Fact is, more Fantasy Baseball owners are out of it now than in it. So as we continue to highlight the best waiver wire pickups and sleeper pitchers and hitters for the upcoming scoring period, there's another segment of the audience that's also clamoring for content.
And to it, I say there's always next year.
In that spirit, I'll begin turning a small part of my attention to 2019, helping begin the conversation by sharing my earliest and crudest version of the rankings. These aren't as fine-tuned as they'll be in late March, when ADP data and repeated mock drafting have hammered out the imperfections. They 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 so fresh it's still being formed?
We'll begin at the beginning with the first two rounds before going position by position in the weeks ahead.
Even on a per-game basis, Mike Trout has been "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 is now closing in on 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.
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.
Looky there, he's done it again. The best offensive player in baseball a year ago has 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 has made J.D. Martinez the healthiest he has 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.
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.
You doubt it? Come and fight me. Alex Bregman is now a 30-homer man, which has made him an even better third base-shortstop hybrid than Machado — and that's after having bad BABIP luck for the first couple months of the year. His plate discipline gives him more value in points leagues, but even there, it's hard to pass over the usual first-round suspects for him.
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, where stolen bases are essential and scarce. Even though he might just barely eclipse 40 in 2018, Trea Turner has still become the preeminent source of them, 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 more 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, and will get drafted higher than ever before.
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 just a little behind Manny Machado and about on the level of this next guy ...
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 probably the clubhouse leader for AL Cy Young — his second straight and third overall — you could make the case for Corey Kluber to go even higher, but his strikeouts are down and swinging strike rate way down in 2018. Bottom line is I was more confident in him at this time a year ago.
Kluber's main competition in the AL has found second life with the Astros, who've turned Justin Verlander 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 have been his newfound proclivity on the base paths and his greatly reduced strikeout rate. Obviously, a 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 hasn't performed 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 is pretty normal, apart from him not getting the usual Coors Field BABIP boost, and his item-by-item stat line falls within the range of expected outcomes. It wouldn't take much to get him back to his 2016-17 levels.
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 doesn't elevate the ball like a power hitter and has needed the game's best home run-to-fly ball rate to accomplish what he has. I rank him expecting a small step back.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts for Andrew Benintendi, who offers a little of everything as a 20-20 threat with plus plate discipline and bat skills. And he probably hasn't maxed out his power yet at age 24, actually slumping to the finish line as far as home runs go.
Clayton Kershaw has had the look of an ace again since the All-Star break, when I last performed this exercise and bumped him out of my first two rounds altogether. He's still averaging 90-91 mph on his fastball, though, which has 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 have had, it's been a disappointing year for Freddie Freeman, whose power gains from the past two years, when he produced more like a first-rounder, haven't carried 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.
The near misses
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.
Aaron Nola is probably next among starting pitchers, but a strong enough case could be made for Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino or Trevor Bauer instead (along with probably a half dozen others) that I don't feel the need to reach for him ahead of some of the big bats available at that point. While he certainly gets enough strikeouts to qualify as an ace, his rate still pales in comparison to those three.
While there's a case to be made for Giancarlo Stanton as sort of a legacy pick, recognizing that he's still pretty studly even when he underperforms as he has in 2018, it's really the strikeouts that make me think 2017 was more the aberration. Besides, you could give Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and George Springer the same benefit of the doubt, but you'd be passing up safer, similarly studly choices.
I really don't know what to do with Ronald Acuña yet, and there may not a player whose September performance will have a greater say on his 2019 draft status. As of now, his per-game numbers have him verging on first-round status, but that's coming off a ridiculous month of August that clearly wasn't a pace he could sustain. A 20-year-old with a fair amount of swing-and-miss in his game may yet have some growing pains ahead of him.