Projecting tiers and ranking players for the following season is always a fun exercise when player stats are still fresh in our minds. Hence, I present to you my “Way Too Early SP Tiers”. This will cover starting pitchers I project to have an ADP in the top 100 of 12-team drafts, as well as a few on the bubble who may see their ADPs rise toward the end of March.
TIER 1 (Rounds 1-2; top 24 overall)
Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer
The top four is fairly clear and despite how Kershaw finishes the season, as long as he’s healthy, he should assume the top spot yet again. Not much debate or discussion here with these four studs other than the exact order as each will finish the year with ERAs under 3.00, WHIPs under 1.00 and at least 200 strikeouts (the bar would be 250 k’s if not for Kershaw missing time). Kluber would be my second choice behind Kershaw, but at this point, it’s roto semantics (personal preference).
TIER 2 (Rounds 3-4; 25-48 overall)
Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Carlos Carrasco, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Yu Darvish
Strasburg could almost be placed in a mini-tier of his own as the fifth best option heading into 2017, though fantasy managers will always have that whisper of doubt about him holding up for a full season. Syndergaard’s ADP is very much health dependent, but a solid spring could lead to some late-March helium. Bumgarner is the guy who will likely go undervalued and has a good shot to out-produce his ADP. Greinke bounced big in a big way (17-6, 2.87, 1.02) producing a profit at his 109 ADP going after guys like Aaron Sanchez and Julio Teheran. Ray will be the guy folks will be dubious about despite a monster year (33.4% k-rate, 2.74 ERA) because of his league-leading hard hit rate (41.4%) and second-worst walk rate (10.4%) among qualified starters.
TIER 3 (Rounds 5-6; 49-72 overall)
Justin Verlander, Chris Archer, Carlos Martinez, James Paxton, Luis Severino, Shohei Otani
Death, taxes and Paxton spending time on the DL. A full season out of him and we’d be easily placing him in the second tier, but that’s just something we can’t ever depend on with the Big Maple. Verlander’s stark contrasts between his first half (4.73 ERA, .327 wOBAA) and second half (2.04 ERA, .237 wOBAA) should launch him into the top 15 most sought-after SPs next season. Severino has been truly electric all season long (2.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 218 K in 184 IP) and the only thing keeping him out of the top 15 is the small sample size of one successful season (which is good enough for most). Otani is the guy everyone will be watching closely, especially since he will likely land with a competitive team. It’s difficult to peg him with an ADP range now as spring training will play a large part on where he lands.
TIER 4 (Rounds 7-8; 73-96 overall)
Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Lance McCullers, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Alex Wood, Gio Gonzalez, Marcus Stroman
Nola has had a fabulous season and has the most upside of the group. Playing for the Phillies hurts his draft stock, but Rhys Hoskins and company could provide a solid, offensive core that may surprise the NL East next year. Like Paxton, injury inevitably reared its ugly head, but we were all witness to his tremendous upside. Wood and Keuchel are solid WHIP providers on great teams. Cole will likely be drafted towards the end of this tier on name alone, though I’d rather take a shot on guys like Jimmy Nelson or Luke Weaver a couple rounds later. Gonzalez’s 4.21 xFIP never caught up or came close to a sparkling 2.68 ERA and he will get love among the top 100 this year. Some may be concerned with his results in the couple of seasons prior, but if you look back, 2012 was arguably his best season. Gio posted a 2.89 ERA that year with a career-best 25.2 percent strikeout rate.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (just outside the top 100 overall)
Jimmy Nelson, Masahiro Tanaka, Rich Hill, Drew Pomeranz, Zack Godley, Sonny Gray, Luke Weaver, Trevor Bauer, Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Jon Lester
Of the group, Nelson, Godley, Bauer, Berrios and Weaver are the guys I’d most likely target.
Below is the prospects edition of ‘Risers’ as I cover five second-half call-ups who deserve our attention for drafts next season.
Amed Rosario, SS, NYM
Rosario is certainly a few years away from reaching his full potential and may turn out to be one of those guys who is a better real life player than fantasy contributor. Nevertheless, his first cup of coffee has been a refreshing one. He will be 22 come Spring Training 2018 with a full-time big league gig and an opportunity to contribute with speed as we will have to be patient for the rest of the package. Rosario hit .328 with 19 bags in Triple-A and was promoted right after the trade deadline. He missed nearly a week with a finger injury earlier this month, and was dealing with a hip flexor earlier in the week, but returned to full action on Saturday. His plate discipline metrics (2.3 percent walk rate, 27.1 percent strikeout rate) should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s still something to keep in mind when we’re talking about ADP next year. Rosario is a guy to grab for these final two weeks if available in your 12-teamer and you need stolen bases. He swiped three last week and if the hip isn’t bothering him, he could finish the year off with a bang. As it stands now, I’d draft Ozzie Albies ahead of him in next season’s drafts but prefer Rosario over him, over the long term.
Yoan Moncada, 2B/3B, CWS
Easily my favorite of this group, and he should be yours as well. Moncada’s upside is that of a perennial fantasy second rounder though we need to approach him in 2018 drafts somewhat cautiously. Rookie hype gets out of hand during draft season and we all know the whiff rate on youngsters who are still figuring out the big leagues. There are dozens upon dozens of those examples for every Cody Bellinger and Carlos Correa and this isn’t football where a first round running back steps into a bellcow situation like Zeke, Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette. That doesn’t mean a 22-year-old Moncada won’t be awesome in 2018, but it really all depends on expected rate of return based on a ADP that will probably be lifted by hype and helium. Moncada struggled out of the gate, upon promotion in mid-July, then warmed up a bit in August (seven-game hit streak) before missing nearly two weeks following a collision with teammate Willy Garcia. He’s been ripping the ball in September (.327 BA, .403 wOBA) and has credited part of his success to switching to a lighter bat. He’s stolen just two bases in 177 major league plate appearances this season, but did swipe 85 in A-ball between 2015 and 2016 in just 142 games. He will be a tough one to project for next year and I’ll certainly tackle the subject next March, but for now I’d expect something around a 14-HR, 15-SB floor and a realistic possibility to be the White Sox’s second best hitter outside of Jose Abreu in 2018.
Ozzie Albies, SS, ATL
Not yet able to legally purchase an adult beverage, Albies is the youngest of the group, and so far, has had the most major league success. The switch-hitting kid has been on the radar as a top prospect since he was 17 as he’s slowly transitioned from a powerless, high-contact hitter into a much better balanced one with flashes of pop despite his light 5’9’’, 160-pound frame. Albies has found early success as the Braves’ number-two hitter, which is quite a valuable lineup slot considering Freddie Freeman hits behind him. Albies has hit well from both sides of the plate through his first 63 games, though has been much more successful against southpaws (.342/.419/.605) than against righties (.270/.341/.434). Albies will likely be drafted after Amed Rosario, though if the two-hole ahead of Freeman is indeed his ‘home’ heading into next season, it would be hard for me to draft Rosario before him. Seeing a walk rate around 10 percent and a k-rate at 16 percent makes me feel good about his ability to stick in the top-third of this lineup and contributing with a solid batting average.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, DET
If you want to know just how much respect I have for the new Candy-man, note that I bid on him over Adrian Beltre in my NFBC Main Event this past weekend (though I knew I couldn’t afford Beltre with my light remaining FAAB balance). Candelario came over to the Tigers at the trade deadline for reliever Justin Wilson and has been hitting second in the order lately. He is a 23-year-old switch hitter who should be able to hit for decent average and power over the next few years. Candelario is a patient hitter (career 12 percent BB% and 20 percent K% in the minors) whose biggest weakness appears to be his lack of speed, as he’s stolen just eight bases over six minor league seasons. Candelario will be a late-round fantasy pick next season, but for those who’ve added him in 15-team leagues, let’s hope he can give us a little bit of a counting category boost over these final two weeks.
Albert Almora, OF, CHC
Almora was the pride of the Cubs’ 2012 Amateur Draft as they drafted him in the first round with the sixth overall pick. He made his major league debut last year, appearing in 47 games. He has been on the Cubs’ roster all of this season, but has served primarily as their fourth outfielder, having just 304 plate appearances under his belt in thus far. Almora offers little power but is a talented hitter who should best to contribute to fantasy teams with batting average and runs scored. Almora is hitting .333 since the All-Star break and has been crushing it in September, hitting .387 with 14 RBI. Unfortunately, his playing time continues to be sparse with the Cubs loaded on options in the outfield. He plays mostly against southpaws as most of his damage has come against them (.343/.415/.495). It’s an ideal platoon situation with Kyle Schwarber -- who is unable to hit southpaws – but Almora is deserving of a full-time opportunity and should be able to earn one next season. Due to his lack of power, Almora won’t receive much attention on draft day, but could serve as a solid batting average flier after the first 16 rounds in 15-teamers.
Yasmani Grandal, C, LAD
We already know Grandal to be a streaky fellow. Last season, his home run production came in bunches, but they have been spread out a bit more sparingly this season. All in all, it’s a huge drop-off for him in 2017 as he’s knocked just 19 out of ballparks after slugging 27 of them in his career year last year. Though Grandal’s .244 BA is an improvement on last season’s .228, his second half has been one giant cold streak (.204 BA since July 1, .267 from April through June). The biggest concern is his noticeable regression with taking free passes. His primary redeeming quality as a hitter, Grandal has posted a measly eight percent walk rate this season which is disappointing since he’s posted at a rate of at least 13 percent in every one of his big league seasons. Worst of all, Grandal has just one (count it…one!) hit in the month of September (1-4 in Sunday’s game). Backup catcher Austin Barnes has been getting the nod behind the plate more often lately, including five of the Dodgers’ last 10 games. As a Dodger fan, I’m hoping Grandal’s next streak begins right before the playoffs. I do believe 2016 will go down as the best statistical year of his career, but he’s still a top 10 catcher with 20-plus HR power for the next couple of seasons.
Jake Lamb, 3B, ARI
Twenty-seven homers and 101 runs batted in, not too shabby, really. But Lamb’s season has truly been the tale of two halves. At one point in late May, Lamb actually led the majors in RBI, just a couple ahead of teammate Paul Goldschmidt. Over the first half, Lamb posted a splendid line (54 R – 20 HR – 67 RBI – 4 SB - .279) and since July 1, Lamb’s production has been crushing fantasy owners who haven’t been paying attention -- a shockingly atrocious .197 batting average with just seven homers and 34 RBI. His struggles against lefties continue -- he hit .164 against them last year and just .146 this year. He’d probably be a straight platoon player on a Terry Collins team, but Terry Lovullo continues to just bat him lower in the lineup most of the time a southpaw is on the mound. Hopefully, you’ve been careful with Lamb and not just auto-playing him, especially when you see a handful of lefties in the week ahead.
Curtis Granderson, OF, LAD
It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to blame Grandy for ruining the Dodgers’ mojo that led to their 11-game losing streak, but the timing of his arrival was surely intriguing. Of course, Granderson has always been known as a solid teammate and all-around great guy. The Dodgers did go 5-2 with Granderson until the losing streak began. He was red hot leading up to that trade, smashing six homers in 14 games for the Mets before he switched uniforms on August 18. Since then, he’s been truly abysmal -- just four hits in 39 at-bats (.103) and he has gone from cleanup hitter to platoon guy against right-handed starters only. The 14-year veteran who twice crushed 40-plus homers has now hit at least 20 in 10 consecutive seasons but is a hard bat to insert in our lineups as he’s hitting just .206 this season. Be wary of using him down the stretch if your batting average points are tight.
Hanley Ramirez, 1B, BOS
Hanley is now 33 years old. He’s had a phenomenal career, specifically in his early years with the Marlins, and even had a renaissance season with the Red Sox in 2016 (30 HR, 111 RBI). But the one thing we can always count on is Ramirez missing chunks of time. This time, it’s a biceps injury that has caused him to miss the last five games. Despite appearing in 123 games (522 PA), Ramirez has simply failed to earn the value of his 79 ADP. The 22 homers are solid, but it comes with a reduction in stolen bases (just one lone bag), paltry counting categories (56 runs, 55 RBI) and the worst batting average of his career (.238). Ramirez deserves the Jose Bautista treatment in drafts next season as he should be avoided among the top 100 picks because of a declining skill set and expected games to be missed due to injury.