Loading scores...
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Getty Images
Draft Strategy

Gaming the Default Rankings

by Nathan Grimm
Updated On: July 26, 2020, 3:57 pm ET

Follow @nate_grimm and @Rotoworld_BB on Twitter.

As COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on the economy in early April, I was among the millions of Americans who lost their day jobs.

In the months since, I've been reminded how awful it is to search for a job. The worst, for me, is the interview, where an employer has free reign to ask almost anything. Without notice I could be asked to recall an example of something I did years ago, or to pick apart my own strengths and weaknesses. It's stressful, trying to be ready for every possible scenario.

There's nothing worse than being unprepared. That goes for a fantasy draft as well as a job interview -- if you're not prepared when called upon, you could end up giving the wrong answer. In either instance, you're probably not popping bottles anytime soon.

Editor’s Note: Unlock our daily, weekly and rest-of-season projections, all-new weekly positional tiers, Lineup Adviser, Trade Analyzer, Player Tracker and much more! Get our in-season tools for as low as $3.99/month!  Learn more!

We're here to help. By combing through the pre-draft rankings of two of the industry's biggest draft platforms, Yahoo and ESPN, this column aims to prepare you, the fantasy player, for anything that might come your way during your upcoming draft. 

This is not a criticism of the sites' lists; rather, it's an attempt at parsing the differences between their rankings and this author's opinion of the same players. The ones I think are overrated. The ones I think are underrated. The hype players, the post-hype players, the late-round values. Let's talk about them all, so that you might be the most prepared player in the room come draft day.

These rankings are from the evening of Wednesday, July 15.

Yahoo rankings

Players listed lower overall than expected:

11. Mike Trout
23. Justin Verlander
24. Bryce Harper
28. Anthony Rendon
65. J.T. Realmuto
98. Roberto Osuna
116. DJ LeMahieu
144. Jeff McNeil
160. Eduardo Escobar
164. James Paxton
172. Hansel Robles
182. Yasiel Puig
201. Tommy Edman
236. Rich Hill

There's a legitimate reason to drop Trout from the Big Three -- the imminent birth of his child, for which he'll be away from the team -- but it's still jarring to see him all the way down at 11. The hate, as famed Rotoworld alum and ESPN personality Matthew Berry likes to say, may have gone too far ... likewise, there's a case to be made to have Verlander at or lower than 23 in the rankings given his age, health history and recent changes to his delivery. It's seeing last year's No. 1 overall player behind six (!) other starting pitchers that's just a bit shocking ... singling out the rankings for Harper and Rendon is a bit nitpicky, but we can pick some nits in the early rounds. Harper is regularly going in the middle of the second round in drafts and Rendon is generally a late second-rounder as well ... Realmuto is far and away the best catcher in this shortened season, and is going well ahead of this ranking in most drafts. If you want to secure the league's best catcher in your Yahoo league, here's your chance ... a 2.63 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 28.8 K% and 4.7 BB% to go along with 38 saves -- that's what Osuna gave you last year. Let someone else take guys like Aroldis Chapman and Brad Hand, both ranked above him, and wait on Osuna instead ... it's fair -- prudent, even -- to bake in some regression for LeMahieu after his monster 2019 season, but No. 116 is larceny ... speaking of which, McNeil, who's sort of LeMahieu-lite -- positional versatility, great batted-ball skills, plays in New York -- isn't getting much respect after his .318/.384/.531 line in 133 games last season ... regression is surely the cause of Escobar's lowly ranking, but even if his 35 homers, 118 RBI and 94 runs scored last season was a high-water mark there's still plenty of value to be had at this point in the draft ... Paxton was rightly dinged in rankings this spring following back surgery, but this slot has him behind 46 other starting pitchers. That's hard to swallow ... Robles posted a 2.48 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 72 2/3 innings last season, and yet he's ranked behind guys like Jose Leclerc, Joe Jimenez and Sean Doolittle ... it's hard to imagine this Puig ranking sticks for much longer now that he's on the high-powered Braves, so get it while you can ... all Edman did last season was hit .304/.350/.500 with 11 homers and 15 steals in 92 games, and with the institution of the DH in the National League he should get everyday at-bats somewhere on the diamond. What's not to like? ... as with Paxton, this ranking is reminiscent of where Hill might have belonged in March. In July, when he's ostensibly healthy and ready to roll, it's a price I'll pay all day long.

Players listed higher than expected:

3. Mookie Betts
18. Javier Baez
36. Kris Bryant
48. Whit Merrifield
50. Nelson Cruz
55. Paul Goldschmidt
63. Aaron Judge
95. Brad Hand
117. Edwin Diaz
171. A.J. Pollock
186. Giovanny Gallegos

With Trout moved down it stands to reason that someone would move up, but that riser has generally thought to be Cody Bellinger. Betts is a deserving No. 3, though, so this is more an observation than a condemnation of the ranking itself ... Baez can be a dynamic five-category contributor, but there's enough risk in his profile to make a mid-second-round ranking feel ambitious ... Bryant is going to hit leadoff and should be a strong source of runs scored, but does he give you enough in every other category to be a third-round pick? ... Merrifield has been a revelation the past few seasons, but how much of his value has come from sheer volume? If he loses a step on the basepaths or isn't an elite-level accumulator in a season when a lot of guys could reasonably play 55-plus games, he could look a lot more average ... Cruz was still a god-tier hitter in his age-39 season, but he's a 40-year-old, utility-only bat. What could go wrong? ... without the steals and .300 average, Goldschmidt looks more and more like a power-only first baseman in a sea of power-only first basemen ... Judge could very well stay healthy and return good value from this spot, but the risk is huge for such an early pick ... Hand and Diaz both face the threat of being removed from the closer role as early as this season ... Pollock is ranked ahead of potentially more useful outfielders like Ryan Braun, Avisail Garcia, Danny Santana and J.D. Davis, among others. I know he might see more work with the new DH, but I don't see it ... Gallegos isn't in camp and wasn't necessarily in line to be the Cardinals' closer even if he was fully healthy. Ryan Helsley is shaping up to be the dart to throw in that bullpen instead.

Where the buzz guys are ranked:

14. Fernando Tatis Jr.
27. Pete Alonso
43. Keston Hiura
58. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
69. Bo Bichette
71. Tyler Glasnow
91. Luis Robert
106. Shohei Ohtani (batter)
126. Julio Urias
128. Jesus Luzardo
130. Dinelson Lamet
132. Shohei Ohtani (pitcher)
191. Gavin Lux
192. Cavan Biggio
290. Nate Pearson

If you want the sky-high upside of Tatis Jr., you'll have to pay for it. It's a steep price ... this is roughly where Alonso has been going in drafts this year after his monster rookie campaign ... Hiura is between Ozzie Albies and Ketel Marte in Yahoo's ranks, an indication of how closely the group of top-tier second basemen is viewed among drafters ... no team boasts as many buzzy players as the Blue Jays, with Vladito and Bichette at the top ... Glasnow is a popular target after his brilliant 12-start run in 2019. He could easily outearn this ranking, but his injury history means he could easily disappoint, too ... among uncertainties, Robert may be the biggest this year -- he's got the talent to be a double-digit homer, double-digit steal player even in this 60-game season, but he's also got enough swing-and-miss in his game that he could be exposed in his first go-round at the highest level ... Ohtani is two different players in Yahoo's format, both ranked fairly aggressively given that he'll split his time between the field and the mound. He's set to pitch every Sunday, and won't start as a hitter in the days before or after his start. That's a lot of rest ... Urias, Luzardo and Lamet are all similar in the fact that they're young players who haven't yet had the restrictor plate taken off by their team (in the case of Urias and Luzardo) or haven't proven they can go deep into games (in the case of Lamet). Whether they're able and allowed to shoulder a normal workload in 2020 will go a long way toward telling whether these rankings are aggressive or just right ... Lux's situation got a little clearer with the implementation of the DH in the NL, but not much. He's still likely to split time at the keystone and will probably begin the year hitting at the bottom of the Dodgers' lineup ... Biggio doesn't have the name recognition of teammates Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, but he had a decent debut in 2019 and would be a steal close to pick 200 ... Pearson is a huge talent who likely debuts in 2020, but pitching all his games -- however many that may be -- against the "Beast East" is a baptism by fire.

Who to scroll down for:

177. Ryan Braun
190. Avisail Garcia
199. Danny Santana
211. Luke Voit
213. J.D. Davis
218. Ross Stripling
221. Cesar Hernandez
226. Howie Kendrick
249. Mitch Keller
266. Trent Grisham
300. Alex Wood
304. John Means
307. Ryan Helsley
317. Ian Happ
359. Jordan Montgomery
413. Zack Britton
429. Sean Newcomb
453. David Fletcher
477. Matt Magill
486. Austin Voth
500. Griffin Canning

Braun and Garcia are among the biggest beneficiaries from the implementation of the DH in the National League. With full-time at-bats, both suddenly appear in line for big years in Miller Park ... Santana isn't a good bet to repeat his .283 average from a year ago, but the power and speed both seem legitimate enough ... Voit used quarantine to get shredded and has been a barrel-percentage god since 2018. All he needs is health and a regular spot in the lineup ... Davis is another Statcast darling who also benefits from the DH being added to the Mets lineup ... Stripling appeared destined for another year of purgatory after a rumored trade from the Dodgers to the Angels didn't go through, but David Price's decision to opt out of the 2020 season opens the door for the talented 30-year-old to join the rotation ... Hernandez goes from hitting at the bottom of the Phillies lineup to possibly hitting atop the Indians order ahead of Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana? Yes, please ... Kendrick hit a bananas .344/.395/.572 in 121 games with the Nats last season, and he now doesn't have to contend with fellow right-handers Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman for at-bats in the Washington infield ... Keller's 7.13 ERA in 11 starts was a disaster, but his 3.19 FIP was a lot shinier. There's a ton of talent here if a few more things can go right for him moving forward ... Grisham hit 32 homers and stole 13 bases across three levels in 2019, and with Manuel Margot and Franchy Cordero now gone he's got the inside track on regular at-bats near the top of the Padres lineup ... Wood was among the Dodgers pitchers who worked with Driveline Baseball this past offseason, and he previously enjoyed a great deal of success as a member of the Dodgers. The stars are aligning for a big year from the southpaw ... Means is throwing harder in Summer Camp and will be the Orioles' Opening Day starter, for what it's worth ... as noted above, if there's a flier to take in the competition to be the Cardinals' closer it's Helsley, who was recently mentioned by name by Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak ... Happ is a hard-contact machine when he makes contact. The Cubs appear set to give him plenty of chances to make contact in 2020 ... Montgomery was a spring training standout who has been the object of fantasy players' affection before ... Britton is getting a bump after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman recently tested positive for COVID-19 ... Newcomb may start the year in the rotation for a great Braves team ... Fletcher recently drew praise from new Angels manager Joe Maddon. He's not sexy but he's got boundless positional eligibility, hits for average and chips in a few homers and steals. You could do worse at the end of a draft ... with presumed closer Yoshihisa Hirano on the injured list, Magill will be a popular dart throw in the Mariners bullpen ... Voth gets a spot in the Nationals rotation with Joe Ross deciding to sit out the 2020 season, and he appears in line to open the year with starts against the Blue Jays, Marlins and Orioles ... Canning is a huge injury risk, but at No. 500 he's free. So there is that.