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Break from fantasy baseball? Really? The 411 never takes a break from fantasy baseball, and we are once again conducting an early expert slow mini-mock (six rounds this time).
The participants (in draft order):
1. Jeff Erickson – Rotowire
2. Jason Collette – Rotowire
3. Tim Heaney – Rotowire
4. Fred Zinkie – MLB.com
5. Ray Flowers – SiriusXM/Fantasy Alarm
6. Paul Sporer – Baseball Prospectus
7. Cory Schwartz – MLB.com
8. Zach Steinhorn – MLB.com/Mastersball
9. Nando DiFino – FNTSY Sports Network
10. Derek Van Riper – Rotowire
11. Lawr Michaels – Mastersball
12. Todd Zola – Mastersball
CLICK HERE to track the picks as they are made.
And here’s a running list of the picks along with commentary (once sent in) from the owner. I will update this list daily.
1.01 – Mike Trout (Erickson) – Going with the most reliable commodity in all of fantasy baseball. Mookie Betts earned more in 2016, and others did in 2015, but Trout is there every single year, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. The stolen bases came back, the strikeouts went significantly down, and the average came right back up. What’s not to like?
1.02 – Mookie Betts (Collette) – My hatred for the Red Sox is well known, but dammit if he isn’t the best hitter east of Mike Trout to watch play the game. Next time a scout in Arizona tells you that Betts is the best player in the AFL, listen to him and overdraft him in a keeper league.
1.03 – Paul Goldschmidt (Heaney) – I’ll keep the power-speed-average chalk going. I could’ve gone in a few different directions here, but Jose Altuve’s less believable power output and the weaker stolen-base potential of other power-hitting infielders don’t compare to Goldy’s established five-category studliness. I ranked him No. 1 overall last year, so I can’t avoid him at No. 3 after perhaps the quietest .297-24-95-106-32 season.
1.04 – Kris Bryant (Zinkie) – He should hover around 40 homers and 10 steals in 2017. I doubt that the Cubs lineup will regress, which means that he should also be good for triple digits in runs and RBIs.
1.05 – Jose Altuve (Flowers) – I will admit to being less than 100 percent behind this selection since I fear there is nowhere to go but down for Altuve, and I just cannot get over his diminutive size. Still, the batting average/speed combo is unmatched the last three seasons, he’s had 200 hits an 40 doubles the last three years and he’s averaged 20/30 the last two seasons – from second base.
1.06 – Clayton Kershaw (Sporer) – Overall, I’m going to be pushing SP down the line a bit after the power surge across the league, but Kershaw remains the exception. I still have absolutely no problem taking him in the first round and this is probably the perfect spot for me. I think I’d have taken any of the five hitters drafted ahead of him had they fallen, but at this pick it was only between Kersh and one other guy, who I suspect will go very soon.
1.07 – Nolan Arenado (Schwartz) – He’s led the Majors in RBI’s in back-to-back seasons, topping 40 homers both times, and doubled his walk rate this year without striking out more. His AVG/OBP are only good-but-not-great, and he doesn’t steal, but he’s the Majors’ premiere slugger, plays half of his games at Coors Field and is moving into his age-26 season. Does he have another level?
1.08 – Manny Machado (Steinhorn) – Machado followed up a career year in 2015 with another elite-level season in 2016, setting career highs in homers, RBIs, runs and batting average. The stolen bases disappeared, however, and that’s a bummer because another 20-steal season would have vaulted him into top-3 pick territory. But even without the stolen bases, the 24-year-old is a no doubt first-rounder, and the fact that he’s eligible at shortstop in addition to third base only adds to his appeal.
1.09 – Bryce Harper (DiFino) – One year ago, Bryce Harper was the MVP. And now he’s sliding down the first round? You don’t lose a skill…you get hurt. And I think Harper played most of this year (let’s say starting in mid-May, when his OPS dipped below 1.000) injured. He kind of hinted at it (or somebody on the team did, I can’t find the exact story) this summer. And I’d be willing to wager that there’s some minor surgery that happens quietly in November on some body part. Maybe two. But this is a 24-year-old a year removed from a .330 average and 42 homers. I think he creeps back up to top-4 by March.
1.10 – Josh Donaldson (Van Riper) – I once suggested that Donaldson, despite being traded to a much more hitter-friendly environment, would likely be pressed to match his 2014 numbers as he showed less than ideal splits against right-handed pitching (.727 OPS) during his final season in Oakland in 2014. With 78 homers and consecutive seasons with an OPS of .939 or better, Donaldson has humiliated Billy Beane since the start of 2015. Even if the Jays lose some firepower to free agency this offseason and his run production potential takes a slight hit, I don’t see any significant risk in Donaldson’s profile entering his age-31 season.
1.11 – Corey Seager (Michaels) – I will confess I usually want to wait a year or so for a breakout player to prove not to be a fluke, but all Seager does is deliver the goods. Over two minor league seasons, he was .307-62-278 with an .891 OPS. So, he comes to the Show and pretty much does the rinse, repeat process, hitting .308-26-72 with an .877 OPS. Since he is just 22 and has made the killer adjustments at every level yet still maintained that ever elusive consistency, I am willing to take the risk, draft him, and figure even if the young shortstop’s totals equal this year, that is still pretty good.
1.12 – Charlie Blackmon (Zola) – Flip-flopped power and speed but I don’t really care. Blackmon will deliver a goodly amount of both and I’ll balance it out in season as needed. Not expecting a repeat of a .324 average, though much of the spike was homers, but remember that homers are hits too. Still, a .290 floor with upside is just fine.
2.01 – Trea Turner (Zola) – Lots to be worried about. Turner doesn’t walk and his contact rate was better than on the farm (which is unusual), so there will likely be some give-back in average. Major league power also ahead of minor league history. Gee, sounds like last year’s blurb on Francisco Lindor. Main difference is steals. Lindor runs, Turner runs like a maniac. The allure of Turner is the floor provided by what I see as a high stolen base total with the upside dependent on where the power and average fall. I can see Turner as Lindor plus 30 steals.
2.02 – Brian Dozier (Michaels) – Again, I am coloring way outside the lines relative to how I usually construct a team, and Dozier, who has pop, but whiffs, is not the kind of guy I would covet. However, coming off a MONSTER season where he clobbered 82 extra-base hits (.886 OPS) and swiped 18 bags, the Twins keystone guy is screaming for attention. As for the whiffs, Dozier’s 2016 K/BB mean was 2.26, which is pretty much his career average (2.13), but he has bagged as many as 81 walks in a season (61 last year) and at age 29, I think the confluence of age, experience and confidence will produce his best season. That doesn’t mean more than the 41 dingers he belted last year, but I am thinking .280-30-90, with 15 steals. Plus, couple Dozier with Seager, and I am set with some solid sticks up the middle, and if your middle is solid at the dish, good things usually follow.
2.03 – Max Scherzer (Van Riper) – The concern with Scherzer is the continued rise of his home-run rate, but 2016 marked the third season in the last four where he’s maintained an ERA below 3.00 while logging a high volume of innings. In terms of his stuff, there is little to suggest that he’s in decline — 94.3 mph average fastball velocity in 2016 was a career-high — and he’s now rolled up three consecutive seasons with at least 250 strikeouts. I would be even more comfortable with Scherzer at 15th overall in a 15-team league, but I think the second tier of starting pitching has enough warts this year to take him in this spot for a 12-team format.
2.04 – George Springer (DiFino) – Maybe it’s a little too early, maybe not. But I can see Springer taking a Betts-style leap next year. This was his first full season in the Majors, the Astros will be better next year, and Springer has 30-30 potential with the ability to hit .285-plus. Springer had a 20-30 and a 30-40 season in the Minors while hitting .300-plus in both of those campaigns. Now that he has the 600 at-bats out of the way, he can focus on some improvements in the offseason and come into 2017 firing on all cylinders.
2.05 – Anthony Rizzo (Steinhorn) – The 17 steals from 2015 will likely prove to be an anomaly but Rizzo is a super safe bet for at minimum a 30-100-90 line with a quality batting average hitting in the middle of a stacked lineup. Interestingly enough, 40 of his 63 home runs over the past two seasons have come on the road, so his power isn’t a product of Wrigley Field. Still just 27, I think a 40-homer season is inevitable. Also note that he would carry even more value if this were an OBP league, as he’s recorded at least a .385 OBP in each of the last three seasons.
2.06 – Joey Votto (Schwartz) – There’s something unsexy about taking a 33-year-old first baseman this early in the draft, but Votto is an unquestionably elite run-producer, particularly in OBP leagues. He outperformed his career averages over the past two seasons while playing 158 games each year, eliminating residual concerns after his injury-plagued 2014 season. In fact, other than that season, he hasn’t been as poor as “above average” since 2008. Stud.
2.07 – Miguel Cabrera (Sporer) – There’s something unsexy about taking a 34-year-old first baseman this early in the draft, but Miggy is an unquestionably elite run-producer and even saw his power production return this year with 38 homers after 18 and 25 the last two years. It’s crazy when these surefire Hall of Famers almost become boring, but I get it. Still thrilled to open Kershaw/Miggy here.
2.08 – Starling Marte (Flowers) – Well that blows. I was gonna take Votto, Cabrera or Rizzo here…and all three went the three selections before my choice. I probably should take Edwin Encarnacion here, but I’m going to zag and go for speed over power. Give me Marte. I know he finished the year with a back issue, but it’s not expected to linger. Marte and Atuve should steal 70 bases next year while batting well above .300. Hard to argue with that starting duo, especially with steals at such a premium these days.
2.09 – Edwin Encarnacion (Zinkie) – Encarnacion is arguably the most consistent power source in recent years. While his free-agent destination will have an impact on his 2017 draft value, I expect him to find a landing spot that gives him a good chance for 40 homers and more than 100 RBIs.
2.10 – Robinson Cano (Heaney) – 2016 spoiled us with an expanded crop of elite middle infielders. In a 12-team draft, whom I choose probably will depend on team construction. In an October mock, of course, I’m going with the best track record among those top-shelfers, and that squarely belongs to Cano. In a healthy 2016, his power emphatically returned. I welcome his stellar four-category floor for another 30 or so home runs, a batting average that hovers around .300, and near 200 combined runs and RBI. A Goldy-Cano combo is a cozy start.
2.11 – Rougned Odor (Collette) – Thankfully this isn’t an OBP league. Odor was one of six middle infielders to put up at least 70 XBH in 2016 and four of the other five have already been taken here. He’s an established stud at age 22 while his age peers are still in A-ball.
2.12 – Madison Bumgarner (Erickson) – The starting pitching run hasn’t begun in earnest yet, but it will before it gets to my 4/5 turn. So I’ll go with my perceived safest commodity out there – great pitcher, probably a pretty good team again, and he can even hit occasionally to create his own run support.
3.01 – Freddie Freeman (Erickson) – Finally had the year that everyone had expected he might get, and his offense around him should be closer to the second half version of the Braves rather than the putrid first half version, meaning his counting stats might actually get a small bump.
3.02 – Chris Sale (Collette) – His team is not good, but he’s good. Oddly enough, Sale had his best year for wins despite the team’s struggles. It was his first back-to-back 200+ inning season, so he has that going for him. He finished the season getting the strikeouts he wasn’t getting earlier too.
3.03 – Jonathan Villar (Heaney) – So many MIs in this wheelhouse so I’m going with need. I’m targeting an overload of stolen bases to balance out Robinson Cano’s non-existence in that category. Villar’s pop doesn’t appear at first glance to be “19 homers” good again, but he should revisit double digits. On the other hand, we’ve known Villar’s speed has been real since he debuted. It was just a matter of opportunity, which he finally received in 2016. If he gives me 10 HR, 40-plus SB,150-plus R+RBI, and a batting average around .270, I’ll gladly take him. He’s a more helpful Dee Gordon.
3.04 – Carlos Correa (Zinkie) – We were likely a little too optimistic on him this year. But he’s still so young. I could see 25-30 homers, close to 20 steals, more than 100 RBIs and a .290 average. Round 3 feels like the right time to get him off the board.
3.05 – Xander Bogaerts (Flowers) – Second round in a row my hopeful pick was taken right before me (Carlos Correa). Continuing my theme of youngish, five category-ish players, I’ll take Xander Bogaerts over Francisco Lindor. The youngster from Clevelaad has a slightly higher steal upside, but Xander is just barely 24 years old and the last two seasons he’s hit .307-14-85-100-12 on average.
3.06 – Francisco Lindor (Sporer) – Wasn’t sure how high folks would be on Villar so I was aiming for him here, but I’m perfectly happy with this backup plan. Lindor backed up his excellent debut, especially accounting for the 6-month grind eating into the numbers a bit. I’d gladly take a carbon copy, but I also don’t rule out the potential for more stolen bases. And a peak season likely includes some kind of league-leading .340ish batting average, so that’s always a potential as well.
3.07 – Ryan Braun (Schwartz) – Nearly took Correa last round, hoped for Lindor this round, got neither, thanks a lot guys! So, I’ll take Ryan Braun, who in 2016 posted his best season since 2012; in fact, over the past two years, he’s averaged .295 with 28 homers, 88 RBIs, 20 steals and 84 runs. However, staying on the field has been an issue – only 137 games played on average over the past three seasons – but this looks like a fair balance of risk and reward at this point in the draft.
3.08 – Corey Kluber (Steinhorn) – There are a number of hitters that interest me at this spot but I value them similarly, so I’ll grab my ace here and go with one of the remaining hitters from my target group with my next pick. Maybe Kluber will never duplicate his Cy Young season of 2014 during which he registered a 2.44 ERA. But over the past three years, he’s posted a combined 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 9.9 K/9 rate. That’s a fine way to begin constructing a starting rotation.
3.09 – Dee Gordon (DiFino) – I think he’s going to slip a little bit because of the drug suspension and marginalized season. I think the average will bounce back, and the steals were still there (he had 30, despite missing 50 games). There’s always the dual risk of a second suspension or him not being as effective if he’s not on PEDs — but I’m not buying either. He’ll come back in 2017 refreshed and determined. If that happens, he’s a bargain this late in the draft.
3.10 – Noah Syndergaard (Van Riper) – I would be more concerned about his brushes with arm trouble if he had lost velocity late in the year, or pitched at a significantly lower level. All things considered, it sounds like a minor problem (small bone spur), and even in a 12-team league, I’m struggling to feel good about the bulk of the Top 10-25 range Starting Pitchers at the present time. I am curious, however, if this approach will leave me vulnerable in stolen bases with league-wide numbers down (0.52 SB/G) at the same level as 2015, which marked the lowest per-game rate of stolen bases since 1973.
3.11 – Yoenis Cespedes (Michaels) – Once again, the bod let Yoenis down in 2016, such that he could only muster 132 games, but he still topped 31 homers, posting a slash of .280/.354/.884 while boosting his OBP to .354. Now a vet, I still think Cespe has a monster year in him, and at age 31, if he can stay healthy, this is a great opportunity. And, well, even if the Cuban import repeats his 2016 totals, they are still just fine for a third-rounder.
3.12 – Giancarlo Stanton (Zola) – Nerd alert: I base my projections on a park-neutral, per plate appearance distillation. Stanton is, by far, the leader in HR/PA. He’ll take about a 10 percent hit playing in the Aquarium (which should be the home park of the Fish, look at it, it even looks like an aquarium with all the colors but I digress). Obviously, you don’t need me to tell you Stanton has prolific power; you need me to tell you he’s going to play 150 games. But I can’t. I can tell you, however, it’s worth the chance he does with a late Round 3 pick in a shallow Mixed format where backing him up on reserve isn’t as hard as it would be in a deeper league.
4.01 – Trevor Story (Zola) – I’ll take some give-back in average in the event Story’s approach doesn’t change and he continues to swing from the heels with two strikes. The guy is built for Coors Field with a high fly ball rate. His hard hit rate was exceptional, but the key will be whether or not he can sustain it. If not, these last two picks have added some serious batting average risk to the squad but the counting stats more than make up for it.
4.02 – Johnny Cueto (Michaels) – Much like Cespedes, Cueto is now a veteran playing at the top of his game: if you saw his fantastic playoff start against the Cubs, which was a one-pitch loss that was a brilliant showing, you know this to be true. Pitching a second season within a venue friendly to hurlers, Cueto looks to be able to repeat, and maybe even improve upon his solid 18-5, 2.78 ERA stat line from 2016, and with premiere arms going slowly but steadily, the Giants righty is a good place to start building a staff.
4.03 – Nelson Cruz (Van Riper) – He was a $30 player in 2016 according to the dollars earned tool at RotoWire, posting numbers right in line with Edwin Encarnacion. Injury risk only ticks up with age, but Cruz now has three consecutive 40-homer campaigns under his belt and he continues to do enough damage on the road to offset his slightly deflated numbers at Safeco. With two arms on my roster in the first three rounds, getting a hitter capable of returning top-20 overall value here might be a coup.
4.04 – Jake Arrieta (DiFino) – 2016 was a down season, but he’s just a year removed from a 1.77 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. He has a 9+ K/9 over the last three years. He’ll be 31 next year, which might end up being a nice crossroad between young unbridled talent and veteran poise. Arrieta should be back below a 3.00 ERA and sub-1.14 WHIP with continued Ks in 2017.
4.05 – A.J. Pollock (Steinhorn) – This is a risky pick as Pollock is coming off an injury-marred 2016 season in which he was limited to 12 games, but here’s hoping that an off-season of rest will restore him to full health. There’s first-round upside here considering what he did in 2015 (.315-20-76-111-39) and the scarcity of steals around the league. Pick #41 seems like a reasonable stage of the draft to take this risk.
4.06 – Daniel Murphy (Schwartz) – Continuing on my trend of taking late-prime veterans coming off huge seasons. There are reasons to think 2016 was as good as it will ever get for Murphy, but plenty more to suggest that he’s established a new level of performance worthy of this pick: his second-half OPS was identical to his first half, he had virtually no home/road split, and he’s the rare lefty who rakes lefties. His upside outweighs the risk with this pick.
4.07 – J.D. Martinez (Sporer) – Apparently I’m a giant homer, pairing J.D. with Miggy, but I love the power output. He was a few RBIs short of the .300-30-100 full season pace he’s held over the last three seasons. The fluke elbow injury (running into the wall) didn’t negatively impact him at all with a .945 OPS in 55 games after returning. I’m a little slow right now, but really only 4 of the 12 of us have any measurable speed at this juncture so I don’t feel too far behind.
4.08 – Jose Abreu (Flowers) – I was going to go JDM or Abreu, so Mr. Sporer made this an easy call. After going with speed early (Altuve, Marte), it’s time to start building a power base. Abreu had a somewhat disappointing season in 2016 in some folks’ eyes, but he’s also hit .290 with 25 homers and 100 RBIs each of the last three seasons. He is the only person in baseball who has done that.
4.09 – Jon Lester (Zinkie) – The rest of the available pitchers kind of give me heartburn. The ace pool seems to be a little thin this year. Lester is coming off a great season, and the Cubs could lead the Majors again next season. I doubt that Lester will be one of the top-5 starters next season, but I feel pretty confident that he will be in the top-10 or top-15.
4.10 – Wil Myers (Heaney) – I would’ve jumped all over Lester here, so now that he’s gone, I’ll stick with building offense in this shallow league. Enter a potentially polarizing player in 2017, especially now that he’s lost outfield eligibility. Obviously, I don’t want to Sharpie another 28-28 season, and I’ll have to deal with a batting average that won’t help me. 2016 was probably his peak, and his health will remain a red flag. But he finally had an opportunity to show off his legit power with a healthy wrist. Metrics like HR/FB and hard-hit rate prove the soon-to-be 26-year-old reveled in a step forward, not a fluke. This is enough of a discount — especially in a 12-team league, where the replacement value is more abundant — to capitalize on having a 20-plus-homer, 20-plus-steal pair at corner infield with Myers and Paul Goldschmidt. Quite the advantage.
4.11 – Jean Segura (Collette) – He, like so many others, hit 20 homers last year but more importantly rediscovered hard hitting in the dry desert air. The personal tragedy that took his career sideways won’t be forgotten, but he got really good again last year after folks wrote him off. He got better as the season went on and oddly enough, has been better against same-handed pitching throughout his career. He and Jose Altuve were the only middle infielders to hit as many as 20 homers and swipe as many as 30 bags.
4.12 – Ian Kinsler (Erickson) – I thought he was on the downswing a few years ago, but 28 homers, 14 steals and a whopping 117 runs later, it’s readily apparent that I was wrong. There’s going to be some tailing off next year, but he’s still a good bet to 20-10-100 runs.
5.01 – Kyle Hendricks (Erickson) – Debated going with Justin Verlander instead – I’m trading strikeouts for most likely better ratios, facing the NL Central and having a great team behind him, hopefully translating in more wins. I’m aware that he’s unlikely to prevent baserunners to the extend that he did in 2016, so there’s some chasing here. But he’s also consistently outperformed expectations throughout his career.
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Hope you all benefited from my daily PoD advice throughout the season. I’ve always wanted to keep a record of the stats for all of my “going out on a limb” picks, but it does sound like a lot of work. The season is so long. Well, maybe next year!
Miley @ Severino
Colon @ Klein
Kuhl @ Garcia – Kuhl a toss-up. I’d lean towards passing.
Chen @ Roark
Kershaw @ Blach
Lester @ Adleman
Bauer @ Volquez – The risk outweighs the reward with Bauer.
Happ @ E. Rodriguez – Tough matchup for Rodriguez.
Santiago @ Shields – Santiago has been shaky of late. Shields pitched well his last time out, but he still cannot be trusted.
Zimmermann @ Blair – Playing it safe with Zim.
Odorizzi @ Lewis
Peralta @ Hoffman
Richard @ Bradley – Richard a tempting play in deeper formats though. Bradley too inconsistent lately.
McHugh @ Skaggs – McHugh went 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in five September starts.
Cotton @ Iwakuma – Cotton has been impressive.
Gausman @ Cessa – Gausman worth a shot here.
Ar. Sanchez @ Price
Rodgers @ Chacin
Whitley @ M. Perez
Koehler @ Scherzer – Koehler has been shaky of late and this is a dangerous matchup.
Ynoa @ Eickhoff
Maeda @ Moore
Berrios @ Sale
Manaea @ King Felix – Manaea pitched to a 0.50 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in three September starts.
Verlander @ Teheran
Hendricks @ Stephenson
Cravy @ Marquez
Clemens @ Koch
Tomlin @ Kennedy – Tomlin carries some deep-league appeal though.
Vogelsong @ Wainwright – Wainwright continues to disappoint.
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Gallardo @ Pineda – Pineda has pitched well lately but this matchup is too tough.
Cashner @ A.J. Cole – Cole has been hit or miss. I’ll pass.
Gsellman @ Asher
Buchanan @ J. Smith
Estrada @ Porcello
D. Norris @ Wisler
Andriese @ Darvish
Suter @ Bettis
Duffey @ Rodon – Rodon inconsistent of late but he’s coming off dominant outing.
Merritt @ Ventura – The risk outweighs the reward with Ventura right now.
Glasnow @ C. Martinez
Jackson @ Shipley
Peacock @ D. Wright – Peacock worth considering in deeper formats.
Alcantara @ Walker – Walker far from a sure thing these days but he sports a 2.03 ERA in two starts this season versus an Oakland club that ranks last in the AL in both runs scored and OPS.
Hill @ Bumgarner
And here’s the All-Fantasy Team article:
Every championship fantasy team needs at least one superstar to provide difference-making numbers while a deep cast of complimentary players fills in around him. Each member of our 2016 All-Fantasy Team proved to be the game-changer at his respective position. No matter the acquisition cost for these players, they provided a return that could have keyed a Yoo-Hoo shower.
Jonathan Lucroy, C/1B: Lucroy was effective across 95 games with the Brewers, but it was his stretch-run success as part of a potent Rangers lineup that vaulted him to the top spot at his position. The 30-year-old’s impressive accomplishments included having a top-five positional ranking in all five standard categories. He could use his talented new supporting cast to challenge Buster Posey as the initial catcher to come off ’17 draft boards.
Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman: Goldschmidt has accomplished a rare feat in ’16 by leading all first basemen in overall value while tallying more steals than homers. A perennial .300 hitter who consistently hovers around the 100-mark in runs and RBIs, the 29-year-old should be a first-round pick next season despite failing to rank among the top-15 at his position in round-trippers.
Jose Altuve, second baseman: Altuve shocked many fantasy owners by following up his ’15 power jump by making another leap this season. The diminutive second baseman was the most valuable fantasy asset in the first half when he hit .341 with 14 homers and 23 steals across 405 plate appearances. Altuve has hit well enough since the All-Star break to urge owners to look past his late-season dip in steals and consider him a top-5 pick in ’17.
Nolan Arenado, third baseman: Arenado has used his prodigious power to emerge from a deep group of third base options to lead the position in overall production. With pronounced home/road splits this season, the 25-year-old used the benefits of playing half his games at Coors Field to rank among the Major League leaders in homers, RBIs and runs. Owners will be wise to ignore Arenado’s lack of speed and select him in the middle of the first round next season.
Jonathan Villar, SS/3B: With steals at a premium in ’16, Villar’s Major League leading total made him an elite fantasy asset. The 25-year-old’s fleet feet may have put him on this list, but he has provided a complete fantasy profile by also hitting .285 with 19 homers. Villar will come off the board in the initial rounds of ’17 drafts due to his ability to heavily impact the swipes category without leaving an owner bereft of power.
Mookie Betts, outfielder: Even owners who expected Betts to improve this season could not have envisioned such a large jump in production. Splitting time between the leadoff and cleanup spots in the highest-scoring lineup in baseball, the 23-year-old ranks among the Major League leaders in all five standard categories. Betts will be a top-3 pick next season even with the understanding that it will be hard for him to improve on his memorable ’16 campaign.
Mike Trout, outfielder: Death, taxes and Mike Trout on an All-Fantasy Team. Likely the least surprising player on this squad, Trout used an uptick in the batting average and stolen base categories to offset a drop in home run production this season. Wise owners will put Trout at the top of their ’17 draft boards despite the relative lack of talent surrounding him in the Angels lineup.
Charlie Blackmon, outfielder: On the strength of major improvements at the dish, Blackmon managed to retain his impressive overall value from ’15 despite tallying more than 20 fewer stolen bases. The 30-year-old has used his offense-inducing home venue and perch atop the second-highest scoring lineup in baseball to easily post career bests in homers, RBIs, runs and batting average. The time has come for owners to give Blackmon serious consideration in the first round of drafts.
Max Scherzer, starter: Scherzer set himself apart from the competitors at his position by leading all starters in strikeouts and WHIP. He may also lead the Senior Circuit in wins and ranks among baseball’s best in ERA despite giving up his share of home runs. Owners with plans of dominating the pitching categories next season will need to seriously consider Scherzer at the back end of the first round.
Madison Bumgarner, starter: The model of consistency, Bumgarner is about to finish a fourth consecutive season with an ERA below 3.00 and a sub-1.10 WHIP. The southpaw took his game to another level by posting a career-best strikeout total, which made up for a dropoff of at least three wins from the 18 he produced in ’14 and ’15. Bumgarner will be one of the safest options in the second or third round of ’17 drafts.
Rick Porcello, starter: Along with Villar, Porcello may be the most surprising name on this team. The right-hander is about to complete a remarkable transformation that shifted him from waiver-wire fodder to the Major League leader in wins and arguably the ace on a World Series contender. Wise fantasy owners will project some going-forward regression for Porcello due to his career-long inconsistency and a .266 BABIP this season that is more than 40 points lower than his career mark.
Clayton Kershaw, starter: Remarkably, Kershaw managed to crack the All-Fantasy Team rotation despite missing all of July and August due to injury. On pace to produce career lows in ERA and WHIP, the left-hander is unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball. Even owners who tend to avoid taking pitchers in the early rounds must recognize that a starter who owns a 1.87 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP since the outset of ’13 is a fine choice at any point in round 1.
Jon Lester, starter: Lester is performing his best impersonation of teammate Jake Arrieta circa ’15 by producing Cy Young-worthy numbers on the strength of a remarkable second half that includes a 10-0 record and a 1.34 ERA. Backed by a Cubs squad that leads the Majors by a wide margin with a .730 defensive efficiency ratio, the southpaw has produced career-best numbers with the support of a .255 BABIP. Fantasy owners should expect more of the same next season from Lester and his ultra-talented supporting cast.
Kenley Jansen, reliever: Jansen must have had some kind of ’16 season in order to generate more fantasy value than a closer (Zach Britton) who has converted all 47 of his save chances and has logged a 0.55 ERA. The Dodgers’ stopper has reigned supreme at his position by producing a low ERA, a minuscule WHIP and a triple-digit strikeout total across more than 50 save chances. The tremendous turnover at the closer position this season will make Jansen a tough option to resist once the initial four rounds are completed in ’17 drafts.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB
And here’s my All-Rookie Team article:
Fantasy owners are always in search of the next big thing, especially when the next big thing comes at a minimal cost. This is why rookies are so highly coveted, as they can often be drafted in the late rounds or even added via the waiver wire during the season. The profit potential is significant, and choosing the right rookie could mean the difference between winning a fantasy title or falling just short. The challenge, however, is to make the correct choices, as your league mates will also be in pursuit of these much-hyped players. With only a few days remaining in the 2016 season, it is time to name the All-Rookie Team, and congrats to those of you who own one or more of these members.
Gary Sanchez, catcher: Despite playing in the Majors for only two months, Sanchez is a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year candidate. With 20 homers and 42 RBIs to go along with a .311 batting average through 50 games, the Yankees backstop has rewarded owners who grabbed him off the waiver wire with a level of run production that rivals any hitter in the game. At the very least, he’s already earned clear-cut top-5 catcher status heading into drafts next spring.
Tommy Joseph, first base: Despite being stuck in a timeshare with Ryan Howard at first base, Joseph has proven to be a solid fantasy asset this season for those in deeper mixed leagues or NL-only formats, recording 21 home runs through 310 at-bats. With Howard set to enter free agency this winter, Joseph could take over as the Phillies’ regular first sacker in 2017, and his strong September (.304 AVG, 4 HR, 13 RBI) suggests that the 25-year-old is up for the task. Assuming that Philadelphia names him their everyday first baseman coming out of spring training next season, Joseph is deserving of a late-round pick in standard mixed leagues thanks to his power upside.
Trea Turner, 2B/OF: Turner’s first extended big league opportunity came later in the season than many had expected, but the 23-year-old speedster wasted no time proving that he belongs in the Majors. Turner has provided his fantasy owners with an All-Star level stat line, including a .340 batting average, 29 swipes, 51 runs scored and 12 homers through 69 games. While his power output is surprising (Turner registered only 19 homers across 268 minor league games), his speed is legit (77 steals in the Minors). Add in his ability to deliver high-end numbers in both batting average and runs scored along with his youth, and Turner should be selected within the top 50 picks, and possibly sooner, in 2017 drafts.
Corey Seager, shortstop: The overwhelming favorite to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors, Seager ranks among the top three players at his position in home runs (26) and runs (104) while leading all shortstops in batting average (.311), OBP (.369) and OPS (.888). The 22-year-old doesn’t run much (three steals), but he is otherwise a reliable stat-filler who could get even better. Seager is already a top-40 fantasy option for 2017. Trevor Story also deserves a mention here, as his NL Rookie of the Year case rivaled that of Seager before a thumb injury ended his season prematurely in late-July.
Brandon Drury, 3B/2B/OF: Drury’s 2016 campaign has been one of ups and downs, but the 24-year-old is finishing off the season on a high note, batting .333 with five homers, 17 RBIs and 17 runs scored in September. Drury’s minor league stat line that includes a .285 batting average, 60 home runs and 363 RBIs in 641 games hints that he could be a quality fantasy contributor going forward. The fact that he is eligible at three different positions adds to his appeal, and playing his home games at hitter-friendly Chase Field should help him maximize his offensive potential. Drury makes for an intriguing late-round flier in mixed leagues next season.
Nomar Mazara, outfielder: Mazara played only three games in the Minors this season before getting promoted to the big club, and it soon became clear that the Rangers made the right decision. The Dominican native entered June sporting a .302 batting average to go along with nine homers and 24 RBIs, and after an underwhelming middle portion of the season, Mazara’s power stroke has returned in September (5 HR, 13 RBI). At 21 years of age, Mazara still has room to grow as a hitter, and fantasy owners have every reason to be excited about his offensive outlook heading into 2017 and beyond.
Max Kepler, outfielder: Although Kepler has struggled to maintain a solid batting average, the lefty-swinging 23-year-old has managed to slug 17 homers while collecting 62 RBIs in 384 at-bats this season, including eight home runs and 23 RBIs in July. Kepler’s minor league batting average of .281 suggests that he could improve in that area with additional big league experience. There’s profit potential in using a late-round pick to draft Kepler in 2017.
Travis Jankowski, outfielder: For owners in need of steals, Jankowski proved to be quite a find off the waiver wire. The 25-year-old’s most productive month was August, when he batted .308 with 11 swipes and 18 runs scored. September (.205 AVG, 1 SB, 8 R) has been a different story, and he’s lost at-bats of late to recent call-ups Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot. The playing time uncertainty heading into 2017 puts a damper on Jankowski’s fantasy value, but the speedster will be deserving of a late-round pick in deeper mixed formats should he emerge from spring training with a starting job.
Kenta Maeda, starter: As with any player coming to the Majors from overseas, it was unknown whether Maeda’s success in Japan would translate to the big leagues. As it turned out, the transition was not a problem at all for Maeda, who boasts a 3.28 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP through 31 starts to go along with 176 strikeouts across 173 innings. Even if he experiences some regression in 2017, the Dodgers righty should still post quality numbers, and there is little downside in drafting him as a fourth or fifth starter in 12-team mixed leagues.
Michael Fulmer, starter: The key piece acquired by the Tigers from the Mets in last summer’s Yoenis Cespedes trade, Fulmer enjoyed immediate success upon his late-April big league call-up, going 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA over his first 13 starts. The 23-year-old remained a steady presence in Detroit’s rotation all season, finishing off the 2016 campaign with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP across 26 starts. His 7.5 K/9 rate is somewhat disappointing, but Fulmer’s 8.7 K/9 rate in the Minors hints that a strikeout uptick in 2017 is likely. Mixed league owners should feel comfortable adding Fulmer to the back-end of their rotation in drafts next spring, and he could very well return a substantial profit.
Jameson Taillon, starter: For years, Taillon was billed as an elite prospect, but Tommy John surgery delayed his big league debut until this June. The 24-year-old righty found immediate success, and he closed out the season with a strong 3.38 ERA and 1.12 WHIP across 18 starts. Taillon is fully expected to fill a spot in the Pirates starting rotation next season and offers plenty of upside as a late-round pick in fantasy drafts.
Junior Guerra, starter: Among the biggest pitching surprises of 2016, Guerra has registered a stellar 2.81 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over his first 20 big league starts. Although his pedestrian 7.4 K/9 rate limits his fantasy value to deeper mixed leagues for now, Guerra’s ability to minimize hits (7.0 H/9) and home runs (0.7 HR/9) bodes well for his ERA and WHIP going forward.
Zach Davies, starter: Pitching in his first full big league season, Davies has posted a solid stat line this year, highlighted by an impressive 135-to-38 K/BB ratio. However, his 7.4 K/9 rate is far from elite, and he wasn’t a high-end strikeout pitcher in the Minors (7.8 K/9). Still just 23, Davies could develop into a reliable fantasy option in standard mixed leagues. But for now, he’s more of a deep-league asset.
Seung Hwan Oh, reliever: The surprising struggles of the once dominant Trevor Rosenthal opened the door for Oh to assume ninth inning duties for the Cardinals beginning in early-July. Oh’s success in the closer role along with Rosenthal’s subsequent shoulder injury solidified his hold on the job for the remainder of the season. Through 74 appearances, the South Korea native boasts a 1.85 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 rate to go along with 18 saves in 21 chances. Should he remain the Cardinals stopper in 2017, Oh could continue to establish himself as an upper-tier ninth inning man and would be well worth a mid-round selection on draft day.
Zach Steinhorn is a fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachMLB
Ray @ J. Ross – Ray has struggled lately. Pitch only if you’re chasing strikeouts. Not a whole lot of upside in pitching Ross in what should be another abbreviated outing.
Merritt @ D. Norris – Norris pitching pretty well lately. (PPD)
Owens @ Sabathia
Zastryzny @ Nova – Tough matchup for Nova, who has struggled of late.
Jimenez @ Stroman – Stroman 3 ER or fewer in each of his last five starts.
Hellickson @ Collmenter – Hellickson coming off rough outing but I’ll stick with him here.
Straily @ Reyes – Straily is 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA in five September starts and he’s fared well against the Cardinals this year (2.45 ERA). Reyes a decent option if you’re in need of K’s.
Gibson @ Duffy
Archer @ Quintana
Urias @ Friedrich – Who knows how many innings Urias will pitch here. I’ll pass.
Graveman @ Miranda – Miranda worth a look in deeper leagues for this matchup.
J. Gray @ Cueto – Gray has been hit or miss lately but the K’s are nice.
Paxton @ Fister – Paxton is on a roll.
S. Miller @ G. Gonzalez – Gio has been inconsistent though.
Buchholz @ Mitchell – Buchholz a decent deep-league option.
Arrieta @ Taillon
Tillman @ Liriano – Sticking with Tillman despite the tough matchup.
McAllister @ Fulmer
Lugo @ Urena
Morgan @ Foltynewicz
Big Erv @ Vargas
Ch. Anderson @ Hamels
Snell @ M. Gonzalez – Snell worth a shot if you’re chasing K’s. Otherwise, pass.
DeSclafani @ Leake – Leake too unpredictable these days.
S. Gray @ Meyer – First start in almost two months for Gray. Who knows what we will see here.
De Leon @ Perdomo – De Leon a viable option in deeper formats.
Chatwood @ Samardzija – Chatwood continues to get the job done on the road (7-1, 1.88 ERA) and the Giants rank last in the Majors in runs scored since the All-Star break.
Fred Zinkie delivers the first of our season wrap-up articles:
Finding a breakout player is one of the best parts of playing fantasy baseball. While steady studs certainly have their appeal, leagues are often won by the owners who correctly pluck breakout performers during their draft or waiver-wire transactions. The following 14 players made massive jumps in ’16 and are likely to have populated the rosters of many fantasy championship squads.
Wilson Ramos, catcher: Ramos has easily surpassed his previous career bests by hitting .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBIs across 482 at-bats. But much of the backstop’s best work came when he hit .330 with 13 homers in the first half. With a .279/.317/.447 slash line since the All-Star break, Ramos looks more like a good fantasy option than a great one heading into ’17.
Wil Myers, 1B/OF: Much like Ramos, Myers rode an outstanding first half (19 homers, 60 RBIs, 15 steals across 379 plate appearances) to the top-tier of players at his position. But unlike Ramos, the 25-year-old has struggled in the second half (.221 batting average) to the point where he has fallen out of the active lineup in some shallow leagues. Myers will enter ’17 as a boom-or-bust draft option with the tools to make a major five-category contribution.
Daniel Murphy, second baseman: Murphy turned out to be fantasy gold for owners who took his ’15 postseason power binge (seven homers across 58 at-bats) as a sign of a looming breakout year. Among the Major League leaders in batting average (.347) and RBIs (104), the second baseman should come off the board in the initial rounds of ’17 drafts.
Jonathan Villar, SS/3B: In a matter of months, Villar has gone from waiver-wire fodder to the Major League leader in steals. The 25-year-old has also proven to be more than a one-trick pony by posting a solid .283 batting mark and 18 homers across 569 at-bats. With swipes at a premium in all leagues, the infielder could come off the board as early as round three in ’17 drafts.
Jose Ramirez, 3B/2B/SS/OF: Owners who have missed Indians’ star Michael Brantley this season should notice that Ramirez has been doing an outstanding impersonation of Brantley’s five-category effectiveness. Slated to open ’17 with multi-position eligibility, Ramirez could be a major contributor to fantasy squads by repeating the 11 homers, 22 steals and .313 batting average he has produced across 602 plate appearances this season.
Jackie Bradley Jr., outfielder: Highlighted by a 29-game early-season hitting streak, Bradley has used his spot in the highest-scoring lineup in baseball to more than double his previous career bests in homers (26), runs (93) and RBIs (87). But before owners bid too heavily for the outfielder next season, they should notice that he has produced a .242/.324/.447 slash line since June 1.
Khris Davis, outfielder: After hitting .221 with three homers in April, Davis rewarded patient owners by being one of the most powerful players in baseball across the final five months of the season. Wise owners will predict the outfielder to experience some measure of regression next year based on his inability to make notable improvements in his walk, strikeout or fly-ball rates in ‘16.
Hernan Perez, OF/2B/3B: Fantasy owners without a crystal ball were content to leave Perez on waivers when he was hitting .255 with four homers and 10 steals across 146 plate appearances at the All-Star break. But the 25-year-old has used his improved power stroke, plus speed and versatile fielding skills to carve out a regular role and hit .278 with nine homers and 23 steals across 262 plate appearances in the second half. As one of the few players with the potential to make a major impact in the steals category, Perez should be a desired commodity in the middle rounds of ’17 drafts.
Rick Porcello, starter: Porcello began ’16 on many “do not draft” lists after posting a 4.92 ERA a year ago. But the right-hander has outpitched heralded teammate David Price to become the ace of Boston’s rotation. Even though Porcello’s .266 BABIP this season offers reason to expect some regression in ’17, he should win plenty of games as long as he can produce a mid-3.00’s ERA in front of Boston’s potent lineup.
Aaron Sanchez, SP/RP: Even those who tabbed Sanchez as a sleeper pick could not have expected that he would become the ace of the Blue Jays staff and rank among the American League ERA leaders. Despite a mediocre strikeout rate, Sanchez showed enough consistency to be ranked as a top-30 starter for ’17 drafts.
Kyle Hendricks, starter: Hendricks has likely benefited more than any other Cubs starter from pitching in front of a Chicago squad that leads the Majors by a wide margin with a .732 defensive efficiency ratio. The 26-year-old leads the Majors in ERA (1.99) and ranks second in WHIP (.097) despite not making notable improvements in his K/9, BB/9 or HR/9 this year. Owners should note that Hendricks has benefited from a .248 BABIP and rank the righty as a top-20 — but not a top-10 — starter next season.
Rich Hill, starter: Most ’16 drafters saw Hill’s uneven Spring Training results (11.25 ERA, 2.25 WHIP) and assumed that his five-start success last season was an aberration. But the southpaw’s 2.05 ERA and 0.98 WHIP would have ranked among the Major League leaders if not for a pair of disabled-list stints that have limited him to 19 starts. Owners should expect more of the same — stellar results but an inability to approach 30 starts — next season.
Drew Pomeranz, SP/RP: Pomeranz cemented his spot on this list by posting a 2.47 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP across 17 first-half starts with the Padres. However, major issues with the long ball since joining the offensively charged American League East at the All-Star break have led to a 4.68 ERA as a member of the Red Sox. His swing-and-miss repertoire and success with San Diego will combine with his struggles in Beantown to make Pomeranz a boom-or-bust option in ’17 drafts.
Alex Colome, reliever: Colome took over the closer’s role in the first week of the season and never looked back. Having blown just two of his 37 save chances, the right-hander has not given the Rays any reason to go back to incumbent stopper Brad Boxberger now that he has recovered from an injury-plagued season. Looking ahead, Colome has shown the skills to be a second-tier stopper in ’17 drafts.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB
Koch @ Scherzer
Price @ Cessa
Lackey @ Vogelsong
Gausman @ Ar. Sanchez – Tough matchup for Gausman but he’s been pitching very well for quite some time now.
Clevinger @ Verlander – Clevinger worth considering in deeper formats.
Syndergaard @ Koehler – Koehler a toss-up. I’ll play it safe.
Eickhoff @ Teheran
Berrios @ Kennedy
Nelson @ Griffin
King Felix @ Fiers – Fiers is risky but I like what I’ve seen from him of late.
Cobb @ Sale – Cobb coming off awful outing. No thanks.
Stephenson @ Wainwright – I’ll continue to stick with Wainwright, though I wouldn’t blame you for benching him.
Mengden @ Nolasco – Did you know that Nolasco sports a 3.78 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 13 starts since the All-Star break? Oh, and the A’s rank last in the AL in both runs scored and OPS.
Maeda @ Clemens
Marquez @ Moore
And so we’ve reached the end. Here’s the final installment of my two-start pitcher notes for the 2016 season, and good luck over these final 10 days.
Standard mixed leagues
Bartolo Colon (@MIA, @PHI)
Pitching in his age-43 season, Colon has quietly been one of the most reliable hurlers in the game this year (14-7, 3.12 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), yet he can still be found on the waiver wire in some shallower mixed leagues. Coming off five straight quality starts, the veteran righty should be started with confidence in all leagues next week, when he closes out the season with a pair of favorable matchups. The Marlins and Phillies rank 27th and 30th, respectively, in the Majors in runs scored and in six combined starts versus these two clubs this season, Colon boasts a 2.45 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.
Jerad Eickhoff (@ATL, vs. NYM)
Eickhoff’s mediocre August (4.85 ERA) prompted some mixed league owners to drop him, figuring that the 26-year-old, who is pitching in his first full big league season, had run out of gas. Not so fast! Through four September outings, Eickhoff is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. The Phillies righty should once again be owned in all leagues, and he’s a strong two-start option for next week. Although the Braves offense has improved significantly in the second half, Eickhoff’s dominance over Atlanta this season (1.88 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in four starts) cannot be discounted. As for the Mets, New York ranks 20th in the Majors in runs scored this month and Eickhoff has fared well versus the Amazins this season, registering a 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP across three starts.
Collin McHugh (vs. SEA, @LAA)
The owner of a 1.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 rate over his last three starts, McHugh is doing his best to turn around what has been a disappointing 2016 campaign. The Astros righty could end his season on a high note, as he sports a 1.84 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in seven combined starts versus the Mariners and Angels this year. Plus, despite his overall inconsistency this season, McHugh has been a consistent source of strikeouts (8.8 K/9), which adds to his two-start appeal.
Deeper mixed leagues
Archie Bradley (@WAS, vs. SD)
Having allowed three runs or fewer in five of his last six starts, Bradley heads into a two-start week with one challenging matchup followed by a promising matchup. The Nationals rank in the top third of the NL in both runs scored and OPS, and Washington roughed up Bradley to the tune of seven earned runs over 3 1/3 innings back on August 1. On the other hand, the Padres rank last in the Majors in OPS since the All-Star break and Bradley is fresh off a solid performance versus San Diego on Tuesday (5 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 7 K). There is some risk involved in pitching Bradley next week, but his impressive recent results combined with his stellar strikeout rate (8.7 K/9 this season) makes him worth the risk for those in deeper formats.
Clay Buchholz (@NYY, vs. TOR)
Speaking of risk, starting Buchholz next week is very risky, as his second matchup will come against a high-powered Blue Jays offense that earlier this month tagged Clay for six runs over three innings. But in two games (one start) against the Yankees this season, Buchholz has tossed 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball, and the veteran righty has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his last four starts. Buchholz should also continue to benefit from plenty of run support, as the Red Sox are the highest-scoring team in the Majors. He could prove to be a difference maker for owners in need of wins.