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Fantasy Stars: Top of the First (Round)

Each week in Fantasy Stars we'll be looking at a different segment of the fantasy baseball population. Instead of giving you our analysis of who you should draft with the week's range of picks--don't worry, we'll be talking about that all over the place--we'll look at who is being drafted there. Know your competition, I say, and the competition is all those people so excited for fantasy baseball that they've already drafted at MockDraftCentral.com.

I was a little surprised to see that a pretty robust 61 mock drafts have already happened since the calendar turned to 2013, so the sample size isn't as small as I had worried about. It's still small, though, and where players are being drafted at the end of Spring Training will have shifted plenty. That's why we're starting at the top, even at the risk of talking way too much about Mike Trout.

Top Players 1-6 by ADP

Miguel Cabrera 3B             ADP 1.36
Ryan Braun OF                  ADP 2.90
Mike Trout OF                       ADP 3.87
Carlos Gonzalez OF        ADP 4.69
Robinson Cano 2B           ADP 5.11
Matt Kemp OF                   ADP 5.92 

It's pretty clear that these players are the first six picks in the majority of drafts, as the seventh player on the list is Albert Pujols, with an 8.08 ADP. We'll have to wait till next time to look at his tier, though, as he isn't a risk to unseat any of these players...yet.

For me, two things spring right to mind when looking at these players: first, two of them spent a significant portion of 2012 on the DL (Kemp and Gonzalez), and only two play in the infield. As a bonus, somehow none of them are 1B-eligible, something that hasn't happened in recent memory, though you can thank the fact that the Tigers don't care about defense any more than your fantasy team does for Cabrera's presence at 3B.

It looks like the mock drafters are making two main choices when they draft, and you'll be doing the same on draft day if you get one of the top six picks: play it safe or take a risk, get an elite OF or take the best player  by far at a scarce position.

Safe choices:                        Risks:
Miguel Cabrera                   Mike Trout
Ryan Braun                         Carlos Gonzalez 
Robinson Cano                  Matt Kemp

Whether or not the risks are truly risky is tough to be sure of (for instance, I don't think the negative risk of taking Trout is all that high...but that's another article), since last year people were worried about Ryan Braun's potential suspension and nobody was worried that Matt Kemp would get hurt and miss a third of the season. Every pick is a risk, but we never know by exactly how much.

Still, three of fantasy baseball's safest names are definitely Cabrera, Braun, and Cano. At the very least, they are the most traditional choices. But are they the right ones? Are the risks smart ones to make? Let's look at each player individually. (Stats presented: BA/HR/R/RBI/SB)

Miguel Cabrera .330/44/109/139/4

So, Miggy's clearly a four-category beast and a near-zero in steals. We already knew that and the lack of steals is really the only mark against taking him first. I might argue elsewhere that (spoiler alert) Trout is a better pick, but if you're confident in getting steals later on, maybe Cabrera is for you. If you do get him, I suggest tempering your homer expectations, as last year's 44 were a career best by seven.

As great as his power is maybe the best thing about Cabrera is the batting average: he's been incredibly consistent in what's usually a very unpredictable category, with .320 averages or better in seven of his nine full seasons in the Majors. His career BABIP is .331, so that seems to clearly count as a skill. Indeed, his worst averages have still been in the .290's. 

All this would make Cabrera an easy top pick even if he played OF or 1B, but the pool isn't so deep at 3B. (Though it's not as shallow as it could be, with David Wright, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria in the next three spots on the list.) 

Ryan Braun .319/41/108/112/30

Braun is a fantasy machine, with MVP numbers in four categories and All-Star numbers in steals. His average, while not in Cabrera's territory, sits at .313 for his career, so he's much more likely than not to provide a good return again there. The runs and RBI's shouldn't be going anywhere either, though a dip in homers is likely: again like Cabrera, he set a career high and he's usually closer to 30 bombs than 40. Fortunately, that's still good enough to make him one of fantasy and real baseball's best players.

The steals are more interesting, as the 29-year-old seems to have added them to his repertoire just for fun two years ago. After hanging around the 15 mark for most of his career, he jumped up to 33 in 2011 and stayed near that last year. Since he isn't being counted on to steal bases for his team, they could theoretically dry up at any time. The good news is that he's adding runs to the Brewers with an 83% success rate for the past two years, so they don't have any reason to tell him to slow down. My only caution is that things that come quickly seem to go quickly too.

Mike Trout .326/30/129/83/49

If Braun's steals came quickly, Trout's home run power came like lightning. Plenty of people are going to be wondering two things: was Trout's rookie season too good to be true, and is his power for real?

To the first question: he's too good not to be true. Plenty of rookies take the Majors by storm their first year and peter out into nothingness sometime thereafter. None of those rookies were position players as good as Trout. He could regress in a meaningful way and still be one of the top five players in baseball. If he stays exactly the same, he'll still be the best in fantasy, thanks to his power/speed combo.

What about that power? Well, think about it this way: ESPN's Hit Tracker counted just eight of Trouts homers as "just enoughs." If you want, take all those homers away, but give him another three weeks of playing time. Now instead of a 30HR/49 SB player, you're looking at about a 25/60 player. That's probably worth the risk.

Carlos Gonzalez .303/22/89/85/20

Maybe it's just that I can't get the 1990's out of my head, but I'm not too impressed by CarGo. He's good, don't get me wrong. I mean, he's great. But top of the first round? I'm not buying it, for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason is his health. Clearly, he's a great ballplayer and a power/speed cornerstone for a fantasy team. But what about all those days when he's sitting on the DL, or when he's playing at less than full strength? In his three years as a superstar, Gonzalez has yet to play more than 145 games. Last year he made it into 135, in 2011 it was 127. Whatever the reason, Gonzalez misses time, and you have to temper his stats with whoever you get to replace him off the waiver wire, even it's only for a couple weeks. What's more, someone who frequently misses a little time, might be expected to miss larger periods of time.

Health alone isn't the only issue: he's just significantly less good than some of the players around him: he's broken the 30-HR barrier just once and he holds a .298 career average. He's not an elite stealer either, with a career high of 26. He's not bad at all; he's even great. But he doesn't belong at the top of the draft either. I'm guessing other people will notice and we'll see him settling in nearer to the end of the first round or the beginning of the second. If he doesn't, you won't see him on any of my teams.

Robinson Cano .313/33/105/94/3

Cano seems to me to be moving his way up fantasy depth charts by default, as more and more players around him see their games slip. Maybe that's so, or maybe not, either way Cano is a clear cut above anyone else at his position, with Ian Kinsler his only real competition. As one of my "safe" choices, Cano has proved consistency, and that's what lands him in the top of the first, and why he should be drafted far ahead of anyone else at 2B. Ahead of plenty of OF's too.

Like Cabrera, he's a four-category stud who does nothing in steals. Oh well. Since 2009 he's hit at least 25 homers, batted at least .302, and scored at least 100 runs, each year. In the Yankee lineup (even if it isn't quite what it used to be), and in Yankee Stadium, there's plenty of reason to think the runs and RBI's will keep coming. Unlike Trout (and perhaps Gonzalez) he doesn't carry much upside, but he doesn't need to. Even at 30 years old, he's still in his prime and should be treated like an elite 1B. At 2B.

Matt Kemp .303/23/74/69/9

Kemp is another player that I'd rather leave to someone else. Taking a little risk for a lot of reward in the first few picks of a fantasy draft is one thing. Drafting a player who missed a full third of last season, and whose injuries may remain (he had surgery in October that should be fully healed by Opening Day) is not good risk/reward strategy. The reward (a season like his 2011) is immense, but the risk (more of 2012, including the decrease in stolen bases) is too great. Like Gonzalez, the upside here is truly impressive, worth taking. But not worth taking in the first few picks, when the opportunity cost is so high.

At his best, Kemp is one of fantasy baseball's power/speed heroes, but how sure can we be that we'll be getting Kemp's best in 2013? Thanks to what happened last year, less sure than we can for most players. I believe in taking bold risks throughout a fantasy draft, but some risks are better to leave in the hands of your opponents. 

A caveat to all this pessimism is that we still get to watch Spring Training. How will Kemp perform in Florida? If he's all running on all cylinders in the Spring, then maybe this worry is for nothing and you'll be taking advantage of owners who want to play it safe by nabbing him. Great! But if he isn't stealing, taking extra bases, or generally looking fast and athletic, I'd place my money elsewhere.

For the top six picks, I really like four of them. I'd reorder them all like this: Trout, Cabrera, Braun, Cano...Gonzalez and Kemp somewhat farther behind, but probably still in the first round.

Editor's Note: ADP may have changed somewhat since this article's first draft. Not to worry, the analysis still applies and any players who might have skipped ahead won't be missed next time around....

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