Fantasy Baseball 2017 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

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    It was Mookie Betts—not Mike Trout—who was the highest-scoring player in fantasy baseball a year ago.
    It was Mookie Betts—not Mike Trout—who was the highest-scoring player in fantasy baseball a year ago.Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    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 statusKendrys 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.

Catchers

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    Gary Sanchez /
    Gary Sanchez /Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Top 20 Catchers

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Buster Posey, SF240.7
    2. Gary Sanchez, NYY 1346.3
    3. Jonathan Lucroy, TEX163.3
    4. J.T. Realmuto, MIA5131.0
    5. Willson Contreras, CHC 1799.3
    6. Salvador Perez, KC9139.3
    7. Yasmani Grandal, LAD8149.0
    8. Evan Gattis, HOU 4126.3
    9. Russell Martin, TOR7184.7
    10. Brian McCann, HOU 10174.7 
    11. Stephen Vogt, OAK14242.0 
    12. Yadier Molina, STL 6200.0
    13. Welington Castillo, BAL 11184.0
    14. Matt Wieters, FA12241.7
    15. Tom Murphy, COL44246.7
    16. Austin Hedges, SD81305.5
    17. Wilson Ramos, TB3237.0
    18. Sandy Leon, BOS 16267.7
    19. Francisco Cervelli, PIT21299.7
    20. Cameron Rupp, PHI15290.0

                  

    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.

First Basemen

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    Joey Votto /
    Joey Votto /Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Top 20 First Basemen

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI16.7
    2. Anthony Rizzo, CHC 712.0
    3. Miguel Cabrera, DET 314.3
    4. Joey Votto, CIN 221.3
    5. Freddie Freeman, ATL 628.0
    6. Daniel Murphy, WAS441.3
    7. Edwin Encarnacion, CLE 525.0
    8. Wil Myers, SD856.7
    9. Jose Abreu, CWS 1462.3
    10. Hanley Ramirez, BOS 977.3
    11. Matt Carpenter, STL 2069.0
    12. Chris Davis, BAL 1675.3
    13. Eric Hosmer, KC13105.7
    14. Carlos Santana, CLE 12118.3
    15. Brandon Belt, SF19163.0
    16. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD17154.7
    17. Albert Pujols, LAA 10132.7
    18. Brad Miller, TB18165.7
    19. Mike Napoli, TEX11231.0
    20. Greg Bird, NYY DNP286.0 

                                  

    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.

Second Basemen

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    Jose Altuve /
    Jose Altuve /Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Top 20 Second Basemen

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Jose Altuve, HOU 14.0
    2. Trea Turner, WAS1311.7
    3. Robinson Cano, SEA330.0
    4. Daniel Murphy, WAS441.3
    5. Brian Dozier, MIN237.0
    6. Rougned Odor, TEX841.7
    7. Ian Kinsler, DET 673.3
    8. Dee Gordon, MIA3155.0
    9. Jean Segura, SEA563.0
    10. Matt Carpenter, STL 1569.0
    11. Jason Kipnis, CLE 1083.0
    12. Dustin Pedroia, BOS 9135.0
    13. Devon Travis, TOR24188.0
    14. Ben Zobrist, CHC 11164.3
    15. Logan Forsythe, LAD17241.7
    16. DJ LeMahieu, COL787.7
    17. Javier Baez, CHC 22149.0
    18. Jonathan Schoop, BAL 12174.3
    19. Neil Walker, NYM 18282.3
    20. Starlin Castro, NYY 16267.0

                 

    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."

Third Basemen

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    Kris Bryant /
    Kris Bryant /Harry How/Getty Images

    Top 20 Third Basemen

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Kris Bryant, CHC 23.3
    2. Nolan Arenado, COL14.7
    3. Josh Donaldson, TOR310.7
    4. Manny Machado, BAL 58.0
    5. Jonathan Villar, MIL430.3
    6. Kyle Seager, SEA757.7
    7. Adrian Beltre, TEX673.3
    8. Matt Carpenter, STL 1569.0
    9. Todd Frazier, CWS 977.0
    10. Alex Bregman, HOU 4382.0
    11. Jose Ramirez, CLE 8124.0
    12. Anthony Rendon, WAS1289.7
    13. Evan Longoria, TB11102.3
    14. Miguel Sano, MIN28130.7
    15. Justin Turner, LAD13116.0
    16. Nick Castellanos, DET 24271.0
    17. Mike Moustakas, KC54248.3
    18. Eduardo Nunez, SF10135.0 
    19. Maikel Franco, PHI17139.3
    20. Jake Lamb, ARI14162.7

          

    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.

Shortstops

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    Corey Seager /
    Corey Seager /Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Top 20 Shortstops

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Manny Machado, BAL 38.0
    2. Corey Seager, LAD517.3
    3. Carlos Correa, HOU 817.3
    4. Xander Bogaerts, BOS 428.3
    5. Francisco Lindor, CLE 626.3
    6. Jonathan Villar, MIL130.3
    7. Trevor Story, COL1033.7
    8. Jean Segura, SEA263.0
    9. Addison Russell, CHC 17134.3
    10. Aledmys Diaz, STL 12132.7
    11. Troy Tulowitzki, TOR19143.7
    12. Eduardo Nunez, SF7135.0
    13. Brad Miller, TB11165.7
    14. Javier Baez, CHC 21149.0
    15. Jose Peraza, CIN 30162.3
    16. Elvis Andrus, TEX9163.7
    17. Dansby Swanson, ATL 43172.3
    18. Tim Anderson, CWS 28208.7
    19. Brandon Crawford, SF15223.3
    20. Didi Gregorius, NYY 13253.7

                     

    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.

Outfielders

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    Mookie Betts /
    Mookie Betts /Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Top 40 Outfielders

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Mike Trout, LAA 21.0
    2. Mookie Betts, BOS 12.0
    3. Kris Bryant, CHC 33.3
    4. Bryce Harper, WAS199.3
    5. Charlie Blackmon, COL415.0
    6. Trea Turner, WAS3011.7
    7. Starling Marte, PIT1623.3
    8. Ryan Braun, MIL835.0
    9. George Springer, HOU 930.3
    10. Nelson Cruz, SEA537.0
    11. Christian Yelich, MIA1256.7
    12. Carlos Gonzalez, COL1151.3
    13. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA5436.0
    14. A.J. Pollock, ARI16035.0
    15. Yoenis Cespedes, NYM 2057.3
    16. J.D. Martinez, DET 3144.7
    17. Kyle Schwarber, CHC 19765.7
    18. Ian Desmond, COL655.0
    19. Gregory Polanco, PIT2363.7
    20. Andrew McCutchen, PIT3561.0
    21. Billy Hamilton, CIN 4066.3
    22. Mark Trumbo, BAL 777.7
    23. Justin Upton, DET 2684.0
    24. Khris Davis, OAK1488.7
    25. Matt Kemp, ATL 1098.7
    26. Jose Bautista, TOR56102.0
    27. Adam Jones, BAL 24101.0
    28. Adam Eaton, WAS29118.7
    29. David Dahl, COL9190.3
    30. Lorenzo Cain, KC53118.3
    31. Odubel Herrera, PHI25117.3
    32. Stephen Piscotty, STL 21120.3
    33. Andrew Benintendi, BOS 142131.0
    34. Miguel Sano, MIN63130.7
    35. Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS 15123.0
    36. Jose Ramirez, CLE 13124.0
    37. Michael Brantley, CLE 177181.3
    38. Dexter Fowler, STL 39168.3
    39. Kole Calhoun, LAA 32182.3
    40. Marcell Ozuna, MIA36180.7

                      

    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.

    While he hit .315 with seven home runs in 63 games last season, his batting average was propped up by a .404 BABIP that ranked second among players with at least 200 plate appearances.

                                             

    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.

Starting Pitchers

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    Max Scherzer /
    Max Scherzer /Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Top 40 Starting Pitchers

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD26.3
    2. Max Scherzer, WAS112.0
    3. Corey Kluber, CLE 823.3
    4. Noah Syndergaard, NYM 1119.3
    5. Chris Sale, BOS 1020.3
    6. Madison Bumgarner, SF516.0
    7. Jon Lester, CHC 335.0
    8. Jake Arrieta, CHC 1227.0
    9. Justin Verlander, DET 643.7
    10. David Price, BOS 2740.0
    11. Johnny Cueto, SF945.0
    12. Yu Darvish, TEX3640.7
    13. Stephen Strasburg, WAS1954.3
    14. Carlos Carrasco, CLE 2857.7
    15. Chris Archer, TB4561.3
    16. Kyle Hendricks, CHC 462.7
    17. Carlos Martinez, STL 2175.7
    18. Jacob deGrom, NYM 3763.7
    19. Cole Hamels, TEX3081.3
    20. Zack Greinke, ARI6489.0
    21. Masahiro Tanaka, NYY 1486.0
    22. Aaron Sanchez, TOR18107.7
    23. Jose Quintana, CWS 2297.0
    24. Danny Duffy, KC24108.0
    25. Julio Teheran, ATL 23105.0
    26. Gerrit Cole, PIT10896.7
    30. Rick Porcello, BOS 798.0
    27. Felix Hernandez, SEA63120.0
    31. Kenta Maeda, LAD20101.7
    28. Danny Salazar, CLE 51109.3
    29. Michael Fulmer, DET 25123.3
    32. Rich Hill, LAD13125.3
    33. Tanner Roark, WAS15147.7
    34. Dallas Keuchel, HOU 98129.0
    35. Marcus Stroman, TOR97146.7
    36. Kevin Gausman, BAL 47155.3
    37. Aaron Nola, PHI106169.3
    38. Jon Gray, COL66183.0
    39. Lance McCullers, HOU 77162.3
    40. Robbie Ray, ARI150209.7

                 

    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.

Relief Pitchers

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    Aroldis Chapman /
    Aroldis Chapman /Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Top 20 Relief Pitchers

    Player2016 RankADP
    1. Aroldis Chapman, NYY553.7
    2. Kenley Jansen, LAD151.3
    3. Edwin Diaz, SEA4188.3
    4. Wade Davis, CHC2589.0
    5. Craig Kimbrel, BOS2287.0
    6. Roberto Osuna, TOR789.0
    7. Zach Britton, BAL363.7
    8. Mark Melancon, SF482.3
    9. Seung Hwan Oh, STL686.0
    10. Andrew Miller, CLE2106.3
    11. Cody Allen, CLE11110.7
    12. Ken Giles, HOU62102.7
    13. Kelvin Herrera, KC23117.0
    14. Jeurys Familia, NYM8118.7
    15. Alex Colome, TB10124.3
    16. A.J. Ramos, MIA29135.7
    17. David Robertson, CWS28132.3
    18. Dellin Betances, NYY24157.3
    19. Tony Watson, PIT46157.7
    20. Francisco Rodriguez, DET17137.3

               

    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

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    Hunter Renfroe has big-time power and a clear path to playing time for the Padres.
    Hunter Renfroe has big-time power and a clear path to playing time for the Padres.Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    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

    PlayerBA RankADP
    2B Yoan Moncada, CWS 2213.7
    OF Hunter Renfroe, SD44223.7
    1B Josh Bell, PIT35255.3
    SP Jharel Cotton, OAK84266.0
    SP Tyler Glasnow, PIT23267.5
    CF Manuel Margot, SD24269.0
    SS Amed Rosario, NYM 8307.0
    SP Lucas Giolito, CWS 25310.0
    OF Aaron Judge, NYY 90314.3
    SP Jose De Leon, TB29321.5
    1B/OF Cody Bellinger, LAD7324.0
    OF Lewis Brinson, MIL27324.0
    C Jorge Alfaro, PHI41325.5
    2B Ozzie Albies, ATL 11326.5
    SS J.P. Crawford, PHI22357.0
    OF Bradley Zimmer, CLE 62382.0
    SP Josh Hader, MIL33409.0
    SS Willy Adames, TB10420.0
    SP Reynaldo Lopez, CWS 31432.0
    SP Amir Garrett, CIN 81466.0

5 Bold Predictions

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    Trea Turner will be worth the first-round hype.
    Trea Turner will be worth the first-round hype.Matthew Hazlett/Getty Images

    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.

                                  

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.