Baseball is back!
After months of shaking our heads and gnashing our teeth, the stars and the planets finally aligned, allowing the owners to begrudgingly open their wallets and end the lockout. We have to wait a little longer for the season to start, but Opening Day is less than a month away and we will still get to have a full 162-game season.
All is right with the world now (except for everything else that is going wrong with the world right now. But let’s not worry about that. We’re here to talk baseball!)
So now what?
Perhaps the league(s) you play in were on hold during the strike just as the players were. Just as MLB free agents are scrambling to find jobs with a team, you may now be scrambling to get ready for your upcoming draft. But don’t fret, you’ve been (hopefully) getting your draft strategy secured and trying to figure out who should go where in every round.
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The thing about rankings…
When it comes to ranking anything, there is always a bias. Grey may not like Jack Flaherty (Fantasy Outlook For 2022) as much as I do, but since these are my rankings, I am right and he is wrong. My friend last year said I reached for Robbie Ray. Guess who had the last laugh. My rankings also reflect my bias in that I like hitters more and young players more than old players as I want to build a team that will win for years. But you may want to load up on the top veteran players on the board and then try to snag up-and-coming youngsters on the backend of the draft.
That is a valid approach to building a dynasty team. But for now, I am assuming you are building your dynasty team from the ground up and want as many of the top, young players as possible.
So, let’s get to the rankings.
Tier 2 Players
Three Question Marks and 2 up-and-comers
Peralta made 22 starts and appeared in 55 games for the Brewers in 2018 and ’19, and he wasn’t great. He had a ERA+ of 96 and 84 and posted ERAs of 4.25 and 5.29. But two numbers really stood out those two seasons – one good, one bad. The good was his SO9, which was 11.0 and 12.2 those two years. The bad was his BB9, which was 4.6 and 3.9. Last season, at the age of 25, Peralta finally put everything together. He had an ERA of 2.81, an amazing WHIP of 0.970 in 144.1 innings of work, had a career-best 3.5 BB9 and a 12.2 SO9.
Manoah has been a top prospect since being drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays in 2019. The West Virginia product didn’t disappoint in his rookie season, going 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.048 WHIP, and a 10.2 SO9. He did allow 12 homers in his 111.2 innings, and he also had 16 HBP to go along with a 3.2 BB9. But he is only 24 and allowing a few home runs or hitting a few batters shouldn’t be why you wouldn’t want to draft Manoah. The only reason Manoah isn’t ranked closer to the top pitchers is he has only one season under his belt and I like my pitches to have a bit more of a track.
I thought long and hard about Semien and where to rank him. He has great power years (2016) followed by downturns to then suddenly find it (2019), lose it, then find it again (last year). Semien was in the perfect lineup last season with the Blue Jays. There was no one to pitch around, so pitchers had to go after Semien and he took advantage of that. But now he is with the Rangers, which features an offense nowhere near as good as Toronto’s and a ballpark that allowed a lot fewer home runs per game (0.946) than Buffalo (1.300) or Rogers Centre (1.093). But I’m still betting on him and expect at least 25 homers and double-digit steals.
Now, let’s talk about Nola and Buxton. Nola has been the ace of the Phillies staff for the last half decade. Twice he has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting and he has a career ERA of 3.68 with a 1.158 WHIP. But last year was a struggle for Nola, at least when you look at the “normal” numbers as he was 9-9 with a 4.63 ERA, his worst ERA since 2016. But nearly every other metric was in line with his career numbers. His 11.1 SO9 was higher than his career average (10.1), his 1.9 BB9 was lower (career rate of 2.6) and his WHIP and FIP were lower than his career average. So, long story short, Nola wasn’t as bad as his ERA would indicate and I consider that a blip on the radar screen.
Buxton has all the tools in the world and was chosen second in the 2012 draft behind Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Twins fans have been waiting for Buxton to put everything together and he finally did in 2021 – until he suffered yet more injuries. The lanky center fielder slashed .306/.358/.647 last year with 19 homers. But Buxton suffered a hip flexor strain and then a broken hand in 2021, limiting him to 61 games overall and only 14 games from May through August. Since playing in 140 games in 2017, Buxton played in only 28 games in 2018, then 87 and 39 the following two seasons. If you are afraid of his injury history, avoid Buxton. But do so at your own risk because when healthy, he has shown what he can do at the plate.
Arozarena Is For Real – Really
When Randy Arozarena burst onto the national scene during the 2020 postseason, he was great to watch. But the question many fantasy players had, or at least I had, was “is he for real, or was that just a magical hot streak he experienced?” Arozarena answered that question by winning the Rookie of the Year award last year after slashing .274/..356/.459 for the Rays with 20 homers, 69 RBI, and 20 steals. Those numbers were with below league average line drive and fly ball percentages, so if he can lift the ball a little more this year and beyond, those power numbers will only get better.
Ranked one spot behind Arozarena is Carlos Correa. He could easily be ranked as a low Tier 1 player, that is how much talent he has at the plate, and if we cared about defense, in the field. But what I said about Buxton applies to Correa as well. He seemingly cannot stay on the field. Since appearing in 153 games for Houston in 2016, he played in 109, 110, and 75 games the next three seasons. He did play in 58 of the 60 games in 2020, but hit only five homers and slashed .264/.326/.383 before rebounding last year with 26 homers, 92 RBI, and a slash line of .279/.366/.485 with an OPS+ of 131. If you aren’t worried about his injury history and he is still on the board at this spot of a draft, then snatch him up.
Tyler O’Neill has always been a great defender, winning the Gold Glove in 2020 and then repeating that feat again last year. But in 2021, his bat finally caught up to his glove. O’Neill walloped 34 homers last year, drove in 80 runs, and swiped 15 bases while slashing .386/.352/.560. O’Neill gave a glimpse of last season’s numbers during his 61 games stint with the Cardinals in 2018, slashing .254/.303/.500 with a 115 OPS+. After struggling at the plate the next two years, O’Neill found his stroke again last year. His 6.3 HR% matched that of 2018, as did his average EV of 93.0. I think what O’Neill did last year is the version we should see this year and for years to come.
Stop Overlooking Anderson
Maybe I have just an unnatural affinity for Tim Anderson, but this is a player who seemingly gets overlooked by a lot of fantasy ranking sites. Yes, he doesn’t have the home run power of Fernando Tatis Jr., Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, or Corey Seager, to name a few. But over the course of 162 games, he averages 21 homers and has not reached double figures in homers since his rookie season in 2016 when he hit nine in 99 games. And Anderson will give you stolen bases, swiping 18 last year and reaching double figures from 2016-2019.
Oh, Anderson can also hit for average. I know, I know – who cares about average. Well, there are still tons of leagues that still use batting average, and in the last three years, he has hit .335, .322, and .309. His on-base percentage, the number so many people love, was .338 last year and .357 the two previous years while his OPS has been .865, .886, and .806 the last three years. That is great consistency and production I would love to have on my team each and every year.
Look, Baltimore Has One Good Player
The first thing you see in this group is that two pitchers are ranked ahead of Jacob deGrom. The reason is simple – deGrom is 33 while Jack Flaherty is 26 and Julio Urias is 25. We are building a dynasty team, and so I want the two younger players with amazing ability to build my staff around ahead of the 33-year-old with amazing ability. I know there are red flags concerning Flaherty as he finished the year with a strained shoulder and also suffered an oblique strain. That’s not good for a pitcher. But I am more bullish on Flaherty. He averages 10.5 SO9 for his career and has a nice 1.071 career WHIP.
Cedric Mullins has been battling doubters since being drafted in the 13th round in 2015. At that time the scouting report on him said he was a plus center fielder with 30 power and 60 speed. In 159 games last year, Mullins showed that 60 speed by stealing 30 bases. But he also busted out in the power category with 30 homers while slashing 291/.360/.518 with an OPS+ of 135. The counter argument against Mullin’s power outburst is that it was a product of playing in Camden Yards, and that is true. But who cares. He plays half of his games there. There are plenty of home run hitting outfielders, but there are not many 30-30 outfielders, or that many 15-30 outfielders.
One Half Season Isn’t A Career
Seattle fans had been waiting for the Jarred Kalenic show to begin, and they got their wish last season when the Mariners recalled him from the minors in May. Unfortunately, the show wasn’t much to look at until the final act. Kalenic’s first month in the Show was pretty horrid as he slashed .118/.211/.235 with two homers and six RBI.
June got even worse as he went 0-for-15 at the plate. July and August were more of the same with slash lines of .154/.228/.212 and .196/.282/.317. But while Kalenic was struggling to get base hits, he slugged four homers and drove in 10 during August, leading to the final month of the season when he slashed .248/.331/.524 with seven home runs (half of his season total) and 20 RBI.
If you project Kalenic’s age 21 season to a full 162 games, it would be 24 homers with 75 RBI and 10 steals. That, to me, is his floor. There is a lot of room left for him to grow and come close to his ceiling.
You can shuffle Brandon Woodruff, Shane Bieber, and Gerrit Cole in any order in this grouping and the end result is you will be getting a great pitcher. Cole is just so dominant that I don’t care if he is on the wrong side of 30. The dude has finished in the top-5 of the Cy Young voting the last four years. That basically sums up how good he is.
Woodruff has averaged 10.3 SO9 during his career while improving his ERA+ every year of his career, reaching 166 last year. At the same time, his WHIP has improved each and every season, going from 1.326 in 43 innings of work in 2017 to 1.181, 1.142, 1.991, and 0.965 the next four seasons. So he strikes out batters out and keeps them from getting on base. That sounds like a perfect fantasy pitcher to me.
Bieber was out of this world in 2020 and it would have been nearly impossible to match what he did last year. That said, he was off to a great start before a strained shoulder sidelined him in July and August and most of the final month before returning to throw six innings to close the season. Before the injury, he averaged 13.7 SO9 in April and May before dropping to 9.6 in June, a sign of the shoulder strain injury. I’m not concerned about the strain he suffered last year. I love his stuff and I love that he is only 26.
Thanks for reading and come back next week to read about the top 25 fantasy baseball keepers.