Fantasy Baseball 2014: Updating the Top 150 Big Board, Week 1
With the 2014 baseball season going full tilt, the fantasy version of the sport needs all kinds of attention. Like, every-week attention—lest we fickle owners get frustrated and cranky, and that just isn't good for anyone.
With that in mind, it's time for the weekly update of the Big Board. Now that the season is underway and fantasy drafts are over, the focus shifts toward evaluating players' values based on the remainder of the season.
Think of it as your security blanket in an otherwise insecure world.
On the pages that follow is a ranking of—count 'em—the top 150 players from now until the end of September. With opinions and circumstances changing since the last iteration, including player performances, transactions and injuries, a refreshing 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 played at least 20 games there in either 2013 or 2014.
With that out of the way, get ready to count down, starting with No. 150 and working all the way to No. 1.
|133||Brett Lawrie||3B||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- This time around, Shane Victorino and Wilson Ramos fell off the Big Board due to injury. The former aggravated a balky hamstring at the tail end of spring training, putting him on the disabled list, while the latter suffered a broken hand that will keep him out into May. While they're likely to re-appear in the Top 150, both injury-prone players are too risky to rank right now. The only other player to go bye-bye? Jhonny Peralta, who was No. 150 last week.
- The three newbies are Francisco Liriano, Johnny Cueto and Justin Masterson, each of whom had been on the bubble and enjoyed a very strong first start to open his respective team's 2014 season.
- Because you're probably wondering which players are just outside the top 150, Aramis Ramirez, Aaron Hill, Brandon Moss, Jered Weaver, Lance Lynn, Daniel Murphy and Alejandro De Aza (he of the three home runs in his first three games) are on the outside looking in.
- Keep in mind: When a few players at the same position are coupled or bunched together—like Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons—it means they're more or less in the same boat, with no clear favorite. That can, and will, change as more information, news, injuries and performance comes to light. But for now, when players are grouped, consider their value to your team based more on specific category need than overall value.
- Jonathan Papelbon fell to the Mr. Irrelevant spot this week after blowing his first save opportunity of the season, picking up the loss and generally looking terrible. There's plenty to worry about here given Papelbon's velocity decline, but the only thing keeping him around is that there is no one else in the Phillies bullpen who poses a real threat to steal saves.
- If you watched Sunday Night Baseball last week for the first MLB game on American soil this season, then you were impressed by Andrew Cashner, too. The injury history is a concern, but enjoy him while he's pitching, because he has SP2 upside.
- Austin Jackson has ceded the leadoff gig in Detroit to Ian Kinsler, which will help his RBI total, although it might mean he fails to notch 90-plus runs in a season for the first time in his career.
- Manny Machado's recovery from knee surgery has gone well for the most part, but he began the year on the disabled list, so his owners are now playing the waiting game. The hope is still that Machado, who is running and doing drills, can be back in late April, per Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun. While you might want him back ASAP, the key here is that the 21-year-old gets fully healthy, so he can help your team for five full months.
- After missing all of spring training with a torn tendon in his right middle finger, Hisashi Iwakuma has been fully cleared to begin a normal throwing program, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com. While that's promising, it means we still have quite some time until the right-hander's stamina is built up to the point where he can return to the majors. Early May might be the realistic target.
|119||Koji Uehara||RP||Red Sox|
|101||Jose Abreu||1B||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- It might seem silly to see mighty mite Jose Altuve hitting third—and even, occasionally, cleanup—but that should help his run production a bit without costing him much in terms of runs. Heck, he hit leadoff and second in the order for most of the past two seasons and averaged only 72 runs scored, so a little change might not be a bad thing. For now, he gets bumped ahead of fellow second baseman Jedd Gyorko.
- If nothing else, it was good to see still relatively inexperienced second-year pitcher Michael Wacha hurl a gem his first time out with 6.2 scoreless frames and seven strikeouts. He seems capable of carrying over whatever he was doing during his incredible end-of-2013 run.
- Billy Hamilton, on the other hand, has done the exact opposite. After swiping an impressive 13 bases in 13 games last September, the rookie speedster with the questionable bat went hitless in his first 13 at-bats with six whiffs. Ooof. So much for that solid spring leading to a fast start.
- Doug Fister had trouble shaking right-elbow inflammation in March and then a lat strain put him on the shelf to start the season. He's aiming to embark on a throwing program shortly, per James Wagner of the The Washington Post, but he may not be back before May.
- Joe Nathan fumbled his first save opportunity as a Tiger. Meanwhile, former Detroit closer Jose Valverde has re-emerged with the Mets. Maybe it's the Tigers' ninth inning itself that's cursed.
- Mat Latos' stats from his rehab outing at Double-A Pensacola weren't the prettiest, but he felt good, per Bill Vilona of the Pensacola News Journal. The right-hander, recovering from surgery to fix torn cartilage in his left knee, gave up five runs on seven hits—one of which was a home run by Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant, last year's No. 2 pick—in four innings. "I knew I wanted to throw strikes and I wanted to leave healthy," Latos said. "The knee feels good, the elbow feels good."
- I liked Brandon Belt to continue his second-half surge from last season, and with three homers in his first four games of 2014, he's showing he's ready to do just that.
- So far, so good for rookie Jose Abreu: he's gone 6-for-20 with six RBI in his first five MLB games.
|98||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Hyun-Jin Ryu made two very strong starts but then wasn't so hot in his third (2 IP, 6 ER, 8 H). In fairness, though, there were a bunch of soft singles, and the Dodgers defense didn't do Ryu any favors, as the highlights show.
- Have you bought into Xander Bogaerts as a potential fantasy force at a shallow position, yet? 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. I find myself looking for excuses to move Bogaerts up, and his hot start jumps him over fellow SS J.J. Hardy. Bogaerts has seven hits in first 17 at-bats with four walks.
- 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 finally made his first rehab start Thursday at Double-A in which he allowed four hits and three runs over two innings but whiffed five. He'll need a few more turns to build innings, but it's possible he could make it back to the Braves by late April.
- One-hit wonder? Josh Donaldson is just 2-for-22 with seven K's through his first fives games.
- Anibal Sanchez, who had been battling shoulder soreness in spring, threw to live batters for the first time since March 12 when he took the hill Friday, per Chris Vannini of MLB.com. He only went four innings, but that was because a rain delay cut into his action by an inning or two.
|84||Mike Napoli||1B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Nelson Cruz ingratiated himself to his new Orioles teammates and fans by hitting the game-winning homer on Opening Day. He then followed that up with another jack in the next game. Health is always the big concern for Cruz, but if he plays 120-plus games, he could eclipse 30 four-baggers.
- Josh Hamilton went 0-for-4 with four whiffs to earn the golden sombrero Tuesday versus hard-throwing Mariners lefty James Paxton, which indicates that Hamilton's splits against southpaws might not improve much. In the two games immediately following Hamilton's four-whiff outing, however, the veteran slugger went 6-for-8 with a pair of jacks.
- Fellow former first-round outfielder Matt Kemp was activated from the DL on Friday. Now all he has to do is prove he can be a productive major leaguer once again. There's still a see-it-to-believe-it aspect when it comes to Kemp getting back to his old self, but at least this is promising.
- Cole Hamels had a roller-coaster spring while battling left-elbow issues, but the latest is good news: The southpaw is set for his first rehab start back at A-ball Clearwater on Sunday, reports Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer. If all goes well, Hamels could be back in Philly before the month is out.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Following his boffo spring (15 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 16:3 K:BB), Masahiro Tanaka's debut Friday night was rather impressive (7 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 8:0 K:BB). I think he has it in him to be a top-25 starter. Like, this year.
- The great third base experiment is in effect, as former Indians catcher/designated hitter Carlos Santana is getting a shot to hold down the hot corner. Monitor: Through his first five games, he'd played catcher twice (with zero errors) and third base three times (one error). 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.
- Trevor Rosenthal is one of the few closers who hasn't blown a save or allowed a run yet. Given his age, stuff and team, it wouldn't at all be surprising if he wound up leading the majors in saves—or even finishing as fantasy's top closer.
- On the other hand, Kenley Jansen hasn't been especially sharp in his first four games, allowing four hits and three walks over three frames. He is, though, 2-for-2 in save opportunities, and while setup man (and former closer) Brian Wilson's stint on the DL with nerve irritation in his elbow might hurt the Dodgers, that makes Jansen's already lengthy leash just a tad longer.
|69||Jon Lester||SP||Red Sox|
|68||Jose Reyes||SS||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Jose Reyes tried to fight through a "mild" hamstring strain at the end of spring training, but that just proved to be a bad idea when he re-aggravated it after exactly one plate appearance. Reyes claims he could be back by mid-April, per Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com, but given yet another hamstring injury in a long, long, looooong line of them, how much will the 30-year-old run? Considering he tumbled from No. 47 to No. 68 and also dropped behind fellow shortstops Elvis Andrus, Jean Segura and Everth Cabrera, I'm thinking not enough to make up ground.
- Ian Kinsler is off to a fine start with his new club, but his career home-road splits are not insubstantial: .305/.387/.511 at home vs. .242/.312/.399 on the road. Now that he calls Detroit's Comerica Park home—and not hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark—that's the sort of thing that owners should be aware of, in case they weren't already.
- Speaking of Segura, he made a dramatic recovery from a sore shoulder that nearly put him on the DL to start the season, so try not to get too impatient with his slow start. At least he's playing. Hey, it could be worse, right? You could own Reyes.
|52||David Ortiz||UTIL||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- If you're a Hunter Pence owner, you're probably staring at his .120 average so far and hating him. Don't freak out, don't cut him, don't even bench him. Stick with your players, especially the good ones, through the early struggles. This kind of thing can turn around with one big game.
- Jordan Zimmermann's first start was scratched, sending his owners into an immediate tizzy at the announcement. It turns out, it was merely a bout with the flu. Zimmermann wound up starting only a couple days later, and he actually was rather impressive in striking out—get this—nine over just five frames. If the 27-year-old, who has been an ERA/WHIP stud the past three years (3.12 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), is going to start upping his K/9 like that, well, look out.
- I told you well before the season that Mark Trumbo was going to enjoy his new hitter-friendlier digs in the desert, and he's the current MLB home run leader through Saturday with four, including one in each of his past three games. Seriously, 40 homers could happen.
|42||Jose Bautista||OF||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- ICYMI: Gio Gonzalez more or less beat the Mets by himself in his first start of the season, twirling six innings of three-hit, one-run ball—and hitting a solo home run in the 5-1 Nationals win.
- If nothing else, it's encouraging to see Buster Posey off to a hot start with a .381 average, two homers and four RBI, proving he's over that brutal second half last year (.244 BA, 2 HR, 16 RBI in 58 games).
- Jose Bautista's two-homer game during the week gave him three on the young season. He also has a league-high seven walks, which shows he's still doing the power-patience thing that helped him lead the majors in dingers two years in a row back in 2010 and 2011. Healthy again, the power is and always has been there. The guy just needs to stay healthy enough to hit 35-plus again.
|34||Chris Sale||SP||White Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Here's the plummet of the week, folks: Clayton Kershaw's back inflammation could wind up keeping him out until May, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, so he goes from the top 10 to No. 40. The massive drop comes because every single start counts for a pitcher's value, so even if Kershaw is the reigning Cy Young winner, right now, he's nothing but the reigning Cy Young winner who'll make only 25 or 26 starts instead of 32 or 33. That knocks him just outside the very elite starters, a group comprised of about a dozen or so arms.
- Ryan Braun nearly matched Kershaw's drop with news that his right-thumb injury has cropped up again, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The former MVP has started off with one hit in his first 16 at-bats and was limited to DH duty against the Red Sox in Boston (where they use the DH) on Friday before sitting out Saturday's game. Here's the money quote: "It's frustrating. I've dealt with it a long time. I'm optimistic that eventually we'll figure something out to make it better. But when it gets to the point where I can't come close to taking a normal swing, it's counterproductive to the team and to me to continue to play."
- Freddie Freeman's two-homer game last week is making me wonder whether there is, in fact, more power in his bat than I originally thought (read: 30 home runs?).
- Madison Bumgarner had arguably the best spring of any pitcher (1.19 ERA, 0.75 WHIP over 22.2 IP) and then put up a dud his first time out with a four-frame clunker, which was salvaged only by the fact that the Giants defense made all four runs unearned. Saturday night, though, he was back to his usual self: 6.1 innings of two-run ball with a 10-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- Jose Fernandez: Ew. (And I mean that in the good way.)
- With Yasiel Puig, you take the bad (being benched—again—for showing up late) with the good (smacking a long ball off old foe Ian Kennedy). He was back hitting leadoff Saturday night but then injured his thumb sliding into first base on an infield single, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports. He did, though, finish the game.
|22||Dustin Pedroia||2B||Red Sox|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Trying to describe the things Giancarlo Stanton has been doing to baseballs so far would only lead to the use of inappropriate terminology. Rather than try to use words, then, just watch.
- So much for that 2013 luck that helped Max Scherzer pick up 21 wins: In his first start, a scoreless eight-inning gem, Scherzer lost the W when new closer Joe Nathan—the active saves leader—blew his first opportunity with the Tigers.
- King Felix just keeps getting it done. Through two starts, he's whiffed 19, and allowed just 12 baserunners and three runs in 14.1 innings.
- Cliff Lee's first start was mostly disastrous (eight earned in five innings), but at least he got the win! For the sake of their ERAs and WHIPs, though, owners, would prefer the opposite. On Saturday, he scattered 10 hits over seven scoreless with six K's to pick up his second victory.
- The right-calf discomfort that Jacoby Ellsbury was dealing with at the end of spring doesn't appear to be an issue any longer after he ended his three-game hitless streak to start the year by going 6-for-9 with a pair each of doubles and steals through the first two games of the second series.
- Stephen Strasburg's first two outings could have gone better (7 ER, 13 H, 5 BB in 10.1 IP), but at least he's racking up strikeouts with 16. If any silly owner is panicking on him this early, you could try to take him off his or her hands. Gladly.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Adam Wainwright gets a small bump for his Opening Day dominance and health, the latter of which is rather important, as Kershaw and Yu Darvish—the top two SPs heading into the season—have proved.
- Speaking of Darvish, the majors' reigning K king, who is out with a neck strain that cost him his Opening Day outing, is due to make his first start of the season Sunday against the Rays. After throwing an 86-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, Darvish told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "There's no concern." If you've got him, I say start him; no need to play it safe by seeing how he comes through the first time out.
- By sprinting around the bases in 16.18 ticks after his leadoff homer against the Braves, apparently, Carlos Gomez learned the lesson Brian McCann taught him late last year. Either that or he's keeping his legs warm for his stolen base attempts.
- Plays-with-his-hair-on-fire Bryce Harper passed concussion tests after taking an Eric Young Jr. knee to the head while breaking up a double play on Opening Day. Now if only he would start hitting after going 3-for-21 to begin 2014.
|9||Edwin Encarnacion||1B||Blue Jays|
NEWS AND NOTES
- Neither Prince Fielder (4-for-20) nor Adrian Beltre (5-for-18) have really gotten going yet, but they're still entrenched in the top 10 because the Rangers are going to score. Like, 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. Plus, with the likes of Brad Miller and Justin Smoak picking up some of the slack, the Mariners lineup suddenly doesn't seem to be as bad as it has been in recent years.
- After an absolutely monstrous spring (.417 BA, 5 HR, 9 RBI), the first week of Andrew McCutchen's 2014 was quite the opposite (.211, 0, 2), but he does have an NL-high six walks. That means he's seeing the ball well and staying patient while pitchers approach him more carefully than they did in March. It'll happen.
- Paul Goldschmidt's 26-game hit streak (which dated back to last season—duh) ended Saturday night, but he's been a beast with 12 hits, four doubles, a homer and even two steals through his first eight games.
- It was only fitting that Miguel Cabrera's 2,000th career hit was not only his fourth of the game on Friday but also a home run.
- Mike Trout's already smacked two homers and driven in five to go with seven hits in his first 19 at-bats (.368), but the dude has yet to steal a base. So: Bust!
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.
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