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2012 Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft: Breaking Down Entire First Round

Jason ClarkCorrespondent IIMarch 16, 2012

2012 Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft: Breaking Down Entire First Round

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    Fantasy baseball drafts are hardly as straightforward as fantasy football drafts, mostly because there're so many different scoring formats.

    You've got rotisserie, head-to-head points, head-to-head each category, straight up most points wins—and then, you've also got to change up your strategy based on whether you're participating in a snake or auction draft.

    Since this is the first round, however, it will be pretty universal which players get taken where.

    Here's a completely broken down first-round mock draft. All statistics and projections are taken from ESPN.com.

Miguel Cabrera

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    Position: 1B, 3B

    Rank: 1

    Average Draft Position: 1.8

    It appears that Miguel Cabrera has officially unseated Albert Pujols from the fantasy throne.

    Cabrera has competed for a triple crown in each of the last two years and greatly outperformed Pujols fantasy-wise in 2011. The addition of Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers' lineup only increases Cabrera's value, as now he will be protected by a big bat and will eventually become eligible at third base.

    Don't try to outsmart yourself with this pick. There are three players that deserve to be taken No. 1 overall, but Cabrera has been the most consistent of late and is the safest choice.

Albert Pujols

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    Position: 1B

    Rank: Second

    Average Draft Position: 1.9

    Albert Pujols has been in the cream of the fantasy crop his entire career, and his move to the West Coast may help him restore any value he lost due to a subpar 2011.

    Arguably the most consistently elite hitter in the history of baseball, Pujols will enjoy a more hitter-friendly home ballpark than he did in St. Louis and will stay fresher over the course of the season because of the designated hitter option. That means he will also play in more games and get more at-bats.

    Any of you who are concerned that a switch to the American League will hurt his performance just need to take a look at some stats.

    In 143 interleague games, Pujols has hit .348 with 39 home runs and 121 RBI. That's an MVP-caliber full season and the fact that he's accumulated those stats over 19 fewer games should get prospective fantasy owners excited.

Matt Kemp

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    Position: OF

    Rank: Third

    Average Draft Position: 3.4

    As I said earlier, there are three players worth taking No. 1 overall, and Matt Kemp is the last of them.

    In Rotisserie Leagues, his ability to steal bases gives him even more value, and if he reaches his self-prophesized 50/50 season, all of us who chose Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols ahead of him will wonder what the heck we were thinking.

    The red flag with Kemp, though, is that his 2011 season (.324, 39 home runs, 40 steals) was significantly better than all of his other seasons. That means one of two things—he had a breakout year, or it was a fluke. If it turns out to be a fluke, all of us who chose him over Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki will wonder what the heck we were thinking.

    I have faith in Kemp, though, and that he was able to put together an MVP-caliber season during one of the most tumultuous years in the Los Angeles Dodgers' franchise history means something.

    Without the off-field distractions in 2012, is 50/50 not as ridiculous as it seems? We'll just have to wait and see.

Jose Bautista

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    Position: 3B, OF

    Rank: Fifth

    Average Draft Position: 5.3

    This is usually the spot where Ryan Braun gets taken, but I think half of that is because new fantasy owners just recognize his name more, and Jose Bautista still has his doubters.

    When Bautista broke out with 54 home runs in 2010, steroid talk spread like wildfire. In reality, it was simply a changed approach at the plate that allowed Bautista to have his career year.

    Predictably, he regressed a bit in 2011, but his stats (.302, 43 home runs, 103 RBI) still indicate that he would have been worth a top-five pick.

    The reason you should take Bautista over Braun is simple: Bautista is eligible at two positions. 

    The difference between two players' projections and values at this point in the draft are negligible, so take the player who can give you twice as many positional options. 

Ryan Braun

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    Position: OF

    Rank: Fourth

    Average Draft Position: 4.9

    The 2011 National League MVP has had his share of distractions this winter, but having his 50-game suspension lifted certainly restores a lot of his fantasy value.

    That being said, Ryan Braun will see a slight regression in his numbers this year because of the loss of Prince Fielder.

    It helped when the Milwaukee Brewers added Aramis Ramirez, but Braun's batting average will still take a hit, and nobody should count on 30 steals again. It's not impossible that he'll get there, but for somebody who hadn't eclipsed 20 before, it's not likely either.

    Don't shy away from Braun because of that though. I've seen Braun fall to as far as eighth in some mock drafts when he's still worth a top-five pick.

    He'll still hit 30 home runs and drive in 100, and his ability to steal makes him more valuable than, say, Robinson Cano.

Troy Tulowitzki

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    Position: SS

    Rank: Sixth

    Average Draft Position: 7.2

    As a shortstop who puts up first baseman stats, Troy Tulowitzki is made extremely valuable.

    It isn't surprising that Tulowitzki gets taken in the top three sometimes, as the fantasy talent at shortstop is exceptionally shallow, and the owner who ends up with him has a distinct positional advantage over everyone else in the league.

    Injuries have been his only concern, but unlike football, one injury won't kill your season. Also, Tulowitzki tends to do his best work after the All-Star break, so don't regret the pick if he starts out slowly.

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Position: OF

    Rank: Eighth

    Average Draft Position: 9.5

    Jacoby Ellsbury enjoyed an explosive 2011 in which he hit 32 home runs and still stole 39 bases. Expecting the same power numbers out of him in 2012 is unreasonable, but he'll still hit for average and is just as dangerous on the basepaths.

    Ellsbury will pile up the extra-base hits, so even if not as many balls clear the outfield fence, he'll still be of good fantasy value for those in points-based leagues.

    Robinson Cano will likely still be on the board at this point, but it's Ellsbury's speed that sets him apart and gives owners reason to chose him instead. Those who argue positional value should realize that second base isn't nearly as shallow as shortstop, and there are couple of guys who can be taken later on (like Howie Kendrick) who are set to have breakout seasons.

Robinson Cano

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    Position: 2B

    Rank: Seventh

    Average Draft Position: 7.6

    Every year that Robinson Cano settles in as the future centerpiece of the New York Yankees, his fantasy value increases.

    Cano has steadily improved over every season and shouldn't slip past eighth in drafts. There are more options at second base than most realize, but Cano has also proven his worth more than those other options.

    Hitting in the heart of the Yankees' lineup will give him a better opportunity to stockpile stats that players on other teams in general, and having Yankee Stadium as a home ballpark is always an advantage.

Justin Upton

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    Position: OF

    Rank: Ninth

    Average Draft Position: 13.6

    Justin Upton presents a tricky situation.

    He's ranked in the top 10 and has the stats to back that ranking up (.289, 31 home runs, 21 steals in 2011), but he's rarely taken there.

    In theory, fantasy owners with the ninth pick could take someone like Joey Votto or Roy Halladay in the first round and wait until the 12 slot to snag Upton, but he's an opportunity that shouldn't be passed over.

    It seems like every year, people wait for him to have a breakout MVP season, and he has yet to have it. Could 2012 finally be the year? Of course, but first-round picks shouldn't be used on hope or potential.

    Instead, look at what Upton has already done and just see that potential as an added bonus. Like Robinson Cano, he's been steadily improving over the course of his career and is certainly worth the first-round pick.

Adrian Gonzalez

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    Position: 1B

    Rank: 14

    Average Draft Position: 11.5

    The choice at pick 10 should come between Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto for most fantasy owners.

    Do you take Votto, who in 2011 proved to doubters that his MVP 2010 wasn't a fluke? Or Gonzalez, who put up great numbers despite having Carl Crawford fall apart in front of him?

    Take Gonzalez. In the roller coaster season that the Red Sox had last year, he was one of the few players that could be counted on. If Crawford returns to form, it'll only mean more RBI on the stat sheet.

    Fantasy owners have realized that, as Gonzalez has been consistently taken ahead of his ranking. Take him with either the 10th or 11th pick and use the other on Evan Longoria or Justin Verlander.

Final Word

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    You may have noticed that I didn't include any pitchers in my top 10. It's not because they don't deserve to be there, it's that their value shifts greatly from week to week depending on how many starts they have.

    If you have a choice between an ace pitcher who will give you an advantage every other week and a star hitter who will play at least six games every week of the season, go with the hitter. Pitchers should start to be taken in the second and third rounds where they can complement a core or two or three strong hitters.

    Also, don't reach too far for Justin Verlander. He remains one of the top three fantasy pitchers along with Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw, but don't look at his eye-popping 2011 stats and think that it'll happen again in 2012. 

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