Editor’s Note: Among all the numbers, serious debates, and walls of text, it’s important to remember that fantasy baseball is about having fun. Enjoy this series from Tim Acree as he details his thoughts in his unique style.
Egregiously Late Rankings For 2018
Egregiously late. My sincere apologies. I’ve been busy
rewatching Lost saving kittens from trees.
To those who were with me for last year’s rankings, welcome back! As you can see, we’ve moved from the playground to the big leagues, but I promise I didn’t sell my soul to get here (I did sell Nick Pollack my Kia Soul, but that’s a Trevor Story for another day). See! Lame puns! I’m still in here somewhere!
The Egregiously Late Rankings were devised from the following:
- 25 years of watching baseball
- 15+ years of playing fantasy baseball
- Meticulous research on Fangraphs and Baseball Reference
- Countless podcasts (On The Corner, Fantasy Baseball Today, Razzball, Effectively Wild, The Sleeper and the Bust)
- Endless video research
- Significant amounts of coffee
The following rankings are for the 2018 season only.
The rankings assume a standard 5×5 league with OBP instead of batting average. Therefore, players like Brian Dozier and Yoan Moncada take a considerable leap, while OBP allergists like Adam Jones take a hit in value.
The player blurbs are mostly an attempt to capture each player in a nutshell; to illustrate each player’s true essence. At times, this is challenging. Luis Robert could become Gabe Kapler or he could become Frank Robinson. We don’t know. And yes, there is a write-up on Luis Robert, because the rankings also include a separate Top 150 prospects list!
If you are seeking a Fangraphs-level statistical deep dive, these rankings may not be your cup of ayahuasca. While I value O-swing% and LOB% as much as the next pedant, these rankings are largely a product of the Eye Test and stem from the keen scouting eye I developed as an only child, when there was little else to do but watch the Chipper-led Braves on TBS. If I possess one unique skill in life, it’s an ability to watch a person play baseball and see the sum of all their parts at once: their floor, their ceiling, their limitations, their mechanical similarities to others, and overall, their true value as a baseball player.
My old fantasy draft recaps are littered with breakouts and league-winning picks. But they are not flawless. Like anyone, I’ve made many terrible picks. However, most of these poor picks were not matters of being wrong about a player, but rather, being early on the breakout. A scouts eye comes with drawbacks: an infatuation with ‘potential’ may lead one to overlook safer, less spectacular players in favor of hypotheticals. This is a double-edged sword: on one hand, you might draft 2014 Charlie Blackmon or 2015 J.D. Martinez. On the other hand, you might draft 2017 Kyle Schwarber. It’s a dangerous game we play, and I’m here to help you make sense of the madness. If nothing else, I hope you are entertained.
Before we begin, I’ll leave you with the words of Edgar Allen Poe:
All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
What our boy EAP was trying to say, obviously, is that at the end of the day, it’s all just fantasy.
But damn do we love it.
Early Late Rankings For 2018
= Draft Target
= Health Risk
= Performance Risk
= Playing Time Risk
= #1 Overall Player Upside
= 1st Round Upside
= Supremely High Floor
= High Floor
= 50 Home Run Potential
= 30 Stolen Bases Potential
= Likely Imposed Innings Limit
= FIPster (ERA was 1.00+ higher than FIP in 2017)
= The Plate Regression (BABIP under .250 in 2017)
= Post Hype Sleeper
= Trending Up
1. Mike Trout
Come with me to one knee and offer praise (and/or sacrifice) to our one true king :
If you grabbed him via redraft, or even more deliciously, in keeper, my envy is greener than the Amazon in winter. Trout possesses the highest floor and the highest ceiling – a ceiling which grew with the Angel’s recent offensive additions.
Mike Trout is the best case scenario.
He is the video game 99 rating.
He is the filet of lobster sprawled across a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with a glass of red wine.
What follows is a scouting report of Mike Trout, as performed by Dørcupa•Re∑zle, resident alien scout from Uranus:
2. Jose Altuve
I once heard a great podcast with the one scout who believed in Jose Altuve. And when I say “believed”, what I mean is, he thought his absolute upside was a competent starter. No one saw this coming. Even Jose Altuve is looking in the mirror saying “what is happening!?”
On a national scale, Paul Goldschmidt is exceptionally underrated. He is a standout 5×5 monster who is performing like the modern Jeff Bagwell, arguably tops at his position in both power production and steals. In OBP leagues he finishes at or near the #1 overall spot every year. The threat of the humidor is overblown, and while he isn’t as youthful as the Machado, Bryant, or even Rizzo generations, he is still at the peak of his powers. Even if the humidor depresses his power to a mildly disappointing 25 home runs, Goldschmidt’s overall numbers will make him a top asset. This is the kind of high floor to invest in early, and in a redraft, I’m comfortable pulling the trigger at three or two.
4. Trea Turner
Playing against Trea in a H2H fantasy matchup puts the fear of God into me.
Playing with Trea Turner in a H2H fantasy matchup makes me feel like a God.
You know how we get excited about potential 20-20 guys? Like, “if things break right, Aaron Altherr could be a 20-20 guy down the line!”
Because Trea Turner, ladies and gentlemen, is a 20-100 threat.
I genuinely think we are witnessing the birth of a unicorn here: a player who is simply like no other. His combination of otherworldly speed, tremendous instincts, and aggressiveness make him a terror on the base-paths – and when you consider his lineup protection, his plus hit tool, and the scarcity of steals… there’s a non-zero chance Trea enters 2019 drafts as the 1b to Trout’s 1a in fantasy drafts. I truly believe there are 80+ steals and 20 home runs in here somewhere, which, if you attribute similar values to home runs and steals, is like having a 50-50 player on your team (if anything steals are more valuable). You might say “wait a minute, having Billy Hamilton isn’t like having a 35-35 guy!” but the difference is:
a.) Turner has some pop (OPS within 5 points of Arenado in his rookie season) and
b.) he’s not a complete zero in the power cats (ala Billy, Dee).
So… if I’m so infatuated with the guy, why isn’t he ranked #1 or #2? Simple: the other elites offer a higher floor, particularly in this OBP format.
Outlook: An insane statistical season is well within the realm of possibility. He could be – is likely to be – a dynamic league-winning player; a statistical irregularity that almost breaks the system; an across-the-board steals monster in roto, and a speeding ball of death in H2H matchups.
The “modern Mike Schmidt” comparisons are not blasphemous. Outside the realm of fantasy (where defense counts), you can make a strong case for Nolan as the #2 player in baseball behind Trout.
Arenado is the only top-10 fantasy hitter without a speed element to his game, which tells you everything you need to know about his consistency and massive power output. At age 26, coming off three MVP-esque seasons in a row, Arenado should be approaching his apex. Throw in the Coors factor (1), and the mildly disturbing notion that Arenado is likely still improving at the plate (2), and you have a fantasy monster. Draft for his insanely high floor, and hope you strike gold on that nutty .310-45-140 upside.
(1) brewed from the glacial headwaters of a frosty stream in a factory in Bakersfield. Also pronounced “Coo-ore-zzjhh”
(2) OPS through first 5 seasons: .706 – .828 – .898 – .932 – .959 – (?.???)
From “burgeoning superstar phenom” to “sophomore bust” to “fantasy monster who got injured”. Three years, three levels of Correa. Last year in 109 games Correa hit .315-24-84 with a .941 OPS. If he had played 150+ games I believe he’d be vying for a top-3 overall pick.
If not for speedster Trea Turner, Correa might standout similarly at shortstop to how prime Chase Utley and Troy Tulowitzki once stood out at their positions, but with even more offensive upside. Correa has everything you could possibly want in a player: youth, positional scarcity, elite pedigree, high floor, tantalizing upside, Jeter-like intangibles, a friendly hitters park, and the kind of contact/power blend that superstars are made of. In a loaded Astros lineup, expect 95+ runs, 95+ RBI, and the legitimate possibility of 30-15 if he is more aggressive on the bases.
NFBC data shows Correa being drafted 14th overall, behind offensive cornerstones Betts (7), Blackmon (8), Harper (9), and Giancarlo (10). But let me persuade you he is worthy of this aggressive rank:
Betts – .803 OPS in 2017 | Correa – .941 OPS in 2017
Blackmon – Born in 1986 | Correa – Born in 1994
Harper – 1 of 6 seasons with 150+ games played | Correa – 1 of 3 seasons with 150+ games played
Giancarlo – Outfielder – .362 career OBP – Per-162: .266-95-44-110-6 | Correa – Shortstop – .366 career OBP – Per 162: .288-94-30-111-13
Outlook: I think we have only seen the first few chapters in the tale of Carlos Correa. We are still at #4 Privet Drive with the Dursleys… Carlos doesn’t even know he is a wizard yet. Like Kris Bryant, I won’t be surprised if Correa leads many teams to fantasy championships and enters 2019 as a consensus top-5 pick.
7. Bryce Harper
When Bryce Harper was a hyped prospect (the most hyped baseball prospect of my lifetime) I was unimpressed by his long swing and pull tendencies. I mocked the scouts for anointing future greatness to a kid who was destined to become a glorified Mike Jacobs. You can’t get them all right (stares frustratedly at battered Will Middlebrooks effigy).
Bryce Harper is an offensive machine, and the way he forces pitchers to nibble is reminiscent of the way pitchers approached Barry Bonds. Harper has Kris Bryant’s raw power, Joey Votto’s unteachable discipline, Clayton Kershaw’s competitiveness, and perhaps most importantly, the mane of a great beast.
Does he sell out for pull power, pull off toward the 1st base dugout, and leave himself vulnerable to outside pitches – the exact things that led me to the Mike Jacobs comparisons?? Yes, he does. But his keen eye, elite coordination, athleticism, and great strength compensate for this unfortunate technique. Pitch for pitch, he is probably the best offensive player in the game.
Harper can be argued as the “Bonds” to Trout’s “Griffey”: a left-handed OBP machine with freaky power and the highest true ceiling of anyone in baseball, at least peripherally. If Harper went .330-50-130 would it be entirely shocking? It also doesn’t hurt that he hits in a lineup full of .900+ OPS bats.
Outlook: In OBP leagues it would be nuts to leave him out of the top 10. Harper possesses league-winning upside, but his inconsistent health and production keep him from being the clearcut top-5 player that his talent would suggest.
8. Kris Bryant
Bryant underwhelmed in 2017 largely due to an anomalic 73 RBI, but his peripherals remained largely unchanged, and it’s clear to everyone that he is a beast of a hitter.(6) I see nothing in his profile that suggests he cannot be a .280-40-120 threat over the next half decade+. He will retain OF+3B eligibility in most leagues, which adds positional flexibility to his already dreamy appeal. Bryant is a top-10 fantasy asset, and I wouldn’t fault you for taking him over Arenado due to his monster upside, and Arenado’s unsustainable RISP numbers. Bryant’s floor is a 30ish home run slugger but he’s got the talent, internal goods, and approach to keep evolving, and once he truly puts it all together, there won’t be enough flowery superlatives like transcendent and otherworldly to describe him.
(6) Oh, “anomalic” isn’t a word? It should be. Besides… all words aren’t… before they are.
The omission of the surname Stanton is part of a widespread attempt to bolster Giancarlo into ‘one-name-territory’ ala Pele, Kanye, Yao, and Sauron. (7)
In a league with balls leaving ballparks at record rates, Giancarlo is a game-changer. He is the player most likely to hit 50 home runs, and now he moves from a heavy pitchers park to a great hitters park, while joining a stacked lineup. Given the new situation, there is tremendous upside here: of the .285-55-130 variety.
I buy the narrative that his new closed stance has allowed his skillset to play up, by giving his swing fewer holes and promoting a more balanced and consistent all-fields approach. I believe we are seeing a falsely-tagged ”injury prone” player make a significant adjustment. With good health, I don’t see anything keeping Giancarlo from performing like a top-5 fantasy player over the next several seasons.
Still, if you subscribe to the notion of his injury proneness, there is always the chance he will he slip on a sunflower seed shell and fracture his left pinkie, leading to an X-ray, leading to the discovery that he has a rare tumor growing on his pinkie due to some kind of Dothraki herbal strength remedy that Giancarlo was fed as a young Khal.
(7) According to the leading baby names website, people with the name Giancarlo “have a deep inner desire to achieve status, power and wealth”. With Yankee pinstripes, 50+ homer potential, and career earnings set to eclipse one quarter $billion, it’s hard to argue with the namesake.
10. Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon wasn’t just good in 2017, he was holy-crap-does-this-man-ever-have-a-bad-game? level good. Last year, Chuck Nasty went .331-37-104 with a 1.000 OPS on the dot – as a leadoff hitter. He led the NL in batting average, hits, runs, triples, and total bases.
I watched nearly every Rockies game, and Blackmon was every bit as deserving of the MVP as Giancarlo Stanton. He was an unstoppable force and made Arenado seem like a sidekick.
Despite his sensational season, I’m a bit lower on Blackmon than most, simply because of his age, and the low likelihood of a near-repeat season.
It would be unwise to expect the same prolific offensive output in 2018, but even with likely power and batting average regression, there is a strong chance Blackmon improves upon his 14 stolen bases (8). And at age 30, what’s keeping Blackmon from another top-10 season? (9)
Regardless of the exact slot, we know this: Charlie fills up the stat sheet every season, one way or another. We also know that his speed has declined, and if the power regresses considerably in 2018 (likely) he will be a very good, but not first-round, quality player. For 2018, I like Blackmon more as a late 1st rounder/early 2nd rounder than a top-5 beast. I love the skillset and the ballpark and the upside, but I’m a wee bit nervous because he feels a bit like Demarco Murray did in drafts this season(10). Still, I respect Blackmon’s scrappy-slammer game and he has earned this strong projection:
(8) 14/24 in stolen base attempts – a far cry from his 43/56 two seasons ago
(9) a trade?
(10) for the record, I drafted Gronk before Murray in round 2, against all advice
11. Freddie Freeman
A dorky friend in my home league always drafts a team of obscure, hipster relievers… plus Freddie Freeman. They are like a band: Freddie and The Relievers. Freeman possesses an elite hit tool with above-average power, and while Joey Votto is the Sultan of OBP, I prefer Freeman’s age and counting stat upside (Albies and Acuna are going to run wild! Freeman has 120 RBI written all over him). After being a 6th-7th round fantasy pick in 2016, Freeman made a huge leap. He finished the last two seasons 6th in wRC+ with an OBP north of .400. Similarly, he finished 7th in Isolated Power (ISO) in 2017, ahead of potent bats like Arenado and Goldschmidt, and in 2016 he finished 8th, wedged between Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion. He also will play half his games at SunTrust Park, which plays worlds apart from the valley of Turner Field.
Outlook: With a broad 6’5 frame, a short and compact swing, and power to all fields, Freeman is a 1st round-caliber bat. At age 28, with a Braves lineup that is rapidly on the rise, the recipe is in place for a career year. It’s conceivable that Freddie will have a bonkers MVP type season and become the veteran leading star for the baby Braves while supplanting Paul Goldschmidt as the #1 fantasy first basemen. As a baseline, expect: .305-90-28-90-5. If you’re a dreamer, hope for .335-110-35-120-8.
12. Mookie Betts
or not to Mookie,
that is the question.
Mookie’s 2017 was a journey of mountains and valleys.
Mookie finished as the 69th overall fantasy player last year in OBP leagues, a far cry from his ADP which was consensus top-5 and often 2nd overall.
You know about the freakishly low BABIP, the increase in hard-contact %, the elite k-rate, and you know that, despite his odd mishmash of highs and lows, he still put up a .264-101-24-102-26 line.
Simply based on the Test he was trying to do too much; trying to kill too many pitches, when at the end of the day, he’s a 5’9 contact hitter with great speed, who happens to have enough quick-twitch-excellence to laser into 25ish homers. (11)
Regardless of peripheral indicators, I still view Mookie as a first-round-caliber bat due his to otherworldly reflexes, elite coordination, great athleticism, and fantasy friendly 5×5 skillset. It’s Mookie’s well-roundedness that makes him an elite asset. Without the speed element of his game, he’d lack the power to be worthy of a top-20 pick. And as much as I love Mookie, there is a part of me that’s skeptical if he is quite as good as we think. Despite the strong end-of-season line, he was incredibly frustrating to own in 2017, and frankly, I’m a bit surprised he is still being drafted as a first rounder. After all, how many players with a .803 OPS are worthy of a first-round pick, nonetheless a top-50 pick? In keeper leagues, this may be our chance at a mulligan, to sell Mookie for a king’s ransom before the fantasy community collectively realizes he isn’t quite the can’t-miss superstar that he is being billed as. That’s a hot take, I know – but I can’t deny that I’ve considered flipping Mookie for some kind of package like Benintendi + Dozier or Mookie straight up for Giancarlo. (12) Mookie also employs an incredibly pull-happy approach, which I don’t love to see from a guy with good but not great power.
Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis gets a lot of love in the baseball community, but the way Mookie and Bogaerts – two sublime talents – underperformed last year, I question his methods. Watching both players throughout the year, there were many obvious tweaks that could have (should have) been made to improve their results. Chili was a fine player – a poor man’s Anthony Rizzo back in his day – but I wonder if he is getting the most of his players, or if they are underperforming in spite of his great efforts. Chili has moved on to Chicago, and I’ll be watching closely to see if Mookie and Xander show any changes to their batting stance, approach, and swing mechanics.
Outlook: It’s almost inconceivable that Mookie will repeat the extended cold streaks that he had in 2017, and his .268 BABIP was a bizarre anomaly which is sure to recover in a significant way. Mookie’s high stolen bases floor – combined with upside in every other category – keeps his fantasy stock sky high, despite the disappointing 2017. The risk factor with Mookie is that he performs similarly to last year, and you spend a 1st or 2nd round pick on a player who we come to find out is essentially David Dahl with fewer strikeouts. The optimistic take is that 2017 was his absolute floor, a notion to which I fully subscribe. (13)
I don’t love Mookie, but I still really, really like Mookie.
Back to our philosophical question: “To Mookie or not to Mookie?”
(11) his natural bat speed is enough without the overexertion
(12) the closed stance has unlocked the true beast within!!!
(13) though I’d say his RBI floor is closer to 85.
(Part 2 coming soon)