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Fantasy Baseball: Year-End Keeper League Rankings for 2014

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Fantasy Baseball: Year-End Keeper League Rankings for 2014
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
After a monster 2013 season, has Paul Goldschmidt jumped to the head of a very deep first base class in fantasy?

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy Catchers for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Buster Posey .294 61 15 72 2
2 Yadier Molina .319 68 12 80 3
3 Carlos Santana .268 75 20 74 3
4 Wilin Rosario .292 63 21 79 4
5 Joe Mauer .324 62 11 47 0
6 Jonathan Lucroy .280 59 18 82 9
8 Salvador Perez .292 48 13 79 0
7 Brian McCann .256 43 20 57 0
9 Wilson Ramos .272 29 16 59 0
10 Matt Wieters .235 59 22 79 2

MLB.com

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy First Basemen for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Paul Goldschmidt .302 103 36 125 15
2 Chris Davis .286 103 53 138 4
3 Joey Votto .305 101 24 73 6
4 Prince Fielder .279 82 25 106 1
5 Edwin Encarnacion .272 90 36 104 7
6 Freddie Freeman .319 89 23 109 1
7 Eric Hosmer .302 86 17 79 11
8 Adrian Gonzalez .293 69 22 100 1
9 Allen Craig .315 71 13 97 2
10 Albert Pujols .258 49 17 64 1

MLB.com

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy Second Basemen for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Robinson Cano .314 81 27 107 7
2 Jason Kipnis .284 86 17 84 30
3 Matt Carpenter .318 126 11 78 3
4 Dustin Pedroia .301 91 9 84 17
5 Ian Kinsler .277 85 13 72 15
6 Brandon Phillips .261 80 18 103 5
7 Chase Utley .284 73 18 69 8
8 Jedd Gyorko .249 62 23 63 1
9 Daniel Murphy .286 92 13 78 23
10 Jose Altuve .283 64 5 52 35

MLB.com

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.

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy Third Basemen for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Miguel Cabrera .348 103 44 137 3
2 Adrian Beltre .315 88 30 92 1
3 David Wright .307 63 18 58 17
4 Evan Longoria .269 91 32 88 1
5 Ryan Zimmerman .275 84 26 79 6
6 Manny Machado .283 88 14 71 6
7 Josh Donaldson .301 89 24 93 5
8 Pedro Alvarez .233 70 36 100 2
9 Martin Prado .282 70 14 82 3
10 Pablo Sandoval .278 52 14 79 0

MLB.com

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy Shortstops for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Hanley Ramirez .345 62 20 57 10
2 Troy Tulowitzki .312 72 25 82 1
3 Ian Desmond .280 77 20 80 21
4 Jean Segura .294 74 12 49 44
5 Jose Reyes .296 58 10 37 15
6 Everth Cabrera .283 54 4 31 37
7 Elvis Andrus .271 91 4 67 42
8 Jed Lowrie .290 80 15 75 1
9 J.J. Hardy .263 66 25 76 2
10 Andrelton Simmons .248 76 17 59 6

MLB.com

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 20 Fantasy Outfielders for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 Mike Trout .323 109 27 97 33
2 Andrew McCutchen .317 97 21 84 27
3 Adam Jones .285 100 33 108 14
4 Carlos Gonzalez .302 72 26 70 21
5 Carlos Gomez .284 80 24 73 40
6 Jay Bruce .262 89 30 109 7
7 Bryce Harper .274 71 20 58 11
8 Ryan Braun .298 30 9 38 4
9 Matt Holliday .300 103 22 94 6
10 Jacoby Ellsbury .298 92 9 53 52
11 Yasiel Puig .319 66 19 42 11
12 Giancarlo Stanton .249 62 24 62 1
13 Hunter Pence .283 91 27 99 22
14 Yoenis Cespedes .240 74 26 80 7
15 Wil Myers .293 50 13 53 5
16 Shin-Soo Choo .285 107 21 54 20
17 Jose Bautista .259 82 28 73 7
18 Jason Heyward .254 67 14 38 2
19 Justin Upton .263 94 27 70 8
20 Alex Rios .278 83 18 81 42

MLB.com

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.

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 5 Fantasy Designated Hitters for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER BA R HR RBI SB
1 David Ortiz .309 84 30 103 4
2 Billy Butler .289 62 15 82 0
3 Victor Martinez .301 68 14 83 0
4 Adam Dunn .219 60 34 86 1
5 Adam Lind .288 67 23 67 1

MLB.com

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 20 Fantasy Starting Pitchers for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER W ERA WHIP K/9 SV
1 Clayton Kershaw 16 1.83 0.92 8.85 0
2 Yu Darvish 13 2.83 1.07 11.89 0
3 Adam Wainwright 19 2.94 1.07 8.16 0
4 Felix Hernandez 12 3.04 1.13 9.51 0
5 Cliff Lee 14 2.87 1.01 8.97 0
6 Max Scherzer 21 2.90 0.97 10.08 0
7 Stephen Strasburg 8 3.00 1.05 9.39 0
8 Justin Verlander 13 3.46 1.31 8.95 0
9 Jose Fernandez 12 2.19 0.98 9.75 0
10 David Price 10 3.33 1.10 7.28 0
11 Madison Bumgarner 13 2.77 1.03 8.90 0
12 Chris Sale 11 3.07 1.07 9.49 0
13 Gio Gonzalez 11 3.36 1.25 8.83 0
14 Zack Greinke 15 2.63 1.11 7.50 0
15 Cole Hamels 8 3.60 1.16 8.26 0
16 Anibal Sanchez 14 2.57 1.15 9.99 0
17 Homer Bailey 11 3.49 1.12 8.57 0
18 Jordan Zimmermann 19 3.25 1.09 6.79 0
19 Matt Cain 8 4.00 1.16 7.71 0
20 Hisashi Iwakuma 14 2.66 1.01 7.58 0

MLB.com

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.

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

Keeper Rankings: Top 10 Fantasy Relief Pitchers for 2014
2013 FANTASY STATS
RANK PLAYER W ERA WHIP K/9 SV
1 Craig Kimbrel 4 1.21 0.88 13.16 50
2 Aroldis Chapman 4 2.54 1.04 15.83 38
3 Greg Holland 2 1.21 0.87 13.84 47
4 Kenley Jansen 4 1.88 0.86 13.03 28
5 Glen Perkins 2 2.30 0.93 11.06 36
6 Joe Nathan 6 1.39 0.90 10.16 43
7 Koji Uehara 4 1.09 0.57 12.23 21
8 Addison Reed 5 3.79 1.11 9.08 40
9 Jason Grilli 0 2.70 1.06 13.32 33
10 Rafael Soriano 3 3.11 1.23 6.89 43

MLB.com

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

 

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

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