It’s finally February, football is in the rear view mirror, spring training is on the horizon, and it’s time to start breaking out the player ranks and loading up the mock drafts (or waiting for Yahoo to let us). While we wait for any MLB team to sign a free agent I have been struggling on which players I plan on keeping this season in my keeper leagues. I’m not talking about Dynasty leagues, where you keep every player, but the leagues where you only can keep two, three, or at most five players every season. These types of keeper leagues seem to be a mainstay for dedicated players and leagues as of late. I have noticed it’s rarely the same players you’re keeping every season, especially if you have so few to keep…
Keeper leagues can be tough because every draft is going to be so unique. Whether each team is keeping two players or five your draft is going to look very different when missing multiple draft day studs forcing you to go into the draft with a completely different strategy. Do you want to keep a great player but forfeit a top pick or somebody not as proven but for a much lower pick? Do you go with the respected fantasy players you can count on like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw or with the young guns with the high ceiling and questionable floor like Cody Bellinger and Luis Severino?
What factored into my list was how much you can trust each player, what round they were taken the previous season, how good of a fantasy contributor have they been throughout their career, their team, age, etc. Even though every league has different keeper numbers and keeper rules I have ranked out 10 tiers of my top 40 keepers. This list is mainly skewed for leagues with just a handful of keepers. Most of the rankings consist of top players going in the first couple rounds or players that majorly outperformed their ADP last season. I did leave off some guys who I would take in the earlier rounds like Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, and Justin Verlander because the juice just might not be worth the squeeze. Getting Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger in the last few rounds this year is almost laughable and hard to pass up even with your 2nd or 3rd overall pick. Below is my Top 40 separated into tiers of how important I see these players going into keeper leagues.
My Top 40 Player Rankings in a Keeper League
T1: The No Brainers
Not much to say about these three besides you MUST keep them. All under 27 years old, in their prime or have yet to reach it, and the perfect players to build your team around. Most importantly, don’t give up a top 3 pick to another team that kept players in the late rounds.
T2: The Almost Automatic
Nolan Arenado and Mookie Betts are very similar to the three in T1, Both are very young and first round picks, just not as proven as the top three. Cody Bellinger’s track record through the minors and all of 2017 showed he is legit. He would be a bargain since he wasn’t on draft boards last season and might be the hottest commodity in keeper leagues this year. Aaron Judge is not as safe with the strike out rate but if you believe he can hit 50 home runs again he is a must keep at the price. Judge and Bellinger are the reason you play in keeper leagues because they are the players who most outperformed their ADP’s last season.
T3: The Rest of the Best
T3 is also just going along with my normal rankings. All five are worthy of giving up your first or early second round pick for. Paul Goldschmidt might have just turned 30 years old, and is the oldest player on this list that is not a pitcher, but no other first basemen has been as consistent over the past five seasons as Paul Goldschmidt. The quiet first baseman is still as good as they come at the position. Kris Bryant has a chance to reclaim his spot as the NL MVP this season after an off year that wasn’t as bad as it may seem statistically. I believe last season was Bryant’s worst of his career and think that he has the best chance out of T3 to be in T1 next season. Carlos Correa is fantasy baseballs darling shortstop who was coming off a slow 2016 season. He dropped out of the first round even though he shouldn’t have and proved why he is going to be a keeper league mainstay for a long time. Trea Turner was probably in your top five keepers last season, he was my number two behind Trout, and went in the first or early second round after an incredible 2nd half in 2016. Turner will not be the hot commodity last seasons keeper leagues but he is going to help you in all five categories and may end up leading the league in steals. Manny Machado finishes off T3 and if you have him in a keeper league, you probably have had him for a few years now. The 25 year old has put up top fantasy numbers since before he could legally drink. Machado now seems to be moving to shortstop for good and should be shortstop and third base eligible all season making him an even hotter commodity.
T4: Last Years Champs
T4 is all about taking advantage of these 2017 breakouts ADP’s. Jose Ramirez broke out in the second half of 2016 and if we knew the future he would have been the ideal keeper last season. Ramirez ADP last year was round 9 and after an even bigger breakout in 2017 this is an opportunity you want to take advantage of. Rafael Devers is this seasons Trea Turner, to a lesser extent, but the player who had a very small sample size and showed us what he can do. Devers has been a top prospect since he was a teenager and has yet to struggle at any major league level. If you were able to grab him off waivers last season you need to consider keeping him. Luis Severino might seem like a risky option since pitchers are not usually as safe in keeper leagues but going into this season pitching is as scarce as ever. If you can give up your last pick for Severino your getting a Top 20 SP who’s team just got way better offensively and will provide even more insurance runs and W’s.
T5: Risk and Reward
Since Charlie Blackmon hit his way onto the fantasy scene in 2015, his ADP has risen every single season. Playing in Colorado certainly helps but he consistently puts up first round numbers and still many underestimate him, yet he always seems to outplay his draft spot. A toe injury is the only thing that has really held him back in the past but even if you have to give up a top pick its worth keeping Blackmon. Rhys Hoskins showed up late last season and helped win a few fantasy championships with 18 home runs in a 50 game stretch. He broke MLB rookie records and proved worthy of a top keeper pick going into 2018. Giancarlo Stanton was the NL MVP last season and now heads off to New York where he may be the favorite for AL MVP if he can stay healthy. After the best statistical season of his career, Stanton is tough for me to rank, I think he’s going to end up in the first round because somebody wont be able to hold off. If you were able to get him in the fourth round or later in 2017 he is a must hold. JD Martinez is also a very interesting player going into 2018 keeper league drafts. Still without a team this season Martinez played for Detroit and Arizona last year, hit 45 home runs, all while missing the first six weeks with a foot injury. Martinez, who would have been a top 40 pick in 2017 dropped in plenty of drafts due to his injury, so that will make him a hot commodity in keeper leagues this year. Although he did just turn 30 years old with some injury history, Martinez is a first or second round pick making him a very appealing keeper.
T6: The Aces
T6 is my top 4 starting pitchers in my rankings this season. I used to stay away from pitchers in keeper leagues, try and keep solid offense and load up on pitching in the draft, but in a year where “fantasy aces” are few and far between I want these four wherever I can get them. I think these are the only starting pitchers we can truly rely on as a quintessential SP1 going into the 2018 season.
T7: Yesterday’s Youngsters
T7 is basically the top rookies going into last season. All three definitely had their faults last year but still produced solid fantasy numbers and enough to show they are just getting started in this league. Gary Sanchez is the best catcher going into the fantasy baseball season. A position that is known to be weak and not have much fantasy contribution it’s worth holding onto Sanchez who will be going very early in keeper league drafts when available. Alex Bregman has been known for his slow starts the past few years but i think all that it finally over. Bregman is going to keep that momentum from the world series going and show what he can do all season long. His ADP in 2017 was round 11 so he clearly can have great value when he’s projected to go in round 4 or 5 this year. Andrew Benintendi didn’t blow anybody out of the water in 2017 but he was solid in almost every offensive category. Unless you reached for him last season when he was one of the top prospects coming into the draft he is also worth keeping. I would absolutely give up a middle round pick for a five category player with a great chance for a 20/20 season.
T8: Hot & Cold
My T8 is three guys I had struggled ranking on this list. I think there are reasons to have them higher or not even in the top 40 at all. George Springer is the world series MVP and seems to be going high in drafts even after a quiet end to the fantasy season. He has been known to be very hot and cold throughout the season and at 28 years old he might be closer to 30 years old then you had originally thought. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the AL MVP this season so it’s hard not to give up a fourth round pick for that upside. Zach Greinke surprised some last season after a rough first year with Arizona in 2016 but he bounced back and showed he can still have ace caliber stuff. If Greinke was your best pitcher in 2017 and you didn’t reach for him in the draft I think he is a solid keeper option since he should jump up a few rounds in this years draft. Anthony Rizzo is a personal favorite of mine because I think he is as consistent as they come in fantasy baseball. He’s going in the second round just like last season but if he is your best option I am more than happy with holding onto him. Rizzo always produces in all five categories and has a chance to lead the position in steals. He might not be the best in any category at his position but he is at least top five in every single one.
T9: The Random Bunch
The T9 crew in the biggest and most random. Elvis Andrus had a career year in 2017 and was the best fantasy SS in H2H leagues. I doubt that he will sustain the same value, especially the power, but he was going anywhere from round 16-20 last season so that jump in ADP can be nice to take advantage of. Freddie Freeman has proven over the past two seasons he deserves to be a top ranked fantasy asset. Even with a broken wrist and being on one of the worst offensive teams in baseball last year he was still able to produce second round value. If your keeping him you probably got him in the 4th or 5th round in 2017. Robby Ray was one of the biggest fantasy breakouts last year. His K rate was very impressive and if he is able to keep the walks down this season he has a chance to become a fantasy ace. James Paxton was looking like a fantasy ace before another injury caught up with him last year. I was able to get Paxton in round 20 last year in a keeper league so the value is there but only if you believe he can stay healthy. Anthony Rendon had a terrible first few weeks in 2017 only to bounce back and be one of the best players in fantasy in the second half. I lucked into him on the waiver wire when his owner got sick of him after week 4. He clearly can be a fantasy threat but he also is known to have very off and on seasons making him a little risky. Whit Merifield shows up in the middle of the season last year for the Royals and was one homer away from 20/30 season. It’s tough to say how legit last season was but it’s worth the risk getting Whit as your last pick of the draft this year. Jose Berrios is another big question mark after he ended the season poorly. He was not ready for a full MLB season just like he was not ready to even show up to the MLB a year before. I think this is going to be Berrios big year that will solidify him as a top 20 SP for the foreseeable future.
T10:The Young Bucks
T10 are my top four prospects going into the 2018 season. None of these players were drafted last season (maybe Moncada) so you don’t have to give up anything to keep them. These four all have the potential to be in T2 or T3 next season if all goes well. The more keepers you can have the more appealing these four should be but if you can only choose one of these prospects for 2018 it should be Ronald Acuna. The 20 year old already has a spot in Atlantas line up waiting from him and he has flew through every minor league level to become this seasons top prospect.