Fantasy Baseball: Year-End Keeper League Rankings for 2014

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterOctober 3, 2013

After a monster 2013 season, has Paul Goldschmidt jumped to the head of a very deep first base class in fantasy?
After a monster 2013 season, has Paul Goldschmidt jumped to the head of a very deep first base class in fantasy?Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

When it comes to fantasy baseball keeper leagues, the only thing better than winning it all this year is setting your team up to do it again next year.

That's what keeper leagues are about: Next. And since we know it's never too soon to start thinking about what happens next, below is a rundown of the top players at every position for keeper leagues.

Before we get to that, though, realize that these rankings are for 2014 only—think of this as an early preview of sorts—and are based on standard 5x5 rotisserie-style scoring. Player performance in 2013 was weighed heavily, which is why those statistics are shown, but the overall focus remains on the season to come...six months from now.

For each position, the analysis that follows includes: an overall prognosis; a player or three on the rise/decline heading into next season; a few names who just missed the top-10 cut; and a big league-ready prospect or two.

With that laid out, let's consider this the start of an open discussion that will continue throughout the offseason and on into 2014 fantasy baseball drafts. If you disagree with a ranking—is a certain player way too high/low? Does someone need to be added? Let 'er rip in the comments.

After all, it may be early, but next is always around the corner.

 

Catchers

Overall Position Analysis

At first glance, catcher is deeper than you realize, as all 10 backstops above were worthy starters this year and should be again in 2014.

The reason the position seems as deep as it does, though, is because there really is no standout. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to draft Buster Posey in the first round or two last spring, but that didn't exactly turn out too well, did it?

In keeper leagues, hanging onto a catcher isn't a recommended strategy—the volatility of the position is too much to rely on—especially if you have any other options of interest to consider instead.

 

On the Rise

Wilin Rosario: Props also go to Jonathan Lucroy, Sal Perez and Wilson Ramos, but Rosario—who'll turn only 25 next February—showed this season that he's capable of doing more than just hit for power, as he batted .292, drove in 79 and even chipped in four steals, which is more than most catchers even attempt in a season.

On the Decline 

Brian McCann: Like Rosario, McCann's birthday is in February, except he'll be crossing over into the "three-oh" territory.

While he had a nice bounce-back campaign after missing the first month recovering from shoulder surgery—20 homers six straight years now—McCann is a free agent facing a few too many injury-, age- and team-related questions to feel all that good about. (Joe Mauer gets the "honorable mention" here for his continued injury issues.)

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Jason Castro, A.J. Pierzynski, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Evan Gattis

 

Prospects to Know

Travis d'Arnaud and Josmil Pinto

 

First Basemen

Overall Position Analysis

The old guard has given way to the new at first base, where former first-round studs like Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and, yes, Albert Pujols have dropped a click or two. In their place are younger, less taxed production monsters like Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis and Freddie Freeman.

Still, just about any owner should be more than happy to have one of these 10 as their starter, including Pujols, who may have one last hurrah in him now that he's addressed that chronic plantar fasciitis.

 

On the Rise

Eric Hosmer: Paul Goldschmidt is the "no-duh" pick, and Freddie Freeman is another easy choice, since both had true breakout seasons, but Hosmer had a breakout within the season: With all of one homer and his average sitting at .261 through May, the soon-to-be 24-year-old hit .318 with 16 home runs, 28 doubles, 68 runs, 63 RBI and eight steals from June 1 on.

On the Decline

Adrian Gonzalez: The 31-year-old turned in a strong season, but his final numbers were a little too RBI-dependent, which makes him risky as a keeper, considering he no longer appears capable of hitting more than 20-25 home runs.

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Brandon Belt, Mark Trumbo, Anthony Rizzo, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Mark Teixeira, Kendrys Morales, Matt Adams and Ryan Howard

 

Prospects to Know

Jonathan Singleton and Hunter Morris

 

Second Basemen

Overall Position Analysis

The three-headed monster—Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler—that used to inhabit the top of the second-base rankings has now broken apart.

Cano remains in a tier by himself as a legitimate first-round talent worth keeping even if the free-agent-to-be leaves behind Yankee Stadium, but Pedroia and Kinsler have begun to age quickly in dealing with injuries that have hampered performance.

It gets ugly quick here, though, so if you're considering keeping any of the bottom five from the list above, it would have to be because their alternate strengths (power versus speed) fit your roster just right.

 

On the Rise

Jason Kipnis: Coin flip with Matt Carpenter, but Kipnis, 26, is the selection here mainly because his skill set lends itself to a more dynamic, all-around fantasy performance. He contributes in all five categories, whereas Carpenter comes up a little short in homers and is of no help on the basepaths.

 

On the Decline

Ian Kinsler: Minus his 30-30 season in 2011, three of his past four years have left a lot to be desired. Kinsler will turn 32 next summer, he continues to fight injuries and there's a chance he gets shifted to another position to pave the way for Jurickson Profar. That's the recipe for a cliff season in 2014.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Ian Kinsler #5 of the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 24, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Noteworthy Nexts

Aaron Hill, Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, Neil Walker, Nick Franklin, Anthony Rendon and Jurickson Profar

 

Prospects to Know

Kolten Wong and Jonathan Schoop

 

Third Basemen

Overall Position Analysis

The hot corner isn't as hot as it used to be, but it's still the second-strongest and deepest infield position other than first base. At the top, it doesn't get much more consistently great than Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre.

The biggest problem among the high-end performers at this spot in recent years has been injury, as each of David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval have suffered through significant stints on the disabled list. (And in late September, it looked like the same fate would befall Manny Machado, one of the sport's brightest up-and-comers.)

 

On the Rise

Manny Machado: As mentioned before, his torn left knee ligament (specifically, the medial patellofemoral ligament) initially appeared like the type of injury that would cost the 21-year-old the better part of next year, but the news since indicates that rest and rehab—and not surgery—will get the job done.

Hanging on to an injured player in a keeper format is always dicey, but Machado already was so good in his first full season—and has so much upside for more—that it's worth the gamble. If it pays off, he could be a top-three third baseman this time next year.

 

On the Decline

Pablo Sandoval: The burly Panda, it seems, has never quite been able to put it all together and stay healthy for a full season. Sandoval is still enticing because of his stick—not to mention, he's still only 27—but how confident do you really feel keeping a guy who's missed an average of 40 games over the past three years?

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Kyle Seager, Brett Lawrie, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Headley, Nolan Arenado and Will Middlebrooks

 

Prospects to Know

Matt Davidson and Mike Olt

 

Shortstops

Overall Position Analysis

In terms of the depth of talent, shortstop rivals second base in how yucky things look once you get past the first handful of names.

Thing is, the top two for 2014—Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki—are among the riskiest around to stick your neck out for, considering they'll likely cost at least a second-round choice in most leagues. If you're keeping either one, admit it: You don't feel good about it.

The question, then, becomes whether Ian Desmond, Jean Segura or Jose Reyes will be better values next spring—or if owners will start snatching them up (too) early to avoid the dregs.

As for the back-end, it becomes a matter of whether you want the player you're forced to deploy at the SS spot in your lineup to fill a HR/RBI need (Jed Lowrie, J.J. Hardy) or a SB need (Everth Cabrera, Elvis Andrus). You're probably not keeping any of the final five, though, unless your rosters are very deep.

 

On the Rise

Jean Segura: Both Ian Desmond and Everth Cabrera proved their impressive 2012s weren't quite so out-of-nowhere after all, but the 23-year-old Segura busted out in a big way this season—at least in the first half. Just be careful expecting too much out of him, as he hit merely .241 with only one homer and all of 13 RBI in the second half.

On the Decline

Jose Reyes: A severely sprained left ankle cost Reyes about two-and-a-half months early on in 2013, and while he did fine enough upon returning—.285 average, 53 runs, 10 steals, nine homers in 82 starts—the former stolen-base champ has had repeated leg injuries over the years and turns 31 next June, an age when even the fastest players start to slow down.

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Jhonny Peralta, Brian Dozier, Starlin Castro, Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera

 

Prospects to Know

Xander Bogaerts and Chris Owings

 

Outfielders

Overall Position Analysis

Outfield is where owners need to make their plays for stat grabs by keeping or drafting the ones who do a little bit (or a lotta bit) of everything. Also preferable? Target those who are still in their 20s and on the way up, because it's a position that has become populated increasingly by athletes.

The biggest conundrum in this spot is how to rank the likes of: Bryce Harper, who is hyped to all heck, but hasn't quite done it yet; Ryan Braun, who has that little performance-enhancing situation to worry about; and Giancarlo Stanton, Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward and Matt Kemp, all of whom have the talent to be in the top 10, but just can't seem to stay on the field.

 

On the Rise

Carlos Gomez: Following a dynamite 14-homer, 26-steal second half of 2012, Gomez took another step in 2013 by posting the only 20-homer, 40-steal campaign in the game at the age of 27.

Yasiel Puig: The 22-year-old rookie didn't just burst onto the scene this year, he owned it. Puig proved to be streaky at times, but as long as he can keep adjusting, he's capable of hitting north of .280 with 30-plus homers, notching 15-20 steals and approaching 100 runs and RBI, too. 

On the Decline

Jose Bautista: Not only will Bautista turn 33 later this month, he's also coming off two seasons cut short due to injury. He's not much different from what Nelson Cruz has been—great when he plays, but too often a frustrating guy to rely on.

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 04:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays sits in the dugout during the interleague MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on September 4, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Justin Upton: Look, he's a fine fantasy outfielder, who should come close to 30 homers most years, but there's a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, and that next step many thought he would take, may never come.

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Matt Kemp (who could be an immense bargain next year, but whose health has become too big of a concern to ignore), Jayson Werth, Domonic Brown, Josh Hamilton, Michael Cuddyer, Alfonso Soriano, Nelson Cruz, Desmond Jennings, Starling Marte, Alex Gordon, Eric Young Jr, Billy Hamilton (complete wild card who could be a top-10 OF pick based on stolen-base potential in an every-day role)

 

Prospects to Know

Billy Hamilton, George Springer, Oscar Taveras, Nick Castellanos, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Gregory Polanco

 

Designated Hitters

Overall Position Analysis

Boy, this is a dying breed, huh? Other than David Ortiz, Billy Butler and Victor Martinez, none of this group was worth a guaranteed fantasy roster spot—and even Butler and Martinez were tough to own at times. Butler, in particular, had a disappointing year, given that he was a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Don't count on keeping anyone here, except for...

 

On the Rise

...this guy. Ortiz isn't "on the rise" with regards to his career arc, obviously, but the man continued to mash at 37 years old. And remember, his 30 homers, 100 RBI and 84 runs came after he missed the first few weeks of 2013 with an ongoing ankle injury.

On the Decline

Adam Dunn: Look, he's still valuable in that have-to-get-home-runs-from-somewhere kind of way, but Dunn will turn 34 this winter, and there are rumors he could hang 'em up, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Unless you play in a keeper league that inflates homers and OBP, he's not worth the batting average drag.

 

Starting Pitchers

Overall Position Analysis

Even accounting for the fact that most leagues require owners to start at least five or six SPs, there are arms aplenty.

It's almost impossible not to put together a deep pitching rotation, so the question is really when to start selecting starters: Do you grab one or two of the very elite? Or do you lay in wait and pounce on a few second-tier types while building your offense first? The latter strategy is recommended.

In addition to the blowout injury factor, that's yet another reason why keeping more than a pitcher or two—at the expense of a hitter—is usually not a good idea, unless the value is incredible. If you must hang onto an SP, make sure it's an arm with little to no recent injury issues, and, ideally, one who's still under 30 years old.

As great as Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish are, don't bother keeping either if they're costing an early-round selection. And while it's tempting to be seduced into trying to find the Max Scherzer-like breakout candidate, don't hold onto a maybe-if-everything-goes-just-right pitcher either.

 

On the Rise

Jose Fernandez: After Fernandez put up the most incredible rookie season we've seen by a pitcher in years—while never having pitched above A-ball prior to the start of 2013, no less!—the 21-year-old is ready to be a No. 1 starter in fantasy. And to think: There won't be any innings cap in 2014.

Homer Bailey: This list is full of intriguing, still-young hurlers, but Bailey is worth highlighting because, well, it seems like he's never mentioned as more than a solid fantasy pitcher.

In fact, he proved to be a perfectly capable second starter for most owners, and his value heading into 2014 might be held down because he garnered only 11 wins—a remarkably low number for a guy with his numbers on a team that made the playoffs.

 

On the Decline

Justin Verlander: Hey, a drop-off was bound to happen at some point, and it certainly did for owners who took him first or second among starters.

While he may not return to vintage Verlander as a 31-year-old next year, he was a little snake-bitten at times this year. If he winds up falling too far in drafts coming off the disappointing season, he could be somewhat of a bargain in 2014.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 20:  Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers reaches for the ball after giving up a walk during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 20, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ja
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Matt Cain: Like Verlander, Cain actually pitched better than most of the numbers indicate, but he got a little unlucky. Of course, also like Verlander, Cain has a lot of innings—including postseason ones—on his right arm over the past five years, so he's no longer the lock of an SP 2 he used to be.

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin, Mat Latos, James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Justin Masterson, Chris Tillman, Kris Medlen, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jon Lester, Jered Weaver, Alex Cobb and Matt Harvey (if fully healthy, which is very unlikely, he'd rank in the top 10)

 

Prospects to Know

Taijuan Walker, Yordano Ventura, Kevin Gausman, Archie Bradley, James Paxton, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Bauer, Erik Johnson, Carlos Martinez, Jake Odorizzi, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard

 

Relief Pitchers

Overall Position Analysis

For some reason, closer seemed to be a bit more stable in 2013, didn't it?

Sure, there were early problems in Boston, St. Louis, Detroit and Milwaukee, but for the most part, those were solved by pitchers who were waiver-wire pickups—like Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, Joaquin Benoit and Jim Henderson who then held on to the gig for most of the season.

The only clubs, who really had ongoing ninth-inning issues with multiple pitchers failing to get it done for performance reasons, were Arizona and Houston.

Point being? Don't expect a repeat in 2014. And don't concern yourself with keeping any closer other than one of the top four—and even then, only if it's a deep format that allows for more than five keepers.

On the Rise

 

Kenley Jansen: Greg Holland also works, but he was the Royals closer all year long, whereas Jansen wrested the job midseason—and flat-out dominated. The 26-year-old now owns a strikeout-to-hit ratio of nearly 3-1 at 14.0 strikeouts per nine compared to just 5.0 hits per. Ew.

 

On the Decline

 

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25:  Rafael Soriano #29 of the Washington Nationals walks to the dugout after being removed from the game in the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on July 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Rafael Soriano: Soriano still piles up the saves (43 more in 2013), but the other numbers have been slipping for a few years now, namely that scary-low 6.9 strikeouts per nine figure. Oh, and he'll be 34 by the time next season begins.

 

Noteworthy Nexts

Sergio Romo, Jonathan Papelbon, Rex Brothers, Casey Janssen, Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour, Jim Johnson, Steve Cishek and Trevor Rosenthal (if given the full-time closer's job, he'd rank in the top 10)

 

Prospects to Know

Bruce Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino