The Pitcher List trek through the landscape of what MLB infielders have to offer in the alternate universe of fantasy baseball continues! Herein lies an enumeration of the best bats eligible to slot in at second base after going over The Top 25 Catchers and Top 25 First Basemen earlier this week.
Tier 1: The Sea Monsters
1. Jose Altuve (Houston Astros) — Inspiring awe and fear in the hearts of pitchers trying to sail baseballs across the ocean between the hill and home plate is this first tier of 2B studs. If the biggest imaginable undersea creature in folklore is the Biblically referenced Leviathan, Altuve is that beast. We mentioned Miguel Cabrera having won four of the last six AL batting crowns in the 1B rankings: well, Altuve is not only the reigning defending champ in 2017, but he’s also the culprit behind that other title Cabrera missed out on. Unsurprisingly, he leads at the position in expected weighted runs created with such a gilded batting average to look forward to—virtually worth wagering your firstborn on it being north of .310. Neither his 2016 BA of .338, nor the BABIP of .347 to which it was married, were even career-bests for him: those zeniths of .341 and .360 happened during his last AL batting title run in 2014. The good news for prospective fantasy owners is that Altuve has figured out how to make power a legitimate part of his portfolio. He went yard 24 times for Houston last year on the wings of a glorious-for-him ISO of .194 and a HR/FB ratio of 13%. He probably won’t get back to 20 HRs but even 15 would be icing on the cake, since he has scorchingly stolen no fewer than 30 bases for five straight years. The man is a fantasy force regardless of format, but he’s a particularly desirable dream come true in 5×5 because he makes you a threat to win two categories (BA and SB) and be dangerously competitive in the remaining three. Altuve could score close to 100 times and will be driving in perhaps RBI as well. A real-life contender for AL MVP with the likes of Mookie Betts and actual award recipient Mike Trout, Altuve is hands down the top second base pick and you’ll be waving his native Venezuelan flag in celebration when you get to see the statistical deluge he will use to rain on your opponents’ parades.
2. Robinson Cano (Seattle Mariners) — Let’s call Robbie Cano the Kraken to Altuve’s Leviathan because he’s just as terrifying with dominant attributes in different areas. Mariners fans have been enjoying the offensive onslaught Cano unleashes with his $24M/yr bat for the past three seasons and they should have plenty to cheer about this year too. He could push to lead in home runs at the position with 25 or so while also projecting to hit for approximately .290, a combination of which would obviously be a delightful boon to fantasy owners. His SLG last year was the best it’s been since 2012 with the Yankees, but 17.9% soft contact still leaves me concerned and wanting more from an exceptional raker. 107 runs and 103 RBI likely don’t stand chances of repeat performances except when you realize those were the fifth and fourth times, respectively, Cano has landed a spot in the century club for those totals. High 80s to mid 90s for both categories sounds conservative but also more realistic, since he’ll also probably tally less than the whopping 655 plate appearances he made last year. We may have seen the end of Cano’s risk-taking as it pertains to aggressive baserunning, so don’t count on him for steals during the 34-year-old’s upcoming season. He should continue to improve upon his current career HR/FB ratio of 14.5%, and I don’t find an expectation for 17% to be unreasonable after 2016’s surge up to 19.3%. He could be taken somewhere in the second round, although some fortunate fantasy drafters may see him allowed to trickle down to the third for their selecting pleasure.
3. Trea Turner (Washington Nationals) — Trea Turner is bound to be considered underranked here for some 5×5 aficionados, if you can believe that. Set to play a full season with more than 600 at-bats in 2017, Turner will rack up starts at SS with Danny Espinosa getting traded to the Angels (more on him WAY later) but it remains to be seen if he’ll be granted SS fantasy eligibility begin the season. Regardless, he’s a qualified fantasy 2B/OF and a ridiculous talent wherever you can slot him. We have to think of Turner as the vaunted Ctulhu to solidify his spot in this tier of all-time oceanic terrors. The profuse level of output he’s going to provide could be unfairly devastating to your fantasy opponents, already being discussed in a top position tier with some of the most valuable guys in the big leagues in just his third season. Just as Paul Goldschmidt offers a huge advantage at 1B by stealing so many bases, Turner also looks to give you a marked H2H edge versus owners of the duo above him should be the fantasy steals crown at the position: he secured 33 stolen bases last year and Steamer projects a tantalizing 40 in 2017. Although his BABIP should make its way down the other side of the parabola from a crazy apex of .388, you’d like to think he’s still going to be stellar and manage to hit at a clip of greater than .300. He may very well end up taking Cano’s silver-medal spot on this podium and I’m prepared for that—we’ll see who’s really reading if arguments about the 1-2-3 order pop up that don’t acknowledge this statement that Turner’s chance to rise and usurp is a strong one. The run-scoring and batting average battles between Cano and Turner could be much closer than many might expect, however. Cano still has the edge in homers and RBI over Turner. The latter will not pass through the second round unselected and rightfully so.
Tier 2: You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Bat
4. Rougned Odor (Texas Rangers) — No one is safe floating out on the deep fanta-sea with the likes of what this next tier of sluggers threatens to do to their opponents’ dignities. Odor knows how to pack a powerful punch and is fresh off a 33-HR strut through his second year in The Show. If he’s able to continue dropping jaws with further improvement of his already great mid-30s hard contact percentage, you can count on him for at least 25 jacks again this season with a .210ish ISO vehicle getting you to that destination. His ability to hit for average is quite good too: an even-.300 BABIP outing should still stick Odor squarely in the .270s. Texas is stacked with magnificent hitters, and occupying the 5-spot in the heart of the batting Odor (I had to) sits the second Venezuelan native of today’s rankings. He has the privilege of being a LHB who pulls the ball toward pay dirt at lefty-friendly Globe Life Park. Also worth mentioning is Odor’s likelihood to steal a minimum of 10-12 bases. Wrap this fantasy gift with the bow of runs and RBI in the 80s and you are looking at an impressive and multifaceted star that you should be able to nab in the third round of your draft. He presumably should not drop to the fourth, but I have no idea what sort of idiocy you’re calling competition in your league so don’t hesitate if he’s available to you with an overall pick in the 40s.
5. Daniel Murphy (Washington Nationals) — Murphy is actually starting at 2B instead of the plucky Turner we mentioned moments ago, but Murphy was given his fair due as an eligible 1B in Pitcher List’s Top 25 Rankings for First Basemen. Murphy is a perfect fit as the Loch Ness Monster here because your fantasy enemies won’t want to believe his batting average until they see it dashing their chances at victory in that 5×5 category. He has a shot at sporting a fantastic wOBA somewhere between Steamer’s project of .357 and last year’s .408: I like the sound of .370 or so, personally. He’ll offer five or so steals to you as an add-on to an already extremely valuable purchase.
6. Brian Dozier (Minnesota Twins) — Dozier’s career year in 2016 has cemented his place as a true fantasy machine. He’s improved the power in his swing so dramatically that not only has his ISO tripled since his rookie showing in 2012, it’s come about by steadily increasing his hard contact and HR/FB numbers over time despite a relatively even-keel BABIP. What does that mean? He’s getting better as a baseball player and developing his craft, like you would hope consummate professionals might endeavor to do. He’s always been pretty solid at base-stealing; I don’t think hoping for 15 thefts is necessarily folly, considering his speed rating hasn’t flagged since his MLB debut either. Hitting for average in the .255-.265 range is well within Dozier’s capabilities, and the Great White Whale of Minneapolis has managed over 100 runs for three straight years so even a conservative estimate of low 90s sounds great if I’m trying to draft a viable fantasy workhorse at 2B. You should like him for 24-27 bombs as he competes for dominance at the metric positionally with Cano and Odor. Be an Ahab and harpoon the daylights out of this guy: my advice is to draft him in the third round MAYBE, but indisputably in the fourth round. Fifth round and he’s still on the board? I want to know if you’re the fantasy equivalent of the guy who plays Call of Duty against adolescents and then rejoices by talking trash when you trounce lesser competition.
7. Jean Segura (Seattle Mariners) — From a fantasy standpoint, the line of separation between the offensive fireworks of Segura and the NL batting runner-up Murphy is a lot thinner than many might realize. Both enjoyed 2016 outings with a BABIP circling around .350, and in an odd an unexpected twist I’m just now realizing, the number of homers I projected for Murphy is the exact number Segura hit last year at 20. Segura scored over 100 runs and drove in 64 RBI, while Murphy conversely was in triple digits for RBI and crossed the plate 88 times. One’s a veritable Robin Hood stealing bases from poor pitcher-catcher batteries, while the other terrorizes hurlers with his contact. I like Segura for 28 steals and mid-80s in runs this year, and feel free to bump that scoring number into the 90s with Cano following him in the lineup. A slight step down to 14 HRs is still going to be marvelous for eventual fantasy owners. Steamer projects him to hit for .274, whereas there’s no reason he isn’t capable of higher with a .280 career BA. Segura is the barracuda who can swoop in to devour points for your team’s benefit with his excellent speed, and it would be a nice courtesy to tell your opponents to avoid wearing shiny objects when he’s in the water but you’ll be more triumphant if you don’t.
8. DJ LeMahieu (Colorado Rockies) — The guy that took the NL batting crown with a .348 average is next on the list for your consideration. DJ LeMahieu has the enviable station of batting at Coors Field, and while the expectations for his power must be frustratingly tempered even at such a hitter-friendly locale, he’s still going to be a guy you’d love to roster in a heartbeat. 2016 was obviously a banner year, but a truly worst-case scenario of a .300 BA is a very real and wonderful problem to have as his potential owner. Roughly equipped with the same speed ability as Dozier, a mid-teen steal number is likely to transpire. His ISO during his wonderful campaign last year was still middling at .147, so expect something even lower to effectively translate to MAYBE 10 homers for you. That’s LeMahieu’s big fantasy weakness; though a ferocious attacker, he is a flawed one like a hammerhead shark with a relative blind spot for the riches directly in front of him. The wall is 415 feet away at the farthest point from home plate in Denver’s center field, an area toward which LeMahieu distributes the ball a hefty 40% of the time—instead of pulling or going opposite field to closer fences—and that could explain some of his limitations going yard. Conversely, LeMahieu is not immune to the splits effect that plagues many Rockies players, wherein the favorable outfield dimensions and atmosphere at Colorado’s home stadium tend to be reinforced when franchise bats then struggle to produce as much in the confines of less hospitable ballparks. LeMahieu got nearly double the amount of runs, RBI and homers at home than he was able to attain in road games despite a 50-50 split in where he played. Regardless, enjoy the ride that an inflated average and scoring ability by LeMahieu can provide, especially if he slides as others take the more household names.
9. Jonathan Villar (Milwaukee Brewers) — The theme that’s suddenly taking over in this tier of talented bats is that their skill sets feature abundant talent in a coveted category that’s offset by woefully glaring weakness in a singular other area that prevents them from posting Top 5 fantasy showings as second basemen. You’d hope Jonathan Villar is an exception to this caveat if you pick him up this year, as the guy is extremely productive and had an astronomically successful 2017. He spent 2014 and 2015 split between AAA and big-league action for the Astros, but only in his first full MLB year in Milwaukee did he truly take flight. His statistics show inconsistency early on, but last year he finally figured out how to make hard contact a consistent tool in his belt and hit 19 out of the park with a 35.1% metric working in his favor to do so when he’d never cracked 30% before. His numbers show that he was swinging at fewer pitches thrown outside the zone to him in 2016, as compared to the two years prior, but his renaissance at the plate is obliquely correlated to a hugely patient average swinging-strike rate of just 10.5% during the 2015-2016 span. In layman’s terms, Villar has been learning to swing smarter and not necessarily harder when he does. He was the fifth-lowest perpetrator of poor hit percentage in the league last year, and Brewers manager Craig Counsell has to love the fact that Villar switch-hits. He’s super versatile and will probably steal 50-plus bases this year, a large reason why he’s high on this list. Steamer, however, has him projected to only hit for a .255 average, which would be the caveat mentioned earlier if it comes true. High .260s is not unreasonable for your fantasy interests, while an 85-run/60-RBI outing also looks possible. Segura will probably beat him in BA and RBI, but Villar should have the edge in HR and SB. LeMahieu outranks him with the extra 40 percentage point of average despite the poor power, and thus Villar sits right here. We’ll call his inspiring tale of being a killer whale “Free Villy” and you can ORCAn’t take him at face value. Some question marks for sure, but his 2B/3B/SS eligibility makes him hyper-valuable so don’t be shocked when a leaguemate reaches to grab him in the third. He will ascend these rankings if his BA does all right and if he gets more than 15 bombs, so keep that in mind when you’re drafting if you trust him.
10. Dee Gordon (Miami Marlins) — The diminutive Marlins 2B missed some time last year due to a PED use policy violation but he came back to still put up some respectable numbers, considering the situation. The guy is lightning fast on the baserunning trail and thus using a cancer in the side of a pitcher trying to focus on command and control who now has to worry about Gordon advancing to scoring position. His aversion to hitting for power is even more emphatically pronounced in the box score than LeMahieu’s is, and it’s unfortunate you have to discount his staggering steal count a little bit because of it. Gordon should be able to register an average in the .270s, and he’s always been more of a run-scorer than an RBI guy so expect a significant gap of 30 or more between those two final totals. He’s a phenomenal target if you have a masher already rostered and can afford to have Gordon hitting 60% groundballs with soft or medium contact while relying on his stems to beat the throw and reach base. His ADP will be shockingly high, so if you don’t have the kind of patience for one- or two-dimensional elite production, use your pick elsewhere. Love him unconditionally? He’s going to be available until about the fifth round at the extreme latest, so plan accordingly. Oh, and obviously, he’s the Cheetah of the Sea: the majestic 60-plus-m.p.h.-swimming sailfish. Threw you a curveball there specifically because you thought I was going to go with the low-hanging fruit that is dubbing Gordon a black marlin.
Tier 3: The Gentle Giants of the Deep
11. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals) — This tier centers around the theme of impressive specimens of marine life you might encounter while deep-sea fishing without necessarily fearing for your life like in Tier 2. We have another repeat offender here in Carpenter, eligibility hog that he gloriously is. The Top 25 1B rankings broke down his offerings at No. 14, and I expect run production comparable to what you just read above for Villar. If they end up competing for BA, I’ll give the nod to the crushing ability of Carpenter the edge to boost that metric and his HR count as well. If Carpenter decided he wanted to steal bases at some point, he’d leapfrog up several spots into the crowded echelon above: it’s very difficult to split hairs and prioritize certain things over others amid a talented bunch of guys like that. That said, he’s top of the heap here and I like the dynamic pop he brings you a little more than what those beneath him are doing. He’s the intelligent bottlenosed dolphin that both brings you enjoyment as he dives across your ship’s path and will handle business saving a fantasy baseball life by snout-stabbing a shark if he needs to.
12. Ian Kinsler (Detroit Tigers) — The model of consistency, Ian Kinsler was a dependable, everyday kind of starter for my fantasy team last year. He’s a blue whale: he’ll keep your opponents frustrated with his sturdy constitution head-to-head. In a points league, he came through as the keeper in the clutch numerous times with tons of extra-base hits and a gleaming .288 average to offset the 115 K he endured. For 5×5 formats, 2016’s numbers have Kinsler’s fantasy expectations ratcheted up because he was able to match the combined number of homers he hit in his first two seasons with Detroit with a 28-jack outburst. It was a career year for his hard contact—which makes sense—but his BABIP was actually higher in 2015 so that, to me, says “Maybe don’t write things off because that ride may not have been an outlier.” Keeping his ISO in the same vicinity close to .200 would really help his cause fantasy-wise, as would maintaining an OBP of .345 and continuing to lower his ground ball percentage. Not figuring to be quite as dynamically productive as Carpenter or the Tier 2 monsters, he is still an extremely balanced guy that you won’t regret owning.
13. Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians) — Jason Kipnis is a useful LHB who’s pulling to the tune of 40% of late, and his most successful weighted runs created numbers coarsely correlate with the seasons in which he’s been swinging with hard contact greater than 35% of the time. 23 homers probably don’t happen again, but 17 certainly could. Tito Francona is not as worried about a deceleration in Kip’s power production, I’m sure, what with the arrival of Edwin Encarnacion to complement the already established artillery of Carlos Santana (even with Mike Napoli gone). Kinsler has a good chance of beating out Kipnis’ average and homer count, but the two should score about the same number of runs (pushing for 90 each). The line of separation between their RBI totals could be negligible, and Kipnis could try for 15 stolen bases to Kinsler’s target of a dozen. Again, they’re ranked how they’re ranked for a reason, just don’t panic if you can’t get the guy in Detroit because his Cleveland counterpart is going to be putting in some work on your behalf. As an Indians fan, I distinctly remember being jealous of fantasy opponents who had him or Santana last year when they were going off; having Jose Ramirez dominate for me helped ease the fantasy version of FOMO (fear of missing out) on their exploits. Kipnis is a delicious wall-mounted seabass that you’ll wish could turn its head to sing “Hang On, Sloopy” when you’re celebrating catching him lower than his ADP would be (Your opponents will probably still want to play you, by the way). Kipnis is a monumental bargain in the seventh round, but don’t claim him too early just to get him for the sake of it and lose out on someone else exciting in the process.
13. Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox) — Boston’s offense is going to be loaded all over again, and Dustin Pedroia stands to gain personally for your fantasy undertakings from a spot in the potent lineup. He’s remarkably a career .301 hitter and mid-.290s should be on the docket for 2017, making him extremely valuable considering his lower standing in the 2B hierarchy. Compared to those who will hit over .300, Pedey shouldn’t viably match the runs Murphy scores nor the RBI LeMahieu is able to procure, but he’s right smack dab in an accurately fortified stronghold here with Kinsler and Kipnis with regard to power and steals. He’s got an excellent BB/K ratio and a 3-5 percentage point boost to already decent hard contact would likely result in a bump up to Tier 3’s summit with or around Carpenter. As a righty in Boston, he’s admirably spraying the ball in a more equitable fashion to all three regions of the outfield, as opposed to just swinging for broke to pull the ball over the Green Monster with poor efficiency. His swinging strike percentage is a miniscule 4.3% on his career, but he’s trying to connect with 60% of stuff thrown in the zone to him so he’s definitely making pitchers work to maintain their efficiency during at-bats. Desirable and tasty are his fantasy outlook, much like an Atlantic salmon you snag on a sun-soaked day in Cape Cod for cedar-plank grilling later that evening.
14. Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cubs) — Zobrist nabbed a World Series MVP award for his clutch hitting in extra innings of Game 7 against the Tribe last year, and the guy has been a vital piece of the last two championship-winning franchises after closing out 2015 on Kansas City’s 25-man. Owner of a highly useful BB/K ratio of 1.14 over that two-year span, it should come as no shock that he’s one of the most disciplined and resourceful men at the plate across all of baseball. Patience and power blend well for a cocktail of offense that is a lot of fun to sip on when you’re a fan of Zobrist’s actual team or you have him intelligently employed on your fantasy payroll. Tampa Bay Rays faithful are probably wondering why he’s the prize-winning catfish their front office let get away: Zobrist has been increasing his Z-contact percentage every season since 2011 (!) to what now reads at 94.2% (!!!). He used to steal way more bases down in Florida, and if he were to decide a life of recidivism is the one for him in Chicago, his fantasy stock would positively soar. So where are we now? It’s a crowded roster at Wrigley, but I think Zobrist works his way into 130 games or so to be able to post a .272 average (equal to his career BA), 14 homers, 75 runs and 65 RBI with not enough steals to even worry about for 5×5. (I chose catfish as Zobrist’s icthyological designation for reasons because I’m innately programmed as a fantasy aficionado to be a worrier, just like Harry Caray’s friends knew him to be.)
15. Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore Orioles) — This will be a ranking that’s 14 too far down this list for those loyal cult followers of the Church of Camden Yards who would consider kidnapping a small child if Cal Ripken, Jr., told them to. In all seriousness, Schoop is a solid 2B with appreciable fantasy upside in four of the five standard categories. He does not steal bases, so let’s just get that out of the way. He swings 42% of the time at pitches thrown outside the zone, so I dislike that aspect of his skill set because he makes it far too easy on the guy hurling to him from the hill. He should watch the odd bit of game tape on Zobrist and take notes on how to improve his plate appearances because Schoop strikes out SEVEN TIMES more often than he gets walked. He still manages to hit for average well enough to smell the aroma of .270 and somehow smacked 25 out of the park last year, so he’s still an asset even if he makes his hitting coach cringe on occasion. I personally appreciate the symmetry with which he accumulates RBI and runs in the same season, and thinking that those numbers will be a matching pair of 70s sits well with my predictive intuition. His ADP is almost the same as Zobrist’s, believe it or not, as 23 projected home runs go a long way: you could have some respectable fantasy chops to add to your roster if it gets to be Round 12 and you have spots to fill. I guess Schoop is an indomitable horseshoe crab because Maryland and he doesn’t merit the imposing moniker of a stodgy grouper since he’s a bit less intimidating than his fellow Tier 3 cohorts.
Tier 4: Stay in Schools, Kids
16. Neil Walker (New York Mets) — It seems appropriate to designate Walker as the bluefin tuna now that he’s wearing the deep azure uniform of the Metropolitans: this tier features guys whose skills I like but there’s some endangering their fantasy résumés and keeping them humbly removed the ranks of the true stars. I like Walker to be slashing close to his career BA of .273 this coming year to go along with a solid .330 OBP and an attractive .450 SLG (which would almost exactly split the difference of his slugging work in 2015 and 2016). The guy should be able to approach the 23-HR mark he savored last season, with some attrition down to the 17-20 range being completely understandable and something you should be fine with. I just find myself wondering who’s going to be there to help Walker out in the scoring and RBI spheres of influence since cleanup man Jay Bruce’s second-half splits after joining New York were gut-wrenchingly appalling. Putting faith in an Asdrubal Cabrera who’s been decent but at times inconsistent and a Lucas Duda whom I was already loathe to seriously hype to drive Walker around the bags just doesn’t sound super promising to me. Runs and RBI were in the 50s last year for Walker, and Steamer’s projection of those numbers swelling into the 60s seems ambitious. Not a threat to steal bases frequently, Walker suddenly becomes just a guy I’d moderately like on my roster. When you realize he’s up this high due to power production and hitting efficiency and perhaps does not offer too, too much else for 5×5 superiority, he’s a later-round snag for pop.
17. Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs) — Another Cub with middle infielding experience within this tier, Javier Baez is now also a versatile fantasy utility guy with 2B/3B/SS eligibility after Joe Maddon threw him in to different spots all year long. A couple of high-BABIP years have me prognosticating conservatively that Baez will bat .265 for 2017, and his MLB speed and baserunning IQ are clearly improving after he was able to steal 12 bags last year. Only caught three times, I like knowing he’s a commodity who’s only going to attempt high-percentage SB plays so I’ll take a dream total of 10-15 and call it a day. His HR estimate is slightly better, let’s say 13-18, and he should be legitimately thinking about getting 60 runs and 65 RBI. He pulls like crazy with more soft contact than I’d like, so you can bet I’ll be keeping track of who’s starting on the mound and at LF whenever he’s part of the order for Chicago to determine whether or not I like the matchup that day. That said, he’ll boast exceptional value in the teen-level rounds of your draft if you like members of a prolific offense who help each other out from a fantasy standpoint.
18. Jedd Gyorko (St. Louis Cardinals) — At 11 games played as a 1B and thus eligible in Yahoo leagues but not ESPN ones, Gyorko reasonably would have slotted in somewhere between Adrian Gonzalez and C.J. Cron (with Napoli and Greg Bird being odd examples of us waiting to see what happens rather than their rankings in that same in-between zone being fixed). But it’s tough to predict what sort of playing time scenarios Gyorko is up against in St. Louis right now. He could be a Top 20 at his 2B/3B/SS positions, just like Baez, but he could fall off the map from a fantasy perspective if he can’t bring power and production since his average is subpar and steals aren’t a thing. I don’t see why he wouldn’t play close to 130 games if he can stay healthy, but veteran Jhonny Peralta is there to spell him as necessary and Steamer projects a more modest 113 GP. Regardless, stacked against this squad of the position of 2B that he is indeed eligible for in all leagues, Gyorko will be drafted higher this year because of the 30-HR campaign he put together in 2016. I like his success in the power game to continue if he maintains even low-20s in HR/FB percentage, but to the down-to-Earth tune of 20-24 jacks. That—teamed up with 60-odd runs and RBI—means his spot here is safe provided he can keep going yard: otherwise, his career .238 BA becomes a liability and his value to me slips significantly. Like, SIGNIFICANTLY. We’re giving him the benefit of the roster-flexible doubt for now, but just know what you’re getting yourself into when you draft him later on somewhere around the 200th overall pick.
19. Jose Peraza (Cincinnati Reds) — The lower-middle-class (not poor) man’s Gordon is statistically how Jose Peraza should be viewed. He’ll experience higher ADP among 5×5 enthusiasts than the rest of his stat line deserves because he brings the somewhat rare acclaim of being a steals monster while not be a superstar. Treat landing Peraza like a sneaky backdoor loophole because you get a boost to a difficult parameter to do well in for a fraction of the cost you’ll pay get Segura, Villar or Gordon for. With the trade of Brandon Phillips to Atlanta, the 22-year-old Peraza’s path to a ton of playing time is now delightfully unobstructed; therefore, he oddly ranks as one of my sleeper picks to do valuable things for you relative to his rather modest price tag. Batting average is Peraza’s other strength, and he’s coming off a ridiculous display of .324 ball in 72 games that won’t hold up. It should taper off to the .280-.290 range over the course of a full season, and that’s still lovely to have on your side if you’ll accept his limitations in scoring, production and power. Hard contact percentage may as well be nonexistent in the 20s, and 50 each in runs and RBI might be too naively optimistic. Do not rely on him to be your starter at 2B, but enjoy the (red) herring-esque motion of this quick fellow. Again, for what you’re getting WHERE you’re getting it, Peraza’s a great depth add.
20. Starlin Castro (New York Yankees) — This guy gets a Top 20 ranking because he can apparently hit 20 jacks and 70 RBI in a season, his first in Yankee pinstripes, and we like where his prognosis sits at the moment. Just like Gyorko, he doesn’t steal at all, but the difference is he used to in his early Cubs days so that’s especially a 5×5 bummer knowing he’s got the jets but has perhaps just been coached differently by Maddon and Joe Girardi. He’s a career .280 hitter who could instantly rise up these rankings if he is even in the 60s for runs and RBI while approaching 20 four-baggers this season. ISO’s never been amazing but he enters 2017 poised to notch his seventh-straight year with 10 or more HRs, so don’t take him lightly. Worth noting that he was plagued by some severe hamstring issues late last year which have me monitoring how his health and motion look on Opening Day. His median ADP is the 228th overall pick, according to STATS, Inc., and he’d be frankly fantastic to snag in the 18th round of a 12-teamer if that’s even possible.
21. Logan Forsythe (Los Angeles Dodgers) — Forsythe was traded to L.A. at the midpoint of a $18.8M contract over two years with Tampa Bay; he has thus moved into a far more promising cadre of bats for the sake of both his personal ambition to be a postseason contender and your ambition to nickel and dime your fantasy opponent to death. At the leadoff spot, this dude suddenly has four of the best 200 hitters in baseball backing him up in Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasmani Grandal. “Forsythe scores” WOULD have been a frequently uttered phrase by Vin Scully if not for his needing to retire after decades of broadcasting service. Forsythe should launch into the 2B stratosphere if he can keep his wonderful hard-to-soft contact ratio at almost 3 (36.0% hard, 11.7% soft) and he can just keep his nose to the grindstone as a .260ish hitter. I’d be frankly quite surprised if he doesn’t cross the plate 80 times for that order. And if he can keep his BABIP above average and hit 20 HRs while not being universally considered a top-flight 2B, you stand to reap the spoils in fantasy. He’s up in Tier 3 in a snap if he finds his stride in Dodger blue. Huge if you can get him at an affordable, late-round price.
22. Josh Harrison (Pittsburgh Pirates) — We’re dotting the seascape with little guys who can hit a quick-hopping ground ball and steal bases. Harrison is like a slithery electric eel who could dart out and tag an unsuspecting opponent with a jolt of offense. Hitting for .275 is legitimately his floor and a season in which he does not snag 15 bags would be gross underperformance. His HR/FB rate is God-awful, but the good news is 27.7% hard contact says he’s going to be forcing opposing 3B and SS to be on their toes to field his drilled hits. If Harrison finds gaps or can perfectly meld exit velocity with an appealing medium angle to drop stuff into the shallow outfield, he could give defenses fits because it has to be a hell of an arm throwing out a guy with a 6.3 speed factor (7.0 is considered excellent, per Fangraphs). So don’t expect power production in the HR category per se, but powerful precision is the name of Harrison’s game. He could push for 60 RBI and 60 runs if things go according to plan. The prescription for drafting guys at this stage is fleshing out what is hopefully an already established roster, but I love Harrison as a quiet UTIL or streamer middle infielder to rack up some stats for you.
Tier 5: Piranhas with Potential
23. Cesar Hernandez (Philadelphia Phillies) — This tier consists of some really productive dark horses that could elude a lot of people’s scrutiny if they get too starstruck with more frequently heard household names. It’s looking like Hernandez is either uncommonly lucky or just actually that good: with a BABIP that keeps going up each of his last three MLB season even as his plate appearances ballooned correspondingly, you have to wonder whether he’s just getting better and catching some breaks along the way. In any case, that should bode well for your fantasy team if he can even manage some of the numbers a .330 BABIP might entail. On the more empirical side, versus being blindly hopeful, his hard contact percentage is now at 26.0% and could climb higher. Plate discipline metrics are all trending in the right way for Hernandez as well, as swinging strike percentage and O-swing% have decreased since the start of the 2014 season. He’s also swing at less overall while maintaining Z-contact at approximately 89%. I think it’s safe to say he’s taking his craft seriously with results to show for his gradual evolution as a batter. A BA of .280 is what should reasonably be expected from him, along with the ever-valued 15-20 steals. Throw homers out the window, and count on a run total significantly higher than his RBI count—say, maybe, 65 and 50. The steals always send ADP into disarray, but keep your eyes peeled on your opponent’s rosters: if it looks like they’re satisfied with their speed and are focusing elsewhere for several picks in a row, that could be your time to pounce and inject Hernandez’s upside into your roster somewhere. (Note: Hernandez does not have SS eligibility because he only played four games at the position last year)
24. Brandon Phillips (Atlanta Braves) — The big question about Phillips’ viability on your fantasy team is whether or not Atlanta will ill-advisedly elect to have him be a member of a two-man platoon with Jace Peterson. With all due to respect to the latter gentleman, Phillips is better at his job offensively and defensively, so you’d think a timeshare could end up skewed in the former Red’s favor if there indeed becomes one. Spring training should tell us a lot of things about how the Braves plan to utilize their latest acquisition. Unless he really struggles in the starting 2B role to find a rapport with his new team, the 35-year-old Phillips should have no problem hitting in the .280s range while hopefully finding a way to manufacture 50 runs and 55 RBI. While power hasn’t often been in his wheelhouse, 10 HRs are an outside possibility for sure. Where guys with this array of sabermetrics at this tier might leave you high and dry in a 5×5 format for a criterion or two, Phillips could also steal 10-12 bases. He really belongs higher up, but caution is warranted for not necessarily knowing his new role. Snag his balance for cheap late, as he could do well in Georgia.
25. Devon Travis (Toronto Blue Jays) — Who wouldn’t want Josh Donaldson following them in a lineup? In light of the announcement that Travis would be the preferred leadoff option for Toronto to start the year, his projections for runs scored have ballooned to almost 70. Speaking from the perspective of an owner of Donaldson in a keeper league, this good news percolates down to would-be Travis owners. He had a spectacular .300 BA last season and I think a forecast of .285 this coming year is not unreasonable. The hard contact is there to bring some home run action to fantasy managers, but a HR/FB below 10% has to improve as Travis harnesses his swing’s power more efficaciously. A 90.5% Z-contact rating in 2016 has me tentatively licking my lips, and the 25-year-old distributes the ball all over to not be so easily shifted for or defended. 10 jacks are doable, 15-plus is a reach; RBI in the 50s sounds accurate, and speed is not his strong suit so that’s everything you’re looking at for traditional 5×5. Pick him up if you need some extra BA and runs is the takeaway. Because the upside is there, his ADP could surprise you but bigger names will likely come off the board to your opponents and they might get distracted filling other gaps when you snag him somewhere near the 250th overall pick.
The On Deck Circle — Honorable Mentions
Joe Panik (San Francisco Giants) — In reality a quality fantasy player to have on your side, Panik just doesn’t get me as excited as some of the up-and-coming fantasy prospects discussed more at length above. Part of this is derived from the fact that he came crashing down in BA after a splendid 2015, but the fact remains he eclipsed the 60-mark in RBI and runs and is a threat to hit 50s in both quantities this year. I wish his speed factor of 5.9 yielded more steals, and 10 HRs is nothing remarkable when you don’t have an impressive average anymore. He may go undrafted in some leagues and could have a resurgence that makes him worth flagging on your watch list.
Ryan Schimpf (San Diego Padres) — The Mike Zunino of 2B, Schimpf wants to be Chris Davis when he grows up. Terrible average but is a threat to score upwards of 20 HRs with impeccable hard contact sitting at 39.7%. He was dominating back in 2015 for the El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego’s AAA affiliate), but needs time to adjust properly to MLB and cultivate his game more. He is a true last gasp fill-in candidate at this point, as the HRs shouldn’t have to come at the cost of everything else this low on the totem pole. He’s not a LEMON because his career is young and he’s got pure fundamentals that project well, but he is a borderline UTIL play at present.
Raul Mondesi, Jr. (Kansas City Royals/AAA) — Do NOT draft him. He is slated to begin the year in the minors, and this is purely your heads up that he’s still regarded as one of the top prospects still hopping back and forth in the farm system for Kansas City. He has potential if there’s some shakeup and Ned Yost wants to give him another crack over a possibly mediocre Whit Merrifield. You heard it [almost certainly not] here first if he gets the call back up from Omaha.
LEMONs — Leading Every Manager On, Not Startable
Kolten Wong (St. Louis Cardinals) — He’s the actual starter at second for STL with Gyorko slated at third for now, but Wong’s production doesn’t really look like it will measure up to be a draftable asset. Steamer projects 111 GP and just 47 runs and 47 RBI in that stretch. An average of .264 is perfectly fine, but there has to be something that makes me feel OK with spotting my fantasy opponent potentially as much as .040 of an edge in BA. With Wong, 10 HRs doesn’t give me that warm, fuzzy feeling of reassurance and 9 steals are better than some lower-tier guys here might get but it’s not enough on aggregate for me to invest at the moment. He could come in handy during free agency if some guys struggle or get injured.
Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks) — Same logic applies to Owings as what we said about Wong, except the Arizona 2B is slated to get fewer starts and still rack up a relatively decent consolation 30 RBI and 30 runs. Owings has almost identical average projections to Wong, and again the HRs and SB that could come more plentifully if he had volume of playing time would reignite this conversation. For now, he’s not worth your fantasy dime, the way I see it.
Danny Espinosa (Los Angeles Angels) — High volume, low yield. If you’re playing in the bulk of your team’s games and you’re not in the 80s at RBI and runs, my red flags are up. He had a solid 25 HR year with nine steals last year, but the .209 average makes me want to not just detour but pull a drifting U-turn. Not sold on him in Anaheim just yet, and I’d rather do the research to find a guy with a 30-day BABIP explosion and plug him in temporarily than set my heart on Espinosa being worth the ache in fantasy. I’ll change my tune if he starts to do more than rake a hard-earned 20 HRs with an abysmal 80% contact in the zone compared to his 2B peers here, but I’m not holding my breath any time soon.