We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about keystoners for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2017 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
It’s been discussed at length this week, but this is really a position in flux. The depth at the major league level is better than it has been in a long time, and there’s even a little more youth than we tend to expect, given its placement on the defensive spectrum. That said, the power surge overall at the position was intense and is unlikely to be replicated as a group—though that’s not to say individuals can’t do it. A quick scan down this group of 50 yields few players who are unlikely to stay at the position, or picked up eligibility as a one-year fluke, so the depth can be arbitraged in at least the medium-term. That means if you have one of the breakouts here, trading them and grabbing a good option from the teens or 20s inexpensively could yield an overall improvement to your team.
And to prove that great things come in small packages, we start in Houston:
It’s really incredible when you reflect on the journey Altuve has taken from Kevin Goldstein’s pet prospect to true fantasy superstar, and it’s another victory in the column of those who trust hit tools over all else. That said, his 24 homers from last year are likely going to settle as his career-high and the steals are comfortably in the 30s after giving us that one 50-plus season in 2014. None of this is said to discourage you from considering him elite though.
The breakout star of the 2016 fantasy season, Turner shocked and awed with his batting average and power. The steals were the central point of his value, but those were expected. Regression will come to the now-shortstop (he’ll lose that eligibility after this year), but he has carved out a pretty solid floor and deserves the praise he gets. A high BABIP should carry him throughout his early career, so a .290 average is very reasonable and 50 steals is in play for a full season—just don’t bank on more than 15 or so home runs.
Unlike the players surrounding him on this list, Cano isn’t going to steal bases. He’s only going to steal hearts. Long a fantasy security blanket, he is as reliable in the four categories reserved for elder statesmen as they come. And while there will come a day when his production will decline, today is not that day.
5) Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Don’t all spit take at once. The prospect with the largest fantasy upside in the game is on the verge of getting all the playing time he can handle in a wonderful home park that will let his power play up. There is risk, as there is with any prospect, but the ceiling is so extreme that he gets the four-spot here ahead of some pretty strong options, including a very close call over Murphy. The former Met and current Ted Williams is legit and a good bet to hit over .300 with 25 homers again. Odor, on the other hand, has some red flags in his profile. The power waxed in 2016, but his approached waned, and pitchers noticed by throwing him fewer strikes and getting him to inflict damage upon himself in addition to the damage he inflicted on them. It will be tough for him to get to that plateau again with that level of aggressiveness.
Fantasy owners have long memories about many, many things, yet not about Gordon, who was a fantasy stud as recently as 2015. Despite the suspension last year, he still got his 30 steals and there’s little reason to think he won’t get to 50 (barring health) with a decent average (think .280-.290) this coming season as he hasn’t slowed yet. Just make sure you’re accounting for his zero in HR and RBI.
Yes, this is my way of saying that I don’t think Dozier has magically turned himself into an elite power hitter. And yes, I’d cash in on him if someone else in your league thinks he is.
10) D.J. LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
11) Matt Carpenter, St Louis Cardinals
This is the veteran tier, where you can get lots of production at pretty reasonable cost. Kipnis and LeMahieu may never hit for as much power as you want them to (even though the former did in 2016), but they remain really strong across-the-board contributors. Carpenter still gets overlooked because he’s kind of boring and wasn’t an exciting prospect, which is pretty incredible. The danger with him is that there’s a chance he’s 3B-only heading into 2018. Kinsler and Pedroia have been around forever and they keep producing. The Tiger had a power burst (theme, much?) in 2016, but even without it he’s an easy top-10 option this year. The diminutive Red Sox had a healthy season and did enough in the HR/SB categories to be an excellent fantasy keystoner. Continued health is always a question, but performance-wise, there’s no reason he can’t do that again—plus the counting stats will be there regardless. Walker could have contended for a 30-homer season if he hadn’t succumbed to a back injury that went from day-to-day to season-ending in less than 24 hours (thanks, Mets training staff). He’ll play nearly the whole season in 2017 at 31 years old, so he’s still hanging onto that prime of his.
This tier has the potential to produce some of the veterans of the early 2020’s. Schoop essentially can do what Odor can do, but without the flashiness or the hook, as he won’t walk but can hit for power and enough average not to hurt you. Forsythe’s value took a nice jump up with the move to Los Angeles where he’ll not only play in a better park and a better lineup, but have you seen those NL West pitchers? Zobrist is reliable and would likely be in the tier above were he either three years younger or wasn’t on the deepest roster in baseball. When you’re reliant on counting stats, the difference between 140 games and 155 games can be noticeable, and he’s much closer to that lower bar. The power finally showed up for Castro in 2016, as he cleared 20 homers for the first time in his career. Amazingly, he’s still only 26 years old. Travis would be higher on this list if he could show any sort of track record of health, but right now his career is just a series of fits and starts that haven’t shown he can be a consistent top-10 second baseman.
20) Raul Mondesi Jr, Kansas City Royals
21) Kolten Wong, St Louis Cardinals
22) Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs
23) Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Now, let’s have some fun. Mondesi has the speed to steal 40 bases, but might also get on base at a .250 clip. Long-term, I still think he’s a really solid bet to be a startable second baseman and he makes for a nice value pick for 2017. Albies is essentially Mondesi with a little more batting average, a little less power and a little less speed (though he’s still got plenty to keep fantasy owners happy). When Wong was a prospect, he was going to hit for average and the hope was he could provide enough elsewhere to be a borderline top-10 option. Well, three-plus years in and he’s shown enough secondary skills to matter, but holds a career .248 batting average. That’s not going to work, but he still has that contact ability in him somewhere. Finally, Happ would have been in the tier above this if there was no question he’d stick at second. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. That said, he can be a modest five-category contributor, which is still good if he has to shift to the outfield, but it’s far stronger here.
25) Lourdes Gurriel, Toronto Blue Jays
28) Willie Calhoun, Los Angeles Dodgers
29) Brett Lawrie, Chicago White Sox
Not much in the way of game changers once you get down to this level, but this starts to show the depth of the position. Harrison, Perez and Panik all make for acceptable starters in medium-depth formats and pretty good MI options. If this seems like it’s selling Perez’s 2016 performance short, it is. If you’re starting Lawrie or Phillips, you probably don’t quite feel as good about it, but these two at least still have some semblance of short-term upside. On the prospect side, Gurriel is the younger brother of the Astros’ first baseman and while he’s not that same caliber of hitter, he’s at least staring ahead at his prime as opposed to being beyond it. He may not have a standout fantasy tool, but he’s a good all-around hitter who picked a nice place to call home. Calhoun, along with Happ before him, would also be in the Schoop tier if he were certain to be a second baseman. And while his bat has a ton of potential, he might not even be able to fake it in the outfield, let alone on the dirt.
31) Dilson Herrera, Cincinnati Reds
32) Jace Peterson, Atlanta Braves
35) Forrest Wall, Colorado Rockies
36) Wilmer Difo, Washington Nationals
37) Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins
38) Sean Rodriguez, Atlanta Braves
39) Shedric Long, Cincinnati Reds
40) Cory Spangenberg, San Diego Padres
Forty players in and there are still interesting names! Herrera remains buried on the depth chart, this time in Cincinnati, but the talent and the park is there to allow him to be D.J. LeMahieu at sea level (at peak). Schimpf is probably a fascinating one-year wonder, but he could hit 25 homers if they just let him play in San Diego. If they don’t, Spangenberg might get a chance to steal 20-plus bases. Wall and Difo are names that were more exciting two years ago, but forget about them at your own peril—they remain young enough to turn into fantasy starters in time. The NL East guys are boring, but they’ll play. That said, Peterson still has a chance to turn into a viable option if he can figure out how not to be terrible at stealing bases (he’s 19-for-34 in his 294 career games).
41) Luis Urias, San Diego Padres
42) Howie Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies
43) Scooter Gennett, Milwaukee Brewers
44) Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies
46) Carlos Asuaje, San Diego Padres
47) Jose Miguel Fernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers
48) Alen Hanson, Pittsburgh Pirates
49) Joey Wendle, Oakland Athletics
50) Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
These guys are kinda boring, but there are also players here that can fill a MI spot without making you want to throw your computer and/or phone out the window. Kendrick could bounce back a bit as he’s a nice fit for that park, but he also might lose a starting job by June. Gennett’s home park is the only thing separating him from fantasy irrelevance, but he hasn’t been traded. Yet. Merrifield was a guy you likely hadn’t heard of before he hit .283 for the Royals last year, however his ranking is indicative of the chances I give him to beat out Mondesi for that job. Urias could be the next Josh Harrison. Kingery could be the next Josh Harrison. Pinder, Asuaje, Hanson and Wendle are all likely utility players. Fernandez was much more interesting before the Dodgers traded for Logan Forsythe, but he wasn’t likely to be much more than an empty batting average.