The Ultimate Do-Over: Fantasy Baseball's Top 35 Hitters Moving Forward
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The following slideshow touts my personal assessment of Major League Baseball's Top 35 fantasy hitters—from this point forward.
For those who actually read the introductions, let me reiterate the following: This countdown is not a listing of the 35 most prolific dynamos from April 5-May 18. If that was the case, Adam Dunn, Rafael Furcal, Austin Jackson, Adam LaRoche, Allen Craig, Jason Kipnis and Bryan LaHair would be prominently featured here.
Instead, this listing is a combination of 1) A player's existing track record through May 18; 2) His potential for statistical greatness from May 19-Sept. 30; and 3) That hitter's current value in the ever-changing trade market.
The best example of that third component: Adam Dunn may boast significantly better numbers than Albert Pujols after seven weeks of action...but there's not a person alive who would pass on Pujols in a 1-for-1 trade involving Dunn.
It's that simple.
I look forward to reading everyone's hate mail for this painfully subjective exercise, but hey, we'll see how things shake out in late September.
Special Mention: The 'Snubs' List
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
SS Jose Reyes, Marlins
SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
DH Billy Butler, Royals
C Buster Posey, Giants
C Matt Wieters, Orioles
SS Rafael Furcal, Cardinals
C/1B Mike Napoli, Rangers
DH Adam Dunn, White Sox
1B Bryan LaHair, Cubs
OF Austin Jackson, Tigers
OF Josh Willingham, Twins
3B Mike Moustakas, Royals
SS/3B/OF Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins
2B Omar Infante, Marlins
OF Allen Craig, Cardinals
2B Adam LaRoche, Nationals
OF Josh Reddick, Athletics
1B Freddie Freeman, Braves
3B Evan Longoria, Rays
3B Pablo Sandoval, Giants
OF Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
35: (OF) Hunter Pence, Philadelphia Phillies
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 9 HR, 27 RBI, 24 Runs, 3 Steals, .253 Batting (through May 17)
Skinny: OK, so I may have missed the mark in predicting Pence would win the National League batting title in March. But average aside, Pence has solid numbers to boot and could easily rank among baseball's top outfielders by season's end.
As of May 17, Pence stood as the Phillies' leader in runs, homers, RBI and OPS, indicating that he's doing all he can to aid an offense that's been devastated by injuries. Unfortunately, his low batting average and poor walks-to-strikeout rate (10/32) also suggest that he's swinging at pitches outside his normal hitting zone.
As fantasy assets go, though, I have no sustainable worries about Pence.
Assuming full health, I expect him to flirt with career highs in homers (25), RBI (97) and runs (93); and that batting average will be comfortably over the .260 mark.
34: (OF) Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 8 HR, 35 RBI, 23 Runs, .307 Batting
Skinny: This pick may raise some eyebrows, especially since Adam Dunn, Austin Jackson, Rafael Furcal, Bryan LaHair and Asdrubal Cabrera are all having phenomenal years.
But I'm siding with Ethier's capacity for fantasy greatness from June through September. He's a virtual lock for 26 homers and 93 RBI, and a reasonable play for 85 runs and a .285 batting average by season's end.
In other words, I was wrong to rate Ethier so low during the preseason. When healthy, he's a four-category force and perfect No. 3 outfielder for 12-team leagues.
33: (3B) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 7 HR, 23 RBI, 20 Runs, 1 Steal, .303 Batting
Skinny: The day-to-day details bear out Beltre's fantasy greatness: He hasn't gone three consecutive games without a hit. More impressively, he hasn't gone more than four games without an extra-base hit.
In the bigger picture, Beltre is a reasonable play to replicate or eclipse his numbers from the 2010 season—28 homers, 102 RBI, 84 runs and .919 OPS.
Bottom line: Beltre figures to be a dangerous hitter from June through September. Even at age 33, there has been no discernible drop-off with this four-category force.
32: (SS) Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
2012 Stats: 1 HR, 19 RBI, 24 Runs, 7 Steals, .320 Batting
Skinny: In the year of the high-end fantasy shortstop, Andrus has more than held his own against his peers. In fact, since April 19, Andrus has racked up 15 RBI, 20 runs, six steals and a .373 average—numbers befitting of an elite middle infielder.
Andrus has another major factor in his favor: Durability.
In his first three seasons, Andrus played at least 145 games. Extrapolating that threshold for 2012, Andrus is a viable threat to post career highs in runs, homers and batting average.
The biggest question lies with steals: Can Andrus make it four straight seasons with 30 steals?
31: (1B) Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 6 HR, 16 RBI, 15 Runs, 2 Steals, .370 Batting
Skinny: Think of the life-changing money one could have made in Vegas, simply betting that Trumbo would have more hits than Albert Pujols as of May 17—despite eight fewer games played.
We'll get to Pujols' embattled campaign a little later. His slump hasn't affected Trumbo's own hitting prowess one bit. In fact, with a .640 slugging and 1.067 OPS, it's hard to envision Trumbo having a better year, even if Pujols was his typical all-world self.
With a plum spot in the Angels' lineup, Trumbo is a virtual lock to post career marks in runs and batting average. He may even surpass last year's 29 homers and 87 RBI.
Either way, Trumbo has far exceeded his Round 10 value from the March drafts.
30: (OF) Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 5 HR, 13 RBI, 8 Runs, 2 Steals, .410 Batting
Skinny: Coming off the disabled list this weekend (shoulder), it remains to be seen if Young (1.397 OPS) can resume his prodigious batting pace.
But this is not the year to doubt his capacity for 25 homers and 20 steals.
This is also not the time to declare that Young will revert to his old status as a fantasy afterthought. He deserves the benefit of the doubt—at least for now.
29: (OF) Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
Jeff Curry/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 8 HR, 27 RBI, 26 Runs, 2 Steals, .263 Batting
Skinny: Holliday obviously needs to improve his average to maintain the top-30 ranking among batters.
But he's been hitting at a .314 clip since May 3 (with two homers), indicating that a cold April might have little effect on his summertime numbers.
History also played a role in this lofty ranking. Holliday may be on the wrong side of 30, but he's a healthy lock for 24 homers, 91 RBI, 90 runs, seven steals and a .292 average by season's end.
28: (SS) Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 5 HR, 15 RBI, 24 Runs, 2 Steals, .363 Batting
Skinny: Jeter has been nothing short of amazing this season, posting solid numbers in four categories, while also sharing MLB honors in hits (with Michael Bourn).
But there's a limit to how great he can be in the fantasy realm, over a full season or just one month shy of his 38th birthday. Can he stay above .300 for the year? Absolutely. But I have reservations about Jeter belting more than 20 homers or maintaining an OPS above .900.
Nitpicks aside, No. 28 is a formidable ranking for a player who's 12 years removed from unmatched five-category dominance.
(His 2009 campaign was pretty good, too.)
27: (OF) Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 1 HR, 11 RBI, 28 Runs, 12 Steals, .339 Batting
Skinny: Speaking of Mr. Bourn, he would get my mid-May vote for Braves fantasy MVP, beating out Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel for that early-season honor.
And since he's playing for a big free-agent contract this winter, I love his chances of securing the MVP votes for mid-July and mid-September, as well.
Obviously, Bourn's fantasy greatness does not apply to homers and RBI. But from a three-category perspective, you won't find a more proficient weapon in runs, steals and batting average.
Adjusted seasonal targets: 97 runs, 39 steals and .323 batting.
26: (SS/3B) Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 7 HR, 25 RBI, 20 Runs, 6 Steals, .230 Batting
Skinny: Ramirez earns a spot in the countdown for three reasons:
1. Despite a low batting average, Ramirez has an excellent shot at joining the 20/20 Club.
2. It's hard to drop a top-20 preseason pick too far when he's on track for 25 homers, 100 RBI, 80 runs and 24 steals (148 games).
3. I previously held no grand delusions of Han-Ram matching (or even flirting with) his .342 batting average from 2009. That accomplishment occurred when Ramirez had a younger and more flexible athletic build.
25: (3B) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
Brad White/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 13 HR, 34 RBI, 23 Runs, 6 Steals, .275 Batting
Skinny: At first glance, this ranking seems a tad unfair for a guy who currently ranks third in all of baseball for homers and RBI.
But of the top 35 players in this countdown, Encarnacion has made up the most ground since the March preseason rankings. Back then, I figured the emergence of Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames—two of Toronto's most heralded under-25 talents—would subtly push Encarnacion out of the Blue Jays' lineup.
But I'm not too stubborn to admit my mistakes...and Encarnacion gets a full-blown mea culpa for his fantastic seven-week surge.
That said, I will be surprised if E-5 has 30 homers or a .270 batting average by season's end.
24: (OF) Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 10 HR, 27 RBI, 21 Runs, 3 Steals, .291 Batting
Skinny: If I was in the nickname business, I would attach the moniker of 'The Fourth Dimension' to Bruce, who is making tremendous strides in a fourth category of fantasy excellence—batting average.
Now, if we could only bump his steals to the double digits...we'd have a certifiable five-category stud who annually rates as a Round 1 or 2 pick in roto fantasy drafts. But the way things are progressing, Bruce doesn't really need steals to separate from the pack of wild-card outfielders.
Adjusted seasonal targets: 32 homers, 98 RBI, 86 runs and a .286 batting average.
23: (OF) Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 8 HR, 24 RBI, 19 Runs, .281 Batting
Skinny: I'm indebted to the fantasy gods for passing on two Stanton-themed trades a few weeks ago, at a time when his balky knee was a major concern.
But the kid has been dynamite since April 19, tallying eight homers, 20 RBI, 16 runs and a .299 batting average, thus erasing all memories of that early-April cold snap.
At this point, Stanton has zero steals; but that would be a larger concern if he wasn't so busy making diving catch after diving catch on the highlight reels.
In other words, either Stanton is purposely setting up for diving catches (doubtful)...or there are minimal worries about his knee moving forward (the more plausible explanation).
Bottom line: Stanton has some work to do, but barring injury, he'll reach 30 homers, 98 RBI and a .284 batting average—remarkably similar numbers to that of Jay Bruce.
22: (1B) Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 7 HR, 21 RBI, 20 Runs, .362 Batting
Skinny: For the record, I am blissfully aware that Adam Dunn currently tops Konerko in three of four categories, and yet, has no spot in this countdown.
But do you honestly think Konerko will finish the year behind Dunn (or any other White Sox hitter) in the power categories? Does he not fit the profile of a borderline Hall of Famer who will post 28 homers/96 RBI by season's end? Is he not skilled enough to compete for an American League batting title?
Looking at Konerko's on-base percentage (.447) and OPS (1.026), it's stunning that I would prefer 21 hitters over him—in trade talks.
Hopefully, I'll live to regret that thinking.
21: (SS) Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 2 HR, 24 RBI, 18 Runs, 12 Steals, .323 Batting
Skinny: Without a doubt, Castro has been a transcendent force for the Cubs; but I'm a little troubled by a few things moving forward:
1. Should a 6-foot, 190-pound shortstop ever be leading his club in RBI?
2. By my count, only four Cubs hitters (Castro, Bryan LaHair, Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus) are posting acceptable fantasy numbers to date.
3. Of the infielders in this countdown, Castro might have the ugliest walks-to-strikeout rate (4/23).
On the positive side, Castro could finish the season with 90 runs, 60 steals and a batting average north of .320.
So, maybe I'll just keep quiet and let things play out.
20: (DH) David Oritz, Boston Red Sox
J. Meric/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 8 HR, 27 RBI, 28 Runs, .345 Batting
Skinny: I may loathe designated hitters in mixed roto leagues, but it would be absolutely foolish to discount Big Papi's ranking here.
Even at age 36, and basically playing with a new body (how much weight has he lost?), Ortiz remains a four-category force. In fact, he looks like a shoo-in to match or eclipse last year's figures in runs (84), homers (29), RBI (96) and batting average (.309).
It might be unduly cruel to set the bar so low for Ortiz. With an excellent walks-to-strikeouts rate (18/20) and superb on-base percentage (.415), he could possibly rival his 2007 numbers—35 homers, 117 RBI and .332 batting.
19: (OF) Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 13 HR, 32 RBI, 28 Runs, 5 Steals, .295 Batting
Skinny: I have always had great admiration for Beltran's overall talents, but this ranking comes with some trepidation.
Yes, Beltran has fostered a phenomenal start to the season—markedly better than Albert Pujols—but he also hasn't tallied more than 22 homers or 84 RBI in the last four years.
And at 35, he's not a lock to destroy or even break that trend.
Within that reasoning, Beltran may have already accounted for 50 percent of his total homer output, and roughly 40 percent of his expected RBI total.
Fingers crossed on the good times rolling in St. Louis.
18: (OF) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 5 HR, 16 RBI, 22 Runs, 7 Steals, .349 Batting
Skinny: Similar to Starlin Castro, I have ambivalent feelings about McCutchen's amazing start:
1. As of May 17, McCutchen is the only Pirates hitter with 20-plus runs or a .300 batting average.
2. McCutchen and Neil Walker are the only Pirates hitters with on-base percentages above .300—a stat that seems incomprehensible at the major league, non-expansion level.
3. McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez (seven) are the only Pittsburgh batters with five or more home runs.
Put it all together, and it's a miracle that McCutchen has a .349 batting average and tolerable walks-to-strikeouts rate (12/24).
At some point, opposing pitchers will eventually hand out free passes to the only dynamic hitter on the roster (bye-bye power potential).
17: (2B) Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 5 HR, 18 RBI, 33 Runs, 5 Steals, .277 Batting
Skinny: Forget about Kinsler's batting average for now.
As of May 17, Kinsler holds a top-three ranking among Rangers hitters in runs, hits, doubles, triples, steals, walks and fewest strikeouts.
And that doesn't even cover the fact Kinsler remains a lock for 25 homers by season's end.
Barring injury, Kinsler will break last year's personal best of 121 runs. He's also a good bet to eclipse his previous high in RBI (86).
And with an admirable walks-to-strikeout rate (19/18), I guarantee the batting average will be closer to .300 than .277 by Sept. 30.
16: (1B) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 3 HR, 18 RBI, 12 Runs, .214 Batting
Skinny: It may seem unfair to penalize certain elite talents from the March drafts for their respective slow starts, but essentially let Pujols escape from any major criticism.
But that gratis can only be extended to the greatest hitter of this century—bar none. It's also a perk that comes with finishing 4th or higher in the National League MVP voting nine times in 11 seasons.
Actually, Pujols's 14-spot drop from the Preseason Top 60 is quite profound. He has exhibited the painful traits of a high-priced bust since signing with the Angels, but that hardly makes him a pitiable asset from this point forward.
Bottom line: A healthy Pujols (152 games played) will match or eclipse two of these four targets by season's end: 32 homers, 95 RBI, 88 runs and .293 batting.
15: (SS) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 4 HR, 16 RBI, 23 Runs, 1 Steal, .275 Batting
Skinny: There may be 14 hitters ranked ahead of Tulo; but in a 1-for-1 trade scenario, I would only favor five or six ahead of the Rockies shortstop.
Bottom line: Very few hitters have the capacity to carry real-world and fantasy teams on their backs for an entire month; and none helm one of the scarcest positions in fantasy.
When things are progressing well, Tulowitzki is an unstoppable (and thus untouchable) commodity.
Adjusted seasonal projections: 23 homers, 92 RBI, 93 runs, eight steals and .292 batting.
14: (1B) Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 2 HR, 20 RBI, 20 Runs, .273 Batting
Skinny: There's some apprehension in dropping Gonzalez too far from his preseason ranking (No. 12).
Sure, his numbers in the four main categories are down; but we're talking about a superstar with per-season averages of 29 homers, 109 RBI, 98 runs, 195 hits and .317 batting for 2010 and '11. He also has the luxury of playing at Fenway Park 81 times a year.
We're talking about a star whose .349 on-base percentage—considerably higher than his batting average—will be the impetus of a significant turnaround for June, July, August and September.
Bottom line: Looking for the perfect buy-low option at corner infield? It may be time to stealthily acquire Gonzalez.
13: (OF) Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 13 HR, 23 RBI, 26 Runs, 1 Steal, .257 Batting
Skinny: I can see how Granderson remains a polarizing figure in fantasy circles, celebrated by many, loathed by even more.
Yes, he's on pace for something like 51 homers, a mark that would shatter last year's personal best (41). But with only one steal through 38 games, he has no shot in Hades of replicating the 25 thefts from 2011. (Heck, 12 might even be a stretch.)
So, if Granderson is a long shot to match or eclipse last year's numbers in all but one category (homers), why is he ranked No. 13 here?
The answer is simple: How much would you sacrifice to land a player who's a good bet for triple-digit runs and RBI...and a great bet for 42 homers?
12: (OF) Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 13 HR, 26 RBI, 31 Runs, 6 Steals, .296 Batting
Skinny: Jones may never boast better numbers through May 18 at any point in his career, but that doesn't mean he's reached his fantasy ceiling, either.
Check out those five-category numbers. There are no flaws in his game. Now that he's leading a possible playoff contender, he'll surely maintain a laser-like focus at the plate from this point forward.
Looking ahead, Jones (.604 slugging/.949 OPS) is on track to shatter previous highs in runs, homers, RBI, batting average and steals.
Which brings me to this: How does a player with all that speed and natural athletic ability only list 12 steals as a personal high?
The Jones bar of minimum expectations will never be this low again.
11: (1B) Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 6 HR, 22 RBI, 21 Runs, 1 Steal, .294 Batting
Skinny: Fielder's numbers to date are neither deflating nor terribly uplifting; and when that happens, we always revert to a player's track record of the last few years.
In Fielder's case, that entails per-season averages of 39 homers, 114 RBI and 97 runs from 2009-11. It also points to a remarkable record of durability (161.3 games per season) and his enduring strength after the all-star break.
Add in Fielder's prime spot in the Tigers' power-heavy lineup and it's easy to see why Fielder should be an elite commodity from this point forward.
Bottom line: He's worth prioritizing in trade talks, regardless of the consequences.
10: (3B/OF) Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 10 HR, 24 RBI, 22 Runs, 2 Steals, .207 Batting
Skinny: At the risk of repeating myself again and again: Please ignore Bautista's low batting average...because it's the only indicator that suggests he won't finish with monster numbers.
There's a reason why Bautista crushed 97 combined homers for the 2010 and '11 seasons, tops among all MLB hitters (by a long shot).
There's a reason why Bautista was a consensus top-five pick in roto drafts back in March, in lock-step with Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.
There's a reason why Bautista nearly has a 1:1 walks-to-strikeouts ratio, despite the .207 average: His excellent plate discipline of seasons past is there for almost every at-bat.
There's also a reason why Bautista sports a 122-point differential between batting average and on-base percentage: He merely got a slow start out of the gate, but still has a great shot at 38 homers, 100 RBI and a .280 average by Sept. 30.
9: (2B) Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Winslow Townson/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 5 HR, 18 RBI, 27 Runs, 3 Steals, .313 Batting
Skinny: It'll be a fascinating battle from this point forward—Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano.
Which second baseman hits 90 RBI first? Which one piles up more runs? Which one threatens to win the American League batting title (assuming Josh Hamilton cools down)?
Heck, even the steals race is too close to call.
Bottom line: For those who devoted a high Round 2 pick to Pedroia in March, you've already been rewarded with amazing consistency. And the real payoff may come in September with a fantasy pennant. Pedroia's a true championship anchor.
8: (3B) David Wright, New York Mets
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 4 HR, 22 RBI, 28 Runs, 4 Steals, .411 Batting
Skinny: The halcyon days of 30 homers/30 steals from 2007 may be gone for Wright, but that's obviously not a deal-breaker with fantasy owners enjoying his potential for 90 RBI/95 runs/.340 batting at age 29—a tribute to his remarkable adjustments to spacious Citi Field.
Yeah, that's right. We're going on a limb to predict Wright won't boast a .400 average by season's end, despite batting .444 since May 3.
Instead of threatening to break Ted Williams' modern-day record for hitting (.406), Wright will ultimately settle for being a cross of Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn or George Brett.
Not bad company, huh?
7: (OF) Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 7 HR, 30 RBI, 28 Runs, 6 Steals, .307 Batting
Skinny: CarGo's brilliant year can best be encapsulated like this:
As of May 18, he leads the Rockies in runs, doubles, homers, RBI, steals, on-base percentage and OPS. And yet, I can't recall one signature moment from the top-20 pick heading into the season.
In other words: the best is yet to come.
I recently swung a 3-for-1 blockbuster deal for Gonzalez (26 RBI, .317 batting since April 19), surrendering an elite shortstop (Jose Reyes) and two strong pitchers (Gio Gonzalez/Ricky Romero)...without a tinge of regret.
It was a small price to pay for greatness.
6: (2B) Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 3 HR, 15 RBI, 22 Runs, 1 Steal, .303 Batting
Skinny: Cano (batting .389 since May 3) is steadily recapturing his fantasy mojo at a time when the Yankees are fighting with four other teams for AL East supremacy and struggling to find consistency with their starting rotation.
He has also done a wonderful job justifying his preseason ranking (No. 8 overall) and top-dog standing amongst second basemen.
Bottom line: Cano might be a long shot to match his homer production of the last two seasons (28.5), but he's a healthy lock to crack the century mark in runs and RBI, while hopefully staying above the .300 mark again. He's the fantasy gift that keeps on giving.
5: (1B/3B) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 8 HR, 33 RBI, 19 Runs, 1 Steal, .305 Batting
Skinny: Cabrera doesn't have a two- or three-week mega-spurt to brag about, like the top two players in this countdown.
Instead, Cabrera may just keep cruising along at a quiet, but prodigious pace for Detroit, finishing the season with 28-plus homers, 110 RBI, 95 runs and a batting average north of .320.
In other words, I have no regrets from ranking Miggy as the No. 1 fantasy player heading into the season.
His rock-solid consistency is something to celebrate in this business, even if he never captivates the nation with a run of nine homers/15 RBI in a six-day window. (More on that later.)
4: (1B) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 6 HR, 25 RBI, 23 Runs, 2 Steals, .317 Batting
Skinny: All signs point to Votto posting monster numbers from this point forward.
1. Since May 3, Votto's hitting at a .383 clip with four homers, 10 RBI, 10 runs and one steal.
2. He's the current MLB leader in doubles (17) and walks (35), numbers that fuel his off-the-charts OBP (.466) and portend a sizable uptick in homers for the next four months.
With all due respect to anyone in the top five, Votto may be the safest June-September bet among the elite mashers. Outside of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera, no one dominates the walks-to-strikeouts rate like Votto (35/29).
3: (OF) Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 10 HR, 21 RBI, 25 Runs, 7 Steals, .304 Batting
Skinny: In a bit of total honesty, I tried to avoid Braun in the March drafts. I thought he'd experience a karmic curveball after curiously throwing some random urine-sample collector under the bus, in the wake of a failed drug/PED test during the offseason.
And yet, Braun has been a top-five performer among hitters, with the potential to boast the most prolific National League numbers by season's end. To the naked eye, the differences between 2012 Braun and 2011 Braun are negligible; and for that, he deserves this elite ranking.
If I was a betting man, Braun falls short of last year's numbers in runs (109), RBI (111), steals (33) batting average (.332)...but eclipses the 33 homers from last year's MVP campaign.
2: (OF) Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Harry How/Getty Images
2012 Stats: 12 HR, 28 RBI, 29 Runs, 2 Steals, .359 Batting
Skinny: It's no surprise that Kemp would rank No. 2 on a list of baseball's greatest hitters. However, I'm quite shocked that Kemp garnered this spot without being a viable steals threat.
Do the math: Kemp, a physical freak who averaged 31.5 steals from 2008-11, is on pace for only 12-13 thefts, an absurdly low number for this superstar . And when he returns from a hamstring injury, it's reasonable to think he'll take fewer chances on the base paths.
Is this a one-year anomaly in the speed department? Or is Kemp morphing into a power-centric fantasy asset?
Thank goodness his power and efficiency numbers have been surreal...otherwise, this capsule would be more dire in its tone.
1: (OF) Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
2012 Stats: 18 HR, 45 RBI, 32 Runs, 2 Steals, .399 Batting (through May 17)
Skinny: How majestic has Hamilton been this season?
If we only used his power numbers from May 7-12 (nine HRs, 15 RBI), he still might crack this countdown's top 25.
Luckily for fantasy owners, Hamilton's greatness extends far beyond that six-day window of absurd devastation.
He is a prime candidate to win the major league titles in homers, RBI and batting average (aka the Triple Crown).
Hamilton is also an untouchable trade commodity at this point...short of a deal involving Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp or Carlos Gonzalez, plus Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw as classic throw-ins.