With the calendar flipping to January, it can only mean one thing: another year without The Winds of Winter. Well, that and another crop of players to enter pro ball from both the amateur and international ranks. And before we dive into the individual values of the players at hand, and the corresponding integers they appear next to, we need to take a step back and diagnose the draft class as a whole.
Figuring out the right approach to a dynasty draft is often even more important than figuring out the right players, and that involves planning ahead and being active. It means knowing where the true talent of the class lies and where the tiers are; then using that information to either trade up or trade back should the opportunity arise. The crop of 2016 signees was weak overall, and the only thing that made it even close to tolerable were the international signees. In fact, in each of the last two versions of this list, there were 13 international players to help hide the weakness in the June draft class.
This year there are six. Yes, a couple of them are very high-profile, and that helps round out the early part of the list, but what it doesn’t do is make the back half much more tolerable. And this gets into where the strength of this class lies: the very top. There hasn’t been a top-five this strong since at least 2014, and arguably back to 2012—where the top of the class was Darvish, Rendon, Cole, Bauer, Bundy and Cespedes. So if you were fortunate enough to score a high-end pick this year, congrats. You’re one step ahead of everyone else.
If you’re saddled with a non-top-five pick, we need to slow down a minute here. This is a safe place where we’re allowed to get excited about the players we’re going to get the opportunity to add to our rosters at no cost to us. The write-ups below are going to accentuate the positives, but don’t let them paint a picture that will get you in trouble. The shiny toy syndrome always applies. These players (for the most part) haven’t failed yet, and we haven’t seen the shapes of their failures. As people with dynasty draft picks, we read through analysis and see the group as a collective unit of potential future stars and reliable starters. We are experiencing with prospects the cognitive bias noted scholar Barney Stinson coined the cheerleader effect.
The back half of this list is as weak as ever, and I’ve added in gaps to denote the best places to position yourself. That said, my rankings are anything but chalk here, so you’re likely to find players in higher tiers slipping down because some of your leaguemates put more stock in draft position than others.
Before the list, we get to the most exciting part: the fine print! So just imagine the next few sentences coming at 4x speed. The following list is intended for dynasty leagues of approximately 14-16 teams, with one catcher. It assumes a separate farm team, and if your league does not have a separate farm team, please bump up the players with faster timetables. If you’re in a deeper league, channel safety. If you’re in a shallower league, channel risk. And, finally, each player’s situation is factored into their values. This can mean organizational history of developing players and/or future home ballpark (though the latter is discounted a bit since these players are generally pretty far away). Yes, I copied that directly from last year’s version. No, I’m not ashamed. The game doesn’t change, only the names.
Without any further ado, here are your top 50 players who signed during the 2017 calendar year. Got questions? That’s what the comments and Twitter are for.
We’ve been waiting, and he’s finally here, but we have to talk about the elephant in the room. Fantasy games break at the thought of Ohtani, and depending on what platform or settings you use for your league, his stats may be applied differently. Will he be two different players, like Yahoo has mentioned? Will he be one player you have to declare as a hitter or pitcher prior to each transaction period? There are so many unanswered questions beyond just “how much will the Angels use him as a hitter” that there should be some lingering reservations of just how valuable he’ll be in fantasy leagues. But he’d occupy this spot even if you told me he’d never pick up a bat in the majors, so there shouldn’t be lingering reservations about taking him first in dynasty drafts.
There was no better hitter available in the 2017 Draft, and there are only a handful of better places for a player to call home than Miller Park. Hiura comes with both some defensive and injury question marks, but the combination of hit and power tools is unmatched on this list. He has the raw skills to eclipse .300 and hit 25-30 homers to boot, and he should be a fast mover. That combination is as tough to beat as Hiura is with a fastball.
This is a tier unto itself, and there are a lot of similarities between these two players. Some of the excitement around Lewis comes from the fact that he not only has plenty of upside (he could steal 30-40 bases, while also pushing 20 homers if everything coalesces), but from his extreme youth when compared with his level. He held his own in an 18-game sample at the end of 2017 in the Midwest League. That is a data point. Yet, we don’t have to go back very far to see the same exciting things about Robert. In his last season in Serie Nacional, a then 18-year-old Robert hit .401/.526/.687 with 12 homers and 11 steals in just 53 games. That’s more impressive than any player we’ve seen come to the majors from Cuba at that age. Robert may not have the upside of a Yoan Moncada, but a fast-moving 20/20 outfielder capable of hitting for strong averages (and high OBP, if you’re into that sort of thing) is a real possibility.
5) Jo Adell, OF, Los Angeles Angels
If you want to make the argument that Adell belongs in the tier above with Robert and Lewis, I wouldn’t fight you all that hard, but there’s more risk in Adell’s profile despite the fact that he showed up in pro ball more advanced than many amateur scouts thought. The tools are undeniable (he probably has more raw fantasy upside than anyone on this list), but the Kentucky native will need to keep working on reducing the swing-and-miss in his game as he advances in order to tap into that extreme potential.
Have I gotten any more gun shy about pushing high-upside left-handed pitching prospects in the wake of Jay Groome’s disappointing pro debut? Nope. Gore may not quite match Groome’s raw stuff, but he comes with noticeably less on-the-field and off-the-field risk. There is borderline SP1 upside with Gore, and the fastball/curve combo could be a pair of 7s with more minor league reps. Combine that with a friendly landing spot and you get the top prep pitcher available.
This next mini-tier is all about power. Ramos has it at the plate, and profiles as an eventual 30-plus-homer hitter with speed to boot; though the fact that he’s, at least temporarily, with the Giants puts a very slight damper on that. Greene has it on the mound, where he can pump triple-digit fastballs at will; though the fact that he’s in Cincinnati puts a very slight damper on that. They’re both fun, but risky profiles, and the pre-draft hype combined with the draft-pick pedigree might make Greene seem like the easy choice here, but underestimate Ramos at your own peril. In dynasty leagues, you’d take an OF2 over a SP2 any day of the week.
I really shouldn’t have used the power conceit in the previous tier, as it’s probably even more appropriate here. There aren’t many destinations better for power-hitting prospects than The Cell—you’re going to have to give me at least three years to get a new sponsor on the tongue when a stadium has a fun nickname like this—and Burger has a meaty swing capable of 30-plus homers. Whether he stays at the hot corner is an open question, but it’s more of a down-the-road question as well. Baz may not quite have the fastball or the upside that Greene has, but he is every bit as impressive of a prep pitching prospect as we’re accustomed to seeing towards the top of drafts. The fastball/slider combination is potentially plus, but it’s the full scope of the four-pitch mix that gives him SP2 upside.
Here is where we see that fun does not always equate value. McKay is as much of a true two-way player we’ve seen in a long time, short of the top player on this list, and that’s awesome. It’s really interesting to think of the ways the Rays could deploy him. Could he be a 500-PA first baseman and a reliever? Could he be a starter and a pinch hitter? Either way, his fantasy value isn’t additive. As a hitter alone, he’s unlikely to be more than a solid CI option. As a pitcher alone, he’s unlikely to be more than an acceptable SP4. And the developmental risk is weird enough that I completely understand just wanting to be hands off with this one. I won’t be, but the ranking reflects my comfortability anyway.
Here’s where things get really interesting. Kendall has a prep hitter profile in a college hitter—someone who has the tools but is raw. He may never hit enough, but there’s the potential for 30-35 steals and 15-20 homers. He’s basically Corey Ray without the hype. Wright is the “top college arm in the draft,” but in a draft that’s down on college arms, that’s just not the pull that it could be. He is reasonably safe, but the odds of him being more than a strong SP3 or higher aren’t great. Beck has the tools to be in the top-five on this list, but he also has as much risk as the pipes underneath the Coliseum. He’s basically Garrett Whitley with a slightly higher bonus. Pratto is going to be unfairly compared to Eric Hosmer given his profile and organization, but his ceiling is closer to the Hosmer we got than the Hosmer we wanted. Think a .290 hitter with 20-25 homers and a modicum of speed. He’s basically Eric Hosmer.
We shouldn’t be at all surprised that the Rangers took an incredibly toolsy outfielder, and we should take into account their track record of developing players like this. It’s a five-category dream profile; the Lewis Brinson starter kit.
We shouldn’t be at all surprised that the Nationals took a risky arm who fell in the draft due to non-talent concerns, and we should take into account their track record of hitting on players like this. There’s SP2 potential if his head is on straight, but there’s a lot of noise to squint through.
It’s fitting to have Haseley and Smith in the same tier, as both of them are very likely to be major leaguers, but far less likely to be impact fantasy contributors. Haseley does a little bit of everything, but doesn’t offer any impact unless he becomes an extreme contact hitter. The odds of this are not worth betting a first-round pick on. Smith, on the other hand, might have an impact in batting average, but showed zero power (literally, zero) in his pro debut and that’s just not going to cut it at first base no matter how strong of a contact hitter you are. He’s basically Matt Thaiss if he never even owned catcher’s gear. Bukauskas is a fun arm because if he can make it work in the rotation, he could have SP3 upside. However, the reliever risk is real and there’s no guarantee he closes if he is force to move to short spurts, no matter how dominant he might be with just two pitches. He’s basically Carson Fulmer with a more difficult name to spell. Waters, on the other hand, is the guy to watch. He’ll be overlooked because he wasn’t taken in the top 40 picks of the draft, but there’s a reason the Braves possibly, maybe gave him a car. He may not have the dynamic athleticism of Thompson, but he’s a potential five-category contributor in his own right and he may have earned himself a full-season assignment to start 2018.
The youngest player on this list, Vientos will celebrate Thanksgiving next year as an 18-year-old and has plenty of power potential to grow into. Hopefully he doesn’t have more positions to grow out of as well.
23) Kevin Merrell, SS, Oakland Athletics
24) Brent Rooker, OF, Minnesota Twins
25) Alex Faedo, RHP, Detroit Tigers
26) Tristen Lutz, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
27) Wander Franco, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
28) Ryan Vilade, 3B/SS, Colorado Rockies
Really, the upside tier started with Vientos, but it continues with these six. We’ve got a middle infielder with 80 speed and enough of a hit tool to be able to dream on 40-50 steals. We’ve got a masher with a questionable hit tool who just happened to slug 18 dingers in just 62 games during his pro debut. We’ve got a starting pitcher who was a former potential 1-1 candidate but needs more than just a strong fastball and slider to be better than an SP4. We’ve got a classic right-field profile in a good park. We’ve got a high-end J2 pick who will probably get less hype than he should because Kevin Maitan didn’t become an elite prospect immediately. We’ve got a third baseman who is staring up at a Coors future, but it’s five levels and at least three years away—and that’s if the hit tool allows the 25-homer power to play. There’s risk everywhere, but that’s why these guys are second/third rounders rather than first rounders.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with players who don’t have star upside. Martin continues to be the most underrated college arm in last year’s draft, and even though he probably isn’t more than an SP5, he’s got a pretty good chance to get there considering he’s been mostly an afterthought. White has a high ceiling as a hitter, but the Mariners do not have a strong track record of developing hitters and he’ll need to hit a ceiling that’s beyond what he’s realistically capable of to be a starting first baseman in fantasy leagues. Warmoth is a no-doubt middle infielder with a quality hit tool, but without much power or speed it’s hard to see him having any impact. If you’re in a very deep league, he should get bumped up a bit.
It’s easy to remember which is which. The Cardinal is the brother of former Braves’ third baseman Adonis Garcia and he’s the toolsier and the older of the prospects (he’s nearly 25). He could have above-average pop and speed, but—stop me if you’ve heard this before—the hit tool is likely to hold him back. The Red is much further away and is still shy of 20, but he doesn’t quite carry the same fantasy potential. A lot of that is offset by being somewhat likely to stick at short, but there’s likely not enough power to counteract the lack of speed in Garcia’s profile.
35) Stuart Fairchild, OF, Cincinnati Reds
36) Sam Carlson, RHP, Seattle Mariners
37) Miles Mikolas, RHP, St Louis Cardinals
38) D.L. Hall, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
39) Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
40) Jeter Downs, SS, Cincinnati Reds
The worst possible scenario for a mildly interesting prep arm in the draft is to be selected by the Orioles. It’s just a brutal combination of poor factors and historically poor development, and Hall falls victim to the same circumstances that befell Cody Sedlock last year. Carlson is a very interesting prep arm that no one’s really getting too excited about, and while he doesn’t have SP1 or SP2 ability, there’s a relatively high floor considering he’s a high school pitcher and most of them evaporate into the waiver wire eventually. Downs and Fairchild were teammates in Billings, along with Hunter Greene—probably the most exciting sporting event in Montana since Jack Dempsey retained his boxing heavyweight title in Shelby against Tommy Gibbons in 1923. Also, Fairchild Downs sounds like a wicked lacrosse player who spun those relationships into a research role at a hedge fund. Mikolas visits us again, this time after a detour in Japan, but outside of NL-only and deep mixed leagues, the 29-year-old isn’t likely to be a strong contributor. If the decrease in walks hold, he’ll be good enough in wins and WHIP, but it won’t mean much if he can’t get enough whiffs.
41) Trevor Rogers, LHP, Miami Marlins
42) Griffin Canning, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
43) Daulton Varsho, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
44) Brian Miller, OF, Miami Marlins
45) Clarke Schmidt, RHP, New York Yankees
46) Chris Seise, SS, Texas Rangers
47) Ronny Mauricio, SS, New York Mets
48) David Peterson, LHP, New York Mets
49) Nick Allen, SS, Oakland Athletics
50) Jacob Gonzalez, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Peterson and Rogers were probably players you thought I forgot as you were scrolling through this list. I didn’t, but you probably should. The former is a long shot to make good on the talent his fastball portends, and the latter just doesn’t offer enough upside to be worth a roster spot in anything but deep leagues at this point. Varsho may not be a catcher, but he might just be able to hit enough that it won’t matter. Then again, we also said the same thing about Stryker Trahan, who never made it to Double-A. Allen and Seise are both interesting middle infield fliers, and based on their organizations, you can guess which one is high-risk and which one is low-risk.
Morgan Cooper, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Hans Crouse, RHP, Texas Rangers
Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Caden Lemons, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Brendon Little, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Calvin Mitchell, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Joe Perez, 3B, Houston Astros
Matt Sauer, RHP, New York Yankees
Conner Uselton, OF, Cleveland Indians
George Valera, OF, Cleveland Indians