Fantasy Baseball 2013: Breaking Down the Top 50 Players, Spring Training Edition
Don't tell this to anyone outside of Florida, but spring (training) is upon us, so it's time for fantasy baseball owners to break out of hibernation.
It sure feels a lot like winter, but Major League Baseball players have reported to camp and are preparing for the new season. Those managing a fantasy baseball club should follow that lead and report to their computers to conduct diligence research.
Before even delving into the nitty-gritty of draft strategy, sleepers and prospects, what about the first few rounds?
For the most part, it's best to keep it simple during the draft's early stages. Go with the best available players to fortify your team's core.
The following is a breakdown of the top 50 players in fantasy baseball. Keep in mind that these rankings were tailored to a rotisserie league with the standard five-by-five categories. Custom league settings should compel drafters to alter plans to fit those particular guidelines.
Note: Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Allen Craig: Craig possesses the capability of providing the St. Louis Cardinals with Matt Holliday-like numbers, but he has never played more than 120 games in a season.
Jacoby Ellsbury: It feels like decades ago since Ellsbury made his case for fantasy MVP by hitting .321 with 32 homers and 39 steals. That power was likely a facade, but he could produce 15-to-20 homers while swiping 40-to-50 bases with a full season of health.
B.J. Upton: Are you willing to sacrifice some average for power and speed? Upton’s value depends on the early stages of the draft, as selecting a few dependable offensive stalwarts will alleviate the risk of grabbing an up-and-down .250 hitter.
Craig Kimbrel: This goes against everything drafters have been taught, but is Kimbrel worth targeting? It might be time to consider breaking the rules around round five or six for a closer who posted a 16.66 K/9 ratio and 1.01 ERA.
Gio Gonzalez: His 21 wins and 2.89 ERA will propel some owners to reach for Gonzalez earlier, but there are some other unflattering numbers to consider. His 3.43 walk rate is high for an ace, and his .267 BABIP will likely rise in 2013.
46. Brandon Phillips: It’s hard not to yawn just thinking about this pick, but Phillips offers solid production across the board at a scarce spot. Second base gets ugly after this. Do you really trust Aaron Hill to deliver another monster season?
47. Madison Bumgarner: The rough finish has some backing away from the 23-year-old. It’s one thing to keep a closer eye on his spring training progress to ensure his health, but the young lad has manufactured two nearly identical seasons of outstanding work for the Giants.
48. Billy Butler: There’s that power we have all been waiting for. After years of selecting the first baseman in hopes of him finding the deep ball, Butler notched 29 homers. Before catapulting him into the tier of elite first basemen, consider that he actually generated the lowest fly-ball percentage (28.8) of his career despite the power surge.
49. Adam Wainwright: If ERA is used as a sole parameter for a pitcher’s effectiveness, Wainwright’s return from Tommy John surgery would be perceived as a dud. But take into account his 3.10 FIP, 3.54 K/BB ratio and 50.8 ground-ball rate and Wainwright looks as good as ever.
50. Shin-Soo Choo: Too much appreciation for a 30-year-old whose power has soured over the past few years? Perhaps, but a change of scenery could propel Choo back to fantasy greatness. He’s a candidate to score 100 runs as Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter, and the Great American Ballpark could help him slash 20 homers again.
41. Yoenis Cespedes: He’s certainly not as glamorous as fellow newbies Trout and Harper, but Cespedes quietly had himself quite a rookie season. The 27-year-old Cuban hit .292/.356/.505 along with 23 homers and 16 steals in 129 games. He inflicted most of his damage during the second half, batting .311 with 14 homers and 10 steals.
42. Adam Jones: Buying players following a career year is typically a no-no, but did Jones just hit his prime at age 27? He did not ride an unsustainable BABIP or lofty HR/FB rate to a breakout campaign; he just played 162 games and hit a few more balls over the fence.
43. Ryan Zimmerman: Zimmerman salvaged a floundering season by heating up in July. After a rough start, the third baseman hit .319 with 17 homers and 55 RBI during the second half. Remaining healthy is always a big if with Zimmerman, but he would be vying for positioning with Beltre, Wright and Longoria if that was not the case.
44. Curtis Granderson: Speaking of hitting balls over the fence. Granderson strikes out a ton, so that average will likely look ugly. He’s also alternated from stealing 20 bases in odd years to 10 in even years. Some will take that tidbit as a go-ahead to pencil him in for another 20 in 2013, but that inconsistency should instead discourage savvy drafters. But he’s surpassed 40 homers two seasons in a row, so there’s that.
45. Ben Zobrist: He can pound 20 homers and grab 15 steals at second base or shortstop. Even with a .270 average, Zobrist is a top five player at either middle infield position.
36. Starlin Castro: After hitting .300 or better during his previous two seasons, expect Castro’s .283 mark from last year to rise. Don’t be so quick, however, to expect a bump in homers or steals. His 14 dingers from 2012 represented a career-high, and he never displayed much power in the minors. And despite swindling 25 bases, he was caught red-handed 13 times.
37. Jay Bruce: So maybe Bruce never morphs into the first-round superstar that some giddy baseball enthusiasts envisioned. Let’s accept him for what he is, which is an outfielder who delivers 30-plus homers with close to 10 steals.
38. Bryce Harper: Chances are that most leagues will feature a drafter who goes overboard and scoops up Harper far too early. It’s understandable considering the 20-year-old’s massive upside, but expect some slumps along the way from the youngster. While he showed off his incredible power and speed, he also struck out in 20.1 percent of his plate appearances.
39. Zack Greinke: Moving to Los Angeles presents Greinke with the perfect opportunity to line up his surface numbers with his dazzling peripherals. He fanned more than a batter per inning during his last NL stint, and his ERA should approach his 3.10 FIP from last season in the spacious Dodger Stadium.
40. Matt Cain: On the opposite spectrum, Cain frequently defies the Sabermetrics with the help of San Francisco’s friendly park and skilled defense. Years of success cannot be discounted, and improving his K/9 ratio to 7.92 cemented him in fantasy ace territory.
31. Dustin Pedroia: The veteran has accumulated at least 15 homers and 20 steals in four of the past five seasons. He’s also never hit lower than .288, so the floor is high for Pedroia despite a relatively low ceiling at this spot.
32. Edwin Encarnacion: No underlying peripherals indicate that Encarnacion’s incredible season was a fluke. Staying healthy and spiking his walk rate up to 13 percent fueled better results. Don’t write him off, but keep expectations reasonable since another 42/13 season is setting the bar rather high.
33. Cole Hamels: Remember when Hamels was the Philadelphia Phillies’ third-best pitcher? Now he’s annually a fringe Cy Young candidate. The 29-year-old has blossomed into a true dependable ace who is worthy of leading a fantasy rotation.
34. Paul Goldschmidt: Many expected Goldschmidt to produce mammoth power numbers alongside a shaky average during his first full major league season. Instead, he hit 20 homers but hit .286 and stole 18 bases. Slicing his strikeout rate down from 29.9 percent to 22.1 should encourage fantasy owners to find out if his best has yet to come.
35. Cliff Lee: This is probably the 500th, but certainly not the last time you’ll read this sentiment, but wins tell virtually nothing about a pitcher’s performance. Lee still posted a 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 7.39 K/BB last year despite winning a measly six games.
26. Troy Tulowitzki: Tulowitzki can hit. He also plays shortstop. So it’s a shame that he struggles mightily to stay on the field for the duration of a six-month season. If he played 160 games, Tulowitzki would undoubtedly outperform all other shortstops and catapult back into the top 10 overall.
27. Adrian Gonzalez: Everyone is awfully quick to abandon ship on Gonzalez after one off year. To be fair, he still hit .299 with 18 homers and 108 RBI. He’ll probably never crush 40 homers again, but 25 will do the trick.
28. Buster Posey: Catcher is festered with several intriguing options that will cost nothing in leagues where owners only start one. Don’t overpay for the .336 average, which should drop a few points if his .368 BABIP decreases to a more sustainable rate.
29. David Price: Who knows if he’ll duplicate his 20-win total from last season, but his 8.74 K/9 ratio, 2.53 walk rate and 53.1 ground-ball percentage present drafters with plenty to like. Price leads the pack of fantasy baseball’s second tier of aces.
30. Jason Heyward: His 23.3 strikeout rate will cause owners frustration throughout the year and will hold him back from reaching true fantasy stardom. Luckily Heyward also displays an array of power and speed that balances out a pedestrian .269 average.
21. Ian Kinsler: Other rankers slot Kinsler much lower, but have they looked at the bleak state of the second base position? It gets ugly fast, and Kinsler offers a rare source of plus power and speed with plenty of counting numbers. He’s produced 30/30 seasons twice before.
22. Stephen Strasburg: The Washington Nationals won’t shut him down this season, but they will still keep an eye on his innings. His strikeout potential is through the roof, but don’t anticipate him logging nearly as many innings as Verlander, Kershaw or Hernandez.
23. Jose Reyes: His days of leading the league in steals are over, but who’s going to complain about a shortstop who can swipe 40 bags? Compared to other shortstops, Reyes now looks like one of the position’s safer options despite the injury-prone label often inflicted on the dynamic speedster.
24. Justin Upton: Upton’s bad year really was not all that bad. The 25-year-old still scratched the surface of a 20/20 season while scoring 107 runs. He could easily return to notching a 30/20 campaign in Atlanta.
25. Matt Holliday: There’s little love shelled out to Holliday, but the veteran routinely hits .300 along with 25-30 home runs. Seems like a solid third-round selection that might fall later in many leagues.
16. Evan Longoria: Longoria certainly displays first-round talent, but he’s never put it all together in one season. His breakout loomed before injuries robbed him of most of the season, and it’s becoming hard to overlook his propensity to land on the disabled list. That monster upside, however, keeps him ranked this high.
17. Hanley Ramirez: He hit home runs, he steals bases and owners can play him at third base or shortstop. Ramirez can justify his positioning even without regaining his old .300 stroke.
18. Felix Hernandez: He may have just locked up seven years of misery by signing an extension with the Seattle Mariners. Run support will be scarce, but at least he can pitch half of his games at Safeco Field.
19. David Wright: Don’t hold your breath for his 30-homer power to resurface, but Wright can still stuff all five categories at a weak position. A drastic reduction in his strikeouts should erase memories of his .254 average from 2011.
20. Adrian Beltre: OK, it’s about time to acknowledge how great Beltre is. The 33-year-old is only improving with age, and the shift to Texas has rejuvenated his career.
11. Giancarlo Stanton: Many drafters are weary of Stanton because of Miami’s feeble supporting cast. He’s not the best bet to lead the league in RBI, but he certainly could sit at baseball’s apex in the home run department.
12. Clayton Kershaw: All signs point to Kershaw’s hip being fine after Don Mattingly declared the young ace the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter. This is a 24-year-old who has registered ERAs below 3.00 during each of the last four seasons. And his cozy National League ballpark gives him another edge.
13. Justin Verlander: Not that there’s anything wrong with Verlander, a true workhorse who will pile up the strikeouts logging well more than 200 innings. Wins come and go, but the ace with a propensity to work deep into games and a loaded offense working with him is as good of a bet as anyone else to approach the 20-win plateau.
14. Josh Hamilton: Aside from this first season in Texas, there has not been a significant disparity between Hamilton’s home and road splits. Although moving from Arlington to Angel Stadium is far from ideal, don’t expect the slugger to fade from obscurity with Pujols protecting him in the batting order.
15. Jose Bautista: An ugly .215 BABIP should absorb part of the blame for his lowly .241 average last year. While he missed time with a wrist injury, he still clobbered 27 homers in 92 games. Look for Bautista to bat in the .260s with around 40 round-trippers.
6. Andrew McCutchen: Don’t expect that .327 average to stay intact once his .375 BABIP regresses closer to the mean. But that doesn’t mean he can’t offer a 25/20 season with the potential for more.
7. Joey Votto: Will owners receive the Votto who hit .348/.471/.617 with 14 homers in the first half before a knee injury drained his power? Without much of a past injury history, roll the dice on the 29-year-old returning to form in 2013.
8. Albert Pujols: He’s in his 30s and regressing in nearly every major power category, but he’s still Albert Pujols. The old man is capable of notching 35 homers and a few steals, and counting numbers will come in bulk with Trout and Josh Hamilton keeping him company.
9. Carlos Gonzalez: Gonzalez has notched three straight 20/20 campaigns despite missing time during all three seasons. On one hand, that makes him an injury risk. On the other side of the equation, a full season could vault him to top five status.
10. Prince Fielder: He’s hit a ton of home runs and can no longer be considered an average liability. You know you’re getting a stable source of power from Fielder at a spot in the draft where stability goes a long way.
1. Ryan Braun: He’s not the popular No. 1 selection, but Braun offers dependability and major five-category production. Maybe the PED reports will scare some owners away, but how did that work out for the same people who avoided him last year?
2. Miguel Cabrera: If steals did not exist in the fantasy universe, Cabrera would reign supreme as the unanimous top selection. He’s the best power hitter in baseball operating at a position with much less depth than outfield. Nobody would blame you for taking him first.
3. Mike Trout: Is Trout money in the bank after one tremendous season? Some are now worrying about his speed after putting on a few pounds, but the power should spur more caution. Losing a few home runs and falling to a more realistic average in the low .300s would be enough to warrant drafting Braun or Cabrera instead.
4. Matt Kemp: While Trout bulked up, Kemp dropped some weight he added prior to the 2012 season. Let’s not forget that a healthy Kemp—who is on track to play on Opening Day—is a formidable 30/30 threat who nearly joined the 40/40 club two seasons ago.
5. Robinson Cano: No other second baseman can touch him, and few players anywhere else can match his durability. Cano provides a safe choice worthy of building a team around.