J.J. Jansons kicked off the three-year rankings series last week by bravely listing 39 real-life catchers, plus a generic Angel he made up and called Carlos Perez. I’m on first-base duty and while nothing is as bleak as catcher, the bottom of this list ain’t exactly rosy.
Before we get started, allow me to quote J.J. quoting Ben Carsley on the premise of these rankings:
“The formula is simple: most of the weight is placed upon projected 2016 performance, with a substantial drop in weighting potential 2017 performance and then another drop in how 2018 output is valued.”
So, as J.J. correctly interpreted, these can be viewed as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is in the immediate future.
One more detail, then we’re off. Crucially, these rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other smart evaluators on this site, and that’s okay. Good, even. This wouldn’t be much fun if we all thought the same thing about every player and couldn’t learn from each other in the cases where we diverge.
I guess what I’m trying to say is please direct your David Ortiz take directly at me and let the rest of these guys go about their day in peace.
The 28-year-old Goldschmidt is a rare five-category contributor at first base, and his age and track record relative to his position-mates’ make him the easy choice for first chair. Owners should expect something closer to his .299 career batting average than the BABIP-fueled .321 he achieved in 2015, but that’s no knock. Goldschmidt has reached the century mark in runs and RBI in two of the past three seasons (and was on pace in 2014 before control artist Ernesto Frieri hit him in the hand) and will threaten triple digits in each again, while offering up a power/speed floor of 30/15. Goldy is in his own tier for the time being.
I was tempted to drop Cabrera after his injury-shortened 2015, the second consecutive campaign of 25 or fewer home runs. In the end, I think the generational hitting talent is enough to carry his value for the next three seasons. Miggy is likely to provide the most batting average value at the position and the context around him lends itself to 100+ projections in both runs and RBI. His batted ball distance and exit velocity both suggest a rebound in HR/FB rate is imminent, and with it, another 30+ homer season or two. The questions here are age and health, but these rankings contemplate Cabrera’s age-33-35 seasons, and there’s not yet enough evidence to convince me that the Hall-of-Famer’s roto production is going to decline substantially until closer to the 2020s.
4. Jose Abreu
Rizzo is the pick for the second spot if you believe Cabrera’s power backslide is real, or if you think Rizzo’s 2015’s stolen-base total is repeatable. Those 17 swipes were more than anyone at the position logged besides Goldschmidt, but also 10 more than Rizzo’s previous seasonal total at any level. He obviously gets by more on situational smarts than straight-line speed, and that’s the kind of thing that advanced scouting should be able to limit. I’m expecting something more like 8-10 bags in 2016, which is still plenty valuable but less of a game changer than his 2015 total. The rest of his 2015 line (94/31/101/.278) is exactly what we should expect over the next few years, and represents enviable four-category production.
I covered Abreu on Monday. To recap, I like his chances of pushing 35 home runs again and, in doing so, returning something close to the back-half-of-the-first-round value we expected from him in 2015.
5. Joey Votto
Your preference among these two will depend almost entirely on whether your roster needs average or power. The decline of the Reds’ offense as it relates to Votto’s value is being overblown; they were a bottom-five run-scoring unit in 2015 and that didn’t stop Votto from finishing as fantasy’s second best first baseman. E5’s power is seductive, but I think Votto’s underlying skill will be more stable as they both enter their mid-30s.
7. Eric Hosmer
8. Miguel Sano
I was wrong about Hosmer entering 2015, thinking he was a vanilla option who offered balanced but unremarkable production across the board. He went on to set or approach career highs in all 5×5 categories except steals, and while he does lack the kind of categorical upside that can carry him in to the upper tiers of the position, his overall game remains underrated. In the middle of his prime, Hosmer is a safe bet for the back half of the top ten in each of the next three years.
I’m not sure if this is too high or too low on Sano, but I do know that I’m terrified of the floor his 35.5 percent strikeout rate introduces. I’d like to see whether he can leverage that 80-grade raw power over a full season without submarining my batting average before I push him ahead of more established players.
10. Adrian Gonzalez
11. Prince Fielder
Freeman seems to be a divisive fantasy player this year, with detractors pointing to his bland 2015 production, wrist injury, and deteriorating lineup as evidence that you should disinvest. In a keeper context, I’m still buying the four-category floor for a player who will only be 29 three years from now. I’m giving Gonzalez the nod over Fielder despite the fact that he’s older because he’s never played less than a full season in his professional career, which is remarkable. Fielder has been almost as durable, but he does have that neck surgery on his resume and will perhaps be subject to the early decline we often see from non-vegans with his body type.
12. Brandon Belt
I wanted to push Belt into the top 10 because of his age and ability to make positive contributions in all five categories, but that kind of move is hard to rationalize for a four-year veteran without a top-10 finish to his name yet. Assuming full health, a breakout season fueled by 20+ home runs wouldn’t surprise me at all. If Belt can pull it off, he’ll likely jump a couple veterans in next year’s iteration of these rankings.
13. Kendrys Morales
14. Evan Gattis
I guess this placement means I’m buying Morales’ 2015 season as a full-fledged return to fantasy relevance. He has at least one more year hitting in the thick of the Royals run-scoring machine, and potentially another if either side exercises a 2017 option. Gattis is under Houston’s control for the next three years and should continue to push 25 home runs per season in a favorable home park, while enjoying plenty of run-producing opportunities in a loaded offense.
15. Lucas Duda
16. Carlos Santana
17. Mitch Moreland
A trio of uninspiring players who are what they are and will play 2016 at age 30. Take your pick.
18. Albert Pujols
Pujols hit 40 home runs for the first time since 2010, to go with solid contextual stats and a batting average that figures to climb. So why is he all the way down at 18? In 154 plate appearances from May 28 through July 7th (23 percent of his season PA total), Pujols hit 45 percent of his home runs, scored 36 percent of his runs, and drove in 41 percent of his RBI. It was a torrid stretch that masked how terrible he was over the other three quarters of the season. Pujols may well have another month like last June in him, but I’ll let someone else take the gamble on a 36-year-old who skewed toward flyballs last season and is recovering from foot surgery.
19. Ryan Zimmerman
20. Victor Martinez
I like Zimmerman more on a per-game basis, but the track record of injury issues pushes him down the list. He’s played only 156 games over the past two seasons, so it’s difficult to reasonably project the kind of 20 HR, 90 RBI season he’s capable of if he could stay on the field. Martinez comes with his own injury concerns, but I still think he can hit for average and pile up counting stats in a stout Detroit offense. Forget the 32 home runs he hit in 2014 and set your expectations closer to the 14 he hit the previous season.
21. Mark Teixeira
22. Alex Rodriguez
Teixeira isn’t a great bet to play more than 120 games, but he’ll boost your home-run total while he’s in there, even if a repeat of 2015’s .255 batting average is highly unlikely. Rodriguez’s comeback in 2015 was truly remarkable, earning $16 in mixed leagues by crossing the 30 home run plateau for the fifteenth time in his career, while scoring and driving in more than 80. At 40 years old, he might not tally 600 plate appearances again, but the Yankees owe him $42 million over the next two seasons and he’s going to play.
23. David Ortiz
Even if I was sure we would get a vintage Papi season at age 40—and I’m most assuredly not—I wouldn’t bump him up much higher. These are three-year rankings and Ortiz is only going to play in one of them. See you in the comments.
24. Pedro Alvarez
25. Matt Adams
If I felt at all confident that these players would receive a full complement of at-bats in 2016, they would be ranked several spots higher. Alvarez remains unemployed but still has the potential to clear 30 home runs in a season, especially if he lands in a favorable home park. He was more aggressive than he’s ever been in 2015, but bettered his career contact rate, while also redistributing his batted balls to a more batting average-friendly mix. I’m still a believer in Adams and at age 27, he still has some untapped upside in the power department. The issue here is the Cardinals’ depth, which will most likely have Adams riding pine against same-side pitching and potentially more often if he doesn’t produce.
26. Justin Bour
27. C.J. Cron
Bour showed well in a full-time role in 2015, swatting 23 home runs in 129 games while hitting for an acceptable batting average. He’s surrounded by talent in the top two-thirds of the Marlins batting order and should provide a healthy RBI total even if he sits against southpaws. Cron also played well after he was given a regular gig in late June. I’m not especially high on the talent level, but the Angels have nowhere else to turn and there are worse places to hit than behind Mike Trout.
28. Byung-ho Park
Here’s another player who would rank higher with more clarity about playing time and, for that matter, how his game will translate stateside. Park smashed 105 taters in his past two KBO seasons, while striking out a quarter of the time. The strikeouts aren’t going to get better against vastly superior pitching and that makes him a batting average liability, but he seems to have enough thump to clear 20 bombs if given a full share of at-bats.
29. Adam Lind
I turned in my #AdamLindAppreciationSociety card minutes after he was traded to Seattle.
30. Greg Bird
31. A.J. Reed
32. Josh Bell
Hey look… prospects! Bird technically lost his prospect status in 2015 after 178 impressive plate appearances that saw him slash .261/.343/.529, including 11 home runs. He gets top billing in this group of youngsters because of his proximity to the majors, even if it is hard to see a path to regular at-bats so long as Teixeira and Rodriguez are healthy. I like Reed the most of these three in the long term but mid-2016 is a probably a best-base scenario for his arrival. He went 113/33/127/0/.340 across High-A and Double-A in 2015, and while minor-league contextual stats are largely irrelevant, he does have upside in both runs and RBI because of his ability to get on base and power runners home. Bell will be the best batting-average bet of these three in time, but his power is still developing and will need to come along if he’s going to be standard-depth starter. The Pirates aren’t exactly flush with solid options at first and Bell doesn’t need much more seasoning, so his time is nigh.
33. Kennys Vargas
34. Jon Singleton
If I’m uncertain about Park’s playing time, I’m even less sure about how Vargas will come into at-bats in Minnesota. Nevertheless, I like his ability to hit for power while not crippling your batting average. Half of that statement is true for Singleton.
35. Billy Butler
36. Joe Mauer
37. Logan Morrison
38. Chris Carter
Boy, this got ugly fast. Butler was not good in 2015 but he played often enough to compile a useful deep league line. That should continue for the next couple seasons, as Oakland doesn’t have the luxury of regularly benching its highest paid player. If you like Butler but wish he had even less power, Mauer’s your guy. Morrison is only 28 years old, which seems impossible. I could’ve sworn he came up with Jeff Conine. I get why the Brewers inked Carter to a one year deal but Pedro Alvarez’s current situation should tell you what the market thinks about power-hitting, no-glove players first base/DH types. If you’re not sure whether Carter or Ryan Howard belongs in this slot, it’s probably best to just move on.
39. Matt Olson
Olson’s 2015 season was disappointing on the heels of a 37 home run effort in 2014, but he still got on base at a .388 clip while playing a full season of Double-A at age 21. I’m not sure if Yonder Alonso will be hurt or bad when Olson is ready around mid-season, but it will definitely be one of those two.
40. Dan Vogelbach
Have to keep the bossman happy.