With keeper deadlines likely looming and the draft coming closer and closer into view, it’s time to do our deep dive into the pool of eligible players in annual dynasty drafts. And before we look at how these players rank, it’s even more important to take a step back and decide how we should view draft picks for this year in general. Is there impact talent in this class? Is there depth? What’s the real difference between first and fifth? Between 10th and 20th?
Last year we noted that for the first time in a while, there was no clear cut top pick—and that you could make an argument for any of the top four options (Yasmany Tomas, Carlos Rodon, Rusney Castillo, and Kyle Schwarber). We know now the trajectories those players have taken, but that “tier” was borne out of a lack of true impact talent. Even the players who have taken the biggest steps forward from that class, like Aaron Nola, Michael Conforto, A.J. Reed, and Sean Newcomb profile as good fantasy players, not elite ones. The year prior had Kris Bryant, Jose Abreu, and Masahiro Tanaka at the top. Before that was Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. Before that was Yu Darvish, Anthony Rendon, and Gerrit Cole. Before that was Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
This year, however, there’s a different problem. The overall upside and ceiling on this list is greater than last year’s, but it’s attached to players with riskier profiles. And when that happens, the play is to try to get an extra player or two from this class rather than try to home in on a smaller number of guys who you think make it. When upside and risk abound, safety is in numbers. It works with portfolio diversification and it works with dynasty-league farm system investment.
So where is the sweet spot of this year’s dynasty draft? That partially depends on whether the top player on this list is part of the draft pool. If the answer is yes, then the top two picks are where you want to be this year. If not, it’s really just the one. Then, once you’re in the back half of the first round, you’re left with the choice of a lot of players with similar value—potentially up to 15 or 16 of them—making those picks a little less valuable than normal. On the flip side, those second- and third-rounders get a nice tick up, just like last year, due to the continuation of quality as more and more players come off the board. So ask for that extra draft pick in a trade if you think you can get it. You never know unless you do just that: ask.
Now that the canvas has been acquired and set gracefully on the easel, let’s start painting, shall we? The top 50 players to sign with a major league team during 2015 await:
As much as I like Rodgers, and I do like Rodgers a lot, there wasn’t much of a second thought required here as to who occupied the top spot. Of course, Moncada may have been available in your draft last year, depending on when it started and what your league rules are, but he’s an easy top-10 fantasy prospect right now who hit .305 with seven homers and 40 steals in his last 51 games at Low-A Greenville. The steal numbers will come down, but the power numbers will go up, giving him first-round player upside.
So you’re telling me that the hitter with the most fantasy upside in this year’s draft class was drafted by the Rockies? Just pinch me. It’s easy to get carried away with the bat speed and hit/power potential of Rodgers, but he isn’t going to be a particularly fast mover (if you want one of those, see the next two names). However, there are only a small handful of bats with 30-homer potential, and Rodgers is the only one to both call shortstop and Coors Field home.
There’s definitely more upside to chase here, but Swanson and Bregman offer 2017 ETAs, middle-infield eligibility, and the ability to hit for strong batting averages and round out the box scores nicely everywhere else. Swanson gets the nod because he’s more likely to play shortstop in the majors and he has a little more useful fantasy speed, but both of the top two picks in the draft are very worthy of high selections in dynasty drafts this year.
While he just missed the cut off for last year’s list, Kang has raced up this time around—at least compared to where he would have ranked had he signed three weeks earlier. During his first full season in the majors, he hit .287 with 15 homers in just 126 games, but he turns 29 on Opening Day and is coming off a major knee injury that could sideline him for the first month of 2016. If his second half (.913 OPS) is who he is going forward, this ranking is low, but there are enough question marks as to whether that’s the case to keep him fifth.
7) Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox
And here’s where the pieces start to blend together. Happ might be a second baseman (and likely needs to be to justify this ranking), but he’s one of the most natural hitters in this draft class and there’s likely no one in baseball who gets more of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to drafting hitters than Jason McLeod. Benintendi was the breakout one-year college star turned high draft pick turned high-end A-ball contributor for two months. There’s a chance he never stops hitting and turns into a fantasy superstar, but the profile feels more like a good all-around contributor. He’s the safest of this tier. The riskiest of this tier is definitely Tate, but he also has the most upside. You’d be hard-pressed to find another arm on this list with even a puncher’s chance at being an SP1, and Tate has it. The reports from his junior season were borderline pornographic at times, and his raw stuff is good enough to carve up full-season batters immediately.
The man with the weird contract slides in here because it’s really hard to reconcile his current value with his ultimate risk. Maeda’s elbow was enough of a concern to supposedly be the reason for the shockingly low guaranteed money in his deal with the Dodgers, but it would not surprise me at all if he’s a reliable SP3 right off the bat. How many of the players behind him on this list will ever have a major-league season as a top-100 player? Fewer than you think.
10) Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros
11) Eddy Julio Martinez, OF, Chicago Cubs
Another glut, just a slightly riskier group than the one before. Here’s where you really start to feel the depth and indecisiveness in this draft class. Any one of these players could be an impact fantasy talent. Tucker has one of the most natural swings in the class and if you really squint, he has close to .300/30 potential. Martinez could be a true five-category contributor without being super impactful in any particular one. Fulmer, on stuff alone, could be an SP2 in two years or a high-end closer in three. Clark and Randolph both can hit impressively for prep bats, with the former being able to add 25-plus steals and the latter being able to contribute 25-plus homers. Again, those are the highly rosy versions. Being three prep bats, a Cuban without much of a track record and a pitcher of non-optimal size with non-optimal mechanics, I likely don’t have to get into what the non-rosy versions look like.
15) Yusniel Diaz, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s slightly more track record with Diaz than with Eddy Julio Martinez, but there also is seemingly a little less offensive upside. Diaz was the top rookie in Serie Nacional last year, yet missed out on the hardware because league officials aren’t too keen on defectors. His profile is somewhat similar to Clark’s, but the uncertainty causes him to fall behind the Brewers’ first rounder.
16) Austin Riley, 3B, Atlanta Braves
17) Kolby Allard, LHP, Atlanta Braves
18) Hector Olivera, OF/3B, Atlanta Braves
It’s really just coincidence that the next three names are all in the same organization, but it does make for an awfully convenient grouping. Riley has a ton of upside, especially in the power department, but is not a lock to stay at third or tap into that potential 30-homer-caliber raw. Allard has nearly as much upside in the fantasy sense, yet not only carries the risk inherent in all prep pitchers, but is coming off major back surgery this offseason. If he’s fully healthy, he’s a candidate to increase his value this year in a major way. Olivera, on the other hand, was a big-money signing who held his own in his first taste of U.S. pro ball across a number of levels (including 87 league-average at bats in September). There’s more in hit bat, but he turns 31 during the first week of the season and is much less attractive as an outfielder than he looked as a possible second baseman a year ago.
19) Daz Cameron, OF, Houston Astros
23) Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
25) Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins
26) Nick Plummer, OF, St Louis Cardinals
If we’re just talking rosy projections, the ones from this tier don’t look all that different from the ones in the previous tier we did that exercise for—another stake to the heart of those who haven’t taken advantage of the depth in this draft class. Cameron and Jay may be the safest of this group—though there are still scouts who see the latter as a reliever in the end. Cameron can do a little of everything, but can’t do a lot of anything. The largest upsides here reside in Aiken and Whitley. The former first overall pick by the Astros, Aiken did succumb to Tommy John surgery, but it may not be such a straightforward recovery in his case because of his smaller than normal UCL—yet without the surgery he’s easily in the top 10, and possibly right behind Kang. Whitley has all the tools that fantasy owners dream of, but if he doesn’t hit, it won’t matter. Naylor is a soft-bodied first-base-only slugger who will need to hit to play, and has all the talent to do so. Alvarez popped up quickly and intensely with his workouts last year, leading to a $16 million bonus with the Dodgers. He has SP2 upside, but we don’t know enough about him yet to put him significantly higher here. Plummer is a bat I still really like long term, but he had a rough start to his pro career.
27) Vladimir Guerrero Jr., OF, Toronto Blue Jays
The son of the Impaler is certainly not the athlete that his father was, but he has a lot of the same contact and power attributes that his bloodlines would foretell. The prophecy may be true, but it will be years and years of waiting.
29) Chris Betts, C, Tampa Bay Rays
30) Donnie Dewees, OF, Chicago Cubs
31) Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies
33) Willie Calhoun, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
34) Andy Ibanez, 2B, Texas Rangers
Some of my favorite non-first-rounders are tucked in this group here. Lindsay struggled with a hamstring injury during his senior year, which caused his stock to drop, and the Mets pounced on the speedy outfielder. Dewees and Kingery are two underrated college bats with speed; Betts and Stephenson are two catchers with power who are a long way away; Calhoun and Ibanez are two second basemen (well, at least Ibanez seems to be) who can hit and may bring a sampling of other contributions to the table.
There may not be a player who increased his fantasy stock since the draft more than Jackson, who hit .358 with 47 steals in 59 Northwest League games after signing with the Mariners. He’s not that exciting, but speed and some bat control is a good combination to start with.
37) Kevin Newman, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
39) Derian Cruz, SS, Atlanta Braves
40) Bryce Denton, 3B, St Louis Cardinals
The two players with the most potential in the stolen-base world from the international market this year were Fox and Cruz—the latter receiving 80 grades on his wheels. He’s forever away, and we don’t know if he can hit yet, but elite speed is elite speed. Newman, on the other hand, can hit, but likely can’t do much else, leaving him with a diminished ceiling. Kaprielian is a low-ceiling, high-floor starter who could move very quickly with the Yankees, and Nix is a better upside play in San Diego but will be a longer burn. Don’t sleep on Denton’s pop despite a poor pro debut (he had a .500 OPS in the Gulf Coast League, but he gets a bit of a pass for being one of the youngest players in the draft class).
42) Michael Matuella, RHP, Texas Rangers
43) Mitch Hansen, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
45) Demi Orimoloye, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
46) Cody Ponce, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
47) Tyler Nevin, 3B, Colorado Rockies
49) Chris Shaw, 1B, San Francisco Giants
This final tier is a healthy mix of hitters with different modicums of upside and pitchers with different modicums of risk. A healthy Matuella would be near the top 20 on this list, but everyone else here resides at the bottom because of a weakness in their game. If you’re gambling purely on upside, you want to target Hansen, Orimoloye, and Nevin (yay Coors). If you’re gambling on safety, you’re probably looking at Ponce, Lopez, or Shaw.
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Phil Bickford, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Michael Soroka, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Jalen Miller, SS, San Francisco Giants
Mike Nikorak, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Juan Hillman, LHP, Cleveland Indians
Jon Harris, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Wander Javier, SS, Minnesota Twins
If you’re into gambling on high school arms, picking outside the top-50 shouldn’t scare you off. Nikorak would have made the list if any other team drafted him, but the history of pitchers in Colorado can’t be ignored. Bickford, Russell, and McKenzie all have the raw talent to be top-100 prospects within the next two years.
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