If you were here last year, you already know that 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. If you weren’t, well, now you know.
These rankings are mine alone. They no doubt vary from the opinions of other writers 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.
And with that, let’s get on with it. I’ll be with you for all the three-year rankings this season. I hope none of them are as hard to parse as this god-forsaken position. Onwards:
I like to take risks in the late rounds, a strategy that can’t work unless your early picks deliver something close to their draft-day cost. Betting on track record instead of projection might be boring, but it is enabling. Bank the batting average at a time when it’s more important than ever for our game, and enjoy the volume advantage that these two are likely to have over the field. Take your risks later when the penalty isn’t quite as stiff.
If you want to jump Sanchez ahead of the 30-year-olds, I get it. I see what you see: youth, immense power, enough feel to hit to be neutral in batting average, and a favorable position in a competent Yankees lineup. I also see a 40 percent HR/FB rate, a strikeout rate that rose 10 percentage points from August to September, and a batting average that dipped by 150 points during the same timeframe. Chalk it up to pitchers getting a book on him, batted-ball luck running out, arbitrary endpoints, small samples, whatever you want. But it’s all we have to work with so far, and I want to see a full season before I jump in with both feet.
Watching the way Contreras handled himself for the eventual world champions, it’s easy to forget he was exposed to the Rule 5 draft two seasons ago and ascended from Double-A to first-division regular in the time since. He’s a light version of the 24-year-old above him, lacking the top-prospect pedigree and bailout carrying tool, attached to the same small-sample, need-to-see-more caveat.
You won’t find a bigger Realmuto pusher than me. I tabbed him as my target last year because of his atypical speed, well-roundedness, and low acquisition cost. Two of those three are still in tact. I don’t expect Realmuto will sniff the .303 batting average he posted in 2016, but I do think there are still double-digit steals to be had. That should be enough to trump the group of power-dependent options behind him given the changing value of stolen bases relative to home runs.
If you buy into the theory that Grandal’s cold spells over the past two seasons were the result of an in-season shoulder injury and the ensuing recovery, Grandal might be a couple of spots too low. Perez’s birthday tells me that he’s only going to be 26 on Opening Day. His knees won’t be a day short of 79. Though his roto slash line has been incredibly stable over the past three seasons, I just can’t get on board with the approach, especially since his swinging strike rate jumped two-and-a-half percentage points last season. This might be a touch too high for Ramos since he’s going to forfeit a couple months of 2017 value while he rehabs an ACL tear. As with Grandal, there’s a narrative that offers a compelling explanation for his 2016 production. Whether or not it was because of the Lasik surgery is anyone’s guess, but Ramos dramatically improved his chase and contact rates last season. If Ramos can hold those gains and add them to the natural power in his bat, he offers a solid all-around profile.
The case against Murphy is pretty simple: he’s got loads of swing-and-miss in his game, evidenced by the fact that he struck out a quarter of the time at almost every minor league stop and in 29 of 89 major-league plate appearances so far. There are also playing time concerns, as it’s unclear whether Murphy or Tony Wolters will be the primary option. To the latter point: Wolters’ versatility makes him a neat player to have around and he performed admirably behind the dish—especially for a convert—in a partial 2016 season. I just don’t think the stick is good enough for a majority timeshare and I’m not sure he’s built for it either. The case for Murphy is also pretty simple. He’ll play half his games in Coors, he’s got enough raw to lead the position in dingers, and Colorado’s lineup is stacked if it stays intact and healthy. Also, look at the rest of these guys.
A 31-year-old who just completed his worst full offensive season and missed large parts of the previous two rounds out the top 10. Oh, and he’s currently unemployed. Wieters is followed by Molina, who just set a new career high in plate appearances at age 33. Next up: a player who didn’t get any serious run until he was 29 years old and might be a designated hitter. Gattis is a designated hitter and could find himself on the short side of a platoon. Last of the group is Castillo, who was non-tendered by a team that won 69 games (nice) in 2016 and whose next best option is Chris Herrmann (not nice). Having fun yet?
15. Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
Last chance for d’Arnaud. Former top prospect status isn’t enough when all you have to point to on the major-league resume is a stray good month here and there.
If you’re looking to passive aggressively protest batting average as a category, here’s your cluster. Because of his age, Zunino gets the nod over the other two despite being the biggest batting average liability and likely worst 2017 option of the group. Russell’s bet looked dreadfully slow to my eye last year and both he and McCann’s ability to handle velocity faded significantly in 2016.
Time for a couple of prospects, this was getting depressing. Alfaro is due to make his MLB debut in 2017… wait, what’s that? He inexplicably came up from Double-A last season for 17 plate appearances? In any case, he gets my vote for fantasy’s top catching prospect and he’s on the verge of regular playing time. If not for Andrew Knapp being a level ahead and Cameron Rupp being competent enough for a rebuilder, I’d feel more confident that Alfaro is installed by mid-2017. The Phils needn’t be in a hurry though, and Alfaro could use some more seasoning in Triple-A while getting that 2015 ankle injury further in the rearview. Collins is a long shot to get anything more than a September cup of coffee in 2017, but the White Sox have absolutely nothing behind the plate and aren’t exactly known for their patience with prospect advancement. This ranking assumes Collins brings his all-fields power to the South Side on Opening Day 2018.
A little something for everyone here: memories of a .333 TAv season not that long ago, a former top-100 prospect who got lost behind the best catcher in the game, empty batting average at the major league level, empty batting average at the minor league level, and defensive wizardry with an El Paso-fueled stat line. What’s your fancy?
26. Derek Norris, Washington Nationals
27. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
28. James McCann, Detroit Tigers
29. Jason Castro, Minnesota Twins
30. Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies
31. Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves
32. Chris Herrmann, Arizona Diamondbacks
33. Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox
This is a list of players who will wear face-masks and shin guards in 2016. Move along.
Nothing more than a hedge against the possibility that 2016 playing time doesn’t shake out the way I think it will for these four teams. Move along.
If Barnes finds his way into regular playing time somewhere – it would probably take a trade to a second-division team willing to utilize him in a super-utility role—the stolen base potential jumps him well up the list. Kelly really grew on me during a productive 2016. Hitting at the upper levels at age 22 is impressive for a conversion, and he capped 2016 by raking in the Fall League. Kelly is blocked by a franchise icon and his power needs to show up in games if he’s going to be fantasy-relevant, but he’s nearly ready. There are probably better candidates for the last spot, but none of them is cool enough to handle both sides of the battery.