We have completed our 2015 Consensus Rankings series, and we hope you enjoyed the series, and we were able to help you get ready to win your fantasy baseball leagues this season. As we are in the midst of draft season, I have three next weekend and one the following weekend, here is a summary of players I suggested you target for 2015.
First, I offer you links to all of the players we advised you to target in drafts this season, by position:
Players to Target
Here is a summary of the players I suggested you to target this season, with my reasoning below each player.
Catcher - Wilson Ramos, Nationals
In the last two seasons, Ramos has played a total of 166 games, hitting .267 or better, with 27 home runs, 61 runs scored and 106 RBI. Ramos has been productive when healthy, but that is the problem. He can't stay healthy. Will we ever see him play 120-130 games? All he needs is some good health, and we could see him hit .260 or higher, with 20 home runs and 70 RBI.
How many catchers put up a 20 home run, 70 RBI season in 2014? Just three - Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Yan Gomes. The only concern I have with Ramos' home run projection is the fact that he didn't hit many fly balls last season (23%), but when he did, they landed in the seats 16.7% of the time. He will have to hit a few more fly balls to reach the 20 home run level.
First Base - Adam LaRoche, White Sox
LaRoche leaves Nationals Park, which benefits pitchers more than hitters, to US Cellular Field in Chicago, which helps hitters more than pitchers, so we could see LaRoche put up a top 10 performance at the first base position in 2015. He is one of the more consistent hitters in baseball, as he has hit 20 or more home runs in 9 of his 10 seasons in the big leagues, and drove in 80 or more runs in 8 of those 10 seasons. He was one of 33 hitters to hit 20+ home runs and drive in 80 or more runs last season, and one of 11 first baseman to accomplish the same feat. His ADP according to NFBC is 147.60, and he is currently the 15th first baseman off the boards in those drafts, so he represents excellent value in the 9th round of 15 team leagues, and even better value in the 13th round of 12 team leagues.
Second Base - Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs
We ranked Alcantara as our 24th ranked fantasy second baseman in our 2015 consensus rankings, but I was the high man ranking him at #17. Prior to the Cubs trading for Dexter Fowler, Alcantara was their assumed starting center fielder. WIth Fowler in the fold, it appears Alcantara will be used as a utility player in the Cubs lineup, but I see him getting more than enough playing time this season. With all the questions about Javier Baez and his inability to make improvements at the plate, Alcantara has an opportunity to be the Cubs starting second baseman on Opening Day.
The Cubs also have an opening at third base, as they traded Luis Valbuena to the Astros in the Fowler trade. Yes, I am fully aware that Kris Bryant is on his way to Chicago, but that may not happen till the end of April. I am also not a Fowler fan, and am of the opinion that Alcantara will see more than enough time in center field as well.
Alcantara is coming off a 2014 campaign where he hit 20 home runs and stole 30 bases between AAA and MLB. This after he hit 15 home runs and stole 31 bases in AA in 2013, so he has the potential to be a 15 home runs, 25 stolen base hitter at the second base position. That is the production you would expect from a top 5 fantasy second baseman, not the 26th ranked second baseman.
Shortstop - Marcus Semien, Athletics
The A's traded starter Jeff Samardzja for Semien and some prospects this offseason. After the deal was announced we learned that GM Billy Beane planned to use Semien as his starting shortstop this season. After the deal was announced, I wrote that Semien was now fantasy relevant, and still think that. I also wrote about Semien in our Sleeper Series back in January.
Between AAA and the big leagues last season, Semien hit 21 home runs, scored 87 runs, drove in 80 ruins and stole 10 bases. In 2013, he hit 21 home runs, scored 117 runs, drove in 73 runs and stole 26 bases, across three levels, so he has power and speed to be an asset in fantasy leagues in 2015. In addition, he has solid plate discipline, even though that was not particularly evident in his 255 plate appearances in the big leagues last season. Throughout his minor league career, he has put up double digit walk rates, so he should be valuable in OBP leagues as well.
Semien showed us, in a small sample size, in his 74 September plate appearances last year what kind of hitter he can be, hitting .273-.333-.485 with 3 home runs, 22 runs scored, 18 RBI and 3 stolen bases. Obviously, he won't repeat this every month, but if he can hit 3 home runs and steal 3 bases per month in a full season of plate appearances, he could put up a 15 home run and 15 stolen base season in 2015. Only three shortstops accomplished that feat in 2014 - Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins.
Third Base - Nolan Arenado, Rockies
While writing up the player profile for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado for part 1 of our Consensus Third Base Rankings, I discovered what a great year he had last season. After hitting .267-.301-.,405 with 10 home runs, 49 runs scored and 52 RBI in 514 plate appearances in 2013, he hit .287-.328-.500 with 18 home runs, 58 runs scored, and 61 RBI in just 467 plate appearances in 2014.
While his batting average of balls in play stayed relatively the same, he improved his walk rate, reduced his strikeout rate and HR/FB% while hitting more fly balls, and hit for more power. His isolated power ( ISO) and slugging percentage (SLG) improved as well:
2013: 10 HRs, .138 ISO, .405 SLG in 514 PA
2014: 18 HRs, .213 ISO, .500 SLG in 467 PA
While fellow third baseman Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machadogarner the headlines, Arenado quietly showed terrific growth in his second season in the big leagues, and I think he is set for a breakout season in 2015.
I am pretty high on Arenado in 2015, so much so that I traded away a $10 Billy Hamilton, who won't need a raise till 2016, for a $10 Arenado in the UBA NL only keeper league. Arenado needs a raise this season, so I plan to raise him to $20, allowing me to keep him for the next three seasons (2015-2017).
Outfielders - Matt Kemp, Padres
I might be the guy driving the Matt Kemp train this offseason, as I see him returning to the hitter he was before the shoulder and ankle injuries that plaqued him in parts of 2012, 2013 and half of the 2014 season. As a Dodgers fan, I watched a lot of their games last season, and I saw the old Matt Kemp in the second half. After hitting .269 with 8 home runs, 38 runs scored and 35 RBI in 86 games in the first half of 2014, he exploded to hit .309 with 17 home runs, 39 runs scored and 54 RBI in 64 second half games. His first half wRC+ was 117, which is good, but his 170 wRC+ in the second half ranked second to Buster Posey's 180 wRC+.
Some are down on Kemp this offseason due to his injury risk and the move to San Diego. I can understand that, but I am not sold that Petco will impact him that much. It isn't like Dodger Stadium is a hitter's haven, and I am of the opinion that lineups have an impact on park factors. Just go look at the park factors at Dodger Stadium last year.
Will Kemp improve upon his 2014 performance in 2015? It is possible, but a repeat of his 2014 season stats: .287 BA, 25 HRs, 89 RBI would be a very good return for your investment in Kemp. Only 10 hitters hit 25 or more home runs, drove in 80 or more runs and hit .280 or better last season. Kemp was one of the 10.
Other Outfielders to target:
George Springer, Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo
Starting Pitchers - Jered Weaver, Angels
Weaver came in as our 61st-ranked starting pitcher in our consensus Top 100 Starting Pitcher rankings yesterday, but I was the high guy on him, ranking him as my 27th-ranked starter for 2015. He's never been a big strikeout pitcher, except back in 2010 when he struck out more than a batter per nine. But here is a snapshot of his ERA and WHIP over the last five seasons:
2010: 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
2011: 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP
2012: 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
2013: 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
2014: 3.59 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
His ERA and WHIP is trending higher, but I see him reducing his walk rate from the 2.74 BB/9 he put up last season, his highest since 2009, and I see his ERA dropping back to the 3.20-3.25 range. I know you can't predict wins, but he has averaged 15 wins over his eight year MLB career. He is as consistent as they come.
Other Starting Pitchers to target:
James Shields, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kevin Gausman