Fantasy baseball leagues across the country are up and running ahead of the 2011 season. Here are some predictions and projections for the first two rounds of a standard 12-team league, based on average draft positions over the past week.
Overview: There seems to be little debate over the top few picks, with Albert Pujols the consensus No. 1 choice. First base is top heavy with talent, with the top two fantasy shortstops in the game head-and-shoulders above the rest.
1.1 Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
Whatever matrix you want to use to project players, Pujols is at the top of virtually every single one of them.
He's a lock for 40 homers, 120 RBI and a .325 batting average, and he'll even contribute triple-digit runs and a dozen or more steals. He's the gold standard for fantasy players everywhere.
1.2 Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins
Hanley Ramirez has been one of the game's elite for a few years now and 2011 will be no different.
He missed just 32 games going into last season and has a phenomenal combination of speed and power. He won't put up the production numbers that others will, but at thin position he's as good as they come. Expect a slight bounce back to 2009 numbers.
1.3 Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
Miggy has cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walk percentage for each of the past three years and there's no reason to suggest he won't replicate his 2010 numbers.
Expect .320, 35 homers and 115-120 RBI. He doesn't have much more upside than that, but looking at those numbers, you don't need to consider a higher ceiling.
1.4 Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
Tulo missed a quarter of the season last year and still hit 27 homers and drove in 95 runs. He's probably not going to bat .315 again, but his power is very real and he's an outstanding fastball hitter.
A total of 25 homers and 90 RBI has to be considered a minimum here, but he could easily border on a 30 and 100 year if he stays healthy enough for 150 games. If you want an elite shortstop, miss out on Han-Ram and have a top five pick, Tulowitzki is your man.
1.5 Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
I've seen Longoria go as high as second for owners who know there are enough good first basemen to go around. The fact is that there are very few elite fantasy third basemen—only four guys manning the hot corner have an average draft position below 50.
Longoria's power numbers took a big hit last season, but this can be attributed to an unusually low percentage of his flyballs leaving the yard. All things being equal, expect another 30 home-run season.
Combine that with a near-.300 average, triple-digit runs and RBI and at least 12 stolen bases, and you can see his value.
1.6 Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
Gonzalez is the first of two or three outfielders expected to go in the first round.
While many fans expected a jump in home runs in 2010, nobody imagined the power explosion that actually occurred. His 34 homers represent a 50-percent increase on his previous single-season best.
Gonzalez is still elite, but there's no way he is duplicating his 2010 numbers. First, there's no evidence to suggest his HR/FB rate will stay at 20 percent. Secondly, his .336 average was the result of an unrepeatable .384 BABIP (the batting average of balls in play, traditionally around .300), so expect that to dip.
A line of 27 homers, a .305 average and 20 steals is much more realistic, although with an ADP of six, people already seem to be overpaying for him.
1.7 Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
Votto hit fewer fly balls in 2010 than the previous year, but something clicked and all of a sudden one-in-four were leaving the yard. That's impressive.
Votto is walking more and striking out more, but his .324 average was much in keeping with his averages and his speed was not that unexpected considering how fast we always knew him to be.
His home run total likely won’t be repeated, but in that lineup he could come close to 100 runs and 100 RBI.
All of a sudden, he’s not that far from Miguel Cabrera territory.
1.8 Adrian Gonzalez, 1B Red Sox
Gonzalez was an offensive juggernaut in San Diego and you have to think that his value will only increase now that he’s in Boston.
Petco Park was an absolute nightmare for hitters and Gonzalez still averaged 32 homers, 93 runs, 100 RBI, 35 doubles and a .288 average over his five seasons in town. In addition, he only missed 11 games in total.
Fenway isn’t a home run park so don’t expect a massive climb in this category, but Boston scored more runs than every team other than the Yankees in 2010 so another 100-run, 110-RBI All-Star season is in the cards.
Gonzalez is ranked No. 10 in Yahoo preseason rankings, but I have no problem taking him at No. 8.
1.9 David Wright, 3B, Mets
For all the talk of Wright struggling in Citi Field, his 2010 numbers weren’t that different to those in Shea Stadium.
A healthy Wright could put up at least 25 homers this season, but there are some warning signs in place. His walk rate has decreased in each of the last four years and his strikeout rate has been on the rise since ’08.
Gamble realistically on a repeat of 2010 and put any doubts from ’09 behind you.
1.10 Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
Braun has power and speed and while he is a known entity at this point in his career, you may get him for a slight bargain if people dwell on him hitting just 25 homers last year.
His average dropped 16 points and was below his career mark, and he lost 10 percent on both his RBI tally and runs scored.
The 2011 season has all the hallmarks of a bounce-back year, and as long as he shows a little more patience when they throw him junk, he’ll be just fine. He won’t hit .320 again, but expect everything else to return to normal.
1.11 Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
On average, Cano is being drafted toward the end of the first round, but he has been taken as early as fifth overall and as late as the middle of the second round.
With Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and possibly Rickie Weeks all available by the end of the third round, there’s no need to reach for Cano. Still, know that he is the best at his position.
He is the real deal. He has power, his .319 average is legit, his walk rate has risen for three consecutive years and he just happens to be a dead pull hitter aiming directly into the short porch down Yankee Stadium’s right field line. Batting fifth in that lineup demands success and he can give it to you.
1.12 Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
Yahoo is ranking Teixeira 17th in its preseason list, but the fans are speaking loud and clear that he should be a first-rounder. CBS is ranking him 11th and MLB.com 13th, but he fell to 22nd in an ESPN experts’ draft and the Talented Mr. Roto Matthew Berry has him at No. 28 on his big board.
A 30-homer, 100-RBI season is a lock, and you can expect his batting average to increase some 30 points back towards .286 when his BABIP evens out. A campaign much like 2008 seems very likely.
Overview: Depending on how much you value pitching and position scarcity, this second round could be for you. It’s generally where the top catcher and pitcher gets drafted, so you’ll have several decisions to make.
Do you want Joe Mauer, who is in his own tier of one? Do you want to be the person who goes against the grain and starts a run on pitchers? Or do you want the best position player available?
2.1 Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
Hamilton will essentially put up the same numbers of Teixeira, so interchange them as you want. Another 30-homer, 100-RBI season is possible, but don’t expect a .360 average.
His power is very real, but something along the lines of .320 is much more realistic. He needs to get 600 at-bats to give you maximum return on your selection, so keep an eye on him in spring training.
2.2 Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies
Halladay has an average draft position of 14, but it will help if you know the other owners in your league. I’ve been in the same league for seven years with the same guys, and I know that he will be gone by the end of the first round. Likewise, you may have the 20th overall pick and know you still have a shot at him.
Halladay’s strikeout rate has increased over the last four years and his walk rate has dropped over that same time span, so there’s evidence to suggest he’s right where he wants to be. It’s going to be hard to replicate his 2010 numbers, especially considering his higher-than-average strand rates and lower-than-normal batting average, so expect a slight drop—maybe 18 wins and a 2.70 ERA.
2.3 Carl Crawford, OF, Red Sox
Crawford has the best raw speed of any fantasy player in the first two rounds, and that alone makes him a sought-after commodity. He could go in the first round, but it’s unlikely. There’s even a chance he could slip a few more places if owners want to grab power bats like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder.
A 40-steal season is almost a certainty and considering the move to Boston, you can expect his runs scored to increase with him batting at the top of a more potent lineup. Fenway is a notorious doubles park as well, so get used to seeing him flying around those bases.
The only knock on Crawford is his inability to deal with left-handed pitching and that could cost him some at-bats.
2.4 Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies
The million dollar question with Howard is to what level he will bounce back in 2011.
Most people seem to agree that he will get close to his 2009 numbers, and if you’re projecting him to see 155 or more games, then that’s a good bet.
His 31 homers and 108 RBI from a year ago were the result of fewer at-bats than normal, so bid accordingly.
He has been tweaking his approach at the plate slightly over the last few years, and his strikeout rate and walk rate have both dropped slightly. If strikeouts count against you in your league, you could probably pass on him at No. 16. Otherwise, expect at least 40 bombs and 125 RBI.
2.5 Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees
A-Rod has missed 24, 38 and 25 games respectively over the last three seasons, so health is a slight concern. His days of 50 homers are long gone, but a 30-110 season is a sure bet as long as he doesn’t miss any more time.
He’s better than a .270 hitter, so expect to see his batting average rise 15 to 20 points this year. Rodriguez isn’t the player he was in 2007, but he still has a lot of value.
2.6 Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies
Utley is the third Philadelphia player in the top 18 and arguably the biggest buy-low candidate in the first two rounds.
People who don’t know too much about Utley, the NL East or baseball in general may see his 16 homers and 65 RBI from 12 months ago and pass on him, but don’t be fooled. He’s a career .293 hitter who is always a 30/100/100 threat when healthy.
Problem is, between hand, hip and thumb problems, Utley is not injury-free. All things being equal, Utley will put up similar production numbers to Cano. If you need speed, Utley is your guy. If you prefer batting average, go with Cano. There’s not a lot of difference between them, so Utley at the lower price may be the smart choice.
2.7 Joe Mauer, C, Twins
The first catcher off the board, Mauer is the consensus best fantasy backstop in the game. Everyone is asking the same thing, though: were his 28 homers and .365 average in 2009 a fluke?
In my opinion, yes.
His average was 40 points above his career mark and his power numbers came from a ridiculously high number of fly balls leaving the yard, at more than twice the rate of the last four seasons. Things returned more to normal last year and nine homers and a .327 average is the norm.
Mauer’s numbers may increase ever so slightly with more playing time in 2011, but 14 bombs and 80 RBI is the realistic ceiling.
2.8 Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants
Lincecum is all set for a repeat of the last few years: 15 or 16 wins, 200-plus innings and an ERA just south of 3.00.
He gave up more homers in 2010 than previous years, but considering the fact that all other skills seemed to remain stable, this is likely to return to a normal level. I’m not going to be taking Lincecum this high because I’d rather have another bat, but he’s the next best option available if you want an ace but miss out on Halladay.
2.9 Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers
Fielder has alternated good and bad years since 2006, so we’re unsure exactly what to expect from him. On the low end, you’re looking at 32 homers, 80 RBI and a .260 average. At the top side, 44 homers, 130 and a .300 average is possible.
Both are extremes, so something in the middle has to be expected. The power is real and everything says his 2010 numbers were sub-par. After the ’09 year he had, though, a drop was inevitable. Bargain for 40 homers, a .275 average and 100-110 RBI.
2.10 Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
If you have the No. 3 spot in your draft and you snagged Miguel Cabrera in the first round, you could round out your corner infield nicely with Zimmerman at his point.
He doesn’t excel in any one area, but he’s a reliable source for 25 homers, 90 RBI, 85 runs and a .290 average. The 2010 season was solid and you can bank on a repeat performance this time around.
2.11 Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
Holliday has been going as high as the start of the second round in some mock drafts, but No. 23 overall is a reasonable slot. He’s very predictable and that makes him a valuable player. There’s little upside with him, but you can be sure he won’t go through prolonged slumps: 26-28 home runs, 105 RBI, 96 runs and a .314 average is a safe bet.
He’ll also grab you a few bonus steals, even if his speed is on the decline. He’ll be a top-30 fantasy player for the next few years.
2.12 Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
Kemp has slipped to the middle of the third round in some mocks, but he is set for an improvement from 2010. Like Holliday, he’s a safe bet for around 27 homers and 90-95 RBI. The biggest difference is in average and speed.
Kemp won’t steal 35 bases again, but he also won’t hit as a low as .249 either.
He’s a career .285 hitter with good speed and a growing walk rate. He’s also only missed 10 games since 2008 so you know he’s in the lineup everyday.