Fantasy Baseball 2013 Mock Draft: Early Look at 1st 2 Rounds of Talent

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2013

Fantasy Baseball 2013 Mock Draft: Early Look at 1st 2 Rounds of Talent

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    Now that 2013 has officially kicked off and fantasy football came to a conclusion, MLB addicts can finally come out from hiding and start preparing for fantasy baseball drafts.

    Perhaps even more thrilling than the season itself is evaluating every player and assembling a comprehensive cheat sheet and draft strategy to win your league. Unless that's just me.

    The best way to train for draft day is through participating in mock drafts. By engaging in as much practice as possible, you’ll know what to expect for the real thing, and no difficult situation will catch you off guard.

    Clearing out the calendars gives us all an excuse to draft away without feeling as nerdy for beginning months before baseball season. To get the ball rolling, let’s simulate the first two rounds of a 12-team mock draft.

    This exercise assumes that the league operates under standard 5X5 rotisserie league scoring. Those in head-to-head leagues should not blindly abide by this listing.

    Also, this is not a pure set of rankings. Staying true to a genuine mock draft, I considered each imaginary squad’s first-rounder before selecting its second payer. So after slotting a pitcher at No. 12, I avoided choosing another ace for No. 13 since a team should not take two pitchers out of the gate.

    Now let the mocking begin.

    Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

1. Ryan Braun

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    The first pick rests in your hands.

    As everyone gives you the evil eye and questions if you obtained this top slot through underhanded tactics, you are pressed with a tough decision between three superstars.

    Ryan Braun is the complete package that fantasy baseball players dream of owning. He excels in all five categories, annually offering a .300/30/100/100/20 season with virtually no downside.

    Last season, Braun hit a career-high 41 home runs while also stealing 30 bases for the second consecutive season. Looks like he's just fine without Prince Fielder's protection.

    Since playing his first full season in 2008, the Hebrew Hammer has never logged less than 150 games, and his worst year consisted of only hitting 25 home runs with 14 steals, along with a .304 average, 103 RBI and 101 runs.

    Braun is the safest, most complete package available throughout the entire draft pool.  

2. Miguel Cabrera

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    With all that said about Braun, whoever picks next should feel thrilled to receive a third baseman fresh off claiming the Triple Crown.

    If steals did not exist as a category, Miguel Cabrera would become the undisputed No. 1 selection. He's hit higher than .330 in each of the past four seasons and has crushed 30 home runs or more during eight of his nine years in the majors.

    The 29-year-old took his dominance to the next level in 2012, hitting .330/.393/.606 with 44 home runs, 139 RBI and 109 runs.

    While the disparity in steals is enough for me to take Braun instead, the position scarcity will cause many drafters to lean in the opposite direction.

    Honestly, you can't go wrong either way. Both are commendable options to become the focal point of your fantasy squad.

3. Mike Trout

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    Wait, what about the rookie who hit .326 with 30 home runs and 49 steals? That's pretty good too.

    Forcing college students throughout the country to contemplate their humdrum lives, the 21-year-old quickly established himself as the best overall talent in baseball.

    Braun and Cabrera, however, are money in the bank (well, probably safer than that now), which is essential for such an important pick.

    For a player who strikes out at a 21.8 percent rate and amassed a .383 BABIP, it's reasonable to wonder if that average will drop. And can that 21.6 HR/FB ratio stay so high?

    This is not to question the legitimacy of Trout's striking rookie season or call him a fluke. I'm just saying that he might live in the low .300's and hit 20-25 home runs instead, which still makes him a fantasy stud.

    But it's just enough to prefer Braun or Cabrera by a slight margin in re-draft leagues.

4. Matt Kemp

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    Had Matt Kemp remained healthy last year, he could have matched his dominant run from 2011.

    On a mission to snag the MVP award he probably deserved the prior season, the star outfielder hit .417/.490/.893 with 12 homers and 25 RBI in April.

    Then, hamstring injuries derailed his phenomenal start. Just when Kemp appeared comfortable at the plate again, a shoulder injury sidelined the 28-year-old again.

    Through a murky 2012, Kemp still managed to hit .303 with 23 home runs and nine steals in 106 games. Even if he fails to replicate his quest for 40/40, a 30/20 campaign is still well in reach.

    Since this is the first time Kemp missed any action, he should not be labeled injury-prone and too risky to select in the first round. Bank on him returning for a full season to put forth a .300/30/100/100/20 campaign in a restocked Los Angeles Dodgers lineup.

5. Robinson Cano

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    This is a rough spot of the draft. The player you want here could possibly fall to the bottom of the round in certain circumstances.

    With no options breaking away from the pact, go with the the sturdiest player left on the board. Second base is scarce, and Robinson Cano is clearly the position's greatest talent. 

    Even though he can't offer steals, Cano plays a full slate of games every year, annually hits above .300 and has emerged as a 30-homer source.

    Over the past four years, Cano has averaged 28 home runs, 101 RBI and 103 runs. He's a career .306 hitter and gets to play 81 games in Yankee Stadium.

    Selecting Cano here also frees the door to swing for the fences more in the ensuing rounds.  

6. Andrew McCutchen

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    Going solely off the numbers from last year, Andrew McCutchen is a no-brainer to go off the board No. 4.

    While he's only displayed dynamic power and speed, McCutchen's .327 batting average should raise some red flags among savvy fantasy players.

    The 26-year-old's previous career high was .286, a mark he achieved during two consecutive seasons.

    Last year, McCutchen posted a .375 BABIP, well ahead of his career .326 rate. As the BABIP drops back to normal, so will his average.

    Where does that leave McCutchen in 2013? Maybe he loses a couple of runs and RBI, but he's still a legit 25/20 threat who isn't an average liability even if he returns to around .286.

    Just because a dropoff is looming does not mean he will disappoint in 2013.

7. Joey Votto

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    Three of the prominent remaining options available are first basemen, but which one is the best?

    Even though 2012 quickly spiraled out of control for Joey Votto, I'm sticking with him as the top dog at the corner spot.

    Around the All-Star break, Votto could have made a case for topping the entire draft board. He entered the not-quite halfway mark with a .348/.471/.617 slashing line, 14 homers, 48 RBI, 50 runs and five steals.

    After that, Votto failed to hit a single home run or steal one base. An arthroscopic knee surgery sidelined him for nearly two months, and he struggled to regain his power stroke upon returning to the lineup.

    Because Votto has performed so steadily over the years, I'm willing to give him a mulligan for his late-season vanishing act and instead focus on the scorching start.

    In a full, healthy season, the 29-year-old could hit around .320 along with 30 homers and 10 steals. 

8. Albert Pujols

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    The old man was dangerously close to falling out of the first round, but the Los Angeles Angels saved him by signing Josh Hamilton.

    After a slow start, Albert Pujols finished with yet another 30-homer, 100-RBI year. Even his bad is still pretty darn good.

    There's ample reason for concern that Pujols is well past his peak. His homers, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have all dipped in each of the past four years.

    Despite hitting more fly balls and line drives last season than in 2011, Pujols tallied seven less homers due to a career-low 14.0 HR/FB ratio. Don't expect his power numbers to slide down again.

    He at least now has a new buddy in Hamilton to help him in the middle of the order. Trout, who remained in the minors during Pujols' cold April, will also remain present for the entire year.

9. Carlos Gonzalez

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    Despite missing out on Braun, Kemp and McCutchen, another outfielder who fills up all five categories fell to your lap with pick No. 9. 

    Although Carlos Gonzalez has not matched his sensational 2010 numbers, and he probably never will, he has produced two of the quietest 20-20 seasons you'll ever see.

    For those struggling with how to put McCutchen's breakout season into perspective, look at Gonzalez's career trajectory. His .336 average from 2010 was unsustainable, and the 34 homers seemed a bit high.

    He still hit around the .300 mark with plenty of power and speed to satiate his owners in the following seasons.

    Since Gonzalez missed time during both years, his health status does raise some concern for a first-rounder. Then again, it also makes you consider the gaudy numbers he'd amass in 150 games. 

10. Prince Fielder

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    Late in the first round, this is an ideal spot to snag the last surefire slugger standing.

    With Votto and Pujols gone, Fielder is the last stud first baseman in a shrinking pool that formerly consisted of at least five or six top choices from the position.

    For all the talk of Fielder's inconsistency, he has never registered less than 28 homers in a single season. While he hit .261 in 2010, that now represents an outlier for the career .287 hitter.

    Nobody would feel poorly about receiving Fielder's .312 average, 30 homers and 108 RBI from last season, but it's not greedy to anticipate more power from a guy who averages 36 round-trippers per season.

    The Detroit Tigers also will add Torii Hunter and a returning Victor Martinez to the picture, so Fielder could also score more runs and drive more of them home in 2013. 

11. Giancarlo Stanton

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    You don't have to be a chick to dig the long ball. Anyone with a fantasy baseball team appreciates them just as much, if not more.

    So when a 23-year-old constantly rockets baseballs to the moon, we have to take notice.

    Giancarlo Stanton needed just 501 plate appearances to crush 37 home runs. These aren't your lazy balls barely clearing a small fence. When Stanton hits a ball, he demolishes it.

    There are a few caveats that might scare drafters away. He ended 28.5 percent of his plate appearances by striking out, so he can't be depended on to tally a formidable batting average.

    He's also battled injuries and will play for a depleted Miami Marlins squad that pushed Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes off the ship.

    But still, that power makes him the early-season favorite to lead the league in homers. He could hit 45, maybe even 50 home runs this season. 

12. Clayton Kershaw

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    After a long wait, it's finally time to close off the last round.

    Looking around, whoever holds this selection will realize there's a head-scratching lack of big boppers. Where are all the stud hitters to take?

    Batters are typically more dependable than top pitchers, but the opposite might hold true at this juncture of the draft.

    Since a run on aces could break out in the second and third rounds, consider grabbing one elite starter at the turn this year.

    If you want Justin Verlander, I'm not stopping you. I am, however, in the minority of drafters who ranks Clayton Kershaw as the No. 1 pitcher.

    Kershaw annually keeps his ERA below 3.00 and strikes out more than a batter per inning. He's channeled his control considerably over the past two seasons, now developed as a true stud who will keep his WHIP around 1.00.

    Not only does he play in the National League West, he performs in a pitcher's park. And now a loaded Dodgers lineup has his back, so the ace could hit the 20-win milestone again.

13. Josh Hamilton

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    Now that you located your ace, you need to supplement him with a big bat.

    Let's stay in California and pair the Dodgers star with his cross-town rival's newest addition. 

    Squeamish owners might want to steer away from Hamilton. At his best, Hamilton is a natural who demolishes anyone in his path, but he's also prone to painstaking lows where he can't find the baseball.

    If you can stick with him through rough patches and if he stays healthy, Hamilton will provide massive value as a second-round selection.

    Leaving Texas will sting, but Hamilton found one of the better alternatives by joining forces with Trout and Pujols. His home runs won't stay above 40, but the other counting numbers should not suffer from the move.

    Since question marks are attached to virtually every other viable candidate to pick here, go with the guy who displays the highest upside.

14. Justin Verlander

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    Even if Stanton felt like a bit of a reach at No. 11, it was worth it, since the chances of the player separating your two picks snatching two pitchers was astronomically low.

    With Kershaw off the board, grab Justin Verlander to anchor your rotation.

    His workhorse tendencies aid his fantasy value tremendously. Pitching deep into innings annually places him among the league's leaders in strikeouts and sets him up nicely to earn wins.

    For the second straight season, Verlander recorded an ERA well below 3.00. Before looking to past seasons to justify a regression, consider that Verlander has registered a sub-3.00 FIP in each of the past four years.

    He's also logged at least 30 starts during every season of his career, so even as a pitcher, he's one of the safest available options.

15. Felix Hernandez

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    And the pitcher run keeps on rolling.

    Watching Kershaw and Verlander fall off the draft queue presses the next drafter to eye Felix Hernandez.

    There are plenty of tremendous pitchers on the market, but none of them rise above the pack enough to warrant such high consideration.

    Hernandez represents another bulldog who has tallied at least 230 innings and 217 strikeouts in each of the past four seasons. A few shockingly shaky starts toward the end of 2012 robbed Hernandez of earning an ERA below 3.00.

    Wins are never a sure thing playing for the Seattle Mariners, but wins are never a sure thing anywhere. He won 19 games in 2009, so he could be in line for another well-deserved increase in victories. You never know.

    Since this team picked Fielder in the first round, it can feel more comfortable targeting an ace with the next selection. 

16. Jose Bautista

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    CarGo provides solid production everywhere, so let's pair him with a stud who can stack up the homers.

    Before a wrist injury cut his season short, Jose Bautista was hitting .241, which many took as a sign of a return to the status quo.

    But he recorded a .215 BABIP, so it more likely can be explained by poor fortune. Maybe he was due for some bad luck after a .309 BABIP guided his average to .302 in 2011, but he should now return somewhere in the middle around the .260's or .270's.

    Bautista also managed to knock out 27 homers in 92 games, so the power didn't go anywhere. He should resume to stray around 40 or more round-trippers in 2013 as part of a rejuvenated Toronto Blue Jays lineup.

    Stepping up to the plate after Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera could result in a bounty of RBI for the slugger.

17. Hanley Ramirez

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    You might not look fondly on his frequency to gingerly jog for a baseball on defense, and his baffling decline in average sure isn't helping anyone.

    And yet Hanley Ramirez should still remain a top fantasy option.

    He still can offer 20/20 seasons, and he now can accumulate those numbers at shortstop or third base.

    Now he accompanies Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier in a powerful offense that could guide him back to 100 RBI and/or runs, depending on his spot in the batting order.

    It's just the matter of the average. Since he annually hit above .300 prior to 2011, his .243 mark that year seemed easy to write off as a fluke.

    Then he hit .257 last year. 

    Now that's he away from Florida on a contending squad, Ramirez should kick it into gear and resemble a more motivated player.

    How often do guys relapse from hitting .300 yearly to sitting around .250 on a regular basis? If Ramirez can just return to around .280, he'll reemerge as the top shortstop in fantasy baseball.

18. Ian Kinsler

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    After choosing Votto in the first round, pair his high average with Kinsler's stat-stuffing throughout the other four categories.

    Those who can live with Kinsler hitting in the .250's will receive tremendous compensation elsewhere. He twice has notched 30/30 seasons and regularly scores over 100 runs leading off for the Texas Rangers.

    If they wise up and move Kinsler down the order, he'll replace the missing runs with more RBI.

    Votto will routinely compete for the batting title, but does not produce homers or steals at the rate of most other first-rounders. Combining him with Kinsler's power and speed creates the best of both worlds for two highly-talented players.

19. Evan Longoria

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    I pegged 2012 as the season for Evan Longoria to take the next leap into superstardom. All went according to plan before a strained hamstring ruined the party.

    His .244 average from 2011 screamed fluke all over, and that thought came to fruition when he hit .289 in 74 games.

    Returning from the disabled list in August, Longoria showed few signs of any pain. He grossed 13 homers and 36 RBI through 51 games, but he did not attempt a single steal on his injured hamstring.

    Longoria is undoubtedly an injury risk, but the upside is too substantial to ignore at this point of the draft. If he consumes a full season, Longoria could at least duplicate his 2009 numbers of .281/33/113/100/9, with the potential for more.

    Had Longoria stayed on the field, he would likely enter the 2013 season battling the top first basemen for positioning near the bottom of the top 10.

20. David Wright

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    David Wright no longer posts the gaudy stats that propped him up to the top five of overall rankings, but he's still worthy of a second-round selection.

    While his owners were pleased to see him raise him homer total back up to 21, his solution to the strikeout woes represented the most encouraging progress of his 2012 season.

    Over the past few years, Wright's average dipped, as he began to swing and miss with heavy frequency. In 2012, he decreased the rate from 21.7 percent to 16.7 percent.

    With that problem fixed, Wright now should resume annually offering five-category goodness to anyone who drafts him.

    Staying with the New York Mets probably eliminated any chance of him reaching 30 home runs again, but he still does enough of everything to keep everyone happy.

21. Adrian Beltre

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    Third base gets ugly fast, so let's seize the last stud off the board.

    Eventually, we all need to award Adrian Beltre proper recognition as a top-notch player who has only improved as his career progresses.

    Last season, Beltre hit .321 for the second time in the last three seasons, adding on 36 homers, 102 RBI and 95 runs. If Longoria earned those numbers, he'd probably enter drafts as a top-five pick.

    Beltre might not appear to belong beside the game's top names, but a closer look at the numbers reveal that he certainly does.

    Losing Hamilton and Mike Napoli could dampen his counting numbers a bit, but Beltre still plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark and has hit 96 home runs in the past three years combined.

    Longoria and Wright are younger talents with more upside, but Beltre is a safer choice for the owner who wants firm building blocks to kick off the draft.

22. Matt Holliday

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    After beginning the draft by selecting Trout, the most exciting player in baseball, let's team him up with one of the most boring, yet reliable star hitters.

    Matt Holliday is already 32, and he'll never match the insane numbers piled up during his days at Coors Field. His speed is also gone, so don't bank on any more than five steals.

    You know what you are going to get from Holliday? A player who has never hit below .290 and is working on five consecutive seasons with at least 22 home runs.

    Just in case Trout's power sours a bit, Holliday will reel in a steady 25 homers and 100 RBI.

    Sure, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward contain much more upside, but Holliday provides a much higher floor than these inconsistent young talents.

23. Jose Reyes

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    What's the one thing Miguel Cabrera won't do for the lucky owner who nabs him? That's right; he can't steal bases. Let's go ahead and fix that.

    There was nothing particularly exciting about Jose Reyes' 2012 season. He didn't win a batting title or steal 78 bases.

    Yet even through what some considered an off year, Reyes delivered more usefulness than any other shortstop.

    Playing a full season for the first time since 2008, Reyes hit .287, smashed 11 homers, scored 86 runs and stole 40 bases. None of those are relatively close to stats Reyes posted during his prime, but he's still a top player at a position lacking steady stars.

    After getting dealt to Toronto, Reyes will now set the table for Melky Cabrera, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. If he stays on the field for another full season, 100-plus runs is well in reach. 

24. Stephen Strasburg

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    I know I want this team to accompany Braun with a pitcher and a hitter, but deciding which ones presented a real struggle.

    Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Buster Posey, Edwin Encarnacion, Heyward and Justin Upton round out the top names available to take with pick No. 25.

    Rather than sorting out those guys, I'll instead highlight the top pitcher to grab at the turn.

    Many preliminary rankings prefer David Price as the No. 4 pitcher. I have no grudge against Price, whom I slot at No. 5 and would feature if this mock extended to the third round, but there's another ace I'd prefer.

    Stephen Strasburg strikes out way too many guys to pass up here.

    Don't make the mistake of viewing 197 strikeouts and walking away relatively unimpressed. His season ended prematurely when the Washington Nationals shut him down after 159.1 innings.

    During his first full season in the majors, Strasburg registered an 11.13 K/9 ratio. If he maintains that rate over 200 innings pitched, he'd accumulate 247 punchouts. 

    It wasn't just strikeouts either. Strasburg recorded a 3.16 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, displaying exceptional control for a 24-year-old flamethrower.

    If Washington lets Strasburg loose, he could challenge Kershaw, Verlander and Hernandez for the crown of baseball's best pitcher.