With spring training officially underway, it's time to begin pre-draft preparations for 2013 fantasy baseball leagues.
If you're like me, you've already done a draft or two to see where certain players are being taken and how to pick out the diamonds in the rough that slip to later rounds.
If you're not like me, well, it's time to start preparing.
Last season was a big year for breakout fantasy stars. Several guys came from seemingly nowhere to produce big numbers and be weekly starters on their manager's fantasy rosters.
The pace that some started at early in the season seemed unsustainable, but many of them quickly proved analysts wrong by keeping it up through the season's final game.
These same players may be useful fantasy options in 2013, but I'm here to tell you about the ones that are almost assuredly going to decline. Some of the 2012 stats were so gaudy that it would be unreasonable to expect the same again this season.
I've compiled a list of five position players and five starting pitchers, but let's get started with the bats.
Let's start with the guy on the cover, shall we?
Edwin Encarnacion was unbelievable last season, producing numbers that we would have expected from slugger Jose Bautista had he not been injured.
Encarnacion set career-highs in just about every single offensive category. Let's take a look at his numbers:
.280/.384/.557, 42 home runs, 110 RBI, 93 runs, 152 hits, 24 doubles, 13 stolen bases, 84 walks and 94 strikeouts.
Those numbers were compiled in just 151 games, so we can only imagine what his numbers would have been if he played in all 162 games.
Encarnacion may finally be blossoming into a consistent player in the league, but it's unlikely that he'll duplicate those amazing numbers this season.
I can see him improving on his number of doubles and possibly walks, but he'll likely hit fewer home runs (maybe even 12 to 15 less) and drive in less runs.
He and Bautista will put up strong numbers in the middle of the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup, but expecting numbers like this again from Encarnacion may leave you with upsetting results.
After three straight "meh" seasons from Alfonso Soriano, he flashed some power and run production capabilities in 2012.
His line of .262/.322/.499 was the best he's posted since 2008. His 32 home runs were the most he's hit since 2007. His 108 RBI were the highest mark of his 14-year career.
To assume that he'll hit this well again in his 15th season is ludicrous.
It's clear that Soriano is not the dynamic player he once was with the New York Yankees when he was a perennial 30-30 threat, but now he shouldn't even be relied upon for power and run production.
The Chicago Cubs' lineup may not give him many opportunities to knock in runs, and his high strikeout total (153 in 2012) scares me just a bit.
Throw in the fact that he can't be relied upon to score many runs (68 in 2012) or draw many walks (hasn't drawn over 45 since 2006), and he's not someone you want on your team.
At the very least, don't draft him until the late-middle rounds.
Austin Jackson is another guy that strikes out a heck of a lot and, to be quite honest, that scares me on draft day.
He broke out in a big way in 2012, striking out nearly 50 times fewer than he did in 2011 (though he still was set down 134 times). He produced a strong line of .300/.377/.479 with a league-leading 10 triples and 16 home runs.
Playing in the spacious Comerica Park for half of his games, fantasy owners can be assured that he'll rack up the extra-base hits.
That being said, fantasy owners should not expect another .300 season from him in 2013.
I project a .280 average with 12 home runs and 50 RBI with around 18 stolen bases, numbers that would make him a decent third or fourth outfielder. The high number of strikeouts could make him less valuable, though.
In leagues that punish players who strikeout, Jackson may not be a guy that you want to reach for on draft day.
He shouldn't go undrafted, nor should he be drafted in the later rounds. Just don't reach for him, that's all I'm saying.
It's a little weird to think that this will be Alex Rios' 10th season in the majors, especially when you consider that he produced the best season of his career in 2012.
He hit .302/.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI, 23 stolen bases, 37 doubles, eight triples and 93 runs scored.
He really filled the stat sheet and was rewarded with a 15th-place finish in the American League MVP voting. I don't know how willing I am to trust him in 2013, though.
That's an inkling that's based solely off how inconsistent he's been over the course of his entire career.
The last time he produced similar numbers (2007 with the Toronto Blue Jays), he followed it up with four straight seasons of relative mediocrity.
In two of the four seasons (2009 and 2011), I wouldn't even have wanted him on my fantasy team.
Of course, there's the possibility that Rios has finally figured it all out pretty late in his career. I need to see a little more from him before I'm convinced, and that will make me wary of drafting him early on draft day.
I advise you do be wary as well.
Yoenis Cespedes had a fantastic rookie season despite playing in just 129 games. Here's a quick look at his offensive numbers:
.292/.356/.505, 23 home runs, 82 RBI, 25 doubles, five triples, 16 stolen bases, 70 runs, 142 hits and 102 strikeouts
I think pitchers will adjust to Cespedes' powerful swing in 2013 and will throw him many more off-speed pitches to try and catch him off-balance. Cespedes may adjust to those pitches by midseason, but it could be too late to salvage his final line.
For the amount of time he was healthy, the numbers he produced last season were great. In a season in which he plays 150-plus games, those numbers appear much more pedestrian.
I like Cespedes as a third outfielder in 2013, but no more. He may prove himself to be worth more as the season's first months pass, but the early season struggles I'm predicting may not be worth the risk on draft day.
I don't blame you for taking him at the beginning of the middle rounds, but I suggest otherwise.
R.A. Dickey literally came out of nowhere last season to be the best pitcher in the National League—by far.
He led the league in innings pitched (233.2), strikeouts (230), batters faced (927), games started (33), complete games (five) and shutouts (three).
That led to a record of 20-6 and the NL Cy Young Award.
Now, he'll be suiting up for the Toronto Blue Jays who play in the powerful AL East, and it may not be as easy for him to duplicate those numbers.
Questions also remain about how well he'll pitch inside of a dome (the place were he'll likely pitch about half of his games), and that transition could possibly have a negative effect on his incredible knuckleball.
Long story short, there are a lot of questions surrounding Dickey entering the 2013 season.
I wouldn't draft him as your No. 1 pitcher if I were you, but he could definitely suffice as a low-end No. 2 with tremendous upside.
Unless you're an established ace, I just don't trust pitchers to consistently put up strong numbers on the Texas Rangers. That ballpark just wields too many long balls and shots to the gap.
Matt Harrison did do a great job last season, though, and another strong one from him would make him an established pitcher in my book.
I just don't know if I'm willing to bank on it happening.
Harrison produced a more-than-respectable 3.29 ERA and a record of 18-11 in 2012. He doesn't strike out a ton of guys (just 133 in 213.1 innings), nor does he walk all that many (just 2.5 per nine innings).
He could very well be a young pitcher on the rise in the majors, but it's still too early to tell if he can be a consistent starter.
He's recently coming off three straight seasons in which he produced a WHIP over 1.500 (2008-10), albeit all three of those seasons saw him in much reduced roles than he's had in 2011 and 2012.
Harrison is a hit-or-miss kind of guy in 2013 and one that I want to see more from before I pin him as a top-three starter on my fantasy squad.
Even though he's still without a team, Kyle Lohse is a guy that will be a part of a major league rotation by Opening Day. That makes him a guy worth draft consideration on draft day.
Don't draft him expecting a 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA like he produced in 2012, though.
Lohse has had a few very good seasons in his 12-year career as a starting pitcher, but none of them were ever followed up by an equally strong season.
Take a look at 2008, his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 200.0 innings.
His 2009 campaign? Pretty much a complete "180."
He pitched to a 4.74 ERA and had a poor 6-10 record. That was in just 23 games (22 starts), but it's obvious that he was not the same guy he was in 2008.
Lohse is not a fantasy ace, nor is he a guy I want as a top-three starter on my team. I'd feel the most comfortable with him as a replacement starter on my squad.
Max Scherzer was one of the best strikeout artists in baseball in 2012, striking out 231 batters in just 187.2 innings. His 11.1 K/9 mark led the American League.
Part of what made him so valuable last season in fantasy was his incredible strikeout total. His 16 wins was a solid numbers, as was his ERA of 3.74. Had he only recorded his previous career-high in strikeouts (184), he wouldn't have been considered a top-25 pitcher.
He struck out 174 in 2011, and a near 60-strikeout jump from season-to-season isn't something that happens often—and it's definitely not something I'd pin as a guarantee for the following campaign.
I don't doubt that he'll strikeout close to 200 men, but a number like he compiled last season is unlikely.
He's also never thrown more than 195 innings in the four full seasons he's been a starting pitcher. That's something that worries me as draft day approaches.
Innings equals points in standard scoring head-to-head leagues, and guys that can consistently toss 200-plus innings of solid ball are ones I want on my team.
Scherzer's a good guy to have at the back of the rotation, but not as the high-end three that some sites are pinning him as.
After two consecutive seasons with an ERA of at least 5.15, A.J. Burnett pitched very well with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.
He had an ERA of 3.51 (his best since 2005 with the Florida Marlins) and earned 16 wins. He struck out 180 in 202.1 innings.
Burnett, generally known for not having the best command, was able to put together a K/BB ratio of 2.90, his best since 2006 and much better than his career mark of 2.22.
For a starter entering his 15th season in the league, it may not be fair to expect much more—or, in Burnett's case, the same.
Infamous for his inconsistencies, Burnett pitched last season without the weight of the world on his shoulders like he had in New York with the Yankees. The National League was clearly warm and welcoming to the big right-hander, but do you want to reach for Burnett and rely on him to pitch like this again?
I like Burnett has a pitcher for my bench that can start when he has two starts in a week or if another pitcher gets injured, but I don't like him as one of the mainstays in my rotation.
Don't get too drawn in by his 2012 stats. Given the rest of his career, it's not likely that you'll see those numbers again in 2013.