It’s the time of the year where we offer congratulations to those of you brave dynasty league owners that survived the offseason. The greatness that 2016 will surely offer is upon us and that means we’ll be spending the next six weeks moving our way through the positional landscape, offering thoughts on the respective values of roughly 700 players throughout the process.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy the countless hours of hard work that went into these rankings and continue to support The Dynasty Guru by showing your appreciation through this link or via the splendid ‘donate’ button located on the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.
Players are ranked where they played 20 or more games at during the 2015 season at their highest position on the defensive spectrum, e.g. Chris Davis played 30 games in the outfield, meaning he’s an outfielder for our purposes. We can’t assume that a player will have eligibility at a position in the future (so no Hanley Ramirez at 1b for these rankings) or that a player will lose eligibility at a position in the future. This should clear things up for all non-Javier Baez/Jurickson Profar players, and we’ll do our best to explain where those players are ranked when the time comes. All DH types, such as Evan Gattis and David Ortiz, appear on the 1B rankings, as we will not be doing a UTIL rankings list.
As we move to the hot corner, we find a new hitter atop the mountain–despite a reigning league MVP holding the top spot last season :
1) Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 3)
Don’t act surprised. If you’ve been reading this site for the last two seasons and missed your chance to get Machado now is my chance to say, “I told you so.” His breakout could been seen from a mile away and the fact that it happened at such a young age should elicit a huge smile from his owners and tears from those that didn’t get a piece of the action. After two-straight injury plagued campaigns at such a young age, Machado did the one thing dynasty owners were dying for him to do—he stayed on the field. Machado played like a man on a mission starting all 162 games, even adding six starts at shortstop. Machado posted the fourth best wRC+ at the position with a very solid mark of 134, and every meaningful offensive category was a career best for him in 2015. Machado made more contact than ever last season raising his percentage from 78.2 percent in 2014 to just under 85 percent in 2015. He also proved his knees are just fine by chipping in 20 stolen bases. When Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Carlos Correa are mentioned as ideal cornerstones for a dynasty team you had better pipe up and say, “what about Machado!”
2) Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 2)
Bryant was incredible in 2015, as we expected he would be. He was aggressively ranked second on this list last year and remains entrenched in that spot. While he didn’t quite live up to the lofty home run expectations I set for him last season, he did eclipse what I expected in terms of defense, stolen bases, and on-base percentage. The defending NL Rookie of the Year showed us that without a doubt he could man the hot-corner and even been a defensive asset for his team.
With only 151 major league games under his belt, we are just beginning to see what a fantasy monster this guy can become. He is expected to bat cleanup for an absolutely loaded Cubs lineup, which now features the added benefit of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward getting on-base in front of him. His power potential is just being tapped into, as evidenced by a rather pedestrian HR/FB rate for a prodigious power hitter of 15.8 percent. I would fully expect Bryant to destroy his numbers from last year in 2016 and greatly improve on his 136 wRC+, which was already third best at the position. There is real MVP potential here.
3) Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
Last season Donaldson was traded to the Blue Jays in an unexpected offseason blockbuster. Once Donaldson reached Canada all he did was win an MVP, while setting career best marks in pretty much everything. Oh, and he also helped end a 22-year-long playoff drought in Toronto– no big deal. If you thought all that was cool, he followed it up by appearing on the History Channel show Vikings in the offseason, where his excellent beard and hair matched perfectly with the show and the pictures are glorious. As much of a warrior as he looks in those pictures, he is even more the Norse conqueror with the bat, leading the position offensively over the last three seasons, while appearing in exactly 158 games each year. His wRC+ of 154 led the position on his way to a career-best 41 home runs while batting second in a stacked Blue Jay lineup. Donaldson is a lucky man to have Edwin Encarnacion and Joey Bats protecting him in the three and four spot giving him plenty of good pitches to hit. This is the state of the position, as Donaldson was ranked number one last season on this list and gets bumped down after winning the MVP! Good lord this position is amazing.
4) Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 8)
What does a guy have to do to get ranked high at third base? All Arenado did last season was hit 42 home runs, 22 on the road, proving that the bat is real– Coors Field be damned. When you have a season like Arenado did last year during his age-24-season, where he led baseball in RBI with 130, and you don’t even crack the top three, that lets you know how special the guys ahead of him on this list are. When dealing with talents like this, we have to get really picky to discriminate the differences between these stellar options. Unlike all of the guys above him, Arenado doesn’t really take walks. This lack of plate discipline hasn’t become a real problem yet, but his .323 OBP last year was significantly lower than the guys ahead of him and could limit his counting stats in the future. Arenado also doesn’t steal any bases, tying his value to his ability to make contact and drive the baseball, and while he’s a terrific dynasty asset, his wRC+ of 119 shows that his skillset allows him less wiggle room to succeed than the guys ahead of him and his flaws limit his potential output.
5) Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 10)
The Pelotero has finally made it to the show! After all the hype surrounding this monster of a man-child, Sano and his 80-grade power did not disappoint. In just 80 games with the Twins, he clubbed 18 home runs and produced a Donaldson-like wRC+ of 151. Even playing his home games in spacious Target Field had no effect on Sano’s power: he posted a .262 ISO with a 43.2 percent hard contact rate–numbers reflective of an absolute power monster.
However, the strong likelihood exists that Sano will not appear on this positional list again. With Trevor Plouffe on the roster as a superior defender, Sano will reportedly switch to the outfield in time to start the 2016 season. All of this aside, it doesn’t matter where Sano plays if he hits like he did last season. This bat plays at any position on the field and should carry him to many years of first round pick status. Sano’s swing-and-miss tendencies are still potentially a major concern, as his strikeout rate of 35.5 percent doesn’t offer a huge margin for error, but this package of power and feel for hitting doesn’t come around very often. If anyone in your league is still skeptical the package can work– then grab “Bocaton.”
6) Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 9)
There is a whole lot to like about Frazier from a fantasy standpoint. Since his first full season with the Reds in 2012, he has increased his home run total every year and bashed a career-best 35 last season. As part of the Reds fire sale, “The Toddfather” has moved to the historical home of the mafia—Chicago’s south side. The White Sox have gotten themselves a real solution at third and someone whose power is a bankable asset. Entering his age-30 season in 2016, there is little projection left for Frazier, which isn’t a bad thing, as you know exactly what type of player you’re getting and what his limitations are. At times, Frazier can be a liability in terms of batting average, and is largely inconsistent in the stolen bases category. The good news is that he projects to be in a better lineup in 2016, and will likely hit cleanup.
7) Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 6)
It took all the way to number seven on the list to finally get the first left-handed bat. Seager is a completely solid option at the third base position and someone any owner should be happy to roster. If you own Seager in a dynasty league, great, you can now set and forget your lineup for the next 5-8 seasons without giving it much thought. Nothing he does is sexy, but everything he does is solid. If Seager were an ice cream, he would be vanilla–but a Haagen-Dazs vanilla. If he were a movie, he would be anything starring Matt Damon. You know what you’re getting works, and will not disappoint. Seager will take the field and play nearly a full slate of games and he is still improving as a hitter, increasing his home runs each of the last four seasons and lowering his strikeout rate last year. With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Adam Lind hitting behind him, Seager’s second spot in the Mariner lineup should continue to be a productive one.
8) Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 14)
As powerful as Kris Bryant and Miguel Sano are, there is a very good chance Gallo is even further along on the masher-scale. When Gallo connects with a high fastball, you had better hope that your car isn’t parked in that direction, because odds are that the ball is leaving the park. At just 22 years of age, Gallo still has a lot to learn before he can maximize this potential and becomes a fantasy asset. With one year remaining on Adrian Beltre’s contract, Gallo will need to ease the concerns about his contact rates in order to convince the Rangers he is the man to take over on a long-term basis. Last season over 36 games with the Rangers, Gallo batted a fairly terrible .204 while striking out an ungodly 46.3 percent of the time. If that is what we’re going to get from him we may as well call him Wily Mo Pena and cut him loose. If he can reign in his strikeout issues just enough to bat even .230, we could see a player that looks a lot like Chris Davis–with potential for even better power numbers and on-base skills.
9) Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 15)
Carpenter’s career-arc has been a fascinating one, as he was a prototypical slap hitter with a 95 percent contact rate in 2014, and owned a career-best home run total of 11, before transforming himself into a respectable power hitter in 2015. Most folks will look at the 28 home runs that Carpenter hit last year and say, “no way is that happening again.” While I was inclined to agree with them on the surface, when you dig deeper there is actually a pretty startling transformation to be found. As we have learned, batted ball distances matter quite a bit when predicting who is going to hit for power in the future. From 2014 to 2015, Carpenter raised his average HR/FB distance from 270 feet to 283.9 feet. To go along with this, his contact rate dropped from the 95 percent as I mentioned to 85.8 percent, an indication that Carpenter was likely selling out for power. Carpenter did so while maintaining a respectable batting average, as even with the large drop in his contact rate, it still resembled that of Manny Machado. Carpenter’s wRC+ last year was second among all third basemen with a mark of 139, and should be a good bet to rival that number again as he enters his thirties.
10) Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 20)
Rounding out our top-ten third basemen is Franco, whose stellar rookie campaign surprised a lot of dynasty owners in 2015. Last year, our own Matt Winkelman told me that he thought Franco was the far superior prospect to D.J. Peterson and at the time I disagreed, and it sure looks like I was wrong, about both Peterson and to question Matt about Phillies prospects. He explained that Triple-A LeHigh Valley really saps power and that the move to Citizens Bank Park would be a boon for him, and it certainly looks like he was right. Over 80 games in 2015, Franco slashed .280/.343/.497, while posting an ISO of .217. His isolated power mark was the best he had put up since Double-A, when he was considered a “can’t miss prospect.” His defense isn’t stellar, but it’s passable, and I fully expect him to remain at the hot corner for the time being. Over a full-season, Franco should be a good bet to maintain the good average and hit well over 20 home runs next season. Franco could pass a lot of the players ahead of him on this list in short-order.
11) Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 4)
Despite finishing a third straight season with at least 160 games played, Longoria continued to see his production decline. His 21 home runs, 71 runs batted in and 74 runs scored were all full-season career lows. Perhaps more discouraging, he again chased pitches out of the zone at a 31 percent clip. His overall contact and strikeout rates remained consistent but this propensity to expand the zone caused him to make weaker contact on the pitches he hit; a trend reflected most prominently in his declining HR/FB rate. On a positive note, his average rebounded nicely, but his ever-decreasing walk rate hurt his on-base ability. Longo is not the power hitting phenom he once was, but he should be good for low 20’s home run totals with moderate contributions in RBI, batting average and slugging percentage. Just don’t expect him to carry your team.
12) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (Age: 37, Previous Rank: 5)
The ‘Ol’ Beltre Express’ continued to roll along in 2015, as he posted a solid .287/.334/.453 line. The power is definitely in a free fall as he ages though, as his 18 home runs, .166 ISO and 9.9 percent HR/FB rate were all career-lows. But his contact rate and hard-hit-ball rates remained consistent, and his 22.7 percent line drive rate was a career-high. If he can continue to put the ball in play hard, he should be in line for another solid offensive season, but as with any hitter approaching their late thirties, the danger of the wheels coming off at any time is a real possibility and if you are planning to slot Beltre in as your starting third baseman, it would be wise to have a backup plan or platoon him against lefties as his splits are getting more pronounced the older he gets.
13) Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 11)
The section on Sandoval’s Fangraphs page entitled “Plate Discipline” should just link to this. His career 46.1 percent chase rate is easily the highest since they began tracking the stat and he took it to new heights in 2015 by swinging at a whopping 48.6 percent of pitches out of the zone. Sandoval has always had the rare ability to barrel up bad pitches and make solid contact, but as he’s gotten older that ability has diminished. His isolated power, HR/FB rate and line-drive rates have all been steadily declining over the past three years, so this isn’t just a case of a team or league change. While he still made contact at a high rate in 2015, it was not hard contact. Sandoval is still technically in his prime so it is definitely not too late to reverse this trend, but unless he can drastically change his profile (which is rare) and start being more selective, last season may be an indicator of what to expect from The Panda going forward.
14) Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 30)
The Moose finally did it. After years of chronically underwhelming everyone, Moustakas finally put together a fantasy relevant season. He posted career highs in every single statistical category including a .284/.338/.470 line with 22 home runs and 82 RBI. The big question asked by all the owners who dropped him over past three years have is simply, “how?” Taking a look at his underlying numbers reveals nothing really changed. He did have a few more fly balls find the seats but that by itself is not enough to explain the breakout. The answer lies in his spray chart. Instead of pulling everything into the shift like he has in previous years, Moustakas started to use the entire field in 2015. While it may suppress his power a tad, if he can maintain this approach going forward he will be a much more well-rounded fantasy contributor through his prime.
15) Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox (Age: 19, Previous Rank: 34)
There is a ton of love for Devers in the dynasty community, and this ranking is reflective of that. After posting a .288/329/.443 line with 38 doubles and 11 home runs over a full season at Low-A Greenville, it’s easy to see why. While just six feet tall, Devers is a big boy with a well built, stocky frame that should generate above average power. Pair that with his projected above average hit tool and you have the makings of a fantasy force. His 4.7 percent walk rate is concerning and there are a couple things in his swing that could get exploited by better pitching, but all eyes will be on his development as he heads into the upper minors. If Devers can make a few necessary adjustments as he matures, he will become an even more valuable commodity.
16) Matt Duffy, San Francisco Giants (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
Duffy’s theme song this offseason has to be Drake’s “Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here”. He jumped from unranked (and mostly unknown) into the top-20 thanks to his productive .295/.334/.428 line in 2015. With the exception of 26 games in 2013, Duffy has never displayed much of a power stroke in the minors and his 12 home runs last season were by far his career best. So while that may be all you can expect from him in that department, nothing else about his 2015 profile seems unsustainable. If he can develop a better approach and increase his on-base ability he should be a fairly solid, if unspectacular, fantasy contributor.
17) Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 50)
Rounding out the “movers & shakers” portion of the list, Turner also made a massive jump from last year’s ranking. His obviously unsustainable .404 BABIP from 2014 predictably came way down, to a more reasonable .321 mark in 2015, but despite the dropoff, he still hit an excellent .294/.370/.491 last season. It was his first crack at everyday playing time, but his 16 home runs and .197 ISO were so far above anything he has ever done up to this point in his career–putting into question how much of those numbers can be expected from him again. Turner should provide a great average and on-base percentage, but it’s hard to get excited about his prospects as anything more than a veteran placeholder in deeper leagues.
18) Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 17)
There was a fair amount of hype for Castellanos as a prospect, but so far he has failed to live up to that hype in his first two full seasons. His main tool was supposed to be his exceptional hitting ability, but he has yet to display that in hitting for just a .257 average to this point in his career. He made some strides with the bat in 2015, like tapping into more of his power in games in hitting 15 home runs, but he needs to be more selective at the plate and increase his contact rate to really realize his potential. The good news is there is still plenty of time for him to develop his approach, but after two pretty uninspiring seasons, his owners have to be getting pretty antsy.
19) David Wright, New York Mets (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 7)
I hope Wright got a chance to wave at Moustakas, Duffy and Turner as he tumbled past them down this list. He is actually still fairly productive when he is on the field, but the problem is he hasn’t put together a full season since 2012, and his back injury limited him to just 38 games last season. Chronic injuries like his are usually never a good sign, but if he can stay healthy Wright could be a sneaky-good value–just be prepared with a backup plan. The DH can’t come soon enough to the National League for Captain America.
20) Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 28)
The biggest issue with McMahon is Nolan Arenado, who is just about four years older. With the strides Arenado made this year offensively to match his already incredible defensive talent, you have to believe he will be sticking around the hot corner in Coors for a long time, although Scott Boras is Arenado’s agent, and plans for Colorado’s rebuild remain unclear, meaning the situation could certainly change over the next few seasons. While McMahon’s above-average raw power and hitting ability would play very nicely in Denver, there is a high likelihood that he becomes trade fodder, which would obviously hurt his value. However, the former Mater Dei (CA) HS quarterback is athletic enough defensively to move to the outfield or first base, but he is obviously more valuable as a third baseman. McMahon’s offensive profile will be valuable anywhere he plays, but, you know, Coors!
Commentary by Jake Devereaux and Travis Johnson