The coronavirus pandemic has seen the 2020 Major League Baseball season postponed indefinitely. But that doesn't mean we can't start prepping for the fantasy year.
The MLB season is always a long one, so given the uncertain road ahead, this upcoming season is sure to be as capricious and unforgiving as ever. This translates to fantasy baseball as well, where a few poor selections could prove fatal to your team's chances of claiming victory.
Though a lot can and will change between now and whenever the season begins, let's take stock of the fantasy baseball hierarchy as it stands.
10-Team 1st-Round Fantasy Mock Draft
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2. Christian Yelich, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cody Bellinger, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
5. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Gerrit Cole, SP, New York Yankees
7. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
8. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
9. Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
10. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
1st Baseman Rankings
1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
2. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
3. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
4. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
5. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
6. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
7. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
9. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
10. Edwin Encarnacion, Chicago White Sox
Lots of familiar names dot this list, from Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo at the top to Edwin Encarnacion rounding out the top 10. Most of those veterans are known for their metronomic consistency, so barring injuries, you will likely be rewarded for drafting them.
However, keep an eye out for the rising stars. After a historic rookie season, Pete Alonso will be the focus of every starting pitcher's scouting report, so let's see how he responds to being the full-time focal point of the New York Mets starting lineup. Similar questions apply to Matt Olson and Josh Bell, both of whom smoked the ball last year to firmly establish themselves as menacing hitters.
If those youngsters manage to stave off major regression this year or even improve, then first base will remain one of MLB's premier positions.
2nd Baseman Rankings
1. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
2. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
3. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Jonathan Villar, Miami Marlins
5. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees
6. Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
7. Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
8. Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds
9. Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays
10. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
There's a major drop-off between the top tier of second basemen (Jose Altuve and Ozzie Albies) and the remainder of this list.
That's not to say there are only two quality second basemen, however. Both Ketel Marte and Jonathan Villar burst on to the scene last season with career years, while DJ LeMahieu emerged as a fringe MVP candidate for the injury-ravaged New York Yankees. Even an ostensible journeyman like Mike Moustakas has resurrected his career in recent seasons.
But the fact that most of these guys are young or have had late-career breakouts make them prime candidates for some kind of regression.
If you're not fortunate enough to draft one of the top two, then you may be hemorrhaging key stats next season.
1. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
2. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
3. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
4. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
5. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
6. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
7. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
8. Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics
9. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
10. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
More than nearly any other position, the ranking of starting shortstops is subject to high variance.
There's a world in which nearly all 10 of these players could be the top at their position this time next year. Even Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, both of whom have slumped in recent seasons, have as high ceilings as their more consistent peers. Each man plays for a contending roster with excellent lineup protection, making a return to form are eminently possible.
For now, it's probably safe to consider Francisco Lindor the best of the bunch. The four-time All-Star has put together quite a four-year stretch, slugging .284/.346/.495, hitting 118 home runs, recording 23.6 WAR and winning two Golden Gloves since 2016. But it wouldn't be a shock to see him surpassed this year by Turner, Baez, Torres, or any number of other worthy candidates.
3rd Baseman Rankings
1. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
2. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
3. Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
4. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
5. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
6. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
7. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
8. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
9. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
10. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
When fantasy baseball experts talk about positions of value, they mean something like this.
Third base is chock-full of dynamite talent—so much, in fact, that it's prudent to address other positions with less depth in earlier rounds and then maybe draft a third baseman in the second or third round. What other position could boast as gifted a player as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the most exciting young player to come along in nearly a decade, as its eighth-best and not feel like that was a major underestimation?
Obviously, guys like Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon are elite, and their high placements don't require much explanation. It's when you look at the likes of Kris Bryant, a 28-year old former MVP, and Manny Machado, who's one year removed from hitting 37 home runs and slugging .905, towards the bottom of this top 10 that third base's depth comes into focus.
1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
2. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
3. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
4. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
5. Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins
6. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Chiefs
7. Wilson Ramos, New York Mets
8. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
9. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
10. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
After batting .211 over the past two seasons and missing 128 of a possible 324 games, it's more than a bit shocking to see Gary Sanchez anywhere near the top of a list like this. But that's as much a testament to his tremendously high ceiling and his ability to accrue fantasy-worthy stats as it is the state of the catcher position in 2020.
Though catcher has never been an elite fantasy position (Joe Mauers of the world aside), this collection of players looks particularly grim. Will Smith has played 54 career MLB games. Yadier Molina, though a future Hall-of-Famer, is 37 and just posted his fewest RBI in a season since 2014. Mitch Garver has just a season's worth of starter-caliber play under his belt, and that was enough to place him fifth on this list.
Inevitably, some of these guys (or some potential sleepers) will emerge as sustainable heirs to the catcher position in a post-Molina and Buster Posey league. But for now, this is one of the only positions on the diamond where it's OK to just select one of these guys at random and hope it works out.
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
5. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
7. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
8. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
9. George Springer, Houston Astros
10. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
If all 10 of these players went in the first two rounds of a 10-team fantasy draft, it would check out. That's how full of talent the outfield crop is, without even accounting for the injured Aaron Judge.
Two players on this list stick out the most: J.D. Martinez and Bryce Harper. Without Mookie Betts to protect him in the Boston Red Sox starting lineup anymore, it will be interesting to see how teams pitch to Martinez and whether he's able to continue mashing the ball despite declining steadily over the past three years.
Harper, on the other hand, is firmly past the honeymoon period with the Philadelphia Phillies, and expectations will be sky-high in the second year of his seemingly endless contract. Despite hitting 35 home runs and driving home 114 runs last year, the 27-year old failed to make the All-Star team, and the fate of the Phillies' eight-season playoff drought is largely on his shoulders.
Starting Pitcher Rankings
1. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
2. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
4. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
6. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
7. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
8. Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
9. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
10. Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
As if this group of starters could get much better, it would have included future first-ballot Hall of Famer Justin Verlander before he underwent groin surgery. He is scheduled to sit out several months—though at this rate, he might be healthy before the season starts.
This list of 10 suggests a considerable consolidation of starting pitching talent in the league. There are three Nationals and two Dodgers here, and notable snubs include the Mets' Noah Syndergaard, the Indians' Mike Clevinger, and the Astros' Zack Greinke, all of whom would have been their teams' second inclusion in the top 10.
One starter who's a little lower in than usual in these kinds of rankings is Clayton Kershaw. After showing minor signs of decline in the 2019 regular season (in addition to another postseason underachievement), the all-time great is slowly but surely slipping in estimation, especially when compared to Walker Buehler, his rock star younger teammate.
Not that he's ever cared about legacy, but the lanky southpaw could use one more dominant campaign to solidify his reputation as the best pitcher of the 21st century.
Relief Pitcher Rankings
1. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
2. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
3. Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
4. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
6. Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
7. Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
8. Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
9. Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
10. Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Despite some relative anonymity on this list, there's some great value to be had at the reliever position.
Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Josh Hader are mainstays on any list of this kind, and all three remain in peak form. They have been joined at the top of the heap by Kirby Yates, who recorded 41 saves and struck out 101 batters last year for the San Diego Padres, and Taylor Rogers, who became the Minnesota Twins' full-time closer last season and impressed throughout, saving 30 games, recording a 2.61 ERA, and recording a ludicrous 90:11 strikeout: walk ratio.
A sleeper in this group would be Ken Giles. After a mostly rocky stint with the Houston Astros, he was excellent for the Toronto Blue Jays last year. And if his team emerges as a sleeper wild-card contender, then it will likely be at least in part to his heroics in close games.