These rankings function best as something like a cross between keeper preferences and dynasty rankings for those whose window of contention is open in the immediate future. 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.
On to a list that’s as impressive at the top as it is ugly the bottom:
3. Kris Bryant
As J.P. Breen and George Bissell have already covered in the tiered re-draft rankings and early ADP analysis, the collection of premium young talent at the top of this position is staggering. While I wouldn’t quibble too much with any permutation of these four names, Machado is my top choice because of the five-category production and outrageously high baseline. The reigning American League MVP gets the nod over the young Cub despite a six-year age gap. If there’s a knock on Bryant, it’s the contact rate that lags the league average by nearly 12 percentage points, and the resulting strikeout rate that eclipsed 30 percent in 2015. I’m not saying Bryant can’t or won’t improve on those metrics in his sophomore season, but I want to see that development realized before I switch the two. Arenado’s 42-home-run, 130-RBI season was eye opening, but I’ll wager that they both finish as career highs. The RBI production especially is due for a backslide, even if Arenado’s underlying game stays just as strong as it was in 2015. Only 13 players got to triple-digit RBI last season and only three of those cleared 115. He’ll drive in plenty in 2016, but the comparative advantage will shrink substantially.
5. Kyle Seager
I loved Jeff Quinton’s observation earlier this week that the second tier of third basemen are being undervalued because they don’t measure up to the incredibly high bar set by the top four. If that trend holds as we get closer to the season, I’ll own Seager everywhere. He hasn’t played fewer than 155 games or hit fewer than 20 home runs since he became a full-time starter in 2012, and most amazingly, no annual batting average has finished outside the nine-point range from .259 to .268. Add in a handful of steals and a bankable 150 R+RBI with upside for more if the Mariners offense improves, and you have steady production from a player who still has two years left on the right side of 30.
I think people are sleeping on Franco a little, which seems odd given his recent top prospect status and the productive rookie season he turned in at age 22. You can’t simply extrapolate the 14 home runs, 45 runs, and 50 RBI he tallied over 80 games to arrive at a would-be full-season line, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Franco has a top-five finish or two over the next three seasons. There’s a higher floor here than most non-superstar young players can offer, with upside in the power department.
7. Todd Frazier
Frazier landed in a good spot given the inevitability of a trade this winter, but 2015’s second-half fade is somewhat worrisome. Despite that hesitation, I think he’s good for 25 home runs and double-digit steals, the latter of which is a total likely to taper off sooner rather than later. I’m not buying Carpenter as a repeat 20 home run bat despite the drastic change in approach. I am buying a repeat of triple-digit run-scoring atop the Cardinals lineup.
10. Evan Longoria
Moustakas had a breakout year at age 26, delivering on some of the promise he showed as at top-20 prospect once upon a time. He’s not quite going to be the guy we thought he’d be after a 36 home run 2010 in the upper levels of the minors, but I do believe he can continue to be the player we saw in 2015. I surprised myself by dropping Longoria into the top ten and perhaps his placement says more about the players behind him than it does about Longo. There’s playing time certainty and with it, opportunity to compile counting stats. At 30 years old, Longoria is younger than you might think. It’s too early to regress his output significantly based on the aging curve alone.
11. Nick Castellanos
12. Matt Duffy
13. Yasmany Tomas
Castellanos has been disappointing relative to expectations bestowed upon him as a prospect, but he has two full major league seasons under his belt and hasn’t turned 24 yet. If we’re docking Frazier for his second half decline, we should at least be cognizant that Castellanos’ second-half OPS bettered his first half by 150 points. The context in Detroit is extremely strong and if you’re looking for RBI upside, Castellanos is as good a bet as anyone in this range. The leash is getting shorter but there’s still some left. If you know what to expect from Duffy or Tomas, you’re better than I am. I don’t think Duffy is as good as he was in 2015, and likewise, I don’t think Tomas is as bad. Tomas is only 25 and still has plenty of raw power to tap into.
14. Pablo Sandoval
15. Adrian Beltre
16. Chase Headley
I think this might make me the high guy on both Panda and Headley. Sandoval was an abject disaster in 2015 but he was a top 125 pick in 2015 and is barely inside the top 300 now. You might not think he’s going to revert to the player he was in San Francisco, but a 175-pick slip overstates the level to which his true talent level deteriorated in one year. I like the odds of a rebound to fringy mixed-league starter status. This Beltre ranking might look foolish if he continues to play and produce through injuries, but he’ll turn 37 shortly after Opening Day and I can’t shake the image of Beltre hobbling off the field in game one of the ALDS. I like Headley here as a known quantity with three years left in Yankee Stadium and no imminent challengers for his playing time. I think we all know he won’t sniff the 31-homer output he gave us in 2012, but a total in the mid-teens is in play and he won’t kill you elsewhere.
17. Justin Turner
18. Danny Valencia
19. Trevor Plouffe
Here’s a veteran group for those of you who want to emphasize year one of this three year look. Turner has been far better than people probably realize, turning in a TAv of .340 in 2014 and .321 in 2015. He’d be higher if I felt more strongly that he’ll eclipse 400 plate appearances in 2015. Valencia and Plouffe are nice power options for deeper leagues, while Solarte is mostly here because the Padres have few alternatives and he’s a top-third-of-the-order hitter and an acceptable all-around contributor.
21. Jake Lamb
22. Hector Olivera
23. Colin Moran
Lamb was not special in his rookie season, but he showed enough to earn the bulk of the time at third base in the desert. Then again, it’s Arizona, so who knows how they’ll deploy their stable of 25-year-old infielders. I’m not sure what to do with Olivera. “30-year-old who has played one season of competitive baseball in the past five years” isn’t my favorite profile. I’m a bigger Moran supporter than most because I think his hit tool will play at the major league level even if his power isn’t ideal from the hot corner. This ranking also reflects my belief that Luis Valbuena won’t make it through 2016 as Houston’s everyday third baseman…
24. Martin Prado
25. Yunel Escobar
26. Luis Valbuena
27. David Wright
..but he will there on Opening Day doing the same big power/low average thing we’re used to. I am really not a fan of batting average drains no matter what else the player brings to counterbalance that anchor, so Prado and Escobar rank higher than Valbuena here. Prado gets the edge because his recent history suggests a .280 hitter while Escobar is more like a .260 guy, despite the surprising .314 he achieved in 2015. “33-year-old with a degenerative spinal condition” outranks “30-year-old who has played one season of competitive baseball in the past five years” on my list of least-favorite fantasy descriptors.
28. Tyler Saladino
29. Renato Nunez
Saladino is one of my favorite sneaky endgame or deep league targets for 2016. Tim Anderson isn’t quite ready and with Alexei Ramirez departed, the Opening Day assignment looks like it’s Saladino’s to lose. Which he very well might. If he can hit enough to stay in the lineup, Saladino will run enough to make an impact. He swiped eight bags in 68 major-league games after stealing 25 in just 52 Triple-A contests in 2015. As has been well documented this offseason, league-wide stolen-base output is on the decline. You could do worse than to take a flier on a potential 20-bag player with a job, especially since he’ll gain eligibility up the defensive spectrum. Nunez launched 18 bombs in fewer than 100 Double-A games in 2015 while also trimming his strikeout rate to 15.9 percent, a new career low. With another productive season, Nunez could put himself in a position to contribute in Oakland in 2017.
30. David Freese
32. Adonis Garcia
33. Giovanny Urshela
34. Mark Reynolds
35. Derek Dietrich
36. Jed Lowrie
My only goal in making this list was to find enough names to leave Will Middlebrooks off. I failed.
38. Eric Jagielo
39. D.J. Peterson
40. Ryan McMahon
I included one overhyped Red Sox prospect from the early 2010s but I draw the line at Garin Cecchini, so I’ll conclude with a trio of prospects who are unlikely to have any kind of impact until 2017 at the earliest. Jagielo was in the middle of an excellent Double-A season when knee surgery ended it. He should be fully healthy to start 2016 and could conceivably reach Cincinnati for a September trial if he picks up where he left off. Peterson is probably the closest to the majors but was heinous in Double-A in 2015, slashing .223/.290/.346. The near certainty of a move across the diamond will take third-base eligibility away before we can even use it. McMahon added to his impressive professional resume in 2015, but he hasn’t played in Double-A yet and is blocked by the fourth best option on this list. I expect he’ll rank significantly higher on Bret’s proper dynasty rankings tomorrow.
Thank you for reading
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