Updated top 250 fantasy baseball rankings

USA Today Sports

I'm back, baby!

A week's break provides a nice refresher -- first, a big "thank you" to AJ Mass for filling in last week -- but, more importantly, a lengthier opportunity to do some in-depth tweaking to my going-forward projections. Ah, researching those relevant geeky stats, is there anything more fun about fantasy baseball?

As you'll see in the rankings below, there are a few substantial changes -- Kris Bryant, Matt Kemp, Elvis Andrus, Brandon Belt and Dallas Keuchel, just to name a few -- and that means a plethora of topics from which to choose.

It's why, this week, I asked you, the readers, for players about whom you wanted me to discuss in detail. Before we get to that, remember, that's always on the table; if there's something specific about a player you want to know, just ask. After all, when it comes to rankings, sometimes a valuation might strike you more strangely than it does me.

Let's get right to 'em.

Buca Man (@buca_man): Alcides Escobar, Jean Segura and Jose Iglesias, please.
Cade Dawes (@iBeenSwole): SS in general! Have Kang but there's Wilmer, Andrelton, Cozart available... seems like a bunch of blah options.

Yes, shortstop sure seems to be a frustrating position this season, doesn't it? Brandon Crawford is the position's current Player Rater leader, placing 39th overall, which represents the lowest ranking for any single position's leader. In addition, consider the five shortstops to place among the top 170 overall: Crawford (39th), Jhonny Peralta (72nd), Hanley Ramirez (81st), Marcus Semien (83rd) and Zack Cozart (151st). Ramirez was the only one to be selected among the top 10 at his position in the preseason, and he was the only one to be selected among the first 180 overall (meaning first 18 rounds in ESPN standard leagues).

Escobar has long been a variable performer in batting average, the only true change to his game being his stolen-base rate, which is a mere 7.1 percent attempt rate of his opportunities, compared to 15.2 percent from 2012-14 combined. I've got only two theories on that: His Kansas City Royals' team tendency has significantly tumbled, from 8.3 percent of attempts to 5.9, despite the only significant personnel loss being Nori Aoki; and this season he has batted ahead of Mike Moustakas, whereas last season he batted most often ahead of Aoki (66 starts), and Moustakas has swung three percent more often in 2015 than Aoki did in 2014, meaning perhaps a little less patience when Escobar has been on base. Expect Escobar's steals to improve, but it's probably wiser to expect a 20-25 steal, scaled-to-games pace rather than 30-35.

Segura, meanwhile, looks like he's closer to 2013 than 2014 form, succeeding against lefties but with the mean-regression in terms of power that was truer to his skill set. I think this is about who he is. Iglesias is enjoying similar BABIP good fortune to his 2013 -- .354 this year, .356 then -- but at least this season he has what would be top-eight-in-baseball rates in terms of strikeouts and contact on all swings, meaning that any regression to the mean shouldn't be severe. I'd call him a serviceable, fairly low-downside, mixed-league middle infielder.

Simmons is the one who stands out in Cade's question as one with slightly improving skills. Simmons showed a hint of pop during the second half of 2013 before regressing mightily in 2014, but this season he's making more contact, has chased fewer non-strikes (1.4 percent drop) and has enjoyed an isolated power (.125) within 24 points of his 2013 number (.149). It might not be a stretch to suggest he could contribute as many as 10 more home runs.

Shane Walker (@S_R_Walker): Joc Pederson has to be climbing. 30 HR for his rookie year looking very possible.

He's 77th this week, which is a mere three spots shy of where AJ had him last week, and I continue to believe in Pederson's staying power the more I watch him. The reasons I can't push him significantly higher are twofold: He's such a three-true-outcomes player, with a 29.3 percent whiff rate, that it's going to be difficult for him to hit perhaps even to his year-to-date .260 batting average going forward; plus, he simply isn't attempting stolen bases at the rates he enjoyed in the minors. There's little doubt Pederson can hit 30 homers -- that requires only 14 more -- but if he's a .250-15-and-8-steals guy from June 3 on, is that a top-50 guy?

I'd say no.

Chad Simonson (@chadthelad24): Tell me that Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus will be better the rest of this year.

I ran Desmond's year-to-date 2014 and 2015 comparisons in my May 20 edition of this column, and an update is warranted. This time, however -- and I'm aware the small-sample caveat -- let's go from May 20-June 3:

Past 2 weeks 2015: 12 G, .255/.286/.426, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB, 33.3 K%, 3.9 BB%.
Same 2 weeks 2014: 11 G, .179/.319/.410, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, 29.8 K%, 10.6 BB%.

So he's still not far off last year's pattern, except that in that late-May stretch in 2014, Desmond was at least showing us some signs of life in terms of home runs, walks and steals, which he simply hasn't been lately in 2015. He's hitting a lot more grounders -- 57.3 percent, compared to 50.6 percent in 2014 -- so while I'm hardly ready to panic, I'm not so sure he's even a 20/20 pace player anymore, scaled to his remaining games this season.

As for Andrus, he was the American League's leader in times caught stealing last year (15) and this season he's just 6-for-10 in stolen base attempts and has seen his attempt rate slip from 17.4 to 13.3 percent after it was as high as 19.4 percent in 2011. Andrus doesn't seem like he's ever going to develop power, and his track record is now lengthy enough that his .271 career batting average is a fair baseline. And if he's that -- a .270-hitting, 20-and-change steal type -- he's much more of a mixed-league middle infielder than a clear starting fantasy shortstop.

Marc Tolliver (@Marc_Tolliver): So George Springer's GB/FB ratio is at 1.74, which is obviously hurting HRs and SLG. Any reason why that shouldn't improve?

First off, I'm not a fan of mere ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which extracts all-important line drives from the formula. Springer's fly-ball rate is down, by nearly 7 percent, but the samples are unequal. And besides, his ground-ball rate is only 2.7 percent higher this year than last, and that'd be the category that, if significantly greater, would concern me. Springer's hard-contact rate (.180 this, .168 last) and chase rate (17.5 percent this, 23.3 percent last) have both improved, and he's more aggressive on the base paths as well. I totally buy.

Michael Askew Jr. (@Michael_AskewJr): Mark Teixeira?

I've watched a lot of Teixeira's at-bats this season and, at least early on, I was convinced he was capitalizing on a good volume of truly fat pitches over the plate. His home run/fly ball rate has soared -- 25.9 percent, using FanGraphs data, which would be the highest of his entire career, and as many as 8 percent over his usual New York Yankees norms -- and that'll inevitably normalize. That said, he's in a ballpark that boosts power, and he has made another critical improvement that suggests he'll remain on the mixed-league radar all year: His 22.2 percent chase rate (again, FanGraphs data) would represent his best single-season number since his first season with the Yankees in 2009.

Zeshaan Maan (@znmaan): Can you talk about Avisail Garcia?

Well, the first thing you're not going to like hearing is that Garcia's chase rate is fourth-highest among qualifiers (42.9 percent), and the second thing you won't like is that he's a supposed "power hitter" with the majors' third-worst fly-ball rate (17.2 percent). His is a strange package: Free swinging, yet a with low-by-those-standards 22.2 percent strikeout rate and possessing a 28.7 percent line-drive rate that ranks seventh in baseball. I think he's got the skills to break through into the back end of the top 100 players in fantasy baseball, but he's not there yet, at least not until he develops at least a hint more patience.

David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield): Where does Fernando Rodney rank?
Tyler (@jtdant): Where does Carson Smith rank?

The short answers are 32nd (Rodney) and 38th (Smith), though that would flip with a moment's notice in the event of a Seattle Mariners announcement that Rodney is no longer their closer, and in fact, Smith might well deserve a rating of about 30th at his position if that indeed happens. I've outlined my entirety-of-2015 concerns about Rodney previously -- and as a bonus, side nugget, I'm not hiding that Kris Bryant's placement in that column was one of the year's bad calls -- but what I didn't expect was for Smith to emerge as the most logical replacement. But here's what we've got with Smith: Extreme sinker usage that has fueled a 59.6 percent ground-ball rate and a slider that has generated 24 of his 28 K's to date. He's looking like a heck of a lot safer full-year investment of the two, and he's available in 88.3 percent of ESPN leagues.

New ESPN position eligibility

The following players added new position eligibility within the past week. As a reminder, position players need to appear 10 times at a new position to gain in-season eligibility, while pitchers need to make three starts to earn starting-pitching eligibility or five relief appearances to earn relief-pitching eligibility.

Chad Bettis (SP), Eddie Rosario (OF), Mike Wright (SP).

The following players are within two games of earning new eligibility, with their total games played noted at the listed position: Mike Aviles (SS, 9 games), Tim Beckham (SS, 9 games), Pedro Ciriaco (3B, 8 games), Danny Espinosa (3B, 9 games), Marwin Gonzalez (1B, 9 games), Alex Guerrero (3B, 9 games), Jonathan Herrera (3B, 8 games), Garrett Jones (OF, 9 games), Max Muncy (3B, 9 games), Rey Navarro (2B, 9 games), Cliff Pennington (3B, 9 games), Hernan Perez (3B, 8 games), Clint Robinson (OF, 8 games), Sean Rodriguez (OF, 8 games), Jason Rogers (1B, 9 games), Cory Spangenberg (3B, 9 games), Kennys Vargas (1B, 8 games), Rafael Ynoa (OF, 9 games).

Going-forward rankings: Week 9

Listed below are my updated, going-forward rankings. These are based upon an ESPN standard league of 10 teams and Rotisserie 5x5 scoring. Click here to see these rankings sorted by position.