Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.
Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.
Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB. Positional eligibility for specific players may vary depending on league, as well as other Web sites and resources.
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfielders
1. Mike Trout, Angels (A)
Trout’s recent proclivities to muscle up at the dish and gear down on the bases dent his overall fantasy yield. His AVG fell .036, his SBs from 33 to 16, and his line drive percentage from 23.0 to 18.9. Yet, even after the “worst” of his three seasons, he’s cavernously better than anyone else.
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (A,B)
Pujols and A-Rod are the only active players to have hit 150 roundtrippers at a younger age than Stanton, and with the roto-value of a home run greater than at any point since 1992, he’s a monumental property. Furthermore, he’s settled contractually and will be playing on his best team yet.
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (A)
He’s not what could be termed “elite” in any category, but Cutch is close enough in all of them to comprise a package that can serve as a the hub of a roster. The only squishy spots are that he’s yet to drive in 100 runs, and he’s at an age when SBs are going to be a lesser component of his game.
4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (B)
He may be a flake at times, but not a fluke. Although Puig didn’t take a major stride forward as a sophomore, he held his own as pitchers made adjustments. This could be the year the stats — not just the flashes of ability — cascade out of him.
5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (F)
Gonzalez would be an easy Tier 1 if not for the knee surgery and generalized fragility that threatens to age him before his time. No more 20-SB seasons, but if he can approach his .311-27-91-91 average from 2010-13, he’s still in rarefied air.
6. Michael Brantley, Indians
Brantley renovated solid numbers in five categories into superlative ones. He hit .050 above his career average, doubled his HR high to 20, and added personal bests of 97 RBIs and 23 SBs. Because improvement has come in steps, it’s apt to be sustainable.
7. Adam Jones, Orioles
Fellow center fielder McCutchen gets more run but, since 2011, Jones has held the edge in HRs by 19 and RBIs by 17. The divergences are in steals and AVG, but at least he’s kept the latter predictably between .277 and .287 six straight times.
8. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (F)
Because he’s sat out between 34 and 98 games in three of the last four years, Ramirez’s bidders typically do so while squinting, making strange sounds and mumbling disclaimers. A healthy Hanley in Fenway rivals McCutchen as a five-category force.
9. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
Gomez’s 66 HRs the last three years are more than twice as many as any other player who’s also stolen 100 bases. He’s hit exactly .284 with 73 RBIs two years in a row and, as an all-or-nothing type, those are about his upper limits.
10. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
With 187, Bautista is the game’s home run king of the past five seasons despite missing 135 games. He was relatively healthy in three of those — each 100-run/100-RBI blockbusters. Medical memoir and middlin’ batting averages keep him out of Tier 1.
11. Hunter Pence, Giants
Pence is a baseball-playing machine. You can throw a rosin bag over his seven full, unerringly productive seasons. The metric of the 162-game average — .280-24-89-88-13 — is extra-meaningful in his case because he’s played at least 154 in all seven. A broken forearm in his first spring training game will limit his numbers this season, as he likely won’t make his debut until the middle of May.
12. Christian Yelich, Marlins
The only 2014 player in a 22-or-younger season with more hits or runs scored than Yelich was Trout, and the Marlins rookie stole more bags (21). A batting title contender-in-the-making, he never seems to slump.
13. Justin Upton, Padres (E)
Once enigmatic, Upton has finally clarified that he is a “star” without the “super.” Which is just fine, since he averages .279-24-80-90-16 since 2009. He’s been unfazed by Petco’s dimensions — a .900 career OPS there.
14. Ryan Braun, Brewers (F)
Whether it was his lack of “vitamins,” an obstinate thumb injury or just the normal ebbs and flows of the game, Braun was a shadow of the masher who led the NL in TBs and runs between 2007 and 2012. That said, he’s capable of a “Nelson Cruz.”
15. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (B)
Playing at a park far more suited to right-handed power than his last two, Cespedes has his best opportunity to finally unleash his purported promise. His failure to make adjustments compromises his upside, but this could be his first 30-HR season.
16. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
Ellsbury is caught in a vortex between being a power player and a speed player. Joe Girardi couldn’t decide either, starting him 49 times at leadoff and 93 times in the three-hole. His 16-HR/39-SB campaign split the difference and probably best represents who he is.
17. Bryce Harper, Nationals (B)
It wouldn’t take much for Harper to crack Tier 1, but until he finds a way out of this star-crossed loop he’s in, he’s tough to trust. He saved 2014 from being a washout with power spurts in August and October.
18. Starling Marte, Pirates
If a 2013-14 output of 25 HRs, 71 SBs and a .286 AVG doesn’t dazzle you, take note that Marte is the only player in the game to have done it. His power is still embryonic, and his AVG must be viewed through the lens of an MLB-high .373 mark on balls in play.
19. Jason Heyward, Cardinals
Heyward is a short cab ride from Bustville, and now he’ll have to regroup in a park where he’s batted .234. Addressing his 2014 OPS of .477 against lefties would be a good place to start. He’s just 25, so there’s still a pulse to his promise.
20. Jay Bruce, Reds
Bruce called 2014 “the most embarrassing year of my life.” To which scores of fantasy players who squandered a premium pick on his .217-18-66-71-12 responded: “Tell me about it.” This isn’t a very accommodating era for extreme-strikeout, extreme-pull power hitters.
21. Ben Revere, Phillies
Revere takes a lot of grief for power that extends to the edge of the outfield grass, but as a two-category role player on an otherwise well-appointed fantasy team, he can be the exclamation point. He’s doinked .301 since 2012, averaging 46 SBs per 150 games.
22. J.D. Martinez, Tigers
What do Alex Presley, Jesus Guzman, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes have in common? They were outfielders the Astros chose to keep ahead of Martinez last spring. Starting in Detroit by June, he outstripped his career AVG by 64 points (.315) and, with 23, nearly doubled his HR/AB % to 5.2.
23. Billy Hamilton, Reds
Still a rudimentary hitter (.195 AVG when infield hits are discounted), but he’s not entirely without punch (39 XBHs, solid line drive rate of 21.1%). Though his 70.9% success rate was in the bottom 10 of 50-SB men over the past 25 years, he has historic thievery aptitude.
24. Matt Kemp, Padres (E,F)
Kemp is a Tier 1 talent with a Tier 5 skeletalature moving to a park where good hitters go to commit statistical suicide. His past glories and fast finish (MLB-high .606 second-half slugging) are not to be slighted, but there’s a lot of push-back to his comeback.
25. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (B)
Because his rep is “glove first” and he doesn’t clear fences, Cain has been a soft fantasy play. We tagged him as a “C” last year, and he added .050 to his AVG (.301) and doubled his SBs (28). There’s still some evolution left, and we’re projecting .310-70-10-60-35.
26. Leonys Martin, Rangers
Martin is precisely where Cain was two years ago, comparably styled and with a similar ceiling. He’s a more aggressive thief, though — one of only eight players with 30-plus steals each of the last two years.
27. Gregory Polanco, Pirates
There are only two questions with Polanco: “How good can he be?” and “How fast can he get there?” A young Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind. Reluctantly promoted by the Bucs last summer due to need, he interspersed wows and warts.
28. Alex Gordon, Royals (F)
Gordon has severely underperformed and overperformed at times in his career, but his last two seasons have been identically positioned in the upper (but not close to elite) strata of outfielders. Underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 30.
29. Jayson Werth, Nationals (E)
Werth, Cabrera, Trout, Beltre, McCutchen, V-Mart and Cano are the only players with a triple crown line of at least .304-41-164 the last two years. He’s at the bottom end of that array, though, and he turns 36 in May.
30. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks
Revere turned inside-out — a two-trick pony (HRs, RBIs) best-suited for a roster than can absorb 450 empty outs. Homered only once in his first 55 games back from a foot injury last year, but had five in the final eight days.
31. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
Homered his age (23), but he’s at the crossroads where many young power hitters need to decide whether they’re going to round out their craft or just sell out for the longball.
32. Denard Span, Nationals (E)
Had the year we’ve long waited for, three-category-wise: .302 AVG, 94 runs, 31 SBs. We’d advise banking only on his more established levels of .285, 70 and 20. Unexpected muscle core surgery also will delay his arrival to the end of April or early May.
33. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
Surviving a mad scrum for a Rox outfield post last spring, a late-developing Blackmon put a death grip on it with a .288-19-72-82-28 shocker. He was ordinary the last two months, though, so stay wary.
34. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox (C)
Castillo is a wild card, but he passed every test after signing in August. Comparables? We searched for players who hit .285-.300 with 10-to-15 HRs and 20-to-30 SBs, and came up with such names as Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino — and some guy named Jackie Robinson.
35. Brandon Moss, Indians (F)
Since Moss stopped pinballing around the “4-A” landscape at age 28 in 2012, he’s concocted one of the 10 highest percentages of HRs/100 ABs (6.28) in the game. AVGs are plunging in inverse proportion to his prodigious strikeout totals.
36. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (F)
37. Corey Dickerson, Rockies (E)
38. Brett Gardner, Yankees (E)
39. Adam Eaton, White Sox (E)
40. Carl Crawford, Dodgers
41. Kole Calhoun, Angels
42. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (E)
43. George Springer, Astros (F)
44. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks
45. Alex Rios, Royals
46. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (C)
47. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (F)
48. Dexter Fowler, Cubs
49. Steven Souza, Rays (C)
50. Khris Davis, Brewers
51. Josh Hamilton, Angels (F)
52. Austin Jackson, Mariners
53. Nick Markakis, Braves (F)
54. Angel Pagan, Giants (F)
55. Michael Cuddyer, Mets (E)
56. Desmond Jennings, Rays
57. Wil Myers, Padres (F)
58. Jorge Soler, Cubs (C)
59. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (B,C)
60. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins
61. Michael Saunders, Blue Jays (C)
62. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (C)
63. Avisail Garcia, White Sox (C)
64. Evan Gattis, Astros
65. Danny Santana, Twins
66. David Peralta, Diamondbacks
67. Allen Craig, Red Sox (F)
68. Drew Stubbs, Rockies (D)
69. Jon Jay, Cardinals
70. Michael Bourn, Indians
71. Nori Aoki, Giants
72. Chris Coghlan, Cubs
73. Curtis Granderson, Mets
74. Josh Reddick, A’s
75. Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs
76. Torii Hunter, Twins (E)
77. Marlon Byrd, Reds (E)
78. Shane Victorino, Red Sox (F)
79. Juan Lagares, Mets
80. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays