Last Updated: 2/16
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 in the comments!
Tier 1: Elite
No. 1: DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees)
A reunion with the Yankees made the most sense from day one, as LeMahieu has been a different hitter since donning the pinstripes. After winning a batting title and logging many good-but-not-great fantasy seasons in Colorado due to limited power numbers but a robust batting average, the disciplined and versatile infielder showed that with a short porch and a robust lineup around him, he can hit for both contact and power, putting up a .922 OPS in his 192 games as a Yankee.
One interesting thing to point out about LeMahieu is that for fantasy purposes, New York is a much better place for him to hit than Colorado. While it may sound blasphemous, LeMahieu’s expected home runs by ballpark (as tracked by Statcast) across 2019 and 2020 would have been just 12 in Coors Field. In Yankee Stadium, that number jumps to 40! Why? Because LeMahieu has learned how to take advantage of the short and low fences in the Bronx. In fact, none of the 81 batters with at least 10 home runs in 2020 had fewer expected home runs (according to Statcast) than LeMahieu, who came in at 6.8.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is not my attempt at suggesting the power is fake—in fact, far from it. Instead, this is my attempt at telling you that a return to New York was the ideal outcome for LeMahieu, as there are very few parks in baseball where he could translate his elite hit tool into 25 or more home runs, and New York is one of them.
I think many projection systems aren’t accounting for this quite enough, and would be very comfortable penciling in 25 or more home runs in 2021 to go along with a .300 or better batting average and tons of runs scored. Between that and his useful versatility, he should definitely be drafted among the first 15-20 hitters in your league.
The only formats where I might consider having a different second baseman at the top of this list are deep rotisserie formats (because of the value of stolen bases) and dynasty formats (because the next player on this list is more than eight years younger than LeMahieu). In 10- and 12-teamers and in virtually any points league setting, this is your second base king—albeit not by a huge margin.
No. 2: Ozzie Albies (Atlanta)
The 24-year-old had a bit of a sluggish start in 2020, and it’s easy to look at the final numbers be underwhelmed. His 24.6% strikeout rate seems like an alarming spike compared to past seasons, and the expected stats are all pretty bearish compared to the actual results.
His expected batting average and expected slugging each dropped by over 50 points compared to their 2019 totals, and it looked as though he took a big step backward in his results against breaking and offspeed pitches. When you see that kind of thing, it’s easy to throw up a ton of red flags.
What’s missing from that narrative, though, is that he admitted that he had been feeling wrist discomfort in Summer Camp and tried to play through it for 11 games before ultimately hitting the IL. After returning on September 9, he slashed a cool .338/.372/.581 with five home runs and three steals in just 18 games.
The strikeout rate also came down considerably during that stretch. Simply put, a healthy Albies is an elite fantasy second baseman who can hit more than 20 home runs and steal roughly 15 bases while hitting between .270 and .290.
The real question for his fantasy ceiling likely revolves around his place in the lineup. He and fellow middle infielder Dansby Swanson will likely be shuffled between the two-hole and five-hole early on in the season and see which version of the lineup brings more results.
Albies has superior stolen base prowess and makes more contact than Swanson, and I’m inclined to believe that the team will ultimately settle on having him bat second. If he instead bats fifth, he’ll probably trade a few runs scored and at-bats for RBI. That result wouldn’t really make me push him down in my rankings—it would just mean that his overall ceiling is ever so slightly capped.
I would not begrudge any person who ranked Albies ahead of LeMahieu—in fact, I almost did many times. From an overall value perspective, I think it’s really tight between the two of them. I also would expect them to be drafted within just a few picks of each other in your drafts.
Albies’ batting average is likely to be 20-30 points lower than LeMahieu’s, and his power ceiling is a handful of home runs lower. His one true advantage is stolen bases, and in leagues and formats where steals are at a premium, the debate between the two (and to some extent, the next guy on this list) is considerably more heated.
No. 3: Whit Merrifield (Kansas City Royals)
Another year, another strong and consistent performance by Merrifield. According to Razzball’s 12-team Yahoo player rater, Merrifield finished as the second-best second baseman in fantasy in 2020, topped only by the previously mentioned DJ LeMahieu—and only by $0.70 in created value.
Speaking of consistency, Do you know how many times, since the start of 2018, that Whit Merrifield has gone hitless in two or more consecutive games? Just 11. His longest hitless streak in that time? Four games.
In the rolling chart below (get used to these—I love them and you should too), you’ll see that his expected batting average over a 100-game sample almost never drops below league average. In fact, it rarely below .260!
In a nutshell, that’s the value of Whit Merrifield. He doesn’t have hitless weeks—heck, he almost never has a hitless weekend. In a category that is notoriously volatile, this guy is everything but. His power does leave a bit to be desired, as 18 home runs is probably on the top end for 2021 projections. Most that I’ve seen have him at 16.
Also, 100 runs probably isn’t in the cards unless he gets a new team or Royals get a new lineup behind him (and I highly doubt either happens in the foreseeable future). At the end of the day, you’re drafting Merrifield expecting 16 home runs, a.300 batting average, 25 stolen bases, and hopefully 90 or more runs scored.
Everything else he might chip in is icing on the cake. The reason that puts him in this the elite tier is that those number are about as safe of a bet as you’ll find. All we need Merrifield to be is himself, and these numbers are likely to come to pass.
Much like Albies, managers in deeper roto formats will probably appreciate Merrifield’s stolen bases a bit more than a 12-team manager will, and those in leagues that require five outfielders will also find his positional flexibility useful.
It may not be quite enough to jump over Albies or LeMahieu, but he’ll be within about 10 picks of those guys and 15 picks ahead of the next tier, so it feels right to have him as the cut-off for the top tier at the keystone.
Tier 2: Near-Elite
No. 4: Brandon Lowe (Tampa Bay Rays)
As I’ll mention a few times in this section, this tier is really tight. In fact, in the course of writing this, I changed the order, changed it back, then changed it again over a span of about twenty minutes.
Ultimately, Lowe was crowned the king of the near-elite hill for his power, the glimpses of improved plate discipline, and because I believe that the Rays will once again be a top-10 offense and batting second in a top-10 offense is a very good thing for fantasy baseball purposes.
So let’s get the elephant in the room taken care of right now—I know that most of Lowe’s value is driven by a single month where he was an unstoppable hitting machine. From the start of the season through August 21, he was baseball’s best hitter by wRC+ (209). Here are his ranks in some fantasy-relevant stats over that stretch:
|2nd||3rd||3rd (tie)||4th (tie)||12th||20th|
For the remainder of the season, he was much less prolific—though certainly not terrible by any means. It would be a mistake to assume that Lowe could sustain that kind of monster production for a full season; however, knowing he can do it for even a month is pretty exciting.
Equally exciting, and perhaps more sustainable than being one of baseball’s best hitters, was the improved walk rate. Lowe showed real growth by swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone, and as a result, improved his walk rate significantly.
Because Lowe loves to swing at pitches in the zone, he needs to be able to balance his approach by showing pitchers that he’ll take pitches outside of the zone. In particular, he all but refused to swing at fastballs outside of the zone, hacking at only 10.3% of such offerings.
As you’ll see in the rolling chart below, it’s helped set a new standard for his walk rates that should not only keep his strikeout rates in check, but also allow him to keep hitting near the top of that scrappy Rays lineup.
While all three second baseman in this tier have considerable upside, the changes in Lowe’s approach in 2020 combined with the incredible results we saw for half of the short season lead me to believe that he’s the most likely of the bunch to challenge the top group for a spot among the elites.
No. 5: Keston Hiura (Milwaukee Brewers)
Hiura, who has been hyped as a top prospect for some time, now has 143 major league games under his belt, and to his credit, the final line looks great: 32 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a .266/.338/.505 line. So why isn’t he at the top of this tier? Simply put—volatility. If you told me that one of the three hitters in this tier were to stay healthy but also finish outside the top 15 at the position, I’d be very sad, but also would assume you’re talking about Hiura.
For all of the power and speed in this young man’s game, he also has just about as much swing and miss. In the shortened 2020, he had a whiff rate above 41% against all three of Statcast’s pitch groups (fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches). While he continued to show impressive barrel rates, pitchers appear to have identified two key cold spots for Hiura:
In other words, all of the best outcomes for pitchers happen in the same places: the top third of the zone, and away. All of the worst outcomes for pitchers also happen in the same spots: the middle of the zone, and down and in.
While executing pitches is far from a trivial matter, if a lowly part-time analyst like me can identify these cold spots, it’s fair to conclude that everyone in the Majors has already identified this.
Hiura truly has 35 home run, 15 stolen base upside with a .250-.270 batting average. I do believe we’ll see that some day. To get there, though, Hiura will have to figure out how to make more consistent contact and patch up these holes in his swing.
There are many ways to get to the promised land, but all of them require growth. Hiura is in this tier because I believe he has the potential to make that growth. He’s not at the top of this tier because the floor could be distastefully low (something like the somewhat-rosterable version of Rougned Odor) if he takes a while to make those adjustments.
No. 6: Cavan Biggio (Toronto Blue Jays)
Let me tell you why I like Biggio so much. First, in the 159 games we’ve seen from Biggio so far, he’s hit 24 home runs, stolen 20 bases, and hit .240 with a strong .368 OBP. Second, he’s made considerable improvements to his strikeout and whiff rates, which is particularly important for Biggio because he rarely swings in the first place. Finally, he’s a guy with pop and speed who can get on base. Having all three of those qualities is a wonderful thing, and not something we should ever take for granted.
At one point this offseason, this tier was headlined by Biggio, but exactly one thing has caused me to lower him to the bottom (which, if nothing else, tells you how tight I perceive this tier to be)—his spot in the batting order.
Until the signing of Marcus Semien, Biggio was slated to bat in the two-hole, as he had most of the time during his time in the big leagues. That particular spot is absolutely ideal for Biggio’s skillset. Being near the top of a strong Blue Jays lineup meant plenty of opportunities to score runs, as evidenced by the 107 runs he’s already scored in his 159 games.
It also means a few more chances to steal bases for a player with his speed and walk rates. Lastly, and most importantly, it probably would have led to about 50 more plate appearances on the season (there are a plethora of great articles on the topic of plate appearances by lineup spot, so here’s one by Joe Douglas of Rotographs that I find very approachable).
Roster Resource currently projects Biggio to now bat sixth, so instead of the heart of the order behind him, he gets the bottom of it. On the plus side, it should give him more RBI than we’ve seen from him thus far; however, his approach isn’t terribly well-suited to driving in runners as he doesn’t routinely make great contact and much of his on-base ability is driven by walks. It doesn’t mean he can’t still produce, but it does lower his ceiling just enough to put him at the bottom of this tier instead of the top.
If you play in a league that focuses on OBP instead of batting average, go ahead and put Biggio at the top of this tier if you wish. His highs walk rates keep his ratios in excellent shape.
Tier 3: Solid
No. 7: Jose Altuve (Houston Astros)
The first thing I have to say about Altuve is actually about the Astros in general—they had a pretty miserable 2020. A few players did stand out (like Kyle Tucker), but overall the offense limped its way into the playoffs before finally putting some things together.
Altuve, in particular, put a lot of things together in the playoffs. After hitting just five home runs in 210 plate appearances during the regular season (which included a brief stint on the IL after spraining his knee in September), he hit five more in just 13 games during the playoffs. In fact, just about every issue you can point to in Altuve’s 2020 was rectified, if only briefly, during the Astros’ playoff run.
If I knew Altuve was going to play a full season and be mostly healthy, I’d probably be talking myself into having Altuve in the near-elite tier. Unfortunately, it’s been three straight seasons of missed time. Granted, Altuve’s 2019 had nearly a full season of production packed into 124 games (31 home runs, six steals, and a .298 average), the fact of the matter is that Altuve will turn 31 this season and injuries have slowly started to creep into his narrative. Additionally, the shadow of the Astros’ trash can controversy hangs over both Altuve’s legacy and his 2021 projections.
Ultimately, Altuve finds himself at seventh in these rankings because his floor is probably something like 15 home runs, 90 or more runs scored, a handful of stolen bases, and a good batting average. That’s cool and all, but not exactly eye-popping.
The Astros lineup, while still potentially potent, is not quite as terrifying as it has been in recent years, and it relies heavily on some rebounds and health of guys like Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez. Between health and actual production concerns, it’s hard to rank Altuve much higher than this.
That said, I do still consider him a nice target at his current ADP due to the significant upside and reasonable floor. If he plays at least 80% of the season, it’s hard to picture him finishing outside of this tier.
No. 8: Ketel Marte (Arizona Diamondbacks)
I was famously slow to warm up to Ketel Marte in his breakout 2019 campaign. I was convinced that he was simply on a hot streak and that eventually he’d turn back into the not-that-strong, not-that-fast guy we had seen from 2016-2018.
Of course, I was very wrong, as Marte hit 32 bombs, stole 10 bags, and was basically a non-stop producer. 2020, unfortunately, showed us a Marte that was much more like the unexciting guy we saw earlier in his career.
While his .287 batting average was on-par with expectations, the two home runs, one lonely steal, and .409 slugging were a huge disappointment and his rolling expected wOBA (below) doesn’t paint the prettiest picture.
On the bright side, there was nothing that appeared illegitimate about what Marte did in 2019 or any reason to suggest that he’s turned back into a pumpkin and will never change back. We know he can find a way to hit 30 home runs and steal up to 10 bases while hitting around .300—we’ve seen it rather recently. That upside keeps him ranked here, though I am not blind to the risk that 2019 was more the exception than the rule.
No. 9: Max Muncy (Los Angeles Dodgers)
He’ll hit 30 home runs. He’ll walk 15% of the time. He’ll drive at least 90 runners and score at least 90 times. I feel good about all of that, and let’s be clear—that is a lot to feel good about. Strong production in three categories is a big deal.
The only thing that makes me feel at all uneasy was that he seemed to struggle with was keeping the ball off the ground. In what we saw in 2020, pitchers attacked him with fewer fastballs than ever before, which is meaningful as the vast majority of Muncy’s damage has been from smashing fastballs.
Pitchers, and in particular, right-handed pitchers, focused on locating breaking and offspeed pitches down beneath the zone and locating fastballs up and on the outer half of the plate.
While Muncy still managed to take walks and hit home runs, it crushed his batting average. While he was a bit unlucky on fastballs, both traditional and Statcast metrics indicate that the struggles against non-fastballs were very real.
This is not to suggest that Muncy is doomed forever—pitchers change how they approach hitters all the time, and hitters have always needed to adjust accordingly. I firmly believe the power and counting numbers will remain strong, but until Muncy finds a way to avoid weak contact on those pitches beneath the zone, his batting average floor and propensity for extended slumps could be rough.
Just to end this on a positive note—OBP players should be wholly unconcerned with his batting average woes, as even after hitting below .200 in 2020, he kept his OBP north of .330.
His 15% walk rate keeps his floor in those leagues considerably higher, and if these rankings were geared towards that format, Muncy would probably lead off this tier (or possibly even crack the tier above).
No. 10: Jeff McNeil (New York Mets)
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.
No. 11: Mike Moustakas (Cincinnati Reds)
There’s no way that the Reds can possibly have the worst batting average in the league again, right? As a team, they hit a paltry .212 and were also in the bottom-five in runs scored and RBI. Their collective struggles can be seen in the batting lines for most of their lineup, and Moustakas is no exception.
Most projection systems still have a lot of faith in his power, penciling in around 35 home runs for 2021. I am totally comfortable with that kind of projection, though, like Muncy, his batting average will hold him back in terms of overall fantasy value.
One thing that shouldn’t worry you, however, is the perceived uptick in strikeouts. He had a 22.1% strikeout rate, a very reasonable total, though it was also six points higher than his career 16% rate.
With Moose entering his age-32 season and having seen more breaking balls than ever before, it seems plausible to suggest that age may be catching up with his bat and that higher strikeout totals are ahead. I want to challenge that potential narrative before it even happens by using what you’ve likely already realized is my favorite narrative tool—the rolling chart:
As you can see, Moose did strike out more often early in the season, but as time went on he corrected the issue to the point where there was really no issue at all. I am quite confident that if 2020 had continued, this “career-high strikeout rate” would have continued to be pulled closer and closer to his career norm, and we’d have no talking point at all in that regard.
While part of me occasionally toys with the idea of sliding Moose up higher on this list, his sub-par batting average and slightly lower counting stat ceiling playing for a streaky Reds team keeps him at the bottom of a very competitive tier.
It’s worth noting that unlike Muncy (and many other power hitters), Moose doesn’t have a long track record of high walk rates and doesn’t really get a boost in OBP formats. If there’s a reason to slide him up your board, it’s that you’re in the middle rounds of your draft and need power that guys like McNeil or Marte can’t provide (and Muncy is no longer available).
Tier 4: Back-End Starters
No. 12: Dylan Moore (Seattle Mariners)
This feels like a sharp drop-off, and that’s largely because it kind of is.
In a 10- or 12-team league, I’d really rather be set up with one of the guys in the first three tiers; 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 5: Deep League Options
No. 13: Gavin Lux (Los Angeles Dodgers)
I know, I know—he doesn’t have a starting job yet, but remember that these are rankings geared towards 10- and 12-team leagues that don’t require a middle infield spot in the starting lineup.
There are few players with a projection of “perennial all-star” at this stage of most drafts, and Lux is one of them. I find it hard to believe that the young infielder won’t force his way onto the Dodger’s lineup card at some point, and if he grabs on, there’s a very real chance he doesn’t let go.
Would it really be that shocking if Lux hit 25 home runs, stole 15 bases, and hit .270 if he won a starting job early on? He was one of baseball’s top prospects going into 2020, and while his first 42 major league games haven’t been great, they haven’t been so bad that we need to jump off the hype train quite yet.
Despite the name of this tier, though, deep-league managers probably have to push Lux down their rankings a bit, as the playing time uncertainty is a very real concern; however, shallow league players don’t have to worry about this much as they can just cut and replace Lux as needed, provided that they were able to grab one of the gups in the first three tiers.
With many players in this tier and the next likely to be drafted late or to go undrafted in shallow formats, you can scoop up Lux late (probably after the rest of these guys in the tier have been drafted) and feel awesome about it. If it works out, great! If not, replacement value is easily scooped up.
No. 14: Tommy Edman (St. Louis Cardinals)
I am admittedly unsure of what to make of Edman. On one hand, his 147 major league games as a whole are quite impressive—88 runs scored, 16 home runs, 17 steals, and a .283/.337/.449 line. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a case of balanced production.
After exploding onto the scene as an almost entirely unheralded prospect, Edman has been mostly average except for a few bursts at the start and end of his 2019 campaign and a little bit at the start of 2020.
While I suppose you could talk yourself into a 20 home run, 20 stolen base season by squinting a little and focusing on 2019, you can just as easily see the downside of a 15 home run, six stolen base season with a mediocre batting average.
The latter is not useful in a shallow league, I’m afraid, and while his ceiling is a decent piece to a 2021 puzzle, I’d be looking for more upside in a 10- or 12-team league.
On the other hand, deep-league players will find value in his versatility that makes chasing the upside a bit more tantalizing. Edman is a classic example of a player whose value changes drastically when more teams and roster positions are added and his positional eligibility and stolen bases really shine.
No. 15: Nick Madrigal (Chicago White Sox)
Could he hit .300? Yes. Could he steal 20 bases? Sure, why not. Will he do anything else for fantasy purposes? Probably not.
While points leaguers and deep leaguers will like that he can provide difficult-to-find stats late in the draft and will undoubtedly make a lot of contact, his upside and relevance in a 10- or 12-team league remains to be seen.
To really get the value we’d need to start considering him as a solid starter in a shallow league, we’d need him to overtake Tim Anderson as the leadoff hitter on the South Side, and that’s a mighty tall order for a young player with very limited power.
A fairly standard projection of five home runs, 15 steals, and a batting average near .300 is pretty darn good for a rookie, but when it comes with low counting stats and very little upside for more, it’s hard to get too excited in a standard 10- or 12-teamer.
Notably, Madrigal did have shoulder surgery in the offseason and needed some considerable recovery time. With the date of Opening Day still very much in the air, there’s a decent chance that Madrigal is able to get back on the field before we even notice that he was gone. That said, if there are any setbacks, we’ll drop down this list accordingly.
No. 16: Andrés Giménez (Cleveland)
The signing of Cesar Hernandez sort of mucks things up for Giménez, who was previously slated to bat at the top of the order.
On one hand, Giménez has just enough speed and contact ability to be dangerous and could pop double-digit home runs with 25 steals and acceptable ratios. On the other hand, all of that comes down a bit if he’s batting in the bottom third of the lineup for a team that is not nearly as formidable offensively as they were in years past.
There’s also a non-zero chance that Giménez is forced to platoon at times with Amed Rosario when facing tougher left-handed pitching. The path to reaching his ceiling grows foggier every day, and when the upside was already a fringe starter in standard leagues, it becomes tough to make Giménez a draft-day target.
Of course, as with most speedsters, deep-league managers will want to slide Giménez up their boards if they are still looking for steals later on in the draft, and his eligibility at second, shortstop, and third provides wide infield coverage.
No. 17: Nick Solak (Texas Rangers)
I really do see a path to winning the second base job in Texas and hitting his way into a .265 batting average with 20 home runs, 10 stolen bases, and about 75 runs and 75 RBI. That’s a passable fantasy starter at second base, albeit a back-end one. His outfield eligibility is also potentially useful as a fill-in starter or, of course, in deeper leagues.
Solak is probably considerably more attractive in leagues that require both a middle infielder and five outfielders, as he can serve both purposes and should get reliable playing time despite his below-average defensive skills.
While Texas is no longer the hitter’s paradise it was, he’ll play enough to rack up some stats no matter what. His only real path to relevance in 10- and 12-teamers will be hot streaks and injury fill-ins, but it’s at least a name worth tracking.
Tier 6: Even Deeper League Options
No. 18: Tommy La Stella (San Francisco Giants)
I don’t want it to seem like I dislike La Stella, because that would be inaccurate. I’m a big fan after being down on him during his initial breakout and love the versatility and contact ability. That said, the 16 home runs in 80 games back in 2019 still seem very much like an anomaly compared to the rest of his career, and it’s tough to project more than 16 home runs in 2021.
La Stella could find himself playing a bit less than every day with guys like Wilmer Flores and Evan Longoria also demanding at least a couple of at-bats each week and not quite enough spots to play them all.
An added DH helps a little, but with no speed and limited power, his shallow league relevance is limited to hoping he can flash the kind of power he showed in 2019. I’m not saying he can’t do that, I’m just saying you don’t need to draft him in 10- and 12-teamers unless it’s a points league, as he almost never strikes out and should hit high in the order.
No. 19: Chris Taylor (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The Dodgers just love the flexibility Chris Taylor brings to their team, and while it has played well for real baseball, the results have been spotty for fantasy purposes. After a very strong 2017 season, it’s been hard for fantasy managers to find room on their rosters for Taylor, as he has just low enough power, contact, and speed upside to usually find yourself looking elsewhere on the waiver wire.
Projection systems all have Taylor playing a full-time role for the Dodgers as he did in 2020, but it doesn’t take much to see that role evaporate into a first-off-the-bench scenario, especially with Lux right on his heels for the second base job.
Even a DH doesn’t necessarily clear up the air, as the Dodgers have plenty of other hitters who they’d probably like to slide in, especially against right-handed pitching. Between the capped upside and the fact he’s batting ninth, Taylor is mostly restricted to deep leagues where his versatility is more of an asset.
No. 20: Jake Cronenworth (San Diego Padres)
Statcast loved his game in 2020, and it’s hard to forget how amazing he was when he debuted for the Padres. What might have been lost in the short season, though, was that he was not consistently as awesome as you might have thought for those 54 games he played in the regular season:
Now I don’t want you to think that I’m saying Cronenworth is a bad player—he seemed to adjust over time as pitchers gave him new looks, and seeing rookies rebound after they hit a bit of a valley is a very good sign.
The real issue for Cronenworth will be finding plate appearances. There are no fewer than four players on the Padres projected opening day roster who can play second base, and three of them are actually on this list (sorry, Jorge Mateo).
I can’t exactly envision a clear path to 120 games, and because of that, it’s also tough to see more than 10 home runs or steals. If you guaranteed me a full season of plate appearances, Cronenworth likely finds himself in the fourth or fifth tier.
You can’t do that, though, so I guess this is where we have to land for now.
No. 21: Kim Ha-seong (San Diego Padres)
Fun Fact—in Korea, you would refer to someone by their surname first, then their personal name (or, in Western terms, their last name first and their first name last). My grandfather, for example, was known as Chu Myung-Il in Korea, but it was flipped to Myung-Il Chu when he came to the US. The hyphenated name is a continuation of the personal name, not a middle name.
Much like with his teammate Cronenworth, this ranking changes considerably if you tell me he’s going to play 140 games. In that scenario, I could see 15 home runs, 15 steals, and meaningful runs scored and RBI totals due to the potency of the Padres lineup.
While it can be difficult to project players coming from the soft-tossing, contact-oriented KBO, the 25-year-old Kim should have enough speed, power, and hitting ability to be a solid major leaguer once he gets the chance to play every day.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear 2021 will provide that opportunity. He should have some nice value in dynasty formats, though, and is a popular pick early in first-year player drafts.
No. 22: Jonathan Villar (New York Mets)
We all promised we wouldn’t be fooled again, and then many of us were anyway. Villar struggled to hit for any kind of power in 2020, though his 16 stolen bases were second in all of baseball. Much of Villar’s value is going to be tied to how much he actually ends up playing. Villar is fast, but he’s far from a good defender so he’ll need to either get hot (which he certainly can do) or wait for a playe rto be ineefective or inactive to get in.
Still, his 20 home run and 40 stolen base upside is incredibly hard to pass up. Of course, we know his floor is much lower than that, and landing with the Mets makes his odds of reaching that potential a bit longer than they may have been elsewhere.
No. 23: David Fletcher (Los Angeles Angels)
I love Fletcher, and that’s why he’s so high up in these rankings. Sure, he probably won’t get 10 home runs or 10 steals, but he’ll hit close to .300 and it’s not hard to envision 90 or more runs scored when he’s leading off for a top-heavy offense.
In virtually all formats, you should be able to slot Fletcher in at second, shortstop, or third base, and he’ll provide elite batting average and strong runs scored, although not a whole lot else. He’ll be rostered at some point in your 12-team leagues because of injuries or because he’s a bit hot, and points league players will probably even draft him as their last hitter due to how often he puts the ball in play.
His positional versatility is quite an asset when you have tight benches. You probably don’t want him as your starter for a full season, though, unless you’re in a 15-team format that uses middle and corner infield spots.
No. 24: Luis Arraez (Minnesota Twins)
So yeah, this is a guy with four home runs in 124 career games, but there’s good replacement value here for shallow leaguers and elite batting average for those in deeper leagues.
While Arraez was an utter disappointment for the first half of 2020, it’s worth mentioning that he injured his knee in Summer Camp and eventually needed to take some time off to rectify the situation and rectify it he did. With healthy legs, Arraez was able to tap back into that line drive power he showed off so much in 2019. Cue the rolling chart!
Arraez is unlikely to crack into double-digit home runs or stolen bases, and the addition of Andrelton Simmons does complicate playing time; however, his versatility and elite contact ability will make it hard for the Twins to keep him on the bench more than once or twice a week, and should he qualify, he could very well compete for a batting title. Points leaguers should take serious notice late in their drafts.
No. 25: Garrett Hampson (Colorado Rockies)
There’s only one question you need to ask yourself with Hampson—are you ready to get hurt again? On one hand, we’ve believed that he has 15 home run, 25 stolen base upside thanks to his speed and power. On the other hand, he sort of can’t hit.
With no obvious starting position, a team that seems wholly unwilling to play their young players, and a whole lot of unseized opportunity, I’m likely to pass on Hampson in drafts. If you want to toss him on your watch list, I say go for it. Just don’t get your hopes too high unless he starts to show improved discipline at the plate and, more importantly, gets a chance to play more than three or four times a week.
Weirder things than Hampson finally breaking out have happened, presumably.
Tier 7: Dart Throws and Bench Guys
No. 26: Starlin Castro (Washington Nationals)
There will be a lot of deep leaguers out there who like Castro. For what it’s worth, he’ll likely bat fifth for the Nationals, and he could hit a respectable 18-20 home runs with a .270 batting average. I doubt there’s more power than that in his bat, though, and he doesn’t run.
Average counting stats, average power, and a low walk rate means he’s a perfectly playable back-end middle infielder in 15-team formats and NL-only leagues (and is a safer bet than some of the guys at the back of the previous tier), but probably has no business on a 10- or 12-team roster unless he’s on a little hot streak and you don’t have any other options.
No. 27: Jean Segura (Philadelphia Phillies)
“How can you rank Segura this low?! My auction calculator has him as a top-10 second baseman!” Yes, I’ll bet it does—but do you know why? Volume. Sweet, sweet volume.
Auction calculators (and tools like them) love that he’s going to get 600 or more plate appearances and put in a .280 batting average. In general, these tools will almost always over value playing time for shallow leagues and head-to-head leagues. Take away the batting average, and we’re left with a player who has exactly one season with more than 12 home runs and who is unlikely to steal more than 15 bases.
Now in deep leagues, Segura flies up the board. That playing time matters a lot, as the waiver wire may not even have an option available at second base who plays every day that doesn’t hurt you in two or more categories. In a shallow league, though, there will be guys like Segura available for basically the entire season, and with his upside being a bit capped by his lack of power and slowing speed, he’s just not terribly interesting.
No. 28: Jurickson Profar (San Diego Padres)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before for a Padres middle infielder: “If you told me he’d play a full-time role, I’d be moving him up this list.”
Profar returned to San Diego on a nice little three-year deal, and while he was a full-time player for them in 2020, it’s hard to see more than 100 games or so in 2021. It’s a shame, too, because 2020 was probably the best showing of his career and had me hoping he could be more than the 20 home run, 10 stolen base guy with a mediocre average we saw from in 2018 and 2019.
No. 29: Kolten Wong (Milwaukee Brewers)
This is not at all where I expected Wong to end up, but it might be the perfect landing spot for the scrappy second baseman. Wong should be able to hit at or near the top of a fairly potent lineup for a team that isn’t afraid to run, and his strong infield defense should keep him in the lineup virtually every day, especially with Keston Hirua likely to move to first base.
With very little competition for at-bats from any of his teammates and a relatively friendly hitting environment, double-digit home runs and steals should be an attainable goal.
While the 24 steals he picked up in 2019 are likely an anomaly, he should have enough appeal in deeper roto and points leagues to be worth a start in the middle infield slot in a fantasy lineup.
His upside is just a bit low to warrant drafting him in a 10- or 12-teamer, but he’s worth kicking the tires on during the season if he’s hot and you’ve got a hole in your lineup that could be filled by a replacement-level second baseman.
No. 30: Jon Berti (Miami Marlins)
In 116 career major league games, he has 8 home runs, 75 runs scored, 27 steals, and a .269 batting average. If we pulled that out into a 150 game average, that’s 10 home runs, 97 runs scored, and 35 steals. That’s a heckin’ good player!
Of course, turning 116 games over three seasons into 150 games in a single season requires a lot of squinting and dreaming for a guy with a lot of internal competition for his second base job, not to mention the fact that batting eighth for the Marlins is not known to be a fantasy-friendly proposition. The upside here is probably a player similar to Andres Giménez, if that’s a helpful comparison.
Ryan McMahon (Colorado Rockies)
He’ll play, he’ll hit 25 home runs or so, and that’s all we really can say about him. He’ll be streamable in DFS or extremely deep daily leagues when facing favorable matchups in Coors (he’s considerably better against lefties than righties, though still quite average), and that’s about it.
Cesar Hernandez (Cleveland)
I am not sure why Cleveland picked him up, but I am sure that fantasy managers in most mixed leagues should not. I guess if you’re in an AL-only league or a league with more than 20 teams, the fact that he plays and bats at the top of the order has value even if he does very little with it.
Wilmer Flores (San Francisco Giants)
You’d assume there’d be more hype for a guy who slugged .515 with 12 home runs over 55 games, but you’d be pretty wrong. As of this moment, Flores is on the outside of the starting lineup looking in thanks to the addition of La Stella and the everlasting presence of Brandon Belt. With those two lefties blocking the path and teammates Austin Slater and Evan Longoria also demanding a few plate appearances each week, it will be hard for Flores to be fantasy-relevant.
Mauricio Dubón (San Francisco Giants)
He can play a lot of positions and has 15 home run, 15 stolen base upside if you squint hard enough. Unfortunately, I doubt he plays more than 100 games or so, which puts him well off the 10- and 12-team radar.
Joey Wendle (Tampa Bay Rays)
Call me if he ever gets a full-time job, as he might have enough batting average and speed to be bench-worthy in a 15-team league.
Jonathan Schoop (Detroit Tigers)
There aren’t a lot of guys to steal time from Schoop, so he could accumulate his way to 20-25 home runs and a .260 batting average in Detroit. The counting stats won’t be great, though, and the upside is severely capped. This is a deep league play.
Hanser Alberto (Free Agent)
Being a non-roster invitee for the Royals isn’t quite what anyone was hoping for. His batting average might help him make the squad, but I think the Royals really want to see what they have in Nicky Lopez, which means Alberto would be relegated to a bench role, or at best, the short side of a platoon.
Photos by Mark LoMoglio & Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)