Welcome to the Baseball Prospectus in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did before Opening Day, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking. Here's how to define the stars:
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will provide first or second round draft value and will be worth $30 or more in auction formats. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will earn more than $20 in auction formats. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are the types of players who provide back end roster value. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of what has happened year-to-date but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen the rest of 2017.
If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.
The rankings assume a 15-team, standard 5×5 Roto scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.
Here’s a link to our pre-season tiered rankings for third baseman as a point of reference.
Here’s the schedule:
Thursday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Friday: Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
Neither of these guys have quite lived up to their respective elite draft positions, but both have been top-50 overall players to date, so it’s tough to argue either’s really been that much of a disappointment. The reigning NL MVP has been the weaker option to date, on pace as he is for a $22 season that would rate just sixth among hot-corners a year removed from a $29 effort. He’s been too busy racking up absurd walk totals that don’t particularly benefit standard-leaguers, especially given the champs unexpectedly flaccid supporting lineup to date.
Five-Star Trade Target: Arenado
Arenado’s posted his wholly reasonable season totals to date without really finding his groove yet at Coors Field—you know, the place where he’s sitting on a .305/.352/.576 career line. His first 100-odd plate appearances this year have come in about 90 points south of that norm. He has, encouragingly, continued to dramatically increase his fly-ball rate, as well, putting air under more than half of his balls-in-play to date. That’s the fifth-highest rate of any hitter so far this season, and his average distance is up 10 feet, too. Despite these positive indicators, he’s put up a depressed HR/FB rate. That doesn’t jive, and at his current pace should produce many, many more dingers over the next few months.
No, Sano is not going to run a .461 BABIP all year, and that 38-percent whiff rate’s going to come calling sooner than later. Then again, just 4.5 percent of his balls in play have been soft contact, which is a full three percentage points lower than any other hitter in the game. The BABIP’s not going to fall off a cliff at that rate, and PECOTA likes him for another 22 homers and north of 120 R+RBI. Yum. Lamb’s been the most productive third-sacker to date, with a $32.61 pace in standard 5×5 formats, and there isn’t a ton that looks fishy for future performance expectations in his profile other than an impending influx of humidor-ized baseballs. Turner hits all his home runs in the summertime. Games where one homers thrice and drives in double-digit runs have a way of propping up one’s bottom line, but Rendon’s been solid enough outside of that one fateful day, and just as importantly he has stayed healthy.
Four-Star Trade Target: Kyle Seager
Sure, he hasn’t really been good at all so far, with just a measly $4.36 mixed-league pace. But there’s a long track record that suggests he gets to where he’s going, and as far as PECOTA was concerned pre-season he was headed for a .266/26/91/82/6 full-season line. His exit velocity’s down marginally, his batted-ball distance is up marginally, but there aren’t really any red flags here. In fact, he’s swinging at less balls, he’s hitting more strikes, he’s lifting the ball more…and yet his HR/FB rate is wildly south of his career average. He’ll get there, and you should take advantage if the manager in your league is getting bored waiting for it to happen.
Sometimes it’s tough to evaluate 38-year-old future-Hall-of-Famers coming off $22 seasons who missed the first third of the year with an injury. What’re you gonna do? Good luck out there, Beltre owners. It took a hot minute of sophomore adjustment, but Bregman has started to settle in, with a tight .893 OPS over the past couple weeks that has been supported by a laser show including the likes of this 104 mile-an-hour bullet. It’s hard to find much to like in Frazier’s season to date unless yours is an OBP league, and even there some beer goggles are required. Franco has faced a steady diet of breaking stuff that he has struggled mightily to adjust to, and while he’s another suffering likely undue harm from the BABIP gods, he still represents the most tenuous of the three-star options on account of that glaring hole.
Three-Star Trade Target: Gallo
In re-draft leagues it’s easy to see a player hitting .212 with a 37-percent whiff rate and the one carrying tool that has become almost passé in fantasy ball, and figure it’s time to cash in. But hidden under that saggy average and ugly peripheral is just how valuable Gallo has been so far. His $27.55 pace has been the second-best mark at the position, and while PECOTA hates him with the fire of a thousand suns, there just haven’t been any signs yet that he’s struggling to make adjustments or otherwise proving incapable of doing what he’s done thus far. It’s non-traditional value, but it’s probably doable value, and you still have to get those dingers from somewhere, so why not?
Healy has done pretty much exactly what those who drafted him could’ve hoped for, and a jump in fly-ball rate is a welcome development for a player with his skillset. If I had to pick one relatively unproven player on this list who already appears to be who he is, it’d be Healy, and that’s not a bad thing for a lower-end option. On one hand, Gurriel’s exit velocity and low whiff rate points offer promising benchmarks, but on the other that EV is concentrated on the ground and to the pull side, and he never, ever walks. It’s not entirely clear where Perez’s stolen bases have gone, but they’re all he’s missing right now. The good news on that front is that his speed looks fine, and he’s still creating value as a baserunner. The surprising pop’s still there too, so if he does start running again there’s enough power-and-speed upside here to offset playing time concerns.
Two-Star Trade Target: Castellanos
I’ve probably written more on Castellanos this calendar year than any other player, including a long appeal on his behalf last week, so I kind of feel like I’ve put myself in far enough into the corner that he’s a mandatory choice here.
Headley is consistently a high-line-drive hitter, and he’s going to the opposite field more often this year, though it hasn’t helped his average and it has hurt his tenuous power profile. Plouffe offers some semblance of consistency in his track record, though a career-high whiff rate (by a lot) and poor defense leave him vulnerable to an impending challenge from one of the organization’s top prospects, Matt Chapman, who is crushing pitches at Triple A. Valencia has been pressed into expanded duty against same-handed pitching and hasn’t quite hit his stride against the southpaws, but we know it’s in there.
One-Star Trade Target: Dietrich
With “None of the Above” off the table as an option, I’ll go with Dietrich. Outside of more pop-ups, there’s really not much to pinpoint in his batted-ball profile to suggest he’s earning anything close to his current 80-point decline in BABIP. He’s making more contact, though his increase in aerial contact hasn’t necessarily been the good kind. Still, baby steps, and if he can put together a little run here before Prado comes back off the DL, there’s no indication he can’t make a run at last year’s sneaky-useful little .279/.374/.425 line the rest of the way. Coupled with some positional versatility, it’s a fine-and-dandy bench profile for a medium-depth league.