Spring is in the air. Well, it’s not quite in the air yet, but it’s getting close, and baseball season is right around the corner.
Pitchers and catchers will begin reporting to spring training on Feb. 10, and for many, this is the best time of the year. It’s time to start preparing for fantasy baseball drafts.
This article will take a look at the top 20 position players that fantasy owners should target early in the draft this year, and it will also break down each player’s potential for the 2013 season.
1. Ryan Braun: OF, Milwaukee Brewers
The Hebrew Hammer put together a monster season in 2012, and as long as nothing comes of the recent PED allegations (via Yahoo Sports), he’s due for another huge performance in 2013.
Braun is the type of player who is going to help in almost every category. In 2012, he hit .319 with 41 home runs, 112 RBI and 30 stolen bases. He also posted an OBP of .391 and struck out less than Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and a handful of others—in more at-bats.
It’s safe to say Braun will be the No. 1 pick in a lot of fantasy drafts this year, as he should be.
2. Mike Trout: OF, Los Angeles Angels
Trout has more upside than any player on the planet right now. He put together a monumental season in 2012, and he’s only going to get better with more experience.
As long as Trout can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, he’ll be a contributor in every major category. As the ultimate five-tool player, you’re going to get power, average, runs and stolen bases from him as well as an OBP that will likely teeter around .400 by the end of the year.
There’s actually a very strong case for making Trout the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts this year, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who decides to do so.
3. Albert Pujols: 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Despite an extremely slow start in 2012, Pujols ended the year with terrific numbers. They weren’t the kind of numbers that we’ve come to expect from the best right-handed hitter in baseball, but he certainly salvaged some fantasy seasons for the owners that were wise enough to hold onto him through the tough times.
With so much protection around him in the lineup, Pujols is in for another big year. Expect him to top his 2012 numbers (30 home runs and 105 RBI) with a little more pop and a higher average.
4. Miguel Cabrera: 3B, Detroit Tigers
While he isn’t a natural third baseman at this point in his career, he played the position pretty well in 2012. The move also allowed Prince Fielder to see a lot more time in the lineup than he otherwise would have had the two shared a 1B/DH role.
With Fielder and Cabrera protecting each other in the lineup, both finished 2012 with their typical numbers. Don’t expect anything different in 2013.
There’s no reason to believe Cabrera won’t finish the year with his typically monstrous numbers. Last season, he hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI. While it’s unlikely that he’ll repeat his Triple Crown success, fantasy owners can still expect massive contributions in nearly every offensive category.
5. Andrew McCutchen: OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been unusual to see a Pirates player near the top of the fantasy rankings in recent years, but McCutchen warrants the attention.
When drafting in the first round, five-tool players are where the money is made. McCutchen has good power and speed, and he’ll probably hit .300 or better again in 2013.
There are better pure power options at this point, but you won’t find this type of all-around contribution from anyone else outside of Braun and Trout.
6. Prince Fielder: 1B, Detroit Tigers
Power, power and more power. If that’s what you’re looking for in the first round, Fielder is your guy.
Last year was a bit of a transition for Fielder, who joined the Tigers and pushed Cabrera to third base. His 30 home runs were well short of what some fantasy owners probably expected from him in 2012, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t bounce back with a 35-plus home run, 110-plus RBI season this year.
7. Matt Kemp: OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp only played in 106 games last year, but he didn’t miss more than seven games in any of the previous four seasons. Don’t let his injury issues last year scare you away.
With 23 home runs, 69 RBI and a .303 average, Kemp still put up respectable numbers in 2012. If he can put in another full season of work in 2013, expect those numbers to be somewhere around .300/35/105.
8. Giancarlo Stanton: OF, Miami Marlins
The 23-year-old Stanton has been one of the most intriguing fantasy players in recent years. With only three years of MLB experience, the potential to see a spike in production is always there.
In 2012, Stanton belted 37 home runs and drove in 86 runs while hitting .290. The big question will be whether he can continue to hit for average (career .270), but either way, the power numbers aren’t going anywhere.
9. Joey Votto: 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Votto missed 51 games in 2012, so don’t be turned off by his modest numbers (14 home runs and 56 RBI). He still hit .337 with a shocking .474 OBP.
His power numbers can be a little inconsistent, but Votto has the potential to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100-plus every year. He’s also a career .316 hitter.
10. Robinson Cano: 2B, New York Yankees
You might get better overall numbers from another first-round candidate, but you certainly won’t get them from any other second basemen in the league.
With as deep as the talent is at first base and in the outfield, Cano offers the potential to snag that kind of production from a position that you wouldn’t ordinarily get it from. Then, you will still be able to fill in those other positions with big numbers in subsequent rounds.
11. Josh Hamilton: OF, Los Angeles Angels
It’s simply ridiculous how much offense the Los Angeles Angels have this year. With Hamilton in the fold, the Angels are the favorite to pound out more runs than any team in the league in 2013.
You know what you’re going to get from Hamilton each year. He’s a 30-plus home run guy with the potential to hit a lot more, and he’s going to hit around .300 with a lot of runs driven in. If he’s available toward the end of the first round, Hamilton is an absolute steal.
12. David Wright: 3B, New York Mets
I’ll admit it. Wright is one of my favorite players in baseball.
Wright came into the league as perhaps the best five-tool player out there, and while injuries and inconsistency have slowed him down in recent years, he’s still going to give you production in every major statistical category.
Wright has the potential to be a .310/25/110 guy every year, and he’s still fast enough to swipe 20 bases as well. After playing in 156 games in 2012, there’s no reason to believe he won’t have another full and productive season in 2013.
13. Carlos Gonzalez: OF, Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez may warrant a little higher ranking, but his production in the last couple seasons has been more modest than a lot of other outfielders that you could select in the first round.
He hit 22 home runs and drove in 85 runs in 135 games last season, and while he has the potential to be a .315/30/110 guy, there are less risky outfield options available in early rounds of any fantasy draft.
14. Troy Tulowitzki: SS, Colorado Rockies
A groin injury derailed Tulowitzki’s 2012 season and he’s missed at least 19 games in five of the last six years. That said, you won’t find more consistent production from a shortstop when Tulowitzki is healthy.
As is the case with Robinson Cano, there are better options at the corner positions early in every fantasy draft, but you’re unlikely to get Tulowitzki’s production from another short stop this season. If he can stay healthy, expect numbers somewhere in the area of .300/30/100.
15. Evan Longoria: 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Add Longoria to the list of players who would be selected much higher in fantasy drafts this year had they been healthy in 2012.
Longoria only played in 74 games last season, but he still hit 17 home runs and drove in 55 runs. The big question mark will be Longoria’s consistency, but it shouldn’t be an issue if he can stay on the field.
16. Buster Posey: C/1B, San Francisco Giants
Most fantasy formats allow Posey to be slotted at either first base or catcher, which means you’re going to get a lot of lineup flexibility to go with solid production and a ton of upside.
Posey has only scratched the surface of what he can do at this level, and after playing almost a full season in 2012, fantasy owners got a pretty good indication of what he is capable of doing at the dish. Expect him to tally somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 home runs and 100 RBI again in 2013.
17. Hanley Ramirez: SS/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
The biggest question for Ramirez is whether he can return to his 2008-2009 form. He has the potential to be one of the best all-around producers on any fantasy team, but last year’s dip in production and his .243 average in 2011 may scare some owners away.
Ramirez is a boom or bust pick in the early rounds, but owners know what they’ll be getting if he can find his groove and stay on the field. His power and speed on the basepaths make Ramirez an intriguing buy-low pick in a year when his stock isn’t nearly as high as it has been in the past.
18. Justin Upton: OF, Atlanta Braves
Upton joined his brother B.J. and budding superstar Jason Heyward in Atlanta this offseason, and the Braves will field one of the best outfields in the majors in 2013.
With tons of protection in Atlanta’s lineup, Upton stands to have an even bigger season this year than he did in 2012, when he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI.
Upton will likely be a second-round pick, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a player better equipped to contribute in every major statistical category at this point on the list.
19. Jose Bautista: OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Bautista is the type of player who is going to pad your home run totals and drive in 100 or more runs, but he doesn’t do much to help out in the batting average category.
The top of the first round in fantasy drafts is all about consistency and big-time production. Unfortunately, Bautista is less than consistent from season to season, but he’s still a steal if you can get him in the middle to late-second round.
20. Adrian Beltre: 3B, Texas Rangers
Beltre has been at it a long time and he’s still putting up quality fantasy numbers. Some seasons his average is a little higher than others, but he’s always going to hit 25-plus home runs and drive in about 100 runs.
He may not be a flashy pick in the first couple of rounds, but you’re unlikely to get better production from a player that will likely go in the 15-20 range in most drafts.