Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking Final Preseason Top 150 Big Board
With spring training just about over for most teams (yay!), the 2014 regular season already underway in Australia for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks (double-yay!!), and your fantasy baseball draft getting ever closer if it isn't yet in the rearview mirror (triple-yay!!!), it's time to update the Big Board again.
On the pages that follow is a ranking of—count 'em—the top 150 players for the 2014 fantasy baseball season. With some circumstances and opinions changing since the last iteration, including transactions and injuries, a refreshing of the board is 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 5x5 rotisserie scoring for hitters (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB) and pitchers (W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).
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 new sleepers and a batch of players to avoid drafting based on their cost of acquisition, as well as a rundown of all the individual position rankings, which can be found here.
|136||Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays|
|131||Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- In case you were wondering which players made the jump onto the Big Board, that would be a pair of closers in Rafael Soriano and Addison Reed (pictured), who officially (but unsurprisingly) was named the Diamondbacks' ninth-inning man. Next in line but just short are: Jered Weaver, Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin, Brandon Moss, Lance Lynn, Justin Masterson, Aaron Hill, Clay Buchholz, Francisco Liriano and Aramis Ramirez. Patrick Corbin, who also had been on the bubble all spring, no longer is, now that we know his elbow injury could cost him all of 2014, as John Schlegel of MLB.com reports.
- The only players who dropped out from the previous Big Board? Johnny Cueto and Curtis Granderson, who were Nos. 139 and 150, respectively, last time. Cueto just can't seem to stay healthy, as he's now dealing with some right-shoulder soreness, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. There are simply too many concerns surrounding Granderson (injuries, declining average, new team, new league, pitcher's park) to trust him.
- A quick pointer to keep in mind: When a few players at the same position are bunched together—like outfielders Domonic Brown, Calros Beltran and Shane Victorino—it means they're more or less in the same boat, with no clear favorite. That can, and will, change as more information, news and performance comes to light, but for now, you should draft bunched players based more on category need than overall value.
- After taking a line-drive come-backer to the face in a terrifying injury that required surgery and the insertion of a metal plate to fix facial fractures, Aroldis Chapman's health obviously is the most important factor in the end. But since you've come for fantasy advice and news, here it is: The former No. 2 closer (ranked No. 53 last time) plummets outside the top 10 at the position, since he'll be out perhaps until mid-May, according to Sheldon. Yes, that's a huge drop, but Chapman could miss out on 20-30 strikeouts and 10-plus saves if he's out that long, and any one closer only really contributes in the saves category, anyway.
- Starlin Castro's hamstring has taken a lot longer than expected to heal, but he's playing in minor league spring training games, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, and still has hopes to play on Opening Day. The question is: Even if he's healthy enough, will his timing at the plate be ready and will he be able to steal bases in the early going?
- Chase Headley's right-calf strain appears to have run its course, as he finally made it into his first spring game on Thursday, according to Corey Brock of MLB.com. If you like him more than I do, feel free to draft him with only minor reservations.
- Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery continues to go well, but he's having issues with his calf now, per Paul Casella of MLB.com. Machado and the O's are hopeful he can be ready to go by early April, but a setback is a setback. Still, if he can give five good, healthy months, Machado will be a borderline top-10 fantasy third baseman.
- Billy Hamilton's spring stats probably don't mean much, but we'll mention that it's at least encouraging that he's gone 15-for-44 (.341) with nearly as many walks (six) as strikeouts (seven)—and of course, nine successful stolen base attempts in 15 games.
|118||Koji Uehara||RP||Red Sox|
|108||Jose Abreu||1B||White Sox|
|101||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- After six weeks of dealing with a sprained finger tendon on his right hand, Hisashi Iwakuma (pictured) had the splint removed and has begun throwing tennis balls to help strengthen his grip, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com. Even in a best-case scenario, the right-hander is likely to miss most or all of April, so don't invest in him as anything more than a third or fourth starting pitcher on draft day.
- At this point, Matt Kemp's fantasy value heading into 2014 is anyone's guess. While his Dodgers mates were busy opening the 2014 MLB regular season in Australia, the injury-prone outfielder had a homer and double in a Triple-A game Friday, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. If you don't mind taking on a high-risk/high-reward player, neither the risk nor the reward get much higher than with Kemp.
- With Stephen Drew idling in free agency and not joining the Red Sox, it's time to buy into Xander Bogaerts as a potential fantasy force at a shallow position. Given his pedigree as a consensus top-three prospect, his hitter-friendly home park and his surrounding lineup, the 21-year-old could be primed for a big-time breakout.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Owners tend to love Ben Zobrist (pictured) for his versatility—hey, that three-position eligibility is mighty handy—but the 32-year-old second baseman/shortstop/outfield-eligible player is more steady than dynamic these days. He posted 12 homers and 11 steals last year and might not reach the top 15 in either category in 2014. He is a Swiss Army knife that cuts best at the weak shortstop spot.
- Doug Fister has had trouble trying to shake right-elbow inflammation this month, but he came away well enough from throwing 3.2 scoreless innings (47 pitches) 20 days after his only other outing this spring, reports Andrew Simon of MLB.com. If he makes it through one more start, Fister could be in line to toe the rubber for the Nationals during the first week of April.
- Mike Minor is in a similar boat—missing a turn or two is possible, per Mark Bowman of MLB.com—after being set back due to January surgery to address a urinary tract infection and then battling shoulder soreness early in camp, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
|83||Mike Napoli||1B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- As fantastic as he was last year—his 2.57 ERA was tops in the American League—Anibal Sanchez also had that odd midseason bout with shoulder soreness that wound up not costing him much time nor impacting his performance once he returned. Alas, he's once again dealing with inflammation and was scratched from his start last week, per Jason Beck of MLB.com. Hmmm.
- Josh Hamilton (pictured), is back from his calf strain and smacked his first spring training home run Saturday, as Adam McCalvy of MLB.com notes. He has to be better than he was in 2013, which could make him an OF3 with oodles of upside in a strong lineup.
- 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 last year's career-high total of 42 while also coming up shy of 20 homers. He's consistently inconsistent, and I don't see much of a difference between him and Desmond Jennings or Starling Marte.
- Cole Hamels has had a roller-coaster spring while battling left-shoulder inflammation, but the latest is good news: "I feel great," the southpaw says, via Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, following a brief live bullpen session. Still, he's about a month behind schedule, so owners who get even one April start should consider themselves lucky. For now, though, it appears Hamels escaped any significant injury and could be a top-20 fantasy starter during the time he is active.
NEWS AND NOTES
- For what it's worth, Masahiro Tanaka (aka, the $155 Million Man) has looked strong so far this month (15 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 16:3 K:BB), with one final spring start coming this week. Surprisingly, in many drafts and mocks I've participated in, owners actually have avoided overdrafting him despite the hype, which means he might wind up being worth a pick right around No. 75 overall if he can be a top-25 starter.
- The Great Third Base Experiment continues for Carlos Santana (pictured), who sported shinguards for the very first time this spring on Wednesday, according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. In the same game, Santana's competition at the hot corner, Lonnie Chisenhall, made a pair of errors. Stay tuned.
|69||Jon Lester||SP||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- While none of them are likely to be a fantasy No. 1 in 2014, each of five starting pitchers in this group—from Jon Lester to Jordan Zimmermann (pictured)—should be pretty firmly in SP2 territory. For owners who like to make a point of teaming their top starter with a strong secondary arm or holding off on a starter early and then doubling up on a pair a little later, expect to do so in the range of Rounds 5-7.
- Chances are, you'll be able to land Everth Cabrera (pictured) a round or two (or more) later than this, because he's a very underrated starting shortstop that some owners don't see as such. With 81 stolen bases in only 210 games since the start of the 2012 season, this 27-year-old just might wind up being what Billy Hamilton could have had he remained at short.
|54||David Ortiz||UTIL||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Elvis Andrus' (pictured) elbow is still sore, but at least an MRI revealed no damage, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. This has become a bit more worrisome than it seemed to be initially—a shortstop needs to be able to throw, after all—but as long as there's nothing structurally wrong, Andrus should be able to play through it without any negative impact on his fantasy game, namely hitting and running.
- The four outfielders in this batch are all great OF2 options in fantasy, but they might actually be ranked from safest with the lowest ceiling (Hunter Pence) to riskiest with the highest upside (Wil Myers). Which one you might grab depends on the type of owner you are (i.e., risk-averse or more caution-to-the-wind) and how your first four or five selections go.
- While his teammates were Down Under, Zack Greinke—yet another victim of a calf-related injury this spring—looked strong in his five-inning, eight-strikeout outing in a minor league game Saturday, per Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times. He's slated to throw again Thursday in his final tuneup before the regular season.
|44||Jose Bautista||OF||Blue Jays|
|41||Jose Reyes||SS||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Ranking Ryan Zimmerman (pictured) is a struggle every time. He's clearly behind the big four at third base—Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria and David Wright—but he has more upside and better surrounding talent than the likes of Pablo Sandoval, Kyle Seager and Josh Donaldson, who come in next in the 3B ranks. This might be high for Zimmerman, who has been very streaky and has battled nicks and bruises the past two years, but if he clicks, he could be a top-50 player.
- Albert Pujols, who missed the last portion of 2013 with a chronic plantar fasciitis problem that has since been resolved for good, got off to a slow start this spring. The 34-year-old former MVP, though, has been hot of late with a pair of doubles on Wednesday and his first homer of the exhibition season on Thursday. A healthy Pujols could be an enticing get on draft day.
|37||Chris Sale||SP||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- If you accidentally missed out or purposely passed up on the very top starting pitchers (which we'll get to in a moment), you should be more than happy to land one of Madison Bumgarner, Jose Fernandez or Chris Sale (pictured) to be your No. 1 starter. You may, though, want to take a second starter within the next three to five rounds in order to make up some ground in the rotation, particularly since none of those three is likely to top 13-15 wins given their teams.
- For Yasiel Puig, this year—his first full one in the majors—is about proving his doubters wrong. After an awful opening game in Australia (0-for-5 with three whiffs out of the leadoff spot), the 23-year-old Cuban sensation went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI and a run while hitting second in the second game. If the leadoff plan sticks, that could help Puig rack up more runs and steals.
- Don't worry, just monitor: Much like Elvis Andrus, his new Rangers teammate, Shin-Soo Choo, has been hampered a bit by persistent elbow pain this spring training, so he had an injection of anti-inflammatory medication to address it. As Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News notes, Choo has been DHing but has not played the field since March 12. Good thing he's not a pitcher, eh?
|24||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Justin Verlander wasn't himself for almost all of 2013 (3.46 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), and he had offseason surgery on his abdomen, but he's looked incredible this month, hurling 13.2 scoreless frames and allowing only seven hits and four walks against 10 strikeouts. He was named the Tigers' Opening Day starter for the seventh straight season last week. All systems are go for a rebound campaign.
- As if Stephen Strasburg wasn't already unfair enough, he's been working on a new pitch—a slider—that he plans to incorporate this year, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Here's a look at the new weapon, via Mike Axisa of CBS Sports.
- His thumb now healthy, Dustin Pedroia could be in for a better year in 2014. Not that last season was bad—he hit .301 with 91 runs and 84 RBI—but if he could do that while playing with a torn ligament all season after injuring himself on Opening Day, imagine what Pedroia might do now that he's back to full strength.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (pictured) had a precautionary MRI on his tight right calf last week. While the results came back negative and both Ellsbury and manager Joe Girardi said the discomfort was minor, per Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger, there is no such thing as "precautionary" and "minor" when it comes to the outfielder with the lengthy injury history. Even more so when said ailment involves the reigning stolen base champ's legs.
NEWS AND NOTES
- The 2013 strikeout king, Yu Darvish, was scratched from a start last week due to a stiff neck, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Darvish attributes this to having "slept wrong" recently but says it's nothing to worry about and unrelated to the back troubles he experienced at the end of last year. He's expected to be ready to go in the Rangers' first game on March 31.
- For now, it seems that whatever might have been bothering Hanley Ramirez in the first game of the 2014 season—he was seen walking gingerly off the field, as multiple game reports noted—isn't an issue after he played the entire second game. Still, after missing half of last year to injuries, one of which was a hamstring strain, maybe it's better to be a bit cautious if you're targeting him.
- You'll find other fantasy sites that put Carlos Gonzalez within the top 10 overall—or even the top five! Not here, though, where we prefer our early selections to be consistent.
- Adam Jones (pictured), on the other hand, is all about consistency and durability 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.
|10||Edwin Encarnacion||1B||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Clayton Kershaw's (pictured) first start of the 2014 regular season: 6.2 innings, five hits, one run, one walk and seven strikeouts. Ho. Hum.
- Remember when you used to be able to wait to draft a first baseman? Not anymore. If you count Votto, six of the top 12 players on the board—that's exactly half—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. The Rangers are going to score—a lot.
- Even as a Mariner in spacious Safeco Field, Robinson Cano is still the top fantasy second baseman, and his durability is a thing of beauty; he's played at least 159 games each of the past seven years. Not that it matters, but you might have noticed that he's having a boffo spring with 14 hits in his first 23 at-bats (.609).
- 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.
- If anyone in the 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 batting average, 90 runs, 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 20 stolen bases. 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 behind Miguel Cabrera.
- Regarding 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.