Eric Cross’ 2021 Fantasy Baseball Rankings
It’s never too early to start prepping for the next season. NEVER! For us baseball and fantasy baseball fanatics, the following season’s prep work begins immediately. And what does most prep work start with? That’s right, rankings. Whether you look at others or make your own, 2021 fantasy baseball rankings are something that everyone looks at. I mean, who doesn’t go into a draft with rankings to go off of? Personally, I’ve been making my own rankings for a while now and used other industry rankings before I became an analyst/writer and started making my own. And for me, I like to break mine down positionally as I’m usually looking to target a certain position with each draft pick, especially after the first few rounds.
So what better way to kick off the 2021 fantasy baseball season than with my early positional rankings? These will be tweaked and updated throughout the offseason and into the heart of draft season, but hopefully, these can help you dominate your 2021 drafts, whenever those may be held.
If you aren’t playing your dynasty leagues on Fantrax, you’re missing out on the deepest player pool and most customization around. New to the dynasty format or just love rankings? Then check out Eric Cross’ recently updated Top-500 Dynasty Rankings, Top-250 Dynasty Prospects, and Top-100 FYPD Rankings.
Also, make sure to check out the Five Tool Fantasy Baseball Podcast Weekly for more redraft, prospect, and dynasty talk.
2021 Fantasy Baseball Rankings – Positional
I tried to have this as close to Fantrax eligibility as possible. It’s also possible that I missed a name or two. If I did, feel free to reach out to me.
Trending Up: Will Smith (LAD), Travis d’Arnaud (ATL)
Trending Down: Gary Sanchez (NYY), Mitch Garver (MIN)
This ugly position got even uglier in 2020.
U-G-L-Y, none of these guys (except J.T. Realmuto) should be drafted high, they ugly. Yeah, yeah, they ugly (for fantasy). Okay, that was rough, but so is this position as a whole. Remember when we were debating who was the top dog between JT Realmuto and Gary Sanchez? Ha! That was funny. After a disastrous season at the plate, Sanchez isn’t even a top-5 option for 2021. My ranking of 7th might even be a tad generous as Sanchez has consistently shown that he cannot hit for a respectable average without BABIP luck.
Overall, I’m going to wait to take my catcher(s) in 2021 unless one of the top-5 falls to be at a reasonable price, which appears to be highly unlikely from what I’ve been seeing in early-2021 mocks. Everyone is worried about missing out on getting one of the few good options so those guys are getting taken a bit higher than they probably should. I’d recommend waiting on this position and maybe grabbing one of the youngsters with upside late. Backstops like Joey Bart, Alejandro Kirk, and Sean Murphy will only cost a late-round pick and could easily return top-10 value at this offensively-deprived position.
Last but not least, let me address the elephant in the room with my exclusion of Adley Rutschman. There’s no question that Rutschman is the top catching prospect in the game and an advanced bat, but I don’t see him playing a ton of games with Baltimore in 2021. If we had a normal minor league season or any minor league season at all in 2020, he’d likely be up fairly early in the 2021 season. At this point, he’s more of a late-2021/early-2022 ETA for me.
|9||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||TOR||2|
|26||Tommy La Stella||LAA||4|
At first glance, this position might look top-heavy and boring after the first tier or two. But there’s actually some intriguing value in the mid to late rounds with solid ROI potential. Those top two tiers are all players I’d feel comfortable drafting within the first 100 picks or so. Most are stable veterans with longer track records of production, especially recently. Within these tiers, you’ll find an annual potential batting champ in DJ LeMahieu, the 2020 HR king in Luke Voit, and the former gold standard at the position in Paul Goldschmidt, among others.
After the top two tiers, that’s when the questions set in. Tiers three and four are filled with talented, yet unproven youngsters like Alec Bohm, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Ryan Mountcastle, along with talent hitters like Josh Bell coming off underwhelming performances in 2020. It might shock many for me to say this, but I’m actually avoiding Guerrero in 2021 drafts. I’m still holding in dynasty formats, or even buying-low if that window opened, but for 2021 redrafts, he’s likely going to go too high for my liking. Right now, his early 2021 ADP in mocks has been in the 60-80 range, but until he proves to me he can cut down on the groundballs and tap into his immense raw power more in games.
If I miss out on getting my starting first baseman from one of the top two tiers, Bohm, Mountcastle, and Dominic Smith are likely going to find themselves on multiple teams of mine. Bohm is a hitter I’m all-in on as I wrote here, and both Smith and Mountcastle are legit bats capable of hitting for both a solid average and 25 home runs or so as well. Both Bohm and Smith will cost you a top-140 pick or so, but Mountcastle should only cost you a pick in the 175-200 range, so he appears to be the best value pick of the three.
For a late-round flier, give Evan White a look. The Mariners rookie disappointed after signing his contract extension last offseason but produced high quality of contact metrics with an 88th percentile exit velocity, 95th percentile hard-hit rate, and 90th percentile barrel rate. Not to mention an 85th percentile sprint speed. The tools are here for a nice bounceback campaign if he can cut down that atrocious 41.6% strikeout rate.
|18||Tommy La Stella||LAA||3|
This has been my toughest position to draft so far in 2021 mocks. At every position, there is a group of locked in top options that you don’t usually have many, or any, concerns about. That group at second base is on the smaller side, to say the least. Outside of the top tier consisting of Ozzie Albies, DJ LeMahieu, and Whit Merrifield, the remainder of the options you’ll be considering as your starting 2nd baseman all have legit question marks for one reason or another.
That starts at #4 and #5 with Brandon Lowe and Keston Hiura. In 2019, Hiura was everyone’s darling at this position, posting a .303/.368/.570 line with 19 homers and nine steals in 84 games, but his suspect plate approach became even more suspect in 2020, to the point where his AVG cratered. The power remained, but can Hiura turn the AVG around and justify a top-100 pick? The same can be said for Lowe who had a 32nd percentile K% and 7th percentile whiff rate despite otherwise impressive statcast data. Beyond them, Biggio barely hit above the Mendoza line, Marte’s power disappeared, and the trio of Muncy, Altuve, and McNeil struggled.
This isn’t a position I’ve been excited to draft this season. If I can’t land one of my top-5, I’ve been waiting until later on and grabbing an upside play like Gavin Lux, Nick Solak, Nick Madrigal, or Jake Cronenworth. Don’t sleep on Ty France either who will likely get a chance to start next season for Seattle.
Biggest Risers: Manny Machado (SD), Alec Bohm (PHI), Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT), DJ LeMahieu (NYY)
This position is full of value plays, and if you play it right, you can hit a home run here in your drafts. Elite options like Rafael Devers, Alex Bregman, and Nolan Arenado have fallen out of the top-25 overall due to their 2020 performances and their current values have me foaming at the mouth. Before 2020, Arenado was arguably the most consistent source of elite offensive production in baseball. As long as his shoulder is okay and he’s still a Rockie, draft with confidence in the 3rd round.
Another former elite option that has fallen a ton is Kris Bryant. I’m less optimistic that he returns to a top-50 caliber player, but with an ADP around 120, he’s worth the risk if you’re still a believer. If you’re tired of the KB headaches like I am, I’d recommend going with Alec Bohm, who reminds me a ton of a younger Freddie Freeman. Bohm is going one round behind Bryant and has the hit/power combination to finish as a top-100 player and provide solid ROI. Another rookie going several rounds later to consider is Ke’Bryan Hayes. I’m not quite as high on him as I am on Bohm, but Hayes is a solid value if his power gains from 2020 continue into 2021. He can also provide a bit of speed as well, something Bohm cannot.
Not only does this position have good values throughout the top-200 picks, but there are also plenty in the later rounds as well along with some prime bounce-back candidates and a few that are just flat out underrated. Case in point, David Fletcher. The Angels’ sparkplug often gets overlooked due to minimal power and speed contributions, but Fletcher has one of the best contact/swing profiles in baseball and is a near-lock to hit .300. Add in 10-15 homers, 10-15 steals, solid runs scored totals, and multi-positional eligibility and you have a nice MI or CI option for very cheap.
|1||Fernando Tatis Jr.||SD||1|
Just when you thought this position couldn’t get any deeper and more talented, it does just that. There are seven players in my 1st tier, ranging from Fernando Tatis Jr to World Series MVP, Corey Seager. All seven of these studs are fine selections in the first two rounds of drafts, and you might even be able to get Seager or the always underrated Xander Bogaerts in the third round. One of my absolute favorite targets in 2021 drafts is in this tier as well. I’ve been calling Bo Bichette the next Mookie Betts for fantasy for a year or so now and he’s done nothing to make me back off that claim, posting a .307/.347/.549 slash line with a 105/35/95/17 162-game pace since debuting late in 2019.
Tim Anderson almost made that first tier as well. At this point, I’ve stopped doubting him due to the higher BABIPS and have accepted that he’s a fantasy star capable of posting a .300/20/20 season in 2021 with a ton of runs hitting leadoff in Chicago’s loaded lineup. After him, both Gleyber Torres and Javier Baez present great values after disappointing 2020 campaigns. If I don’t land one of the players from the top tier, I’m going to be targeting this duo aggressively in rounds 5-7 or so. As I mentioned before on the Five-Tool Fantasy Baseball Podcast, I’m more willing to give these stars a pass if they struggled in a shortened and crazy 60-game slate.
Ideally, I’m going to leave every draft with one of my top 12-14 on my roster as my starting shortstop and hopefully another top-25 player in my middle utility spot. I’m much more excited about the later-round options here than at 2nd base, so this is likely where you’ll see me filling that middle infield spot, That will likely be with a bounce-back candidate since there are several I’m intrigued by in 2021, headlined by Jorge Polanco, Marcus Semien, and Amed Rosario. Then maybe for good measure, I’ll throw a late-round flier on talented youngsters like Jazz Chisholm or Jose Garcia if the league is deep enough.
There are several ways you can attack this position and still come out feeling good about your shortstop situation. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until the middle rounds and taking two from the 14-20 range either as this group often presents good ROI opportunities at their respective price tags.
If you were looking for me to rant about Adalberto Mondesi, I’m sorry to disappoint. Y’all should know my thoughts on him by now. Draft at your own risk. Also, as I’m sure many are wondering, I didn’t rank Wander Franco too high as I don’t believe he makes a sizeable fantasy impact until the 2022 season. He’ll almost certainly be up, but likely not until mid-season.
|2||Ronald Acuna Jr.||ATL||1|
|30||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||TOR||4|
Out of all the offensive positions, the outfield is the one I’m attacking the most early and often. Why? Well, most of the middle-round targets don’t give me that warm and fuzzy feeling. There are certainly some I’ll be targeting like Andrew McCutchen, Jorge Soler, Clint Frazier, and others, but by the time I get to that range, I want at least two outfielders already on my roster. That means two of my first 10 picks or so, at the very least, will be outfielders. Now, I’m not saying that’s a concrete plan, but do you want McCutchen or Frazier as your OF2?
This is a great year to be targeting outfielders early too. Just look at all that talent in the first 3-4 tiers. You can play the draft several ways and be able to grab two guys in those first three tiers. The only thing that’s really out of your control is tier 1. You’re going to need a top-6 pick to get anyone in this tier. But after that, you can choose how you want to attack this position.
If you have a late-round pick in the 1st, I’d be all over Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger at their current ADPs outside the top-10 overall, especially Yelich. Bryce Harper is another in that range I’ve been targeting in early 2021 mocks thus far as well. For the most part, a late first-round draft slot means I have at least one of this trio on my team heading into rounds two and three. This is the range where you’ll see exciting young stars like Kyle Tucker, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert being selected. If you want two from my top-2 tiers, that means two of your first three selections are going to need to be outfielders.
Assuming my draft has gone according to plan, my OF3 will likely be from tier four. This tier contains many breakouts I believe in and players I expect to bounceback. Players like Dominic Smith, Lourdes Gurriel, Ramon Laureano, Alex Verdugo, and Tommy Pham will be popular targets of mine in this range along with Jorge Soler or Victor Robles if I need a power or speed boost. One that I will not have any shares of in this tier is Randy Arozarena. The reason being that he’ll be taken a good 30-40 spots before I’m comfortable taking him.
Tier 5 is another area I’ll likely dip my toes into frequently. That could mean feasting on Jarred Kelenic’s surprisingly reasonable ADP near pick 200, banking on a bounceback from Andrew Benintendi or David Dahl, or taking one of those middle round targets I mentioned in the first paragraph of this outfield section. As for late-rounders, Austin Hays, Nick Solak, and Victor Reyes are favorites of mine. And, of course, Garrett Hampson. If you need some category help late in your drafts, look no further than the outfield.
|29||Hyun jin Ryu||TOR||2|
|40||Lance McCullers Jr.||HOU||3|
|71||Kwang Hyun Kim||STL||5|
|125||Daniel Ponce de Leon||STL||7|
Late-Round Targets: See below
With each passing season, more emphasis seems to be put on building a strong pitching staff, especially early in drafts. While I will still never take a starter in the first round, I make it a point to have at least two pitchers anchoring my staff by round seven, maybe even a third depending on how the draft is going. That means at the very least, I want one arm from my tier one and one from tier two. Establishing a strong top of your rotation early allows you to be flexible throughout the rest of the draft.
Tiers two and three are the tiers I’m going to be hitting hard in 2021 drafts and hoping the arms I select don’t get hit hard themselves. Between breakouts like Sixto Sanchez, Ian Anderson, and Pablo Lopez, along with bounceback candidates like Chris Paddack and Patrick Corbin, there are plenty of enticing arms to plug into your rotation.
Two Dodgers from this range are going to find themselves in my queue often, but likely will go too high for my liking. Those being Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. Both showed their potential throughout the 2020 season, but this is the Dodgers we’re talking about. Los Angeles has a way of using talented arms in swing roles and will also have David Price returning in 2021. Along with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias, that’s six arms vying for five spots. Unfortunately, it looks like May and Gonsolin are 5th and 6th on that list.
Later on in the draft is where it really gets interesting. The 2020 season brought a plethora of exciting prospect debuts, but the majority of them didn’t exactly go as planned. That’s not overly surprising with rookie pitchers but what it has done is create plenty of intriguing values after pick 200 on talented arms that can vastly outperform their ADP. Here are the early ADPs for these pitchers:
- Nate Pearson 216.1
- Michael Kopech 271.8 (Opted Out)
- Casey Mize 284.7
- Tarik Skubal 285.1
- Spencer Howard 291.4
- Kyle Wright 317.6
For what these guys are capable of, I’m willing to roll the dice at these very reasonable ADPs. The potential reward vastly outweighs the minimal risk at this point in the draft.
Biggest Risers: Devin Williams (MIL), James Karinchak (CLE)
Biggest Fallers: Hector Neris (PI), Kirby Yates (FA)
Late-Round Targets: Daniel Bard (COL), Mike Mayers (LAA)
Without question, this was my hardest position to rank. I also feel like I say that same sentence every single season. For the most part, relievers in fantasy are a crapshoot due to the volatility and high turnover rate. You have the 8-10 names you can count on, but after that, good luck. This is why I never attack this position early. I’ll usually grab a couple of top-25 RPs in the middle rounds, but after that, I’m either waiting until late or playing the waiver wire early in the season.
This year, I’m going to be targeting relievers like James Karinchak and Ryan Pressly often in the middle rounds. Both, as of now, appear to be moving into closing roles in 2021 and offer substantial upside.
Media/Link Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire
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