Camps have broken. The countdown has shifted from days to hours. Baseball season is upon us.
While Spring Training statistics hardly serve as an indicator for regular season performance, the exhibition games provide a ‘first-look’ at each team’s roster. Throughout March, position battles sort themselves out, and stocks rise and fall whenever results deviate from the expected. With that, the projections begin to take form.
Generally, the consensus rankings for the upcoming season are relatively similar throughout the industry. The usual suspects of Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, and the like reside in the upper echelon, while players like Gerrit Cole, Jason Kipnis, and Chris Davis can range wildly from one list to the next, but still maintain a level of consistency as a group. Therefore, the players to note are those who deviate most from their typical placement.
Kris Bryant is the player most obviously driven by external factors, but his top-50 ranking in our projections is due more to his performance confirming his talent than over-estimating it. Bryant was clearly ready to play Major League Baseball last season, and little had changed to debunk that belief. When he began torching pitchers in March, it was affirmation to a hypothesis. His talent is too good to be ignored, and he should play well over 120 games for the Chicago Cubs, performing at a high level right out of the gate.
Bryant’s teammate Javier Baez suffers the biggest hit to his stock in the week leading up to the regular season, as his demotion was driven purely by performance. While Bryant is starting the season in the Minor Leagues due to contract quirks, Baez needs to actually prove he is ready to continue with the Major League club before getting the call again. Without a timetable for his return, Baez slides outside the top-100.
A few young hitters that should benefit from increased playing time include Joc Pederson, Gregory Polanco, and Mookie Betts, all of whom sit in the top-100. As Corey Dickerson proved last season, sometimes, all it takes is an opportunity for talent to blossom.
Finally, the one-two punch of Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw lead the pack. Each player is so far ahead of the next best at his position that justification could be made for either one claiming the top spot. In single-season formats, Trout is probably the best option for his incredible consistency without the risk of injury prevalent in pitchers. In dynasty formats, the lack of pitching depth after the initial league draft bumps Kershaw’s value up above Trout’s, making the Dodgers’ ace the top choice.