When it’s stated over and over again that the strength of a draft class is its prep pitching, you know as a dynasty leaguer that spells trouble. And when another highly regarded aspect is its catching depth, well, you can see where we’re going with this. If last year was a good year to acquire draft picks, especially in the second-third round range, this year is a good time to find those owners who were frustrated they didn’t get enough talent last year and try to sell them your picks this year.
The problem with this year’s class, at the outset, is two fold. First, the top lacks impact talent. The players who are going to go in the top-half of the first round this year (at least on the draft side—the international side could be quite different), is similar in overall value to the players who would generally go in the back half of the first round. The bigger problem, at least in the sense that it will affect more teams, is that the depth of this class is atrocious compared to the past few years. Again, this is a problem with will be helped along by the addition of international prospects, but only so much. Two years ago, this crop was so deep that I ranked the top 50 and included an Honorable Mention section. Last year, it shrunk back to a top 40 (as it was intended to be), and the Honorable Mention section still included names like Christin Stewart, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tristan McKenzie. This year’s Honorable Mention, with all due respect to the players and their families, was painful to put together—and I nearly scrapped it altogether.
Finally, the disclaimers. This is your final reminder that this is a fantasy list, targeted towards 16-team dynasty leagues. If your league is shallower, bump up the bigger upside guys and vice versa. It also assumes that you can keep prospects forever in your farm system without any time or contract restriction. Finally, not only is eligibility factored in, but so is organization and future contextual factors. Of course, we’re talking about some players who are 4-5 years away, so they’re not graded heavily, but it’s in there.
Now that you’ve been properly warned about the overall state of this incoming crop, let’s rank them because I get the shakes if I don’t rank something at least once every month or so. It’s normal, I swear. Here’s your first run of the top 40 for this year’s draft:
1) Corey Ray, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Round 1, Pick 5)
You’ll notice a trend as we go through the top-10 here, and that trend is that in lieu of elite talent in this draft class, drafters should skew towards safety—and it doesn’t get any safer from a fantasy standpoint than Ray. He was a college producer with five-category upside and the speed/instincts to steal 30-40 bases. And that’s without even mentioning the good league and the good park.
2) Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds (Round 1, Pick 2)
Speaking of the good league and the good park, Senzel ends up in a perfect situation for him—with Todd Frazier out of town and no disrespect meant to Eugenio Suarez, he’ll get every chance to prove he can cut in at the hot corner. With the potential to move quickly and hit close to .300 with 20-plus home run power, Senzel should be off the board swiftly in dynasty drafts.
3) Zack Collins, C/1B/DH, Chicago White Sox (Round 1, Pick 10)
The odds are strongly against Collins catching every day in the majors, but eligibility is not out of the question. After all, Evan Gattis has catcher eligibility. Again. What is controllable, however, is Collins’ ability to rake. He’s one of the few bats with 30-homer potential, and it’s only going to helped along at the Cell. The Schwarber comps are easy, but Collins trails the former Hoosier both in catching and hitting ability.
4) Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Round 1, Pick 1)
Even the first prep hitter on the list is one of the safest players on the board. With one of the strongest hit tools in the draft class, future 25-steal ability and enough pop to sneak out 15 homers in Philadelphia, he’s definitely not a boom-or-bust type. From a fantasy sense, he’s like Trent Clark but with way less neck.
5) Kyle Lewis, OF, Seattle Mariners (Round 1, Pick 11)
With their track record of developing bats (and Safeco to boot), dynasty owners collectively groaned when Lewis was taken at the 11 spot. Despite this and some mild swing-and-miss concerns in his profile, Lewis should disprove those who questioned him because of his questionable college competition at Mercer and become a .260-.270 hitter with 25-plus homers.
6) Jason Groome, LHP, Boston Red Sox (Round 1, Pick 12)
Prep arms are just so terrifying to take in the first round of a dynasty draft, but exceptions must be made for extreme talent, and Groome has just that. He may have off-field issues and he may be a risk not to sign, but he has the highest upside of any arm in this class.
7) Matt Thaiss, C/1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels (Round 1, Pick 16)
He hasn’t gotten as much love nationally as Collins ahead of him, and part of that is because he doesn’t have the same type of natural power. However, he’s as good of a hitter as exists in this class and his approach is near-elite. Thaiss doesn’t need to get catcher eligibility to be a very good fantasy hitter, but he probably will need it to be a star.
8) A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics (Round 1, Pick 6)
It’s a good situation for Puk, but concerns about his back and his command put him behind the first wave of bats in this class. He can be a really good SP2 if he can just get his command to average, so he’s not your typical fast-moving and safe college arm. There’s both risk and upside here.
9) Alex Kirilloff, OF, Minnesota Twins (Round 1, Pick 15)
The lead time will probably be extended with Kirilloff, as he’s a cold-weather kid from Pennsylvania, but he has easy plus raw power, a hit tool that projects to at least average, and enough speed to contribute on the bases. Even with the ETA, that’s enough to get him into the top-10 here.
10) Delvin Perez, SS, St Louis Cardinals (Round 1, Pick 23)
One of the most controversial names in the 2016 draft, Perez is a much better real life prospect than fantasy one—in fact, for my money, he’s an easy top-five true talent in this class. But unless your league factors in defensive ability, Perez’s lack of power, the questions about the ceiling of his hit tool, and his ETA stall him out here. All despite the stolen base potential.
11) Will Craig, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (Round 1, Pick 22)
12) Blake Rutherford, OF, New York Yankees (Round 1, Pick 18)
These players can be split into two camps. With Craig it’s about whether his college stats (which were excellent) are overstating his ability because of his competition and a friendly home park. He also shrinks some of that value if he has to move to first base, which is a very real possibility. Rutherford was a darling heading into this spring, but his age and uneven performance over the past few months has dropped his stock. Yankee Stadium would be a fun place for him if he hits, but it’s no longer as much of a lock as it seemed.
13) Braxton Garrett, LHP, Miami Marlins (Round 1, Pick 7)
14) Cal Quantrill, RHP, San Diego Padres (Round 1, Pick 8)
15) Matt Manning, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Round 1, Pick 9)
16) Justin Dunn, RHP, New York Mets (Round 1, Pick 19)
And now with the best bats out of the way, it’s time for an avalanche of arms. Garrett is the safest in this tier, which moves him to the top, and in this day and age of equating velocity with injury risk, his lack of “high-end” velocity is a net positive. A healthy Quantrill might be the top pitcher in dynasty drafts this year, but that guy doesn’t exist. Instead, he’s barely pitched in two years. Manning has the premium velocity and long levers that scouts drool over (and the multi-sport background and limited mileage that others love), but it’s going to take a while. Fortunately, he’s in a good org for his profile. Dunn might be a reliever, but if he’s not, he could be a good SP3 in somewhat short order. Of course, if he is a reliever, he could be an elite one.
17) Joshua Lowe, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays (Round 1, Pick 13)
18) Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Round 1, Pick 3)
19) Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros (Round 1, Pick 17)
20) Riley Pint, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Round 1, Pick 4)
21) Will Benson, OF, Cleveland Indians (Round 1, Pick 14)
These five are like the Breakfast Club but for upside. Lowe and Benson both have dreamy pop, and while the latter is the better athlete, the former is comparatively less raw. Both are guys you’ll have to wait for, but Lowe has fewer questions about his bat. Anderson and Whitley were two of the better prep arms in this draft, but neither has the relative safety of Garrett nor the upside of Groome or Manning. Don’t overrate Anderson because he’s the third-overall pick—he was not the close to the third-overall talent in this class. Pint, the man with the million-dollar fastball, doesn’t really know where it’s going and his arm action is bordering on frightful. He’s now been taken by the organization that can’t develop pitching and the ones who make it through the gauntlet get to pitch in the league’s foremost bandbox. Good luck with that.
22) Carter Kieboom, SS, Washington Nationals (Round 1, Pick 28)
23) Joey Wentz, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Round 1A, Pick 40)
24) Gavin Lux, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 1, Pick 20)
25) Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland Indians (Round 2, Pick 55)
26) Bryan Reynolds, OF, San Francisco Giants (Round 2, Pick 59)
There are two shortstops in this tier, but one is far more likely to keep that eligibility than the other. Behind Perez, Lux is the best natural shortstop prospect in this class and while he doesn’t offer any high-end categorical upside, he could be average across the board, in time. Kieboom has more in his bat, especially in his ability to hit for average, but he’s far more likely to man the hot corner. Speaking of the hot corner, Jones doesn’t have as much upside as you’d like to see from a corner bat, but could be a 20-25 homer guy who can help a bit everywhere else. A reliably good performer at Vanderbilt, Reynolds isn’t going to win you any leagues, but he’s a good bet to be a solid OF4 in most leagues and he’ll move quickly. Wentz, the lone arm in this tier, can ride his plus fastball and plus curve a long way—and though he’ll get overlooked a bit as a second rounder, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if he were the top prep pitcher from this entire class (though I expect Groome to have a lot to say about that).
27) Anfernee Grier, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Round 1A, Pick 39)
28) Buddy Reed, OF, San Diego Padres (Round 2, Pick 48)
29) Dakota Hudson, RHP, St Louis Cardinals (Round 1, Pick 34)
30) Kevin Gowdy, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Round 2, Pick 42)
31) Taylor Trammell, OF, Cincinnati Reds (Round 1A, Pick 35)
32) T.J. Zeuch, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Round 1, Pick 21)
33) Cody Sedlock, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Round 1, Pick 27)
This group is a nice mix of upside and safety—sometimes with both conflating into one player. Grier is a good fantasy gamble as he’s got the power/speed combo that owners push their loved ones out of the way for. Reed and Trammell are two of the most interesting speed-based upside plays. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Trammell, the toolsy prep player, would have the greater fantasy potential here, but Reed is the play if you’re looking for ceiling. He might end up being a fourth outfielder or he might be a fantasy star—there’s likely no in between. Gowdy is really the Phillies’ reward for being so bad in 2015, so let’s ask their fans in a few years how that one worked out. He’s athletic and less raw than most of the other prep arms, but lacks a ton of upside. Speaking of lacking fantasy upside, Zeuch and Hudson are safe picks as they’re college guys, but don’t grade out as being much more than an SP4 unless they travel the unforeseen development path (then again, pitching). Sedlock would be a tier higher if the Orioles didn’t draft him. His stuff is real, but so is that organizational track record.
33) Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 1A, Pick 36)
34) Brett Cumberland, C/1B/DH, Atlanta Braves (Round 2B, Pick 76)
35) Dylan Carlson, OF, St Louis Cardinals (Round 1, Pick 33)
36) Anthony Kay, LHP, New York Mets (Round 1, Pick 31)
37) Lucas Erceg, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers (Round 2, Pick 46)
38) Eric Lauer, LHP, San Diego Padres (Round 1, Pick 25)
39) Nonie Williams, SS, Los Angeles Angels (Round 3, Pick 96)
40) Ryan Boldt, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Round 2, Pick 53)
Let’s start with the arms in this final tier. Sheffield has already had TJ and was inconsistent this spring. It’s a risky profile that seems to be getting riskier by the day, but he has more upside than the other college arms left at this point. Kay would be much more well known were he four inches taller, but wouldn’t we all? His stuff is solid across the board and landed in a good spot for his development. Lauer is Kay with that four inches but with a tick off almost all of his stuff. San Diego isn’t the pitchers’ paradise it used to be, but it’s still a clear net positive. Cumberland has almost no chance to catch, but he’s a good enough hitter that it won’t stand in the way of him being a fantasy contributor down the road—it’s just more of an average profile if he’s at first base. Erceg has a lot of upside, but some off-field issues—some of which led to him leaving Cal for Menlo College last year. He has a decent chance of being the second-best fantasy third baseman from this draft, next to Senzel. Carlson is young, but has big-time pop and all of the talk of him being an overdraft will help dynasty leaguers be able to wait on him. At least those not reading this. Williams is a true lottery ticket in a class weak on lottery tickets. He is a super athletic kid who was home schooled in Kansas and probably never makes the majors, but if it works, he could be a star. Finally, Boldt was a big deal three years ago as a prep outfielder and never really put it together at Nebraska following a significant leg injury. Expectations shouldn’t be that high, but he also shouldn’t be forgotten about as a low-end five-category guy.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Peter Alonso, 1B, New York Mets (Round 2, Pick 64)
Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Round 2B, Pick 74)
Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (Round 2, Pick 66)
Zack Burdi, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Round 1, Pick 26)
Dane Dunning, RHP, Washington Nationals (Round 1, Pick 29)
Alec Hansen, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Round 2, Pick 49)
Daulton Jefferies, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Round 1A, Pick 37)
A.J. Puckett, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Round 2, Pick 67)
Ben Rortvedt, C, Minnesota Twins (Round 2, Pick 56)
Will Smith, C, Los Angeles Dodgers (Round 1, Pick 32)