Fantasy Baseball Preview Part 2

Feb 27, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (22) poses for a photo during media day at Peoria Sports Complex . Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano (22) poses for a photo during media day at Peoria Sports Complex . Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Earlier this week, I wrote you some fantasy baseball advice and started organizing the players in tiers to give you an idea of the levels of fantasy usefulness out there for head-to-head leagues. Today, we continue with player tiers.

Just a reminder: These tiers are not end-all, be-all rankings. They’re simply here to give you an idea of who is similar to who in terms of head-to-head fantasy baseball usefulness for your team. Again, I play Yahoo!’s head-to-head weekly matchup game with one point per category.

Earlier this week I tiered Starting Pitchers and First Basemen. Let’s continue around the infield this time:

Second Base

            Tier 1: Jose Altuve, Dee Gordon

Altuve and Gordon should be the only second basemen you should pay a premium price for in standard fantasy baseball drafts. Both are first-rate base stealers who hit above .300 last year. Gordon had a blazing start to the season and really only had one poor month at the plate all year—July, when he slashed .204/.250/.283. His first and second half splits were almost identical overall. Gordon offers elite speed and will boost your batting average all year. Altuve found a power stroke last year, more than doubling his previous career high for home runs with 15 in 2015. I wouldn’t bank on him getting to 15 or more in 2016, but there is more dimension in Altuve’s game than Gordon’s. Let me just insert my personal feelings about these two fine players: beware of those who will only get you one bankable category. Both of these players will get many hits and steal many bases, but singles won’t win you championships. However, if you choose to grab an elite second baseman, you’ll avoid some of the scrubs you’ll run into later at this thin position.

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Tier 2: Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis, Matt Carpenter, Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Rougned Odor

Tier 2 is a crowded tier because it gets ugly fast after this group. Some of these guys I like much more than others. If you clung to Robinson Cano through all of his awful struggles in the first half of the season last year, you were rewarded with a monster second half. Cano isn’t the top-5 pick he used to be, but he can still hit. Don’t assume he’ll be a dog in the first half again this year.

I’m a huge fan of Dozier. He was a 20/20 player in 2014 and last year he threatened again with a career-high 28 home runs and 12 steals. His strikeouts were up last year and he only hit .236 with a .307 OBP. He’s never going to be a hit-for-average type, but I’d bet that he tops the 61 walks he drew last year and pushes his average to 2014 levels—around .240. Kipnis hit for a useful .301 average last year, but did little else. It’s tough to know what you’re getting with Kipnis. Last year he was a hit-for-average guy who blasted 43 doubles but only nine home runs and 12 steals. In 2014, he only hit .240 with six home runs and 22 steals. In 2013, he exploded for 17 homers and 30 steals while hitting .284. Right now his ADP is in the late seventh round. That’s still a bit too high to not know what I’m getting.

Fantasy baseball
Jason Kipnis hit for a nice average in 2015, but I like to know what stats I’m buying from a player before I pay. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Carpenter’s 28 home runs last year scream regression. In 2014, he hit eight. Odor is an interesting player at a good price. He’s leaving draft boards in the 11th round on average on Yahoo! That’s a good price for 25+ homers+steals. Kinsler has been healthy for Detroit, but didn’t offer much besides average last season. I’d take him in the tenth round if he’s still available. Just don’t overpay.

Tier 3: Anthony Rendon, Ben Zobrist, Kolten Wong, Daniel Murphy, Matt Duffy, Addison Russell, Dustin Pedroia, DJ LeMahieu, Neil Walker

The player with the most hype of the Tier 3 is Matt Duffy, and why not? 12 HRs, 12 steals and a .762 OPS from your second baseman isn’t bad. He wouldn’t be a bad player to reach for before the 18th round because he can easily get you more than a dozen steals next season and I’d take the over on home runs as well. Rendon is lumped in with this crew because we don’t know if he can stay healthy. He’s a big risk anywhere before round 12. LeMahieu could be a poor-man’s Jose Altuve this year for Colorado with 23 steals last season and a nifty .301 average.

Russell could break out this year, or not, with the Cubs. Some believe in him, but I wouldn’t reach for a guy who posted a sub-.700 OPS last year with little speed. Wong is another breakout candidate who delivered a little power and speed last season. Watch out for wiley, cheap veteran options like Pedroia and Walker who both can at least get you some average and pop from second base if healthy.

Here are a few deep sleepers for second basemen:

Logan Forsythe. Just because he’s a platoon player doesn’t make him completely useless. He recorded .803 OPS in 2015 with 17 HR and nine steals.

-Brandon Philips. The veteran proved he still had some gas in the tank last year, hitting .294 with 12 HR and 23 steals.


            Tier 1: Carlos Correa

In Yahoo! leagues, Manny Machado has both third base and shortstop eligibility, so you can add Machado to Correa’s tier. I’ll explain why Machado is a stud in the third baseman section. Correa is an excellent, young shortstop who you shouldn’t have any problems selecting at the end of the first round or the start of the second. Even with the high draft price, he’ll be well worth it.

Fantasy Baseball
Carlos Correa is stud. And a loveable one at that. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Tier 2: Xander Bogaerts, Troy Tulowitzki

It gets pretty ugly pretty fast for shortstops again this season. Of these two, Xander Bogaerts is my favorite by a landslide. Bogaerts is entering his age-23 season after slashing .320/.355/.421 in 2015. He’s another young shortstop with potential. His ceiling isn’t on the same level as Correa or Machado, but as a late-seventh round choice, he should give you valuable returns in batting average at the very least. Baseball projects him for only 17 SBs+HRs, but I’d be willing to bet the over on those numbers next season simply because he’s a young player and we should see an improved Red Sox lineup when they load up at the trade deadline.

Tulowitzki is going almost a full round ahead of Bogaerts. At least, he was before he got hit in the hand with a pitch today. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he thought the injury wasn’t major, but this just goes to show you the risk that Tulo is. He’s an exciting player to watch, but I’ve never drafted him in fantasy baseball and I don’t plan to start this year. His numbers with the Blue Jays after his trade from the Rocky Mountain air weren’t good.

Tier 3: Francisco Lindor, Ian Desmond, Corey Seager

Lots of players in the lower tiers for shortstop this year. Both Desmond and Lindor have big upside. Lindor is supposed to be the Indians’ answer to Correa, and depending on whom you ask, he could be an absolute steal in the 10th round. He’s still very young, so the risk is not knowing if he’ll break out this year or in 2017. Desmond is also a sleeper. He slashed a miserable .233/.290/.384 last year and was a problem for the underachieving 2015 Nationals. Desmond’s down year in 2015 followed three straight 20/20 seasons for the new Rangers shortstop. Even during his terrible season in 2015, he still posted 19 HRs and 13 SBs. He could be a Mariners killer all year, unfortunately. But your fantasy team doesn’t have to suffer, too. He’ll be an excellent value pick in the 15th round. Kyle Seager’s brother has big upside as well, but he carries many of the same risks as Lindor.

Fantasy baseball
Corey Seager could break out in 2016–or 2017. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Tier 4: Elvis Andrus, Brandon Crawford, Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro

A boring bunch here. Please don’t draft Andrus. Surely there’s a better option out there than a guy who put up a .666 OPS last season. If you’re willing to absorb poor hitting for steals (which I don’t recommend), go with Billy Burns or just sack up and take Billy Hamilton. Crawford hit 21 home runs last year, but his previous career high was 10, and his career slugging percentage is .383, so it’s tough to trust him hitting 20 or more again this year. Reyes may have some gas left in the tank in Colorado, but the Rockies have a stud shortstop waiting in the wings named Trevor Story and it’s hard to imagine they’ll keep him in the minor leagues for long. Castro comes cheap (198.2 ADP in Yahoo! leagues) and could respond well to the short left field porch in Yankee Stadium. He’s only 26 years old (tomorrow).

It’s slim pickings from here on out, but watch out for Marcus Semien, who quietly put up useful HR+SB numbers for Oakland last year, and Eugenio Suarez is another young shortstop with upside.

Third Base

Tier 1: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson

You really can’t go wrong with any of these players. Most rankings have Donaldson as the next pick after the Big Four (Harper, Kershaw, Trout, Goldschmidt). No reason to think he can’t blast another 40+ home runs this year. The same goes for Arenado, although if the Rockies trade him it will be a downgrade in home hitting environment. Machado was an absolute beast for Baltimore last year, chipping in 20 steals to go along with his .861 OPS, 102 runs scored, and his 35 HRs. His eligibility at shortstop only adds to his immense value.

Tier 2: Kris Bryant

Fantasy Baseball
Kris Bryant could be your last chance to get a premiium third baseman in this year’s draft. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Third base is surprisingly thin this season. I would think hard about grabbing Bryant if you miss out on Machado, Arenado, and Donaldson. He hit 26 home runs last year and he’s only 24. I’ll take the over in 2016 hitting in that stacked Cubs lineup.

Tier 3: Todd Frazier, Miguel Sano

Frazier was extremely uneven last season, winning the Home Run Derby before falling off in the second half. Still, 35 home runs is not bad, and he still managed an OPS over .807 despite his second half swoon. I’d take him in the sixth round, especially if I can’t get a stud like Machado at third base. Sano is drawing a ton of buzz from all fantasy pundits and it’s easy to see why. He’s currently going early in the sixth round of fantasy baseball drafts and he could rise even higher than that. Just don’t overpay for a possible Sano breakout year only for him to hit his stride in 2017.

Tier 4: Adrian Beltre, Kyle Seager

Big question marks after this tier. At least you know what you’re getting with Seager, who’s been consistently around 20-25 home runs and an acceptable .260 or so batting average for the past three years, and if he sets new career highs like he loves to do, that’s all cake in the 10th round. I’m a huge Beltre fan outside of fantasy baseball and it’s tough to bet against him to bounce back from a fairly boring season in 2015. If he can stay right around 18 home runs from a year ago and a good average, he’ll be valuable in the ninth round. Matt Carpenter and Anthony Rendon have third base eligibility but I covered why you should be cautious about them both in the second basemen section.

Tier 5: Evan Longoria, Maikel Franco

Fantasy Baseball
Maikel Franco could be Miguel Sano at a cheaper price. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Franco is another sleeper this season and if you don’t want to start Pablo Sandoval at third all year, he may be your last chance to get some value at third before punting on the position altogether. Franco could be Sano clone, a young player with big upside at a much cheaper price. I know Longoria isn’t the sexiest option at third (unless you mean literally sexy, in which case you’re playing a very different kind of fantasy game than I play), but he did hit 21 HRs last year and you could do much worse, believe me.

Again, third base is pretty thin this year, but if you’re desperate, why not take a flier on Mike Moustakas? His .818 OPS last year was very useable and he’s worth the risk of regression in the 20th round. Matt Duffy, the buzzy young second baseman, is eligible at third base as well. This might be the year to take the risk and draft David Wright, only because his ADP is around 176 in Yahoo! fantasy baseball leagues and he’s still useful when healthy.

Next: Player Profile: Hisashi Iwakuma

And I’m over 2,000 words. We’ll go over Outfielders, Catchers, and Relief Pitchers before Opening Day (April 3rd!) on ECS.