Is Albert Pujols still the top first baseman in fantasy baseball?
The ultimate goal in fantasy baseball is to assemble the best all-around team, and that feat cannot be accomplished without properly gauging the talent at each position.
Now that the NFL season is over, the "it's too early to think about baseball" excuse is not going to fly anymore. After all, Opening Day is less than two months away, with pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 11.
That means it's time to devote all of your time to digging through baseball data before draft day. Maybe with brief breaks in between for work and school, if those things are really that important to you.
Overall rankings are helpful but become obsolete to your specific predicament after the first few rounds.
Once you gather a group of stars to build around, drafting a championship squad boils down to a manager's ability to locate the best values at each position. The best player available might inhabit the outfield, but you still might want to snag a shortstop instead before all the decent options run out.
But then who's the top shortstop left? Is there a major disparity between him and someone you can obtain three rounds later?
Here is a complete look at each position's top talent, along with some names to monitor in the later rounds.
Note: Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
There's not much room left on the Salvador Perez bandwagon.
Position Outlook: Catcher is typically the scarcest position in fantasy baseball, but a slew of intriguing young guns are poised to provide a breath of fresh air. In standard mixed leagues that only require one starting catcher, you can wait until later in the draft and still land a high-quality backstop.
1. Buster Posey
2. Joe Mauer
3. Carlos Santana
4. Matt Wieters
5. Victor Martinez
6. Salvador Perez
7. Yadier Molina
8. Wilin Rosario
9. Jesus Montero
10. Mike Napoli
Honorable Mention: Miguel Montero - He's coming off two straight productive seasons, but his 22.7 percent strikeout rate and .362 BABIP from 2012 raise some concerns heading into this year.
Late-Round Target: Travis D'Arnaud - John Buck is likely to handle the catching duties for the New York Mets, but D'Arnaud could steal the job around June and become a top-10 catcher from that point forward.
- Even though he's the No. 2 ranked catcher, Mauer does not provide enough power or speed to justify selecting him too early in a draft.
- Don't buy Molina after a career season. Expect his home runs and stolen bases to regress back to the 15/5 territory.
- Perez will only gain traction as fantasy baseball's darling catcher as the season inches closer. The 22-year-old could hit .300 with 15-20 homers in a full year.
- Catcher is riddled with several power options. Rosario can easily hit at least 25 home runs again with the help of Coors Field, Santana should rebound from last year's power outage and Napoli should find a happy medium between 2011's breakout campaign and 2012's atrocity.
Paul Goldschmidt possesses major breakout potential this season.
Position Outlook: While some of the position's stalwarts are slowly fading to obscurity, a fresh batch of young hotshots are waiting to fill their place. As usual, first base is one of the deepest spots for sluggers.
1. Joey Votto
2. Albert Pujols
3. Prince Fielder
4. Adrian Gonzalez
5. Edwin Encarnacion
6. Paul Goldschmidt
7. Billy Butler
8. Mark Teixeira
9. Allen Craig
10. Ike Davis
Honorable Mention: Anthony Rizzo - Blame Eric Hosmer for causing skepticism in jumping a sophomore to the top of the list. It's not much to work with, but Rizzo sure looked good in 87 games last season.
Late-Round Target: Justin Morneau - It won't cost much to take a late flier on the injury-prone 31-year-old. If he stays healthy for a majority of the season, you could be looking at a cheap source of 20-25 homers.
- A case can be made for Votto, Pujols or Fielder occupying the top spot. The youngest of the trio, Votto posted MVP-caliber numbers before injuring his knee and losing his power stroke.
- Posey, Mauer and Santana are also first-base eligible in most leagues, but they were not considered in this ranking since they boast much more value when slotted at catcher.
- Encarnacion probably won't match his .280, 42-homer breakout campaign, so there's a good chance someone reaches too high for last year's stat line. Then again, he showed significantly improved discipline at the plate and could still provide around 30 homers with a few steals.
- Is Teixeira done? Although drafters now must accept a .250 average as a likelihood, he could still smash 35 home runs with plenty of RBI and runs batting in the heart of New York's batting order. He's no longer part of the elite tier, but don't plummet him down the rankings too much.
- Out of all the young first basemen, Goldschmidt offers the most potential to rocket toward superstardom. During his sophomore season, he slashed his strikeout rate and stole 18 bases at a position where very few provide speed. And his 20 home runs should be considered the worst-case scenario for the young slugger.
Brandon Phillips is a steady choice at second base.
Position Outlook: After Robinson Cano, second base is full of uncertainty. Things get especially bleak after the top five, where many of the remaining options are unreliable, injury-prone or looking to bounce back from a disastrous season.
1. Robinson Cano
2. Ian Kinsler
3. Dustin Pedroia
4. Ben Zobrist
5. Brandon Phillips
6. Jose Altuve
7. Jason Kipnis
8. Aaron Hill
9. Rickie Weeks
10. Chase Utley
Honorable Mention: Danny Espinosa - For owners who can afford to take a hit at batting average, Espinosa could reward them with a 20/20 season. But with a 28.7 strikeout rate, he would be lucky to hit .250.
Late-Round Target: Jedd Gyorko - How long can Logan Forsythe hold off Gyorko at second base in San Diego? Sooner or later the Padres should insert their top offensive prospect, who hit .311/.373/.547 with 30 homers in the minors last year, into their starting lineup.
- Most rankings bounce back and forth between Kinsler and Pedroia vying for the No. 2 spot. They're both premium talents in their own right, but Kinsler is still a 30/30 threat.
- Phillips is a relatively boring pick, but he's probably the most dependable bet around after Cano. He could provide another 18/15 year with appealing counting numbers in Cincinnati's stout offense.
- Can drafters trust Hill in 2013? This is the same man who hit .246 with eight home runs in 2011 while batting .205 the prior year, so proceed with caution.
- Well, at least Weeks stayed healthy. He hit 21 homers and stole 16 bases but accompanied those solid numbers with a .230 average resulting from a career-low .285 BABIP. If he can just return to around .260 and stay on the field, Weeks makes a fine starting option.
- Utley only needed half the season to amass 11 homers and steals apiece. The former top second baseman could rejoin the top five with a healthy year.
David Wright does it all at the hot corner.
Position Outlook: After looking at the top 10, third base might feel flooded with talent, but the bottom falls out quickly. Drafters who miss out on any of these players will scramble for a quality selection to slot at the hot corner, so make a concerted effort to grab one of these guys.
1. Miguel Cabrera
2. Evan Longoria
3. David Wright
4. Adrian Beltre
5. Hanley Ramirez
6. Ryan Zimmerman
7. Aramis Ramirez
8. Brett Lawrie
9. Chase Headley
10. Pablo Sandoval
Honorable Mention: Will Middlebrooks - During his rookie year, Middlebrooks accrued 15 homers and 54 RBI in 75 games. A 4.5 percent walk rate and 24.5 strikeout percentage should cause some fear for his progression, but 25-30 homers is still in reach with an everyday job at his disposal.
Late-Round Target: Mike Moustakas - Remember how much everyone loved Moustakas heading into his sophomore season? His .242 average sent many of his supporters running, but he's still a highly regarded 24-year-old who crushed 20 homers.
- Nobody would blame you for taking the sturdier Beltre over Longoria or Wright. But Wright stuffs the stat-card in all five categories, while Longoria should put it all together one of these years and cement himself as a perennial first-rounder.
- After the more alluring names fall off the table, pounce on Aramis Ramirez. Staying healthy during the past two seasons, Ramirez exceeded a .300 average and 25 homers each year.
- Don't give up on Lawrie just yet. He reached double digits in home runs and steals in a campaign that was considered a monumental letdown. Remember all the upside that led drafters to go bonkers over him at this time last year.
- Headley is another breakout player whose success should be regarded with skepticism. He crushed 31 round-trippers last season, squashing his previous career high of 13. Regression is knocking at the door, and it plans on snatching around 10 homers from his 2013 total.
Health concerns drop Troy Tulowitzki from first-round consideration.
Position Outlook: The other positions feature at least one sure-fire stud at the top, but there's no safe option to slot No. 1 here. Four players can make a case for No. 1, but neither comes without risk. After the top four, mostly all that remains are power hitters who struggle to make contact or one-dimensional speedsters. But has shortstop ever been pretty?
1. Hanley Ramirez
2. Jose Reyes
3. Troy Tulowitzki
4. Starlin Castro
5. Ben Zobrist
6. Jimmy Rollins
7. Ian Desmond
8. Elvis Andrus
9. Derek Jeter
10. Asdrubal Cabrera
Honorable Mention: Erick Aybar - Essentially a poor man's Andrus, Aybar should steal 20 bases while scoring a bounty of runs in Los Angeles' stacked offense.
Late-Round Target: Josh Rutledge - He'll shift to second to make room for Tulowitzki, but Rutledge still holds eligibility here. A dual-position middle infielder with power, speed and half his games played at Coors Field sounds like a good deal.
- Which shortstop would you grab first? At this point it's fair to surmise that Tulowitzki won't log 150-plus games this season, so he's too risky at such an early juncture of the draft. After getting caught stealing 13 times in 2012, Castro might not continue to receive the green light.
- Reyes can deliver a solid 10/40 line, but Ramirez could revive his fleeting career with the Dodgers and go 25/25. And how often does a .300 hitter completely fall off the map? A .275 mark would serve just fine from a power and speed threat who can be slotted at shortstop and third base.
- Desmond stepped up last season, but don't anticipate the same productivity this season. Neither his .332 BABIP nor 18.2 percent HR/FB ratio are sustainable for another year.
- I never thought I would say this, but Jeter might become underrated in some circumstances this spring. Most of his speed has vanished and he never offered much power to begin with, but he can still hit .300 while crossing the plate 100 times.
Expect a bounce-back season from Justin Upton.
Position Outlook: Many of the game's brightest stars man the outfield, which will lead to several players from the position falling off the draft board early. While outfield is not necessarily loaded with depth, the middle choices present more promise than other infielders. That doesn't mean you should ignore these top guys and fill out all your outfield slots later, though, especially if your league starts five.
1. Ryan Braun
2. Mike Trout
3. Matt Kemp
4. Andrew McCutchen
5. Carlos Gonzalez
6. Giancarlo Stanton
7. Josh Hamilton
8. Justin Upton
9. Jose Bautista
10. Matt Holliday
11. Jason Heyward
12. Jay Bruce
13. Bryce Harper
14. Yoenis Cespedes
15. Adam Jones
- Most drafters will likely scoop up Trout with the top pick, but Braun is a more reliable five-category superstar. Considering Trout never tallied more than 17 home runs in a minor league season, a dip in power is more than feasible during his second MLB go-around.
- Stanton won't receive much help in Miami, but he can hit home runs all by himself. If he lives up to his potential and crushes 40-50 homers, enough counting numbers will follow.
- Don't make the same mistake as the Arizona Diamondbacks. If hitting .280 with 18 homers, 17 steals, 67 RBI and 107 runs is Upton's bad year, let's stick around and reap the rewards from a good year.
- How high is too high when chasing future superstar Harper? A 25/20 season is well in reach for the 20-year-old, but it might come with a .270 average again, as Harper struck out in one-fifth of his at-bats last season.
Shin-Soo Choo should enjoy the move to Cincinnati.
16. Curtis Granderson
17. Shin-Soo Choo
18. Jacoby Ellsbury
19. Allen Craig
20. B.J. Upton
21. Desmond Jennings
22. Carlos Beltran
23. Alex Gordon
24. Ben Zobrist
25. Josh Willingham
26. Michael Bourn
27. Hunter Pence
28. Austin Jackson
29. Alex Rios
30. Mark Trumbo
Honorable Mention: Shane Victorino - The Flyin' Hawaiian swiped 39 bags, but it was not enough to hide an ugly .255/.321/.383 slash line. A correction of his .278 BABIP along with the smaller dimensions of his new home in Boston should guide Victorino back on the right track.
Late-Round Target: Lorenzo Cain - Missed out on Victorino? Luckily for you, Cain boasts a similar skill-set at a lesser cost. While prorating his seven homers and 10 steals from 61 games last year over 162 games might not pan out, Cain could offer a 10/25 helping in 2013.
- As the leadoff hitter for Cincinnati, Choo might score close to 100 runs. If you need more reason for excitement, Choo's power could also improve at the Great American Ball Park.
- Failing to match lofty expectations, Jennings hit .246 with 13 homers and 31 steals during his first full season in the majors. With another year under his belt, Jennings could loom closer to realizing those Carl Crawford comparisons (back when that was a good thing).
- Willingham has averaged 26 homers per year since 2009 and holds a spot in the middle of a lineup. He's not exactly the most exciting choice, but such formidable power threats are hard to find in the middle and late rounds.
- The unsigned Bourn's fantasy value still remains up in the air. It will, however, take a really alluring landing spot to propel him closer to the top 20. Since Bourn previously amassed 13 home runs over his entire career, don't expect him to tally nine again in 2013. His steals are great, but they're easier to find than power.
An excited Adam Wainwright knows that a big year is coming.
Position Outlook: Do you grab some aces early or wait until the waning rounds to punch lottery tickets on several young hurlers? As the sport delves back into a pitching-orientated league, MLB boasts a solid core of premier starters. Even those who prefer to seek offense early should seize at least one pitcher from this list along with a couple more from the 16-30 tier.
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Justin Verlander
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Stephen Strasburg
5. David Price
6. Cole Hamels
7. Cliff Lee
8. Zack Greinke
9. Matt Cain
10. Madison Bumgarner
11. Adam Wainwright
12. Jered Weaver
13. Gio Gonzalez
14. R.A. Dickey
15. C.C. Sabathia
- Strasburg is knocking on the door of ace status. If the world finally gets to see him throw 200 innings, we could be looking at 250 strikeouts from the young phenom.
- Despite a low win total, Lee is just fine. Don't penalize him for underwhelming in a stat that he bears very little control over. If he touts a 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and an insane 7.39 K/BB ratio again in 2013, he'll win more than six games. That's a promise.
- Although Wainwright posted an uninspiring 3.94 ERA, he also tallied a 3.10 FIP, alongside strikeout and walk rates reminiscent of his pre-Tommy John surgery days. Now that he won't require a month to readjust, he should be in line for a big year.
- Yes, Weaver is ranked rather low. Before punching your screen, hear me out. Do you really want an ace with a 6.77 K/9 ratio? Cain also posts a dazzling ERA and WHIP, but he has also bolstered his strikeout numbers. And he still barely cracked the top 10.
Can Kris Medlen dominate over a full season?
16. Max Scherzer
17. Roy Halladay
18. Mat Latos
19. Chris Sale
20. Jordan Zimmermann
21. Yu Darvish
22. Matt Moore
23. Johnny Cueto
24. Kris Medlen
25. James Shields
26. Yovani Gallardo
27. Jake Peavy
28. Dan Haren
29. Brandon Morrow
30. Josh Johnson
Honorable Mention: Jeff Samardzija - He struck out over a batter per inning while limiting his walk rate to 2.89, but Samardzija earned just nine wins with some of the worst run support in baseball.
Late-Round Target: Matt Harvey - A pitcher with a 10.62 K/9 ratio who turns 24 before Opening Day? Where do I sign up? If he can cut down his walks, Harvey could finish 2013 as a top 30 starter.
- Scherzer looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball during the latter portion of the season. After the All-Star break, he earned a 2.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP alongside a 110/27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Buy high on Scherzer, who registered the league's highest strikeout rate in 2012.
- Darvish and Moore can both easily outperform their ranking, but walks are too much of an issue to thrust them among the league's aces. You could receive a top 10 starter, but don't be surprised if they torpedo your WHIP instead.
- Medlen's draft stock will likely swing all over the place during the next two months. If he maintains his 1.57 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, he's pretty much one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Realistically speaking, Medlen's ERA can operate in the mid-threes while keeping his WHIP low due to an appealing career 2.11 walk rate.
- Before going down to injury, Morrow was on his way to morphing into a fantasy ace. While everyone drooled over his potential due to substantive strikeouts, he found success after cutting down his K/9 rate to 7.80. By pitching more to contact, Morrow also slashed his walk ratio drastically to 2.96.
Craig Kimbrel is, by far, the best closer in baseball.
Position Outlook: As usual, this year's batch of closers contains a wide assortment of unpredictability. After witnessing Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson carve up batters in the ninth innings, it became even more evident that closers are hard to peg. So why burn an early pick on one?
1. Craig Kimbrel
2. Jonathan Papelbon
3. Jason Motte
4. Joe Nathan
5. Mariano Rivera
6. Rafael Soriano
7. J.J. Putz
8. Tom Wilhelmsen
9. Fernando Rodney
10. Jim Johnson
Honorable Mention: Sergio Romo - If his arm can withstand the strain of throwing a slider so frequently, Romo will emerge as a top five closer. But he threw his go-to pitch 61.8 percent of the time in 2012 and worked overtime with postseason duty.
Late-Round Target: Glen Perkins - Despite recording a 2.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 4.88 K/BB ratio last season, Perkins remains baseball's best-kept secret. Unless the Twins find another closer by Opening Day, Perkins makes an excellent No. 2 or No. 3 closer to scoop up while everyone starts reaching for top setup men who are next in line to accrue saves.
- Remember that paragraph from the top about avoiding closers early? Well, it might be worth making an exception for Kimbrel if he's available at a reasonable price. He posted a 1.01 ERA and 16.66 K/9 ratio last season, establishing himself as baseball's best reliever by a massive margin.
- While drafting a pricey closer other than Kimbrel is inadvisable, Rivera's tremendous body of work earns him the benefit of the doubt. A 43-year-old seemingly returning from a year-long injury defies reason, but Rivera has shattered logic by staying this dominant on the strength of one pitch for this long.
- The idea of Rodney coming anywhere close to replicating his 2012 numbers is inconceivable. The 35-year-old registered a .222 BABIP and stranded 89.4 percent of his baserunners. And oh yeah, he's Fernando Rodney. In case you forgot, he recorded a 4.50 ERA and 7.88 BB/9 ratio in 2011.
- Johnson is likely to see less save opportunities, but the rest of his numbers are not as fluky. He compensates for a lack of strikeouts by avoiding walks and generating an inordinate amount of ground balls. Obtaining so few strikeouts from a closer stinks, but his ERA and WHIP should stay low enough to maintain value.