On Thursday, Mike Gianella reminded all of us that it is far-too early to be worried about our rosters. April stretches obviously get us more worried than any other poor month-long periods, simply because there is no encouraging stretch of time beforehand to alleviate our concerns. To put it another way: The current sample is too small to inform any sweeping evaluations. With that being said, April performances sometimes do last all season, and identifying the sustainable early trends can catapult you to a championship. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at the best players at each position on ESPN’s Player Rater and see if they can remain fantasy assets throughout the season, or if they simply are mirages we’ll look back at a year from now and laugh about.
(Note: These rankings are through action Wednesday.)
It’s been a weird start at the catcher position, with Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez missing time because of injury, and Jonathan Lucroy just being disappointing. All of that leads to someone like Bandy taking the top spot. He’s done so on the back of a high .349 batting average and surprising pop that’s led to four home runs. He’s a fine target in two-catcher leagues or NL-only leagues, but don’t go breaking the bank hoping for big production at a weak position. For starters, he’s evenly splitting playing time right now with Manny Piña, who has been damn good himself. On top of that, he’s succeeding on the back of an unsustainable BABIP and an off-the-charts HR/FB ratio. I’d be surprised if he finishes better than the No. 20 catcher, which is still better than his No. 32 ADP in NFBC drafts.
It didn’t take long to get to the story of this young season, Eric Thames. After being selected as the 17th first baseman in NFBC drafts this spring, he quickly is making his believers look like geniuses. He’s already smacked 11 home runs this year, and while that pace obviously isn’t sustainable, his power is legit. I’d expect the league to make an adjustment and his strikeout rate to rise a bit, but this is a legitimate fantasy asset. He might not finish as the No. 1 fantasy first baseman, but he’ll be in the conversation with that power.
Hernandez quickly is becoming one of my favorite players to watch. He was surprisingly productive for the Phillies a year ago and came in looking to prove 2016 was no fluke as the team’s starting second baseman. He’s excelled in all areas of the game early in 2017, showing impressive power as well as an ability to turn batted balls into hits. His .411 BABIP won’t be sustained, of course, nor will his power. However, his walk rate will climb, and with it so will his stolen-base totals, while his run-scoring ability remains the same despite the cut in power. He’s not going to be the top second baseman in fantasy, but he can be a legitimate top-12 guy instead of simply being a low-end MI contributor as most expected him to be.
Here we have one of the more contentious players in fantasy so far this season. Gallo has been the very definition of boom or bust, and so far it’s working out well. He still strikes out a ton, but he’s been showing off his big power that mostly eliminates those contact issues. When you factor in his strong ability to work a walk and get on base, and that his BABIP should rise a bit as the year goes on, you have a useful fantasy player. The biggest unknown for Gallo is what will happen to his playing time when Adrian Beltre comes back, but if he keeps hitting like, this they’ll find room for him. Gallo’s batting average likely will keep him out of the upper tier of third basemen, but at 37-percent owned in ESPN leagues, he’s still being underrated.
This is probably the most-surprising positional leader, and the least likely to stay relevant. He’s built his fantasy value on the back of RBI and stolen-base production. He’s unlikely to continue producing the former, as he’s not exactly a power hitter, and just has happened to have runners on base for his extra-base knocks so far. He’s also not going to continue stealing bases like this; he’s only been on base so much because of a .386 BABIP. When that comes down, he doesn’t take enough walks to maintain his current OBP. Owings can still be a fine lower-end MI option or an NL-only play, but he’s not close to being the fantasy asset he’s been in the long run.
The top spot here actually was Thames again, but I won’t do that. Instead, we’ll look at Harper, who is the first player listed that we aren’t really surprised to see. I won’t spend too much time here, because we’ve seen Harper do this before. If he’s healthy and on the field, he’s one of the best hitters in recent memory. Assuming his health continues, the only challenge he’ll have for this spot is from Mike Trout, who happens to be right behind Harper at this moment.
I’ve been wrestling with how to value Santana for a little while now, because his start has been straight-up head scratching. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss it as unsustainable. In the most literal use of the term, yes, Santana will not be this good all year. He’s not going to finish with a sub-1.00 ERA. Even taking a looser interpretation of the word “unsustainable,” things don’t look good. He’s only striking out 6.7 batters per nine innings, and isn’t working with an elite walk rate. However, he is allowing very weak contact and has traditionally allowed very low BABIPs. In the end, it all comes down to his home-run rate. He’s already owned pretty much everywhere, so it comes down to whether you’d want to target him in a trade. I’d rather opt for strikeouts, but if your staff needs some ERA help, Santana can do work in that category even if it won’t be at the level he’s pitched to thus far.
Craig Kimbrel—Red Sox
This is only mildly surprising, as Kimbrel isn’t that far removed from being one of the elite relief arms in baseball. He took a bit of a step back last year due to major control issues, as well as minor injury problems, but he’s been electric in 2017. The strikeout stuff always has been there, but he’s allowing fewer base runners thus far. Supposedly an undisclosed injury held him back in 2016, so if you’re looking for a reason he’s back to being elite this season, it does exist. He’s not at the top of my rankings, but Kimbrel could very easily finish as a top-three reliever this year.