As we peel out from the holiday season and into draft season, it’s a good time to reflect on what we got. Maybe you got that PS4 you really wanted. Maybe you got a really nice bottle of wine. Maybe you got clothes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting clothes as a present. You need clothes. They literally prevent you from being arrested when you leave your house. Yet they are also extremely fickle. Sure, that sweater is looks really nice but it gets a little bunchy in the shoulders and it just doesn’t look right. Or worse yet, it does look great but then it shrinks in the dryer after the second time you wear it. It could always be worse; you could have gotten socks. You know you’d never actually spend $15 on a pair of socks, but the level of comfort over the 5/$20 pairs you already own is still noticeable—even if you can’t really figure out what makes socks comfortable.
In dynasty drafts, the equivalent of getting clothes under the tree is drafting a pitcher. And for those of you into pitchers, this is a great draft. The strength of this class does not lie in its bats, but that doesn’t mean we need to let that dictate what we know about investing in arms versus bats in this format. However, this means three things are true of the players we’re about to talk about:
1) The hitters littered in the top-20 of this list are weaker than average.
2) The pitching depth is impressive, which can be leveraged in the later rounds.
3) Reaching for an arm is inadvisable.
Fortunately, the deficiencies of the draft class are made a little more tolerable by the international signees that litter the list. There are 13 of them in total—either coincidentally or otherwise the same number on last year’s list. But don’t get too used to it. With the new international signing rules (and a natural thinning of the talent pool), the steady wave of Cuban talent we’ve seen is about to slow dramatically over the next few years. So let’s enjoy it while we still can.
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).
With all that said, let’s fire up the
random number generator ranking machine. Here are your top 50 players for first-year dynasty drafts:
There’s not a ton of debating who the top pick is this year, even if he doesn’t have the type of upside you might truly desire from your first-overall pick. He’s a five-category third baseman who could move quickly enough to at least warrant a cup of coffee in 2017—though with the Reds comfortably out of contention, 2018 is much more likely.
Don’t let a disappointing pro debut stand in the way of nabbing Ray with a high pick; he still possesses some of the best athleticism available and it has the potential to show up with 15-20 home run power and enough speed to steal 30-plus bags. If that sounds like a potentially exciting fantasy player, it’s because it is.
Have you seen the catcher position recently? We have because we have to drive through the dregs next week, but here’s a sneak peek: it’s awful. Collins may not have a great chance to catch, but he’d be a top-10 pick here even if he were guaranteed never to play the position again. The White Sox will give him a shot, and even if he’s a backup, he becomes the fantasy unicorn: a masher who plays enough games behind the plate to pick up that C.
So, about all that stuff I said in the introduction about not reaching for a pitcher. Groome may need a little more lead time than a couple of the arms just below him on this list, but no one can touch his upside (or his pitches when he’s on). He has true ace potential, and while it would have been better for him to land in the NL or in a pitchers' park, he does reside at the mercy of Dave Dombrowski.
Ordering this trio was a tussle during the entire ranking process. If Lewis didn’t have his gruesome knee injury, he’d have been first in this group, but as much as you cannot watch it on the internet, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. There are likely no long-term effects from it, but any loss of his speed just puts more pressure on the bat. Rutherford gets dinged because of his age (he’s old for a prep hitter), but he hit like a bad, bad man in his pro debut. That Yankee Stadium porch could one day be very kind to him. Yet, the player who does rise to the top is the one who was popped at the top of the draft seven months ago. Moniak doesn’t have a ton of power—even in Philly, he’s likely a 15-homer guy—but he can really hit and he’s got the wheels to steal 20-25 bases. As Ben Carsley would say (and I agree with), when it’s a close call, give me the guy with the best hit tool.
Much of what I wanted to get out there this offseason on the younger Gurriel, I put in the Transaction Analysis from the fall. I’m betting on his ability as a baseball player and not his perceived disappointment on the Cuban Defector Showcase Circuit. He could end up at second or third, and he likely won’t need a full year of minor-league seasoning.
The two arms in this next tier are the second- and third-ranked pitchers on this list for good reason—they each carry SP1 upside. Quantrill flashed his best stuff after returning from Tommy John in his brief debut, and is poised to make his presence known in 2017. There’s a reason why he was a candidate to go 1-1 before he went under the knife. Puk also was a candidate to go 1-1, but was hurt by the Phillies’ draft strategy, falling to a nice spot in Oakland. He may not be a super fast mover for a high-end college arm, but don’t let that discourage you from investing. It’s an incredible shame that the elder Gurriel didn’t defect five years ago, as he might have been the best player to come over from Cuba. As is, he’ll be 33 before the All-Star break and the fact that he’s still ranked in the top-11 shows just how good he could be for the next couple of seasons. It’s also an incredible shame that the Angels seem to have no intention of trying to keep Thaiss behind the plate. If they were giving him the Zack Collins treatment, he’d be right around where Lewis and Rutherford are, comfortably in the top-10. The former Cavalier is one of the best pure hitters in this draft class.
Since I started making these lists, I haven’t even had a true J2 signee inside the top-25, so putting one this high is a bit of a statement I guess. But like Walt Whitman once said, “omg have you seen those scouting reports?” If you tried to open them in a public library, you’d get arrested.
The 34-year-old closer for the Cardinals was dominant last season and doesn’t seem likely to give back that role in the near future. The Final Boss, indeed. Kirilloff was advertised as a raw product, but hit really well in the Appy League after signing. He projects to be a true power-hitting corner outfielder. It’s a lot easier to take on risk in a dynasty league than if you’re a major league baseball team, which is why we can jam Erceg up this list quite a bit. If he can keep himself out of trouble, even this aggressive ranking could look low in a couple of years. Finally, we get to the Padres’ double dip into the high-end Cuban pool. Morejon looks like a veteran and he’s a teenager. He’s got the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter and the pitchability to rise above that level. Ona is a slightly riskier version of Kirilloff, but with just as much upside.
And here’s the last of the pitchers on this list with true SP1 upside at this point. Manning is like Voltron but for hard-throwing Tigers’ draftees.
20) Eric Thames, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers
We have a first here. A player who was in the majors, left to play internationally and then came back as a strong enough player to warrant a spot on this list. I love talking about Thames so I’ll spare everyone the long speech. Here are the CliffsNotes: he was a league-average hitter when he left and even if any perceived gains in the KBO aren’t real gains, a league-average hitter in Milwaukee might be a top-15 first baseman right now.
21) Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros
22) Justin Dunn, RHP, New York Mets
23) Delvin Perez, SS, St Louis Cardinals
24) Taylor Trammell, OF, Cincinnati Reds
25) Riley Pint, RHP, Colorado Rockies
26) Carter Kieboom, SS, Washington Nationals
27) Joshua Lowe, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
28) Braxton Garrett, LHP, Miami Marlins
29) Gavin Lux, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
And we finally get to the next glut. After the first 20 players, the pool starts to thin a bit (though part of that is because the top-20 is thicker than you might realize). Whitley may get lost in the shuffle of first-round arms, but he shouldn’t. He showed big time improvement over the months leading up to the draft, including a tick up in velocity, and is a good bet to be a starter. Dunn might be a reliever, but he also might be a really good one (and he also might be a starter too). Pint might be a reliever, but he also might be a really good (and he also might be a starter). He has more upside than Dunn, but has the Rockies and Coors Field as headwind (not to mention his rough delivery). Perez was busted for PEDs, which, whatever, but without the juice in his bat, he’s just not that exciting of a fantasy prospect. Trammell doesn’t wow as a real-life prospect, but he’s got the speed that matters in our game and he’s one of the few players on this list who could steal 40-plus bags in time. Lux has been getting more pub as a shortstop prospect in this draft class, but Kieboom is a better bet with the stick and he’s got the name to match the profile. Lowe reached the Appy League in his debut, but the Young Pope product might be a slow mover as his power takes hold. Topical, I know. Garrett is a nice prospect, but just not nearly as interesting in fantasy as those around him with more upside.
30) Alec Hansen, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Speaking of upside, Hansen was another pitcher who was a candidate to go 1-1. (Are you sensing a trend yet?) He shoved after signing but when you watch him pitch, you just want to call your mother, tell her you love her and then crawl into the fetal position for the rest of the night.
31) Will Craig, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
32) Norge Ruiz, RHP, Oakland Athletics
33) Randy Arozarena, 2B/OF, St Louis Cardinals
34) Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
35) Will Benson, OF, Cleveland Indians
36) Luis Almanzar, SS, San Diego Padres
37) Anfernee Grier, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
38) Brett Cumberland, C/1B, Atlanta Braves
39) Dylan Carlson, OF, St Louis Cardinals
40) Bo Bichette, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
A sneaky signing last month by the A’s, Ruiz is someone who’d get a lot more attention if he were six inches taller. Yet, he should be able to build on his international showcase success and move quickly starting this year towards a mid-rotation future. Anderson was the third-overall pick in June, but his lead time and lack of fantasy upside keeps him in the nether regions of this list. Cumberland can hit, but he can’t catch. Benson has plenty of tools, but he can’t hit (probably). Carlson and Bichette make for two really interesting prep bat gambles, as they both could grow into very useful power, but they are closer to projects at this point. Almanzar would get more publicity if he didn’t happen to be in the same J2 class as Maitan, but could be a plus-hit/plus-power bat in the distant future. Don’t sleep on Arozarena—the Cardinals already made one shrewd low-profile Cuban signing with Aledmys Diaz and Arozarena has a similar contact-oriented approach (albeit with more speed and a little less power).
41) Lazaro Armenteros, OF, Oakland Athletics
42) Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland Indians
43) Peter Alonso, 1B, New York Mets
44) T.J. Zeuch, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
45) Joe Rizzo, 3B, Seattle Mariners
46) Bryan Reynolds, OF, San Francisco Giants
47) Joey Wentz, LHP, Atlanta Braves
48) Kevin Gowdy, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
49) Luis Garcia, SS, Washington Nationals
50) Cionel Perez, LHP, Houston Astros
On the other side, don’t let Lazarito trick you. The name is great and hype is fun, but as of right now it appears to be almost all hype. Reynolds won’t have any points of impact but his well-rounded game could be worth more than the sum of his parts as a back-end outfielder. Wentz and Gowdy both have SP2 upside, but remain a long ways away. Rizzo has a chance to hit, but his small frame is going to be a big obstacle to overcome as he looks to develop in-game power. Speaking of power, Alonso has it in spades—reports of plus-plus raw are out there—but he’ll need to prove he can tap into it against better competition.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins
Victor Garcia, OF, St Louis Cardinals
Garrett Hampson, SS, Colorado Rockies
Eric Lauer, LHP, San Diego Padres
Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
A.J. Puckett, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Buddy Reed, OF, San Diego Padres
Cody Sedlock, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Will Smith, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
Nonie Williams, SS, Los Angeles Angels
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