Fantasy Baseball: Early Top 30 Batters for 2013 Roto Drafts

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterSeptember 21, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Early Top 30 Batters for 2013 Roto Drafts

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    The following countdown touts my best early guess of the top 30 batters heading into fantasy drafts for 2013.

    The determining factors for this listing involve age, injury, track record of success, positional versatility, positional scarcity, 2012 stats and trends and tangible upside for the 2013 season.

    And when doing so, I only had 12-team, five-category roto leagues in mind.

    (Stats compiled through Sept. 20.)

    This off-the-cuff brainstorm may be rooted in hard numbers, but it's also a soft measurement of where the market currently stands and where it'll be in mid-to-late March.

    Enjoy the show!

The Next Wave: Nos. 31-60

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    The following countdown of secondary hitting stars factors in age, injury, track record of success, positional versatility, positional scarcity, 2012 stats and trends and tangible upside for the 2013 season.

    On the flip side, there are no assumptions of free agency—or offseason blockbuster trades—for any of these talents:

    31. 2B Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (above)
    32. OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
    33. OF Alex Gordon, Royals
    34. SS Starlin Castro, Cubs
    35. OF Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
    36. OF Jason Heyward, Braves
    37. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
    38. SS/3B Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
    39. OF Josh Willingham, Twins
    40. C/1B Joe Mauer, Twins
    41. 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, Angels
    42. OF Bryce Harper, Nationals
    43. 3B Aramis Ramirez, Brewers
    44. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
    45. 1B Mark Teixeira, Yankees
    46. DH David Ortiz, Red Sox (positional status diminishes value)
    47. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
    48. SS Ian Desmond, Nationals
    49. OF Jay Bruce, Reds
    50. SS Alcides Escobar, Royals
    51. OF Nelson Cruz, Rangers
    52. OF Desmond Jennings, Rays
    53. 1B Freddie Freeman, Braves
    54. DH Billy Butler, Royals
    55. 3B Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
    56. 2B Brandon Phillips, Reds
    57. OF B.J. Upton, Rays
    58. SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers
    59. 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies
    60. SS Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (age deflates value)

    Special Mention: Adam Dunn, White Sox

30: (3B) Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

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    2012 Stats: 28 HR, 105 RBI, 85 Runs, 14 Steals, .284 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 7 HR, 27 RBI, 20 Runs, 2 Steals, .323 BA


    I'm proud to say I had the foresight to invest a Round 23 draft pick on Chase Headley in March, as a market-driven Plan B for not securing Mike Moustakas in the latter rounds.

    I'm also embarrassed to reveal that I didn't have the patience to keep Headley after June 1, when he only had seven homers and a pedestrian batting average around .254.

    In a nutshell, this is what makes fantasy baseball so wonderfully vexing. Personnel mistakes in June can come back to haunt you in late September.

    Since Aug. 1, the 28-year-old Headley boasts 16 homers, 52 RBI, 33 runs and a .320 batting average—elite-level numbers accrued while playing his home games at cavernous Petco Park.

    And in the last 30 days, Headley has the following marks: .323 batting average, .409 on-base percentage and .995 OPS.

    For 2013, fantasy owners must pray that Headley's scintillating post-All Star break run will carry over to the spring. 

    With corner-infield assets, though, that's always a gamble worth taking.

29: (SS) Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

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    2012 Stats: 15 HR, 57 RBI, 94 Runs, 9 Steals, .323 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 3 HR, 15 RBI, 17 Runs, 1 Steal, .318 BA


    Derek Jeter will turn 39 next June.

    But birth-certificate confirmation aside, can you really tell that he's at an age where once-productive players are typically gripping with the retirement phase of their lives?

    From a defensive standpoint, Jeter may no longer have the fielding range of his 20s. But at the plate and on the bases he remains a dynamic force for the high-powered Yankees.

    For example, Jeter notched 200 hits, 15-plus homers, .300-plus batting average and .800 OPS for the first time in three seasons. And once again, he's a prime candidate to finish the year with 100 runs and an OBP above .360.

    It also doesn't hurt that Jeter occupies the scarcest position in fantasy: shortstop.

    Put it all together and it would be improper to leave Jeter off this countdown on the simple bias of age.

28: (OF) Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 14 HR, 62 RBI, 95 Runs, 11 Steals, .302 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 1 HR, 9 RBI, 18 Runs, 1 Steal, .260 BA


    Heading into his age-26 season, Austin Jackson may just be scratching the surface of his immense fantasy potential.

    But even in this developmental stage, Jackson (.862 OPS) has already proven himself to be an annual lock for 12 steals, 15 homers, 60 RBI, 100 runs, 30 doubles, double-digit triples and an OBP flirting with .400.

    Assuming full health next season, Jackson could experience an eight percent bump in the above stats, across the board.

    Bottom line: Jackson is a blue-chip asset on a Tigers offense that features three under-30 fantasy stars in this countdown.

27: (OF) Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2012 Stats: 27 HR, 97 RBI, 91 Runs, 4 Steals, .298 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 4 HR, 16 RBI, 104 Runs, .284 BA


    For those who love to point out the foibles of others, Matt Holliday garnered only top-51 status in my 2012 preseason rankings.

    Obviously, that was an egregious error on my part.

    Despite being on the wrong side of 30 (whatever that means) and without Albert Pujols in the Cardinals' lineup, Holliday has been a stellar asset throughout the season.

    By late August, he had essentially matched or eclipsed last year's output in runs, hits, triples, homers, RBI, steals, batting average and slugging.

    His current marks with OBP (.375) and OPS (.885) are superb. 

    Bottom line: Holliday represents the perfect No. 2 or 3 outfielder in roto drafts, sometime in Rounds 3 or 4.

26: (SS) Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins

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    2012 Stats: 11 HR, 56 RBI, 81 Runs, 35 Steals, .288 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 2 HR, 17 RBI, 13 Runs, 7 Steals, .288 BA


    We've got six loooong months to alter this countdown and solidify a No. 2 shortstop in fantasy, behind Troy Tulowitzki. 

    (Candidates: Derek Jeter, Starlin Castro, Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar.)

    But when it comes to filling fantasy baseball's scarcest position, a large faction of owners still might gravitate toward Jose Reyes' capacity for 100 runs, 15 triples, double-digit homers, 50 RBI, 40-plus steals and a batting average above .315.

    In other words, heading into his age-30 season, there's no need to put Reyes out to the results of one good, but hardly elite campaign in Miami.

25: (OF) Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

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    2012 Stats: 39 HR, 93 RBI, 93 Runs, 9 Steals, .233 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 7 HR, 20 RBI, 12 Runs, 1 Steal, .185 BA


    For the fantasy GMs who cannot support drafting power hitters that routinely bat below .250, this stanza isn't for you. Move on!

    For those who are willing to live with Curtis Granderson's anemic batting average and declining steals pace as a means of securing elite power numbers (likely 40 homers and 100 RBI this season), this ranking's for you.

    To clarify, when I use "anemic" characterize the pros/cons of landing Granderson some time in Round 4 next year, I'm referencing his .233 seasonal batting average—not the putrid .185 tally of the last 30 days.

    Given the Yankees' plethora of prominent hitters, there's simply no excuse for Granderson toiling below .200 at any point this season, let alone pennant crunch time.

    That said, with annual Yankee averages of 40 homers and 106 RBI, it's also too early to pigeonhole a versatile outfield talent who's only 31-years-old.

24: (3B) Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 34 HR, 95 RBI, 91 Runs, 1 Steal, 316 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 15 HR, 27 RBI, 24 Runs, .374 BA


    Not even the mighty Miguel Cabrera can match Adrian Beltre's prodigious run of 15 homers, 27 RBI, a .374 batting average, .415 OBP and 1.344 OPS since Aug. 22.

    In fact, it's probably on the short list of baseball's greatest 30-day tallies of the last 30 years.

    So, now that we've established Beltre's rightful place in this countdown, is he ranked too high or too low entering next season?

    At age 33, Beltre remains a viable threat for 30 homers, 90-plus runs, 95 RBI and a batting average in the realm of .305. But does he have the stuff to replicate his current 30-day numbers over a sustained period in 2013?

    For now, that seems a little ambitious. Might as well hold tight in the mid-20s when projecting someone in their mid-30s.

23: (1B) Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2012 Stats: 16 HR, 102 RBI, 69 Runs, 2 Steals, .290 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 1 HR, 16 RBI, 6 Runs, 2 Steals, .245 BA


    I must be crazy to endorse a star in his 30s who was just traded from one of baseball's most schizophrenic clubs because of his large salary and not because he may have fronted a players-only coup against Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine (wink-wink).

    But that's where we stand with Adrian Gonzalez, traditionally a good bet for 27 homers, 105 RBI and 95 runs when healthy.

    Assuming Dodgers management spends lavishly on its batting lineup over the winter, Gonzo should prosper in 2013, his first full year with the new club.

    Just don't expect any more campaigns of 200-plus hits or a .330 batting average. Those memories shall forever remain in Boston.

22: (3B/OF) Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Stats: 40 HR, 102 RBI, 88 Runs, 13 Steals, .280 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 8 HR, 19 RBI, 13 Runs, .219 BA


    At first blush, a No. 22 ranking seems quite unfair for a five-category stud like Edwin Encarnacion.

    But let's remember that he likely won't have third-base eligibility next season.

    Plus, Encarnacion has never posted 20-plus homers in back-to-back campaigns.

    These factors, trivial in the eyes of some, still carry some weight when separating the most valuable commodities in fantasy baseball—especially among power hitters.

    One more thing: At the risk of being a "hater," it's worth noting that Encarnacion's current OPS (.949) is 118 points higher than his previous career best...which occurred way back in 2006.

21: (OF) Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox

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    2012 Stats: 4 HR, 26 RBI, 40 Runs, 14 Steals, .277 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 3 HR, 15 RBI, 16 Runs, 8 Steals, .319 BA  


    I'm having trouble choosing Jacoby Ellsbury over Dustin Pedroia for 2013, and vice versa.

    Both talents came into 2012 with expectations of fantasy greatness, and both have responded with eminently forgettable seasons...minus a few pockets of solid play.

    All this begs the question: Which player is more likely to dominate the scene next April, as immediate retribution for this miserable year?

    It's close, but for my money, I prefer Ellsbury's realistic capacity for 23 homers, 90 RBI, 110 runs, 30 steals and a .300 batting average next season.

20: (OF) Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Stats: 27 HR, 65 RBI, 64 Runs, 5 Steals, .241 BA 


    If Jose Bautista had never suffered a substantial wrist injury in July (that eventually required season-ending surgery), I wouldn't have to work so hard to present his case for next year's top 25.

    Instead, I'm left to remind skeptical readers of the following:

    1. Bautista likely would have cleared 40 homers for a third straight season.
    2. For the months of May and June, Bautista tallied 23 homers and 52 RBI.
    3. After a horrible April (.181 BA), Bautista's batting average markedly improved over the next three months.
    4. The excellent marks in on-base percentage (.358) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (59/63) indicate that Bautista's .241 batting average was an aberration.

    As a result, I love his chances for 43 homers, 103 RBI and .275 batting next year.

19: (OF) Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves

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    2012 Stats: 9 HR, 56 RBI, 91 Runs, 39 Steals, .272 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 5 HR, 14 RBI, 8 Runs, 6 Steals, .183 BA


    It's anybody's guess where Michael Bourn, a prospective free agent, ends up next year.

    Atlanta? Philadelphia? Boston? Los Angeles? Washington?

    It's safe to say he'll be a top-12 outfielder in 2013, regardless of which uniform he dons for 162 games.

    Through 149 games, Bourn is on track to match or eclipse last year's output in runs (94), triples (10), slugging, OPS and OBP (.349). And Bourn has already crushed his 2011 marks in homers and RBI.

    Put it all together, and I only have two gripes:

    1. Bourn (61 steals last season) needs to flirt with 50 steals to be an elite-level fantasy asset from year to year.
    2. His 30-day slump of .183 batting won't cut the mustard during pennant crunch time.

18a. (3B) Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2012 Stats: 12 HR, 44 RBI, 29 Runs, 2 Steals, .276 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 6 HR, 16 RBI, 9 Runs, .255 BA


    Evan Longoria (only 62 games to date, due to a torn hamstring) is the only player in the top 30 to latch onto another star's ranking, via the lower-case "a" status.

    It's my roundabout way of saying that, as of Sept. 21, it's hard to quantify his value for the upcoming season without knowing the composition of the Rays' roster in 2013.

    By extension, I don't know if Longo's a lock for 30-plus homers, 90 RBI or 90-plus runs for his age-27 season.

    This isn't to say the Rays will be bad next year—lord knows they're swimming with talented pitchers and high-end prospects right now.

    I just need a few months to gauge whether Longoria warrants a ranking remotely close to Miguel Cabrera, the alpha dog among third basemen.

18: (2B) Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 18 HR, 71 RBI, 98 Runs, 21 Steals, .264 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 4 HR, 14 RBI, 15 Runs, 1 Steal, .259 BA


    By all accounts, Ian Kinsler will fall short of last year's otherworldly output in runs (121), but he's still an outside candidate for 110 by season's end, confirming his status as fantasy's second-most bankable run producer (behind Mike Trout).

    Throw in Kinsler's regular capacity for 25 homers, 25 steals and a .350 OBP, and it's easy to see why he's my no-brainer choice for the No. 2 second baseman (behind Robinson Cano).

    Bottom line: Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Jason Kipnis, Danny Espinosa, Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist clearly have immense potential at second base.

    But when in doubt, I'll side with Kinsler's consistency in the fantasy realm.

17: (OF) Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

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    2012 Stats: 30 HR, 77 RBI, 95 Runs, 14 Steals, .286 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 6 HR, 14 RBI, 21 Runs, 2 Steals, .257 BA


    This lofty ranking for Adam Jones comes with a substantial caveat:

    If Jones' stellar May numbers (10 HR, 22 RBI, 20 runs, .298 batting) serve as nothing more than a lucky snapshot of his absurd athletic potential, then I'll be hesitant to assign a Round 2 grade before 2014 roto drafts.

    But if that 31-day tally represents a reasonable baseline of expectations for the next five seasons (Jones age range: 28-32), then we're in for a treat for the entire 2013 season.

    Subsequently, this No. 17 ranking for Jones might look eminently foolish by Father's Day.

16: (3B) David Wright, New York Mets

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    2012 Stats: 18 HR, 82 RBI, 84 Runs, 14 Steals, .309 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 2 HR, 7 RBI, 10 Runs, 2 Steals, .260 BA


    There's a certain amount of risk that goes with endorsing a fantasy star who's no longer a lock for 25 homers or 20 steals in a given season.

    It also doesn't help when that corner-infield asset is buttressed by a handful of middling hitters.

    And yet, prospective drafters should be all-in with David Wright next season, sometime in Round 2 or 3

    Verdict: Wright's still a healthy bet for 20 homers, 90 RBI, 90 runs, 15 steals and an elite-level batting average (.340 or higher for April, May, June) that belies his mediocre protection in the Mets' lineup.

15: (C/1B) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    2012 Stats: 23 HR, 95 RBI, 74 Runs, 1 Steal, .335 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 4 HR, 16 RBI, 18 Runs, .371 BA


    I might have been reluctant to assign an elite ranking to a catcher-only talent.

    But now that Buster Posey has dual-position versatility for 2013 roto drafts, he assumes a rightful place in this countdown of high-end fantasy gems.

    From a 30-day perspective, Posey boasts a .440 on-base percentage and 1.028 OPS.

    And for the season, Posey's .957 OPS stands far above that of his current Giants teammates...or any other catcher in the major leagues.

    Bottom line: Heading into his age-26 season, I've already penciled Posey in for 27 homers, 102 RBI and a .315 batting average.

14: (OF) Alex Rios, Chicago White Sox

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    2012 Stats: 24 HR, 87 RBI, 88 Runs, 22 Steals, .300 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 5 HR, 16 RBI, 16 Runs, 4 Steals, .303 BA


    In hindsight, it's hard to believe Toronto put 28-year-old Alex Rios on free-and-clear waivers back in 2009. (Part salary dump, part shedding of a struggling asset).

    But the Blue Jays' proverbial trash has become the White Sox' treasure, especially in 2012, with Rios on the brink of posting (or flirting with) career highs in triples, homers, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS.

    Of equal importance, Rios has been Chicago's best player in the last month, a telltale sign that he's embracing his club's nip-and-tuck battle with Detroit for the American League Central title.

13: (SS) Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    2012 Stats: 8 HR, 27 RBI, 33 Runs, 2 Steals, .287 BA, .360 OBP

    The Skinny

    Troy Tulowitzki's place in this countdown is neither a reward for a great 2012 campaign (missed a ton of games to injury) nor a nod to being durable for 150 games—year-in, year-out.

    But in the evolving realm of fantasy-draft speculation, shortstops are a vital component to the process.

    And Tulowitzki, from a 162-game standpoint, remains a healthy lock for 27 homers and 102 RBI heading into his age-28 season.

12: (1B) Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 30 HR, 96 RBI, 80 Runs, 8 Steals, .283 BA,

    30-Day Numbers: 2 HR, 10 RBI, 11 Runs, .299 BA

    The Skinny

    Do we really need to spend a lot of time justifying Albert Pujols' top-12 standing?

    We're talking about this century's greatest hitter—a good bet for 33 homers and 102 RBI during a slow season. Many hitters, just once, would kill for that type of career-nadir production

    Heck, they'd even settle for Pujols' mediocre-for-him marks with OBP (.342) and OPS (.865).

    Verdict: The days of Pujols ranking as fantasy's No. 1 asset may be gone, but he's still a viable threat to carry your club in 2013.

    By extension, a lofty pick in Round 2 makes sense.

11: (OF) Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    2012 Stats: 22 HR, 85 RBI, 89 Runs, 20 Steals, .304 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 2 HR, 6 RBI, 11 Runs, 4 Steals, .227 BA


    There are three reasons to support Carlos Gonzalez's vice-like grip on a Round 2 slot in roto drafts:

    1. Without Troy Tulowitzki in the Rockies' lineup for a good chunk of this season, Gonzalez's monthly tallies in OBP haven't dipped below .317.
    2. There are only so many five-category locks for 25 homers, 90 RBI, 90 runs, 20 steals and a .300-plus batting average.
    3. His production in May (10 HR, 26 RBI, 26 runs, 4 steals, .351 BA, .417 OBP, 1.145 OPS) might rank as one of the 10 best months of any MLB player this season. It also came at a time when the Rockies needed a dominant presence to carry the club.

10: (1B) Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 27 HR, 101 RBI, 77 Runs, 1 Steal, .304 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 5 HR, 13 RBI, 11 Runs, .274 BA


    Prince Fielder's seasonal numbers—which include an elite-level OPS of .921—only look pedestrian when paired up against Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera, a realistic Triple Crown threat.

    Or when people compare the dimensions of Milwaukee's Miller Park and Detroit's spacious Comerica Park.

    Bottom line: Even with a salary-driven (and nostalgic) change of address, Fielder remains a prime candidate for 30 homers, 110 RBI, 85 runs and .300-plus batting average.

    Of equal importance, Fielder is on his way to four consecutive years of notching an OBP above .400.

9: (OF) Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    2012 Stats: 34 HR, 81 RBI, 71 Runs, 6 Steals, .283 BA,

    30-Day Numbers: 8 HR, 15 RBI, 15 Runs, 1 Steal, .250 BA

    The Skinny

    This ambitious thumbs-up for Giancarlo Stanton comes with a few statistical assumptions heading into age-23 season:

    1. A healthy Stanton will flirt with 45 homers.
    2. He'll register marks of .285 batting, 85 RBI, .900 OPS and double-digit steals for the first time in his MLB career.
    3. We'll be having conversations about Stanton boasting a .385 OBP and slugging rate of .620 next September.

8: (2B) Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    2012 Stats: 30 HR, 78 RBI, 91 Runs, 3 Steals, .299 BA,

    30-Day Numbers: 5 HR, 10 RBI, 15 Runs, .284 BA

    The Skinny

    Fantasy GMs, especially the ones holding a late pick in Round 1, better not fall asleep on Robinson Cano next March.

    Yes, he'll most likely finish short of triple digits in runs and RBI this season. But the numbers, even with that two-category shortfall, are still sublime.

    Heading into his age-30 season, the window remains open for Cano notching 30 homers, 105 RBI and 110 runs in a single campaign.

    In fact, no other second baseman can realistically stake that claim for 2013.

7: (1B) Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    2012 Stats: 14 HR, 53 RBI, 57 Runs, 5 Steals, .342 BA, 1.056 OPS

    30-Day Numbers: 4 RBI, 5 Runs, .341 BA

    The Skinny

    Back in mid-July, before Joey Votto would miss many games to a knee injury, the Reds superstar maintained the following rankings among first base-eligible assets:

    First in doubles, batting average, OBP (.469) and slugging (.620) and second in runs and hits.

    Of equal importance, Votto was the only player at his position to boast an OPS above 1.000 (July 9).

    Bottom line: Regardless of how Votto finishes the 2012 season (and postseason), remember the above information on draft day.

    Also, treasure the following creed: You can never have enough elite-level corner infielders on a roto roster.

6: (OF) Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    2012 Stats: 42 HR, 123 RBI, 98 Runs, 7 Steals, .287 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 8 HR, 21 RBI, 20 Runs, .298 BA


    It's hard to imagine Josh Hamilton potentially wearing a different MLB uniform next year.

    Just like it was difficult to fathom the slugger's extreme highs (21 HR, 57 RBI, .360-plus batting in April/May) and head-shaking lows this season (.177 batting, .253 OBP in July).

    That aside, Hamilton remains a top-10 fantasy asset for the foreseeable future, regardless of how his plunge into free agency shakes out. Here's why:

    1. His six-day, nine-homer, 18-RBI explosion in May stands as the signature spurt of the 2012 season.
    2. Hamilton notched a .310 or above batting average for three months (April, May and August). He also enjoyed four months of OBP excellence (.355 or higher) and slugging brilliance (.575 or higher).
    3. At age 31, Hamilton is a viable candidate for 40-plus homers for at least three more seasons.

5: (OF) Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2012 Stats: 19 HR, 58 RBI, 67 Runs, 9 Steals, .303 BA, .899 OPS

    30-Day Numbers: 2 HR, 6 RBI, 12 Runs, 2 Steals, .209 BA


    I'm willing to extend Matt Kemp a free pass in steals this season, given his chronic hamstring issues.

    But it's also fair to wonder if Kemp has passed the point of no return in his development—where he's far more valuable as a power-focused hitter and defensive anchor in center field.

    In other words, upon drafting Kemp next March, do it with best-case scenario projections of 35 homers, 110 RBI, 105 runs and .310 batting...but not the 40 steals from 2011.

    He'll likely leave the thefts to Dodgers teammate Dee Gordon.

4: (OF) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2012 Stats: 30 HR, 92 RBI, 102 Runs, 19 Steals, .339 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 6 HR, 16 RBI, 16 Runs, 4 Steals, .284 BA


    Andrew McCutchen has enjoyed a remarkably balanced season, morphing from viable All-Star to no-brainer superstar in just one season's time.

    But the questions will surely come next spring:

    **Does McCutchen have enough supporting talent to endure a flurry of fruitless at-bats in 2013, courtesy of intentional walks or lackluster pitches?

    **Is he too important on the Pirates' power side to risk stealing 30 bases?

    **And does McCutchen have the physical upside to become a regular 35-homer threat?

    In lieu of that, check out McCutchen's absurd splits for this season:

    • Three months of seven-plus homers (potential for four).
    • Three months of 19 or more runs.
    • Four months of .300-plus hitting (with No. 5 in the offing), including three 30-day stanzas of .360 or above.
    • Four months of an OPS above 1.000...and six months of an OBP above .347!

    If that doesn't scream top-four pick in roto drafts...I don't know what does.

3: (OF) Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats: 40 HR, 105 RBI, 97 Runs, 28 Steals, .311 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 7 HR, 22 RBI, 18 Runs, 8 Steals, .343 BA


    It's been said many times on this blog:

    Ryan Braun may be fantasyland's safest bet for monster numbers in all five categories (that comment may have to be amended to support Mike Trout's big-league impact).

    Remember Braun's MVP campaign last season? Well, he's on track to match or eclipse his 2011 marks in homers, slugging and OPS.

    Right now, it's still too close to call on the runs (ambitious), RBI and OBP fronts.

    I've always been partial to the No. 3 and 4 slots in 12-team roto drafts—and that's prime territory for landing Braun next March.

2: (1B/3B) Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    2012 Stats: 41 HR, 130 RBI, 102 Runs, 4 Steals, .333 BA

    30-Day Numbers: 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 Runs, .358 BA


    If only the Angels had thwarted Mike Trout's promotion to the major leagues for another full season, then maybe Miguel Cabrera would rank as the No. 1 asset for 2013.

    After all, the first Triple Crown winner of the last 45 years (potentially) deserves a clear shot at MVP honors, right? Perhaps not.

    Mini-rant aside, there's plenty to love about Cabrera heading into next season.

    With averages of 36 homers, 118 RBI, 101 runs and a .324 batting average in five seasons with Detroit (2008-12), Cabrera has evolved into a virtual carbon copy of Albert Pujols (in his 20s).

    Of similar importance, Cabrera still has room for growth at age 29, meaning that I'll be mildly chagrined if he doesn't tally 110 runs or bat .335 next year, when Victor Martinez (season-ending knee injury) returns to the Tigers lineup.

1: (OF) Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    2012 Stats: 27 HR, 77 RBI, 118 Runs, 46 Steals, .324 BA, .944 OPS

    30-Day Numbers: 3 HR, 7 RBI, 21 Runs, 7 Steals, .252 BA


    Mike Trout's accomplishments since earning a late-April promotion to the bigs are the stuff of legend:

    1. Of the top-20 steals leaders (through Sept. 20), Trout and Ryan Braun are the only speed demons with slugging rates above .500.
    2. For the 30-day window of June 8 to July 8, Trout ranked first in runs (31), second in hits (40), 17th in homers (six) and first in steals (17). For good measure, he batted .360 in that time frame.
    3. In just 127 games, Trout already ranks first in runs, hits, triples, steals, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS among Angels batters—along with third in homers and fourth in RBI.
    4. Trout's Wins Above Replacement rating has routinely been set at 10...almost light-years ahead of any other active major leaguer.

    As a result, the 21-year-old phenom—and runaway Rookie of the Year—is a top-two candidate for American League MVP (with the aforementioned Cabrera).

    And for 2013, Trout is the most logical pick to conquer the immortal threshold of 40 homers/40 steals...or maybe even 45/45.