Fantasy Baseball 2017 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings
It's that time of year, fantasy baseball fans.
Maybe you're fresh off a fantasy title from a year ago and looking to prove baseball-knowledge supremacy over the rest of your league with a repeat performance.
Or maybe you had a keeper league team built around Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Marcus Stroman last season and are still confused how exactly you finished 11th out of 12 teams.
Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything there...
At any rate, draft day is rapidly approaching once again, and we've put together what should be a useful tool once the day arrives.
Ahead is a look at the top 20 players (40 in the case of outfielders and starting pitchers) at each position, as well as a sleeper and a bust to make note of at each spot.
A few other notes:
- Rankings are based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers)
- To be eligible at a particular position, players must have played 20 games there in 2016. For players that didn't play 20 games at any one position, they are classified at the position they played the most.
- Included along with player rankings is a look at where each player ranked in scoring at the position last season and their current average draft position, courtesy of FantasyPros.
So without further ado, let's kick things off with the catchers.
Note: Three players only qualified as designated hitters last year and will be limited to utility player status—Kendrys Morales (157.3 ADP), Victor Martinez (225.0 ADP) and Pedro Alvarez (461.0 ADP). They're not featured in the following piece but can't be forgotten on draft day.
Top 20 Catchers
|1. Buster Posey, SF||2||40.7|
|2. Gary Sanchez, NYY||13||46.3|
|3. Jonathan Lucroy, TEX||1||63.3|
|4. J.T. Realmuto, MIA||5||131.0|
|5. Willson Contreras, CHC||17||99.3|
|6. Salvador Perez, KC||9||139.3|
|7. Yasmani Grandal, LAD||8||149.0|
|8. Evan Gattis, HOU||4||126.3|
|9. Russell Martin, TOR||7||184.7|
|10. Brian McCann, HOU||10||174.7|
|11. Stephen Vogt, OAK||14||242.0|
|12. Yadier Molina, STL||6||200.0|
|13. Welington Castillo, BAL||11||184.0|
|14. Matt Wieters, FA||12||241.7|
|15. Tom Murphy, COL||44||246.7|
|16. Austin Hedges, SD||81||305.5|
|17. Wilson Ramos, TB||3||237.0|
|18. Sandy Leon, BOS||16||267.7|
|19. Francisco Cervelli, PIT||21||299.7|
|20. Cameron Rupp, PHI||15||290.0|
Sleeper: Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies
Murphy crushed Triple-A pitching last season to the tune of a 1.008 OPS with 26 doubles and 19 home runs in 322 plate appearances, and he hit five more long balls in 21 games after a late-season promotion.
The 25-year-old will open the year in a timeshare with defensive standout Tony Wolters, but don't be surprised if he plays his way into a more substantial role with his bat.
Bust: Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox
A .392 BABIP would be tough to sustain for a player with 80-grade speed. It will be impossible for Leon to maintain on the heels of a breakout season in Boston.
Throw in the fact that Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart are gunning for his job, and it's probably best to let someone else rely on him behind the dish.
Top 20 First Basemen
|1. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI||1||6.7|
|2. Anthony Rizzo, CHC||7||12.0|
|3. Miguel Cabrera, DET||3||14.3|
|4. Joey Votto, CIN||2||21.3|
|5. Freddie Freeman, ATL||6||28.0|
|6. Daniel Murphy, WAS||4||41.3|
|7. Edwin Encarnacion, CLE||5||25.0|
|8. Wil Myers, SD||8||56.7|
|9. Jose Abreu, CWS||14||62.3|
|10. Hanley Ramirez, BOS||9||77.3|
|11. Matt Carpenter, STL||20||69.0|
|12. Chris Davis, BAL||16||75.3|
|13. Eric Hosmer, KC||13||105.7|
|14. Carlos Santana, CLE||12||118.3|
|15. Brandon Belt, SF||19||163.0|
|16. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD||17||154.7|
|17. Albert Pujols, LAA||10||132.7|
|18. Brad Miller, TB||18||165.7|
|19. Mike Napoli, TEX||11||231.0|
|20. Greg Bird, NYY||DNP||286.0|
Sleeper: Dan Vogelbach, Seattle Mariners
With a professional approach at the plate and a strong minor league track record, Vogelbach should be able to make a smooth transition to being an MLB regular.
He likely won't play much against left-handed pitching but could be a surprisingly productive run producer even hitting near the back of a stacked Seattle lineup.
Bust: Greg Bird, New York Yankees
It's a matter of tempering expectations when it comes to Bird.
Don't expect him to match the .871 OPS and 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances that he tallied as a rookie while he works his way back from shoulder surgery. He could be a steal late in a draft, but he'll almost certainly be overvalued by someone.
Top 20 Second Basemen
|1. Jose Altuve, HOU||1||4.0|
|2. Trea Turner, WAS||13||11.7|
|3. Robinson Cano, SEA||3||30.0|
|4. Daniel Murphy, WAS||4||41.3|
|5. Brian Dozier, MIN||2||37.0|
|6. Rougned Odor, TEX||8||41.7|
|7. Ian Kinsler, DET||6||73.3|
|8. Dee Gordon, MIA||31||55.0|
|9. Jean Segura, SEA||5||63.0|
|10. Matt Carpenter, STL||15||69.0|
|11. Jason Kipnis, CLE||10||83.0|
|12. Dustin Pedroia, BOS||9||135.0|
|13. Devon Travis, TOR||24||188.0|
|14. Ben Zobrist, CHC||11||164.3|
|15. Logan Forsythe, LAD||17||241.7|
|16. DJ LeMahieu, COL||7||87.7|
|17. Javier Baez, CHC||22||149.0|
|18. Jonathan Schoop, BAL||12||174.3|
|19. Neil Walker, NYM||18||282.3|
|20. Starlin Castro, NYY||16||267.0|
Sleeper: Devon Travis, Toronto Blue Jays
Travis has yet to stay healthy for a full season.
However, in 163 combined games the past two years, he's hit .301/.342/.469 with 46 doubles, 19 home runs and 85 RBI.
That's top-five production at the position if he can sustain that level and stay on the field. He'll also likely be hitting out of the leadoff spot in what is still a good Toronto lineup.
Bust: DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
Here's what I wrote the other day while predicting LeMahieu would regress:
"The reigning NL batting champ had a career 81 OPS+ heading into last season, and even when he hit .301 in 2015, it was accompanied by a 95 OPS+. That jumped up to a .348 average and 128 OPS+ last season, and an unsustainably high .388 BABIP was a big reason why. He has plenty of value as a Gold Glove defender, but expect him to return to being a roughly league-average hitter."
Top 20 Third Basemen
|1. Kris Bryant, CHC||2||3.3|
|2. Nolan Arenado, COL||1||4.7|
|3. Josh Donaldson, TOR||3||10.7|
|4. Manny Machado, BAL||5||8.0|
|5. Jonathan Villar, MIL||4||30.3|
|6. Kyle Seager, SEA||7||57.7|
|7. Adrian Beltre, TEX||6||73.3|
|8. Matt Carpenter, STL||15||69.0|
|9. Todd Frazier, CWS||9||77.0|
|10. Alex Bregman, HOU||43||82.0|
|11. Jose Ramirez, CLE||8||124.0|
|12. Anthony Rendon, WAS||12||89.7|
|13. Evan Longoria, TB||11||102.3|
|14. Miguel Sano, MIN||28||130.7|
|15. Justin Turner, LAD||13||116.0|
|16. Nick Castellanos, DET||24||271.0|
|17. Mike Moustakas, KC||54||248.3|
|18. Eduardo Nunez, SF||10||135.0|
|19. Maikel Franco, PHI||17||139.3|
|20. Jake Lamb, ARI||14||162.7|
Sleeper: Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Castellanos was in the midst of a breakout season before a broken left hand limited him to just nine games over the final two months, and he's flying under the radar as a result.
Extrapolating his 2016 stats over a full 162 games you get: .285 BA, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 80 R, 1 SB
And at 24 years old, there's still reason to believe he can continue trending upward.
Bust: Eduardo Nunez, San Francisco Giants
A breakout season that included a .288 average, 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases made Nunez was one of the waiver-wire finds of the year in 2016.
However, he hit just .244 with four home runs after the All-Star break. He'll still be a nice source of steals with double-digit pop, but don't expect him to duplicate his stat line from a year ago.
Top 20 Shortstops
|1. Manny Machado, BAL||3||8.0|
|2. Corey Seager, LAD||5||17.3|
|3. Carlos Correa, HOU||8||17.3|
|4. Xander Bogaerts, BOS||4||28.3|
|5. Francisco Lindor, CLE||6||26.3|
|6. Jonathan Villar, MIL||1||30.3|
|7. Trevor Story, COL||10||33.7|
|8. Jean Segura, SEA||2||63.0|
|9. Addison Russell, CHC||17||134.3|
|10. Aledmys Diaz, STL||12||132.7|
|11. Troy Tulowitzki, TOR||19||143.7|
|12. Eduardo Nunez, SF||7||135.0|
|13. Brad Miller, TB||11||165.7|
|14. Javier Baez, CHC||21||149.0|
|15. Jose Peraza, CIN||30||162.3|
|16. Elvis Andrus, TEX||9||163.7|
|17. Dansby Swanson, ATL||43||172.3|
|18. Tim Anderson, CWS||28||208.7|
|19. Brandon Crawford, SF||15||223.3|
|20. Didi Gregorius, NYY||13||253.7|
Sleeper: Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
Dumping veteran Brandon Phillips on the Atlanta Braves opens up a starting job for Peraza in Cincinnati.
The 22-year-old hit .324/.352/.411 with 13 extra-base hits and 21 steals in 256 plate appearances last season, and with regular playing time, he should immediately become one of the game's best speed threats.
Bust: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
Hype is a dangerous thing in fantasy baseball, especially when it comes to rookies.
Swanson will be a better real-life player than fantasy player early in his career as his power continues to develop and he likely hits lower in the batting order. A .275 average with 15 homers might be his ceiling as a rookie, so don't be the one that reaches.
Top 40 Outfielders
|1. Mike Trout, LAA||2||1.0|
|2. Mookie Betts, BOS||1||2.0|
|3. Kris Bryant, CHC||3||3.3|
|4. Bryce Harper, WAS||19||9.3|
|5. Charlie Blackmon, COL||4||15.0|
|6. Trea Turner, WAS||30||11.7|
|7. Starling Marte, PIT||16||23.3|
|8. Ryan Braun, MIL||8||35.0|
|9. George Springer, HOU||9||30.3|
|10. Nelson Cruz, SEA||5||37.0|
|11. Christian Yelich, MIA||12||56.7|
|12. Carlos Gonzalez, COL||11||51.3|
|13. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA||54||36.0|
|14. A.J. Pollock, ARI||160||35.0|
|15. Yoenis Cespedes, NYM||20||57.3|
|16. J.D. Martinez, DET||31||44.7|
|17. Kyle Schwarber, CHC||197||65.7|
|18. Ian Desmond, COL||6||55.0|
|19. Gregory Polanco, PIT||23||63.7|
|20. Andrew McCutchen, PIT||35||61.0|
|21. Billy Hamilton, CIN||40||66.3|
|22. Mark Trumbo, BAL||7||77.7|
|23. Justin Upton, DET||26||84.0|
|24. Khris Davis, OAK||14||88.7|
|25. Matt Kemp, ATL||10||98.7|
|26. Jose Bautista, TOR||56||102.0|
|27. Adam Jones, BAL||24||101.0|
|28. Adam Eaton, WAS||29||118.7|
|29. David Dahl, COL||91||90.3|
|30. Lorenzo Cain, KC||53||118.3|
|31. Odubel Herrera, PHI||25||117.3|
|32. Stephen Piscotty, STL||21||120.3|
|33. Andrew Benintendi, BOS||142||131.0|
|34. Miguel Sano, MIN||63||130.7|
|35. Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS||15||123.0|
|36. Jose Ramirez, CLE||13||124.0|
|37. Michael Brantley, CLE||177||181.3|
|38. Dexter Fowler, STL||39||168.3|
|39. Kole Calhoun, LAA||32||182.3|
|40. Marcell Ozuna, MIA||36||180.7|
Sleeper: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
The hype train left the station years ago with Buxton, and many have soured on the former No. 1 prospect as he's struggled to make the jump to the big leagues.
A 1.011 OPS with six doubles and nine home runs over the final month of the 2016 season could be a sign that he's finally ready to start living up to that hype.
Sleeper: Keon Broxton, Milwaukee Brewers
Broxton will have to hold off top prospect Lewis Brinson, but he'll get the first crack at manning center field after a stellar finish to last season.
The 26-year-old returned from a minor league demotion on July 26 and hit .294/.399/.538 with eight home runs and 16 stolen bases over his final 46 games.
Bust: David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
Avoiding Rockies players in fantasy may seem counterproductive, but in Dahl's case, he's being way overdrafted on the strength of a deceptive rookie stat line.
Bust: Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians
Can you guess who ranked first in BABIP among players with at least 200 plate appearances?
Yep, it was Tyler Naquin, and on top of the expected regression, he'll also be pushed by prospect Bradley Zimmer if he stumbles out of the gates.
Top 40 Starting Pitchers
|1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD||2||6.3|
|2. Max Scherzer, WAS||1||12.0|
|3. Corey Kluber, CLE||8||23.3|
|4. Noah Syndergaard, NYM||11||19.3|
|5. Chris Sale, BOS||10||20.3|
|6. Madison Bumgarner, SF||5||16.0|
|7. Jon Lester, CHC||3||35.0|
|8. Jake Arrieta, CHC||12||27.0|
|9. Justin Verlander, DET||6||43.7|
|10. David Price, BOS||27||40.0|
|11. Johnny Cueto, SF||9||45.0|
|12. Yu Darvish, TEX||36||40.7|
|13. Stephen Strasburg, WAS||19||54.3|
|14. Carlos Carrasco, CLE||28||57.7|
|15. Chris Archer, TB||45||61.3|
|16. Kyle Hendricks, CHC||4||62.7|
|17. Carlos Martinez, STL||21||75.7|
|18. Jacob deGrom, NYM||37||63.7|
|19. Cole Hamels, TEX||30||81.3|
|20. Zack Greinke, ARI||64||89.0|
|21. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY||14||86.0|
|22. Aaron Sanchez, TOR||18||107.7|
|23. Jose Quintana, CWS||22||97.0|
|24. Danny Duffy, KC||24||108.0|
|25. Julio Teheran, ATL||23||105.0|
|26. Gerrit Cole, PIT||108||96.7|
|30. Rick Porcello, BOS||7||98.0|
|27. Felix Hernandez, SEA||63||120.0|
|31. Kenta Maeda, LAD||20||101.7|
|28. Danny Salazar, CLE||51||109.3|
|29. Michael Fulmer, DET||25||123.3|
|32. Rich Hill, LAD||13||125.3|
|33. Tanner Roark, WAS||15||147.7|
|34. Dallas Keuchel, HOU||98||129.0|
|35. Marcus Stroman, TOR||97||146.7|
|36. Kevin Gausman, BAL||47||155.3|
|37. Aaron Nola, PHI||106||169.3|
|38. Jon Gray, COL||66||183.0|
|39. Lance McCullers, HOU||77||162.3|
|40. Robbie Ray, ARI||150||209.7|
Sleeper: James Paxton, Seattle Mariners
Among pitchers with at least 120 innings of work last year, Paxton ranked fourth overall with a 2.80 FIP, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (1.80), Noah Syndergaard (2.29) and Jose Fernandez (2.30).
His strikeout rate also ticked up from 7.5 to 8.7 K/9, while his walk rate dipped from 3.9 to 1.8 BB/9.
All of that points to a pitcher who's figuring it out, and as long as he stays healthy, a breakout season could be coming in 2017.
Sleeper: Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ray was historically good at striking out hitters last season.
His 218 strikeouts were tied for ninth in the majors, and his 11.3 K/9 were the 10th-highest single-season total ever for a qualified left-handed starter. Only Randy Johnson (7x), Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw have ever been better.
His unsightly 4.90 ERA also came with a 3.76 FIP, so expect the overall numbers to head in the right direction with some better luck.
Bust: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Harvey is currently the 33rd starter being taken based on average draft position (128.7), ahead of other bounce-back candidates like Dallas Keuchel, Marcus Stroman, Lance McCullers and Aaron Nola, among others.
He carries more risk than all of them coming off thoracic outlet surgery.
Bust: J.A. Happ, Toronto Blue Jays
Wins are a fluky stat, and without the 20 wins last year, Happ had a remarkably similar season to Ervin Santana.
He's currently going ahead of the aforementioned Paxton and other potential breakout candidates like Sean Manaea, Vincent Velasquez, Carlos Rodon, Jon Gray and others.
He's best served as a No. 3 starter on a fantasy roster, and at that point, you're better off rolling the dice on one of those high-upside guys.
Top 20 Relief Pitchers
|1. Aroldis Chapman, NYY||5||53.7|
|2. Kenley Jansen, LAD||1||51.3|
|3. Edwin Diaz, SEA||41||88.3|
|4. Wade Davis, CHC||25||89.0|
|5. Craig Kimbrel, BOS||22||87.0|
|6. Roberto Osuna, TOR||7||89.0|
|7. Zach Britton, BAL||3||63.7|
|8. Mark Melancon, SF||4||82.3|
|9. Seung Hwan Oh, STL||6||86.0|
|10. Andrew Miller, CLE||2||106.3|
|11. Cody Allen, CLE||11||110.7|
|12. Ken Giles, HOU||62||102.7|
|13. Kelvin Herrera, KC||23||117.0|
|14. Jeurys Familia, NYM||8||118.7|
|15. Alex Colome, TB||10||124.3|
|16. A.J. Ramos, MIA||29||135.7|
|17. David Robertson, CWS||28||132.3|
|18. Dellin Betances, NYY||24||157.3|
|19. Tony Watson, PIT||46||157.7|
|20. Francisco Rodriguez, DET||17||137.3|
Sleeper: Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox
It's a question of when, not if, incumbent White Sox closer David Robertson will be traded at this point.
Once he's finally moved, Jones has the stuff to quickly emerge as a standout closer, albeit one that will likely see limited save opportunities.
Still, with a 2.29 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 70.2 innings last season, he'll have the peripheral numbers to bring plenty of value outside of saves.
Bust: Fernando Rodney, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rodney pitched to a 6.23 ERA over his final 37 appearances last season, and he'll be 40 next month.
Is there really anything else that needs to be said?
In leagues that reward points for holds, Jake Barrett is a good player to grab late. He'll help in that category early on and could be closing in the desert by midseason.
20 Rookies to Watch
Aside from the players that are essentially guaranteed an MLB job out of camp, prospects generally go undrafted in seasonal leagues or at best wind up as a late-round flier.
That being said, it's important to keep a close eye on in-season promotions as a quick waiver claim could give your roster the next budding star.
Here's a look at 20 top prospects who will likely be promoted at some point in 2017, with their rank on the Baseball America top 100 list included for reference.
Rookies included in our positional rankings (Dansby Swanson, Andrew Benintendi and Tom Murphy) were not included here.
20 Prospects to Watch
|2B Yoan Moncada, CWS||2||213.7|
|OF Hunter Renfroe, SD||44||223.7|
|1B Josh Bell, PIT||35||255.3|
|SP Jharel Cotton, OAK||84||266.0|
|SP Tyler Glasnow, PIT||23||267.5|
|CF Manuel Margot, SD||24||269.0|
|SS Amed Rosario, NYM||8||307.0|
|SP Lucas Giolito, CWS||25||310.0|
|OF Aaron Judge, NYY||90||314.3|
|SP Jose De Leon, TB||29||321.5|
|1B/OF Cody Bellinger, LAD||7||324.0|
|OF Lewis Brinson, MIL||27||324.0|
|C Jorge Alfaro, PHI||41||325.5|
|2B Ozzie Albies, ATL||11||326.5|
|SS J.P. Crawford, PHI||22||357.0|
|OF Bradley Zimmer, CLE||62||382.0|
|SP Josh Hader, MIL||33||409.0|
|SS Willy Adames, TB||10||420.0|
|SP Reynaldo Lopez, CWS||31||432.0|
|SP Amir Garrett, CIN||81||466.0|
5 Bold Predictions
Trea Turner will be a fantasy superstar
Turner is going toward the end of the first round in a lot of leagues, and that's a lot of faith to put in a player with 100 career games under his belt.
He'll live up to the hype, though.
With elite speed, sneaky power and the hit tool to bat over .300, he's the complete package at the top of the lineup, and if Bryce Harper bounces back, he should have no problem eclipsing 100 runs scored to boot.
A.J. Pollock will return to form
Pollock was the seventh-highest scoring fantasy player in 2015.
Even after playing just 12 games last season, he has an average draft position of 35.0 this year, making him the ninth outfielder off the board, so no one is sleeping on the D-Backs star.
The 29-year-old hit .315 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 111 runs scored and 39 stolen bases in 2015, and there's no reason he can't return to that level of production now that he's back to 100 percent.
Jonathan Villar will regress but still steal a ton of base
The stolen base total might be sustainable for Villar, one of the league's most aggressive base runners.
I'm not so sure about the rest of it.
His .285 average came with a .373 BABIP was high even for a speedster, and his 19 home runs were aided by a jump in home-run-to-fly-ball rate from 10.0 to 19.8 percent.
There's no question he was an improved hitter, but it doesn't seem like he has anywhere to go but down.
Jon Gray will change the thinking about Rockies pitchers
The days of flat-out avoiding Rockies pitchers (aside from that one year of Ubaldo Jimenez) might be coming to a close.
The 4.61 ERA from a year ago might not look pretty, but the peripheral numbers were great.
His 3.60 FIP is a good sign of things to come, his 1.26 WHIP was solid and he tallied 185 strikeouts in 168 innings.
That was all in his rookie season, and the 25-year-old looks like he has legitimate front-line potential.
Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson won't both win Rookie of the Year
Heading into the season, there are two clear front-runners for Rookie of the Year honors.
How often do both front-runners actually win the award, though?
How many people were predicting Michael Fulmer would take it home a year ago?
Tracking rookie call-ups on the waiver wire is as important as drafting a good team, and here's betting that one of the two rookie favorites will cede top honors to an unexpected standout.
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