Fantasy Baseball 2014: Top Draft Strategy and Expert Consensus Player Rankings

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Fantasy Baseball 2014: Top Draft Strategy and Expert Consensus Player Rankings
USA Today

The deeper we move into March, the more panic starts to set in for baseball fans all over the world. This hysteria is caused, of course, by the plotting and planning for fantasy drafts that are starting. 

Some have already taken part in their draft, which seems foolish. Spring training injuries are going to derail a lot of things, so why would you put together a roster right now when you can wait two weeks?

Whatever your goals are this fantasy season, you are devouring all sorts of numbers and information to try to find any advantage you can. Instead of drowning in all that, we have a handy system to bring all the notes to you so making a decision is a breeze. 

We have combined expert fantasy lists and draft strategies from around the Internet with our own expertise to tell you which players to avoid, who to buy low and sell high and everything in between. 

 

Draft Strategies to Remember

Remember the Sluggers

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's easy to pinpoint players like Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis or Edwin Encarnacion because they are so much more than just pure home run hitters. 

In this era of baseball, where power numbers are down and multidimensional players have more value than ever, you can forget to include power hitters as the draft reaches the middle rounds. 

Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated specifically pointed out the importance of a top-tier first baseman to your fantasy roster:

The dropoff after the top seven first basemen is stark. So stark, in fact, that owners must prioritize position or risk being left empty-handed at one of fantasy baseball's most crucial spots.

However, I'm not as convinced as Beller that first base is as bad as he makes it seem. Yes, there's a drop after you get past Cabrera, Davis, Encarnacion, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt and Prince Fielder, but look at the names behind them:

Notable 1B Fantasy Stats, 2013
Player AVG HR RBI R SB
Eric Hosmer, KC .302 17 79 86 11
Brandon Belt, SF .289 17 67 76 5
Mike Napoli, Bos .259 23 92 79 1
Mark Trumbo, LAA .234 34 100 85 5
Adrian Gonzalez, LAD .293 22 100 69 1

FanGraphs.com

Even though Mark Trumbo is going to play the outfield in Arizona, he still retains first base eligibility for this season. He's not going to hit for average, but moving from the spacious park in Anaheim, Calif., to the dry air in Arizona could get him to 40 homers. 

The two names in that group to watch are Eric Hosmer and Brandon Belt. Both had stellar performances in the second half of 2013. Belt hit .326/.390/.525 with 27 extra-base hits in 221 at-bats. Hosmer hit .323/.379/.473 with 25 extra-base hits in 279 at-bats. 

They're not prototypical sluggers like Cabrera or Davis, but there's more than enough potential in the bats to hit 25 homers and hit in the middle of lineups that will allow them to approach 100 RBI. 

 

Don't Overrate Pitching

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With offensive numbers down across the board, it is tempting to elevate pitchers in fantasy leagues. This is the first mistake that a lot of players make in the war room. 

It doesn't matter whether you are talking about a starting pitcher or a closer, someone is going to freak because Clayton Kershaw went off the board in the top half of Round 1, causing a massive run on big-name pitchers before they need to be taken.

For instance, take a look at these blind resumes for two pitchers from last season and see if you notice any substantial difference:

Blind Resume Pitching Stats, 2013
Player W-L IP ERA WHIP K-BB Avg. Draft Position
Player A 12-10 204.1 3.04 1.13 216-46 24
Player B 11-12 209 3.49 1.12 199-54 77

ESPN.com

With the exception of a few more strikeouts, Player A and Player B were virtually the same last year. But because Player A is the bigger name, he gets taken five rounds before Player B in a 10-team league. 

Player A is Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, while Player B is Cincinnati's new $100 million man Homer Bailey. Don't get bogged down in names when you are drafting; look at what the numbers are telling you. 

Worse than those who get infatuated with starters are the people who take closers in the third or fourth round. 

Using ESPN's average draft results for this year, Craig Kimbrel is going 39th overall in snake drafts. That's not a surprise because of the work he has done the last three years, racking up 148 saves and 341 strikeouts in 206.2 innings, but is he really worth that investment when Trevor Rosenthal is going 64 spots later?

Of course not. Keep your options open. Instead of looking at who is getting drafted, look at where he's getting drafted and the depth at the position later on. 

 

Player Rankings

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally, an examination of the top players in this year's draft finds a mixed assortment of skills to satisfy the needs of every different fantasy player. If you like pitching, there are guys for you. If you like 20-20 potential, it's in there. If you like a lot of home runs, we've got power.

2014 Fantasy Baseball Position Player Rankings
Player ESPN.com SI Fox Sports
Mike Trout, OF, LAA 1 1 1
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pit 3 6 4
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Det 2 2 2
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Ari 4 3 3
Chris Davis, 1B, Bal 6 4 9
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Col 5 5 5
Robinson Cano, 2B, Sea 9 9 7
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Tex 10 7 17
Ryan Braun, OF, Mil 14 8 11
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Tor 8 20 14

Web

Since everything in reality always comes down to Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout, it's only fitting that the top two spots in fantasy rankings would be between the best all-around player in baseball and the best hitter. 

After those top two, there is a wide array of players who make up the top 10 for various drafts. Players not included on this particular list who appear on other rankings are Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 7, ESPN), Hanley Ramirez (No. 8, Fox Sports) and Adam Jones (No. 10, Fox Sports). 

Even though Ryan Braun is a controversial topic in casual conversations, he's still a fantasy star as long as he stays healthy. It will be interesting to see if those fans who hate him publicly carry that grudge into drafts, or if like MLB teams, they put their dislike aside if a player can help them win. 

On the pitching side, much like the position players, there is a clear separation between the top two and everyone else. 

2014 Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Rankings
Player ESPN.com SI Fox Sports
Clayton Kershaw, LAD 1 1 1
Yu Darvish, Tex 2 2 2
Max Scherzer, Det 6 7 3
Adam Wainwright, Stl 4 6 4
Cliff Lee, Phi 3 10 6
Felix Hernandez, Sea 5 5 5
Stephen Strasburg, Was 7 3 7
David Price, TB 8 11 11
Jose Fernandez, Mia 12 4 8
Craig Kimbrel, Atl 11 - 14

Web

Who should be the No. 1 player taken in fantasy drafts?

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Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish have earned the right to be the No. 1 and 2 pitchers on the board. Kershaw is as consistently dominant as anyone, while Darvish is going to strike out 10 per game. 

The most interesting thing about these rankings is how far Justin Verlander has fallen. Not one of the three sites examined has Detroit's big right-hander among the top 10 fantasy pitchers for 2014. 

Verlander didn't have his best year in 2013, but he still had 217 strikeouts in 218.1 innings. He's looking like a bargain heading into the draft. 

Jose Fernandez is going to be the "it" pitcher in 2014, which is to say because of his dominant rookie season, people will go out of their way to make sure he is on their roster in 2014. Everyone wants the new guy on their team, and it's understandable considering how good he was last year. 

A lot of things will change between now and the end of spring training, but keep these rankings and strategies in mind before making your final decisions. It can be the difference between winning and being mocked by your friends. 

 

All rankings courtesy of ESPN.com, SI.com and FoxSports.com

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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