You think it’s silly that I’m already looking ahead to the 2017 Fantasy Baseball draft? With how my Fantasy Football teams have been doing, I’m already looking ahead to THAT draft.

Okay, not really. But it’s easier to get excited for next year’s fantasy season when you know you have the second overall pick going into 2017, not to mention a few extra draft picks in the bank to work with.

What’s tricky about our league is that it’s a keeper league. A player can’t be frozen two years in a row, but are eligible to be frozen the following year, and each team can freeze up to three players in the position they were drafted in the previous year. What that means is that whereas most drafts and fantasy analysts will write about certain expected ADPs and outcomes for a draft, it’s nearly impossible to project through a mock what my draft will be like. Consider that in a 12-team league, 36 of the best players will theoretically all be gone before the first pick. It’s why in 2015 I took Jose Bautista with the second overall pick. And this being the fourth year of the league, many of the veterans and long standing studs that have been consistent for years, including guys like Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Altuve and more, are all eligible to be frozen and out of my reach.

I’m not quite interested in projecting what I hope my draft looks like next year, but this post will evaluate who I may want to keep and the pros and cons of each option. Granted, my team was terrible this year, so my options for worthy freeze targets are somewhat limited. That’s why this post will be so valuable to me.

Here’s my roster as it stands at the end of the 2016 season, along with their draft position from the start of the season. Not all of them can be frozen, either because they were frozen by me or a different team last year, or because I added them to my roster after the deadline, and I’ve listed them as N/A. Those players who were undrafted are marked with FA, or free agent, meaning I can claim them in the final round of next year’s draft.

Position Player Team 2016 Draft Position
C J.T. Realmuto Miami Marlins FA
1B Joey Votto Cincinatti Reds N/A
2B Logan Forsythe Tampa Bay Rays FA
3B Yasmany Tomas Arizona Diamondbacks N/A
SS Brad Miller Tampa Bay Rays N/A
OF Jose Bautista Toronto Blue Jays 3rd Round
OF Hunter Pence San Francisco Giants 7th Round
OF Matt Kemp Atlanta Braves 6th Round
U Carlos Santana Cleveland Indians 21st Round
SP1 Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers 1st Round
SP2 James Paxton Seattle Mariners N/A
SP3 Anthony DeSclafani Cincinatti Reds 18th Round
SP4 Jeremy Hellickson Philadelphia Phillies FA
SP5 Dylan Bundy Baltimore Orioles FA
SP6 Trevor Bauer Cleveland Indians 19th Round
RP1 Seung Hwan Oh St. Louis Cardinals FA
RP2 Dellin Betances New York Yankees 12th Round
SP/RP Michael Fulmer Detroit Tigers FA
Reserves Max Kepler Minnesota Twins N/A
Reserves Dee Gordon Miami Marlins N/A
Reserves Joe Musgrove Houston Astros FA
Reserves Yuliesky Gurriel Houston Astros FA
Reserves Matt Shoemaker Los Angeles Angels FA

So that leaves out Votto, Tomas, Miller, Gordon, Kepler and Paxton. Votto would easily be the guy worth keeping, and Kepler and Paxton have both been promising as free agent pickups, but perhaps not as one of the three keepers.

The best three players after them on that list are Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Carlos Santana. But it’s not quite that simple. Picking a player to freeze, you have to look for a player who has risen in value or at least stayed the same, certainly not fallen. Freezing a player who would otherwise be drafted several rounds after where you froze him doesn’t make any sense at all.

Let’s start with Kershaw, who until he got injured was making a case for #1 Overall. For a while I thought freezing him would be a no brainer. But since his injury, his draft position isn’t set in stone quite yet. It’ll depend how healthy he comes back in the offseason and how he looks during the postseason. Taking him in the first round might not make that much sense if he’s more likely to go in round 2.

However, there’s another caveat that has all to do with the players likely to be frozen next year. Here’s how Scott White of CBS Sports projects the first two rounds of next year. It’s possible that based on their draft position in 2016 or the other freezing options available to them, some of these guys will actually be available come the 2017 draft. But for these purposes, let’s assume they all get frozen. I’ve put in red the players in the first two rounds who WILL be available and are ineligible to be frozen in 2017.

  1. Mike Trout – OF
  2. Mookie Betts – OF
  3. Jose Altuve – 2B
  4. Josh Donaldson – 3B
  5. Paul Goldschmidt – 1B
  6. Nolan Arenado – 3B
  7. Kris Bryant – 3B/OF
  8. Manny Machado – 3B/SS
  9. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
  10. Bryce Harper – OF
  11. Corey Seager – SS
  12. Clayton Kershaw – SP
  13. Carlos Correa – SS
  14. Charlie Blackmon – OF
  15. Miguel Cabrera – 1B
  16. Max Scherzer – SP
  17. Joey Votto – 1B
  18. Edwin Encarnacion – 1B
  19. Madison Bumgarner – SP
  20. Daniel Murphy – 1B/2B
  21. Brian Dozier – 2B
  22. George Springer – OF
  23. Matt Carpenter – 1B/2B/3B
  24. Chris Sale – SP

That’s only 9 of the Top 24 who will still be around. So if I decide to not freeze Kershaw, my options with my #2 overall pick are kind of slim. Let’s also assume that with my pick, I dont’t get Mookie Betts, as the last place team doesn’t own anyone worth freezing in the first round. That would likely leave me building my team around a shortstop, namely Manny Machado or Corey Seager. That may not be the worst thing in the world, especially if someone was willing to draft them normally. But it’s something to consider. You could easily make a case for taking Kershaw #1 overall or before any of these guys depending on how you planned the rest of your draft.

The second player I mentioned was Kemp. Kemp finished the season (or as of this week, one week before the end of the season) as the #44 player in Roto, placing him as the #11 OF. That’s a solid OF1, and he outperformed the 6th round spot I took him in. He has 33 HRs so far, which will be good for the 2nd best of his career and best since 2011, when he was flat out elite. Now 32, his power hasn’t escaped him. And yet he’ll far far short of his total runs compared to 2011 due to the Braves lineup around him, and he certainly isn’t stealing bases anymore. I have a feeling another year won’t do him any more favors, and he’ll be looked at as an OF2 at best.

Santana has been surprisingly impressive late in the season, and he went virtually undrafted in our league. Now he’s a borderline starter at 1B for 2017, or at best a Utility play, but even he’ll be on the wrong side of 30 come 2017, and his 2016 performance has been a career year for him, meaning he could easily regress to being waiver fodder. If he were to be drafted among the top 12 first basemen and ended up off the board say, by round 7 or 8, it might be stupid not to freeze him in Round 21.

Let’s rule out a few of the other guys. Jose Bautista, with a poor batting average and a serious dip in power even when he was healthy, has stopped being an elite OF, let alone an OF1 I feel. There’s no freezing him at Round 3. Hunter Pence proved he couldn’t stay healthy for a full season yet again in what was supposed to be a bounce back year as an OF3, and it’d be too risky to waste a freeze spot on him.

At batting, that leaves Logan Forsythe, J.T. Realmuto and Astros rookie Yulliesky Gurriel. If Santana is a borderline 1B, then Forsythe is just barely that at 2nd base. Not worth it. Realmuto is interesting. He’s the number 5 catcher this year, which makes him intriguing as a free agent freeze, but that’s only because catcher is a hot pile of garbage. With the return of Kyle Schwarber (will he still be C eligible?) and the emergence of Gary Sanchez, he may be looking like a Tier 2 or 3 sort of player, someone who can deliver in batting average and even snag a few stolen bases from time to time, but doesn’t have the same power stroke you typically look for at that position. If there’s no one else worth freezing, I consider him a maybe as well.

Finally is Gurriel, who has looked solid since coming up from the Cuba leagues but hasn’t been the phenom he was overseas. If he was putting up video game numbers, I’d be interested in freezing him. After all, the whole reason you add him is that he could be a lottery ticket. But his issue as a 3B player is just the same as Santana or Forsythe. He might be valuable, but if he’s not going to be your everyday starter, then what’s the point? There’s better value out there.

That leaves my pitching staff. Michael Fulmer was looking like the AL Rookie of the Year until he wasn’t. His last month alone has been a major disappointment, posting a 5.48 ERA compared to his untouchable post-All Star Break numbers. Pitching though is scarce, and if I can find a way to trust him moving into 2017, I think he’s worth hanging onto. He’s young and can easily bounce back, or he could be a gigantic disappointment.

Shoemaker would’ve been the other guy to hang onto, as he was looking like a solid SP2 or 3 later in the season. He had become a new player altogether after hitting the DL early on, developing a new cutter that left hitters baffled. Then they started to figure him out, and he would go back and forth with 10K shutout games and horrible blowups. And he pitches for the Angels, so wins are an issue as well. But of course he was saddled with a scary pitch to the face about a month ago and was placed on the 60-Day DL after spending some time in the hospital. He could be flat out done.

The other candidates at starting pitcher, Musgrove, Bundy or Hellickson, are all somewhat in the same category as Fulmer. They have major upside and could truly develop into great players, but they’ve only shown flashes of greatness and certainly haven’t done it for a full season, let alone a full month. Freezing them would be a gamble.

I do however like the idea of freezing Dellin Betances and Seung Hwan Oh, both of whom have been the best two pitchers on my team since I acquired them, and both of whom have fairly good job security. Betances looks like a Top 5 closer not necessarily because of the Yankees but because of his talent and high strikeout rate. He could be a closer for any club that didn’t own Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman. Oh is a closer for a dominant team in the Cardinals, and it’s possible that by next year he’s easily considered a Top 10 closer. Currently, he’s sporting an ERA and WHIP on par with Kenley Jansen and is the #8 reliever in Roto, excluding RP eligible starters like Danny Duffy. The only thing he’s missing are the saves, and he’ll have a chance to make up for that next season. There’s no downside to taking him in the last round, but someone predicted Betances might have value this year and took him in Round 12, possibly too early than I’d be willing to go.

As of today, I think my projected freeze targets for next year will be Clayton Kershaw, Dellin Betances and Seung Hwan Oh. What that does is allow me to not have to worry about closers at all and instead focus on batting in the early rounds and stack up on pitching in the middle rounds. Or vice versa. If anything happens to any of the above, I’ll be happy to sub in Fulmer or Santana, while keeping an eye on the draft position for Kemp and Realmuto.

Bring on 2017!

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