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Go Bold or Go Home: 79 Reasons to Catch Trout 1st Overall

"Your grace is wasted in your face,
Your boldness stands alone among the wreck...." -- Mumford and Sons

Mike Trout combined for 79 homers and stolen bases last year, winning fantasy MVP's in leagues all over the country and nearly winning the real AL MVP. He did it as a rookie, and he did it without playing more than three games in the month of April. And yet, he's only being drafted fourth overall in early mock drafts. Don't make that mistake--if you've got first pick, don't let Trout be the one that got away.

However many dollars your league title is worth are however many reasons you have to play bold when you draft. Most of us play in 12-person leagues, and playing the same safe strategies as everyone else probably isn't going to give you more than a 1-in-12 chance of taking home the trophy and the cash. Don't get me wrong, there are league formats that reward conservative play, but most don't. In many only the top three finish in the money and most of it goes straight to the top. 

I'll be perfectly honest: not every bold move that I made last year worked out, and not every one that I'll recommend this year will either. This is the guy that drafted Jacoby Ellsbury in the 1st round and Mark Reynolds in the 7th, so I know how these things go. Seriously, Mark Reynolds. But before you dismiss my advice as the ravings of a madman, ask yourself this: is that any worse than what happened to the people that snagged "safe" players like Adrian Gonzalez or "mostly safe" Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria? Anyone who made those safe moves got dragged down too. People who made aggressive bets elsewhere survived that kind of luck. Who were the top picks of the RotoAuthority Silver League's first and second place teams? Justin Upton and the aforementioned Tulowitzki. You can recover from anything that happens in the first couple rounds of the draft. What you can't recover from is playing it safe.

The safe move this year is to take Miguel Cabrera first overall. And why not? The man won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yaztremski and he's eligible at the shallow-talent 3B position. You'd have to be crazy. Let him go and the second person to draft is going to love you. At least until Mike Trout outperforms him.

I know, I know. This move isn't that crazy. Trout's got an ADP of 4.14, so he's off the boards fast. It's not like I'm telling you to go out and get Alex Rodriguez because he's gonna bounce back big time, or to draft Bryce Harper because he was an even better prospect than Trout so he's sure to be a better player. Taking bold risks isn't the same as doing stupid things.

Speaking of stupid things, right now Trout is actually third among OF's in ADP, behind Ryan Braun and--for some reason--Carlos Gonzalez. I predict that will change. Before I can make the case that Trout should be number one, I should probably explain why he should go before all the other outfielders. All three add serious power and speed, and all three are sensible first-rounders. Gonzalez hasn't shown the durability that a top-5 pick deserves, and his 2012 wasn't nearly as good as Trout's. So toss him out for a moment. In fact, toss him out until quite a bit later in the first round. Bold and unnecessary risks aren't the same kind.

Why take Trout over Braun, then? After all, Braun is a proven competitor and had nearly as many homers plus steals as Trout. He was heavier on the homers, even, and they're arguably more valuable. The reason is upside. Braun probably hit his ceiling last year. A great ceiling, a high, vaulted palace-worthy ceiling. But a ceiling nonetheless, and at 29 it isn't exactly reasonable to expect his stats to get any better. In fact, those 41 homers represent a significant spike from his usual near-30 mark. His legs aren't likely to carry him any faster either. He's still elite, he's still a top-3 pick, but what he doesn't have is that slim margin of upside that makes Trout the right choice.

How about Trout versus, Cabrera, then? After all, Miggy seems to be the consensus pick so far. Cabrera, like Braun, has hit his ceiling. I guarantee you, that he will never have another year as good as his 2012. Really, how often is a Triple Crown win not a career high point? At 30, Cabrera is poised to age very well. Take him second, he's better than everyone else even when some regression is factored in. He can fall back to 30-35 homers and still be awesome.

And you'll still be forced to use an early-round pick on the likes of Michael Bourn, or worse, risk running guys like Ben Revere and Coco Crisp in your starting outfield. See, that's what's not safe about letting Trout slip by if you can get him.

If you're a big believer in position scarcity, take a moment to ask yourself if 3B really is that much shallower than OF. If you play in a 5-OF league you're gonna need...well, lots of outfielders. You can scrape by with just a single third-sacker if you want, but you need a deep outfield. I'm not saying that Cabrera's 3B eligibility isn't an advantage, but I am saying it's not as big as it looks. (In most leagues. If you roll with only 3 OF, maybe you should snag Cabrera first. Maybe.)

The power-speed threat of Trout, those 30 homers and 49 steals are a huge anchor for any fantasy team. Balance like that can allow the luxury of a second top-flight starter in the early rounds, or they can let you safely reach for an all-power slug at first base or a batting average minded sort in the middle infield. This is like the plan I had for last year with Ellsbury but better, because Trout doesn't come with the sort of injury risk that I ignored. Not only that, but Trout will be leading off in front of what ought to be an epically good top heart of the Angels batting order, with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton just waiting to drive him in. What's more, Mike Scioscia and company love those stolen bases, so the thunder waiting in the three and four spots in the batting order won't keep Trout nailed uselessly to first base like some teams might. Last year, Trout led the Majors in runs scored with 129. With an extra month and an extra Josh Hamilton, don't you think that number might go up?

The last and best reason to take Mike Trout is this: he could get better. Think about that. Imagine it. Consider what a stronger, more experienced, 22-year-old Mike Trout might be capable of. I bet you can't do it. I can't. But I want him on my fantasy teams when I find out. Some realism should be applied, before we all just wish that Trout will improve and bet the farm on him. His 2012 season was so good, so incredibly good, that his odds of improving aren't the same as most players his age. Simply put, most 21-year-olds have a lot of room to improve. So they do, even the ones that never get good usually get better. But we shouldn't label Trout a regression candidate only because his 2012 was amazing. Some players are amazing, and Trout shows all the signs of being just such a player.

Even if you take his counting stats from 2012 and apply them to a whole season, they're still likely to be the league's best or close to it, and that's assuming he plays four more weeks and produces nothing in that time. That isn't the low case scenario, but maybe it represents the midpoint. He could also do exactly the same thing as last year, but do it for an additional 23 games. Great, small improvement even with no change in his skills. These scenarios, combined with all the chances for pitchers to figure him out, for him to hit the sophomore slump, or to make terrible life choices that ruin his career all add up to most of the possible outcomes for Trout's 2013. 

But not all of them. Unlike his competitors for fantasy's top spot, Trout has a small but significant probability of getting better. If he does, you get a bargain at first overall. If he doesn't, then you've probably still got a player no worse than the others you could have chosen. He could take a big step back or get hurt. So could anyone, and there's no way to be sure who it will be. Veterans and youngsters alike disappoint their owners every year. Catching Trout gives you the best odds to turn your first round pick into first place at the end of the year.


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