Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking Final Preseason Top 150 Big Board
With spring training finally over (yay!), the 2014 regular season is about to get under way in full (double-yay!!). And with your fantasy baseball draft in the rear-view 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.
|136||Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays|
|131||Shane Victorino||OF||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- This time around, no players dropped out from the previous Big Board.
- In case you were wondering which players are next in line outside of the top 150: Jered Weaver, Aaron Hill, Justin Masterson, Brandon Moss, Lance Lynn, Clay Buchholz, Francisco Liriano, Aramis Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, Jason Castro and Leonys Martin.
- Patrick Corbin and Jurickson Profar, both of whom had also been on the bubble all spring, no longer are now that we know the former's elbow injury will cost him all of 2014, while the latter's shoulder injury could keep him out through the first half.
- 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, when players are bunched, you should consider their value to your team based more on specific 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 plummets outside of the top 10 at the position since he'll be out perhaps until May. Yes, that's a huge drop, but Chapman could miss out on 20-30 strikeouts and 10-plus saves if he's gone that long, and closers only really contribute in the saves category, anyway.
- Starlin Castro's (pictured) hamstring has taken a lot longer than expected to heal, but he's set to play in the Cubs' final two exhibition games and says he is 100 percent, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. The question is: Even if he is healthy, will he get off to a slow start after missing almost all of the past month?
- Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery has gone well for the most part, but we now know for certain that he'll begin the year on the DL, as reported by Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun. The key here for his owners is that the 21-year-old gets fully healthy before he's back, which could be before the end of the season's first month. "I think you're going to get him sometime in April," manager Buck Showalter said.
- After about two months of dealing with a sprained finger tendon on his right hand, Hisashi Iwakuma finally did something he's paid to do—throw a baseball. He made 40 throws from 60 feet, per Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times, and the hope for fantasy owners is that he can get back by late April or early May, depending on how quickly he's able to build up his pitch count. Hopefully, you're not relying on him as anything more than a fourth starting pitcher.
|119||Koji Uehara||RP||Red Sox|
|107||Jose Abreu||1B||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- The victim of yet another comebacker, Matt Moore was luckier than Chapman in dodging serious injury: He required "only" a handful of stitches in his lower lip after a liner hit him in the mouth, per Paul Casella of MLB.com. The lefty took his next turn Friday, but his rough spring hasn't been limited only to this averted disaster (15 BB in 17.1 IP).
- Doug Fister had trouble shaking right elbow inflammation this month, and now he's also dealing with a lat strain that cut his most recent minor league outing and leaves the start of his 2014 season in jeopardy, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams said, "It's certainly a setback." This is a disappointing because Fister entered camp as a prime candidate to move up the pitcher rankings, but he's only gone backward so far. He seems to be battling some sort of ailment or soreness frequently.
- Billy Hamilton's (pictured) spring stats probably don't mean much, but we'll mention it's at least encouraging that he's gone 18-for-55 (.327) with six walks against nine strikeouts and, of course, nine successful stolen base attempts in 18 games.
- With Clayton Kershaw having been scratched for his scheduled outing on Sunday Night Baseball (more on that later), Hyun-Jin Ryu could be the replacement, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. Ryu is dealing with his own injury—the partial removal of a toenail after injuring the area during his start in Australia—but that's not expected to hold him back. Dan Haren is the other option, so if you're a Ryu owner in a league with daily moves, be ready to act.
|99||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- With Stephen Drew still 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.
- Owners tend to love Ben Zobrist for his versatility, but Martin Prado is just as good and useful—both have three-position eligibility—so they're ranked back-to-back. Zobrist gets the minor edge because owners can plug him in at shortstop, which doesn't apply for Prado.
- After being set back due to offseason surgery to address a urinary tract infection and then having to battle shoulder soreness early in camp, Mike Minor (pictured) has yet to pitch this spring. That's about to change when he takes the hill in a minor league outing Saturday, as Paul Newberry writes for The Associated Press (via The Marietta Daily Journal). He'll need a few turns to build innings, but it's possible he could make a start in April.
- As fantastic as he was last year—his 2.57 ERA was tops in the American League—Anibal Sanchez also had that midseason bout with shoulder soreness that wound up not costing him much time nor affecting his performance once he returned. Alas, he again dealt with inflammation and was scratched from his start last week. Sanchez did, however, return to throw 71 pitches in an outing this past week and will make his last exhibition start Saturday, per John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press. Assuming he comes through that A-OK, he's scheduled to make his 2014 debut in the Tigers' third game.
|84||Mike Napoli||1B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Josh Hamilton is back from his calf strain and smacked his first spring training home run a week ago, then continued to stay hot. He has to be better than he was in 2013, which could make him a third outfielder with oodles of upside in a strong Angels lineup.
- Fellow former first-round outfielder Matt Kemp takes a nice leap in the rankings now that he actually appears to be getting healthy. In fact, he could be activated by April 4—the first day he's eligible to come off the DL—as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports. There's still a see-it-to-believe-it aspect when it comes to Kemp getting back on an MLB diamond—let alone proving he can produce once there—but at least this is promising.
- I'm much, much lower on Alex Rios (pictured) 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 tendinitis, but the latest is good news: He threw 30 pitches over two innings in a minor league outing Thursday and came away feeling good. "I feel healthy now and I have the strength to go out and get my reps in and build my pitch count up," Hamels told Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. The lefty still has a lot of work to do on that front, so it's likely that he won't be back until late April at the earliest, but he's been dropping too far in drafts and could be a very nice value, assuming everything plays out well going forward.
NEWS AND NOTES
- For what it's worth, Masahiro Tanaka (pictured) has looked strong so far in his first MLB spring training (15 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 16:3 K:BB). 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. He'll start the fourth game of the season for the Yankees, who are taking the cautious approach in introducing their new $155 million man to pitching every fifth day, according to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.
- The great third base experiment will be put into effect, as the Indians named former catcher/DH Carlos Santana their starter at the hot corner, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. He'll also serve as the backup catcher, which means not only could Santana play more games in 2014, he also might remain catcher-eligible in fantasy for 2015.
|69||Jon Lester||SP||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Yadier Molina (pictured) is the best all-around backstop in the game—but not in the fantasy one. Defense doesn't count, so don't pay extra for it by picking Molina much higher than this.
- Bothered by arm and shoulder soreness all spring, Elvis Andrus' elbow is feeling better, and he'll be getting into the Rangers' final two spring games over the weekend, according to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. Barring any last-minute setbacks, there shouldn't be any negative impact on Andrus' fantasy game, namely hitting for average, stealing bases and scoring runs.
- Chances are, you'll be able to land Everth Cabrera 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 been had he remained at short.
- Fellow shortstop Jean Segura also has been battling shoulder soreness, although his is more worrisome. He may in fact have to start the year on the DL, Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. If that's the case, his stint could be backdated, costing him as few as five games.
|53||David Ortiz||UTIL||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- The four outfielders in this batch are all great second-outfielder 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, pictured). 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 last Saturday. In his final tuneup before the regular season on Thursday, the right-hander made it through six frames and threw 78 pitches, per Scott Miller of MLB.com. Good to go.
|47||Jose Reyes||SS||Blue Jays|
|43||Jose Bautista||OF||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Ranking Ryan Zimmerman 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, Josh Donaldson, Pedro Alvarez and Kyle Seager, who are next in the third basemen 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.
- Jose Reyes is fighting through a "mild" hamstring strain, per John Lott of the National Post. The expectation at the moment is that he'll be ready for Opening Day. The fair question to ask, though, is this: How much will Reyes, now 30, run this year coming off a nasty ankle injury that cost him half of 2013, when he stole only 15 bases—and now this?
- Albert Pujols (pictured), 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, finished the month on a hot streak, and a healthy Pujols could do some damage in 2014.
- Ladies and gentlemen, your regular-season stolen-base leader so far: Adrian Gonzalez!
|36||Chris Sale||SP||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- If you accidentally missed out on or purposely passed up 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 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 your rotation.
- For Yasiel Puig (pictured), 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 recently had an injection of anti-inflammatory medication to address it. Lucky for Choo, he's not a pitcher, so he'll be fine.
|24||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- This is where owners eyeing one top-notch starting pitcher need to make their move. There's about a dozen high-end options, but you'd rather have your pick of the litter than be left with the "scraps" after others do the picking first. Injuries to the top two starting pitchers (you know who they are) provides all the more reason to target arms like Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg and Adam Wainwright, who are healthy and should be better values a round or two later.
- Justin Verlander (pictured) 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 20.0 scoreless frames and allowing only eight hits and five walks against 17 strikeouts. He was named the Tigers' Opening Day starter for the seventh straight season, and all systems are go for a return to domination.
- 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, getting over discomfort in his right calf that has kept him out of spring games since March 14, is back on the field but only playing in minor league outings, reports Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. It's not out of the question that the reigning stolen-base champ could begin the year on the DL just to be safe, so check in on his status over the weekend. Regardless, if there's one body part that could hurt Ellsbury's fantasy value most, it's his legs.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Turns out that pesky stiff neck that forced 2013 strikeout king Yu Darvish to miss a start last week isn't just going away. In fact, the right-hander was scratched from his Opening Day assignment and will rest for a few days before resuming a throwing program, according to the Rangers. At least there's this: An MRI revealed no structural damage, and the team has said it's unrelated to the back troubles he experienced at the end of last year. Owners may want to think twice about investing if there's a hitter or a different pitcher you like more in the same range.
- For now, it seems that whatever had been bothering Hanley Ramirez in the first game of the 2014 season in Australia—he was seen walking gingerly off the field, as multiple game reports noted—isn't an issue after he played the entire second game last weekend. Still, after missing half of last year to injuries, maybe it's better to be a bit cautious if you're targeting him. He did, though, smack a pair of homers Thursday, so you're forgiven for chasing that tantalizing production at short.
- You'll find other fantasy sites that put Carlos Gonzalez (pictured) within the top 10 overall—or even the top five. Not here, though, where we prefer our early selections to be bankable. CarGo is a good bet for 20-plus homers and 20-plus steals—and 20-plus games missed.
- Adam Jones, 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 first start of the 2014 regular season was of the ho-hum variety (for him): 6.2 innings, five hits, one run, one walk and seven strikeouts. Of the not-so-ho-hum variety? That the stud southpaw will have to miss his scheduled Sunday night start due to back inflammation, per the Dodgers. That certainly isn't what owners or prospective owners of the reigning Cy Young winner want to hear heading into a grueling six-month season. Will you still risk taking him in Round 1 when there are other, healthier hitter options?
- 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 (pictured), 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. His spring so far? Try a .417 average with five homers and nine RBI.
- 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.