Last Updated: 3/7
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 Scott Chu with input from Nick Pollack.
- These rankings do not contemplate keeper or dynasty rules, nor do they consider whether there is an overall prize beyond the league itself (such as NFBC).
- Within the write-ups, we will call out individual players who would see value boosts or drops in alternative formats, such as rotisserie leagues, deep leagues, or points leagues
- We are more than happy to answer your questions, requests, and counter-points in the comments or on Twitter!
1. Trea Turner (Los Angeles Dodgers) – This ranking is the least surprising thing I’ll do all day. He’s the consensus top second baseman in our game due to his speed, his contact ability, his spot near the top of the Dodgers’ lineup, and his speed. I also want to make sure I mention that Trea Turner steals bases, as it’s a big part of his fantasy appeal.
Joking aside, it’s worth noting that the power surge we saw in 2020 continued in 2021. Turner didn’t just clear the 20-home run hurdle for the first time in his career, he darn near got to 30 (28 in 148 games). There’s a real shot at a 30-30 season (stolen base potential ages poorly, so 40 is probably out of reach), plus he has a shot to lead the NL in both batting average and runs scored. Furthermore, he’s not an awful bet to finish in the top five in all five roto categories amongst second basemen—RBI is the toughest to accomplish for a leadoff hitter like Turner, but the NL DH should help considerably.
Honestly, though, the best indicator of the fantasy community’s opinion of Turner is that drafting him first overall isn’t even all that controversial anymore. I wouldn’t (as you’ll see in the shortstop rankings), but if you do, I will still respect you, and that still means something in this crazy world.
2. Ozzie Albies (Atlanta) – Take everything I said about Turner, but take off about 10 steals and 40 or 50 points of batting average. That still gives you the clear second-best second baseman in fantasy. Albies has finished as a top-four second baseman in all three of his full seasons, and 2022 should be no different. If you pencil in 190-200 combined runs and RBI, 27-30 home runs, and 20 steals, you are unlikely to be disappointed when October rolls around.
The only thing I have any question about with Albies is where he will slot in a batting order that is getting Ronald Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna back, and in years past he’s battled with Dansby Swanson over a top-two spot in the lineup. The loss of those players allowed both to be there, but the top third of the lineup will be something I watch closely once baseball is back. It shouldn’t impact his power or speed too much, though it DOES impact the runs scored and RBI outcomes.
Coming into his age-25 season, Albies looks like he’ll threaten to reach 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases for the next several years, and while that may not be the best the position has to offer (for fantasy purposes), it’s close enough that Albies gets his own tier.
3. Whit Merrifield (Kansas City Royals) – Here’s a stat that’s probably not discussed enough: over the last four years, no one in all of baseball has more games played, plate appearances, or hits than Merrifield. In fact, he hasn’t missed a single game since 2018, and he only missed three games that season.
There are only a few knocks AGAINST Merrifield, such as his low-teens HR power, but it’s worth noting that he’s also third in doubles over those four seasons and second in stolen bases, so it’s not as though he’s slapping singles exclusively. While his home runs and RBI will always be a drag, it is more than made up for by the sheer volume of hits, runs, and stolen bases he’s able to rack up as a leadoff hitter who never misses work.
He gets a bump in deeper formats and points leagues due to the unbelievable durability and sheer volume of hits he accumulates in a full season, though if stolen bases aren’t valued in your league much, it becomes a lot harder for him to reach a high-end value. Otherwise, enjoy rostering one of baseball’s most dependable players.
4. Marcus Semien (Texas Rangers) – Lots of people were burned in 2020, but it’s hard to imagine a better way to make it up to folks in 2021 than with career highs in almost every counting stat including a whopping 45 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
While some Statcast numbers suggest that Semien was rather fortunate in 2021 with his batted ball results, he was still able to improve his barrel rate. More importantly for the purposes of this blurb, though, is that my favorite analysis tool gives excellent insight on how the growth for Semien has played out the last three years:
While this chart doesn’t tell you EVERYTHING you want to know about Semien, it shows us the theme of his batted balls since the start of 2019 (which is when we really started to pay attention). Admittedly, I initially believed the change in plate discipline in 2019 was the source of his success, but after being even better in 2021 than he was in 2019, he’s clearly put a focus on elevating pitches. Now hitting the ball higher on its own wouldn’t do much for a guy with a below-average hard-hit rate, but if he also started hitting the ball harder, you’d expect a big breakout because hitting the ball higher and farther is good. Is that what happened here?
Yup! It’s exactly what happened, and we can even see what happens when it fails! What I love about these two charts is that it shows exactly how these pieces are working together. Launch angle and exit velocity have to work in tandem for the best results, and they have here. A move to Texas is far less appealing than his former position atop one of baseball’s most explosive lineups, but the sun is shining a bit brighter in Texas lately after some free-agent signings. A dip in power production from the move is likely as Dunedin was a very friendly hitter environment (second in home run park factor for 2021 according to ESPN) while Arlington is a bit below average, but I still expect a very strong campaign from the veteran middle infielder.
In short, the changes he has made are real, so the baseline of talent is closer to 2019 and 2021 than it is to 2020.
5. Javier Báez (Detroit Tigers) – Most people already know whether they are willing to draft Báez because of his meme-worthy lack of plate discipline, but I would encourage you to be open-minded to players who don’t fit the traditional mold we hunt for in fantasy baseball.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, he will swing and miss a lot. The Tigers fan in me desperately wants to believe that the fantastic batter’s eye in Comerica Park created by the dark green foliage and walls behind the pitcher will help Javy pick up the ball better, but realistically his problem is less of pitch recognition and more just general aggression. His bat speed and coordination, while not what they were a few years ago, still seem to be at a high level, and that should allow him to squeeze a little more production out of his remaining career.
The biggest knock on Báez, besides the plate discipline, is going to be the home park. Hitting home runs in Comerica Park is not easy thanks to the spacious dimensions (but hey, that could change!), but that effect is much less dramatic on pull-heavy right-handed hitters, with the park playing mostly neutral for that crowd since the left-field wall is closer and shorter than the one in right. Lucky for Javy, he’s become more of a pull hitter over the last two years, possibly due to some regression in bat speed that is requiring him to cheat a little more on fastballs.
It’s hard to project anyone to hit over 30 home runs in Comerica Park, but Báez has a shot thanks to his quality of contact numbers. I am penciling him in for about 27 home runs or so, as are most projection systems, but he should also threaten 20 steals again in the middle of an improving lineup with a manager who isn’t afraid to let players run (Detroit was a top-10 team for steals for 2021). It’s not as risky as it seems unless you’re in a league that penalizes strikeouts, so don’t be afraid to add him to your team in the earlier rounds to lock in that power and speed.
6. Jose Altuve (Houston Astros) – It was great to see Altuve bounce back after a rough 2020. His numbers more or less showed the same player as the one we saw in 2019, albeit with a bit less power, and he still hits in the heart of the Astros lineup. I wish I had more to say about my favorite 5’6 baseball player, but Altuve feels like a pretty easy read for 2022: 30-home run power, a high-.200s batting average with a .350 or higher OBP, a ton of runs scored, a handful of steals, and an IL stint or two. What’s not to like?
7. Max Muncy (Los Angeles Dodgers) – Compared to many of my peers, this will seem like an aggressive ranking, but as of this date, we have very little evidence to suggest much of anything about Muncy’s availability for Opening Day. Gut feelings are all well and good, but I think many would agree that ignoring the injury issue Muncy would be right in the thick of the early-middle rounds.
How you rank Muncy, who was without a doubt the most difficult player to rank at first base or second base, is all about your approach to offseason injuries. This whole labor thing complicates matters, of course, because teams aren’t even allowed to talk about the players. The Dodgers are notoriously silent on injury news even when they’re encouraged to talk about players, so don’t hold your breath for a clear update.
I’m not doing a ton of super early drafts this year, but in the ones I’m taking part in, I’m keeping Muncy in my back pocket and am even willing to pull the trigger after pick 100 or so (in recent NFBC drafts his ADP is about 153). This ranking is subject to volatility, of course, but there aren’t a lot of players at this point in the draft who are locked in for 35 home runs and top-notch counting stats if they can play 80% of the season (something Muncy has done for four consecutive seasons).
If Muncy is someone you want to target, make sure to do a few mocks first—the gap between his min pick of 69 and max pick of 258 in NFBC drafts this year is pretty wild. No other hitter with an ADP within the first 200 picks has such a wide gap (the only players who are close are speculative closers or young starting pitchers). Knowing how to adapt to multiple points in that range could be a boost.
8. Ketel Marte (Arizona Diamondbacks) – On one hand, the Marte we saw for 90 games in 2021 was the exciting and powerful version we had seen back in 2019 during his breakout campaign. On the other hand, the season is much longer than 90 games (hopefully), and his last 135 games overall are unappealing when it comes to counting stats.
With that in mind, we should focus on the things we know about Marte—he should have at least 20 home runs in his bat if he plays 130 games, he’ll hit for a very high average, and that he’s probably not going to steal double-digit bags.
It may not be the most exciting profile in that light, but when you realize that’s more of a floor and that Marte is a switch-hitting 27-year-old batting second baseman who bats second in the order, you realize that a healthy Marte has a high ceiling and could even finish in the top five at the position.
The floor, of course, is a very pedestrian line due to injury and a poor supporting cast, which is something to keep in mind, but I still have him inside my top 10 because of that upside. I’d push him down within this tier in 15-team formats due to the low replacement value when you have to find a new second baseman, but he shouldn’t drop out of this tier in any format.
9. Brandon Lowe (Tampa Bay Rays) – Our first full-season look at Lowe was exactly what many of us hoped for. Not only did he rebound after a very ugly start, but he also managed to hit for power consistently and was able to earn a locked-in role in the top half of the Rays lineup.
I love the power, I love the counting stat upside, and I love that he was able to cut his strikeout rate as the season went on. I like him as a 35-home run hitter who can chip in eight steals without killing your batting average, and that’s a good way to get into the upper ranks of middle infielders.
Speaking of strikeouts, I did manage to notice something weird that I can’t quite make heads or tails of yet. I’m showing it to you because maybe you can? Sure, I have theories, but they’re pure speculation right now.
It is … unusual to see someone swinging outside the zone more and yet strike out much less, but here we are! It’s a little early to determine if this is a good or bad thing, but it is definitely something I will be keeping my eye on because while it is neat that he isn’t striking out, it is really difficult to barrel a ball outside of the zone. This isn’t enough to move him down any rankings or anything, but it is definitely worth watching for early this season, as plate discipline is an important canary in the coal mine for Lowe—as he strikes out more, the average tanks. He’ll hit for good power regardless, but that .250 batting average can turn into .190 really quick if he’s flailing at third pitches out of the zone.
10. Jonathan India (Cincinnati Reds) – The surprise NL rookie of the year put in a solid effort across the board last season, posting average or above-average marks in all five standard roto categories along with excellent plate discipline despite not being the Reds’ top prospect, or even in most top-five lists! I’m sure there’s a message about overvaluing hyped prospects, but that seems like a bummer so we will gloss over that piece for now and save it for the conversation about Wander Franco.
India’s all-around production makes him appealing in all formats, and thanks to a full season of data, we can see that most of the underlying stats back up his performance. Based on his tools and outlook as a prospect, it’s hard to imagine another level here, but he doesn’t need one to be a positive part of your roster. You’ll get solid production across the board, and that’s a beautiful thing, even if it’s not as exciting as other young players.
11. Jorge Polanco (Minnesota Twins) – I can’t say I ever thought Polanco had another gear to his power, but here we are looking at a 2021 season where he smashed 33 home runs and stole 11 bases as one of the few bright spots in a depressingly disappointing season for the Twins.
Unlike 2021, Polanco is coming in with the expectation that he’s going to hit third in the lineup every day, and while health is a massive concern for the Twins roster, the middle of that lineup can really get after pitchers on both sides of the plate. Polanco actually spent quite a bit of time hitting first and second last season, but considering that his stolen base success rate is well below ideal (he was only 11 for 17 last year), I am thinking I’d rather have the extra RBI that come with hitting third rather than seeing him thrown out at second.
12. Tommy Edman (St. Louis Cardinals) – He may never slug .500 again as he did in 2019 (or even get close to it), but it was very promising to see St. Louis give Edman the green light and for him to reward their confidence with that beautiful 80% success rate.
Edman is going to be a very strong source of stolen bases and runs scored in 2022, and his excellent plate discipline and contact ability will give him plenty of opportunities to get on base and do the thing he does best: run.
I have a feeling that many will look at the projections and compare him very favorably to Whit Merrifield, and I get it. Low teens power, 30 steals, lots of balls in play. The difference here is that Edman’s track record of posting Whit-like lines is exactly one season long, where nine of those stolen bases came during that miracle run at the end of the season. Desperate teams run a lot more than teams who aren’t desperate, and if St. Louis doesn’t look as desperate in 2022, those 30 stolen bases can turn into 20, and those ten steals would really sandbag his value to fantasy managers.
13. Jazz Chisholm Jr. (Miami Marlins) – There’s 30-30 potential in Jazz. I’m not the only person who thinks so. For 12-team leagues, it’s hard to rank a player with that kind of tangible, one-tweak away upside much lower than this. In many early iterations of this list, Jazz came in ahead of Tommy Edman because of the upside, but then I had to grapple with the severely low floor for Jazz due to the strikeout potential.
That’s really the name of the game here, as Jazz has enough power and speed to be valuable with a .240 batting average and .300 OBP, but it leaves very little margin for error. Another season with a strikeout rate over 30% would likely push his batting average so low that he would become tough to roster, but a 25% strikeout rate and all of a sudden he’s a fantasy champion!
It’s always a stretch to base a player’s outlook on one stat, but it’s a great temperature check that should also be at least somewhat apparent when Spring Training starts again. Make sure you have batting average covered if you take the risk, but I’d also say that you’re allowed to enjoy the raw potential.
14. Jake Cronenworth (San Diego Padres) — He just is a weird fit in 12-teamers, you know? In deeper leagues, his ability to play in the corner and middle infield gives him great versatility, and he performs comfortably above the replacement level.
In leagues like the Yahoo standard format, though, where teams don’t need a corner or middle infielder and instead have two open utility spots and two fewer outfield spots and IL spots, Cronenworth ends up in this sort of purgatory where he’s just about exactly replacement level at most positions, and therefore the lift his versatility provides is somewhat pointless.
Of course, it looks like he just might bat third this season between Tatis and Machado, which should do wonders for his counting stats. If he can balance those out by hitting third or fourth, I could see him sliding up these ranks slightly.
15. DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees) — When 2021 started, I had no idea I’d be dropping LeMahieu so far down my rankings in just one year, nor did I ever imagine I’d be talking about him as a risk, but here we are.
Let’s get one thing out of the way—LeMahieu played with a sports hernia in 2021 that has now been surgically repaired. While I am not a medical professional, I imagine that playing baseball without a sports hernia is easier than playing baseball with a sports hernia (I apologize, but I do not have a citation for this claim so you might just have to take my word for it).
I can’t help but think that the power LeMahieu showed in 2019 and 2020 was very legitimate and that he can get back to 20 or more home runs if he is healthy. I mean, is it really a “fluke” if you are the best second baseman in baseball for two consecutive seasons? While I don’t expect a return to the top of the first or second base rankings, there is an upside for a top-10 finish for sure hitting at the top of what should be a healthier and stronger Yankees lineup.
So why rank him 16th? Because he’s not the only guy with that kind of upside, and if for some reason the power doesn’t come back, it’s hard for him to even finish in the top 20.
16. Ty France (Seattle Mariners) — He won’t post the gaudy exit velocity or stat totals you expect from a prototypical first baseman, but France has gotten the job done in Seattle. In 175 games as a Mariner, France is slashing .292/.367/.446 with a dramatically improved strikeout rate (just 17.2% in 2021), and as a result, he appears to be the starting first baseman if the season started today.
While the exit velocity numbers suggest that there’s probably a ceiling of about 20 or so home runs for France, 160-170 combined runs and RBI are in the cards if he continues to make consistent contact and if the Mariners can recreate virtually any of the magic they found in 2021. Deep league players (like those who play NFBC or use those types of rosters) will find a lot of utility in France’s versatility, and 12-team managers can lock down some batting average and counting stats if they missed out earlier in the draft. Don’t expect a big breakout, though—that’s what 2021 was for. A big win would be more or less doing the same thing he did before.
17. Brendan Rodgers (Colorado Rockies) — It’s finally his time. After being drafted third overall back in 2015, Rodgers finally got an extended stay in the big leagues and did not disappoint, slashing .284/.328/.470 with 15 home runs in 102 games. He also worked hard in the minors to clean up his strikeouts, and that practice paid off to the tune of a 20.2% strikeout rate.
If Rodgers had speed or a single tool that I could point to as a difference-maker, he’d be in the tier above this one. But as it stands, he looks a lot like a playing giving good batting average with replacement-level power and counting stats in 10- and 12-team formats, with upside to be a top-12 option at second if he can find another power or batting average gear (he’s not a runner, and the Rockies aren’t good enough to help him find big RBI or runs scored totals).
18. Chris Taylor (Los Angeles Dodgers) — The universal DH and good ol’ fashioned attrition has finally put us in a place where Taylor can be projected for 140 games or more. In the three seasons where he has played 140 games, he’s averaged 19 home runs, 87 runs scored, 69 RBI, and 13 steals, which also happens to be in line with his 2022 projections.
Coincidence? Probably not. I’d feel very comfortable with those projections and value him accordingly. I’d probably expect the runs scored and RBI to maybe get a little closer to each other as he’s more likely to hit sixth than anything else now that Mookie Betts and Trea Turner are at the top, but hitting sixth for a perennial World Series contender is a pretty sweet fantasy gig.
19. Ryan McMahon (Colorado Rockies) — You may recall that McMahon lit the world on fire for the first two weeks of the season, hitting six home runs with a .306 batting average and .755 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hit six home runs in any single month again, going .249/.334/.421 for the remainder of the season. That’s not too bad … unless you play in the best hitting environment in the league.
In deeper formats, the secure playing time and role in the heart of the order is great, but in shallower ones where you need higher quality per at-bat, I have a bad feeling that McMahon might be crummy more often than good.
Projections, which are much smarter than me, all peg McMahon to have a season very similar to 2019 and 2021, which certainly makes sense, and that’s an OK replacement-level hitter in shallower formats. Any worse, though, and he’s just a streamer at home.
20. Eduardo Escobar (New York Mets) — The flexibility is great (he’s eligible at third and second in most formats and adds first base in Yahoo), and he has hit 28 or more home runs in two of the last three seasons. He’ll also play every day for the Mets at either second or third base. That’s all very cool.
He’s also going to a really tough hitting environment and is slated to hit in the bottom third of the Mets order. He also had that truly miserable 2020. That’s all very uncool.
So I ranked him 20th. His track record is better than the guys below him, and his upside is pretty similar as well. Sometimes guys just fall into a rank, and that’s what happened here.
21. Luis Urías (Milwaukee Brewers) — Urías played quite well in his first full season. Urías was never much of a power hitter other than for a stop in Triple-A back in 2019, so hitting 23 home runs at the highest level really surprised me.
Urías is pretty good at making contact and should do just enough to clear 150 runs + RBI in a full season along with five steals and 20 dingers. That’s really great in deep leagues and reality, but it doesn’t move many 10-or 12-team needles. His floor is probably higher than Escobar’s, but the ceiling is also quite a bit lower.
22. Jonathan Schoop (Detroit Tigers) — Schoop played a full season for the first time in a long time and rewarded fantasy managers who sc(h)ooped him up off the wire in 2021 with 22 home runs and a plethora of runs and RBI. While OBP leagues will always be unfavorable to Schoop due to his unwillingness to walk, his ability to make contact and send the ball to the gigantic gaps in Comerica Park should help him hit closer to .280 rather than .260, and the Statcast data on our player page suggests what we saw in 2021 was legitimate.
23. Kolten Wong (Milwaukee Brewers) — If Wong didn’t have the potential to steal 15-20 bases as Milwaukee’s everyday leadoff man, he’d be MUCH further down these rankings. Wong has strong contact ability, but the 14 home runs he hit last season were a career high, and it’s hard to imagine another jump there during his age-31 season.
However, Wong does hit leadoff, he does have 15-20 stolen base upside, and he also happens to hit for a plus average. Durability is the real question mark, though, as he missed substantial time in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021. When you combine the durability concerns with his lack of power and RBI, you end up with a guy who probably won’t need to be drafted in 12-team leagues. He’s certainly noteworthy in deeper leagues for the speed and batting average, but he’s a targeted replacement in standard leagues.
24. Kiké Hernández (Boston Red Sox) — I’d say Hernández looked about as good in Boston as he ever did in Los Angeles, and I think he’s due for a full repeat of 2021, which was 20 home runs, 84 runs scored, 60 RBI, and a .250 batting average.
According to the Fangraphs Auction Calculator, those numbers led him to finish as the 24th-best second baseman for fantasy last season. See what I did there?
25. Nick Madrigal (Chicago Cubs) — It’s not easy projecting speed on a guy who has only stolen double-digit bases once in his career across all levels (31 in 2019), but he really can run. There’s a dream that Madrigal can be like David Fletcher and Luis Arraez but with 20 steals. That’s a really attractive outlook, but it also requires a lot of hoping and wishing. I like him a lot in deeper leagues as a flyer or middle infielder, but until he shows off that speed, he’s watchlist at best in many standard formats.
26. Josh Rojas (Arizona Diamondbacks) — Like a few others at the bottom of this list, Rojas is a guy who can hit just over 10 home runs, steal just over 10 bases, and accumulate very average counting stats and ratios. He has a little more upside than someone like Jean Segura due to Rojas’ hitting leadoff, but it’s leadoff for the Diamondbacks. Ew.
Playing time is really safe, and being a lefty means he’ll get a platoon advantage more often than not. That’s not too shabby, I suppose.
27. Cesar Hernandez (Washington Nationals) — The plate discipline and counting stats looked normal, but the batting average was a paltry .232 for the season, and he appeared to lose all of the hard contact he had been making in Cleveland the moment he changed uniforms.
It’s weird having so many negative things to say about a guy who blew past his previous high in home runs (21, previous high was 15 in 2018), but without stolen bases or ratios, there just isn’t much to get excited about here apart from his durability and number of plate appearances near the top of the lineup.
28. Gavin Lux (Los Angeles Dodgers) — It’s easy to forget that this was a blue-chip prospect as recently as a year ago. He was given a 70-grade future value over at Fangraphs (they only gave that high of a grade to one prospect in their most recent version of THE BOARD).
You’re banking on a breakout if you draft Lux, because what we’ve seen so far has been a major struggle, and even the universal DH can’t coax L.A. into giving Lux more plate appearances unless he fixes some of his defensive woes or starts hitting like we know he can.
29. Adam Frazier (Seattle Mariners) — You could replace this name with David Fletcher or Luis Arraez if you wanted, as all three are high contact hitters with limited power and speed. I chose Frazier over the other two because the role is more secure, and he might be the best bet for 10 home runs and 10 steals (he hit 10 home runs in 2018 and 2019, and stole 10 bases in 2021). These guys have some minor value in shallow leagues, but it’s very specific to points leagues or just as ratio boosters to cover for an injury.
30. Jean Segura (Philadelphia Phillies) — Segura is the poster boy for guys who are really useful in deep leagues and irrelevant in shallow ones. He doesn’t really provide any standout numbers, even for a bench guy in 12-teamers, and he’s only eligible at one position. He’s extremely safe, but that’s about it.
Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)