Fantasy Baseball 2014: The Pre-Spring Training Top 150 Big Board
With spring training underway and the fantasy baseball season bearing down, it's time to reveal a special project: welcome, fantasy friends, to the Big Board.
On the pages that follow is a ranking of—count 'em—the top-150 players for the 2014 fantasy baseball season.
Before the unveiling, some housekeeping is in order, as this lengthy list of the top talents comes with a few key qualifications. First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).
Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility; along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.
And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players must have either played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014.
With that out of the way, put your counting caps on. It's time to make fantasy a reality.
|140||Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays|
|133||Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- In case you were wondering who Wilson Ramos (pictured), the Big Board's Mr. Irrelevant, beat out for that final spot by notching 12 homers and 42 RBI in the second half of 2013, next in line were: Austin Jackson, Leonys Martin, Daniel Murphy, Jason Castro and Addison Reed.
- A quick pointer to keep in mind going forward: When a few players at the same position are bunched together—like closers David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo and Jonathan Papelbon (Nos. 149-146)—it means they're more or less in the same boat, with no clear favorite as of yet. That can, and will, change as more information, news and performance comes to light.
- For the most part, these mid-rounders consist of youngsters who could take another step forward in their second or third full season (i.e., Andrelton Simmons, Brett Lawrie, Jedd Gyorko, Jurickson Profar, Matt Adams) or older vets who are proven, steady performers (i.e., Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Beltran, Alex Gordon, Jonathan Lucroy). Which kind of player you favor depends on what type of fantasy owner you are. Me? I tend to favor the youth/upside play when in doubt.
- Coming off a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, Hisashi Iwakuma was originally in the top 50-75 range, but news that his finger injury means he'll likely miss the start of the season, per Paul Casella of MLB.com, sent him tumbling at the last minute. Hey, pitching is deep—like, really, really deep—so there's no need to invest heavily in an injured starter.
|125||Nelson Cruz||OF||Free Agent|
|123||Xander Bogaerts||3B/SS||Red Sox|
|117||Jose Abreu||1B||White Sox|
|105||Koji Uehara||RP||Red Sox|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- Check out that 124-117 range; that's quite the concentrated crop of young talent, eh? The four pitchers—Sonny Gray, Danny Salazar, Zack Wheeler and Michael Wacha—all broke into the bigs in a rather impressive way around the middle of last season and look poised to ascend to No. 3 or No. 4 starter status in 2014. Just be wary of innings limits.
- As for the four hitters in that same range: Xander Bogaerts (pictured) is the kind of top-tier prospect in a strong lineup and in a hitter's park that is worth gambling on; despite iffy batting averages, both Anthony Rizzo and Jose Abreu (the Cuban import who hit, like, a bajillion homers in the Serie Nacional) could knock 30 out of the park; and Billy Hamilton (13 steals in 13 major-league games in 2013) is perhaps the most divisive player around heading into 2014, as he could legitimately steal 80 bases...or be Dee Gordon 2.0.
- Starling Marte's ranking might seem low to you, but to me, he's a hacktastic hitter (4.4 percent walk rate) who will be streaky all season long. Don't count on him for anything other than steals.
- Chances are at least one guy from that pitcher grouping of Jeff Samardzija, Hyun-Jin Ryu, CC Sabathia and Mat Latos (Nos. 111-108) is way too high/low for your taste, but each has No. 2 SP upside, as well as spot-starter downside.
- Having 2013 breakout boy Josh Donaldson and looks-like-he's-only-getting-better Kyle Seager outside the top 100 is likely to elicit some hurtful comments. In my defense, I say the former is a serious risk to be no better than a starting corner infielder, while the latter is firmly in the so-underrated-he's-now-overrated camp.
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- Brandon Belt: This. Is. The. Year. After a .326/.390/.525 second half, the 25-year-old is ready to go from fringy fantasy corner infielder to full-on cornerstone.
- If you miss out on one of the top-five closers—can you guess 'em?—then Joe Nathan (1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10.2 K/9 and 43 saves in 2013) and Glen Perkins (2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 and 36 saves) will be just fine as an RP1, thank you very much.
- Without Shin-Soo Choo atop the Reds lineup, there will be a drop-off in RBI production for Brandon Phillips, but he might sniff 20 homers, considering he's hit 18 of them in four straight seasons. It'd really help, though, if he could return to producing double-digit stolen-base totals.
- Owners tend to love Ben Zobrist for his versatility—hey, the three-position eligibility is mighty handy—but the 32-year-old 2B-eligible player is more steady than dynamic at this stage. He posted 12 homers and 11 steals last year and might not top 15 in either category in 2014. He is a Swiss Army knife that cuts best at SS.
- Anibal Sanchez is due for a step back after his crazy spike to 10.0 K/9 last season. Mike Minor (pictured) will be more of the same (3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.0 K/9), which is a very good thing. Doug Fister will really enjoy pitching in the National League, where he owns a 2.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 7.6 K/9 in 73.1 innings for his career, per Baseball-Reference.com.
- Matt Kemp at No. 91? Sheesh, that's low for a guy who flirted with a 40-40 season three years ago and was still a borderline top-10 pick this time last year. Or...is it high for a guy who has played just 179 games over the last two seasons and is still dealing with recovery from ankle surgery that could keep him out at the start of 2014, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times?
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- For owners who covet power—or just need to take a swing at securing a guy who can hit 30 homers after their first handful of picks—an argument could be made that any of Josh Hamilton, Jayson Werth, Mark Trumbo or Brian McCann could go earlier than this.
- Understandably, Manny Machado (pictured), all of 21 years old, tailed off drastically in the second half of his first full season (.240 BA/.647 OPS in the second half versus a .310/.807 in the first half) prior to his knee injury. Provided his recovery from surgery is going well this spring, though, there's upside that he starts turning some of those 51 doubles into homers, which would mean a jump up from last year's homer total of 14. News that he won't be rushed back onto the field, per Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, might present a the opportunity to steal him late in the draft if other owners are hesitant.
- Not only did Billy Butler have a disappointing season in the power department (15 HR, 82 RBI), but he also lost first-base eligibility, forcing you to use him in your utility spot.
- When it comes to Masahiro Tanaka, you're either an owner who's all in and willing to take him 20 or 30 picks higher than this in order to ensure you get the shiny new toy, or you're an owner who's more than happy to let another owner do just that.
|77||Jose Bautista||OF||Blue Jays|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- Matt Moore, Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran (Nos. 80-78) all inhabit that oh-so-cozy space where youth and potential have already hit production—with more to come in the latter. None should be worse than a fantasy SP4 in 2014, but all could be SP2s by midseason.
- There could be 100 combined home runs this season from Nos. 77, 76 and 75—Jose Bautista, Yoenis Cespedes and Wilin Rosario. The two outfielders, though, need to stay on the field, as Bautista has missed the tail end of the past two seasons and Cespedes has endured numerous nicks and bruises on his way to just 135 and 129 games, respectively, in his first two seasons. Rosario, meanwhile, is the No. 4-overall backstop, but he's 30 spots behind the third catcher (guesses, anyone?).
- There aren't many closers who just might strike out 100 hitters in 2014, so if you want one of them, chances are Greg Holland, Trevor Rosenthal (pictured) or Kenley Jansen would represent your last chance to snag one.
- Wil Myers probably needs to be higher on this list. He hit .293 with 13 homers, 53 RBI and 50 runs in 88 games as a 22-year-old rookie.
|67||Jon Lester||SP||Red Sox|
|65||Mike Napoli||1B||Red Sox|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- You wanna argue Justin Upton belongs in the top 50? I could squint and see a case for the still-just-26-year-old. Instead, though, I'll point out that he led the majors with 12 homers last April, then hit 15 more across the remaining five months combined. His best category is actually runs, as he's averaged 102 per year since 2011.
- Hunter Pence (pictured), on the other hand, lacks the upside of Upton but might be the better OF2 in fantasy because he's durable (has played at least 154 games in each of his full seasons) and has been a more consistent asset in all five categories.
- James Shields and Jon Lester rack up more strikeouts than Jordan Zimmerman, who is several spots ahead in the rankings. The Nationals righty, though, more than makes up for the difference by being an ERA-WHIP machine (combined 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over the past three seasons).
- Three straight shortstops come in at Nos. 64-62, and really, this is a choose-your-own-adventure pick, with the end result being a race to 40 or even 50 steals. It is worth noting that you might have expected Jean Segura over Elvis Andrus on the strength of the former's first half in 2013 (.325 BA, 54 R, 11 HR, 36 RBI and 27 SB). However, while Segura posted a .241 batting average with 20 runs, one home run, 13 RBI and 17 steals after the break last season, Andrus recorded a .313 average with 41 runs, four home runs, 36 RBI and 23 steals after hitting just .242 in the first half.
|57||David Ortiz||DH||Red Sox|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- In terms of adjusted ERA, Matt Cain had his worst season ever (83 ERA+), but his strikeout (7.7 K/9) and walk rates (2.7 BB/9) were both slightly above his career averages. Similarly, after a brutal 4.86 ERA through May, Cole Hamels figured it out by posting a 2.96 mark from there on out. The concern over his shoulder that recently cropped up, though, as reported by Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, needs to be monitored.
- Gerrit Cole: I'm buying in. Are you?
- David Ortiz, Allen Craig and Adrian Gonzalez (Nos. 57-55) are big bats upon whose production a good portion of your fantasy lineup can count. Gonzalez ranks the highest here, primarily because he's the safest bet given Ortiz's age (38) and Craig's injury issues (his 134 games last year was a career high).
- Ryan Zimmerman always seems to be capable of more based on his carry-your-team hot streaks (11 HR, 18 RBI last September). But even if he doesn't, he still checks in at No. 5 among third basemen—for now.
- Fittingly, that's because Matt Carpenter (pictured), who's switching from second to third this year, could overtake Zimmerman in the third-baseman rankings as soon as his eligibility kicks in. Carpenter won't approach Zimmerman in the power department, but his average and runs scored compensate for that disparity.
- Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are your top-two fantasy closers—again.
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- There are five consecutive arms from No. 50 to No. 46. Last year's rookie freak-nom, Jose Fernandez, is far and away the sexiest of the quintet—and perhaps the only one with genuine fantasy SP1 ability. Still, after a 38-frame hike to a career-high 172.2 innings, he has a ways to go to catch up to Homer Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke in that regard. In fantasy, it's total strikeouts (not K/9) that counts.
- Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer are clearly top-three catchers due to their consistent .300-plus batting averages and run production via extra-base hits. The concussion that cost Mauer the final six weeks of 2013 means he's moving to first base, which should allow him to stay in the lineup a little more than Molina.
- When it comes time in your draft to start considering Albert Pujols, ask yourself this: "Even if I think he's just about done, if he's not, am I OK with another owner deploying him against me?" Now that his chronic foot injury is behind him, Pujols—maybe, perhaps, possibly—could approach 30 homers and 100 RBI in that lineup.
- If you don't want to risk it with Big Al, then you probably are more interested in the up-and-comers at first base. Both Eric Hosmer (pictured) and Freddie Freeman are more so .300-hitters than 30-homer sluggers at a position typically occupied by the latter, but we may not have seen the best of either one yet.
|40||Jose Reyes||SS||Blue Jays|
|37||Chris Sale||SP||White Sox|
|35||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- In case you didn't realize because he missed most of the first half with yet another leg injury (an ankle this time), Jose Reyes had himself a rather good 2013 when he was on the field, hitting .296 with 10 homers as well as 15 steals and 58 runs scored in only 93 games. It's just that whole staying-on-the-field part that he still struggles with, so you may need to pick a good backup were you to select Reyes.
- Giancarlo Stanton and Jay Bruce plug in at No. 39 and No. 37, respectively, because both are more or less locks for 30 homers, assuming they play 140 or so games. Of course, that's something Stanton still struggles with, having hit that plateau only once (2011). At this point, the stability of Bruce gives him the edge over Stanton's health and surrounding lineup.
- Buster Posey and Dustin Pedroia had solid-but-not-great 2013 seasons from a fantasy point of view, but they're at or near the top of their respective positions, with the former checking in as the top catcher and the latter as the No. 3 second baseman. You're only taking Posey this high, though, if you think a return to his 24-homer, 103-RBI output from 2012 is around the corner.
- Ian Desmond has had back-to-back 20-20 seasons at the shallow shortstop position. That is all.
- Here come the stud starters. Chris Sale, David Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander all have the potential for 15 wins, 200 strikeouts, sub-3.00 ERAs and sub-1.10 WHIPs. This is the stuff of fantasy No. 1s. Verlander wasn't himself for almost all of 2013 (3.46 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), and he's recovering from surgery on his abdomen, but he's already thrown off a mound and appears ready to begin the year, per Chris Iott of MLive.com. About the only thing that could get in his way toward a bounce-back season might be some sort of distraction...
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- Funny, Shin-Soo Choo switches teams (again), and he might be even better in 2014 than he was in 2013 (.284 BA, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 20 SB, 107 R) thanks to Texas' reloaded lineup.
- Have we seen the best from Stephen Strasburg? I don't think so. One of these years, he's going to win 15-18 games, post a 2.50 ERA and 1.05 WHIP—all while finally pitching 200 innings and striking out, oh, 230 batters or so.
- Matt Holliday is pretty much fantasy's Energizer Bunny, every year he hits around .300 and scores or drives in 100 runs. He's 34, though, so he could start slowing down—maybe.
- If Billy Hamilton isn't the most divisive player in the fantasy community, then it has to be Yasiel Puig. A .319 average to go along with 19 homers, 11 steals and 66 runs over three-fifths of a season was enough for me to rank him this highly, but you'll only get him if you buy in, too. If anything comes down for him this season, it'll be the average.
- Cliff Lee: See Holliday, Matt, but replace hitting statistics with pitching ones and age with 35.
- Felix Hernandez or Adam Wainwright? Wainwright or Hernandez? Pick the one you prefer, as there's no wrong choice here.
- As the No. 2 shortstop and No. 4 third baseman, respectively, Troy Tulowitzki and David Wright are both near the top of their positions despite the constant concern that they're about to miss 30 or 40 games. Their production, when healthy, is worth such lofty status, but just be sure to cover yourself with capable backups.
- If one of these 10 is going to have a top-10 fantasy season, it would be Carlos Gomez, who has 25-homer, 50-steal potential at age 28. Just be wary that his .283 average last year was a career high by a wide margin—and might stay a career high going forward.
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- A shot at 20 homers, 30 steals, 80 RBI and 90 runs with a helpful batting average from second base comes in the form of Jason Kipnis.
- Bryce Harper: Is this the year? This. Is. The. Year.
- Coming off the performance drop-off and 65-game suspension, your guess on Ryan Braun is as good as mine, but it's hard to ignore a guy who could be a top-five fantasy player again.
- We know Jacoby Ellsbury can hit for average, steal bases and score runs. What we don't know (but want to hope) is whether his single-digit homer total—well, aside from those magical 32 homers in 2011—will bump to, say, 15-20 with the move to lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium.
- Just because it's fun to review, here are Hanley Ramirez's numbers over 86 games in 2013: .345 BA, 62 R, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB. He can't maintain that pace over 140-150 games, but he should still be the top shortstop in 2014.
- With Adam Jones, you're paying for consistency in the form of a .270-.290 average, 30 homers and a good shot at 100 runs and 100 RBI. He'll even throw in a dozen or so steals to boot. So what if he walks once every five games?
- Carlos Gonzalez's 2013 was like Ramirez's, but in reverse; he killed it early to sport a .302 average with 26 homers, 21 steals and 70-plus runs and RBI, but he then missed much of the second half with injury.
- Yu Darvish probably won't strike out two 277 batters again, but another 250 strikeouts seems more than possible, as does another sub-3.00 ERA. Maybe this time, then, he'll win more than 13 freaking games.
- Joey Votto owners had a love-hate relationship with him in 2013. They loved the .305 average and 101 runs, but they hated the 24 homers and 73 RBI from a position that requires power. It's not like he can't approach 30 homers and 90-100 RBI, though. Draft the skills.
- Oddly, Evan Longoria finally managed to stay healthy all of last year, but aside from his 32 homers, the .269 average, 88 RBI and 91 runs scored all seemed a bit disappointing given that he played 160 games. There may yet be more coming from him in 2014, though, especially with Wil Myers teaming up with him in the middle of the order for the whole season.
|9||Edwin Encarnacion||1B||Blue Jays|
NOTES AND ANALYSIS
- Remember when you used to be able to wait to draft a first baseman? Not anymore. If you count Votto, exactly half of the top 12 on this Big Board come from that position. In other words, you'll either get your stud early or wait a few rounds for a second-tier option.
- In 2013, Prince Fielder had his worst year since his rookie season of 2006, but now that he's in a park that historically has been among the best to hit in, a 35- or even 40-homer season could be in the offing.
- Edwin Encarnacion answered any lingering questions about whether his 2012 breakout was for real, huh?
- It's hard to pass up these elite, first-round bats to take a starter when pitching is so damn deep. But if anyone's worth it, Clayton Kershaw is.
- Will there be a drop-off in Robinson Cano's production as a Mariner? Probably, but be more worried about his new lineup affecting him as opposed to his new home ballpark, which hurts righty swingers more than lefties from a power standpoint. He is still the top offensive second baseman in the fantasy game, however.
- Over the last four seasons, Adrian Beltre has averaged—averaged—a .314 batting average, 32 homers, 100 RBI and 87 runs scored. He will enjoy more of that in the revamped Rangers lineup.
- Look, if anyone in this top 10 is going to crap out, it's Chris Davis, who was the MVP of fantasy baseball in 2013 after mashing 53 homers and 138 RBI as a mid- to late-rounder. He's going to hit 30-plus homers for sure, but there's also plenty of risk that he drops back to, say, 35 homers and 100 RBI with a .260 average.
- With Andrew McCutchen, the minimums in each category are: .300 BA, 90 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 20, SB. The dude is also still only 27, so we don't yet know what the maximums are.
- In a season when he was busy hitting .302 with 36 homers, 125 RBI and 103 runs, maybe you didn't realize Paul Goldschmidt also stole 15 bases. That makes him fantasy's No. 2 first baseman, just behing Miguel Cabrera.
- Regarding Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout for the No. 1-overall spot, some might argue for Miggy's epic consistency and the extra power production he provides, even after offseason surgery to address his core, which ailed him throughout the second half. Me? I'm taking the 22-year-old who could hit .330, or could score 130 runs, or could smack 30 homers, or could drive in 100 runs or could steal 50 bases—or could do ALL OF THAT.
This is just the beginning of a writer-reader team effort that's intended to take your opinions and perspectives into account, so let 'er rip in the comments below. Which rankings do you disagree with and why? Which players not included absolutely need to be on the Top 150 Big Board, and which ones would you kick to the curb? How's the top 10? Top 25?
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11