Position Scarcity


Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.



2013 Position Rankings: Shortstops

You know what I hate? Drafting a shortstop. When you go with a top quality guy, you're still getting a player with some kind of serious flaw. When you wait until late in the draft, you get someone who doesn't even have the bat for second base or catcher. My solution: create your own league, in which shortstops are disallowed. Until then, enjoy our tiered rankings.

Just as we've done previously, with Third BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenOutfielders, and Catchers, these rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff; they go 30 players deep this time. They're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. Since they're shortstops, at the very bottom of the position scarcity barrel, this ranking will reflect their real draft value. If you're taking, say, Ben Zobrist, as an OF, discount his price a little.

2nd Round

1. Troy Tulowitzki, COL

You know things are rough at the position when the top guy missed essentially all of last year. He's either a bargain, as a player with top-of-the-first-round value, or a huge overpay, thanks to another massive injury. Go for it.

3rd Round

2. Hanley Ramirez, LAD (3B)
3. Jose Reyes, TOR

Hanley could be in the middle of a long return to form, so I could see him improving to something near what we used to see with the Marlins. Reyes should be a three-category beast at the top of Toronto's lineup, but he'll be a liability in HR's and RBI's.

4th Round

4. Ben Zobrist, TBR (2B, OF)
5. Starlin Castro, CHC

Zobrist does a bit of everything and he can back you up at second and in the outfield, if you somehow need that. Castro is a very good player, and a little bit overrated. He could improve, but I'd rather pay for the guy he actually is: good average, good speed, a few homers, and a lousy lineup to keep down the Runs and RBI's.

5th-6th Rounds

6. Ian Desmond, WAS

Desmond broke out like crazy last year, placing himself with the top power hitters in the middle infield, while still stealing 21 bases. He's going in the 7th round in mock drafts, and I think it's worth the risk that he falls back to earth to get him on your team.

7th-8th Rounds

7. Jimmy Rollins, PHI
8. Danny Espinosa, WAS (2B)

Rollins, once among the shortstop elite, stole 30 bases and clubbed 23 homers last year. You'd think that would be enough for him to regain his former status, but a lousy batting average, increasing age, and the downward trend in his overall production are keeping his price down. Yes, I think he's going the wrong way, but I don't think that the end is here--he's got a lot of room to fall before he stops being useful. Espinosa is trending the other direction and he's still young, which is what keeps his value near that of Rollins. A 20-20 season is possible, and he'll benefit from hitting in a good lineup, if probably from the back of it.

12th-13th Rounds

9. Derek Jeter, NYY
10. Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE

Jeter is old, yes. Jeter isn't the player he used to be, yes. And I'd still want the batting average and runs scored that he brings to the table over anything you'll see below him on this list. Cabrera doesn't hurt you anywhere--not even in home runs--but he doesn't really help, either. Pronunciation aside, is there any more boring name you can call out in your draft? A player like this shouldn't be reached for.

15th-16th Rounds

11. Elvis Andrus, TEX
12. Alcides Escobar, KCR

You know what you see here? The brand name and the generic version. No power, decent average, good steals and a place at the top of the order. Escobar was more valuable last year, but Andrus gets a slight nod for setting the table for better hitters.

17th-18th Rounds

13. J.J. Hardy, BAL
14. Everth Cabrera, SDP
15. Josh Rutledge, COL
16. Andrelton Simmons, ATL

Since the position's starters are presumably taken by the time you get to these guys, consider them the shortstops worth using at MI. Hardy has better power than most of the players above him, and Cabrera could be an impact base stealer, to the tune of 50 or more. Rutledge is a Colorado guy and he'll probably gain 2B eligibility. The chance that he hits more than a few homers isn't bad. Simmons is being given the keys to Atlanta's shortstop job, and he could end up being a speed and batting average type of player.

19th-20th Rounds

17. Marco Scutaro, SFG (2B)
18. Alexei Ramirez, CHW
19. Erick Aybar, LAA 

Scutaro will almost certainly regress next year. That's okay, though, because he still gets value from his versatility. Ramirez took a big step back last year, after being one of shortstop's more dependable players for the past couple years. His new level is still capable of backing up your starter. Aybar is a pleasantly harmless backup, but don't wait so long that you're starting him, event at middle infield.

21st-22nd Rounds

20. Jed Lowrie, OAK
21. Zack Cozart, CIN
22. Jhonny Peralta, DET
23. Stephen Drew, BOS

Lowrie may not get full playing time, and he isn't the healthiest kid in school, but he sure can hit. Cozart and Peralta don't do much, but you don't ask that much of a backup, which is strictly what you should be looking for with them. Drew is like Lowrie, but with less upside. Importantly, it isn't zero upside. As a side benefit, everyone in this tier but Lowrie should be able to enjoy the benefits of hitting in a powerful lineup.

23rd Round and Beyond

24. Jurickson Profar, TEX
25. Jean Segura, MIL
26. Hiroyuki Nakajima, OAK
27. Yunel Escobar, TBR
28. Cliff Pennington, ARI (2B) 
29. Jamey Carroll, MIN (2B, 3B)
30. Tyler Greene, HOU (2B)
 

If you're in a shallow league, I wouldn't bother with prospects with no job, like Profar or Billy Hamilton. If you're in a deep league, the time to take those guys is when all the shallow-leaguers are gone. If someone else wants to overpay, let 'em. Segura isn't a huge upside player, but he does have some, and he makes a good end-game play because he should have the starting job on Opening Day. Nakajima is in a similar vein, but even harder to predict, being from Japan and all. Escobar has a higher floor than most of the players out here. Pennington, Carroll, and Greene are only here because they can back up multiple positions, but even that's better than nothing. 

Shortstop is a rough place to be a fantasy drafter, but you can find some decent values throughout the draft. In some ways, I think it's actually a little easier to manage than second base, simply because your expectations are (fairly) set so low. Hits a few homers and does nothing else. Cool. Steals a ton of bases but kills my power categories. Great. Missed all of last season. All-Star.

There are four shortstops ranked as third or fourth-rounders, but if you can, I'd probably avoid all of them. The overall scarcity of power makes me prefer to go after a slugging outfielder or third baseman at that time. Instead, I'd probably want to be among the later teams to get a shortstop, but double up on players with disparate skill sets, like J.J. Hardy and Everth Cabrera, or Alcides Escobar and Josh Rutledge.



How to Win: Home Runs

Homers are everybody's favorite category. Or almost everybody's. Well, they're mine. My favorite hitting category, at least. Yes, that's it: home runs are my favorite hitting category.

Why the affinity for the longball? Just because they're awesome? Because I grew up watching Ken Griffey, Jr. and the rest of our 90's heroes launching them all around town? Or because I've watched so many games at Safeco Field that I don't really remember what they look like in person and I have to resort to rooting them on in fantasy? Maybe.

But mostly it's because homers are simple. Hit the ball hard enough and high enough and nobody cares what the defense is, or what the rest of your lineup looks like. Good pitchers usually keep homers down, good hitters usually hit some out. Some parks add to homer totals, others kill them--but it isn't too hard to find out which ones are which.

Not only that, but I'm a sucker for a freebie. (If that's even possible--I mean, it's free...) Every homer is a free Run Scored and a free RBI and the best way to do well in those categories is to have a bunch of guys who do well in this one.

This is a theme I've been on all year long, but consider this article my crescendo: power is down, and the game is different. In real baseball, strikeouts are up, steals are up and homers and slugging percentage are down. For fantasy, that means that you have to pounce on power earlier than ever, because mediocre players that still hit 30 bombs are nearly a thing of the past. In 2009, there were 86 players with 20 homers or more. Last year, there were just 78. Last year the majors slugged just .405--down from .418 in 2009 and .432 ain 2006. When you're asking yourself why you should pay first round prices for a player who only helps in three categories (cough, cough, Jose Bautista), there's your answer.

Since we're lucky enough to be reviewing a category that actually tends to correlate from year to year, here are last year's top 24 home run hitters.

2012's Top 24

1. Miguel Cabrera, 44 (3B) 
2. Josh Hamilton, 43 (OF)
2. Curtis Granderson, 43 (OF)
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 42 (1B)
5. Ryan Braun, 41 (OF)
5. Adam Dunn, 41 (1B)
7. Giancarlo Stanton, 37 (OF)
8. Adrian Beltre, 36 (3B)
9. Josh Willingham, 35 (OF)
10. Jay Bruce, 34 (OF)
11. Robinson Cano, 33 (2B)
11. Adam LaRoche, 33 (1B)
11. Chris Davis, 33 (1B/OF)
14. Josh Reddick, 32 (OF)
14. Adam Jones, 32 (OF)
14. Alfonso Soriano, 32 (OF)
14. Carlos Beltran, 32 (OF)
14. Mark Trumbo, 32 (OF)
14. Ike Davis, 32 (1B)
20. Chase Headley, 31 (3B)
20. Andrew McCutchen, 31 (OF)
22. Mike Trout, 30 (OF)
22. Prince Fielder, 30 (1B)
22. Albert Pujols, 30 (1B)
22. Corey Hart, 30 (OF/1B)
22. Pedro Alvarez, 30 (3B)
22. Jason Kubel, 30 (OF)

Don't you love it when there's a tie at the end? It's even better when we're left with a big, round benchmark. I can pretty much guarantee that this won't be the exact list of league leaders from next year, but I'd be willing to bet that most of these guys will comprise most of next year's leaders. 

I listed each player's position to highlight the fact that only one of last year's 30-HR hitters played outside of the traditional power positions: Robinson Cano.

Just because they didn't top 30 doesn't mean you can't find some power at Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop. Consider these guys:

Catchers:

1. Wilin Rosario, 28
2. A.J. Pierzynski, 27
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 25
4. Buster Posey, 24 
4. Mike Napoli, 24
6. Matt Wieters, 23
7. Yadier Molina, 22
8. Russell Martin, 21
9. Brian McCann, 20 

Not to mention guys who could easily better their 2012 totals: Carlos Santana, Ryan Doumit, Victor Martinez, Jesus Montero, J.P. Arencibia

Catcher: not a bad place to sneak some power into your lineup--they look especially good when you consider how few plate appearances the typical catcher gets.

Second Base

1. Robinson Cano, 33
2. Aaron Hill, 26
3. Rickie Weeks, 21
4. Ben Zobrist, 20

Here are some under-20's who could bounce back or take a step forward next year: Dan Uggla, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, Danny Espinosa 

Yeah, second base is a desert when it comes to power. That's why the top guys are going off the board so quickly, and why everyone else just sticks around looking awkwardly like the last kid picked for the kickball team. (Or they steal bases, I guess.)

Shortstop

1. Ian Desmond, 25
2. Hanley Ramirez, 24
3. Jimmy Rollins, 23
4. J.J. Hardy, 22
5. Ben Zobrist, 20

Some guys who might help with better health or more playing time: Troy Tulowitzki, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew (I guess), Josh Rutledge

Shorstop might actually be better off than second base, but you know things are bad when Lowrie can tie for sixth-most shortstop homers while playing just 97 games. The bar is low enough that even the 15-homer-range performances of guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Starlin Castro count as pretty good. 

Late Draft Power Hitters

If you don't like the idea of spending high picks on "power" hitters at premium positions or stacking your OF while filling your 1B, 3B, and CI positions as fast as possible, then make sure you scrape around the middle and late rounds for power hitters like the ones below. Actually, you should do that regardless, because you can't really have too much power.

Since I like big, round numbers, check out these hitters that you should be able to get after pick 150:

Pedro Alvarez, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Ludwick, Adam Dunn, Andre Ethier, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Todd Frazier, Brandon Moss, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds, Jedd Gyorko, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Lance Berkman, Chris Young, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Olt, Cody Ross, Tyler Colvin, Jed Lowrie, Justin Smoak, Adam Lind, Matt Joyce, Carlos Pena, Johnny Gomes

Obviously, some of these guys are better than others, and there are varying degrees of safety and potential to be had.

Some More Power-Related Statistics

We can find more power hitters (especially the ones that didn't finish the season) by looking up some stats a little further under the hood than home runs.

Isolated Power

1. Giancarlo Stanton, .318
2. David Ortiz, .293
3. Josh Hamilton, .292
4. Jose Bautista, .286
5. Edwin Encarnacion, .277
6. Miguel Cabrera, .277
7. Ryan Braun, .276
8. Josh Willingham, .267
9. Adam Dunn, .263
10. Jay Bruce, .263
11. Wilin Rosario, .260
12. Curtis Granderson, .260
13. Ryan Ludwick, .256
14. Jason Kubel, .253
15. Garrett Jones, .242
16. Mike Napoli, .241
17. Scott Hairston, .241
18. Tyler Colvin, .240
19. Aramis Ramirez, .240
20. Adrian Beltre, .240
21. Adam LaRoche, .238
22. Mike Trout, .238
23. Robinson Cano, .238
24. Alfonso Soriano, .237 

HR/FB%

1. Adam Dunn, 29.3
2. Giancarlo Stanton, 28.9
3. Josh Hamilton, 25.6
4. Mike Napoli, 25.5
5. Wilin Rosario, 25.5
6. Chris Davis, 25.2
7. Pedro Alvarez, 25.0
8. Curtis Granderson, 24.2 
9. Robinson Cano, 24.1
10. Michael Morse, 23.4
11. Miguel Cabrera, 23.0
12. Justin Maxwell, 22.8
13. Ryan Bruan, 22.8
14. Matt Kemp, 21.7
15. Mike Trout, 21.6
16. Chase Headley, 21.4
17. Josh Willingham, 21.2
18. Ike Davis, 21.1
19. Kendrys Morales, 21.0
20. Mark Trumbo, 20.6
21. Bryan LaHair, 20.5
22. Dayan Viciedo, 20.5
23. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 20.0
24. David Ortiz, 20.0

A Brief Note on Park Factors

Park factors are typically listed for total runs scored, but that won't necessarily help you in homers. The HR factors are slightly different, and there are further differences for hitters of different handednesses. Below are 2012's top homer producing parks:

1. Milwaukee, 1.631
2. Cincinatti, 1.592
3. Colorado, 1.493
4. Chicago (White Sox), 1.349
5. Baltimore, 1.314
6. Arizona, 1.192
7. Texas, 1.168
8. New York (Yankees), 1.143
9. Los Angeles (Dodgers), 1.125

All nine of these parks add at least 10% more homers than league average. Notably, Yankee and Dodger Stadiums actually suppress runs on the whole, despite adding homers. 

And Now a Wet Blanket: "Just Enough" Homers

ESPN's HitTrackerOnline lists various types of home runs--all useful for planning your fantasy team--but here we're looking at those homers that only barely cleared the wall. Maybe in a different park, or with different weather conditions or with springier center fielders these balls would have stayed in the yard. Unsurprisingly, lots of "Just Enoughs" indicate lots of total homers--and a decent chance that a player's homers may decline without such good fortune.

16: Miguel Cabrera
15: Adrian Beltre
14: Ryan Braun
12: David Wright, Josh Hamilton
11: Josh Willingham, Hanley Ramirez, Ike Davis, Corey Hart, Chase Headley
10: Matt Holliday, Jed Lowrie, Brian McCann, Hunter Pence, Garrett Jones, Giancarlo Stanton, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward, Wilin Rosario, Edwin Encarnacion, Nick Swisher
9: Justin Smoak, Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, David Ortiz, Billy Butler, Matt Weiters, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse

Having lots of "Just Enoughs" isn't a kiss of death, but it isn't a good sign. Consider players like Wright, Lowrie, and Smoak, for whom more than half of their homers were close, to be risky plays next year. Players like Headley and Butler, who took big steps forward, appear to have had some help in the luck department. 

When you are mentally discounting players for close homers, don't cut them all away--having several of these is a perfectly normal, even necessary, part of hitting home runs.  

A Few Final Words

Power hitting is still the name of the game in fantasy baseball. When one category practically controls two of the others, that's just how it has to be. In the past three years, home run hitting--and offense in general--has been dropping. Expect to pay more to get less when it comes to homers. You aren't getting hosed; that's just the new market price. Just as one-category base stealers were once prized commodities, now even power hitters with serious flaws will command early draft picks and hefty auction prices.

It also seems to me that homers are particularly concentrated in the outfield and on the corners. I strongly suggest making sure your lineup is fortified with several such players, even if it means waiting a little to fill scarce positions. What I really don't recommend is spending early picks on outfielders and corner hitters who aren't big helps in power. 

If I could turn sixteen hundred words into three, this is what it would look like: pay for power. Win homers and you (almost) can't avoid finishing with the leaders in Runs and RBI's. The cost has risen, but so has the value of each home run.



2013 Position Rankings: Third Basemen

After what seems like forever of ranking thin positions, namely Second Base and, oddly enough, First Base, we come to a relatively deep position. Not super deep, like Outfield or, unbelievably, Catcher, but deeper than it has been in years past, and deeper when compared to other infielders. It isn't often that I would consider getting my CI from third base, but I could this year. 

After a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff, this round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. With third base squarely in the middle of the position scarcity spectrum, some of these players you'll want at third, but for others you'll have to pay middle infield prices. On this list, they're ranked where you should get them as a third baseman.

Early 1st Round

1. Miguel Cabrera, DET

He's the only infielder among the plausible top three players; if your league discounts steals at all, he's a slam-dunk first choice.

2nd Round

2. Adrian Beltre, TEX

I can still hear Giants fans at a Mariner game chanting "Bellllll-troids! Belllll-troids!" Not that I think he's on the juice or anything, but playing in Texas instead of Seattle is even better than chemical enhancement. Also, Beltre is quite a bit better than any third baseman below him on this list.

3rd Round

3. Evan Longoria, TAM
4. David Wright, NYM
5. Hanley Ramirez, LAD (SS)

Longoria came back strong at the end of last year, and before his injury, he was an easy choice for the late first round. I think he's a great risk here. I think it's time to admit that Wright isn't the player he used to be. That said, he's still among the class at his position. As a shortstop, I'd consider Ramirez in the second--that's how short that group is. If he's your third baseman, I'd reach for him in the third, but be happy to get him in the fourth.

4th Round

5. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
6. Aramis Ramirez, MIL

Zimmerman isn't developing into one of the game's premier players, and he won't be the Face of the Nationals with Bryce Harper on the team, but that's good news for fantasy drafters, because Zim's brand of low-key excellence should play very well in a quality lineup. Ramirez is just a hair behind in my mind, mostly because his age brings a slight risk of sudden decline. That said, he's been one of baseball's best sluggers for the last two years.

5th Round 

7. Chase Headley, SDP

This choice was a tough one for me, and I know some at RotoAuthority would put him at the top of the previous tier. I just can't, though. His year came from out of nowhere, and even Petco's moving fences can't convince me that he'll sustain last year's production level. I don't think he'll drop to where he was before, but any chance that he does makes him hard to take before the fifth. I'll settle for possible lower production for the relative safety of those above him.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Brett Lawrie, TOR
9. Pablo Sandoval, SFG

Lawrie disappointed in his first full season, but he's got the talent and the lineup to take a big step forward. He's at least as big a risk as Headley two or three rounds earlier, but he probably doesn't have as high of an upside. (Not that anyone but Chase Headley's parents thought he had that kind of upside.) Pablo could be a huge bargain, in this range, as the main risk with him is his health. Fortunately for you, his World Series production doesn't seem to be inflating his ADP. After these guys, I would wait a nice long time before taking a third baseman from the position's middle class.

12th-13th Rounds

10. Will Middlebrooks, BOS
11. Todd Frazier, CIN
12. Martin Prado, ARI (OF)  

Middlebrooks and Frazier both killed the ball in a partial season and displaced fragile veterans. Both play in friendly home parks,  have good or amazing lineups around them, and are young enough to have real hope for the future. Actually, they were both so good in 2012 that it's all I can do to keep them this low. Small sample size, I remind myself, small sample size. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if either or both were among the top at the hot corner going into next year. Prado is way less exciting, but he is much safer and should be very helpful in batting average and runs scored. Sometimes very different players have very similar value.

14th-15th Rounds

13. Pedro Alvarez, PIT
14. David Freese, STL
15. Kyle Seager, SEA
16. Mike Moustakas, KCR 

Here is where you really get the chance to pick your poison. With Alvarez you get all-power, horrible-average. He's on the top of these players thanks to the fact that 30 bombs and the chance to improve are pretty good, even for the CI spot. Freese isn't exciting or durable, but he helps in average. Seager was a pleasant surprise out of Seattle, and perhaps he will be able to put a few more balls over the shortening fences in Safeco Field. Moustakas...well, he was a big prospect going into last year, and even the chance that he puts it all together makes him worth grabbing around here.

17th-18th Rounds

17. Manny Machado, BAL
18. Kevin Youkilis, NYY (1B)

By this time, you're hopefully filling out your CI and Utility spots, which means any third baseman you take should be a better hitter straight-up than any possible first baseman. That means that our round recommendations can really break down. Save these guys for later if there are useful first basemen. If not, maybe you should be jumping on them earlier, because, to me, this is the last group of full-timers who could be described to have a moderately high upside.

Machado's prospect status was through the roof going into last year, and he held his own at just 20 years old. He'll take his lumps, but some power and a little speed seem like reasonable possibilities. Youk is sort of the opposite of Machado, with the Yankees and fantasy teams trying to squeeze the last drops out of his career. The chance that there's even a little left in the tank makes him worth taking a flier on.

20th-22nd Rounds

19. Chris Nelson, COL (2B)
20. Michael Young, TEX (1B)
21. Chris Johnson, ATL
22. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (2B)
23. Mike Olt, TEX 
24. Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE

Anyone who plays in Colorado is interesting, all the more so if he's got multi-position eligibility like Nelson does. If he's assured a spot, you could even bump him up a round or so. Young doesn't have much left but a chance to start, which is what you can say about Johnson and Keppinger too. Olt and Chisenhall don't have starting jobs at the moment, but they've got more upside than those above them. Olt, in particular, makes a better bench stash than anyone else in this tier, because if he has a hot streak you can expect the Rangers to find him at bats at first base and DH.

23rd Round and Beyond

25. Matt Carpenter, STL (1B, OF)
26. Nolan Arenado, COL
27. Jordan Pacheco, COL (1B)
28. Trevor Plouffe, MIN
29. Josh Donaldson, OAK
30. Pedro Ciriaco, BOS

At this point, we're looking strictly at bench bats and those not expected to win job fights. Carpenter will probably be super-subbing for St. Louis again, and he could spot-start for a fantasy team too if his playing time develops into a pattern. Either Arenado or Pacheco could win the third base job in Colorado over Nelson. Or Nelson could end up playing second base. Regardless, any starting infielder in Colorado is worth taking a flier on. Plouffe spent half a season hitting the tar out of the ball for Minnesota...and the second half flailing helplessly. I guess it's better than a full season of helplessness. Donaldson might get most of the playing time at third for Oakland, or he might not. Ciriaco is only a choice if Middlebrooks flames out badly.

Some Guys who Can Play 3B for a Yahoo! Team

a. Mark Trumbo, LAA -- 5th Round 
b. Mark Reynolds, CLE -- 14th-15th Rounds
c. Jedd Gyorko, SDP -- 16th-17th Rounds
c. Marco Scutaro, SFG --  18th-19th Rounds

Trumbo's high-power, low-average profile looks better compared to third basemen than it does outfielders, but not by a huge amount. I wouldn't take him until Headley is gone. Reynolds is a borderline starter at third, but he gets a little extra CI value because he can actually back up both positions that can play there. Gyroko is assumed by many to be starting at second, since he won't be chasing Headley off third (sorry, I couldn't help it). He and Scutaro get a bunch of extra value as bench players if they have 3B eligibility, because you can slide them in and out of your MI and CI spots, giving you a free backup outfielder, extra reliever, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

The group of players at third base isn't elite by any means, but it has a stronger middle class than the rest of the infield, relative to what you expect of them. Lately, third had been a lot more like second base and shortstop, but this year a lot more of the players can compete with a thinned out first base. The bottom still drops off, though, so I suggest locking up third and CI quickly.



2013 Position Rankings: Second Base

Position rankings hit the real infield today, with second basemen. Traditionally a thin position for fantasy production; the keystone isn't an exception this year. Maybe the best you can say for it is that it's still richer ground than shortstop, as the top of the field is pretty talented and decent options are present until near the middle rounds. The bad news is that it drops off really far after that. The worse news is that you're probably going to need two second sackers, because you really don't want to fill your MI slot with a shortstop.

Last week, we looked at First Basemen and Catchers. Before that, we led off with the Outfield. This round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. For most such players, second base is probably the position at which you'll be drafting them.

1st Round

1. Robinson Cano, NYY

Yup. He's going among the upper picks this year and he's worth it.

3rd-4th Rounds

2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3. Ian Kinsler, TEX
4. Ben Zobrist, TBR (SS, OF)
5. Aaron Hill, ARI

The second tier at second base has slipped a little, with (relatively) down seasons from Pedroia and Kinsler flattening their value out a little. As Mark put it some time ago, Kinsler has the higher ceiling and the lower floor, but his overall direction isn't promising. The good news is that Zobrist continues his quiet brand of goodness and super-flexibility. The better news is that Hill put up a great year, with 26 homers that bested everyone at the position not named Robinson. In context, it looks to me like his lousy 2011 was the outlier year.

5th-6th Rounds

6. Jason Kipnis, CLE
7. Brandon Phillips, CIN

Kipnis really cooled off in the second half, so I have minor doubts for next year. But only minor ones, as his speed is good and he was expected to proved even more power, so he could grow into increased homer totals. Phillips does a little--but not a lot--of everything, and should benefit from a powerful Reds lineup.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Jose Altuve, HOU

Altuve gives good speed and he hit for average last year. I tend not to trust anyone for whom batting average is a primary skill, because a little bad luck can go a long way when it comes to hurting a guy like Altuve's value. Also, who will hit him in? That said, if you took him, be glad: you just reached the end of the second basemen you're happy you drafted.

10th-11th Rounds

9. Danny Espinosa, WAS (SS)
10. Rickie Weeks, MIL

Espinosa has a little power and a little speed, but he's got a good chance to be a liability in batting average. He reminds me of a less-proven Brandon Phillips. He's worth taking a round or two earlier as a shortstop. Weeks should bounce back, right? There's a good chance he won't spend most of next season under the Mendoza line, and a healthier BABIP would make him significantly more productive. Unfortunately, his history of injury still affects his value. After this, the second basemen take another significant turn downward.

15th-16th Rounds

10.5 Kyle Seager, SEA (3B--18 games at 2B)
11. Dan Uggla, ATL
12. Chase Utley, PHI
13. Neil Walker, PIT
14. Howie Kendrick, LAA

I told you there would be a long drop. If he's eligible in your league, Seager could be a sneaky-good choice for second. Uggla lost just about everything last year, but before that he was so good that all he has to do is get a little back and you get great return for this kind of inpvestment. Cross your fingers and hope for a little more BABIP and a few more balls over the fence. Can Utley keep his body together? He was pretty good in 77 games last year, but you better have a backup. Better yet, make him the backup. Walker and Kendrick are similarly unexciting, relatively solid plays at this point. Especially if you're looking for a starter at second.

18th-19th Rounds

15. Jedd Gyorko, SDP
16. Dustin Ackley, SEA

If Gyorko gets the official starting job from San Diego, go ahead and bump him into the next tier. He's an interesting prospect, who could have some real pop in his bat. Ackley has some presumed upside, but with two seasons under his belt he hasn't shown much of it.

20th-22nd Rounds

17. Chris Nelson, COL (3B)
18. Omar Infante, DET
19. Marco Scutaro, SFG (SS)
20. Daniel Murphy, NYM
20.5 Michael Young, PHI (3B/1B--16 games at 2B)
21. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (3B, 1B)
21.5. Emilio Bonifacio, TOR (OF--15 games at 2B)
22. Kelly Johnson, TBR

Nelson has some pop and plays for Colorado, always a nice mix. Remember how Phillips did a little of everything, and then Espinosa did even less? Well Infante does less than him, but at least he does it in all five categories. Scutaro is a better than average bet in batting average, and he makes a useful MI selection because he can play second and short. Murphy hit 40 doubles to go with an average near .300, which means he should be in good position to take advantage of whatever scoring opportunities happen for the Mets. Young has descended into mediocrity, but that's better than what anyone below him can say for themselves. If your league has 15-game eligiblity or less, he could be a decent MI; Bonifacio could net you some steals under the same circumstances. Keppinger might put up an acceptable average but won't do much else. Johnson is caught in the Tampa Bay mix-and-match, but if he gets regular playing time he could be useful at MI.

23rd Round and Beyond


23. Brian Roberts, BAL
24. Gordon Beckham, CHW
25. Johnny Giavotella, KCR
26. Logan Forsythe, SDP
27. Darwin Barney, CHC
28. Maicer Izturis, TOR
29. Jemile Weeks, OAK
30. Cliff Pennington, ARI (SS)

Let's face it, these guys are warm-bodied injury replacements for deep leagues. Technically, there is some upside to be found here, but not enough to consider betting on for more than a bench role.

Things start breaking down quickly at second base, with all the options after number ten or so having low upside, low chance of reaching their upside or both. Not only that, but two of the top nine will probably be drafted as shortstops, thinning things out even more. Moral of the story: don't be the last team to take a second baseman. In fact, the overall weakness of the position makes me readier than usual to grab one of the top players, even though several of them come with serious question marks. No wonder Robinson Cano is getting drafted as high as third overall.



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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