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May 24, 2016

Updating the Tiers


by Bret Sayre

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Welcome, to Baseball Prospectus’ first (or at least first time in a long time) in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did during the preseason, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.

Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will provide first or second round draft value and will be worth $30 or more in auction formats. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will earn more than $20 in auction formats. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are the types of players who provide back end roster value. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of what has happened year-to-date but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen the rest of 2016.

If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.

The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5x5 Roto scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.

Today: Catcher, First Base, Second Base
Tuesday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Wednesday, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher

Five Star
1) Manny Machado
2) Xander Bogaerts
3) Carlos Correa

Well, this isn’t likely to be a very popular opinion. Correa was our standalone five-star shortstop heading into the season, and hasn’t really done much to diminish his shine. Of course, it’s not his fault that the top-ranked third baseman on Mike and my LABR draft board (and our current star player) got himself some additional eligibility, but being passed by a more veteran shortstop having a breakout season wasn’t quite expected—yet here we are. Bogaerts is slowly building into the promised power of his prospect pedigree, but he is establishing himself as an unlikely batting champion, leading the league in hits through just over a quarter of the year. On top of that, he’s adding a speed element to his game, that has propelled him to be the top fantasy shortstop so far in 2016. He may not be a true 20-steal threat, but the combination of the average and burgeoning power (he also has 15 doubles this year) gives Bogaerts the slight edge here.

Five-Star Value Pick: Manny Machado

When a player drafted as a third baseman in the first round gets shortstop eligibility, especially in a year where the depth of the position has been essentially non-existent, he gets a nice bump in value. The outstanding question is whether he’ll be able to add the speed component, but even if he doesn’t, the combination of average and power is untouchable at the position, even by the two youths nipping at his heels (he’s a whole four months older than Bogaerts). This is prime Troy Tulowitzki level stuff here, and with a much cleaner injury history.

Four Star
4) Francisco Lindor
5) Ian Desmond
6) Corey Seager

The two youngest members of the four-star tier at the start of the season are still standing here, just in a slightly different order. Lindor continues to hit for more average in the majors than anticipated, and it’s pushing his fantasy game to new heights—he was always tagged as a better-in-real-life shortstop, and the fact that he still is speaks wonders to just how valuable he is to the Indians. There’s very little keeping him from the five-star tier, but a little more track record with the average and steals will do it. On the other hand, Seager is just such a natural hitter, and should essentially be Lindor, but with the homers and steals reversed. The younger Seager has been on a power binge of late, having hit five of his seven homers over the last two weeks. Eventually, he could be a 30-homer guy, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves at this point.

Four-Star Value Pick: Ian Desmond

Is there really all that much of a difference between what Desmond and Correa have been doing this year? Excluding the distinct counting stat advantage that the Ranger has over his fellow Texan, not really. Of course the difference is that Correa a burgeoning superstar and Desmond was a player almost everyone thought would regress (and finally did last year). That’s the difference in the tiers, but Desmond is hitting for power and running in Texas, in what’s been a pretty smooth adjustment to both the American League and the outfield. He’s been a five-star shortstop in the recent past. This isn’t a big stretch and another 20/20 season looks to be in sight.

Three Star

7) Jung-ho Kang
8) Troy Tulowitzki
9) Trevor Story
10) Addison Russell
11) Eugenio Suarez
12) Jean Segura

The biggest, umm, development of the position in 2016 has certainly been the emergence of Trevor Story—and where expectations should be going forward. If you remove his ridiculous first four games (when he homered six times), he’s hitting .275 with six homers and three steals in 169 plate appearances. Excluding batting average, that sounds about right. Story has always had the power to hit 25 homers in Coors. The question is how low is the batting average going to go? On one hand, Story’s 60 strikeouts nets him some black ink on that Baseball-Reference page. On the other hand, Coors Field. Personally, I’d be surprised if he hits above .250 going forward, and it has the potential to bottom out significantly lower than that despite the beneficial home park.

Meanwhile, lost in all of the Story hype has been the Suarez breakout. With nine homers, 26 RBI and four steals, he’s kept the scorekeepers busy, and his contact rate—while certainly far from ideal—makes him look like Dan Murphy compared to the Colorado shortstop. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Segura is returning from the fantasy graveyard by doing the same thing he’s always been doing—just with a lot more luck. With an inflated BABIP and HR/FB rate, his reality is a lot closer to his 2015 season than what it looks like he’s returning to.

Three-Star Value Pick: Addison Russell
Sometimes we forget just how hard it is to be a young baseball player. Russell has the talent to be a 20-homer shortstop, who can hit for a good average, right now. The adjustments are coming fast and furiously 22-year-old, but May has been better than April and the last four months can go to new heights. In the long-run, he’s talented enough to be in the four-star tier, and I’m willing to bet that he gets pretty close to there by the end of the season.

Two Star

13) Jonathan Villar
14) Starlin Castro
15) Marcus Semien
16) Brandon Crawford
17) Ketel Marte
18) Jhonny Peralta
19) Jose Reyes
20) Asdrubal Cabrera
21) Aledmys Diaz

With stolen bases even more scarce to come by in 2016, Villar has been a savior for many with his 14 steals (second to Jose Altuve), even if the batting average isn’t built to last. Even if he’s a .250-.260 hitter, as his peripherals suggest he is, he’s given himself a pretty good chance to stick as a close-to-everyday player if/when Orlando Arcia shows up in Milwaukee. This tier is also where you really notice that the position has more power than usual this year. Castro, Semien and Crawford all look the part of 15-20 homer threats (yes I know Semien is more than half way there, but we all know that’s been fluky), and Peralta falls into that category as soon as he returns.

Speaking of Peralta, he’s going to be the primary shortstop for the Cardinals when he comes back, which means early 2016 fantasy superstar Aledmys Diaz is going to have to make ends meet in a super utility role. The combination of reduced playing time and the fact that I don’t believe the power is for real, slides Diaz just outside of the top- 0. “Buy high” on him at your own risk. The other big playing time situation is in Colorado, where Story has entrenched himself as the shortstop of the future (for now), and Reyes is roughly 2-3 weeks away from returning. The Rockies are clearly going to try to trade Reyes, but they’re going to have to play him in order to showcase him. If they bury him on the depth chart, they might as well cut him (which ain’t happening), so expect them to play Story around the diamond a bit in June and July until they find a taker for their expensive problem.

Two-Star Value Pick: Starlin Castro

Maybe it’s because the Yankees have been bad (and really not very interesting to watch either), but in his last year of shortstop eligibility, Castro is continuing that slow trend of increasing power. A career-high ISO thus far in 2016, while keeping the batting average well in the black, in his taste of the American League bodes well for his fantasy value once the bats around him start picking up. And if not, he may pick up more at bats in prime lineup spots for the Bombers.

One Star
22) Alcides Escobar
23) Elvis Andrus
24) Javier Baez
25) Eduardo Nunez
26) Trea Turner
27) Brad Miller
28) Chris Owings
29) Zack Cozart
30) Didi Gregorius
31) Jimmy Rollins

If you’re looking at this tier and saying to yourself, “wait, that’s not so bad,” there’s probably no saving you. That’s not to say there isn’t some real upside here. Baez has been getting a good amount of playing time, and while he’s been extremely useful to the Cubs, he’s so far been underwhelming from a fantasy standpoint. He’s swinging more, but it’s really only translating into making more contact with pitches outside the strike zone, leading to weaker contact. If he can’t wait on his pitches at least a little better, that fantasy impact is still a dream. Turner is about [checks clock] a week away from showing up in Washington now and if he is able to translate the average from the minors (even at a .270-.280 rate), he becomes an easy high-end two-star shortstop. The problem is that the Nationals aren’t likely to hit him towards the top of the lineup, and his counting stats should suffer because of it. Miller has shown some pop, but it’s been against easy targets, racking up homers against Kendall Graveman, Cory Rasmus, John Danks and Nick Tropeano. Owings has been an incredibly boring fantasy producer, but his three-pronged eligibility and stolen base acumen makes him a really useful piece in deeper leagues. And yes, Rollins is not still playing, but he might just keep this job for the majority of the year—though with Tim Anderson heating up in Triple-A, those chances are becoming smaller by the day.

One-Star Value Pick: Eduardo Nunez

It’s been a fun ride for Nunez owners so far in 2016, as he’s done nothing but produce since being turned to due to injury. Having eligibility at both shortstop and third base is the most useful combination you can have without donning pads, and Nunez might even sneak 2B and OF to that list as well if he returns to playing all over the diamond as another hopeless Twins season marches on. I’ve always rooted for Nunez and it’s nice to see his defensive deficiencies not keeping him off the field. Of course, those defensive deficiencies (and the odds that the Twins look to move him to a contender, who would likely use him as a true utility man, near the deadline) keep him as a flash of light in a somewhat dim group.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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