MLB Baseball Column: Strike Zone
Top 30 Rankings
Presented today is a little taste of what one can expect from the Rotoworld 2013 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide. Here's the top 30 from the overall mixed-league top 300 list. Among the many features included in the guide are top 250 lists for both AL- and NL-only leagues, 4x4 and 5x5 dollar rankings for AL- and NL-only leagues, a top 100 prospects feature, almost 1,000 player writeups and projections for about 1,500 players. It's the culmination of three months of hard work, so I heartily recommend it. And if you have and projection questions/complaints, hit me up on twitter @matthewpouliot.
30. Ian Kinsler (2B Rangers): Kinsler went from 32 homers and 30 steals in 2011 to 19 homers and 21 steals last year, but there wasn't as much decline elsewhere. He set new career highs in doubles (42) and triples (five), so the down home run year (19) was probably something of a fluke. As the leadoff man in the powerful Texas lineup, he's a sure bet for 100 runs scored should he stay healthy again, and injuries haven't been a factor of late; he's played in 150 games each of the last two seasons after never getting there previously.
29. Cliff Lee (LHP Phillies): Ridiculous 6-9 record aside, Lee remained a terrific pitcher last season, striking out a league-best 7.4 batters for each one he walked. That the Phillies have downgraded their defense by bringing in Michael Young for third base and Delmon Young for right field won't help any of their pitchers, but Lee is still about as good of a bet in WHIP as anyone and he can't be so unlucky when it comes to run support again. He's also topped 210 innings in five straight seasons.
28. Starlin Castro (SS Cubs): The Cubs are hoping this is the year that Castro takes a step forward, but even if he doesn't, he's still pretty valuable. While he sported the same OPS he did when he entered the league as a 20-year-old in 2010, Castro managed to post career highs in homers (14) and steals (25) last year, and now that he's batting third regularly, he's sure to be solid in RBIs as well as runs. I'm not expecting much of a breakthrough myself, but Castro is still a relatively safe pick with considerable upside.
27. Adrian Beltre (3B Rangers): Beltre's worst marks the last three seasons are a .296 average, 28 homers and 102 RBI, so what's not to like? Well, it is worth noting that his strikeout rate jumped back up last year, making a repeat of his .321 average seem a whole lot less likely. Beltre's RBI total should go back up with Josh Hamilton gone -- as great as Hamilton was, he didn't leave a bunch of RBI opportunities for the guys hitting behind him -- but the rest of his numbers will probably suffer a bit.
26. Yoenis Cespedes (OF Athletics): The A's have a crowded outfield situation to sort out, but Cespedes will certainly be starting somewhere and batting third on a regular basis. After returning from a hand injury, he hit .304/.366/.525 with 18 homers and 61 RBI in 381 at-bats over the final four months of last season. 30 homers, 100 RBI and maybe 20 steals should all be within reach for the slugging sophomore.
25. Jose Reyes (SS Blue Jays): Reyes had a quiet lone year in Miami, losing 50 points off his NL-leading .337 average from 2011. What he didn't lose was any time to injury, as he played in 150 games for the first time since 2008 (160 to be exact). Now in Toronto with the Jays, Reyes is looking at a period of adjustment as he adapts to facing AL pitching regularly. That should rule out another run at a batting crown. Still, this is the best offense he's played for and the best hitter's ballpark he's ever played in. If he starts in 140 games and hits .290, he'll justify this ranking.
24. Giancarlo Stanton (OF Marlins): Be careful here: Stanton is the best bet to lead the NL in home runs, but he could do that and still not be a top-20 player. For one thing, he's likely to be pitched around as often as anyone in the circuit, which could lead to greater frustration for a young player who is already unhappy about his current situation. For what it's worth, I have him projected with the highest OPS of all outfielders. Still, the lack of runs scored and steals drop him to ninth for fantasy purposes.
23. Jacoby Ellsbury (OF Red Sox): Ellsbury isn't injury prone as much as unlucky -- his broken ribs in 2010 were the result of an outfield collision with Adrian Beltre and last year's shoulder injury was caused by Reid Brignac falling on him at second base -- but the fact remains that he never showed anything close to his 2011 form after returning last season. Ellsbury was a monster two years ago, hitting .321 with 32 homers, 119 runs scored, 105 RBI and 39 steals. He'll probably never reach those heights again, but if he can get back to 20 homers, there's a pretty good chance he'll be a top-five outfielder.
22. David Price (LHP Rays): Price's Cy Young campaign wasn't out of line with what he had done before; he simply combined 2011's strikeout and walk rates with his superior home run rate from 2010. He hasn't had any hints of arm problems since arriving in the majors and the Rays have been pretty careful with his workload, so he looks like a safe choice to lead any fantasy staff.
21. David Wright (3B Mets): While Wright did hit 29 homers in 2010, his 2012 season was more in line with what one expected from him during his 2005-08 heyday. Wright hit .300 and never topped 120 strikeouts in each of those four years. He did the same last season after a three-year run in which he fanned about twice as often as he walked. Unfortunately, Wright isn't getting a lot of help from his teammates, so he'll probably fall short of 100 runs scored and RBI again this year. He still ranks as the NL's top third baseman here.
20. Jose Bautista (OF Blue Jays): Bautista says his surgically repaired wrist is back to full strength after he played in just 92 games last season. If that's the case, then he has a chance to threaten his career high of 124 RBI behind newcomers Reyes and Melky Cabrera in the revamped Toronto lineup. Still, it should be noted that he was hitting just .244 before getting hurt last year; as a two- or three-category player, he might not match the truly elite fantasy outfielders.
19. Cole Hamels (LHP Phillies): No longer overshadowed by Roy Halladay and Lee, Hamels looks like the best bet of the Phillies starters for 2013. The 29-year-old southpaw hasn't posted an ERA over 3.06 since 2009, and he struck out a batter an inning for the third time in his career last season. That he experienced a little shoulder soreness in his early offseason workouts is something to watch out for this spring, but he says he's been fine ever since.
18. Stephen Strasburg (RHP Nationals): On a per-inning basis, Strasburg projects as the game's top fantasy starter this year. His strikeout rate last year was the best of any starter since Kerry Wood in 2003, and he hasn't reached his ceiling yet. The problem is that the Nationals still need to keep a close eye on Strasburg's workload, particularly since they hope to have him starting games deep into October. I have him projected to throw about 180 innings, which makes him the No. 3 SP.
17. Buster Posey (C Giants): The lone catcher in the top 30, Posey is coming off a batting crown, an MVP award and a second world championship in his age-25 season. Topping that figures to be extremely difficult, but Posey keeps himself in the lineup more than most catchers by playing first base once or twice a week and he's got better hitting around him than ever before. With most of the other top catchers residing in the AL, Posey leaps over the next three players here in NL-only leagues.
16. Hanley Ramirez (SS-3B Dodgers): Three consecutive disappointing seasons for Ramirez might make this ranking something of a reach. Still, it's hard not to be tempted by the upside. While Dodger Stadium isn't a great ballpark for offense by any means, it is the best home run park Ramirez has played in to date, and it looks like he'll probably be hitting fifth behind Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, giving him a great deal of RBI potential. Ramirez doesn't have to resume hitting .330 with 30 homers to be worth a second-round pick; .290 with 25 HR and 20 SB should be good enough.
15. Bryce Harper (OF Nationals): Harper's huge finish last year -- he hit .330 with seven homers and five steals in September -- did influence this ranking a bit, but he was going to be a top-10 outfielder regardless. While he's still probably a couple of years away from making a run at MVP honors, Harper should be a five-category fantasy outfielder at age 20. I have him at .292 with 28 homers, 101 runs scored, 90 RBI and 23 steals.
14. Justin Upton (OF Braves): Strictly looking at the stats, the move from Arizona to Atlanta should take quite a chunk of Upton's value away. After all, he's hit just .250/.325/.406 on the road, compared to .307/.389/.548 in Arizona in his career. Still, getting away from a Diamondbacks front office that was quick to find fault with him should do him good, and playing in the same outfield with his similarly competitive brother will definitely provide extra motivation. I'm expecting big things, though I did drop him from 11th to 14th post-trade.
13. Evan Longoria (3B Rays): Longoria has gotten MVP votes every year he's been in the league, and he likely would have recorded his highest finish yet had he stayed healthy last season. Double his 74-game totals and one gets 34 homers and 110 RBI to go along with a .289/.369/.527 line in 546 at-bats. Longoria has dealt with injuries each of the last two years, but he doesn't seem like a particularly high risk just yet. The best is likely still to come.
12. Adrian Gonzalez (1B Dodgers): No doubt about it: Gonzalez's power hasn't come all of the way back since shoulder surgery following the 2010 season. Still, that didn't stop him from hitting 27 homers in 2011, and while he did slip to 18 last year, he collected a career-high 47 doubles. Also, Dodger Stadium is a much better home run park for left-handed hitters than either Petco or Fenway. I see him getting back to 30 homers this year and finishing among the NL leaders in RBI.
11. Joey Votto (1B Reds): I don't have Gonzalez and Votto being quite as close as the list here suggests; there's a definite gap between the 11 and 12 spots. I see Votto posting the top OPS among first basemen, but all of the walks do cost him in the RBI department. Of course, having Shin-Soo Choo leading off rather than Zack Cozart or Drew Stubbs will help some there. He's the best bet among first basemen in average, and the 6-8 steals will help, too.
10. Justin Verlander (RHP Tigers): Verlander was the American League's best pitcher again last season; it just wasn't as obvious because the Tigers' defense was so much worse and he didn't get his usual run support. Unfortunately, the defense is still probably the worst in the league, but the offense should be better with Victor Martinez back and some of the guys at the bottom of the lineup likely to play better. There's always the chance that the big innings totals will catch up to him one of these years, but there's been no sign of it happening thus far.
9. Albert Pujols (1B Angels): That Pujols is in decline seems like a given. The shape of that decline is still to be determined. Pujols shook off a horrendous start to hit to hit .312/.374/.589 with 29 homers and 93 RBI in 119 games from May 15 onward last season. With Mike Trout leading off and Hamilton cleaning up, Pujols is certainly in a great spot to rack up prodigious run and RBI totals. I'm thinking there's a .300-35-115 campaign on the way.
8. Troy Tulowitzki (SS Rockies): Tulowitzki has been hampered by injuries in three of his six big-league seasons, making him the riskiest pick in the top 10. Still, there's been no decline in talent yet, and with Coors Field back playing as far and away the game's top offensive ballpark, there's a ton of upside here. Unless a rejuvenated Ramirez comes out to play, no shortstop is touching Tulowitzki in the power categories. He's the only shortstop I'm projecting to bat .300 and hit more than 25 homers. Besides Ramirez, I don't have another shortstop within 20 RBI of him.
7. Carlos Gonzalez (OF Rockies): Despite being limited to 127 and 135 games the last two years, Gonzalez has turned in three straight 20 HR-20 SB seasons. Of course, Gonzalez and Tulowitzki do go rather hand-in-hand here: both need the other to be healthy in order to justify this kind of ranking. But Gonzalez doesn't have any chronic injury problems, and he's done nothing but hit four years running now. It's hardly outside the realm of possibility that he could bat .320-.330 with 35 homers and finish as the year's No. 1 fantasy outfielder.
6. Robinson Cano (2B Yankees): First-round picks don't get any safer than Cano, which is a weird thing to write about a second baseman. Cano, though, has played in 159 games six years running. He's hit .300-320 and finished with 25-33 homers each of the last four years. Plus, he has extra incentive this year as he heads into free agency for the first time. I don't see that resulting in a career year, but he doesn't need to take a step forward; he just needs to keep doing his usual thing.
5. Clayton Kershaw (LHP Dodgers): Kershaw wasn't quite as good last season as in his Cy Young campaign in 2011, but advanced stats still say he was the National League's best pitcher. Then again, fairly common stats make the same claim: he led the league in ERA and WHIP both seasons. Kershaw has a better supporting cast than ever this season, so expect his win total to shoot back up. Don't go drafting inferior hitters when the No. 1 pitcher is up for grabs.
4. Matt Kemp (OF Dodgers): Kemp claimed he wanted to make a run at a 50 HR-50 SB season in 2012, and he looked like the game's best player for a month and a half before injuries struck. That he's coming off shoulder surgery makes him a bit of a risk entering 2013, but as long as he looks strong in spring training, it will be well worth taking the plunge. With so many possible All-Stars around him, Kemp could contend for the league lead in both runs and RBI while threatening 40 homers.
3. Miguel Cabrera (3B Tigers): The first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, Cabrera is a no-brainer high in the first round. Still, he's probably going to slip a bit in the power categories this year. Last year's home run and RBI totals topped his previous career highs by six and 12, respectively. Something more like his 2010 line of .328-38-126 could be in store for this year, and while that's definitely elite, it's not quite enough to overcome the steal totals of the two hitters above him here.
2. Ryan Braun (OF Brewers): Fresh off the steroid suspension that wasn't, Braun hit .319/.391/.595 with a career-high 41 homers last season. Key to the cause was that Aramis Ramirez was so effective in replacing Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot. Braun has compiled two straight 30 HR-30 SB seasons. He's hit at least .300 and scored at least 100 runs four straight seasons. He's topped 100 RBI in five straight seasons. And he's still just 29.
1. Mike Trout (OF Angels): I'm projecting Trout to decline in almost every category, but he still grades out first in my system. It helps that the Angels plan on having him open the season in the majors this year. As the leadoff hitter atop such a strong lineup, he's the best bet to lead the AL in plate appearances, giving him more chances to score and drive in runs. I'm projecting him to go from 30 homers to 26 and 49 steals to 43 despite the increased playing time, but with his batting average and possible league-leading run total, he gets the top spot.
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