Fantasy

Fantasy Baseball 2014 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2014

Fantasy Baseball 2014 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

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    How should fantasy baseball drafters perceive Robinson Cano's value after signing with the Seattle Mariners?
    How should fantasy baseball drafters perceive Robinson Cano's value after signing with the Seattle Mariners?Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Spring is coming. As MLB players report to duty in preparation for the 2014 season, fantasy baseball managers also must begin their training.

    The season kicks off early, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks playing in Australia on March 22. That doesn’t leave much time to usher in the season by selecting your fantasy baseball squad.

    Perhaps you’re rusty after divulging in football, basketball, hockey, the Winter Olympics or season two of House of Cards. Have no fear, there’s still enough time to get up to speed, and I’m here to help the process.

    This extensive guide includes rankings by position, my overall top 50, a team of sleepers not included in any of those rankings and a few other predictions for good measure.

    Before we begin, there are a few important notes to mention. All rankings were assembled with a five-by-five rotisserie league in mind; those who play in differing formats should adjust the rankings in order to meet that specific league's format.

    Also, for a player to garner eligibility at a certain position, I used 15 games as the parameter. While a player needs just five games to qualify for a certain position in Yahoo formats, ESPN requires 20 games played the previous season and 10 during the current season in order to gain eligibility.

    I also took some liberties in not including catchers with first-base eligibility at first base in these rankings; instead, they are ranked as catchers. Nobody is drafting Joe Mauer or Buster Posey to slot at first base. (And if you are, don’t.)

    Put down the shovel, cancel your plans, call out sick, hire a sitter or do whatever else necessary to clear your calendar. It’s time to begin preparation for your 2014 fantasy baseball draft.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.

Catcher

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    The Cleveland Indians feature two intriguing catchers in Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes.
    The Cleveland Indians feature two intriguing catchers in Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes.Jason Miller/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Buster Posey (1B)Giants
    2Joe Mauer (1B)Twins
    3Carlos Santana (1B/3B)Indians
    4Wilin RosarioRockies
    5Yadier MolinaCardinals
    6Brian McCannYankees
    7Jonathan LucroyBrewers
    8Salvador PerezRoyals
    9Matt WietersOrioles
    10Jason CastroAstros
    11Wilson RamosNationals
    12Evan GattisBraves
    13Yan GomesIndians
    14Miguel MonteroDiamondbacks
    15A.J. PierzynskiRed Sox

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Are you a batting average guy or gal, or is power your cup of tea? Catcher is deep enough in standard mixed leagues, but drafters can't get greedy and expect a five-category superstar behind the plate. Joe Mauer and Yadier Molina are safe bets to hit over .300, but Carlos Santana and Wilin Rosario will knock 20-25 balls out of the park.

     

    • Perhaps your decision is to pass on all the top catchers. Fair enough. Jonathan Lucroy can hit .280, belt 15-20 homers and even swipe a few bags. Salvador Perez is a slightly cheaper model of Mauer and Molina at a significantly cheaper cost, and Matt Wieters exceeds 20 homers on a yearly basis.

     

    • Want to wait even longer? That's cool, too. Evan Gattis hit 21 homers in 105 games last year, and more playing time awaits him with Brian McCann moving to New York. Yan Gomes slugged .481 in limited action last year, convincing the Cleveland Indians to try Santana's glove at third base. That switch bodes well for both of them.

       

First Base

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    Edwin Encarnacion proved he is not a one-hit wonder.
    Edwin Encarnacion proved he is not a one-hit wonder.Brad White/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Paul GoldschmidtDiamondbacks
    2Chris DavisOrioles
    3Edwin EncarnacionBlue Jays
    4Joey VottoReds
    5Prince FielderRangers
    6Freddie FreemanBraves
    7Eric HosmerRoyals
    8Albert PujolsAngels
    9Adrian GonzalezDodgers
    10Allen Craig (OF)Cardinals
    11Mark Trumbo (OF)Diamondbacks
    12Anthony RizzoCubs
    13Brandon BeltGiants
    14Matt AdamsCardinals
    15Michael Cuddyer (OF)Rockies

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • David Ortiz is first-base eligible in Yahoo leagues after playing six games there last season. In that case, slot him between Eric Hosmer and Albert Pujols at No. 8.

     

    • Edwin Encarnacion accumulated more walks (82) than strikeouts (62) in 2013 while enhancing his line-drive rate to 21.6 percent. That all speaks well for a higher batting average to supplement 35-40 homers and a few steals. He deserves more first-round consideration than he's getting.

     

    • Some superstars of yesteryear are trying their best to keep their footing in the rankings. While he's no longer a huge power threat, the new .290 BA/20-HR Adrian Gonzalez is still a safe, steady choice.

     

    • The same can't be said for Albert Pujols, who has seen every facet of his triple-slash line deteriorate in each of the past four seasons. Yet he's still Albert Pujols, so we can't write off another 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign.

     

    • There's a buffet of upside choices after the top 10. In his first taste of regular playing time, Brandon Belt hit .326/.390/.525 after the All-Star break. Anthony Rizzo and Matt Adams can each smash 30 homers, but their struggles against southpaws create a potential roadblock.

     

Second Base

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    Replicating his breakout season will prove a tough task for Matt Carpenter.
    Replicating his breakout season will prove a tough task for Matt Carpenter.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Robinson CanoMariners
    2Jason KipnisIndians
    3Dustin PedroiaRed Sox
    4Ian KinslerTigers
    5Matt Carpenter (3B)Cardinals
    6Jose AltuveAstros
    7Ben Zobrist (SS/OF)Rays
    8Aaron HillDiamondbacks
    9Brandon PhillipsReds
    10Jedd GyorkoPadres
    11Chase UtleyPhillies
    12Daniel Murphy (1B)Mets
    13Martin Prado (3B/OF)Diamondbacks
    14Jed Lowrie (SS)Athletics
    15Howie KendrickAngels

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Matt Carpenter is a legitimate major league player, but his fantasy value won't match his real productivity. Although his average shouldn't dip drastically due to a sterling 27.3 line-drive percentage, his lack of power and speed leaves him too dependent on the BABIP lords to fend off any misfortune. 

     

    • Brandon Phillips just drove in 103 runs. He has hit 18 homers in each of the past four seasons. Sounds like a top-tier second baseman, but the warning signs say otherwise. His slash line has shrunken across the board over the past two years, declining to .261/.310/.396 last year. He'll also receive less RBI chances with on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo leaving Cincinnati. 

     

    • Jedd Gyorko is an interesting player to project. Given his 22.5 line-drive rate and .321 batting average through the minors, that .249 average has ample room for improvement. It's then a matter of him sustaining that lofty 15.9 HR/FB rate to attain stardom in his sophomore season. Even if he doesn't keep up his 2013 power pace, a .260, 25-homer season will do just fine for a second baseman.

     

    • Daniel Murphy used to be the epitome of a boring fantasy pick whom owners just picked up for two weeks to ride a hot streak or replace an injured player. Then he hit 13 homers, stole 23 bases and scored 92 runs with 78 RBI. Always a strong contact hitter, he'll continue to play every day in front of David Wright in the No. 2 spot, so he only needs 10-12 homers and 12-15 steals to maintain mixed-league relevance.

Third Base

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    They don't come much steadier than Adrian Beltre.
    They don't come much steadier than Adrian Beltre.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Miguel CabreraTigers
    2Adrian BeltreRangers
    3David WrightMets
    4Evan LongoriaRays
    5Ryan ZimmermanNationals
    6Josh DonaldsonAthletics
    7Matt Carpenter (2B)Cardinals
    8Pedro AlvarezPirates
    9Kyle SeagerMariners
    10Manny MachadoOrioles
    11Aramis RamirezBrewers
    12Brett LawrieBlue Jays
    13Pablo SandovalGiants
    14Chase HeadleyPadres
    15Nolan ArenadoRockies

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Miguel Cabrera rightfully gets top billing at third, but Adrian Beltre can rule the position with the Detroit slugger switching to first. Since joining the Rangers in 2011, Beltre has hit .312 with 32 homers, 99 RBI and 88 runs per season. His consistency and Choo spawning more run-producing chances makes the veteran a solid choice late in the first round.

     

    • Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Donaldson jousted for a spot in the top five, but Zimmerman's track record narrowly beats out Donaldson's one sensational season. Never known for his power, Donaldson's 24 homers from 2013 represents the ceiling, and his average will likely dip under the .300 line. While health and slow starts are frequently a concern for Zimmerman, he usually finds a way to finish with 25 homers and plenty of counting numbers.

     

    • Whether or not to not draft Pedro Alvarez depends on the rest of your roster. His bloated 30.6 percent career strikeout rate hinders any realistic chances of a decent batting average, but his power is legit. Only Chris Davis and Cabrera hit more long balls than Alvarez last year.

     

    • Our first "best shape of his life" preseason story goes to Pablo Sandoval, who dropped several pounds during the offseason. Tired of all the noise surrounding his weight, he told USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz"I wanted to show my maturity. The criticism I got made me grow up. It motivated me." His poor conditioning has factored into shorter seasons, so it's a note worth stashing in your mental database on draft day. 

     

Shortstop

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    If Troy Tulowitzki could just stay healthy...
    If Troy Tulowitzki could just stay healthy...Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Hanley RamirezDodgers
    2Troy TulowitzkiRockies
    3Ian DesmondNationals
    4Jose ReyesBlue Jays
    5Jean SeguraBrewers
    6Elvis AndrusRangers
    7Everth CabreraPadres
    8Ben Zobrist (2B/OF)Rays
    9J.J. HardyOrioles
    10Jed Lowrie (SS)Athletics
    11Starlin CastroCubs
    12Andrelton SimmonsBraves
    13Asdrubal CabreraIndians
    14Alexei RamirezWhite Sox
    15Xander BogaertsRed Sox

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki are two of the riskiest early-round options, but big bats are hard to find at shortstop. At this point, a full season from Tulowitzki is a pipe dream, but a motivated Ramirez can eradicate his lackadaisical results from 2011 and 2012 and return to offering first-round production.

     

    • The times are changing, as the three men ranked behind Jose Reyes are all better stolen-base threats. If he can revive his success before serving his 50-game Biogenesis suspension, Everth Cabrera could finish as the best choice among the trio. He swiped 37 bags in 95 games while hitting a career-high .283 due to a sliced strikeout rate.

     

    • Jed Lowrie ranked among the top-five shortstops in all sorts of good stats such as slugging percentage, weighted on-base percentage and weighted runs created. Before saying that doesn't matter in a basic fantasy league, those skills helped him place second with 80 runs and fourth with 75 RBI.

     

    • Fellow top prospect Jurickson Profar could have just as easy occupied the final spot, but Xander Bogaerts' immense power upside gives him the slight edge. His plate disciplined in a brief taste of MLB action also bodes well for the 21-year-old's readiness.

     

Outfield (No. 1-20)

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    Can yan Braun return to glory from his steroid suspension?
    Can yan Braun return to glory from his steroid suspension?Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Mike TroutAngels
    2Andrew McCutchenPirates
    3Carlos GonzalezRockies
    4Ryan BraunBrewers
    5Adam JonesOrioles
    6Jacoby EllsburyYankees
    7Bryce HarperNationals
    8Carlos GomezBrewers
    9Giancarlo StantonMarlins
    10Jay BruceReds
    11Yasiel PuigDodgers
    12Shin-Soo ChooRangers
    13Jose BautistaBlue Jays
    14Alex RiosRangers
    15Justin UptonBraves
    16Matt HollidayCardinals
    17Starling MartePirates
    18Hunter PenceGiants
    19Wil MyersRays
    20Jason HeywardBraves

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • How much did PEDs help Ryan Braun flex his muscles as a premier fantasy star? He's a .312 hitter who regularly offered 30 homers and occasionally as many steals, so I'm not letting him fall too far down the rankings.

     

    • Adam Jones hit .285 with 33 homers, 108 RBI, 100 runs and 14 steals last year. It can't be considered much of a fluke since it's nearly identical to him batting .287 with 32 homers and 16 steals during 2012. Yet I just can't find the strength to place a guy with a .318 on-base percentage any higher.

     

    • Jay Bruce is hardly an on-base fiend either, but there are few safer sources of 30-plus deep flies in baseball. Missing only 14 games in three years adds to his consistency bonus.

     

    • Speaking of consistent performers, Matt Holliday never receives the respect he deserves. He's a career .311 hitter who has belted at least 22 homers in eight consecutive seasons with bountiful counting numbers to boot in St. Louis' loaded lineup.

     

     

     

Outfield (No. 21-40)

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    A healthy Matt Kemp would make some fantasy owners very happy in 2014.
    A healthy Matt Kemp would make some fantasy owners very happy in 2014.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    21Alex GordonRoyals
    22Allen Craig (1B)Cardinals
    23Carlos BeltranYankees
    24Mark Trumbo (1B)Diamondbacks
    25Shane VictorinoRed Sox
    26Yoenis CespedesAthletics
    27Matt KempDodgers
    28Jayson WerthNationals
    29Josh HamiltonAngels
    30Billy HamiltonReds
    31Ben Zobrist (2B/SS)Rays
    32Domonic BrownPhillies
    33Desmond JenningsRays
    34Coco CrispAthletics
    35Alfonso SorianoYankees
    36Curtis GrandersonMets
    37Michael Cuddyer (1B)Rockies
    38Austin JacksonTigers
    39Brandon Moss (1B)Athletics
    40Leonys MartinRangers

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Before assuming Yoenis Cespedes will rebound from a shaky 2013, his strikeout rate soared to 23.9 percent while his walk rate dwindled to 6.4 percent. He also converted just half of his stolen base attempts (7-of-14), and the book on the Oakland Athletics is they don't tolerate forfeiting outs on the bases. That's not just an expression; remember Moneyball?

     

    • Some positive news on the injury front could spring Matt Kemp up the rankings before April. But in the beginning of February, the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez wrote that the former MVP "might not be ready to play on Opening Day." Proceed with caution for now.

     

    • Billy Hamilton could steal 90 bases and win the category by his lonesome. Billy Hamilton could hit .215 and lose his starting job by May. It's the definition of a risk-reward pick for bold drafters.

     

    • Two old goodies in Coco Crisp and Alfonso Soriano rank side by side. Per ESPN's Home Run Tracker, Crisp's average home-run distance of 368.9 feet was the shortest among anyone with at least 18 homers. Expect his 22 dingers to revert closer to the mean, but he can amend that loss with more steals. As for Soriano, he has averaged 30 homers per season since 2011. Cheap power is cool.

     

Starting Pitcher (No. 1-20)

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    If all goes well, Justin Verlander will be ready on Opening Day.
    If all goes well, Justin Verlander will be ready on Opening Day.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Clayton KershawDodgers
    2Yu DarvishRangers
    3Adam WainwrightCardinals
    4Felix HernandezMariners
    5Max ScherzerTigers
    6Cliff LeePhillies
    7Stephen StrasburgNationals
    8Chris SaleWhite Sox
    9Jose FernandezMarlins
    10Madison BumgarnerGiants
    11David PriceRays
    12Anibal SanchezTigers
    13Justin VerlanderTigers
    14Zack GreinkeDodgers
    15Cole HamelsPhillies
    16Mat LatosReds
    17Homer BaileyReds
    18Gerrit ColePirates
    19Matt CainGiants
    20Gio GonzalezNationals

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Only two starting pitchers amassed at least nine strikeouts and less than two walks per nine innings. One of them, Matt Harvey, will sit out the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. The other, Chris Sale, dealt with terrible luck in the win column that could discourage novice drafters.

     

    • The Detroit News' Tom Gage reported that Justin Verlander has thrown three sessions without pain, boding well for a successful recovery from offseason surgery. While he endured some rough patches during the 2013 season, he came to life in September and October and finished the regular season with a 3.28 FIP.

     

    • MLB.com's Todd Zolecki sent Cole Hamels' value into a tailspin with news of left shoulder tendinitis possibly delaying the ace's season debut. He shouldn't plummet down the rankings if he'll only miss one or two starts, so continue to monitor his status.

     

    • After the All-Star break, rookie Gerrit Cole posted a 2.85 ERA, 8.92 K/9 ratio and 2.26 BB/9 rate. With a 2.91 FIP and a fastball that registers in the high 90s, Cole is the leading candidate to become this year's Harvey.

Starting Pitcher (No. 21-40)

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    Michael Wacha's terrific postseason will attract several eager suitors in fantasy drafts.
    Michael Wacha's terrific postseason will attract several eager suitors in fantasy drafts.Rob Carr/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    21Mike MinorBraves
    22Alex CobbRays
    23Jordan ZimmermannNationals
    24James ShieldsRoyals
    25Julio TeheranBraves
    26Kris MedlenBraves
    27Hyun-Jin RyuDodgers
    28Shelby MillerCardinals
    29Masahiro TanakaYankees
    30Doug FisterNationals
    31A.J. BurnettPhillies
    32Michael WachaCardinals
    33Francisco LirianoPirates
    34Danny SalazarIndians
    35Sonny GrayAthletics
    36Jered WeaverAngels
    37Jeff SamardzijaCubs
    38Hisashi IwakumaMariners
    39Andrew CashnerPadres
    40Justin MastersonIndians

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Count me among those expecting big things from Alex Cobb. A freak injury limited his breakout season to 143.1 innings, but his 2.76 ERA, 8.41 strikeouts and 2.83 walks per nine innings still point to ace potential within the 26-year-old.

     

    • The slow burn of A.J. Burnett's signing decision took him from the limelight, but he notched a 2.80 FIP and 209 strikeouts last season. While playing in Philadelphia doesn't help his fantasy value, at least he did not expose himself to the American League East again by signing with Baltimore.

     

    • There's a whole bunch of upside occupying this portion of the rankings. Michael Wacha receives the most attention of the young hurlers due to his sensational postseason, but Danny Salazar and Sonny Gray are not far behind. It wouldn't be surprising if anyone from that trio finishes among the top-20 starters.

     

    • With apologies to Cincinnati Reds fans, Tony Cingrani and Johnny Cueto just missed the cut at No. 41 and 42, respectively. For Cingrani, his 3.70 BB/9 rate, .241 BABIP and low ground-ball rate were enough to keep him off the list despite his 120 strikeouts through 104.2 innings. Cueto's high FIP is going to catch up to his ERA one of these years.

Relief Pitcher

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    Kenley Jansen dominated once the Dodgers handed him the keys to the ninth inning.
    Kenley Jansen dominated once the Dodgers handed him the keys to the ninth inning.Jeff Gross/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Craig KimbrelBraves
    2Kenley JansenDodgers
    3Aroldis ChapmanReds
    4Greg HollandRoyals
    5Koji UeharaRed Sox
    6Trevor RosenthalCardinals
    7Glen PerkinsTwins
    8Joe NathanTigers
    9Sergio RomoGiants
    10David RobertsonYankees
    11Jason GrilliPirates
    12Jonathan PapelbonPhillies
    13Addison ReedDiamondbacks
    14Casey JanssenBlue Jays
    15Jim JohnsonOrioles

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Anyone willing to pay top dollar for a closer will certainly have several studs to choose from. Kenley Jansen's improved control makes him Craig Kimbrel's biggest threat to the throne, but Trevor Rosenthal should also flourish in his move to the ninth inning. Despite a bloated .341 BABIP, he recorded a 2.63 ERA on the strength of a 12.90 K/9 rate. A lower BABIP should help him peer closer to his 1.91 FIP.

     

    • The most underrated elite closer, Glen Perkins will not cost an arm and a leg despite his 2.30 ERA and 5.13 K/BB ratio. That's enough to rank him over Joe Nathan, whose 3.06 BB/9 rate, .224 BABIP and 3.0 percent HR/FB ratio suggest a course correction in 2014.

     

    • Over the last three years, Casey Janssen has registered a 2.46 ERA, 170 strikeouts and 38 walks through 172 innings. He's the perfect unheralded closer for those in no rush to pay for saves.

Overall (No. 1-25)

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    Mike Trout could hold the No. 1 spot for a long time.
    Mike Trout could hold the No. 1 spot for a long time.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    1Mike TroutAngels
    2Miguel CabreraTigers
    3Paul GoldschmidtDiamondbacks
    4Andrew McCutchenPirates
    5Robinson CanoMariners
    6Carlos GonzalezRockies
    7Chris DavisOrioles
    8Adrian BeltreRangers
    9Clayton KershawDodgers
    10Hanley RamirezDodgers
    11Ryan BraunBrewers
    12Edwin EncarnacionBlue Jays
    13Joey VottoReds
    14Adam JonesOrioles
    15Jacoby EllsburyYankees
    16Troy TulowitzkiRockies
    17David WrightMets
    18Yu DarvishRangers
    19Prince FielderRangers
    20Evan LongoriaRays
    21Bryce HarperNationals
    22Jason KipnisIndians
    23Adam WainwrightCardinals
    24Felix HernandezMariners
    25Carlos GomezBrewers

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • Trout or Cabrera? Barring an injury, there’s no loser in this argument. Both are absolute studs, but Trout gets the nod because he is eight years younger and 800 times faster.

     

    • Robinson Cano has lost his first-round status in the eyes of many experts, but I’m not stripping him of his top-10 spot. Worried about him struggling away from Yankee Stadium? He holds a career .503 slugging percentage on the road, slightly below his .507 home clip. About that decreased lineup protection, the Yankees outscored the Mariners by 26 runs, and that’s because they had Cano.

     

    • When should drafters start looking Clayton Kershaw’s way? It’s hard to shun the ace due to higher risk when he has started at least 30 games in each of the last five years. I’m typically opposed to taking a pitcher so early, but Kershaw carries less downside than Ramirez, Braun, Ellsbury, Tulowitzki and every other hitter looking to sneak past him.

     

    • Several experts tout Bryce Harper as a first-round player on FantasyPros, but that’s a big leap for a 21-year-old who hit .274 last year and missed 42 games due to his extreme aggressiveness. He should take another step forward to realizing his star upside, but be careful not to reach too high in re-draft leagues.

Overall (No. 26-50)

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    Yasiel Puig quickly became one of baseball's most exciting players during his rookie season.
    Yasiel Puig quickly became one of baseball's most exciting players during his rookie season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
    RANKPLAYERTEAM
    26Max ScherzerTigers
    27Cliff LeePhillies
    28Giancarlo StantonMarlins
    29Jay BruceReds
    30Dustin PedroiaRed Sox
    31Stephen StrasburgNationals
    32Freddie FreemanBraves
    33Chris SaleWhite Sox
    34Ian DesmondNationals
    35Yasiel PuigDodgers
    36Shin-Soo ChooRangers
    37Madison BumgarnerGiants
    38Alex RiosRangers
    39Jose FernandezMarlins
    40Jose BautistaBlue Jays
    41Justin UptonBraves
    42Eric HosmerRoyals
    43Jose ReyesBlue Jays
    44Matt HollidayCardinals
    45David PriceRays
    46Jean SeguraBrewers
    47Anibal SanchezTigers
    48Albert PujolsAngels
    49Justin VerlanderTigers
    50Buster PoseyGiants

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • You shouldn’t want Max Scherzer for his 21-3 record. You should be weary of his 2.90 ERA and 0.97 WHIP regressing when his .259 BABIP increases and his 7.6 HR/FB rate returns closer to his 10.4 percent career norm.  But you should stick around for the nasty strikeout totals.

     

    • Yasiel Puig’s impatience will lead to a sub-.300 batting average when that unreasonably high .383 BABIP falls down to earth. How he swung that mark with half his batted balls going for grounders is a mystery. Luckily for the dynamic Cuban star, he could easily deliver a 25/15 season with the potential for more.

     

    • Justin Upton’s career trajectory has taken a step backward. Instead of realizing his ceiling as a top-five player, his average continues to drop as his strikeout rate continues to climb. After ending a quarter of his plate appearances in punchouts, he hit a career-low .263 while halting his efforts swiping bases. This ranking may seem low, but it’s actually giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Sleepers

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    Corey Kluber could be in store for a huge 2014 season.
    Corey Kluber could be in store for a huge 2014 season.Jason Miller/Getty Images

     

    POSITION PLAYER TEAM
    CDevin MesoracoReds
    1B/OFCorey HartMariners
    2B/3BKelly JohnsonYankees
    3BWill MiddlebrooksRed Sox
    SSJonathan VillarAstros
    OFKhris DavisBrewers
    OF Kole CalhounAngels
    OFAdam EatonWhite Sox
    SPCorey KluberIndians
    SPRick PorcelloTigers
    SPScott KazmirAthletics
    RPSteve CishekMarlins

     

    THOUGHTS:

    • I’m hunting for under-the-radar power with all but one of these infield selections. Devin Mesoraco will finally get the starting nod in Cincinnati and is worth the gamble in two-catcher formats. Returning after missing a full season due to knee surgery, Corey Hart will look to remind everyone that he crushed 30 homers in 2012.

     

    • Kelly Johnson should utilize Yankee Stadium’s short porch well, and Will Middlebrooks hit .276 with eight homers in 145 at-bats upon reemerging from his demotion.

     

    • Miss out on all the top speedy shortstops? Jonathan Villar stole 18 bases for the Astros in just 58 games to close out 2013 after swiping 31 bags in Triple-A. He is also likely to provide an eyesore at batting average, but it could come with 40 steals and a few homers at a shallow position.

     

    • By the time most drafts roll along, Khris Davis and Kole Calhoun won’t at all resemble sleepers. They’re each becoming supremely popular targets, for good reason. Khris nearly matched Chris Davis’ power in a short sample size, slugging .596 with 11 homers in 56 games. According to the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher, Calhoun “seems to be the most obvious candidate” to precede Trout on top of the Angels’ batting order. His .347 on-base percentage would help him score several runs, and he also could toss in 15-20 homers and 10 steals.

     

    • When targeting sleeper pitchers, I’m looking at starters with a good mix of command and strikeout stuff and a FIP that underscores less attractive surface numbers. With a 8.31 K/9 ratio, 2.02 BB/9 rate and 3.30 FIP, Corey Kluber meets all the criteria. 

     

    • Scott Kazmir also revitalized his career with 162 strikeouts, 47 walks and a 3.51 FIP through 158 innings. Rick Porcello should enjoy an improved Detroit defense after tallying a 4.32 ERA despite a 3.53 FIP.

     

    • Yes, the Miami Marlins are a bad team. No, that does not prohibit Steve Cishek from saving games. He earned 34 saves last year while producing a 2.33 ERA and 74 strikeouts through 69.2 innings. Walks hampered him in the past, but he lessened those concerns with 22 free passes, giving him a career-best 2.84 BB/9 rate. Let other drafters run away from closers on bad teams and snatch up Cishek at a bargain

Predictions

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    Be weary of Matt Moore this season.
    Be weary of Matt Moore this season.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    As a parting gift, here are some predictions regarding some players I’ve yet to cover in this preview. 

     

    Matt Moore Will Disappoint Drafters

    Matt Moore is valued way too high right now. ESPN ranks him as the No. 33-overall starting pitcher, but he should consider himself lucky to crack the top 50.

    I get it. A 3.29 ERA, a bunch of strikeouts and 17 wins is impressive. First off, shame on you for looking at wins. (I know, I was the one that brought it up, but still.) As for the ERA, a .259 BABIP helped him combat his 3.95 FIP.

    His 8.56 K/9 rate is cool, but it comes at the price of terrible control. Simply put, his 4.55 BB/9 rate is too darn high to ensure sustained success.

    The lefty is still 24, so perhaps he will show real improvement and flourish the right way. Until that occurs, however, stay away.

     

    Derek Jeter: Draft-Day Bargain?

    In the final season of his 20-year career, Derek Jeter could be an overlooked fantasy option for the first time.

    Unfortunately for the future Hall of Famer, intangibles and attractive female companions aren’t categories in fantasy baseball. (This is where many cruel people would make a joke about fantasy managers participating because of a lacking love life, but you’re this far into a lengthy fantasy preview.)

    After recording 12 hits (10 singles) in 17 games last season, even his most loyal supporters are looking for new players in which to attach their allegiance. If he costs next to nothing, Jeter actually justifies the latest of picks.

    Just two years ago, "The Captain" hit .316 with 15 homers, 99 runs and nine steals. If he plays most of the time, hits near .300 at the top of the order—Joe Girardi won’t have the guts to stick him down the lineup during his farewell tour—and can scrape together 10 homers this year, he’ll be a steal.

     

    Fallen Aces Won't Get Back Up

    Drafters unwilling to pony up for an ace will look at the array of intriguing options waiting in the later rounds, particularly several former aces looking to rebound.

    Memories of better times will compel owners to instill their faith in a comeback, but don’t be surprised if there’s little left in the tank.

    CC Sabathia lost substantial weight during the offseason, but he’s still a 33-year-old who lost velocity and strikeouts last season, leading his offerings to get treated like a pinata to close out 2013. He’ll lower that 4.78 ERA, but a 3.78 ERA and 175 strikeouts doesn’t separate himself from the hoard of alluring arms.

    It’s also time to accept that Cy Young-winner Tim Lincecum is no longer with us. Over the past two years, his average fastball velocity has dipped to slightly above 90 mph, and his line-drive rates have soared as a result. Throw in control issues, and drafters should be careful not to overextend for Lincecum because of name recognition.

    Yovani Gallardo absorbed all his fantasy value from strikeouts, and those evaporated last season. Even when he posted a 3.09 ERA after the All-Star break, he tallied an uninspiring 53 strikeouts through 67 innings.

    None of these guys are bad picks at the right price, but don’t let their past success steer you to reach too high for them.

     

    You’ll Come Back for More Fantasy Baseball Analysis throughout Spring Training and the Season

    Wishful thinking?

     

    Follow me on Twitter to ask any fantasy baseball questions on your mind. 


     

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