Each new year brings a slightly different dynamic to fantasy baseball. Certain positions might be top-heavy, while others appear to be scarce. Owners should tweak their general draft strategy accordingly.
For 2015, the various positions seem to be more polarized than ever. There are many fantasy-relevant outfielders, while there is a scarcity in the shortstop and catcher positions. First base is interesting, as there are quite a few aging veterans, and only a handful of bats with upside.
As well, without question, we are in the midst of a pitcher’s era. Despite a glut of injuries, including a record number of Tommy John surgeries, pitching rules. So, let’s see how we can navigate through the 2015 draft in conjunction with Caveball’s General Draft Strategy and our Chartfelt Tiers. (It will be handy for you to have this open as we take you through each position: Click here for the printable version of Chartfelt Tiers.)
This year’s crop of outfielders is laden with talent, and fantasy relevance. It seems like most of the new phenoms, and very good bats, are in the outfield. This does not necessarily mean you should wait on outfielders, as you don’t want to miss out on the elite ones. You should probably have two OF by the 8th round, and your third before the 5th tier dries up.
Certain hot commodities, like Corey Dickerson, J.D. Martinez, and George Springer, might be hyped beyond their current value. This will be a wait and see game for each individual draft. Remember to stay flexible in the first half of any draft. Don’t reach for players just because you need to have them on your team. However, both Dickerson’s and Springer’s elite talent should negate any kind of sophomore slump. If Dickerson falls to the 4th round I would probably snag him there. Caveball has J.D. Martinez ranked higher than most sites. You should go by his ADP (Average Draft Position to maximize your value and wait on him till the 9th or 10th round. Springer should go a little later as his injury last year hid his talent somewhat, but he still managed 20 HR in just 78 games. Kole Calhoun is another player who could slide a little, due to a stint on the DL, in an otherwise impressive sophomore campaign.
If you prefer to take the conservative route, there’s plenty of good healthy veteran bats throughout the top 4 tiers. Just be sure to avoid the one’s who could be injury risks, like Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper.
Half of the league’s aging first basemen have now reached their thirties. Some have plenty left in the tank, and others have come to their twilight. Let’s group them by their (opening-day) age to gain a better perspective on where each one fits.
39 yr. old
- David Ortiz – Big Papi has to be close to the end now. It’s been a storied career for a player who will go down as a legend. We’ve all been incorrectly predicting his demise for 5 years now, but I won’t be caught as the last one on his bus.
36 yr. old
- Victor Martinez - Sandwiched between Miggy and J.D. he could continue to produce, minus 10 HR
33-35 yrs. old
- Albert Pujols – Fought off his age commendably last year, but will continue to slide as nature takes its course
- Adam Laroche – Should see a lot of balls to hit, as he will likely be batting behind ROY, Jose Abreu
- Mark Teixeira – Might be worth streaming on the waiver wire once in a while. 123 GPs last 2 years
- Ryan Howard – Ditto, but only when he plays in Colorado
- Justin Morneau - Batting Champ’s a great story. Don’t buy into the sentimentality. He will miss games.
- Mike Napoli - Stream at will. Maybe his sleep apnea has been cured.
30-32 yrs. old
- Miguel Cabrera – May have begun to slide a little, but remains first-round worthy
- Joey Votto – Starts the year healthy. On-base machine should be a comeback candidate.
- Adrian Gonzalez – Not as old as he seems when he’s running. RBI machine will continue to produce.
- Prince Fielder - Big men often do not last into their thirties. His listed weight, 275 pounds, is a red flag.
- Brandon Moss – Numbers have declined a little. Expect this to continue with less playing time in Cleveland.
- Joe Mauer - Loses Catcher status. 2009 was the last time he exceeded 11 HRs. Retire him.
- James Loney - Streamer, at best.
Amongst the 30-somethings, I would focus my attention on Cabrera, Votto or Gonzalez, or look to the 20-somethings. Although, if Adam Laroche is still available in the 12th round, he might provide some hidden value in the utility spot.
If you choose to go the younger route, and failed to get Paul Goldschmidt (27), or Jose Abreu (28) in the first round, then there’s always Anthony Rizzo (25), Freddy Freeman (25), Carlos Santana (28), or Chris Carter (28), in descending order. I really like the “rising Rizzo”, and his suddenly fantasy-relevant surrounding line-up. Fortunately, Chris Davis (29) still has 3B status, so he would most likely be used at the hot corner by most owners. Lucas Duda (29) was a surprise 32-HR hitter last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he repeats the performance now that he’s found his groove. Matt Adams (26) may have some upside remaining, but he’s a 5th tier resider until further notice.
The second base position thins out after the fourth tier fairly quickly, so I would take one of the following
Jose Altuve, Anthony Rendon, Robinson Cano
Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier
Dustin Pedroia, Dee Gordon, Josh Harrison
Howie Kendrick, Mookie Betts, Jason Kipnis, Kolten Wong, Ben Zobrist
Pedroia should fulfill his “IOUs” that he handed out (not literally) during one interview, and make a strong comeback, especially with Boston’s improved lineup. Jason Kipnis will bounce back. It’s just a matter of how high. Dee Gordon came back down to earth after a sizzling 1st half last year, so I see him regressing this year. And, as long as Mookie Betts plays full-time, as he should, he could be a breakout player as soon as this year.
2015 may represent the bleakest of all years for shortstops since fantasy baseball existed. Which means you should grab one while you can, right? Wrong. Most of the top shortstops scare me due to either injury-risk or potential regression. Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes are all too gimpy to trust, while Dee Gordon and Danny Santana are regression candidates. Ian Desmond looks like the most solid pick near the top, as you can now trust his plateaued production, but do not reach for him. Ben Zobrist had a down year in 2014 with a .749 OPS. It may be age-related as he turns 34 in May.
I suspect that because of scarcity I won’t be getting any of the above 7. The next group include the ho-hum veterans, Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, Alcides Escobar, and Eric Aybar, none of whom I like enough for a mid-round pick.
That leaves Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez, both of whom had big growing pains, but both of whom finished with strong Septembers. Bogaerts has had his sophomore slump, so he may start his breakout this year. Jean Segura is a good bet for a comeback as his sophomore year was also laden with personal turmoil. The Korean phenom, Jung-Ho Kang, who recently signed with the Pirates probably belongs with these three, but he has yet to earn a starting position and may not fare as well in the Majors, even though everyone is gaga about the new kid on the block. Jody Mercer, who had a decent year, still stands in his way.
If you decide to wait on the shortstop position, then you may want to buffer it with a sleeper pick. Brock Holt with his multi-position eligibility and Chris Owings, whose rookie season was dampened by a shoulder injury, are good late round choices with upside. Jed Lowrie makes his second stop in Houston, but with a much better lineup. He had a down year last year after a solid 2013 campaign. (buy low) Brad Miller came alive in September, as well.
The hot corner is almost the complete opposite of the shortstop position in 2015. You should zero in on one of the top three tiers, which means you should have your 3B before the end of the 7th round in a 12-team league. A pick somewhere in the top 4 rounds (top two tiers) would be better. In order, you’re looking at:
Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson
Adrian Beltre, Chris Davis, Evan Longoria
Todd Frazier, Kyle Seager, Nolan Arenado, Josh Harrison
If you do happen to miss out on any of these players, you’re not complete without options for your 3B. I’m not too high on anyone in the 4th or 5th tier, except Pablo Sandoval who could surprise in the friendly confines of Fenway, although his OPS has been on the decline.
In the Sleepers post I included Pedro Alvarez and Chase Headley as potential value picks. However, there is now talk of Alvarez getting even less playing time than last year due to the signing of the Korean phenom, Jung-ho Kang.
Another recent development includes the D-Backs trying out Yasmany Tomas at third. There could be some value here, as almost every Cuban player has come through in the majors in recent years.
Everyone and their dog will be monitoring the Kris Bryant call-up. The hype and uncertainty of the date may outweigh the value for the Minor League MVP.
If you’ve had the opportunity to read my General Draft Strategy, then you know by now I’m not in favor of picking a catcher in the first 10 rounds. Although, there has to be some flexibility here, as well. For instance, if Devin Mesoraco falls to me in the 9th, I might reconsider. But generally speaking catchers miss more games, so I’m not inclined to fill this position as quickly as the others.
So, let’s skip right to the 6th and 7th Tiers, because that’s where I expect I’ll be finding my backstop. In Caveball’s Comeback Bats post we included Matt Wieters and Willin Rosario, two 6th tier residers who could show 4th tier value. Russell Martin makes for a tempting pick as he joined one of leagues best lineups in Toronto. And, Yasmani Grandal was the unheralded part of the Matt Kemp trade. He also made our Sleepers post. Last year his splits favored the 2nd half and games away from Petco.
Sleepers from the 7th tier include Derek Norris and Travis d’Arnaud, both of whom have decent upside with their Minor League pedigree. And, as much as I tend to shy away from all Mariners due to Safeco, I would be fairly tempted by Mike Zunino in the late rounds.
There’s not a whole lot going on in the 8th Tier, so I would try to have my catcher position(s) filled before the other tiers dry up.
I usually don’t focus in on starters until the 4th round, or later. If you are inclined otherwise, stay away from the arms that don’t have proven durability over at least 2 years. ( Tommy John Prospects – Land Mines in the Making )
As stated in the Workhorses, I’m increasingly high on the guys that can go 8 innings/game and 200-plus innings/year. Few of the new crop of pitchers seem to have that kind of endurance. The further a starter can go into a game, the less we have to see of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best relievers on the team. This will affect the “W” column.
You should have at least 3 starters by the end of the 10th round, and then round out the position with at least another 4 in the next 10. This is where you’ll want to focus on pitchers with upside, because value is everything.
Even though the Closer position is the most volatile one in baseball, my strategy with it changes the least from season to season. The revolving door at the closer position continues to spin with abandon. I force myself not to even glance at the RP column until the 11th round, even in the two-closer leagues. The strategy of drafting closers late is not just about who goes down, but who is waiting in the wings. Your top closer will sometimes come from the waiver wire. I’ve included some later round options for you in the above posts.