Fantasy Baseball 2014: Fresh Top 150 Big Board as Spring Games Start Up
With spring training games officially underway (yay!) and your fantasy baseball draft getting ever closer (double-yay!), it's time to update the Big Board.
On the pages that follow is a ranking of—count 'em—the top-150 players for the 2014 fantasy baseball season, and with a few transactions and injuries happening since the last iteration, a refreshing and re-ordering of the board is, well, in order.
Before getting to that, though, some housekeeping is needed, 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, get ready to count down, starting with No. 150 and working all the way to No. 1.
For more fantasy baseball analysis, here's a look at 25 sleepers and a batch of regression candidates, as well as a rundown of the position rankings so far at catcher, first base, second base, third base and shortstop.
|139||Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays|
|134||Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- In case you were wondering who Jed Lowrie (pictured)—making his first Big Board appearance as the latest Mr. Irrelevant—beat out for that final spot, next in line were: Austin Jackson, Andrew Cashner, Patrick Corbin, Jered Weaver, Leonys Martin, Brandon Moss, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz and Francisco Liriano.
- The only player who dropped out from the initial Big Board? That'd be Jurickson Profar, who checked in at No. 138 last time but lost his place because he's still bothered by shoulder tendinitis, which could set him back at the start of the regular season, per Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram. For an unproven youngster, that's not good.
- A quick pointer to keep in mind: when a few players at the same position are bunched together—like closers David Robertson, Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo and Jonathan Papelbon (Nos. 148-145)—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.
- Chase Headley's calf strain isn't necessarily all that serious—unlike last spring, he's aiming to be ready for Opening Day this year, per Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune—but getting hurt so early in camp yet again isn't going to endear him to owners who already are down on him after a disappointing 2013.
|125||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox|
|120||Koji Uehara||RP||Red Sox|
|116||Jose Abreu||1B||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Check out that 125-116 range; that's quite the concentrated crop of young talent, eh? In particular, the four pitchers listed within that range—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 this season; just be wary of innings limits. As for the hitters in that bunch, look for the big bats of Xander Bogaerts and Jose Abreu to be in contention for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
- At this point, Matt Kemp's status heading into 2014 is anyone's guess. The latest, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, is that an MRI scheduled for Friday will provide an answer as to whether the injury-prone outfielder can begin running as part of his recovery from offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries. Not being able to run tends to result in a drop from No. 91 to No. 110.
- Just ahead of Kemp, Mat Latos (pictured) checks in at No. 109. I don't know about you, but I prefer when the pitchers on my fantasy staff don't have to undergo any sort of surgical procedure—let alone two in four months. Following a right-elbow cleanup in October, Latos had surgery on his knee less than two weeks ago after he injured it during a drill. The prognosis appears positive, though, and the 26-year-old could be throwing again in short order, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, but he's behind on two accounts now.
- 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 in fantasy, while the latter is firmly in the so-underrated-he's-now-overrated camp.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Without Shin-Soo Choo and his .389 career OBP atop the Reds lineup, there will be a drop-off in RBI production for Brandon Phillips. Still, he might sniff 20 homers considering he's hit 18 of them in four straight seasons. What would really help, though, is if he could return to producing double-digit stolen-base totals.
- Owners tend to love Ben Zobrist for his versatility—hey, that three-position eligibility is mighty handy—but the 32-year-old 2B/SS/OF-eligible player is more steady than dynamic these days. 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 the shallow SS spot.
- Anibal Sanchez is due for a step back after his crazy spike to 10.0 K/9 last season. Mike Minor will be more of the same (3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.0 K/9), which is a very good thing. Doug Fister is going to 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.
- See what getting signed can do for a player? Nelson Cruz (pictured) found a new home and proceeded to jump from No. 125 to No. 93 in the rankings. A big reason for that, of course, is that he joins the Orioles lineup, which already was loaded without him. Cruz often requires a DL stint each season, but he could approach 30 homers and 90 RBI, per usual.
|86||Mike Napoli||1B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Josh Hamilton and Trevor Rosenthal both took a dip in the rankings after catching the early-spring-training injury bug. Compared to the precautionary nature of Rosenthal's groin issue, as reported by Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch, Hamilton's calf strain seems more serious. The injury-prone outfielder was seen on crutches after hurting himself during baserunning drills this week and could miss the next two weeks, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. After a terrible 2013, health is paramount for Hamilton if he's going to bounce back.
- I'm much, much lower on Alex Rios than most, but maybe that's because he's burned me about 18 times before. He does have the Rangers' boffo lineup for support, but he's 33 now, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him lose 15 steals off of last year's career-high total of 42 while also coming up shy of 20 homers. He's consistently inconsistent.
- Manny Machado (pictured) tailed off drastically in the second half last year (.240 BA/.647 OPS in the second half versus a .310/.807 line in the first half) prior to his knee injury. Considering he was all of 20 and in his first full MLB season, that's understandable. Provided his recovery from surgery continues to go well this spring, though, there's all kinds of upside as well as plenty of hope that he starts turning some of those 51 doubles into homers, which would mean a jump up from last year's total of 14. News that he won't be rushed back onto the field, per Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, might present an opportunity to snatch him later in drafts if other owners are hesitant. If he misses a week or three at the start of the season, he'll still have more than enough time to be worth it in the end.
|71||Jose Bautista||OF||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- When it comes to Masahiro Tanaka (pictured), 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 someone else do just that. This is what happens when every spring-training throwing session—including Saturday's debut, as noted by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News—is bound to be dissected and analyzed like Game 7 of the World Series.
- An update on Cole Hamels sore left shoulder, courtesy of Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com:
Hamels threw 33 pitches in his first bullpen session of the spring at Phillies camp on Wednesday. He was pleased with the outcome. "Everything felt really good," he said. "I’m pain-free. I feel like I’m in a really good position to progress."
- The Great Third Base Experiment continues for Carlos Santana, who will take the next step by seeing some time at the hot corner as spring games start, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. For fantasy purposes, the extra eligibility would be welcomed, but you'll be using him at catcher, so the real reason you should care is to see if he finds another way to get into the lineup.
- If nothing else, it was fun—and encouraging—to see former home-run king Jose Bautista's majestic long ball in his first spring at-bat on Wednesday, especially after he missed the final six weeks of 2013 with bruised left hip. He could jump up these rankings over the next few weeks.
|62||Jon Lester||SP||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- You want to argue that Justin Upton (pictured) 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 and then hit just 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, on the other hand, lacks the utter upside of Upton but might be the better OF2 in fantasy because he's durable—he's played at least 154 games in each of his full seasons—and has been a more consistent asset in all five categories.
- Speaking of consistency, following several years of it, much of Matt Cain's 2013 was way worse by comparison. Still, many of the 29-year-old's underlying metrics remained in line with his recent seasons, including a 20.8 percent strikeout rate and 7.2 percent walk rate, per FanGraphs. He can still be a No. 2 starter in fantasy, but he may not be seen as such on draft day.
|57||David Ortiz||DH||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Elvis Andrus breaks away just a bit from fellow speed-oriented shortstops Jean Segura and Everth Cabrera (Nos. 63 and 64), mainly because he'll get to hit near the top of a ridiculous Rangers one-through-nine, between Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. Oh, and Adrian Beltre will be hitting cleanup.
- Gerrit Cole: I'm buying in; are you?
- David Ortiz, Allen Craig and Adrian Gonzalez are big bats upon whose production 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 were a career high).
- With Matt Carpenter (pictured) switching from second to third base in 2014, could he overtake Zimmerman in the 3B 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. It all depends how you want to build your team, as you can decide to deploy Carpenter at either second or third.
NEWS AND NOTES
- If you want to acquire the consensus top closer, you'll have to take Craig Kimbrel right around Round 5. That means you'll be passing up some big names that can help in more categories. But then again, at least you get to say you have Kimbrel.
- If you accidentally missed out or purposely passed up on the top 10 SPs (which we'll get to in a moment), you should be more than happy to land one of Homer Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke or Jose Fernandez to be your No. 1 starter. You may, though, want to take an SP2 within the next three-to-five rounds in order to make up some ground.
- 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. Hence, the one-spot edge here.
- Admittedly, there's risk with both Eric Hosmer (pictured) and Freddie Freeman, who aren't true sluggers at a position that often requires a lot of power. But they're also young and improving, with the ability to hit for a higher average than most others at their position. Who's banking that we haven't yet seen their best?
|40||Jose Reyes||SS||Blue Jays|
|37||Chris Sale||SP||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Yes, Buster Posey (pictured) was a 2013 fantasy disappointment. But maybe you didn't realize that he actually was fantastic in the first half, hitting .325 with 13 homers and 56 RBI—before seeing his average plummet to .244 and producing just two homers and 16 RBI after the break. Coming off a postseason-less year, expect Posey to better maintain his production throughout all six months.
- Both Giancarlo Stanton and Jay Bruce 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.
- Ian Desmond has had back-to-back 20-20 seasons as a shortstop. That is all.
- Here come the stud starters. Chris Sale, David Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer 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 throwing batting practice sessions and appears ready to begin the year, per John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press.
|28||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- In case you hadn't heard yet, Yasiel Puig put on some weight—about 20-25 pounds—this offseason, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angels Times. Folks will spin this kind of news, but remember that last spring another dynamic, young L.A. outfielder made waves for showing up with added mass. His name? Mike Trout.
- 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. Seriously, if he doesn't score 100 runs, it'll be tragic.
- 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 a capable backup.
- If one of these 10 is going to have a top-10 fantasy season, the pick here 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 remain a career high going forward.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Yu Darvish probably won't strike out two 277 batters again, but another 250 seems more than possible in 2014, as does another sub-3.00 ERA. Maybe this time, then, he'll win more than 13 freaking games.
- Coming off a wrist injury, 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.
- You'll find other fantasy sites that put Carlos Gonzalez within the top 10 overall. Not here, though, where we prefer our early selections to be consistent and durable. CarGo is a safe bet for 20-plus homers and steals—and games missed.
- We know Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) 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? The Orioles offense is nasty, and Jones is at the center of it.
- 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 return to 30 homers and 90-100 RBI, though. Draft the skills.
|10||Edwin Encarnacion||1B||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Remember when you used to be able to wait to draft a first baseman? Not anymore. If you count Votto, six of the top-11 players on the 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 (pictured) 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. Oh, and in case you missed it the first dozen times: the Rangers are going to score—a lot.
- 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. Plus, if you take him, you can just grab hitters each of the next eight-to-10 rounds before needing to go back to the SP well.
- 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 rather than his new home ballpark, which hurts righty swingers more than lefties from a power standpoint. He's still the top offensive second baseman in fantasy and his durability is a thing of beauty; he's played at least 159 games each of the past seven years.
- 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 while hitting fourth, behind Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus and that Fielder guy.
- 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 .250 average. That's great but maybe not first-round great.
- With Andrew McCutchen, the floors in each category are: .300 BA, 90 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 20 SB. Because he's still only 27, we don't yet know what the ceilings 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 of last season. 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 the continuation 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? The top 25?
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11