Ryan Braun is a fantasy stud who owners should consider drafting first in 2013.
The MLB postseason is looming and the NFL season is underway, so that can mean only one thing for sports fans: It’s time to begin fantasy baseball rankings for next year.
Some fortunate owners are still fighting for first place, but others have already watched their dreams of a title get squashed during the long, cruel season. So why not wipe the slate clean and start thinking about how you can rise to glory in 2013?
Chances are some of these rankings will change come March depending on September results, injuries, trades, free agency or a change in heart after a full offseason of research. But, for fun, let’s get the ball rolling on the 2013 MLB season and play out the first couple rounds by ranking the top 25 players.
This list is made with a standard, 5X5 scoring format in mind and is probably more suited for rotisserie leagues. There are plenty of different settings out there that will alter your rankings, but this one is for your typical league.
Any list results in some poor souls missing the cut. Here are some notable exceptions, but keep in mind that these are not my No. 26-30 players.
Edwin Encarnacion – I’m not buying after a breakout season, unless he falls due to everyone else adopting the same strategy.
Michael Bourn – To slot him in the top 25, you’d have to believe that his power from this year is sustainable. Bourn hit a combined seven home runs throughout the last three seasons, so I don’t see him approaching double-digits again in 2013.
Aroldis Chapman – Chapman (as well as Craig Kimbrel) will be the Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham of fantasy baseball drafts next year. Someone will spend a premium pick on him in hopes of gaining a major advantage at the closer position. It’ll be difficult to take a relief pitcher this high, but owners might have to consider making an exception based on Chapman’s 15.83 K/9 ratio.
David Price – I usually don’t take pitchers too high, which is why only four made this list. Nobody after the top four distinguishes himself from the rest of the pack, but Price earns the slim edge at No. 5 with Cole Hamels not far behind.
Buster Posey - He'll enter drafts as the No. 1 catcher, but I'm reluctant to spend such a high pick on a catcher who obtains a large portion of his value from batting average. This early in his career, we don't know that Posey can hit .333 again.
Now let the actual rankings begin...
2012 Stats: .301/.376/.518 (BA/OBP/SLG%), 26 HR, 94 RBI, 87 Runs, 4 SB, .894 OPS
Owners eventually need to take some chances in order to strike gold, but there is nothing wrong with playing it safe in the early rounds.
Matt Holliday—one of the more reliable sluggers in baseball—is a fine building block for any fantasy team. Sure, he’ll be 33 on Opening Day and is no longer a double-digit steals threat, but a dependable source of 25-30 home runs with an average that rarely sinks below .300 is a valuable commodity.
There’s a solid chance that a couple of young outfielders left off this list (Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Jason Heyward) outperform Holliday, but his high floor makes him a worthy target as a late second/early third round selection.
2012 Stats: 159.1 IP, 15-6, 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 197 K, 48 BB, 2.83 FIP
Even though the Washington Nationals officially shut him down, Stephen Strasburg still finished with 197 strikeouts during his first full season in the majors. In 2013, we get to see what Strasburg can accomplish in more than 200 innings pitched.
The 24-year-old phenom is a good pick to lead the league in strikeouts next season if Washington takes off the kid gloves and unleashes Strasburg.
Shutting him down cut off any chances of a serious Cy Young bid, but he was one of the National League’s top hurlers with a 2.83 FIP and 4.3 WAR (according to FanGraphs).
Strasburg is poised to develop into baseball’s top pitcher, a feat he just might accomplish as soon as 2013.
2012 Stats: .290/.371/.505, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 26 Runs, 2 SB, .876 OPS (55 games)
Okay, just one more mulligan.
After hitting .244 in 2011, most drafters gave Evan Longoria a free pass because of his .239 BABIP. Managers continued to tab Longoria as a first- or second-round pick, which seemed like a wise call before he injured his hamstring.
While on the field, the 27-year-old has proven last year’s subpar average as a fluke, hitting .290 with a .371 on-base percentage. Unfortunately, he’s only participated in 55 games, severely limiting his value.
Barring a monster September—which would draw forgiveness from his head-to-head owners—Longoria is in danger of slipping down draft boards after two consecutive seasons with stints on the disabled list. Don’t allow him to fall too far, though.
If Longoria stays on the field for a full season, a .300/30/100/100/10 is well in the realm of possibility.
2012 Stats: .318/.355/.561, 32 HR, 92 RBI, 85 Runs, 1 SB, .915 OPS
For the past couple years, I’d view the initial rankings and think “Wow, Adrian Beltre sure is slotted high.” Then he goes and hits 30 home runs at a scarce position.
The third baseman is another stable veteran worth drafting as one of the focal points of your team’s offense. The 33-year-old has belted at least 25 home runs in six of the last seven seasons.
Texas has especially treated Beltre kindly. In his second season with the Rangers, Beltre is rapidly approaching another 30 homer, 100 RBI season while playing in a loaded offense at a hitting-friendly ballpark.
Beltre deserves praise as one of the most desirable sluggers in fantasy baseball. Don’t sleep on him in favor of more exciting players.
2012 Stats: .277/.341/.42, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 77 Runs, 35 SB, .768 OPS
Although Jose Reyes will no longer approach 60 steals, he still is in the running for the top spot at shortstop.
Some people might stick with Troy Tulowitzki as their top shortstop, but I’m not as willing to jump back on his bandwagon when he’s only avoided the disabled list twice in six major league seasons.
Reyes has experienced injuries of his own over the years, but he has stayed on the field and posted steady numbers in 2012.
After a slugging start to begin his tenure with the Miami Marlins, Reyes is hitting .296/.348/.500 with eight homers and 15 steals since the All-Star break. Reyes won’t replicate his .337 average that earned him the batting title last year, but his sluggish start to 2012 was also a blip.
Even a tame version of Reyes leads all shortstops in steals, and he is also a solid bet to accumulate good numbers across all categories.
2012 Stats: .314/.401/.495, 17 HR, 81 RBI, 81 Runs, 14 SB, .896 OPS
This season has been a mixed bag for David Wright. Even during a resurgent year, Wright is still not the same fantasy stud as the guy who hit 30/30 in 2007.
On the bright side, Wright has finally corrected his mounting strikeout woes, lowering his rate from 21.7 percent to 16.6. Looking more like the star hitter from his earlier years, Wright has boosted his average to .314 with fewer drastic cold stretches.
Unfortunately, Wright has not fully regained his power or speed. The 29-year-old—who once tallied four straight seasons with more than 25 home runs—has hit a modest 17 this season.
Wright has stolen 14 bags but has been caught 10 times. How much more will he try to steal with such a low success rate?
A change of scenery might provide Wright with his best chance to reemerge as a perennial first-round pick, but Wright still offers enough production at the hot corner to target this high as a key supporting player.
2012 Stats: .291/.336/.455, 16 HR, 98 RBI, 67 Runs, 1 SB, .791 OPS
If this is his down year, then how bad can Adrian Gonzalez really be?
Once a 40-homer hitter, Gonzalez has only cleared the fences 16 times this year. At least he’s still hitting .291 with 98 RBI. Most players' worst season is a lot worse.
Moving to Dodger Stadium is not the ideal situation, but Gonzalez managed to post exceptional numbers while stranded in Petco Park with no lineup protection. Fenway Park was not exactly doing the 30-year-old any favors, as the once-feared power threat turned into a doubles hitter.
This is not the beginning of the end for Gonzalez. Look for him to return to the 25-30 home run range in 2013.
2012 Stats: .241/.358/.527, 27 HR, 65 RBI, 64 Runs, 5 SB, .886 OPS (92 games)
For some who have not yet accepted Jose Bautista’s meteoric rise to stardom, his tumultuous 2012 is a much overdue return to the norm.
Actually, his numbers are a bit misleading, which could make him a value pick in 2013.
Bautista is hitting .241, which at first might not seem like a big deal for a guy who swings for the fences. However, his .215 BABIP sits fall below his .270 career mark.
He has lowered his strikeout rate for the third straight season and still boasts a favorable 14.8 percent walk rate, so his skills did not diminish this season.
In only 92 games, Bautista blasted 27 long balls. As long as he recovers from the wrist injury that sidelined him, Bautista should hit 40-plus home runs next year with a respectable average.
2012 Stats: .251/.321/.449, 24 HR, 86 RBI, 72 Runs, 17 SB, .770 OPS
Formerly a No. 1 pick, Hanley Ramirez doesn't steal 50 bases or even hit .300 anymore. Despite regressing over the years, Ramirez still offers plenty of goodies from a fantasy perspective.
The midseason trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers revitalized Ramirez, who has hit 10 homers in 42 games with his new club. Once considered the face of the franchise, Ramirez might have received a wake-up call after the Marlins willingly dumped him for spare parts.
Such a down year that propelled Miami to give away the 27-year-old now looks like an awfully useful season for his fantasy owners. His 17 steals are tied for second most out of everyone with third base eligibility, while his 24 homers are first among anyone playable at shortstop.
The bottom line: Ramirez is still a 20/20 player with third base and shortstop eligibility. That should take him off draft boards during the second round next year.
2012 Stats: .264/.331/.435, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 94 Runs, 21 SB, .766 OPS
Go back to the Hanley Ramirez portion and replace shortstop and third base with second base.
Although second is a little deeper, Kinsler’s ranks higher in the rankings because of his positioning with the Rangers. Not only will Kinsler reach and often eclipse the 20/20 mark, he’ll drive in and score a boatload of runs in Texas’ fierce lineup. Kinsler’s 94 runs currently lead all infielders.
The 30-year-old won’t help much in the average department, but a four-category stud who won’t kill you in the fifth department is a fruitful fantasy option. Kinsler should maintain his spot as the No. 2 second baseman next season.
2012 Stats: 208.2 IP, 13-7, 2.67 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 195 K, 49 BB, 2.84 FIP
Felix Hernandez is one of three superstar aces that deserve top 15 consideration.
Much like I warmed to the idea of grabbing an elite quarterback in fantasy football drafts, I’m no longer completely opposed to getting one of the three premier starters with one of my first picks.
At age 26, Hernandez has already notched four straight seasons with more than 200 strikeouts. The young workhorse has never tallied fewer than 190 innings in seven full seasons with the Seattle Mariners.
Wins are too fickle to predict, but King Felix can never be counted on to accumulate as many of them as he deserves. Playing for the light-hitting Mariners, he’ll likely lose some 2-1 pitchers’ duels. That helps break the three-way tie and slot Hernandez as the No. 3 starter.
2012 Stats: 210.1 IP, 13-8, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 212 K, 54 BB, 3.02 FIP
Count me among skeptical drafters who steered clear of Verlander after a dominant 2011 campaign. Since his 3.37 ERA and 1.16 WHIP from 2010 were his previous career highs, his astonishing numbers from last year seemed unsustainable.
The 2.40 ERA and 0.92 are a bit too low to match, but we’ll gladly take the 2.91 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. And he still possesses the inhuman ability to reach triple-digits on the radar gun in the waning innings to fuel him to 212 strikeouts.
Verlander was due for some misfortune after winning 24 games last year, but he should return closer to his average of 17.8 wins during his career.
A pitcher who goes deep into games and strikes out a batter per inning is a winning formula for fantasy owners. Give Verlander the respect he deserves next spring.
2012 Stats: 206.2 IP, 12-9, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 206 K, 53 BB, 2.94 FIP
Not that I’m often the guy who takes the first pitcher off the board, but Clayton Kershaw would be my choice.
This is a guy who has never amassed an ERA above 3.00 after his rookie season. His WHIP is hovering just around the 1.00 mark for the second consecutive season, and he’s of course a shoo-in for 200-plus strikeouts.
He also gets a leg up on Hernandez and Verlander because he pitches in the National League West. Calling Dodger Stadium home—where he has a career 2.42 ERA—also doesn't hurt.
Now the Dodgers have a revamped offense with Ramirez, Gonzalez and Matt Kemp to provide Kershaw with some run support.
The 24-year-old might want to get comfortable in this top spot. He could stay there for a while.
2012 Stats: .283/.351/.597, 34 HR, 79 RBI, 69 Runs, 6 SB, .948 OPS
Giancarlo Stanton is a man with scary power potential that might leap him to the first round in 2013.
The slugger formerly known as Mike only changed in name from last season. Stanton keeps blasting balls very, very far.
Giancarlo fits him better anyway. This way, we can associate him with Giancarlo Esposito, the actor who phenomenally portrayed the subdued, yet evil Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. Like Fring, Stanton ruthlessly destroys anything in his path.
Stanton has only needed 114 games to crush 34 home runs. In a full season, the 22-year-old could approach 50 deep bombs. Given his high 29.0 strikeout percentage, that .284 average could dip in 2013, though.
Essentially, Stanton is a younger version of Bautista with a higher ceiling. And if you don't take Stanton seriously next year, he will kill your infant daughter.
2012 Stats: .305/.403/.518, 26 HR, 96 RBI, 74 Runs, 1 SB, .921 OPS
Targeting positional scarcity is logical, but that doesn't mean star first basemen should go ignored.
Prince Fielder’s ranking usually fluctuates greatly based on the drafter’s philosophy. Some view him as a veritable first-round choice due to his ability to smack 40 homers, but others would rather target all the other infielders who gain value on positional scarcity.
Kinsler, Wright and Ramirez are great, but they all come with more risk than Fielder, who’s working on amassing an on-base percentage higher than .400 for the fourth straight season. In his worst season, Fielder only hit 32 home runs.
Now that he’s scorching opposing pitchers alongside Miguel Cabrera in 2012, we can toss the theory that he only dominates during odd years.
First base is deep, but starting Freddie Freeman will leave you at a major power disadvantage, so don’t slide Fielder too far down the rankings.
2012 Stats: .285/.354/.582, 41 HR, 121 RBI, 95 Runs, 7 SB, .935 OPS
How many players with 41 home runs at the early September mark have been booed during that season?
Sports fans are painfully fickle sometimes, as evidenced by the Texas crowd showering Josh Hamilton with jeers after a rough two-month stretch. The fact that he torched the competition in one of the hottest starts ever hardly mattered.
Hamilton is far from a money-in-the-bank option, but when he’s hot, there’s nobody better in baseball. The 31-year-old hit .368 with 21 home runs during the first two months and bounced back from a rough June and July to tally seven homers and 28 RBI in August.
Hamilton’s value relies heavily on where he plays next season. Counting numbers will be plentiful in Texas, but a new location could push the slugger out of the first round.
2012 Stats: .287/.345/.534, 30 HR, 96 RBI, 80 Runs, 8 SB, .878 OPS
For now on, let’s wait at least two months before writing off Albert Pujols.
After hitting .217 with no homers during the worst month of his illustrious career, Pujols found his groove. Even after that rough April (before Mike Trout arrived), the future Hall-of-Famer secured his 12th season with at least 30 home runs in as many years.
With a strong finish, he could also raise his average to .300 and toss in double-digit steals.
While Pujols no longer dominates enough to warrant No. 1 pick discussions, his long track record of success should keep him in the first round for another year.
2012 Stats: .300/.368/.540, 30 HR, 77 RBI, 88 Runs, 3 SB, .908 OPS
Robinson Cano has solidified his spot as the undisputed fantasy king at second base.
What more can you want from a second baseman who annually hits .300 with 25-plus home runs? Well, maybe stolen bases, but that’s just getting greedy.
This season, Cano finally broke the 30-homer plateau with three weeks remaining to augment his total. The counting numbers are down, but there’s no need to worry about Cano producing runs in the heart of the New York Yankees’ batting order.
Some players ranked lower will outproduce Cano, but his consistency and unquestionable claim as the best second baseman in the world thrusts Cano into the top ten.
2012 Stats: .305/.376/.518, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 88 Runs, 18 SB, .894 OPS
A five-category stud playing half his games in Coors Field? Sounds good.
Gonzalez will probably never duplicate the numbers from his incredible 2010 campaign, but he still belongs in the top 10.
He’s on par to recreate his numbers from last season, when he hit 26 home runs with 20 steals. As a career .300 hitter, he won’t hurt you in any department.
CarGo is a rare breed of young potential and dependability. He’s never had a bad season, but we've seen his towering upside that made him the best fantasy baseball player to own two years ago.
Unless the Colorado Rockies trade him for some unfathomable reason, owners should feel confident building their team around Gonzalez.
2012 Stats: .339/.469/.586, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 54 Runs, 5 SB, 1.055 OPS (93 games)
Before a torn meniscus sidelined him, Joey Votto was well on his way to capturing the NL MVP.
The 29-year-old reached base in nearly half of his at-bats before the untimely injury crushed his momentum. Missing nearly two months of action prevented Votto from making an MVP push and putting his name on the map as a fantasy superstar.
He doesn't offer spectacular power for a first baseman, but 25-30 home runs is more than enough when he hits above .300, surpasses the 100 mark in runs and RBI and can steal 10 bases.
A strong September would go a long way in reminding everyone that Votto is elite.
2012 Stats: .340/.406/.559, 26 HR, 85 RBI, 97 Runs, 16 SB, .965 OPS
Andrew McCutchen’s 2013 could replicate CarGo’s 2011. Many savvy owners expected a breakout year, but not to this extent. Just don’t overthink yourself by anticipating a major drop-off.
The Pittsburgh Pirate will experience a decline in 2013 while remaining a viable commodity in fantasy leagues.
Everyone has been well aware of McCutchen’s power and speed prowess, but the .341 average caught many by surprise after hitting .259 in 2011.
Considering his .387 BABIP, don’t count on McCutchen to sniff such a high mark again this season. Still, he could cause plenty of damage hitting in the .290s.
Since it’s always dangerous to draft a guy after a breakout season, a poor September could influence me to drop him a couple spots. Correct the average to a more reasonable rate and he’s very similar to Gonzalez.
2012 Stats: .312/.380/.544, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 64 Runs, 9 SB, .925 OPS (87 games)
I worried that Matt Kemp would not live up to a prolific 2011, but he played every bit as well while on the field. Unfortunately, health blocked him from chasing a 40/40 season.
After hitting .417/.490/.893 with 12 homers in April, Kemp looked poised to top the gaudy numbers from last season, but hamstring injuries stymied those efforts.
Kemp returned strong, but again began to slump as his sore hamstring continued to interfere. This ranking is aggressive and assumes that Kemp will play a full season at 100 percent health.
Since Kemp previously played in four complete seasons without a trip to the disabled list, I'm willing to take that gamble. One injury does not make a player injury prone, so don't let anyone slap that label on the 27-year-old.
Of course, I'd feel a lot better taking him if he finishes out the season and performs at a high level.
2012 Stats: .331/.396/.569, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 114 Runs, 45 SB, .965 OPS
Had Mike Trout started the season in the majors, he would possibly be in the midst of the greatest fantasy season ever.
The 21-year-old didn't begin playing until the end of April, and yet he leads the league in runs, is pursuing an incredibly rare 30/50 season and is the runaway favorite for American League MVP.
And I still wouldn't take him with the No. 1 pick in a re-draft league.
Are these insane numbers repeatable for the young superstar? With a .382 BABIP, the .331 average likely isn't, and that will drop the counting numbers to more reasonable levels.
Also, where did all this power come from? Trout never earned more than 17 home runs in professional ball. Now he has 27 in his rookie season.
Trout is an amazing player with sky-high potential, but I would feel safer drafting two other surefire studs.
2012 Stats: .326/.393/.590, 36 HR, 118 RBI, 91 Runs, 4 SB, .983 OPS
If only Miguel Cabrera could run...
Everything else checks out perfectly for the Ruthian slugger. He has third base eligibility. He's protected by Fielder in Detroit's potent lineup. He's incredibly reliable (which now means he'll blow his knee out next April).
Cabrera reached 30 home runs for the sixth consecutive season, topped 100 RBI for the ninth year in a row and is working on posting an average over .320 for the fourth time in as many years.
His defense is subpar, but luckily we don't need to fret about that. All fantasy owners care about is his bat, and Cabrera is baseball's best slugger.
2012 Stats: .310/.385/.593, 38 HR, 100 RBI, 93 Runs, 23 SB, .978 OPS
Fielder now instead forms a dynamic duo with Cabrera, but Ryan Braun has not missed a beat without his old sidekick.
Once Braun escaped a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test due to a technicality, Fielder's absence was the only possible flaw to poke into Braun's fantasy game.
The Hebrew Hammer proved his doubters wrong, setting a career high in home runs with the possibility of establishing a personal best in RBI as well.
If not for the failed drug test and backlash over winning the MVP award over Matt Kemp last year, Braun would be the clear front-runner to win the award this season.
Just look at his stats to see why Braun is the cream of the crop. He hit .304 with 25 homers, 109 RBI, 111 runs and 14 steals during his worst season.
Drafters bestowed with the first pick of 2013 drafts won't go wrong with Ryan Braun.