Fantasy Baseball 2017 Cheat Sheet: Draft Tips, Rankings and Prospects to Know

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

Fantasy Baseball 2017 Cheat Sheet: Draft Tips, Rankings and Prospects to Know

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Once the calendars flip to a new year, the following statement becomes true: It's never too early to start preparing for your fantasy baseball draft.

    Consider this your go-to guide for the weeks ahead. We'll delve into the top players at every position and hit on a handful of prospects you'll want to know about—both to include in your Opening Day lineup and those you'll want to stash for use later in the season. For good measure, we'll toss in a handful of draft tips as well.

    These rankings are based on a standard, five-by-five mixed rotisserie league. While they're applicable in other types of leagues, you'll have to adjust the rankings based on the scoring system you'll be playing under.

    Let's get started.

Top 10 Catchers

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    Gary Sanchez
    Gary SanchezJim McIsaac/Getty Images
    RankPlayer (Secondary Position)Team
    1.Buster Posey (1B)SF
    2.Gary SanchezNYY
    3.Jonathan Lucroy TEX
    4. Willson Contreras (OF)CHC
    5.J.T. Realmuto MIA
    6.Evan Gattis (OF)HOU
    7. Yasmani Grandal LAD
    8.Salvador PerezKC
    9.Brian McCann (1B)HOU
    10.Russell MartinTOR

    Are we overreacting to a small sample size from the New York Yankees' Gary Sanchez by ranking him as high as we have? Perhaps.

    But as my B/R colleague, Jacob Shafer, recently wrote, "Sanchez has the potential to become the most special, instantly impactful backstop since the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey burst onto the scene in 2010."

    The odds are decidedly against Sanchez maintaining his 2016 level of production, when he hit .299 with 20 home runs, 42 RBI and a 1.032 OPS in 53 games, over the course of a full season. 

    That said, he's one of only two catchers (the Houston Astros' Evan Gattis is the other) with a realistic chance of hitting 30-plus home runs, and unlike Gattis, Sanchez has the right approach at the plate to hit for average as well.

    Sanchez isn't on Posey's level yet, but it's not crazy to think he might get there by the end of the 2017 season. He's worth an early pick in your fantasy draft.

                        

    Click here for our full catcher rankings.

Top 10 First Basemen

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    Joey Votto
    Joey VottoKirk Irwin/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Paul Goldschmidt ARI
    2.Anthony RizzoCHC
    3.Miguel CabreraDET
    4.Joey Votto CIN
    5.Freddie FreemanATL
    6.Edwin Encarnacion CLE
    7.Daniel Murphy (2B)WAS
    8.Matt Carpenter (2B/3B)STL
    9.Jose AbreuCHW
    10.Ian Desmond (OF)COL

    Sure, Joey Votto plays for a rebuilding team, doesn't put up elite slugging numbers and has a tendency to drive his fantasy owners insane with mediocre first halves that leave you questioning why you drafted him as high as you did.

    Don't make that mistake—or do something rash like trade the veteran first baseman around the All-Star break—because he can single-handedly carry your team into the playoffs. Consider what Votto's 2016 season looked like:

    SplitBAOPS XBH (HR)RBIR
    First Half.252.83129 (14)4248
    Second Half.4081.15836 (15)5553

    That's not an aberration, either. The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has become a second-half player—someone who thrives after the All-Star break. He remains worthy of an early-round selection. Should you miss out on drafting the 32-year-old, put his name atop your list of players to target in a trade, especially if he starts slow.

    You'll be the one reaping the rewards at the end of the season.

                      

    Click here for our full 1B rankings.

Top 10 Second Basemen

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    DJ LeMahieu
    DJ LeMahieuDustin Bradford/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Jose Altuve HOU
    2. Trea Turner (SS/OF)WAS
    3.Daniel Murphy (1B/3B)WAS
    4.Robinson CanoSEA
    5.Brian DozierMIN
    6. Rougned OdorTEX
    7.Ian KinslerDET
    8.Dee GordonMIA
    9.DJ LeMahieu COL
    10.Jason Kipnis CLE

    The typical thinking when it comes to hitters that call Colorado home is that they're awesome to have on your fantasy squad when they're playing at Coors Field and worth replacing in your lineup when they hit the road.

    DJ LeMahieu isn't immune to those extreme home-road splits, and the difference in his numbers based on location was extreme in 2016:

    • LeMahieu at Home: .391 BA, 1.064 OPS, 7 HR, 43 RBI
    • LeMahieu on the Road: .303 BA, .747 OPS, 4 HR, 23 RBI

    While they look awful compared to his numbers at Coors Field, those road splits are still pretty darn good. And when you combine the two, you get an elite second baseman, albeit one without much power.

    If you have plenty of power elsewhere in your lineup and need a batting average boost, LeMahieu is a safe pick to make ahead of guys like the Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis and the Tampa Bay Rays' Logan Forsythe, among others.

                     

    Click here for our full 2B rankings.

Top 10 Third Basemen

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    Jonathan Villar
    Jonathan VillarDustin Bradford/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Josh DonaldsonTOR
    2.Nolan Arenado COL
    3.Kris Bryant (OF)CHC
    4.Manny Machado (SS)BAL
    5.Kyle Seager SEA
    6.Matt Carpenter (1B/2B)STL
    7.Adrian BeltreTEX
    8.Evan Longoria TB
    9.Todd FrazierCHW
    10.Jonathan Villar (2B/SS)MIL

    There's a lot to like about Jonathan Villar's versatility—something we'll touch on more shortly. But there's even more to like about Jonathan Villar, the hitter.

    Sure, he strikes out a bunch—179 times in 2016, to be exact. But he still managed to hit for average (.285) and power (19 home runs, .457 slugging percentage) and reach base consistently (.369 on-base percentage).

    Not to mention that he's a lunatic when he does get on base, swiping an MLB-high 62 bases in 80 attempts.

    While Villar doesn't have the name recognition of the players ahead of him in our third base rankings, he's a valuable asset to have on your fantasy squad. Not only because he can be a positive contributor across multiple categories, but also because he can do so from multiple spots in your lineup.

                         

    Click here for our full 3B rankings.

Top 10 Shortstops

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    Trea Turner
    Trea TurnerPatrick Smith/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Manny Machado (3B)BAL
    2.Corey Seager LAD
    3.Carlos Correa HOU
    4.Francisco Lindor CLE
    5. Xander Bogaerts BOS
    6. Trea TurnerWAS
    7.Trevor StoryCOL
    8.Jonathan Villar (2B/3B)MIL
    9.Jean Segura (2B)SEA
    10. Aledmys Diaz STL

    The more you think about Trea Turner, the more he's ranked too low—though who would you bump down to move him up? But then you look at something like this:

    PlayerGBAOPS XBH (HR)SB
    Trea Turner73.342.93735 (13)33-for-39
    Player X161.338.92871 (24)30-for-45
    Player Y159.315.99166 (29)30-for-37

    Player X is Houston's Jose Altuve. Player Y is the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout. Turner's partial rookie season was nearly as good as a pair of perennial MVP candidates who played in twice as many games as he did.

    Can Turner maintain that level of production over the course of a full season? Probably not. But then again, maybe he can.

                         

    Click here for our full SS rankings.

Top 20 Outfielders

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    George Springer
    George SpringerBob Levey/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Mike TroutLAA
    2. Mookie BettsBOS
    3.Kris Bryant (3B)CHC
    4.Bryce HarperWAS
    5. Trea Turner (SS)WAS
    6.Charlie Blackmon COL
    7.Starling MartePIT
    8.Christian Yelich MIA
    9.Ryan BraunMIL
    10. Giancarlo StantonMIA
    11.Carlos GonzalezCOL
    12.J.D. MartinezDET
    13.Nelson CruzSEA
    14.Andrew McCutchen PIT
    15. Yoenis Cespedes NYM
    16.George SpringerHOU
    17.Gregory Polanco PIT
    18.Ian Desmond (1B)COL
    19.A.J. PollockARI
    20.Kyle Schwarber CHC

    If you had asked most fantasy owners two years ago whether Houston's George Springer would be a top-10 outfielder in 2017, the answer would have been a resounding yes. His combination of power and speed is tantalizing, and it's just fun to think about what could be when it comes to the 27-year-old.

    But he's yet to deliver the breakout season that we've all been waiting for. Springer has been a solid contributor when healthy, hitting for power while not killing your team's batting average and swiping the occasional base, but he's not the franchise player many envisioned he'd become.

    Make no mistake about it—Springer should (and will) come off the board long before your draft reaches double-digit rounds. At his current level of production, he's still a top-20 outfielder. But draft him for who he is, not for who you think he might be. Otherwise, you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

                       

    Click here for our full OF rankings.

Top 20 Starting Pitchers

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    Aaron Sanchez
    Aaron SanchezVaughn Ridley/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Clayton Kershaw LAD
    2.Max Scherzer WAS
    3.Chris SaleBOS
    4.Madison Bumgarner SF
    5.Corey Kluber CLE
    6.Noah Syndergaard NYM
    7.Jon LesterCHC
    8.Jake Arrieta CHC
    9.Justin VerlanderDET
    10.David PriceBOS
    11.Johnny Cueto SF
    12.Carlos Carrasco CLE
    13.Chris ArcherTB
    14.Stephen Strasburg WAS
    15.Jacob deGrom NYM
    16.Carlos MartinezSTL
    17. Yu Darvish TEX
    18. Masahiro Tanaka NYY
    19.Jose QuintanaCHW
    20.Aaron SanchezTOR

    A lot of people slept on the Toronto Blue Jays' Aaron Sanchez last season, including those in my favorite of the five fantasy leagues in which I play, the Pot Roast Invitational.

    I was giddy as I drafted Sanchez in the 18th round last season, watching the likes of Nathan Eovaldi, Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake be selected only picks before mine. For while he was overshadowed by the more ballyhooed and hyped Marcus Stroman, Sanchez was the better pitcher.

    He proved it, as he went 15-2 with an AL-leading 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Sure, he didn't rack up gaudy strikeout numbers, but 161 Ks over 192 innings of work is a respectable total—reminiscent of the Oakland Athletics' Sonny Gray in 2015 (169 Ks over 208 innings).

    While he wasn't a first-round pick,  there's no way you'd have passed on the chance to pick Gray in the first five or six rounds of your draft last season. The same rule should apply to Sanchez this time around. If you're in need of a pitcher come the fifth round—and you will be—Sanchez is a wise choice.

                        

    Click here for our full SP rankings.

Top 10 Relief Pitchers

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    Ken Giles
    Ken GilesBrad Mangin/Getty Images
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Zach Britton BAL
    2. Kenley JansenLAD
    3. Aroldis ChapmanNYY
    4.Craig Kimbrel BOS
    5.Roberto Osuna TOR
    6.Mark Melancon SF
    7.Edwin Diaz SEA
    8.Wade DavisCHC
    9.Ken GilesHOU
    10.Jeurys FamiliaNYM

    That's right. Andrew Miller isn't one of the 10 best relief options for your fantasy squad—and for good reason. First, he's not Cleveland's closer—Cody Allen is. More importantly, the Indians aren't going to deploy him for multiple innings during the regular season as they did in the playoffs. 

    He's got plenty of value and is worthy of picking up at some point in your draft, but not before you land an actual closer—someone like Ken Giles, who many of your fellow owners will avoid after seeing the unsightly 4.11 ERA he posted last season. 

    But here's the thing: That bloated ERA was the result of two horrid months—April and September—when he allowed five home runs, 20 hits and 19 earned runs over just 22.1 innings of work. Giles was otherwise fantastic and still maintained an elite strikeout rate (14 per nine innings of work) despite those struggles.  

    Closing for a Houston club that beefed up its offense over the winter, Giles should see more save opportunities come his way.

                    

    Click here for our full RP rankings.

Position Prospects to Know

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    Yoan Moncada
    Yoan MoncadaBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Some of these players aren't expected to break camp with their respective clubs but could become legitimate fantasy options at some point during the regular season. If you have an extra bench spot that you need to fill toward the end of your draft, stashing one of them is a good idea.

                    

    Opening Day Options

    Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

    Andrew Benintendi didn't look out of place in a loaded Boston Red Sox lineup last season, hitting .295 with 14 extra-base hits (two home runs), 14 RBI and an .835 OPS.

    He may not be a big home run threat yet, but the 22-year-old will help to boost your batting average and be a solid source of runs in the No. 2 spot, ahead of Xander Bogaerts and the rest of the Red Sox's big bats.

                      

    Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres

    Manuel Margot offers little in the way of power but makes up for it with an advanced approach at the plate that allows him to make consistent contact.

    His explosive speed ensures that balls hit into the outfield gaps or down the line are going to result in extra-base hits. At the least, Margot will be a solid source of stolen bases.

                       

    Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres

    Hunter Renfroe didn't make his MLB debut until mid-September, but the 24-year-old put on a show in a short amount of time. Over 11 games, he hit .371/.389/.800 with seven extra-base hits (four home runs), 14 RBI and a 1.189 OPS.

    While it's unrealistic to expect him to continue that rate of production, Renfroe is slotted to be the San Diego Padres' starting right fielder in 2017. He may not hit for average, as he has plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, but Renfroe's power is legitimate and should be good for at least 20 home runs.

                  

    Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves

    Having fallen five plate appearances short of losing his prospect status, Dansby Swanson remains eligible for this list. 

    The 22-year-old looked comfortable at the plate in his late-season run with the Atlanta Braves, hitting .302 with 11 extra-base hits (three home runs), 17 RBI, three stolen bases and an .803 OPS over 38 games. He's a solid choice as your starting shortstop or as a utility player.

                        

    Players to Stash for Later

    Clint Frazier, OF, New York Yankees

    Blessed with elite bat speed that generates a ton of opposite-field power, Clint Frazier has the chance to be a fantasy monster at Yankee Stadium. "I can't wait to pound the ball into those right field seats," the 22-year-old recently told the New York Post's Kevin Kernan.

    He'll have to wait a bit, as the Yankees have a crowded outfield. But with Brett Gardner on the trade block and an unsettled situation in right field, Frazier will get his chance to shine in the big leagues sooner rather than later.

                     

    Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, Chicago White Sox

    The centerpiece of the trade that sent Chris Sale to Boston, Yoan Moncada wasn't ready for the big leagues when he was called up late last season. The Chicago White Sox have no reason to rush him back to the majors, but it stands to reason that the 21-year-old will make his impact felt at some point in 2017.

    Moncada has the ability to be a multifaceted performer in fantasy, hitting for average and power while getting on base at a healthy clip, putting his world-class speed on display when he does.

Pitching Prospects to Know

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    Lucas Giolito
    Lucas GiolitoMike Stobe/Getty Images

    Keep in mind that, this far out from spring training, it's easier to project how a position prospect will figure into a team's regular-season plans than it is a pitching prospect. While all of these hurlers are worth taking note of, not all of them are assured of breaking camp with their respective clubs.

                     

    Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland Athletics

    Per Mike Selleck, Oakland's baseball information manager, Jharel Cotton's big-league debut—six innings of one-run, two-hit ball with two walks and three strikeouts—was the best the franchise had seen in more than 60 years.

    Armed with an electric fastball and a befuddling changeup, Cotton pitched to a 2.15 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over five starts, walking four and striking out 23. He's considered one of the favorites to round out the A's rotation heading into camp.

                       

    Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

    If he remains with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jose De Leon figures to start the season back at Triple-A, as the Dodgers rotation is full (Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir and Julio Urias).

    But should De Leon get traded to the Minnesota Twins (speculation has him pegged as the centerpiece of a potential trade for second baseman Brian Dozier), the 24-year-old would have an excellent shot of starting the season in the majors. He has front-of-the-rotation potential.

                      

    Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, RHPs, Chicago White Sox

    Acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade, both Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez will benefit from spending time this spring with legendary pitching coach Don Cooper. Neither one figures to break camp with the rebuilding White Sox, but both will factor into the rotation as Chicago continues to trade off veterans. 

Draft Tips

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    "Hey, should I draft this guy?"
    "Hey, should I draft this guy?"Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Avoid Bottom-Third Bats

    Essentially, this means try not to draft players who hit seventh, eighth or ninth in their teams' lineups. Teams typically put their weakest bats at the bottom of the order, and chances are that these players will step to the plate without runners on base, limiting their run-production potential.

    Sure, there will always be a handful of bottom-third batters who make themselves relevant, but for the most part, these aren't hitters you want in your team's starting lineup. A good source to check for projected lineups and depth charts is Roster Resource.

                    

    Understand Your League's Scoring System

    It sounds rudimentary, but you'd be surprised at how many fantasy owners don't take the time to get a firm grasp on how their leagues' scoring systems work. For example, the Pot Roast Invitational, the league I spoke of earlier, is a pitching-heavy league.

    So while other owners are picking the best players on the board, I spend the early rounds of the draft loading up on starting pitchers. There are plenty of bats to go around, even if you avoid those in the bottom third of lineups.

    Take 10 minutes out of your day and make sure you understand how the scoring system in your league works. It might be all you need to get an edge over your competition.

                  

    Rank Your Players

    Printing out a top-200 list from a random website or buying a fantasy magazine is great and can be helpful. But those rankings aren't optimized to your specific league, and at some point, you'll be fumbling papers while the clock is running, searching for a player to select.

    It's a time-consuming process, but it will have you knowing what your next move is going to be before the team drafting just ahead of you makes its pick.

    Draft At Least One Utility Position Player and Pitcher

    Players who are eligible for multiple positions can be an invaluable resource over the course of a fantasy season. Not only do they provide flexibility when it comes to constructing a lineup, but can serve as insurance elsewhere if one of your starters goes down with an injury.

    Hardly anyone considers a pitcher as a utility player, but they can be in fantasy. Pitchers who qualify as starters and relievers are terrific choices, not only for their versatility, but they can help to prop up a weak rotation.

                       

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things Fantasy Baseball: @RickWeinerBR