It’s that time of year again, baseball fans!
First off, let me welcome you to the first edition of “Swing For the Fences.” I am Ryan Waterman, and I will be bringing you all a weekly fantasy column from now until the end of the season.
The baseball season is approximately 75 days away, a countdown that also signifies the beginning of the worst nightmare of every fan’s significant other — Fantasy Baseball. Every spring, men and women from all around the world break out their whiteboards and erasable markers, exchanging their nightly Netflix binge-watching for strategic preparation as their fantasy drafts approach.
Speaking from a personal standpoint, I am a pretty big strategist, although my track record wouldn’t show it. I always enter the season with such confidence in my teams, only to have either underperformance or devastating injuries run my season off the rails.
Before I continue any further, when playing fantasy baseball, or any fantasy sports for that matter, it’s important to remember these tips:
- Always Play the Wire. The waiver wire can make or break a player’s season. It’s these decisions that can serve as the difference between a late-season push to a championship and the heartbreak of missing the postseason.
- Don’t Overreact. I can’t stress this enough. Countless times, I have seen owners drop top-level superstars (i.e. Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Correa, etc.) for the sole reason that they started the season in a slump. Unless you’re dropping one star for another, which is unlikely, you’ve got to wait it out. The ship will eventually right, and you’ll be kicking yourself for what? Overreacting.
- Over-Saturation Can Lead to Failure. It’s important not to load your team up with too many stars from one team. For example, the Washington Nationals have a handful of attractive fantasy assets in Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner. Stockpiling too many players from one team can come back to bite you, as when a team goes through an offensive slump, so does a good portion of your fantasy team. The limit that I always place on players from the same team is two — most often being a batter and pitcher.
Now, with that being said, let’s focus our attention on the upcoming 2017 Fantasy Season. It’s sure to be an interesting one, as there were a few breakout stars over the course of last year’s campaign. Among those names are Chicago Cubs youngster Kyle Hendricks, Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, and Milwaukee Brewers utility-man Jonathan Villar. We also saw some bounce-back campaigns from former fantasy studs such as Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, and 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Those breakouts and bounce-backs have led people to wonder — what will the 2017 first round look like? While I can’t say for certain how it’ll play out, given the unpredictability of owners, I can provide you with what I feel are a list of the 10 best players in fantasy baseball, entering the 2017 season.
1) Mookie Betts [OF, Boston Red Sox]
Betts was the quintessential fantasy stud last season, taking care of business in just about every category. The 24 year-old outfielder burst onto the scene in a major way last season, sporting a .318/.363/.534 batting line with 31 home runs, 113 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, and an OPS of .897. A Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .322 suggests that Betts performance last season was not a fluke, and his 11 percent strikeout rate is an example of Mookie’s patience at the plate. His super-human season has led many to christen him as the new Mike Trout, and while I won’t go that far just yet, I am supremely confident that Betts will continue his reign as the Fantasy MVP in 2017.
2) Mike Trout [OF, Los Angeles Angels]
Mike Trout has been a fantasy legend dating back to the 2012 season. Five straight seasons of 25+ home runs, four straight of 90+ RBIs, three seasons of 30+ steals, a pair of MVPs, five straight OBPs of .375 or better, and not a single OPS under .935. Trout took home MVP honors last season despite being surrounded by a lackluster complimentary cast of players. Los Angeles has attempted to improve their roster as much as possible given the current state of their farm, adding Martin Maldonado, Jesse Chavez, and Ben Revere. How much those additions help the Legend of Trout remains to be seen, but I can say with the utmost certainty that the 25-year-old will once again meet these expectations.
3) Kris Bryant [3B/OF, Chicago Cubs]
Dual eligibility, two-time All Star, Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a World Series. Bryant has added all of these accolades to his resume within his first two seasons. I’m not going to get too far in-depth here, as I don’t feel it’s needed. There’s no question as to whether Bryant is great. The only question is just how great will he be?
4) Jose Altuve [2B, Houston Astros]
Altuve has been on the scene for a few years now, but he broke out in a monumental way last season. At a position that isn’t as deep as it once was, Altuve only bolstered his value with his campaign last season. It’s a very rare occurrence that you find a second baseman capable of hitting over .330 with 20+ home runs, 90+ RBIs, 30+ SBs, a .396 OBP, and only 10 fewer walks than strikeouts. I have him ranked outside of the top five, which should go to show just how strong the elite class of fantasy studs are. Despite his ranking, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him wind up as a top-four selection, on average.
5) Manny Machado [3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles]
Shortstop is quickly becoming the most valued position in fantasy. Machado, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor are all leading the charge when it comes to the rejuvenation of the shortstop position. In Machado’s case, he also possesses eligibility at one of the shallowest positions — third base. In his first two seasons, Machado’s fantasy-value was limited to average power, decent RBI opportunities, and a solid average. Machado returned with a bang in 2015 after a knee injury cut his 2014 short. Machado really joined the ranks of the fantasy elite in 2015, finishing with 35 home runs, 86 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, and a .286 average. His 2016 was eerily similar to his 2015 season, although his steals took a significant hit. If Manny can once again discover his wheels in 2017, he should push Altuve for a spot in the top-four.
6) Nolan Arenado [3B, Colorado Rockies]
Most fans know of Nolan Arenado and his accomplishments. However, that’s not preventing him from being labeled as an underrated player — a term that has been tossed around quite frequently in regards to Arenado. Back-to-back seasons of 40+ home runs & 130+ RBIs have really established him as one of the premier players in today’s game, although many feel that he’s been unjustifiably looked over for the MVP award. Arenado has already established himself as the best third-base exclusive option in fantasy, and he is coming close to doing so in real life, as well. Another season much like the one he’s had over the past two seasons would not only be welcomed by fantasy owners, but could forces voters to give him stronger consideration in the MVP race.
7) Josh Donaldson [3B, Toronto Blue Jays]
He is the “Bringer of Reign,” and he is also the biggest mistake that Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics have ever made. Following his trade to Toronto, this slugger has become one of the league’s premier power hitters, hitting .291 with 78 home runs and 222 RBIs in two seasons with the Blue Jays, also adding an MVP to his resume. Having just turned 31, Donaldson figures to have a few more productive years within him. As long as he continues to swing the bat with the Rogers Centre as his home, Josh Donaldson will remain a top-10 fantasy stud.
8) Corey Seager [SS, Los Angeles Dodgers]
I’m tepid of buying into the hype of one great season by a rookie (see: Carlos Correa). However, I’m going to buy into the hype of Corey Seager, much like I have since his time as a prospect. Not only did he run away with Rookie of the Year in 2016, he nearly doubled-up with an MVP, as well. Some may expect regression, but his peripherals suggest that Seager may be the rare sophomore to improve on his debut season.
9) Clayton Kershaw [SP, Los Angeles Dodgers]
Personally, I love Clayton Kershaw. He has led me to many fantasy baseball championships. That said, it’s always concerning when a pitcher suffers from a debilitating back injury. That concern only magnifies when said pitcher is closing in on 30 years old. I’ve still got questions about Kershaw’s long-term health, which is preventing me from putting Kershaw in the top-five. Keeping a close eye on both his performance and his health, I may have to revisit these rankings midseason.
10) Anthony Rizzo [1B, Chicago Cubs]
This was a tough choice for me, but I ultimately settled on Rizzo. A breakout star in Chicago, Rizzo’s performance in 2016 was vital when it came to the Cubs conquering their 108-year World Series drought. Fantasy owners got excited in 2015, as Rizzo showed that he had speed, swiping 17 bases. However, that regressed back down to three steals in 2016. His power numbers also clocked out among the best in the league with 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. Rizzo should once again deliver quality stats in 2017, and could climb the rankings if he rediscovers his base-stealing ability.
That’ll do it for this week’s edition of “Swing For the Fences.” Next week, we’ll take a look at the top 10 starting pitchers for the upcoming season!
Until next week, remember to swing for the fences!