generate as much offense as they can. One warning about drafting the best hitter on a bad team: be careful, the name value may look good, but your runs/RBI may suffer. Projections: 95/27/90/.261/25
- Joey Votto: In OBP or OPS leagues, Votto is so strong that he should be bumped up to around Freeman and Encarnacion, but in standard 5×5 leagues, I’m not touching Votto with a ten-foot pole. For the past two seasons, he’s hit around .250 for the first half and then .400+ in the second half, which is a great trend until he catches a nagging injury and that explosive second half doesn’t happen. Plus, he’s 33-years old, doesn’t have great power, and might be on the worst offense in baseball. It’s fun to have name value on your team, until you reach midseason and are at the bottom of your league in counting stats because your big sluggers don’t have anyone to drive in. Projections: 93/26/87/.318/7
- Max Scherzer: This will be one of the lowest Scherzer rankings you’ll see. That’s not to say he won’t produce the back-end top 10 value he’s projected for, but as I said in the Kershaw blurb in the top 25, you don’t need an ace pitcher to win pitching categories. Pitching is deep and you’re better off spending early draft picks on hitters. As for Scherzer, you know he’s fantastic/magnificent/adjective! Projections: 19-9/2.75/0.96/275 in 230 innings
- George Springer: The more I look at the Springer’s stats, the less optimistic I feel about his ranking. The good news is that he did score 116 runs in 2016 and is prime to bat first or second for the Astros again. The bad news is he played in every single game and led the league with 744 plate appearances, but only managed 29 homers, 82 RBI, and was a pitiful 9 for 19 (47%) stealing bases. He had always been an efficient base stealer before so that may be an aberration. He’s this high because George is one of the few players in the game with 40/20 upside and at age 27 he is right in the middle of his prime. Projections: 107/33/88/.258/12
- Robinson Cano: Perhaps no one benefited more from the power boom in 2016 than Cano who, after hitting just 35 homeruns in his first 1,339 plate appearances with the Mariners, hit 39 in just 715 last year. I’m right in line with his ADP here and while I do think he regained his power stroke, I would rather draft one of the younger “upsidey” outfielders at this spot than the 34-year-old second baseman. Projections: 94/30/101/.295/2
- Madison Bumgarner: Bumgarner continues the trend of me ranking ace pitchers later than the consensus. See the Kershaw and Scherzer blurbs for reasoning. As for Madison, the workhorse continues to improve heading into his age 27 season as he seems to be following a very Felix Hernandez-esque career path. He’s even steadily improved his K/9 each year from a pedestrian 8.3 in 2012 to an elite 10.0 in 2016. Projections: 15-8/2.82/1.02/245 in 225 innings.
- Noah Syndergaard: Not reaching to draft Noah Syndergaard will be one of the toughest things I do this draft season. He easily checks all of the boxes that I look at for pitchers. He’s young (24), has nasty raw stuff (career 10.4 K/9), control (career 2.0 BB/9), and pitches in the NL. Most surprisingly, perhaps, is that he led all of baseball with a 2.29 FIP in 2016, hinting at even greater upside. The only thing that will most likely limit his value is innings. Even though he’s fully capable of throwing 220+ innings, I doubt the Mets fully utilize him to that capacity after throwing only 184 innings through a bone spur injury last year. That said, his ratio stats may make up for the lack of innings. For someone who could easily be the number 2 pitcher in the game (behind Kershaw, of course), the ceiling keeps getting higher. Projections: 15-7/2.72/1.04/235 in 205 innings.
- Giancarlo Stanton: Eventually Giancarlo will stay healthy for a full 150+ game season and be the best hitter in baseball. But after seven years of inconsistency, injuries, and squandered potential, he cannot be considered a first or second round pick. The ungodly power keeps him ranked this high and with the numerous questions surrounding the rest of the older players in this tier, he stands out among the rest. It’s just unfortunate that the hitter landscape is filled with so many risks this early in the draft. Projections: 77/35/86/.271/6
- Ryan Braun: With the steroid debacle behind him and the Brewers strong in the running for worst team in the MLB, Braun’s last two years have somehow made him underrated, despite finishing last year with a 80/30/91/.305/16 in 135 games. As mentioned in the Myers blurb, bad offenses tend to hurt a batter’s counting stats (because they don’t score), but also help their stolen bases (because the team is trying to score). In fact, the Brewers handsomely led the MLB in steals last year with 42 more than the second best team. At 33, Braun should still be athletic enough to threaten 20 steals with a healthy season. If you play the waiver wire correctly and pick up a hot bat when Braun makes his annual trip to the 15 day DL, you could wind up with 35 homers and 20 steals from Braun’s spot over the full season. Projections: 83/27/86/.290/15
- Nelson Cruz: Cruz enters his age 36 season coming off of three consecutive 40 homer seasons. Did he find the Fountain of Youth? Maybe, but I won’t be drafting to find out. Not everyone can pull a David Ortiz and contribute at an elite level into their late 30s. A low line drive rate and lucky BABIP will most likely drag his average down, and as a general fantasy rule, always opt for the younger player with upside, than the aging veteran. Projections: 85/34/100/.268/4
- Yoenis Cespedes: Cespedes has developed into one of the most consistently solid power hitters and flashiest superstars since coming to the US. He consistently hits between 26-35 homers, .270-.290, and steals three to seven bases. He also consistently gets dinged up and misses 10-15 games per year. He’s tough, but he’s streaky and he’ll play through injuries which deflate his stats. The one question mark regarding Yoenis in 2017 is his supporting cast, and with stalwarts Jose Reyes, Jay Bruce, and Curtis Granderson in his lineup, the Mets look more like a 2009 All-Star team than a 2017 contender. Projections: 81/33/94/.277/5
- Daniel Murphy: Surprisingly, it was Daniel Murphy, not Bryce Harper, that led the Nationals to the playoffs and finished second in the MVP voting last season. After a mechanical adjustment led to a power surge in the 2015 playoffs, Murphy proved that it was no fluke in 2016 leading the league in SLG and OPS. Digging a little deeper into the numbers reveals that Murphy actually had one of the lowest average homerun distances among hitters that slugged at least 20 homers in 2016. While he definitely has changed from the beginning of his career, a dip in power could be disastrous given that his former 20-steal speed appears all but gone as he’s only attempted 12 steals in the last two years combined. Projections: 82/20/93/.308/2
- Yu Darvish: Darvish is my darling heading into the 2017 season. I don’t like to draft pitchers until after around 40 overall (I normally draft eight hitters and two starters in the first 100 picks), but seeing that my ranking for Yu Darvish is aggressive, I may wind up with the Texas ace as my #1 pitcher on a lot of teams. After missing a year and a half with Tommy John surgery, Darvish came back posting an absurd 11.85 K/9 and a career-low 2.8 BB/9 (a rate he’s lowered every season throughout his career). His fastball even touched a career high 98 mph following the surgery. With a contract year serving as further motivation, it wouldn’t surprise me if Darvish racked up 300 strikeouts. Projections: 17-11/3.05/1.06/270 in 210 innings
- Brian Dozier: Dozier exploded with a career high 42 homeruns, 99 RBI, and .268 average. Much like Chris Davis during his two big breakout seasons, Dozier rode an elevated FB% and HR/FB% to his breakout campaign. He essentially completely sold out on making good contact (career low 15.9% line drive percentage) for pulling the ball in the air. Dozier’s approach worked out in 2016, but is worrisome for the future. His career BB% (9.1%) and K% (19.3%) show that he’s a disciplined hitter and will save his average from falling below .200. However, a fly ball percentage pushing 50% coupled with a line drive percentage in the mid-teens means that Dozier has to hit 40 homers again to get a batting average in the .260s unless he gets incredibly lucky with his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). As for his other stats, he should continue to stay in the mid-teens/low twenties for stolen bases (remember bad teams run), and he has scored 100+ runs out of the leadoff spot for three straight seasons despite playing for Minnesota though he will most likely open the season hitting either 3rd or 4th. Projections: 94/33/104/.249/15
- Jean Segura: After an outstanding 2013, Segura struggled through two seasons of on the field personal issues before breaking out after receiving a second chance in his first season in Arizona. Segura is not the 20/30/.320 hitter he was last year, especially now moving from the hitter-friendly confines of Arizona and road games in Colorado to Seattle’s Safeco Field. He also isn’t the .250, 5 homer hitter he was from 2014-2015. Perhaps new teammate and old friend Robinson Cano, with whom Segura worked out in the Dominican Republic prior to his breakout 2016, will help him stave off regression. Projections: 86/13/60/.287/28
- Hanley Ramirez: After a disastrous 2015, Ramirez rebounded with his best full power season since his early Marlins days. With David Ortiz retired and Gold-Glover Mitch Moreland signed to play first, Hanley finds himself fully entrenched in the DH spot. After years of being labeled as a prima donna for his lack of defensive hustle and suffering numerous fluke injuries running the bases and playing the field (remember the left field in Fenway experiment), Ramirez is in a prime position to keep doing what he’s always been best at: mash. Projections: 83/28/102/.279/8
- Jose Abreu: After an explosive 2014 debut that resulted in a fourth-place MVP finish, Abreu’s performance has gradually declined over the past three seasons. Despite a 14 homerun second half, a combination of the league catching up to him and Abreu’s declining plate coverage (he makes almost no contact with pitches up in the zone anymore) show that the 30-year-old Cuban slugger is much closer to the 2016 version of himself than the Miguel Cabrera clone we saw during his stellar rookie year. The White Sox also enter 2017 as the early favorites for worst team in baseball after their offseason rebuild, so unless Abreu himself is also traded, runs/RBI will be hard to come by. Projections: 74/28/86/.297/1
- Chris Sale: The long-awaited Chris Sale trade finally came this offseason and the ace southpaw now finds himself in Boston. After not allowing a homerun to a lefty for 3 years, Sale uncharacteristically allowed 5 in 145 PA last season. Fenway should help repress that, but his declining K-rate and fastball velocity, coupled with his steadily rising xFIP are all causes for concern. With the way I avoid ace pitchers in general, I would never draft Sale at his current ADP of around 20 overall, but the reason I repressed his ranking further is because I believe him to be much closer statistically to this upcoming second tier of aces than the Scherzer tier. Finally, if you really want to draft one of the top aces, why go for the one in the AL and with question marks surrounding his recent statistical performance? Projections: 18-10/3.22/1.05/245 in 225 innings.
*Draft Strategy Tip! A quick note on the draft strategy that I touched on briefly in the Darvish blurb, I generally draft four hitters before looking for my ace. That #1 starter pick usually comes between 45-55 overall and is usually around the 7-12 ranked pitcher off the board. Don’t be worried that this strategy will put your staff at a disadvantage. By targeting young, upside-rich pitchers with K/9s over nine and BB/9s under three instead of older veterans I capitalized on breakouts such as Arrieta and Jacob deGrom in 2015 and Jose Fernandez (RIP) and Syndergaard in 2016. I recommend not drafting top starters because pitchers are much more volatile with both their statistics and their health from season to season than top hitters. Also, in standard leagues, starters only contribute to four categories whereas the best hitters contribute to five.*
- Jake Arrieta: After a Cy-Young winning 2015 campaign highlighted by 22 wins and a 1.77 ERA, it was going to be impossible for him to live up to expectations without posting another Kershaw-esque season. Fully living up to my mantra of why you shouldn’t draft top 5 starters, Arrieta regressed in 2016. His strikeouts and ground ball percentage fell while his walks and homeruns went up. Arrieta was still very good as he led the league with the fewest hits per 9 innings for the second straight year, showing that a mixture between his 2015 and 2016 results are what we can expect. With contract year motivation and the Cubs stellar defense behind him, Arrieta should still be a reliable #1 fantasy starter, just not one that should be drafted before the 40th overall pick. Projections: 18-8/2.90/1.03/205 in 210 innings.
- Corey Kluber: After a rough start to the 2016 season, Kluber went 14-3 with a 2.61 ERA over his final 21 starts, not including his sparkling 1.83 ERA over 34 playoff innings. His K/9, BB/9, and FIP were all at their worst mark since he won the Cy Young in 2014, but having one of the best teams in the AL behind him coupled with his workhorse mentality, he should once again push 20 wins. I wouldn’t worry about the heavy playoff workload either, Kluber has proven himself to be an innings eater, so like Madison Bumgarner in 2014, there shouldn’t be any after effects. In fact, Kluber is such a quiet workhorse that I might even be undervaluing him. Projections: 17-11/3.27/1.06/235 in 220 innings.
- Jon Lester: With a 2.44 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, Lester continued his run of remarkably consistent ace-caliber pitching over the past 3 years. Lester rode the Cubs historically great defense and a miniscule .256 opponents BABIP to his career year. With consistent K/9 and BB/9 rates hovering around nine and two respectively, there’s no reason to think Lester won’t continue to be consistent. As noted in my strategy tip, I will most likely opt for a younger starter as my #1 (Lester is 33) to avoid any risk of decline. Projections: 16-8/3.05/1.04/200 in 200 innings.
- Gregory Polanco: Like much of the MLB, Polanco found his power stroke last year upping his career high from 9 to 22 home runs while entrenching himself as a run producer in the middle of the Pirates. His steals fell from 27 to 17, but he’s young and the Pirates have never been afraid to run with their stars. With McCutchen declining, it’s time for Polanco to make himself the cornerstone of the offense. He has 30/30 and top 20 overall upside, he just needs to put it all together. Projections: 81/26/85/.266/18
- Kyle Seager: Seager has been one of the most consistent players in his five full seasons with the Mariners. In 2016, he reached career highs in every fantasy relevant statistic except stolen bases. Instead of expecting more growth, Seager’s performance will most likely plateau at its 2016 level. He would have to get his fly ball rate below 40% to ever sniff a .300 batting average, but that would come at the expense of some of his power. Projections: 85/28/90/.270/4
- Mark Trumbo: For the fourth straight year, a Baltimore Oriole led all of the MLB in homeruns. Trumbo joins Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz as forgotten power hitters that have revitalized their careers in Camden Yards. The key with Trumbo is to know what to expect. While he won’t hit 47 homers again, he’ll provide solid power numbers with no speed while not killing you in average. Projections: 83/36/98/.250/2