MLB Barometer: Assessing the Fantasy Player Pool

MLB Barometer: Assessing the Fantasy Player Pool

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

With summer officially kicking off and the All-Star break quickly approaching, it's time to review some of the surprises of spring and to assess which players can sustain their output the rest of the season. The beauty of fantasy baseball is that it is always laden with unpredictability. Through the first 11 weeks, there are late-round and waiver-wire gems aplenty. No one could have predicted that Adam Duvall would be tied for the league lead in homers at this point. Or that Jonathan Villar not only has yet to be replaced by Orlando Arcia, but also has a hefty lead in stolen bases, on pace to swipe 55-plus.

The fantasy landscape is constantly evolving. The all-or-nothing Rob Deers and Adam Dunns of the league are still around, but there seems to be fewer. Talented hitters are brought up through the minors with more well-rounded skillsets. Similar to last season, there are a higher percentage of corner infielders throwing in a few extras stolen bases. We have young shortstops surging their way up ADP and in-season rankings, flashing legitimate power. And who would have expected a handful of older second basemen to rank among the top not only at their position, but in the overall offensive rankings.

Let's switch up the format this week and take a deeper look at the player pool at each position, minus the outfielders, who deserve a write-up of their own. As is the case every season, these positions are filled with slumpers on the

With summer officially kicking off and the All-Star break quickly approaching, it's time to review some of the surprises of spring and to assess which players can sustain their output the rest of the season. The beauty of fantasy baseball is that it is always laden with unpredictability. Through the first 11 weeks, there are late-round and waiver-wire gems aplenty. No one could have predicted that Adam Duvall would be tied for the league lead in homers at this point. Or that Jonathan Villar not only has yet to be replaced by Orlando Arcia, but also has a hefty lead in stolen bases, on pace to swipe 55-plus.

The fantasy landscape is constantly evolving. The all-or-nothing Rob Deers and Adam Dunns of the league are still around, but there seems to be fewer. Talented hitters are brought up through the minors with more well-rounded skillsets. Similar to last season, there are a higher percentage of corner infielders throwing in a few extras stolen bases. We have young shortstops surging their way up ADP and in-season rankings, flashing legitimate power. And who would have expected a handful of older second basemen to rank among the top not only at their position, but in the overall offensive rankings.

Let's switch up the format this week and take a deeper look at the player pool at each position, minus the outfielders, who deserve a write-up of their own. As is the case every season, these positions are filled with slumpers on the rise, guys playing over their heads who will begin to fall off pace, but most important, hitters whose production is no mirage. Many were taken in the later rounds or plucked off waivers, and their newly discovered level of play always end up becoming one of the key components to our fantasy teams' success.

CATCHER

Jonathan Lucroy, Salvador Perez and Wilson Ramos have been the three best offensive catchers and we should expect much of the same. Lucroy might be calling a new park home come the trade deadline, but should still be expected to finish in the three. Most of Perez's damage has come against right-handers (.322/.350/.930), and he has been swinging for the fences more than any other point in his career. A strikeout rate (23 percent) eight points higher than last season's career high is proof of that. Perez is on fire, hitting .390 with five homers in June.

For Ramos to end the season with a batting average above .300 is becoming more and more of a possibility given that he's hitting .333. Ramos is due for a cold spell, but his ISO (.224), walk-rate (7 percent) and strikeout-rate (12.7 percent) are the best rates of his career. Many point to offseason LASIK surgery that has helped him see the ball better. Keep in mind, Ramos was the first (and only) guy in camp on Feb. 1 and started working hard early.

Buster Posey and the Giants offense have been mediocre so far, but I expect the group to heat up as Posey starts working that .275 BA up toward his career .308 mark. Posey should creep ahead of the pack as the best offensive catcher in baseball yet again.

Yan Gomes has been an early bust, hitting just .167. He's one I'm buying if given the opportunity. Gomes' ISO, BB% and K% are not far off of his rates from the 2013 and 2014 seasons and his .180 BABIP is more than 100 points lower than his career mark.

As for the crusty old veterans, you've got Russell Martin, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann. McCann should continue to hit homers and provide a sagging batting average that's bad for your fantasy team's health. Molina is devoid of any pop once again this season and needs a solid BA to provide C2 value for fantasy owners. Martin remains on 12-team rosters because of name and team recognition. He would be much easier to part with if he didn't wear that Blue Jay on the front of his uniform.

Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt will continue to provide unstable and middling offensive support. Expect Matt Wieters, Carlos Perez and Yasmani Grandal to be better than they have been over the final 15 weeks.

Top Three ROS:
Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Salvador Perez
Career Season:Wilson Ramos, J.T. Realmuto, James McCann
Just a slow start: Yan Gomes, Yasmani Grandal, Matt Wieters
Over-the-hill:Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina
Waiver-wire watch:Dioner Navarro, Carlos Perez

FIRST BASE

Paul Goldschmidt started slowly, hitting just .247 in April, but the cream should continue to rise to the top as he should finish the season as the best at his position yet again. Goldy's .288 will exceed .300 for the fourth consecutive season.

Wil Myers and Mark Trumbo have been two of the biggest values at the position, but it doesn't come as much of a surprise to astute roto managers. Myers was a big-time prospect in the minors, has never topped 90 games in a season and is just 25-years old. He may even find himself contributing for fantasy owners in a different uniform this year if Trader Preller has his way. He and Goldschmidt lead first basemen with eight stolen bases. The speed is a nice little bonus.

Trumbo in Baltimore is an ideal fit. He averaged nearly 32 bombs playing half of his games in pitcher-friendly Angels Stadium a few years back. He's a good bet to lead the AL in homers, but expect that .282 average to drop.

Speaking of power, Chris Davis has hung in under the radar because of a depressing .224 average, but leads all first basemen in the underrated runs category (48) and can turn those 16 dingers into 40 with ease come season's end.

Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli (woof!) are big-power, low-average guys, as expected. Santana's 13.6 percent walk-rate is solid, but it's the lowest mark of his career. Expect a bit of an increase in batting average and an uptick in swipes as long as he continues to leadoff often.

Joey Votto is having his most disappointing season in recent memory, striking out a career-high 25 percent and hitting less than .250. Don't expect him to come close to last season's 29 homers, but there will come a time this summer when we will all forget Votto's slow start. Selling low would be unwise.

Quite clearly on the decline is Mr. Reliable, Adrian Gonzalez. It was inevitable that AGonz's day would come as he is no longer the Dodgers best hitter – Corey Seager is. Matt Adams and Justin Bour are nice CI fillers based on weekly schedule. They are more valuable in DFS against subpar right-handed pitchers.

Jose Abreu and Miguel Cabrera are unsexy, but steady. Expect them to earn their value come season's end. Finally, shout out to my favorite CI target of the preseason, Brandon Belt. He is the only Giant out-earning his ADP slot and should finish with a line around: 85 R, 23 HR, 95 RBI, .300. He's been caught on all four stolen-base attempts but should add a few in that category, as well.

Top Three ROS:
Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera (avg) / Edwin Encarnacion (power)
Career Season:Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, Mark Trumbo, Brandon Belt
Just a slow start:Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland
Over-the-hill:Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez
Waiver-wire watch:C.J. Cron

SECOND BASE

Old men rule the roost here. After Jose Altuve, the next five most productive second basemen are all older than 30. Robinson Cano is on pace for 50 home runs, but will likely settle in somewhere less than 40 while maintaining a batting average around .300. The other four are Ian Kinsler, Daniel Murphy, Ben Zobrist and Dustin Pedroia. They all play in crucial lineup spots on some of the league's best offenses and are all hitting .300 or higher.

Although Kinsler ranks among the runs scored leaders as usual, his 14 roundtrippers have already surpassed last season's total of 11. Murphy's batting average has already begun its slide, from .400 a month ago to below .360. Murphy remains one of the hardest in the league to strike out. He could be a legitimate competitor in the NL batting title race, though my vote lies with Christian Yelich this year. As for Zobrist, expect him to keep up the pace, or at least hit triple-digit runs for the first time in his career. Zobrist has actually improved his walk and K rates since he was featured in this column last month.

Rougned Odor has been fantastic outside of a sub-.300 OBP and has not slumped in the early going as I expected him too. Odor should creep up into the top five as a couple of the vets begin to tire.

Of the three top-tier 2B who have fallen short of value thus far (Jason Kipnis, Brian Dozier, Anthony Rendon), Dozier is the one I wanted no part of preseason and still don't. He doesn't provide value via runs since he no longer leads off for the Twins. Dozier's .227 average has been crushing fantasy owners and any improvement will be slight. He has hit less than .250 in every one of his big-league seasons and 2016 won't be the exception. Brett Lawrie is just a guy, as is Starlin Castro. If you're looking for upside, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Josh Harrison isn't quite "Pollock Lite" as I dubbed him in preseason since he lacks power, but he has been receiving occasional leadoff at-bats and is a solid contributor in the other four standard categories. A .300 average with 25 to 30 steals isn't a bad deal for a guy with a 205 spring ADP. Joe Panik has underwhelmed, but I expect him to climb into the top five in runs scored among second basemen as the Giants warm up this summer. Howie Kendrick is starting to heat up too (.275 in May and June after a .151 April). If you're in need of batting average and looking for a MI filler, a career .291 hitting Kendrick is your guy.

Top Three ROS:
Jose Altuve, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler
Career Season:Daniel Murphy, Josh Harrison, Jose Ramirez
Just a slow start:Joe Panik, Jason Kipnis, Kolten Wong
Over-the-hill:Brandon Phillips, Jed Lowrie
Waiver-wire watch:Whit Merrifield, Cesar Hernandez, Chris Owings

THIRD BASE

Third base is jam-packed with power, just as we expected, but it may be surprising to see Jake Lamb among the offensive leaders in 5x5 leagues. I fought for Lamb in several leagues and ended up with a few shares, hoping last season's limited playing time due to injury would keep him under the radar. A fellow drafter cursed out loud as I snagged him in the 27th round of a live NFBC draft last March and only then did I realize he wasn't my own little secret. I expected a stronger contribution in BA and less in HR and RBI, but I've got no issue with the trade-off.

Lamb is hitting just .182 against southpaws, which is no surprise, but unlike the Mets' Michael Conforto, he is receiving consistent at-bats in the lineup despite the opposing pitchers on the mound. Lamb hits lower in the lineup against them, but continues to flourish and progress on his way to a formidable first full season as a 25-year old. Some players remain platoon hitters over the course of their careers, while others learn to hit their weak side. Lamb will be the latter.

Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant, aka The Big Four, have lived up to expectations and should continue to do so. The third baseman hot on their stat tail is Matt Carpenter, one of the league's most consistent run producers the last few years. Carp flashed some unexpected power last season. Power that most of us expected to regress. Yet he has efficiently earned his 71 ADP as the sixth 3B off draft boards.

The boring and unsexy Evan Longoria is in the midst of a power renaissance that few expected, posting career-high .271 ISO and 49 percent flyball rate. I'd still prefer Kyle Seager, who is in his power prime and is carrying substantially career-high marks in both ISO (.232) and walk-rate (10.2 percent).

Nick Castellanos has cooled in June (.262 BA) after hitting .284 in May and .363 in April. This season will easily be his best yet, but that .300 average should fall into the .270 range the next couple months. Justin Turner has turned up the heat after a frigid start and should easily set career highs alone on the fact that he should exceed last season's career-high 126 games. The Dodgers' most talented bats have yet to synchronize, but as they do, expect their No. 3 hitter to play an important part in the symphony.

If you're digging for affordable buying options, take a look at Jung Ho Kang. Kang is fully healthy and you can consider his unofficially late spring training complete. Expect Kang to produce at an elite level for the next six weeks before hitting his next slump.

Wilmer Flores is the guy I'd be looking to pluck off waivers in 12-team leagues. Without a position to start the year, astute managers knew that a David Wright setback was inevitable and that consistent at-bats for the 24-year old who hit 16 HR with 59 RBI last season was only a matter of time.

Finally, Javier Baez is flying clearly under the radar these days. There are so many more interesting topics and players on the Cubs that the multi-eligible post-hype prospect's improvements hardly receive a note. Baez is playing nearly every day now and has shown improved patience at the plate – a 21 percent strikeout rate for Baez is akin to Cecil Fielder coming out of retirement to steal 20 bases. The newfound patience could well be a mirage, but it is just as likely that the talented infielder is maturing quicker than expected and taking his new role seriously. Any injury to the crux of that lineup can lead to a better run-producing lineup spot for Baez, and perhaps more attention from both fantasy players and Cubs fans.

Top Three ROS:
Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant (slightly over Josh Donaldson)
Career Season:Eduardo Nunez, Jake Lamb, Danny Valencia, Jung Ho Kang, Javier Baez
Just a slow start:Maikel Franco, Todd Frazier (the BA, not the homers)
Over-the-hill:Adrian Beltre
Waiver-wire watch:Wilmer Flores, Marwin Gonzalez, Yangervis Solarte

SHORTSTOP

Shortstop has been invigorated by the fountain of youth. It's no longer "Tulo, some speed and a bunch of fillers." This spring, five shortstops were drafted among the top-100 picks and veteran Troy Tulowitzki is the only one older than 23. Only second baseman Jose Altuve had more AL hits than second-year player Xander Bogaerts last year. Bogaerts has continued where he left off, leading the majors in hits through the first 11 weeks.

Francisco Lindor has earned a spot in the heart of the Indians' order, on pace for 100 runs scored with 15 homers and 25 steals. Dodgers' shortstop Corey Seager has quickly emerged as the team's best hitter, leading them in home runs (15) and batting average (.280) through the first 11 weeks. Carlos Correa is the lone disappointment in the group, but only because of unfair expectations. The first-round draft pick from 2012 was consistently taken in the first round of fantasy drafts this year, but has eight HR with nine SB and is only a small hot streak away from keeping on pace with the shortstop youth movement. This foursome is revolutionizing the position and could find themselves all drafted within the first two rounds of drafts come next spring.

The most impressive revival is that of Ian Desmond. The most effective hitter in the Rangers' lineup, Desmond is slugging .500 for the first time since 2012 and has cut his strikeout rate back to the levels of his prime production years. The Texas weather is only now beginning to heat up so it will be interesting to see if Desmond can maintain a batting average above .300. My guess is that he won't, but he has a head start on out-earning his 107 ADP and could set career highs in both runs and RBI. From this point, I'd rather have Bogaerts, Correa, Seager and Lindor, but after Desmond, there's a sharp drop.

The list of surprising producers at the position starts with Jonathan Villar. Others include Aledmys Diaz and the multi-eligible Jose Ramirez, whom I expect consistent production from throughout the summer. Ramirez has maintained a solid walk rate (nine percent) even through last season's promotions, demotions and struggles and has been one of the hardest guys in baseball to strike out. Speaking of surprises, the excitement for Trevor Story's position-leading 17 home runs are balanced out by his league-high 96 whiffs (through Sunday's action). At the least, we all get to watch this story in progress since the Rockies designated Jose Reyes for assignment and publicly supported Story as their shortstop of the future. His .267 BA may continue to decline and I'd bet the under on another 17 homers from this point.

Atop the list of disappointments is Cubs' Addison Russell. Better known for his defense in the minors, Russell is developing slower offensively than fellow 22-year-olds Seager, Lindor and Correa. Playing near the bottom of a strong lineup has kept his run total (25) low but that number is also linked to a mediocre .329 OBP. Russell's .231 average could be closer to .265 by the end of the summer if he can make gains against southpaws, whom he is hitting just .136 against. I'd rather have Russell in dynasty leagues, and yet still he may never produce on par with the top youngsters at his position.

Your group of "just guys" includes Elvis Andrus, Marcus Semien, Brandon Crawford, Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jean Segura, Brad Miller and Zack Cozart. None is taking his offensive production to the next level, though all are serviceable as an MI in 12-team leagues. Cozart and Segura's value comes from leading off for their respective teams. Crawford has plus pop for the position, but he will probably finish above .280 when hell freezes over, which I don't believe is any time soon. Semien has cooled after a hot start, but 2016 should still end up as a career season for him. He has had an opportunity to lead off, but unfortunately hits too low in the order of a lineup where the term "mediocre" would be one of endearment.

Last but not least, there's Ketel Marte – the speedster who sets colleague Lord Zola's roto heart aflutter. Marte's paltry 3.7 percent walk rate may have something to do with the Mariners' shuffling him between the top and bottom of the batting order. Marte's split against lefties and righties is nearly identical. His inability to get consistent at-bats as the leadoff guy has more to do with the Mariners carrying players of similar skillset on the roster with Norichika Aoki and Leonys Martin. Should Marte show promise taking free passes, he could gain consistent at-bats at the top of the lineup and rank in the top five in the stolen base category the final 15 weeks.

Top Three ROS:
Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor / Corey Seager (oh, so close)
Career Season:Jonathan Villar, Zack Cozart
Just a slow start:Carlos Correa, Ketel Marte
Over-the-hill:Troy Tulowitzki, Alcides Escobar, Alexei Ramirez
Waiver wire watch:Danny Santana, Didi Gregorius

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vlad Sedler
Vlad Sedler covers baseball and football for RotoWire. He is a veteran NFBC player and CDM Hall of Famer, winning the Football Super Challenge in 2013. A native Angeleno, Vlad loves the Dodgers and Kings and is quite possibly the world's only Packers/Raiders fan. You can follow him @RotoGut.
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