In the first round of any fantasy baseball drafts, I ask myself three questions: How safe is this selection, does this player offer production at a position hard to fill and how many offensive categories will he help me in?
The first question is obvious enough. With your first-round pick, you want to come as close as you can to guaranteeing yourself steady production throughout the year. If you blow this pick, you're probably not winning your league.
The second is a personal preference. I prefer to sacrifice some production early if I can get a stud at a position that is harder to fill, like catcher or shortstop. It's much easier to find production in the outfield or at first base later in the draft, after all.
The third is a personal preference as well, but you really shouldn't be using a first-round pick on a guy who only helps you in home runs and RBI or simply jacks up your stolen base numbers. This player should be versatile.
With that in mind, here is my first-round mock for 10-team leagues.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
In fantasy terms, Miguel Cabrera is safety personified.
Beyond his Triple Crown and MVP last season, he's hit 30 or more home runs in eight of the last nine seasons, hit at least .300 in seven of the last nine seasons and has a minimum of 100 RBI in nine straight years.
Oh, and now he's eligible at third base, a position far more difficult to get production from than his old position, first base. If Cabrera isn't the first player on your draft board, you're playing with fire. He's guaranteed production at this point.
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
If Cabrera is the safest player in this draft, Ryan Braun comes in at 1B on those rankings.
In six major league seasons, Braun has hit less than 30 home runs just once, has a lifetime .313 batting average, has posted over 100 RBI in five straight years (and totaled 97 in 2007) and even steals bases, with 33 and 30 in the past two seasons, respectively.
Whereas Cabrera earns added value playing third base, Braun makes up for it by tallying stolen bases. Cabrera would still be my top pick, but I couldn't fault anyone for selecting Braun No. 1.
3. Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Few players have more upside than Matt Kemp. For that reason alone, he's my No. 3 pick.
Remember, Kemp is just a year removed from hitting .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 40 steals. In just 106 games last year, he hit .303 with 23 home runs, 69 RBI and nine stolen bases. Really, you're getting a very similar player to Braun with this pick.
The one reason I have him below Braun is that his stolen base numbers are more likely to dip than Braun, who has developed a strong game on the base paths in the last two years. But in every other category, expect Kemp to post excellent numbers.
4. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout could easily be this year's fantasy MVP (and AL MVP at that). He could also be due for a letdown in his sophomore campaign. Either way, he's still a top-five pick in my opinion.
Generally, I try not to expect a player's best season will be replicated each year. With Trout, it's impossible to know if he can offer a repeat performance. All I know is that when a player hits .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases in 139 games, you better not let him get past you if you hold the fourth pick.
He's obviously a risk, but even if he has a less productive season, he'll still probably be one of fantasy's most versatile contributors.
5. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
While the second base position has actually become pretty solid in terms of fantasy depth over the past few years, it's traditionally a position that is hard to find offensive studs at.
And traditionally, Robinson Cano is a fantasy stud. Cano has hit at least .300, knocked 25 home runs, 95 RBI and scored 100 runs in the past four years. He's a safe, productive player at a position with less depth than first base or in the outfield and he should be a first-round target.
6. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
If Joey Votto is over his knee woes, he's a batting champion and MVP candidate in the National League, no two ways about it.
Votto's 162-game season average has him hitting .316 with 30 home runs, 102 RBI and 95 runs. Even better, we already know he has a ceiling, as he showed in 2010 when he won the MVP, hitting .324 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI.
Votto is a bit of a risk in the first round given his fluctuating power numbers, but his consistent average ensures that risk is mostly alleviated.
7. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
It is really, really difficult to get solid offensive numbers in all categories from a catcher. And while Buster Posey won't help you in stolen bases, last year's MVP winner will help you in every other way.
Last season, Posey hit .336 with 24 home runs, 103 RBI and 75 runs. No, those numbers mostly don't compare to what you've seen from my top six players, but when you consider how much of an upgrade he is compared to every other catcher available, his value becomes immense.
You can find a lot of value later in the draft at first base and in the outfield. There isn't another Posey on the board. Consider him very carefully once Cabrera, Braun, Kemp and Trout are off the board.
8. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Somewhat quietly—probably because he's stuck on a Pirates team that doesn't get a ton of national press—Andrew McCutchen hit .327 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI, 107 runs and 20 stolen bases. With those numbers, some folks might actually I have this burgeoning superstar a bit low on my list.
Still, I'd like to see McCutchen replicate this performance before I make him a top-five selection. Before last year, his career high in batting average was .286 and he never hit more than 23 home runs, 89 RBI or scored 94 runs.
Still, McCutchen is only 26 years old and is hitting his prime. Plus, he'll help you in every category. If he's the fifth player off the board, I won't be surprised.
9. Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers
Consistency, Justin Verlander is thy name.
He has pitched 200 or more innings in six straight seasons. He has 200 or more strikeouts in four straight years. His highest ERA in the past four years is 3.45. His worst WHIP in that time frame is 1.18.
Oh, and he has 78 wins in the past four years. The dude is a stud every... single... year.
Look, I don't love the idea of selecting a pitcher in the first round, but it's hard to argue with adding Verlander. He's such a safe commodity that happens to be a workhorse and a strikeout machine. If you add Verlander to anchor your staff, you can ignore your rotation for several rounds and build your lineup.
Pitching is really hard to predict on a yearly basis, but Verlander is rock solid. He's the only pitcher worth a first-round pick.
10. Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista hit 27 home runs last year in just 92 games, and now has 124 home runs in 402 games played over the past three years. The man will be a constant source of home runs, trust me.
While he probably won't hit .302 like he did in 2011, he's a safe bet to once again eclipse 100 RBI and runs this year. In fact, with Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera atop the lineup, his RBI numbers should increase.
Don't be scared by last year's injury—Bautista is a fantasy stud, and a player worth snagging late in the first round or early in the second.
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