Fantasy Baseball 2012: Projecting the First Player Chosen at Each Position

Nathan PalatskyCorrespondent IIFebruary 23, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Projecting the First Player Chosen at Each Position

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    It's often been said you cannot win your draft with the first pick, but you can lose it. If you took Carl Crawford with the first pick last year, you might not have recovered.

    With the news that Ryan Braun has won the appeal of his suspension, the top of fantasy draft boards are likely to get a good shakedown as owners reorganize their rankings to include the reigning NL MVP.

    Outfield is just one of several positions cluttered at the top with superstars vying for the top spot on cheat sheets in draft rooms across the country. But the top player chosen at a position may not be the best choice, so the coming slides will take a look at those likely to go No. 1 at their spots and those who might not, but should.

Catcher: Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana Or...

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    Mike Napoli batted .320 and hit 30 home runs for the American League champion Rangers last year. He will likely be the first catcher off the board in many fantasy drafts this season, but he had never hit above .275 before and he'd never hit over .250 in a season with over 300 at-bats.

    Meanwhile, Carlos Santana struggled with batting average but did manage to hit 27 home runs and add 79 RBI as a 25-year-old. I'd take Santana over Napoli. It's safe to expect Napoli's average to come down. Santana will be entering his third season in the majors and has long been projected as a 30-HR guy.

    But the No. 1 catcher off the board SHOULD be Brian McCann.

    He doesn't have the upside Santana does or the pure power Napoli does, but he's the only one of the three with a track record for top-five catcher performance. McCann is a career .286 hitter, with 20-plus home runs in the last four seasons. And he has topped 500 plate appearances every year since 2007 at a position where health is an issue.

    If you're reaching for a catcher, it's worthwhile to sacrifice a little upside for the safety of Brian McCann.

First Base: Albert vs. Miguel

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    For fantasy purposes, Miguel Cabrera isn't a third baseman yet. And there are those who will take Albert Pujols No. 1 at first base because of the comfort in his awesomeness.

    But comparing the two, Cabrera is still just 28 years old and has already passed Pujols as baseball's top hitter. Add to that the addition of third base eligibility, and there's no question Cabrera should be the top first bagger (and probably the top overall player) selected in drafts this season.

    Cabrera's numbers possibly still have upside with the addition of Prince Fielder right behind him.

Second Base: Robinson Cano and Everyone Else...

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    Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler can battle for second and third at the position, and there are arguments for both, but Robinson Cano owns the top spot.

    Cano's last three seasons combined have resulted in a .314 average, 82 home runs, 312 RBI, 310 runs scored and an .889 OPS. Getting that kind of production from the middle infield will give you many more options later in the draft when power is harder to find.

    Personally, I prefer Pedroia to Kinsler, but both are stars in their own right. Neither, however, provides the bankable superb production one will obtain from Cano.

Third Base: Jose Bautista No. 1, but Not by Far

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    I'm going to say something that might make no sense. If the 2012 season was played 10 times, Jose Bautista might be the No. 1 fantasy third baseman six times, but I think at least three of those seasons would see Evan Longoria finish ahead of him and maybe one season there'd be a 2010 Bautista-type breakout by someone else. 

    Bautista is the top third baseman because he has 97 home runs, 227 RBI and 214 runs scored in the last two years. He will be the first third baseman off the board and he should be. But don't be surprised if Longoria is the best third baseman at the end of the year.

    The last three years, when he was 23-25 years old, Longo had 33, 22 and 31 home runs, respectively, and 316 total RBI as well as 274 runs scored. His average could jump 50 points from last year and he stole 15 bases in 2010, adding another possible dimension to his output. 

Shortstop: Tulowitzki and the Marlins

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    Troy Tulowitzki is really just 27 years old? Three straight seasons of 27-plus home runs, his RBI have gone from 92 to 95 to 105, 80-plus runs scored, averages of .297 or more and an OPS well over .900. After stealing 20 in 2009, he hasn't come close to that since, but even so, he's easily the safest stud shortstop in fantasy.

    After Tulo, it's Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Ramirez will soon come with third base eligibility, and that makes the 1-2-3 at short seem very obvious, at least preseason. But if Hanley returns to form, his hot corner flexibility could make him more valuable than Tulowitzki by the end.

Outfield: The Big Three

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    Here are the 2011 stats for three players:

    Player A: .324, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB, 115 R

    Player B: .332, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB, 109 R

    Player C: .302, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 9 SB, 105 R

    Player A is Matt Kemp, Player B is Ryan Braun and Player C is Jose Bautista. Now that we know Braun is going to play a full season, it's a three-way debate. 

    Bautista will probably be the first drafted in many drafts because he will be taken as a third baseman. Kemp is 27, Braun is 28, Bautista is 31. If I was picking strictly as an outfielder, I'd have Kemp just a hair ahead of Braun, and Bautista safely in third. 

Starting Pitchers: Another Big Three

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    First of all, Cliff Lee is No. 4 in my rankings, but you might have him among these three and have good reasons to do so. Here's another set of 2011 stats:

    Player A: 19 W, 220 K, 2.35 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 34 years old

    Player B: 24 W, 250 K, 2.40 ERA, 0.920 WHIP, 29 years old

    Player C: 21 W, 248 K, 2.28 ERA, 0.977 WHIP, 23 years old

    First of all, in any keeper league, Player C, Clayton Kershaw, is the obvious top choice. Expect all three to notch sub-3 ERA, over 200 innings, over 200 Ks and probably 18-plus wins. 

    Player A, Roy Halladay, is the safe bet. Halladay's ERA has actually gone down each of the last three years. He's had over 200 strikeouts in four straight. He also has seven or more complete games in four straight seasons and he pitches for a team that will get him wins.

    Player B is Justin Verlander, the defending AL MVP who had one of the greatest seasons in recent history last year. He won't likely win 24 again or have a 2.40 ERA. But he has had 18-plus wins in three straight years. He had 269 Ks in 2009, a "paltry" 219 in 2010 and 250 last year. He's been over 200 innings since 2007. He's young enough to come very close to last year's dominance. 

    Kershaw is 23 years old and a beast. Considering his age, there might actually be more upside here, which is terrifying to batters in the National League. Take your pick. Each one might go No. 1 in a third of leagues. 

Relief Pitchers: Buyer Beware

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    Craig Kimbrel posted a 14.8 K/9 as a rookie, with a 2.10 ERA and 46 saves. He's by far the top closer on draft boards because of the strikeout potential in addition to the saves. Just remember, in three minor league seasons, he walked 5.7 batters per nine innings.

    He walked only 3.7 last year, which aided his WHIP tremendously, but there are control issues there. He could be a younger, better version of Carlos Marmol, who seems to either walk or strike out every batter. When he strikes them out, he's elite. When he walks them... 

    One more warning... 

    2011 saves leaders: 1- Valverde, 2- Axford, 3- Kimbrel, 4- Putz, 5- Rivera, 6- Bell, 7- Storen, 8- Hanrahan, 9- Cordero, 9- League.

    2010 saves leaders: 1- Wilson, 2- Bell, 3- Soriano, 4- Soria, 5- Capps, 6- Cordero, 7- Feliz, 8- Marmol, 9- Gregg, 10- Papelbon.

    Notice something? The only guys in the top 10 both years were Heath Bell, now in Miami, and Francisco Cordero, who is slated to set up for Sergio Santos in Toronto and NOT close. 

    All that to say, Craig Kimbrel will be the top selected closer on draft day, but he's barely an even money bet to be worth it.