Fantasy Baseball Mock Draft: Projecting First 8 Rounds of an NL-Only Draft
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More and more fantasy drafts are being held because the regular season is right around the corner.
Here's a projection of the first eight rounds of a 12-team NL-only league. I gave an extended explanation for each player in the first round because that is your most important pick. Sleepers are important, but they won't help if you flop with your first pick.
Who's No. 1? Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki or Ryan Braun? Continue reading to find out.
First Overall: Ryan Braun, OF
Braun is the reigning NL MVP. Don't pass him up.
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If the package doesn't send, you can't suspend. When Braun won his appeal, he climbed to the top of the fantasy rankings.
He's coming off a season in which he won the MVP. In 2011, he hit .332 with 33 homers with 33 steals. While I don't think he's going to repeat those exact numbers, he's still going to mash.
I'm not concerned about the PED distractions or his slow start in the spring. The main reason he's ahead of Matt Kemp is he's much more proven.
Braun has hit 30-plus homers and has had a .300-plus batting average in four of the last five seasons. Kemp has reached the 30-homer plateau just once and that was last year (thanks to a very inflated HR/FB rate).
Go with Braun with your first pick. He's going to hit .300 or better with 30-plus homers and 20-plus steals.
Second Overall: Matt Kemp, OF
Kemp takes a step back after a phenomenal '11 season.
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Matt Kemp wants to be a 50/50 guy, but he might not even make it to 30/30 in 2012.
Kemp never hit more than 28 home runs until last year, and let's not forget about his 2010 season, when he hit .249 and stole 19 stolen bases.
A regression like that is unlikely, but he does have a slip-up like that on his resume and Braun does not. Kemp is a solid play, but he's not No. 1 material. He'll finish the season at 28/29.
Third Overall: Joey Votto, 1B
The consistent Votto is always a safe play.
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Joey Votto tends to get overlooked, but how can you pass on a guy who has averaged 28.75 home runs, 96 RBI and 89.5 runs scored with a .312 batting average the last four years?
The other very important stat that you get with Votto: he's averaged 155.5 games played the last two years.
Getting a guy at his caliber that isn't a injury concern is huge. And while first base is considered a very deep position, it's now dominated by American Leaguers. In fact, only two of the top 10 first basemen reside in the NL (Votto and Michael Morse).
Fourth Overall: Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Tulowitzki is a beast when healthy.
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Troy Tulowitzki would be higher on the list if he wasn't so injury prone.
Getting a shortstop that hits .300 with 30 homers is extremely rare, but what do you do when he gets injured again?
In the last four years, Tulo has only averaged 129.5 games played. It's hard to take Tulowitzki earlier when you know there's a good chance he'll be missing 30 games.
His talent and position scarcity, though, is the reason he's still in the top five. You're not going to find a shortstop that rivals his numbers.
Fifth Overall: Clatyon Kershaw, SP
Kershaw will help in every single pitching category.
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Clayton Kershaw should be the first pitcher taken off the board.
What's there not to love about a 23-year-old who won the NL pitcher's triple crown in 2011? Kershaw just turned 24, and he has back-to-back seasons of throwing 200-plus innings, so you know he's well on his way to becoming a workhorse.
And unlike some other pitchers who had great 2011 seasons, no fluke stats happened to Kershaw. His BABIP and HR/FB rate were right around the league average.
Kershaw is a stud, and it's scary to think he hasn't even entered his prime yet.
Sixth Overall: Carlos Gonzalez, OF
CarGo put on muscle in an attempt to stay healhier.
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Carlos Gonzalez had a disappointing 2011 and he still posted a .295 average with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
This was all done in 127 games too.
CarGo is another injury-prone Rockies player (it must be that thin air), but the potential is way too good to overlook.
In 2010, Gonzalez had a 34/26 season with a .336 average. While it's unlikely he gets back to that level (his BABIP was a ridiculous .384 that season), he's still very capable of another 30/20 season.
Seventh Overall: Justin Upton, OF
At 24 years old, Upton is ready to become a star.
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For the first time in his career, Justin Upton played in more than 140 games in 2011—and he rewarded his fantasy owners.
Upton hit .289 with 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases as a 24-year-old. Like Kershaw, it's unbelievable to think he hasn't even reached his full potential yet.
The biggest knock on Upton was his strikeout numbers. And while he did strikeout a ton in '11 (18.7 K percentage), it was a vast improvement from his 2010 season (26.6 percent).
I don't know if Upton gets over 30 homers again, but you know he's good for 25-plus long balls and 15-plus steals.
Eighth Overall: Hanley Ramirez, SS
Can HanRam get back on track in 2012?
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Hanley Ramirez had a regrettable 2011 season, so will he be able to turn it around for '12?
HanRam's attitude is his biggest enemy. He was in the dog house for much of last season, and then he threw a hissy fit when the Marlins brought Jose Reyes on board to play shortstop.
I've seen projections from one extreme to the other for Ramirez. Some say he'll hit fewer than 15 home runs and others expect him to be a 30/30 guy.
So I'll go right in the middle.
The steals will be upward to 30, but I don't think he can get back to 30 home runs—especially in the new Marlins stadium. A 20/30 season is very plausible for Ramirez in 2012.
Ninth Overall: Roy Halladay, SP
Halladay is aging but still a fantasy ace.
Roy Halladay turned in one of his best seasons in 2011. At the age of 34, Halladay had a career-best ERA of 2.35 and a career high of 220 strikeouts last year.
There were some concerns with his velocity for his first couple spring starts, but he silenced those critics when he was throwing 92 mph in his last start.
Halladay is a front-line starter and he'll bolster any fantasy rotation. He'll have around 20 wins with a mid-two ERA with 200-plus strikeouts.
Tenth Overall: Giancarlo Stanton, OF
Stanton hits absolute bombs.
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Giancarlo Stanton can hit the ball a very far way.
Of his 34 home runs a year ago, 15 of them were declared as "no-doubters" on ESPN's Home Run Tracker, ranking him second behind Jose Bautista. Stanton strikes out a lot, but he could reach the 40-HR plateau this year.
The power numbers are important because home run totals have dropped the last couple years. He's going to be close to 40 homers with 100 RBI.
Eleventh Overall: Cliff Lee, SP
Lee was dominant down the stretch last year.
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Cliff Lee rejoined the Phillies in 2011 and enjoyed another great season. He had a career-best 2.40 ERA. He also saw his H/9 decrease to 7.6 and his K/9 improve to a career-high 9.2.
Lee had a couple tough months (4.18 ERA in April, 4.91 ERA in July), but also had several fantastic months (0.21 ERA in June, 0.45 ERA August and 1.42 ERA in September).
Lee hardly walks anyone so he'll save your WHIP, and he's more valuable with the much improved K/9 total.
Twelth Overall: Andrew McCutchen, OF
McCutchen will be at least 20/20.
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Andrew McCutchen is arguably the game's best center fielder.
McCutchen's batting average (.259) was low for him last year, but I'll blame that on the below-average .291 BABIP he had. In his last two seasons, McCutchen's BABIP was above .310 each season, so you have to expect that to return to normal in 2012.
McCutchen has plenty of speed and is a lock for 20-plus steals, with the upside of reaching 30. He also displayed power last year with 23 home runs.
McCutchen should be in for another 20/20 season in 2012.
Pence is a solid source for every category.
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1. Hunter Pence, OF—Pence is being overlooked, but don't pass him up. Pence has the ability to hit .300 with 25 home runs, 100 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
2. Pablo Sandoval, 1B/3B—Sandoval had a hiccup in 2010, but rebounded nicely last season. He blasted 23 homers while only playing in 117 games in '11. He should be in store for another 20-plus homers with a .300 average.
3. Matt Cain, SP—Cain is the best pitcher on the Giants staff. He will build on his 2.91 FIP from a year ago. He'll notch 16 or 17 wins with a low-three ERA.
4. Dan Uggla, 2B—Second base is already shallow and it's even worse for the NL because Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler and Young all reside in the AL. Uggla is a lock for 30-plus homers.
5. Jay Bruce, OF—Bruce is one of the most frustrating players to own (he hit 12 homers in May, but then just five in June and July combined), but he has too much talent to ignore. He plays in a hitters' stadium and can easily reach 30 home runs again.
6. Stephen Strasburg, SP—Strasburg came back from Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and looked great. Although he'll have an innings cap this year, he can rake up the strikeouts and keep a low ERA for most of the season.
7. Starlin Castro, SS—As a 21-year-old, Castro led the NL with 207 hits last season. Castro will put the sexual allegation distraction behind him and continue to rake.
8. Cole Hamels, SP—Hamels looked every bit of his World Series MVP self in 2011. Hamels had a career-best 2.79 ERA last year and he also increased his ground ball rate.
9. Buster Posey, C—Posey should return to form after the home plate collision last year. He should also see some time at first base that will allow him to play more games.
10. Jose Reyes, SS—Reyes could be an elite fantasy player if he stays healthy, But that's one big if. He hasn't played in more than 135 games in any of the last three years. With that said, he's still worth a shot. He can be a shot in the arm for runs and steals.
11, Tim Lincecum, SP—Managers will look at his 2.74 ERA last year and think he got back on track, but his 3.17 FIP suggests otherwise. He's still solid but no longer a top-10 guy.
12. Michael Morse, OF/1B—Morse shouldn't take fantasy owners by surprise this season. Although the .300 average should fall, Morse will hit close to 30 home runs with around 90 RBI.
Holliday will try to rid the injury bug that plagued him in '11.
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1. Matt Holliday, OF—Holliday missed a lot of time last year, and he still hit 22 home runs. If Holliday can stay healthy in 2012, there's no reason to think he can't hit close to 30 home runs with 100 RBI.
2. Lance Berkman 1B/OF—Berkman resurrected his career with a brilliant 2011 performance. Everybody was ready to write him off, but he'll have another good year in St. Louis.
3. Zack Greinke, SP—Greinke got a little unlucky last year with a 3.83 ERA because his FIP was 2.98. Greinke's K/9 shot up to 10.54 last year, and it should remain that high with another year in the NL.
4. Brian McCann, C—Catcher is a shallow position, and it's even shallower in the NL. McCann has hit 20-plus homers in five of the last six seasons, and that's a huge bonus from the C slot.
5. David Wright, 3B—An abdominal tear is why Wright is so far down the list. He just started playing spring games, so his status for Opening Day is in question.
6. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B—Zimmerman has been riddled with injuries the last couple of years. It's hard to expect him to get more than 600 plate appearances. If he does, he can hit 25-plus homers.
7. Aramis Ramirez, 3B—A-Ram should fit in pretty nicely in Brew Town. He's a safe bet for 20-plus homers, 90-plus RBI and a batting average around .280.
8. Ian Kennedy, SP—While that 21-4 record last year will most likely not happen again, he has still put together good back-to-back seasons. He had a 3.80 ERA in 2010 that most people forget about.
9. Tommy Hanson, SP—If he can stay healthy, Hanson is a good source for strikeouts (he had 142 in 130 innings last year). He should be ready for Opening Day.
10. Brandon Phillips, 2B—Phillips isn't great in any category, but he's average in almost every one. He has averaged 19.25 homers and 19.5 stolen bases the last four years.
11. Madison Bumgarner, SP—There were only three pitchers who had a lower FIP than MadBum last year: Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee. That's great company to be with.
12. Cory Luebke, SP—Forget about Luebke's 6-10 record in 2011; he's going to win at least 11 games this year. He pitches in a great pitcher's park and he has the stuff to have a sub-3.00 ERA.
Kimbrel is a dominant closer.
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1. Craig Kimbrel, RP—Kimbrel ranks as the top closer for 2012. How can you argue against a guy who picked up 46 saves with a 2.10 ERA and a 14.84 K/9?
2. Josh Johnson, SP—JJ is the definition of injury prone. He has the ability to pitch with the best of them though. He posted a 1.64 ERA in nine starts last year. Take a gamble on him.
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B—Freeman was the runner-up in the NL ROY vote last year. He could bump up to the 25-HR plateau in 2012 with 90 RBI.
4. Shane Victorino, OF—Victorino's average is a little low for my liking, but he has more pop than people think. Everybody knows about his speed. He should be in line for 15 homers and 20-plus steals.
5. Brandon Beachy, SP—Although Beachy was only able to notch seven wins in 25 starts last season, he had 169 strikeouts in 141.2 innings. He should double his win total in 2012.
6. Jonathan Papelbon, RP—Papelbon shaved off almost a full run on his ERA last year. He's certainly capable of picking up 40 saves for his new team.
7. Adam Wainwright, SP—I don't think Wainwright returns to form this season but expect him to get 14 or 15 wins with a mid-three ERA.
8. Michael Bourn, OF—Bourn is being very overvalued. Don't reach on Bourn just because of the stolen bases, unless you desperately need them.
9. Miguel Montero, C—Montero had a productive 2011 season. He should put up very similar numbers this year. He has the potential to blast 20 home runs.
10. Yovani Gallardo, SP—Gallardo had the best season of his career in 2011, and he looks to build on that. The K/9 dropped last year, but he should still win 15 games with a mid-three ERA.
11. Rickie Weeks, 2B—Weeks is another injury-prone player. He could be much higher on the list, but you can't predict him to get a full season of at-bats. Expect around 20 homers with 10 steals.
12. Dee Gordon, SS—Gordon is scary fast. He virtually has no power, but 50 steals is attainable for the young speedster. The average will also be around .290.
With Utley and Howard out, J-Roll will have to come up big.
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1. Jimmy Rollins, SS—J-Roll is a far cry from his MVP days, but he's still a decent shortstop option. He's still capable of 15-plus homers, 20-plus steals and 90-plus runs scored.
2. Mat Latos, SP—Latos moves from one of the friendliest pitcher's parks to one of the worst. But, this is still the kid who has the MLB record for most consecutive starts going five or more innings and allowing two or fewer runs (15).
3. Matt Garza, SP—Garza was incredibly unlucky last year when he posted a 10-10 record with a 2.95 FIP. Expect the run support to increase and Garza should pick up 13 or 14 wins in 2012.
4. Andre Ethier, OF—Ethier's home run total was cut in half, but his 9.2 percent HR/FB rate was a career low. Expect him to get closer to 20 in 2012.
5. Melky Cabrera, OF—Melky is being overlooked, but the dude had a .305 average with 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases a year ago. Those numbers will drop, but he's now in the prime of his career.
6. Logan Morrison, OF—Morrison hit 23 home runs in just 525 plate appearances last year. If he gets 100 more, he can hit close to 30 home runs. His average should also increase to around .270.
7. Daniel Hudson, SP—Hudson had an impressive 2011 campaign. He went 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA. Don't expect Hudson's numbers to get much better though because his HR/FB was only 6.4 percent.
8. Carlos Beltran, OF—Beltran reminded everybody what he could do when healthy. He hit .300 and blasted 22 homers. If he plays that many games again, he should reach those numbers in 2012.
9. Chris B. Young, OF—Young had an underwhelming 20/20 season last year compared to his 27/28 season in 2010. He's going to strike out a ton, but he's still good for 20/20.
10. Jayson Werth, OF—Werth wasn't as worthless as people think. Yes, he did have a very disappointing season, but he still managed to hit 20 homers and steal 19 bags. Expect a decent rebound.
11. John Axford, RP—Axford was very solid last year picking up 46 saves with a 1.95 ERA and a 10.51 K/9 rate. He might not break 40 in '12, but he's still going to have a good year.
12. Corey Hart, OF—Hart would certainly be higher on the list if he hadn't undergone knee surgery three weeks ago. His return is still a question mark, but he's still capable of 20-plus homers.
Marcum has been consistent the last two years.
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1. Shaun Marcum, SP—Marcum has been very consistent the last two years. He's had back-to-back 13-win seasons with mid-three ERAs. Expect another fine year from Marcum.
2. Rafael Betancourt, RP—Betancourt was lights-out in the second half in 2011. He had eight saves with a 0.33 ERA and held opponents to a .080 batting average after the All-Star break.
3. Martin Prado, 3B/OF—Prado isn't a spectacular pick, but he brings some versatility. It never hurts to have a guy that can hit .280 with 13-15 home runs.
4. Anibal Sanchez, SP—Sanchez has a 25-29 record in the last three seasons, but he has never had an ERA higher than 3.90. His K/9 improved last year, so expect him to be less unlucky in 2012.
5. J.J. Putz, RP—Putz was brilliant in 2011. He recorded 45 saves with a 2.17 ERA. The ERA should climb a little, but Putz is still a solid closer option.
6. Neil Walker, 2B—Walker is almost identical to Prado. There's not one great statistic he has, but he's pretty average around the board.
7. Drew Storen, RP—Storen's health is still in question. It looks as if he won't be ready for Opening Day, but he shouldn't miss too much time. That's why his stock doesn't take a huge hit.
8. Jaime Garcia, SP—Garcia's FIP actually improved (from 3.62 to 3.31) while his ERA jumped (2.70 to 3.56) from '10 to '11. Because of this, expect his ERA to decrease in 2012.
9. Drew Stubbs, OF—Many thought Stubbs could transform into a 30/30 guy, but his power was never there (he only hit five homers above Double-A in his career). He still has a set of wheels though.
10. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B—Goldschmidt could be a great sleeper. He has great power upside with a chance for double-digit stolen bases.
11. Danny Espinosa, 2B—Espinosa blasted 21 home runs in 2011. His .236 average is worrisome, but at least he stole 17 bases. He has 30/30 potential.
12. Michael Cuddyer, 1B/2B/OF—Some think Coors will send Cuddyer's numbers skyrocketing, but he's on the wrong side of the age curve. Twenty home runs with a .280 average is where Cuddyer will be.
Lilly is a good mid-round pickup.
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1. Ted Lilly, SP—Lilly has owned a sub-4.0 ERA in each of the last four seasons. His WHIP is very good and his 7.69 career K/9 rate isn't too shabby.
2. Carlos Marmol, RP—Marmol never knows where the ball is going, but he's pretty effective. You can feel better about his 5.88 career BB/9 rate because his career K/9 rate is 11.74.
3. Vance Worley, SP—The Vanimal was unbelievable in 2011. He came out of nowhere to go 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA. The numbers might not be the same, but he should still keep his ERA under four.
4. Joel Hanrahan, RP—After failing as Nationals closer a couple years ago, Hanrahan found a home in Pittsburgh. His BABIP was way too low last year (.282), so expect his numbers to inflate for 2012.
5. Johnny Cueto, SP—Thanks to a career-low .249 BABIP, Cueto had a career-low 2.31 ERA. Cueto doesn't strike many hitters out, so it's hard to imagine he puts up similar numbers in 2012.
6. Heath Bell, RP—Bell's K/9 rate dropped almost four points from 2010 to '11. That's an alarming stat. Bell is still a decent closer option though. He should get close to 35 saves.
7. Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B—Roberts went 19/18 last year. The HR/FB rate was way over his career average so expect closer to a 15/15 season in 2012.
8. Cameron Maybin, OF—Maybin finally showed off some of the hype that's been surrounding him the last few years. He hit nine homers with 40 steals. He could add a few more homers this season.
9. Emilio Bonifacio, 3B/OF—Bonifacio doesn't have much power, but he can fly on the basepaths. He can hit .270 and get 30-plus steals.
10. Gaby Sanchez, 1B—Sanchez is very steady. He has hit 19 homers in each of the last two seasons, He's also been around 70 runs, 85 RBI and a .265 average.
11. Jason Motte, RP—Motte earned the closer role after pitching wonderfully in the postseason. As a reliever, he doesn't strikeout a lot of batters, but he still gets the job done.
12. Tim Hudson, SP—Hudson will start the year on the DL, but he should only miss about a month. He's a great sinkerball pitcher who doesn't walk many batters.
A finally healthy Davis could be a good sleeper in 2012.
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1. Ike Davis, 1B—Davis had a serious health concern when doctors thought he came down with valley fever. It seems like he'll be OK, so he could hit 20-plus homers.
2. Lucas Duda, 1B/OF—Duda hit 10 home runs in 347 plate appearances last year. He should be on the verge of 20 this season.
3. Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF—Alonso isn't getting much attention. PETCO will hurt his power numbers, but 20 home runs is still attainable.
4. James Loney, 1B—Loney is a good player, but he just doesn't have enough power at first base. Yeah the .280 average is good, but 15 homers is his career high.
5. Sean Marshall, RP—Marshall should be the benefactor to Ryan Madson's season-ending injury. Marshall was a very good setup man with the Cubs, posting back-to-back sub-three ERAs.
6. Jason Heyward, OF—Heyward's average was a disaster last season (.227), but he still managed to crank out 14 homers in 128 games.
7. Jose Tabata, OF—Tabata was a sexy sleeper pick for 2011 but never really panned out. A healthier Tabata could produce 10 homers with 20 steals.
8. Huston Street, RP—Street will be happy to go from Coors to PETCO. The saves might not be that high, but his ERA should definitely get lower.
9. Wandy Rodriguez, SP—Too bad Rodriguez plays for an awful team; otherwise his win total win be higher. With that said, W-Rod should reach 10 wins with a mid-three ERA.
10. Brian Wilson, RP—Wilson's health scares me. When healthy, though, Wilson is pretty dominant. He'll be able to notch 30-plus saves with a low-three ERA.
11. David Freese, 3B—Freese is coming an unbelievable postseason run. Freese has never played more than 97 games, but he proved he can do damage when he's healthy.
12. Brandon Belt, 1B/OF—Belt had problems during his MLB debut last year, but he was just 22 years old. A more ready Belt could blast 25 home runs and steal 10 bases.