With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in less than 30 days, it’s time to get a head start on your Fantasy Baseball counterparts. And what better a place to start then the Top 10, the players who will most definitely be selected in First Round of your upcoming draft.
No matter what pick you end up with, you really can’t go wrong with your first selection. This group truly does it all on the baseball diamond. These are the best of the best. They can hit for average, hit for power, and even steal some bases. They fill up the box score night in and night out, or every fifth day, making these position players (and one elite pitcher) the front-runners to come off every draft board in Round 1.
While this list is numbered (1-10), the order these players end up being drafted in will entirely be based off each individual owner’s draft strategy. To me, there are five groups here — the five-tool players, the best pitcher, the proven power hitters, the hot corner, and the Astros (you’ll see what I’m talking about; just keep reading).
This first look at the “Top 10” for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season is based on a standard 5×5 Roto league.
The Five Tool Players
- If you’re lucky enough to be awarded the number one pick, the public address announcer for the Los Angeles Angels should be able to point you in the right direction: “Leading off for the Angels, number 27, Mike Trout.”
The outfielder continues to put up Hall of Fame numbers, heading into his fifth year of Major League service time with full-season averages of 33.5 home runs, 95 RBIs, 114 runs, and 27 stolen bases along with a .308 batting average. That’s right, those are his AVERAGES.
While a case can be made for any of the top three listed here at number one, Trout has the highest floor. His career lows would still be first-round worthy — 27 home runs, 83 RBIs, 104 runs, 11 stolen bases, and a .287 batting average. If you wind up with the top pick, it’s sort of a no-brainer, take Trout.
- If you prefer a first basemen over an outfielder with your top choice, then don’t hesitate to go with Paul Goldschmidt. There really isn’t much, if any, difference between the Diamondbacks’ slugger and Trout as both head into their fifth full season. Goldschmidt is averaging 27 home runs, 96.5 RBIs, 91 runs, and 16 stolen bases with a .302 batting average. Coming off a Top 5 Fantasy performance last season (as did his D-Backs teammate A.J. Pollock, who just missed making this list), expect more of the same from Goldschmidt in 2016.
- Bryce Harper finally came into his own last season. After three years of mediocrity for a player who was dubbed the next big thing, the Nationals’ outfielder hit for career highs in runs (118), home runs (42), RBIs (99) and batting average (.330). Harper almost doubled his career highs in home runs and RBIs (22 and 59, respectively) along with raising his batting average nearly 60 points, so to say this still-just 23-year-old is trending upward is an understatement. He may come back down to earth a bit this year, but if you believe the hype, the number three spot seems right for Harper.
- Andrew McCutchen is the most under-rated, under-appreciated player on this list. I know that’s tough to say about a guy who has finished first, third and fifth in the NL MVP voting over the last three years, but in Fantasy circles McCutchen looks to be a late first rounder. While I still have him at number four, the only thing troubling about the Pirates’ outfielder is his downward stolen base trend over the past three seasons (27, 18, 11). I expect the 29-year-old to bounce back in a big way to the tune of 100-25-100-25-.300. If he’s still hanging around at the end of Round 1, be sure to grab him.
The Best Pitcher
- Clayton Kershaw is just that, the best pitcher in baseball, Fantasy or otherwise. His proven track record makes him the only pitcher I’d consider taking in the first round (although I’ll likely wait to draft my team’s ace). When looking at the numbers he put up last year, it wasn’t his 2.13 ERA or his 0.88 WHIP that stood out to me. It was his 301 strikeouts. Yes, you read that right, 3-0-1. Before Kershaw, the last 300-strikeout season came all the way back in 2002 by Diamondbacks teammates, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Don’t anticipate the Dodgers’ ace to rack up 300 Ks again, but 250 along with a 2.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 15-plus wins are a gimme.
The Proven Power Hitters
- Isn’t it strange that Miguel Cabrera is the wily old veteran of the Top 10? He’s been putting up elite fantasy numbers for 10-plus years now, and I think he’s got at least one more in him. The recent addition of Justin Upton puts Cabrera in line for a season similar to when he and Prince Fielder were batting 3-4 in the Tigers’ lineup. Just as a refresher, Cabrera averaged 44 home runs, 138 RBIs, 106 runs scored, and a .339 batting average over those two seasons. If he can come close to those numbers, you’ll be very happy your drafted him.
- Anthony Rizzo just keeps getting better. The Cubs’ first baseman put up career highs in runs, hits, stolen bases and RBIs last season. With the improvement in the lineup around him (adding Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist), Rizzo’s RBI opportunities and runs scored are likely to go up yet again. He also stole 17 bases last season, more than doubling his career total of 16 coming into the year. He’s a shoo-in for 100 runs, 35 home runs, 110 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. That’s more than enough to merit a Top 10 pick.
- Giancarlo Stanton looks to have a clean bill of health heading into the 2016 season. And if the Marlins expect him to be 100 percent for Spring Training, then I expect him to hit 40 home runs and knock in 100 runs, at a minimum. Stanton guaranteed to hit 25 home runs, but if he can stay healthy the Marlins’ outfielder has a legitimate shot at 50. The only reason I don’t have him ranked higher is because in six seasons in the bigs, he has only played in 150 or more games one time. For his sake and your Fantasy team’s sake, let’s hope that Stanton plays 120-plus games, as the results will be plentiful.
The Hot Corner
- I know I’m cheating a little here, but all four (yes, you heard me, four) of these third basemen are worthy of the ninth pick in your draft. The top four ranked third basemen — Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado, and Manny Machado — are all coming off breakout and/or career years. These guys are interchangeable due to their ability to hit for average and power. What one lacks in one category, they make up for in another. Adding up each player’s counting stats (runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases) from last season, it’s essentially a wash. You’ll be happy no matter who choose, and if you’re lucky enough you’ll get one of these four in the first round and another on the way back in the second.
- Again, I know I told you this was a Top 10, but the Astros lineup is just too packed with Fantasy prowess. Similar to the Lay’s Potato Chips advertising campaign: “Bet you can’t eat just one,” I couldn’t just pick one Astro.
- Carlos Correa, SS
- Jose Altuve, 2B
- George Springer, OF
- Carlos Gomez, OF
If I had to rank these four (and I do), I’d put them in the above order due to position scarcity. The likely one through four hitters in the Astros lineup can do it all. They each have the potential to go 20-20 (home runs-stolen bases), but I see more like 25-25 from Correa, Springer and Gomez. Altuve will also amass a total of 50 home runs plus stolen bases, with a tendency toward steals. Pitchers will have to pick their poison when facing the top of the ‘Stros lineup, and you can too.