Fantasy Baseball: Early First Round 2013 Mock Draft Projections

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: Early First Round 2013 Mock Draft Projections

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    Now that the MLB season is officially over, let's start planning for 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.

    With a full season of statistics at our disposal, early October is as good a time as any to start preparing for next spring. Since you might feel drained after six months of baseball, I'll keep it simple by focusing solely on the first round.

    The first pick can't win your league, but it can dramatically inflate your chances of losing if you choose poorly (cut to Jacoby Ellsbury owners nodding in agreement). Deciphering between the game's top stars feels nitpicky, but someone who picked Troy Tulowitzki over Ryan Braun in 2012 will say otherwise.

    Perceptions of players could change over time; I've already maneuvered a few players around from rankings I made three weeks ago. For now, let's examine how the first round of a standard, 5X5 league might play out in 2013.

1. Ryan Braun

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    So you got the first pick of the draft. As the rest of the league devotes their scorn in your direction, you think ahead of the boredom and frustration that comes from picking at the turn.

    But this is about the first round, so in this scenario, you win. Well, you will if you make the right selection.

    Third baseman Miguel Cabrera will draw first-pick consideration, and Mike Trout’s 30 HR, 49 SB season will lead him to the top of several draft boards.

    There’s no obvious, sure-fire No. 1 choice, but Ryan Braun is fantasy baseball’s best option.

    The Hebrew Hammer has amassed at least 100 runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average in four consecutive seasons. His 33 steals from 2011 seemed like an outlier, but he swiped 30 bags this year to earn his second straight 30/30 campaign.

2. Miguel Cabrera

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    With Braun off the table, the decision comes down to Cabrera or Trout.

    While Trout has my full support as this year’s American League MVP, I’d rather have Cabrera on my fantasy team next season.

    Cabrera’s hunt for the Triple Crown holds more significance to fantasy owners than MVP voters. Batting average is an over-emphasized statistic, but it accounts for 20 percent of a hitter’s value in most fantasy leagues. Cabrera’s average has surpassed .320 in seven of the past eight seasons.

    A potent Detroit Tigers offense aided Cabrera’s lofty 139 RBI total, but Prince Fielder is not going anywhere next season. The 29-year-old has notched at least 100 RBI in every full season of his career.

    And 44 home runs from a third baseman? Yes, that’s very impressive.

    The 2013 draft season will likely consist of many experts and drafters debating over which stud hitter deserves the top spot, Braun or Cabrera. I’ll pick Braun because of his added speed, but either is an excellent consolation prize to whoever picks second. 

3. Mike Trout

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    The future 2012 AL Rookie of the Year (and hopefully 2012 AL MVP) just completed a season for the ages, so can he possible repeat it?

    Trout would hold the top spot with a longer track record, but too much hangs in the balance to pass on a proven star for the 21-year-old.

    His blazing speed mixed with premium power will make him the No. 1 pick on many draft boards, but I’d only draft him first in a keeper league.

    Scouts envisioned Trout’s production to resemble Carl Crawford is his prime, so the 30 homers demolished expectations. While you can rest easy knowing Braun or Cabrera are sure bets for 30 blasts (with the likelihood of reaching 40), it would not be surprising to see Trout's power numbers dip a little during his sophomore season.

    Due to his .381 BABIP, I’m not sold on the .324 average. That’s not to call his historical season a fluke, but a .300, 25 HR season might be more realistic in 2013.

    Before everyone jumps on me for hating—because these days anyone who makes a rational argument that is not loaded with unbridled optimism is labeled a hater—consider that I’m not encouraging anyone to avoid Trout. I just feel safer with Braun or Cabrera.

4. Matt Kemp

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    This is where things get tough.

    Before your league reveals its draft order, cross your fingers and hope that you don’t pick No. 4. The guy you want at this spot might be somebody else’s ninth or tenth choice.

    In most drafts, owners will probably nab Andrew McCutchen here. Or maybe they want a first baseman. Or maybe they prefer some position scarcity and reach for a pitcher or Cano.

    Some people might not possess enough fortitude to select someone in the top five after playing 106 games, but Matt Kemp proved in limited time that he’s a legit superstar.

    Looking poised for another MVP-caliber season, Kemp smacked 12 homers in April before his hamstring began to flare up. Two trips to the disabled list limited his gaudy numbers and caused Kemp to play conservatively on the base paths.

    Mangers looking for a strong finish were appeased when Kemp hit four home runs in September’s final five games. Don’t overreact to one injury-filled season. The 28-year-old might not return to stealing 40 bases, but a 35/20 season is still well in reach next year.

5. Andrew McCutchen

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    After such a resounding breakout year, it’s difficult to stay away from McCutchen much longer.

    There are, however, reasons to believe his impressive stat line could break down. His .374 BABIP calls for his .327 average to regress next season. Prior to 2012, McCutchen never hit higher than .286.

    As McCutchen’s power rises, his steals decrease. Owners will gladly accept that trade-off if he keeps hitting 30 home runs with 20 steals, but will the Pittsburgh Pirates’ star continue to run less? And is his 19.5 HR/FB ratio sustainable?

    Since McCutchen could still easily produce a .300, 25/25 season, he sneaks into the top five. 

6. Robinson Cano

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    It took a while for me to buy into Robinson Cano as a first-rounder, but now I’m sold.

    Let’s consider what drafters look for most in an early selection. The player should consistently deliver top-notch production. Check. Cano has exceeded a .300 average with at least 25 homers in each of the past four years.

    He should be a dependable, steady bet to stay on the field. Cano has only missed 10 games in five seasons.

    Selecting a player who is clearly the best at his position would not hurt either. Sorry, Ian Kinsler, but Cano is, without doubt, the No. 1 second baseman.

    Since Cano plays for the New York Yankees, don’t pay much attention to his sub-100 RBI season in 2012. He posted a career best in home runs and slugging percentage, so the power did not vanish.

7. Joey Votto

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    He has not hit a home run since June, but I’m still not abandoning the Joey Votto bandwagon. 

    Votto held a tight grip on the National League MVP trophy before undergoing knee surgery, but he has not channeled any power since returning from the disabled list.

    Nevertheless, the 29-year-old still sports a career .316/.415/.553 and has never missed significant time in previous seasons. His 2010 season (.324, 37 homers, 113 RBI, 106 runs, 16 steals) appears to be his peak, but I trust Votto to return to a 2011 level of production (.309, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 101 runs, 8 SB) next season.

    His conclusion to 2012 is a bit disconcerting, but a strong postseason would erase all doubt and spring him back up draft boards. If he limps through October, this ranking could look aggressive come spring.

8. Carlos Gonzalez

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    Based on other super early rankings, it appears that I like Carlos Gonzalez a bit more than others.

    The 26-year-old could escape the first round in some drafts, but I’m comfortable selecting him as my top player. How many safer 20/20 bets exist in baseball?

    Then again, I’m contradicting my previous point about targeting players who stay on the field, since CarGo has never played more than 145 games in a season. He makes up for lost time though, as he has posted top-round production in 135 games.

    Some might shy away from Gonzalez after hitting .261 and only five home runs post All-Star break, but his three years of service proves that those 57 games were a blip rather than a trend.

9. Prince Fielder

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    Nobody ever jumps out of their seat in excitement to select Prince Fielder, but if draft him you know you’re getting a dependable source of power.

    In his “bad” seasons that led owners to believe Fielder can’t deliver massive numbers two years in a row, Fielder totaled 34 and 32 home runs.

    Fielder’s inflated average is not a product of luck, but rather a sign of a maturing hitter. Fielder continues to annually increase his line-drive rate, increasing the mark to 25.2 percent this season.

    This also indicates a possible change of philosophy that had led the first baseman to swing for the fences less often. Even if he does not hit 45-50 homers again, he will reach, and probably pass, 30.

    Reliable power hitters do not come easily, so Fielder should not remain available too long.

10. Albert Pujols

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    The more I look, the more I’m weary or drafting Albert Pujols in 2013.

    Anyone who discounted Pujols after an abysmal April wrote him off too soon. He’s still a great hitter, but have his days as a first-rounder expired?

    In each of the past four seasons, Pujols has seen drops in his batting average, home runs, runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Pujols can’t afford to continue that trend if he still wants a seat among the game’s elite.

    Twelve seasons of Hall of Fame production keep Pujols inside the top 12. For now, his floor is still high enough in comparison to other shaky sluggers, but his days as the No. 1 pick are definitely over. 

11. Giancarlo Stanton

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    Attention baseballs: Be very, very afraid.

    At only 22 years of age, Giancarlo Stanton is already the MLB’s top home run hitter. The Miami Marlins slugger needed just 123 games to send 37 balls scorching into the stands.

    The young monster looks better by the day. In his last 43 games, Stanton has collected 18 home runs. That’s as many as Adrian Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez have each registered all season.

    His 28.7 percent strikeout rate and ability to stay on the field are the only factors blocking him from earning top five status.

    Next season, Stanton just might hit 50 home runs. His average might drop, but a full season of Stanton could resemble Jose Bautista’s 2010 campaign. You’ll settle for a .260 average if it comes with 54 homers, right?

12. Clayton Kershaw

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    If you want Justin Verlander here, that’s fine too. Both aces are neck and neck, but Clayton Kershaw’s favorable home environment in Dodger Stadium and playing in the NL West gives him a slight edge.

    Kershaw closed out the season in dominating fashion yet again, allowing a total of three earned runs in his last five starts. The 24-year-old would likely capture his second consecutive Cy Young Award if the Dodgers offered him any run support.

    A full year of Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez should provide Kershaw with all the scoring he needs.

    Or maybe not. There’s no use in predicting wins, so just go with the best pitcher and hope everything else falls in line.

    Assuming this is a 12-team league, find a top hitter to pair with your ace with the next selection. Josh Hamilton was originally in my top 10, but his inconsistency and injury history makes him too much of a wild card for my liking.

    Instead of taking the questionable hitter, I’ll break my rule of avoiding pitchers early to take the starter who annually offers 200-plus strikeouts with an ERA below 3.00.

    But if he stays in Texas, Hamilton still might be the best choice to kick off the second round.