With 2018 in the books, it's time to turn our attention to 2019. I'll begin the conversation by unveiling my earliest player rankings, crude though they may be.
The fine-tuning will come throughout the offseason and especially in March, when ADP data and repeated mock drafting have hammered out the imperfections. These earliest rankings aren't tailored for a specific format or scoring system. They're more of a rough draft, a gut-instinct interpretation of what you can expect to see six months from now.
But we have to start somewhere, right? And what better time than when the memory is still fresh?
Even on a per-game basis, Mike Trout was "only" the third-best hitter in Fantasy Baseball this year. But in those years when he's not No. 1, he's always in the mix for No. 1 while the names around him are constantly changing.
Following his second year in three with Trout-level production, Mookie Betts is the only choice at No. 2 and probably the truest five-category talent in the game today given the assurances he provides in batting average and stolen bases.
Or wait ... maybe it's Jose Ramirez, whose numbers are deserving of a double take. The guy who surprised us with 11 homers two years ago came close to hitting 40 — and with one of the lowest strikeout rates in all the majors. He doesn't have the track record or Trout or Betts, but as far as I'm concerned, it's those three and everyone else next year.
Could the Indians have two 30-30 men on the left side of their infield? Francisco Lindor is showing that kind of ability, if not as loudly as Ramirez. You could go a few different directions at No. 4, but securing shortstop and stolen bases are both priorities early, especially when it doesn't cost you power-wise.
As long as he's playing half his games at Colorado, Nolan Arenado will dominate four categories, as he has each of the past four years. He's the first selection who won't help in stolen bases, but he's as safe as safe gets.
Looky there, he did it again. The best offensive player in baseball a year ago retained the power gains from his second breakout (not to be confused with his first in 2014) even while changing leagues and hitting environments. Also notable: His move to a primary DH role made J.D. Martinez the healthiest he had ever been.
At a time when the high-end starting pitchers are standing out more and more at their position, impacting Fantasy lineups all the more as a result, the surest of aces is indeed a monster asset. Maybe Max Scherzer's six-year run of good health finally comes to an end next year, but as much as anyone can prove durability, he has.
You doubt it? Come and fight me. Alex Bregman is now a 30-homer man, which means he can hang power-wise with fellow third base-shortstop hybrid Manny Machado — and that's after having bad BABIP luck for the first couple months of the year. His plate discipline gives him even more value in points leagues.
Retaining shortstop eligibility thanks to his power play with the Orioles earlier this year, Manny Machado is a lock to go in the first round no matter where he signs this offseason. His destination could move him up or down a couple spots, but his overall production hasn't varied too much over the past four seasons and is unquestionably studly.
We all know Bryce Harper is better than his 2018 line, and his second-half production demonstrates it. But in seven years, how many times has he performed up to his potential from start to finish? Basically once, unless you want to count his injury-shortened 2017, and that level of aggravation deserves a markdown.
This one may be an overreaction to an aberration considering Jose Altuve 's batted-ball profile is largely unchanged from a year ago. But the stolen bases are a decision-based stat, and if we can't count on him to be a top base-stealer anymore, his success is overly dependent on a power profile that's pretty average by today's standards.
This ranking is best applied in traditional 5x5 categories leagues, where stolen bases are essential and scarce. Even though he just barely eclipsed 40 in 2018, Trea Turner still finished second in that category, though it's unclear at this point if he'll ever become a true standout in anything else. Still, the overall production is exceptional for a shortstop.
If he hadn't missed so much of the second half with a shoulder injury, Chris Sale would probably deserve to go right after Scherzer, boasting a track record nearly as dominant. But he has a history of fading down the stretch and is at risk of being overmanaged as a result. I'll play it cautiously.
Speaking of playing things cautiously, we can't be sure Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball just yet, and as things stand now, he'll still be pitching for the Mets anyway. But he's at least in the same conversation as Scherzer and Sale now and will get drafted higher than he ever has.
Paul Goldschmidt sank so low in May that it took him about the rest of the season to get his numbers back to their normal range, but they're there now — and with peripherals that suggest a decline isn't on the horizon for the 31-year-old. You can't count on stolen bases anymore, which drops him out of the first round, but he's still the best hitter at his position.
Considering he's in the Cy Young conversation for the fourth time in five years, including winning twice, you could make the case for Corey Kluber to go even higher, but his strikeouts were down and swinging-strike rate way down in 2018. Bottom line is I was more confident in him at this time a year ago.
If Christian Yelich's numbers from his first year with the Brewers are the new baseline, he's arguably a first-rounder. But while some increase in power was to be expected with his move from a pitcher's to a hitter's park, the fact is he still didn't elevate the ball like a power hitter and needed far and away the game's best home run-to-fly ball rate to accomplish what he did. I rank him expecting a small step back.
Even though his season was derailed by a chip fracture in his wrist, Aaron Judge convinced me he really is capable of navigating a sky-high strikeout rate and wasn't just the beneficiary of some magical rookie season. Even in points leagues, his per-game production was actually a little better than Goldschmidt.
Justin Verlander has found second life with the Astros, who've turned him into sort of the AL equivalent of Scherzer in terms of innings and strikeouts. Maybe you can't wrap your head around investing so much in a pitcher who'll be 36 on opening day, but we're going year to year here. You're not marrying the guy (trust me — he's taken), and I see no reason to believe 2019 is the year he stops cranking it to 99 with regularity.
I may be too low on Trevor Story, having been burned by his sophomore season and scarred by his early propensity for strikeouts. But two potential game-changers this year were his newfound proclivity on the base paths and his greatly reduced strikeout rate. Obviously, a possible 30-30 shortstop playing half his games at Coors Field has the makings of Fantasy gold, but I fear a wide range of outcomes.
Honestly, Charlie Blackmon didn't perform like a first- or even a second-rounder this year, and seeing as he's 32, it's fair to wonder if he ever will again. But his batted-ball profile was pretty normal, apart from him not getting the usual Coors Field BABIP boost, and his item-by-item stat line fell within the range of expected outcomes. It wouldn't take much to get him back to his 2016-17 levels.
Clayton Kershaw had the look of an ace again after the All-Star break, when I last performed this exercise and bumped him out of my first two rounds altogether. He still averaged just 90-91 mph on his fastball, though, which compromised his bat-missing ability. And when projecting him now, you have to factor in at least a month-long DL stint, most likely for his back.
For all the success the Braves had, it was a disappointing year for Freddie Freeman, whose power gains from the past two years, when he produced more like a first-rounder, didn't carry over. Just in terms of hitting for average and getting on base, he's still elite, but you'd like to get 30 homers from your first baseman.
While there's a case to be made for Giancarlo Stanton to go earlieras sort of a legacy pick, recognizing that he's still pretty studly even when he underperforms as he didin 2018, it's really the strikeouts that make me think 2017 was more the aberration.
The near misses
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts for Andrew Benintendi, who offers just enough of everything to compete with the big boys. But a second-half slump prevented him from reaching 20 homers, casting doubt over whether he has much room to grow from here.
I'm sure to get some grief for this one, but understand that Javier Baez didn't miss by much. In fact, if these rankings were exclusively for 5x5 leagues, he may not have missed at all. But even in that format, a player with such poor plate discipline presents a lower floor than I'm comfortable investing a second-round pick in. Any slippage in BABIP could tumble that house of cards.
Blake Snell is probably next among starting pitchers, but a strong enough case could be made for Aaron Nola, Gerrit Cole or Trevor Bauer instead (along with probably a half dozen others) that I don't feel the need to reach for him ahead of the big bats available at that point. Plus, there are lingering questions about his control and durability.
Ronald Acuña's final two months made his per-game numbers comparable to some first-rounders, and given that he's likely to contribute in stolen bases to some degree, he may get drafted that high in certain formats next year. But a 20-year-old with a fair amount of swing-and-miss in his game may yet have some growing pains ahead of him.