Last Updated: 3/26
A couple of things to note before reading:
- These rankings are for 10- and 12-team head-to-head category leagues with standard scoring and a starting lineup consisting of 1 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS, 3 OF, 2 UTIL, and a shallow bench, and were created by me with input from Nick Pollack.
- Within the write-ups, I will call out individual players who would see value boosts or drops in alternative formats, such as rotisserie leagues, deeper leagues, or points leagues.
- Projected stat totals assume that teams each play at least 145 games unless specifically stated otherwise.
- I am more than happy to answer your questions, requests, and counter-points on Twitter!
- Dominic Smith dropped from Tier 3 to Tier 5.
- Tier breaks were slightly adjusted.
- Joey Gallo moved up within Tier 6.
- Injury updates.
Tier 3: Solid (continued)
Reaching double-digit home runs and stolen bases in just 59 games is no small feat, but what’s what Grisham did in 2020. If you stretch that out over a full season (which I admit is not a great way to project future performance, but it can be helpful for context), that’d be something like a 26 home run, 26 stolen base season.
While Grisham is unlikely to wow anyone with his batting average, he should be able to keep it in a range that won’t drag you down, and his double-digit walk rates are a boon for OBP players.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Grisham looks like he’ll be locked into the top of the Padres lineup, which is one of the premier run-scoring environments heading into 2021. The depth of that lineup should help Grisham put up solid counting stats to pair with that power and speed and be an exciting player to watch this coming season.
3/26 Update: Hamstring issues have slowed his Spring Training, but he appears on track for Opening Day.
Few players electrified us the way Arozarena did in 2020. In 42 games between the regular season and playoffs, he hit 17 home runs with four steals and a .333 batting average. Those 17 home runs are as many as Jose Ramirez, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Mike Trout hit in 60 games during the regular season, and one more than guys like Mookie Betts and Nelson Cruz—and he had a better batting average than all of them by at least 29 points. He was unbelievably good.
So what’s next for Arozarena? We know he has the wheels and pop to hit 25 home runs with 20 steals, but we’ve seen rookie power outbursts fizzle away as pitchers make adjustments to their approach.
One of the reasons I’m still optimistic about Arozarena is that he continued to improve his strikeout rate and walk rate during the playoffs, even while facing the best pitchers in the biggest situations. He also performed well against all three major pitch types in 2020, and that’s a fantastic sign for any ballplayer, but especially rookies.
Arozarena’s speed, power, and effort can certainly shine through in 2021, all you really have to ask yourself is whether you believe in him.
Last I checked, Blackmon is still hitting in a prime spot in the Rockies lineup and still gets to play half his games in Coors. While he isn’t a speed threat at this stage of his career, and while his power seems to come and go at times, he’s still more than capable of hitting 25 home runs and batting .300, and there just aren’t that many players who can do that in the modern game.
If you believe 2020 was just a bit of a down year for him and that he can return to his 2019 form (and there’s nothing I see that suggests he can’t do this), then he’s a bargain at this spot. If you believe his 34 years on this blue rock are finally slowing him down, then he’s still a decent floor option if you took a riskier option at the top of the draft.
Tier 4: Upper-Middle Class
Could Teoscar hit 35 home runs, steal 10 bases, and drive in 100 runners? Yes, that is a distinct possibility.
Could Teoscar struggle with strikeouts and share his role with Randal Grichuk, leading to more like 20-25 home runs and only a handful of steals with a .230 batting average? Yes, that is also a very distinct possibility.
While his 2020 certainly gives the impression that the former is more likely than the latter, the latter is more or less what we got in 2018 and 2019, and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to get over that quite yet. Free-swinging players like Hernández are prone to running hot and cold, and with the depth of the Blue Jays roster, that will either mean great things are to come, or that some rough waters are ahead.
No. 25: Eddie Rosario (Cleveland)
Steady Eddie Rosario has been just that since becoming a starter for the Twins back in 2017, and I have no reason to believe he can’t do that again in Cleveland for 2021. I suppose I could mention that he did walk a bit more in 2020 than he had in years past, but ultimately, I think Rosario is a guy who you can more or less trust the projections on.
Something north of 25 home runs and 170 combined runs and RBI with a decent batting average is what you’ve gotten in the past, and is what I imagine you’ll get in the future. There isn’t much else to say about Rosario, and that’s just fine.
The only thing that holds me back on Gurriel Jr. is that we haven’t seen it for more than 84 games at the major league level. The quality of contact is strong, he hits in the middle of a solid lineup, and shouldn’t have any issues with finding playing time.
All he needs to do is stay healthy and he could really break out in 2021. Something between 25 and 30 home runs with around seven or eight steals and a .270 batting average sounds about right to me, but you’ll need to knock him down a few pegs in OBP leagues—he much prefers swinging and making contact to taking a walk.
I fell for this once after his great debut in 2017 when he hit 24 home runs and stole eight bases, and it looks like I’m ready to fall for him again in 2020 after seeing him hit 12 home runs with a .258/.361/.505 line. Like a lot of guys in this tier, a home run total between 25-30 and just under 10 steals is what I’d be looking to get out of Happ, and like his peers, he also has a bit of a short track record.
The Cubs lineup isn’t what it used to be, but batting first will give him plenty of opportunities to get on base, swipe bags, and be a solid contributor to fantasy teams.
Being able to hit .310, steal close to 10 bases, and reach 20 home runs in a season is quite respectable, and batting second in a suddenly formidable Mets lineup makes it all the sweeter.
While his batting average is elite, he has historically not turned many heads with his counting stats. While I definitely expect a boost in those numbers with a stronger lineup around him, I highly doubt we see McNeil clear 25 home runs or 90 RBI.
That said, he puts a ton of balls in play and can play multiple positions in both real life and fantasy, and that versatility makes him an attractive fantasy option. The addition of Jonathan Villar could potentially eat into his at bats as a second baseman, but McNeil will probably still be in the lineup somewhere as a third baseman or corner outfielder or wherever else the Mets feel like putting him.
On that note, points leaguers should consider sliding McNeil up their board as well due to his fantastic plate discipline and a spot near the top of the batting order. Those in OBP formats should also slide him up a bit, as his OBP of .384 since the start of 2019 is 14th in all of baseball.
If you’ve taken a couple of risks early on in your draft and need a versatile high-floor player, McNeil is your guy. If you are looking for upside because you have a safe foundation to start, you might instead wait for a few rounds and target some of the players in the next tier or two.
A return to Houston probably means good things for Brantley, as he’ll be in the middle of a familiar and potent lineup. Brantley does seem to have shaken his injury-prone label over the last three seasons, and assuming he keeps playing 140 games a year, he should be a lock for around 20 home runs and a .300 batting average with strong RBI totals, albeit likely under 100.
He doesn’t have the flashy speed and power numbers of his peers in the tier, but his floor may be the highest.
In 161 career MLB games, he has 21 home runs, 103 runs scored, 90 RBI, and a .281/.357/.535 batting line. He also took big steps forward in 2020 by walking 13.3% of the time while maintaining a strikeout rate below 25%.
The 30-year-old lefty should continue to be a staple in the cleanup spot for San Francisco, and thanks to his power and his incredibly balanced splits (154 wRC+ against lefties, 126 wRC+ against righties), he should be a dependable and consistent option for fantasy managers.
Tier 5: Middle Class
If healthy, Pham should bat fifth for the Friars and put up a 20 home run, 20 stolen base season with a .270 batting average. The only real issue for Pham is injury. He’s coming off of an injured wrist, and has never played more than 145 games in a single season. He was only able to appear in 31 games in 2020, and while he was able to hit some home runs and swipe some bags, his ratios never got going and he was a frustrating player to roster.
If you think Pham can play in 130-140 games, he’s an easy pick at this point in the rankings. If you think he’s more of a 120 game guy, then his peak value is probably limited to 10- and 12-team formats where he can be easily replaced for periods of time.
Injuries stole most of his 2020, but it’s hard to forget his 33 home run, 12 stolen base season with a .291 batting average in 2019. There isn’t a ton of story to tell on Meadows that wasn’t already hashed out coming into 2020. I personally give Meadows a pass for his weak 2020 as he hit the IL twice during the short season and never really got going.
If you managed to grab a few safe outfielders earlier in your draft and want to try and pick up some upside, Meadows is an excellent choice due to his power and double-digit stolen base ability.
In his last 132 games, Smith has 21 home runs, 31 doubles, a .299 batting average, and a .937 OPS. That’s awfully good, though if you are wondering why I didn’t provide the counting stats, it’s because they weren’t very exciting. Turns out, all the Mets had to do was actually let Smith play and they could find themselves a useful player!
Of course, the Mets are under new management, and through free agency, they’ve managed to make their team more offensively intimidating without creating a log jam at the corners. A full season of Smith has considerable upside, especially coming off a season where he was in the top 10% of the league in most quality of contact metrics on Statcast and where he hit at least .264 and slugged at least .593 on all three major categories of pitch types (fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches).
While Smith doesn’t bat third or fourth like the rest of the guys ahead of him, the Mets lineup is deep enough on paper to accommodate a solid fantasy starter batting sixth, and he probably has the upside for 25-28 home runs and 160-170 combined runs and RBI. Most projections I’ve seen aren’t terribly bullish on his batting average, but there’s a chance he can prove them wrong and hits closer to .280 than .260.
The only real threat is whether the Mets let him stay in the game or if they use a defensive replacement (such as Kevin Pillar).
If you’re looking for even more insight on Smith, check out Chad Young’s article on Smith’s breakout year.
Soler is a big time power bat who struggled in 2020. Whether or not you are willing to reinvest is your business, but before you make your decision, please check out Kevin O’Brien’s piece on the matter and see why he thinks Soler is possibly due for a rebound in 2021.
If you are, you’re dreaming about another run at 40-50 home runs and accepting that it may be more likely that he settles in the 30-35 range with less-than-stellar counting stats and ratios.
The quality of contact was poor in 2020, and quite frankly, there are very few positives to take away from his weak season apart from an elevated walk rate. That said, he’s yet another member of this tier with 25 home run, 15 stolen base upside, which he flashed as recently as 2019. It’s all about health and consistency for Laureano, and while I think he’s riskier than some of the guys ahead of him, I still think there’s a good player in there waiting to bust back out.
If you need a little more analysis to form your opinion, or happen to play in a dynasty or keeper league, I also recommend you check out Vincent Ginardi’s writeup of Laureano from earlier this offseason.
3/26 Update: He’s had some oblique issues, but looks fine for Opening Day.
Batting average guys like Verdugo can be hard to get excited about as he’s unlikely to hit 20 home runs or steal 10 bases. For fantasy purposes, he’s more or less a younger version of Michael Brantley with a shorter track record and probably fewer counting stats. That’s not a bad player by any means, just not one that will get you giddy on draft day.
As with a lot of contact-oriented players, Verdugo also gets a boost in points leagues due to how often he puts the ball in play. In a points league, making contact is generally better than just taking walks, so guys like Verdugo get a boost.
The AL Rookie of the Year took a lot more walks than I thought he would on his way to a .364 OBP that paired nicely with his 11 home runs and five steals. His 29.3% strikeout rate was a pleasant surprise after a really painful 38.7% rate in his 18 games in 2019.
Strikeouts have plagued Lewis throughout his entire pro career, and I don’t expect it to go away any time soon. Even if he keeps most of his walk rate gains, it’s hard to imagine a batting average above .250 or so. He can probably hit 25 home runs and steal some bases (though his 50% success rate will have to get better to be given more opportunities), though, and that’s enough to be relevant as a back-end outfielder in shallow leagues with enough upside to make it into this tier.
In a 10- or 12-team league, I’d really rather be set up with one of the guys in the first three tiers [at second base]; however, we can’t always get what we want and in the event you miss out on those relatively sure things, it’s likely time to pivot to an upside play.
Cue Dylan Moore, who had an impressive breakout in 2020 with eight home runs, 12 stolen bases, and posted quality of contact metrics that largely supported the breakout. It’s not often that we see a 27-year-old player breakout these days, but the now 28-year-old Moore absolutely did just that in 2020, and has 25 home run, 25 stolen base upside heading into 2021.
Of course, there’s significant risk in his aggressive approach, and there’s a very real chance he pairs that power and speed with a .220 batting average, which can be difficult to roster in some formats. Also, he has a limited track record at the major league level, so painful adjustment periods could be on the horizon.
All that aside, in a 10- or 12-team league where adequate replacements are readily available on the waiver wire at virtually all times, Moore’s upside is too much to ignore. Those in deeper formats, points leagues, or OBP leagues might push Moore down a bit, though (or better yet, make sure you draft one of the guys in the first three tiers).
Tier 6: Back-End Starters
I’m well aware of Gallo’s ceiling, but his floor continues to frighten me away from him in most drafts. That said, if you want some brighter news, check out Chad Young’s piece from December that is much more rosy in its outlook.
There could certainly be another run at 40 home runs in his bat, and we’ve even seen passable batting averages in short spurts to go with his high walk rates. Gallo is probably best deployed on a team with a solid floor already established that has some appetite for a risk/reward play.
I no longer have any idea how to project Wil Myers. After being a fantasy stud in 2016 and 2017, he’s been all over the map in terms of production.
Here’s what I do know—he’s going to bat in the bottom-third of the lineup, he stole at least 13 bases a year between 2016 and 2019, even when he only appeared in 83 games back in 2018, and that he seemed to correct his strikeout problem that popped up in 2019.
The range of outcomes is huge for Myers, with projections ranging from 20-22 home runs and barely double-digit steals to 30 home runs and almost 20 steals, with the only constant being a sub-.250 batting average.If you’re comfortable with that kind of ambiguity, then you’ll probably love being able to pick up Myers later on in drafts.
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