2014 MLB Fantasy Preview: Top 10 Players to Draft at Each Position

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

2014 MLB Fantasy Preview: Top 10 Players to Draft at Each Position

0 of 8

    Where does Chris Davis rank among baseball's best first basemen after crushing 53 homers in 2013?
    Where does Chris Davis rank among baseball's best first basemen after crushing 53 homers in 2013?Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    There's no better way to usher in the new year than with the unveiling of preliminary fantasy baseball rankings for the 2014 season. 

    Most people feel all tingly outside in late December when they break out the eggnog and celebrate the holiday season. But for us fantasy baseball addicts—please tell me it's not just me—the holidays start now and last until Opening Day.

    Old sayings tell us that the journey is better than the final destination, the thrill of the hunt far tastier than the animals captured and cooked. This applies aptly to fantasy draft preparation, where the diligent research and copious spreadsheets are the sweetest part of assembling a winning roster. Plus, vegans can participate in this hunt.

    Since people look at you funny when you start discussing pitching sleepers as your fantasy football squad embarks on a playoff run, it's finally safe to crank out some fantasy rankings for the 2014 season. Oh, happy days!

    Before we begin the festivities, remember that these rankings are tailored for rotisserie leagues using the standard five-by-five categories. Kudos to those who embrace a greater challenge, but batting average and RBI still control the zeitgeist.

    Also, players eligible for multiple positions are only listed once at their primary slot. Buster Posey, Ben Zobrist and Matt Carpenter are among those who qualify for more than one spot, but they are included where they played the most games last season to avoid any redundancy.

    And don't lock yourself down to a precise pecking order this early in the game. Signings, trades, lineup decisions, injuries and other offseason gossip can alter perceptions before draft day. Nevertheless, we've gone far too long without fantasy baseball in our lives, so let's get this party started.

    Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.


1 of 8

    Joe Mauer is moving to first base this season, but his fantasy owners can enjoy him at catcher for one more year.
    Joe Mauer is moving to first base this season, but his fantasy owners can enjoy him at catcher for one more year.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    Usually regarded as the bleakest position to fill on the fantasy roster, managers in leagues that start one catcher should have little trouble landing a serviceable option behind the plate. Exhibit patience when drafting a catcher.

    1. Buster Posey: Posey’s encore to his mystical 2012 MVP performance was not delivered with the same zest. But considering he increased his contact rate and cut his swinging strike percentage despite losing ticks on his batting average, expect his .294 clip to veer back over .300 in 2014.

    2. Joe Mauer: Permanently shifting to first base means Mauer can play more games and accumulate more counting numbers. He still won’t hit more than 15 home runs, so don’t reach too high.

    3. Carlos Santana: While fantasy managers will never derive Santana's full value unless they sift out batting average for on-base percentage, his average is trending upward, ballooning from .239 to .252 to .268 over the past three years. There's more than luck guiding the advancement, as he generated a career-best 82.7 percent contact rate and 6.6 swinging strike percentage.

    4. Wilin Rosario: He’s allergic to walks (with just 25 of them in 2013) and that .292 average will drop once his .344 BABIP normalizes, but Rosario is a legit power-hitting catcher who plays half of his games in Coors Field.

    5. Yadier Molina: It’s probable we look back at Molina’s 24-homer campaign from 2012 the same way we remember Mauer’s power outburst from 2009. Molina, however, stays relevant while contributing 10-15 deep balls by hitting .313 over the past three years.

    6. Brian McCann: McCann is going to have some fun exploiting Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, but he’s also a 30-year-old catcher who has battled health woes over the past few years. The change of scenery definitely warrants an upgrade, but don’t go overboard.

    7. Salvador Perez: Anyone who read my stuff last year knows how much I adored Salvador Perez heading into 2013. While he did not exactly break out, he did not disappoint, either, by hitting .292 with 13 homers and 79 RBI. After the studs, few other contact fiends exist at catcher.

    8. Jonathan Lucroy: Lucroy does not offer as much power as Rosario and Santana and won’t match Molina and Mauer’s sterling averages, but he’s a balanced option that will come cheaper during the later rounds. Besides Rosario (whose average is likely to drop in 2014), Lucroy was the only other catcher to hit at least .280 with more than 15 homers last year.

    9. Jason Castro: Meet Jason Castro, the leading candidate for 2014’s trendy catcher pick. He hit .276/.350/.485 with 18 homers during his first full season behind the plate, giving him the second-highest slugging percentage among catchers who logged at least 100 games. The only possible warning flag: his bloated 26.5 strikeout percentage.

    10. Matt Wieters: He never met the hype, but Wieters is still a career .255 hitter who has smashed more than 20 homers in each of the past three seasons.

    Honorable Mentions: Playing time is a concern for Evan Gattis after the Atlanta Braves signed Ryan Doumit to replace McCann, but he thoroughly earned his 21 blasts with an average home run distance of 408.3 feet. He could lead the position in round-trippers with routine time behind the plate. Wilson Ramos hit 16 homers in just 78 games last season. He could easily crack the top 10 if he stays healthy.

First Base

2 of 8

    Paul Goldschmidt enters 2014 as the top first baseman and a top-five overall player.
    Paul Goldschmidt enters 2014 as the top first baseman and a top-five overall player.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    As power continues to fade around the majors, even the loaded first base position is affected. Some of the group’s top names are unlikely to deliver more than 25 home runs in 2014, but this position still features the best batch of infield sluggers.

    1. Paul Goldschmidt: He’s lessened his strikeout rate in every season, thus increasing his batting average in the process. Goldschmidt also made good on his massive power upside by sending 36 balls over the fence in 2013. Oh, did I mention his 15 stolen bases that amounts to more than any of his colleagues at first base? Goldschmidt is a stud.

    2. Chris Davis: Per ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, Davis led MLB with 16 “just enough" home runs. He also ran circles around everyone in the power department, but set the ceiling at 43 homers (which could still keep him in first) rather than 53.

    3. Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion erased any fears of enduring a letdown by following his breakout campaign with 36 more homers and a .272/.370/.534 slash line. After providing premium power for two straight seasons while annually deflating his strikeout totals, it’s time to embrace Encarnacion.

    4. Joey Votto: Don’t sour too much on one of the game’s finest hitters because of a low RBI total, but consider Votto a reliable second-rounder rather than a first-round stalwart to lay the foundation of your squad.

    5. Prince Fielder: There’s imminent danger of folks letting Fielder’s move to Arlington block out the remnants of a discouraging season during which he tallied a career-low 25 homers and .457 slugging percentage. Don’t go crazy and catapult him back into the first round.

    6. Freddie Freeman: Here’s to his 26.7 line-drive percentage fending off regression in his .371 BABIP.  He’s a lot closer to the bottom of the top 10 than he is to climbing into the top five, but there’s nothing wrong with a consistent .290-.300, 20-homer hitter.

    7. Eric Hosmer: After a sluggish start that plagued him for two months, Hosmer hit .309 with 16 homers from June 1 onward. If Hosmer can claw out 20-25 homers to supplement his sneaky speed, he could finally make good on his long-lasting sleeper label.

    8. Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzalez is essentially an older version of Freeman, so hopes of seeing a spike to 25 dingers are replaced with fears of the veteran’s total declining into the teens.

    9. Albert Pujols: His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, runs and stolen bases have all dropped in each of the past four seasons. Pujols' past success keeps him from plummeting too far, but how much can you trust a deteriorating player who turns 34 before Opening Day?

    10. Allen Craig: I usually shy away from doubles hitters, but the Cardinals are all so good at it. Craig posted a 26.9 line drive rate in 2013, which propelled him to a .315 average but limited him to 13 homers. If Craig can just stay healthy, he’ll hit .300, drive in a bunch of runs and hopefully convert a few two-baggers into fence-clearers.

    Note: David Ortiz (seven games) and Billy Butler (six games) will qualify at first in some leagues. In that case, slot Ortiz at No. 6 and Butler as an honorable mention.

    Honorable Mentions: There are plenty of suitable options left outside the top 10. Anthony Rizzo is oozing with power potential and displayed improved patience at the plate (11 percent walk rate) last year. Don’t count on Brandon Belt taking the leap to stardom, but he’s a mighty fine corner infield play. Mark Trumbo, Mark Teixeira and Jose Abreu could each offer 35 homers in 2014.

Second Base

3 of 8

    Don't fret about Robinson Cano's move to the Seattle Mariners too much.
    Don't fret about Robinson Cano's move to the Seattle Mariners too much.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    Second base is not particularly pretty this year. Even the unquestionable leader will have his worth dissected ad nauseam before draft day. Those unwilling to pay top dollar for an expensive option can nab a valuable player late if they guess right, but it won't be easy.

    1. Robinson Cano: This reveals little about Cano’s new outlook with the Seattle Mariners, as the real question is whether he loses favor as a first-round target. Considering his .303/.366/.523 career slash line away from Yankee Stadium along with his rousing consistency, I’m not budging on his status as a first-round mainstay. Before inciting panic about his counting numbers sliding in Seattle, he drove in 107 runs for a terrible New York Yankees offense (ranking 26th in OPS is bad, right?) in 2013.

    2. Jason Kipnis: That .284 average looks above Kipnis’ capabilities, but who cares? He can still hit 15 homers and swipe 30 bags, which his owners would gladly take alongside a .270 clip.

    3. Dustin Pedroia: With a 50.4 percent ground-ball rate and an 11.9 percent infield-fly rate to boot, Pedroia’s waning power should warrant some legitimate concern. But a quick look around the barren wasteland that is second base will show that a .300, 10/20 hitter operating in a fruitful offense is enough to stay in high regard.

    4. Matt Carpenter: A better real-life player than fantasy tool? Indeed. Guys who help little with home runs and steals are seldom the men to pledge your fantasy allegiance to, but Carpenter’s 27.3 line-drive percentage, 10.0 percent walk rate and 55 doubles at least dish up positive signs for Carpenter maintaining his usefulness in the other three categories.

    5. Ian Kinsler: It’s hard to give up on a second baseman who accomplished a rare 30/30 season twice, especially since most gamers would gladly settle for a 20/20 campaign. While Kinsler has scorched more line drives and improved his ability to make contact, it has seemingly come at the expense of some pop.

    6. Jose Altuve: You’re not getting any power from a 5’5” dude, but Altuve offers a consistent source of 30 steals with a solid batting average. Let’s hope the acquisition of Dexter Fowler and progression of his inexperienced teammates create more chances for Altuve to cross home plate than his paltry 64 runs in 2013.

    7. Ben Zobrist: Zobrist is so underrated for his actual contributions on the diamond that it’s hard not to root for his success to translate over to this silly game of ours. That won’t happen by hitting a dozen homers again, but he remains a boring, yet sturdy player across the board, who also carries eligibility at shortstop and the outfield.

    8. Aaron Hill: I have no idea which Hill we’ll see this season, but at a position this shallow, the fact that he sizzled in 2012 is enough to keep us wondering. Hill played well when on the field last year, hitting .291/.356/.462 with 11 homers in 87 games. A 20/10 season seems feasible if he circumvents the disabled list.

    9. Brandon Phillips: Yeah, he drove in 103 runs, which is a whole lot for a second baseman, but Phillips will lose one of the main catalysts for that number with Shin-Soo Choo leaving for Texas. Despite hitting 18 homers on the dot for four years straight, Phillips' slash line has worsened across the board his past two campaigns. Unlike the All-Star, I care about his on-base percentage.

    10. Jedd Gyorko: There are several concerns, most notably his 23.4 percent strikeout rate and 6.3 walk percentage that yielded wild inconsistency during his rookie campaign. Then again, Gyorko notched a 22.5 line-drive rate, which means he made good contact and could at least up his average into the .260 vicinity. Only Cano topped Gyorko’s 23 homers.

    Honorable Mentions: If a genie could grant us 145 games from Chase Utley, I’d gladly regard him among the premier second basemen. Daniel Murphy, who previously set a career high with 10 steals in 2012, came out of nowhere to abscond with 23 bags last season. If his thriftiness on the bases persists, omitting him from the top 10 will feel foolish. Jurickson Profar could deliver handsomely during his first full season as a regular, but the youngster’s hype will probably tower over his reasonable draft value.

Third Base

4 of 8

    Adrian Beltre deserves proper praise as a superstar third baseman.
    Adrian Beltre deserves proper praise as a superstar third baseman.Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    The usual suspects highlight the leaderboard, but the position thins out rather quickly. After the main studs, it's a matter of accepting the other options for who they are.

    1. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera hit an unfathomable .348/.442/.636 with 44 homers last season, so don’t worry too much about his one-homer September and mortal postseason. He shouldn’t go any later than No. 2 overall in re-draft leagues.

    2. Adrian Beltre: Hit over .300 with around 30 homers. Have everyone realize next year that he deserves a higher ranking. Repeat. In a standard 10- or 12-team league, Beltre deserves some first-round consideration.

    3. David Wright: Over the last three years, Wright is averaging 17 home runs and 15 steals per season, but at least he has corrected his strikeout woes to maintain an average north of .300 in the past two years.

    4. Evan Longoria: We dreamed of the MVP numbers Longoria would propagate if injuries did not strike, but he instead eliminated the speed element from his game while hitting .269 with a 23.4 strikeout percentage. He’s still plenty valuable, however, as long as he pairs that with 30 homers.

    5. Josh Donaldson: Does one risk paying for a career year? He’s polished enough not to fear a complete meltdown, but his .333 BABIP and 13 "just enough" home runs should leave drafters wary.

    6. Ryan Zimmerman: Zimmerman’s sneaky second-half surges will cause drafters beginning their preseason research to wonder how he finished his disastrous season hitting .275 with 26 homers. While the process is not always pretty, the final product usually dwells in that neighborhood.

    7. Pedro Alvarez: You get what you pay for with Alvarez—a whole lot of power but quite the ugly batting average. Finding someone else who can hit 35 homers won't be easy.

    8. Kyle Seager: Operating under the shadows of his more prestigious cohorts, Seager quietly went about his business of hitting .260 with 22 homers and nine steals—very similar to his 2012 marks. That put him 12th among third basemen on ESPN’s Player Rater, and two of those above him no longer qualify there.

    9. Manny Machado: In a keeper league, go nuts and toss him into the top-five fold. But for this year, which may start late for him as he recovers from a torn medial patella ligament, don’t get carried away in the sea of hype. Unless his injury deteriorates his value to a more reasonable rate.

    10. Aramis Ramirez: Is the 35-year-old an injury risk? You betcha, but he can mirror Zimmerman’s production when healthy.   

    Honorable Mentions: I tried to find something to justify labeling Brett Lawrie a post-hype sleeper, but I’m coming up empty. Nearly half of his batted balls (48.5 percent) were grounders, and 11.4 percent fall under the infield pop-up category. He’s an incredibly inefficient base-stealer who has yet to even offer a dozen homers. Last year, everyone ranked Chase Headley too high after a career season. This year, the opposite could hold true for those who keep expectations realistic after his inadequate follow-through.


5 of 8

    Hanley Ramirez revitalized his career last season.
    Hanley Ramirez revitalized his career last season.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    No sure bet exists at shortstop. Even the studs are riddled with injury and inconsistency concerns, and the remaining choices are rife with incomplete players. Getting saddled with a one-dimensional shortstop or struggling youngster with upside is not the end of the world here.

    1. Hanley Ramirez: Prorate Ramirez’s epic 86 games from 2013 into a full season and you’d get 2014’s fantasy MVP. Cutting down on strikeouts and trading ground balls for line drives signified a return to vintage Ramirez, but an unsustainable 21.1 percent HR/FB ratio funded his 20 homers in that short time. A .300, 25/15 campaign would please all investors.

    2. Troy Tulowitzki: Look, Tulowitzki is probably going to get hurt. That’s the way of life for the star shortstop who has averaged 109.5 games played per season during the past four years. If he can play 126 games like last year, that production plus stats compiled from a replacement will still post commendable numbers at shortstop, but it’s a risky play for a man who usually comes with a first-round price tag.

    3. Ian Desmond: I’ll admit to approaching Desmond with a heavy layer of skepticism last year, but he amassed his second straight 20/20 season. While his 22.1 strikeout percentage leaves room for his .280 average to fall, we can’t get too greedy with a shortstop that boasts power and speed.

    4. Jose Reyes: Even more concerning than Reyes playing just 93 games last season? In his time on the field, the speedster stole 15 bases in 21 attempts. He's no longer a guy who can swipe 40-50 bags.

    5. Jean Segura: It’d sure be nice if Segura drew more than 25 walks, thus creating more chances to steal bases and score runs. If he can reach base more, he'll enhance his run total drastically hitting ahead of Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Ramirez.

    6. Everth Cabrera: Before serving his 50-game Biogenesis suspension, Cabrera stole 37 bases in 95 games and slashed his strikeout rate significantly to 15.9 percent. Draft him expecting a surplus of steals but hope his improved approach translates into an advantageous average and more runs.

    7. Elvis Andrus: Over the past four years, Andrus has scored 90 runs per season. If he takes prime billing ahead of Shin-Soo Choo, Beltre and Fielder, the stellar speed source could hit triple digits in the runs column. Just remember that he’s not helping in the other categories.

    8. J.J. Hardy: Pop quiz: Who leads all shortstops with 77 home runs (14 more than runner-up Tulowitzki) over the past three seasons? Well, wouldn’t it be weird if I posed the question under Hardy’s section if he wasn’t the correct answer?

    9. Jed Lowrie: Lowrie finished fifth among shortstops with 15 homers, fourth with 75 RBI and fourth with a .345 weighted on-base percentage. The .290 average is due for a course correction, but his power is legit.

    10. Andrelton Simmons: Beloved for his defensive wizardry, Simmons was expected to thrive in fantasy as a base stealer. Instead, he stole just six bases but surprisingly belted 17 home runs. He could offer double-digit tallies in each, and his .247 BABIP and 8.4 strikeout percentage call for his .248 average to inflate.

    Honorable Mentions: Many experts seem eager to hand Starlin Castro a mulligan for his 2013 season. It’d be nearly impossible not to improve on a year in which he netted a .284 on-base percentage, but don’t ignore his rising strikeout rates and declining contact marks. Only gamble on a bounce back if he’s available at a bargain. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jimmy Rollins are other disappointing players who still can save some face as cheaper middle infielders, but the former stars are now middling options.


6 of 8

    Mike Trout does it all for his fantasy owners.
    Mike Trout does it all for his fantasy owners.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    All the cool kids are making their money in the outfield these days. Drafters concerned with collecting the best players available will likely seek out one of these guys during the opening rounds. Position scarcity won’t shine in your favor, but it’s difficult to argue with the production these studs supply.

    1. Mike Trout: Oh captain, my captain. There’s no five-category stud that holds a candle to Trout, a 30-30 candidate whose high average is more trustworthy after enhancing his patience and cutting down his punchouts during his sophomore season.

    2. Andrew McCutchen: His 31 homers from 2012 won’t be matched again, but don’t complain if you can get 20-25 homers, 20-30 steals and a high average from the reigning NL MVP.

    3. Carlos Gonzalez: Despite playing no more than 145 games in a season, Gonzalez has engineered four consecutive 20/20 outputs. He even silenced skeptics who attributed all his success to Coors Field by hitting .332/.381/.606 on the road.

    4. Jacoby Ellsbury: Ellsbury will never hit 30 home runs again. Not even with Yankee Stadium’s short porch aiding his cause. If he can just tally 15 round-trippers with plenty of steals and runs, that's enough to compel drafters to target him as a No. 1 outfielder.

    5. Ryan Braun: Projecting how all those suspended for PED use will perform in their return is uncharted territory for everyone in Fantasyland. Just remember that Braun is a career .312/.374/.564 hitter who averaged 33 homers, 107 RBI, 102 runs and 21 steals per season before 2013. Even if he hits 25 homers instead of 40 and steals 15 bases instead of 30, you’re still getting a stud.

    6. Adam Jones: As far as the standard five categories go, Jones has been a beacon of consistency the past two years. Despite his stability hitting around .285 with 30 homers and 15 steals, Jones' microscopic 3.8 walk rate and .318 on-base percentage make him too risky to touch in the first round.

    7. Bryce Harper: If you want Harper, you’ll have to pay a hefty tax on his uncapped upside. After sporting a 12.3 percent walk rate and .486 slugging percentage during his second season, this may be the last time Harper remains available past Round 1.

    8. Carlos Gomez: Considering his poor strikeout habits and his fortuitous .344 BABIP in 2013, treat his .260 average from 2012 as a better baseline than his .284 clip last year. Beware a regression, but one that can still come with 20-plus homers and 35-40 steals.

    9. Giancarlo Stanton: Power is a fleeting resource that will cost a pretty penny. Stanton comes packaged with a 28.6 career strikeout rate, an injury-riddled past and a bleak supporting cast, but only eight men have hit more homers than Stanton since his MLB arrival. His potential to smack 40 long balls remains existent.

    10. Jay BruceHe’s going to belt 30 long balls, drive in 100 runs, score 85-90 times and sprinkle in a few stolen bases for good measure. While he’ll never broach a .300 average, he’s not a huge liability there as a career .257 hitter. Drafting Bruce provides a peace of mind that few other sluggers can match.

    Honorable Mentions: Where should I start? All the balls found open terrain during Yasiel Puig’s breakthrough rookie season, but his .383 BABIP will drop, thus sinking his average south of the .300 plateau. Nevertheless, his power and speed tools are far from a fluke. New teammates Shin-Shoo Choo and Alex Rios should emit plenty of homers and steals for the Texas Rangers. Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista could resume their domination if their bodies cooperate. Matt Holliday will continue to get overlooked in favor of younger, splashier, but far riskier alternatives.

Starting Pitcher

7 of 8

    Clayton Kershaw enters 2014 as the king of all starting pitchers.
    Clayton Kershaw enters 2014 as the king of all starting pitchers.Pool/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    Starting pitching is crazy deep again, which creates an interesting conundrum for drafters. There are plenty of alluring names to select late, but the saturation of quality arms add value to the true standout aces. If you pass on the top-10 hurlers, grab a couple second-tier starters with ace upside in hopes of locating last year’s Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer.

    1. Clayton Kershaw: Before boldly grabbing Kershaw early in the first round, beware a career-low .251 BABIP and 80.6 percent strand rate that guided his ERA to a masterful 1.83. He’s still the undisputed No. 1 fantasy starter, who’s a safer bet than many star offensive counterparts, but project an ERA closer to his career 2.60 level.

    2. Yu Darvish: A 3.43 BB/9 rate usually expels a hurler from ace consideration, but it’s amazing what 277 strikeouts helps you (well not you, Yu) get away with. Drafting Darvish would create enough leverage to chase safer complementary pitchers without big swing-and-miss stuff.

    3. Adam Wainwright: Better than ever after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, Wainwright earned a 2.55 FIP and walked 35 batters through 34 starts. Fully healthy, he returned to his workhorse ways with an MLB-high 241.2 innings pitched.

    4. Felix Hernandez: King Felix earns some consistency points by starting at least 30 games in all of his eight full seasons while annually exceeding 200 strikeouts since 2009. He also walked a career-high 46 batters last season, so he’s hardly coasting on reputation.

    5. Max Scherzer: Investing in a guy after a career year is not normally advised, but Scherzer teetered on the edge of stardom in 2012 before his luck reversed last season. Expect his ERA to meet somewhere in the middle of 2012’s 3.74 mark and 2013’s 2.90 clip, but he’ll keep accumulating strikeouts in bunches.

    6. Cliff Lee: Since 2011, Lee has struck out 667 batters through 666.1 innings while issuing just 101 walks. Despite yielding a career-high 22.4 field-ball percentage in 2013, Lee is as durable and reliable as they come.

    7. Chris Sale: Don’t even look at Sale’s unfavorable 11-14 record. Cover it up and instead take a gander at his 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 4.91 K/BB ratio. Only Sale and Matt Harvey (who will miss the 2014 season) struck out more than a batter per inning while walking less than two every nine frames.

    8. Stephen Strasburg: Branded as a god among men from the get-go, Strasburg has not yet realized his prophecy to become Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux rolled into one indelible right arm. He also has never pitched 200 innings in a season, but Strasburg is still just 25 with a 10.44 career K/9 rate.

    9. Jose Fernandez: On one hand, Fernandez registered a 1.32 ERA and 0.82 WHIP during the second half of his rookie season. The 21-year-old could push Kershaw for some Cy Young votes if he takes the mound 30 times. On the other hand, concerns of his young arm holding up and his league-low .240 BABIP rising derail his push as a top-five ace.

    10. Madison Bumgarner: Armed with a 3.08 ERA and 8.29 K/9 rate since entering the majors in 2010, Bumgarner has needed little time to assert himself as one of baseball's sturdiest aces. If he exceeds 200 innings again, this could finally be the season he hits the 200-strikeout barrier, a milestone he missed by one punchout in 2013.

    Honorable Mentions: Justin Verlander was slated to round out the top 10 before the Detroit Tigers dropped a bombshell, announcing the former Cy Young winner underwent surgery to repair his core muscle. Stay updated as the season inches closer to gauge his proper placement in the rankings. Anibal Sanchez (2.57 FIP, 9.99 K/9 ratio in 2013) can make a case that he was the Tigers’ best pitcher last season, but he barely misses out on the top 10 since he has never logged 200 or more innings in a single season. David Price’s drop in strikeouts (7.28 K/9) should concern drafters enough to exclude him from the top 10, but don’t dump him much further down the rankings.

Relief Pitcher

8 of 8

    Craig Kimbrel retains his stronghold atop of the relief pitcher rankings.
    Craig Kimbrel retains his stronghold atop of the relief pitcher rankings.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Position Outlook

    It’s usually universally agreed upon to resist the temptations of an elite closer, an unnecessary luxury since relievers often evolve from nowhere to assume the ninth-inning duties. This year’s core of amazing flamethrowers will be hard to resist, but it’s still wise to display patience when finding closers.

    1. Craig Kimbrel: The league’s top closer actually regressed in 2013 by only recording a 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 13.16 K/9 ratio. That will do just fine.

    2. Kenley Jansen: Kimbrel now has competition for the No. 1 spot. It took a while for Jansen to assume the ninth-inning duties, but he flourished with a 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 13.03 K/9 rate. His control has improved massively during his three MLB seasons, as he most recently cut his walk rate from 3.05 BB/9 to 2.11.

    3. Aroldis Chapman: Often a bit too wild for comfort, Chapman eases our fears by cracking triple digits on the radar gun and striking out more than 15 batters per nine innings. Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon combined to strike out one less batter than Chapman (112) last season.

    4. Greg Holland: In the same amount of innings (67) as he posted in 2012, Holland decreased his walks by 47 percent, clearing the way for a breakout season. Add on 103 strikeouts, and he belongs in the top tier of shutdown closers.

    5. Koji Uehara: There’s a misconception that Uehara blossomed out of nowhere last season, when his awesomeness merely garnered mainstream recognition since saves were now attached to his name. Uehara, who admittedly had his best season to date with a 1.09 ERA and 11.22 K/BB ratio, still boasts a dazzling 8.74 K/BB rate and 0.83 WHIP over his five-year MLB career.

    6. Trevor Rosenthal: This aggressive ranking would of course change if somebody else captures the closing gig in St. Louis (which is Rosenthal's for now), but Rosenthal proved a natural by crafting a 1.91 FIP and 108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. A dip in that .341 BABIP could loft Rosenthal up to the same regard as Kimbrel and Jansen.

    7. Glen Perkins: Points at computer screen and exclaims in best Chris Traeger voice: Glen Perkins! Literally one of baseball’s most underrated relievers, Perkins posted a 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 77 strikeouts through 62.2 innings. Defying the notion that closers on bad teams can’t rack up the saves, Perkins closed the door on 36 of the Twins’ 66 victories.

    8. Joe Nathan: A lot went right for Nathan last year, including a .224 BABIP and 87.2 strand rate that hid his highest walk rate (3.06 BB/9) since 2003. His velocity also diminished, so beware of the reliever with the finest long-term track record in wake of Rivera’s retirement.

    9. Sergio Romo: Over the last four years, Romo has walked just 41 batters with 261 strikeouts through 225.2 innings. The only concern is whether his arm can withstand relying so heavily on his untouchable slider.

    10. Jason Grilli: Before an arm injury derailed his season, Grilli became the toast of the town as one of many setup men to successfully perform the same job slightly later in each game. Mark Melancon is gunning for the role, but Grilli—armed with a 13.32 K/9 ratio and a 1.97 FIP—should not get lost in the fold.

    Honorable Mentions: If the Yankees commit to David Robertson as their new closer, he has a case to crack the list. A career-low 8.32 K/9 ratio and velocity decline eject Papelbon from the top 10, but he could become an intriguing buy-low option if other drafters don't overpay for his name value.

    Agree with these rankings? Disagree with a burning passion? Either way, shoot any fantasy baseball comments or questions my way on Twitter.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.