We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about cold corner inhabitants for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.
This group is way more fun than the catchers were. Even though the position peters out (you’ll find this pun more amusing once you make it through the entire list) a little towards the bottom, there’s a lot of strength and ability within this group—especially in the big names. Sure, the position isn’t young like shortstops are, but that’s expected when you move down the defensive spectrum.
So let’s start this off by taking a trip out to the desert:
Sure, there’s an argument to make for Rizzo as the top option here given the age difference, but there’s still enough of a current gap between the two to take the “veteran” first. Of course, he’ll still play almost all of the 2017 season at age 29. The stolen bases peaked last year, and while he is unlikely to have another 30-steal campaign in him, 20 is a pretty safe floor for the medium-term.
The argument last year for the Cub included his surprising 17 stolen bases from 2015—one more than he had in his four seasons up to that point. Well, after going 3-for-8 on the basepaths in 2016, that’s no longer part of the argument. The batting average and power have been very consistent in the last three season, and the 27-year-old should be penciled in for a .280 average and 30 homers for the next 3-4 years.
Where you go at this point really depends on personal preference. If you’re the type who lets youth influence your decisions to the point where your focus is sustainability rather than impact, Freeman is probably at the top of this tier. But for me, it’s the superstar whose decline phase should still see him as a top-five option annually at the position. If you wanted to hedge and take someone in the middle both in terms of age and current impact, Votto is your guy. Regardless, if you have one of these players in your dynasty league, you have a true offensive anchor.
Here’s another debate to be had. Abreu is the consistent option, even if he rarely exhibits consistency across individual seasons—his first half last year was straight up mediocre before he became one of the best fantasy hitters in baseball in the second half. Myers exploded for a near 30-30 season and appears to be finally making good on his extreme prospect promise. Yet, 2016 was the first year he played in more than 90 major-league games. Health should be easier to keep now that he’s not roaming the outfield regularly, but staying upright will remain his biggest challenge as he looks to defend his performance.
11) Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
It’s the American League slugging contingent of the list. Encarnacion shows little sign of slowing down a the ripe age of 34, though he did show a little more swing-and-miss in 2016 than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. Plus, the move from Toronto to Cleveland is actually a wash at worst and a slight tick up at best. Ramirez slides into the awfully big shoes of David Ortiz as the middle-of-the-order designated hitter in Boston. The job should fit him well, and the risk of injury should be lessened now that he only has to maneuver from the dugout to the batter’s box. The enigmatic Davis sunk to being just the second-best slugger on his own team, as he was overshadowed by Mark Trumbo. Then again, he’s a great example of how nearly hitting 40 homers doesn’t mean you’re that great of a fantasy player. His strikeouts are getting out of control, and it’s hard to be a top-10 first baseman when you hit .230 or worse. Santana makes the second member of the Cleveland offense in the tier, as he tries to build on his first career 30-homer season. The batting average will never be a selling point, but if he hits high in the lineup, his on-base skills can help get him to push 100 runs while hitting the homers fantasy owners desire.
And now it’s the American League almost-slugging contingent of this list. What to make of Hosmer at this point? The prospect status anchors us to what we want to see when we see him, but the reality is that he’s just a solid first baseman who isn’t going to lead the way to a title for your team. And just like that, an angel lost his wings.
This is where you start to feel the drop-off, and I swear I’m not breaking this up by league purposefully. Belt is hampered by his home park and a long-standing struggle to play a full season. With his contract extension, the former will be an issue until after our next presidential election. Bell is the most promising of the next wave of first basemen, even if he may eventually find himself in the outfield. The likely starter for Pittsburgh this year, he’s more of a hitter than a power hitter, and could be more of a .290-20 type than an impact bat. Without the threat of lingering back issues, Duda leads this tier, but you can’t separate the cart from the horse. When healthy, he’s a 30-homer bat who won’t kill you in batting average—and he’s still only 30 right now.
18) C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels
19) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
The L.A. contingent arrives as a group, dressed to kill as you’d expect. Bellinger is one of the sexier new names—as evidenced by the 10 times I was asked about him during my recent BP chat—yet there’s no great path to playing time for him in 2017 and he’ll have some of the swing-and-miss issues that Bell won’t have (though he might have some power that Bell won’t have either). Pujols and Gonzalez are still hanging onto their name value, but the former is doing it better than the latter. There’s no reason to expect Pujols to hit below .260, slug fewer than 30 homers or drive in fewer than 100 runs. His Dodger counterpart should be able to top the average, but will be lacking in the other two areas. Cron has gotten more article tags this offseason than anyone else in baseball because every first base prospect is he and he is every first base prospect.
The left-handed C.J. Crons. It’s easy to imagine what happens when things go right for these three, and there’s reason to believe it for each. But Vogelbach might struggle to keep even first base eligibility and either the average or power is going to have to max out to shoot him up this list. Bird wasn’t really supposed to be as good as he showed in his major league glimpse in 2015 and missing all of last season could prove to be a big setback. Then there’s Reed, who was a prospect darling after tearing through the minors in 2015, but abruptly fell on his face last season in Houston. Of course, he hadn’t played in Triple-A until 2016 and acquitted himself quite nicely there with a .924 OPS and 15 homers in 70 games.
24) Mike Napoli, Cleveland Indians
26) Matt Thaiss, Los Angeles Angels
27) Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
29) Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals
30) Chris Carter, Free Agent
This tier is all over the place. Napoli and Martinez were very productive last season, but the clock could run out on each of them at any moment (in fact, it already happened and they are currently on their second lives). The former is a good bet to hit 25-plus homers again and the latter is a good bet to hit .290 or better again. The Brewers brought Thames back from Korea to replace Carter, who still sits alone somewhere waiting for a job. Miller Park is a great spot for the former Blue Jay who, even if he hasn’t improved as a pure hitter based on his time in the KBO, could still hit 25 homers without a batting average that sinks you. Then there’s Joseph and his great story coming back from his concussions from days spent behind the plate. The right-handed power has always been there, and it’s coaxed out even more playing in that home park. The aggressive ranks on Tellez and Thaiss are a reflection of the depth of the position, as even the next two tiers have players who could realistically hit 20 homers in the coming season. Tellez was very impressive as a 21-year-old in Double-A, hitting .297 with 23 homers; Thaiss was a catcher in college and was moved immediately to first base. He has a little less upside than Tellez, but was one of the best natural hitters in the 2016 draft with a high-end approach to match. The power is what holds him back from being an elite prospect, as it’s likely just average.
31) Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
33) Dominic Smith, New York Mets
35) Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles
36) Bobby Bradley, Cleveland Indians
38) Kennys Vargas, Minnesota Twins
40) Josh Naylor, San Diego Padres
Quite a difference from diving into this tier in last week’s catcher list, huh? Moreland will occupy a spot towards the bottom of the Red Sox lineup this year and he’s hit at least 22 homers in each of his last three full seasons (excluding an injury-marred 2014). Mauer and Zimmerman are shells of their former selves due to injury, but they both remain playable in medium-sized mixed leagues when healthy. Mancini might get some playing time in Baltimore this year, and it’s a wonderful place to get said playing time. Bradley and Vargas have the power to make an impact in fantasy leagues if they can somehow get it to play during games. Smith and Bauers have the contact ability to be major league regulars (even if not first-division ones), but have to max out their power in order to be fantasy steadies.
41) Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies
42) Adam Lind, Free Agent
44) Casey Gillaspie, Tampa Bay Rays
46) Byung-ho Park, Minnesota Twins
47) Matt Adams, St Louis Cardinals
48) Lewin Diaz, Minnesota Twins
49) Josh Ockimey, Boston Red Sox
50) Peter Alonso, New York Mets
The battle for our society will be lost or won over whether Hoskins becomes a fantasy stalwart. Needless to say, I don’t think that’s likely. We’re not that far removed from both Lind and Reynolds being fantasy starters, yet either of them being that in spurts this year wouldn’t surprise—after all, it happened last year. Park still hits the ball a long way when he makes contact, but just doesn’t look like he’ll make enough contact to matter. Diaz and Ockimey are low-probability power bats that are easily three-plus years off from making an appearance in fantasy lineups, but they could both see nice jumps if their approach takes a step forward. And remember that pun I made at the start of the article that I said you’d get once we got down here. Well, you either get it now or you don’t.
Thank you for reading
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