Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fantasy Baseball First Round

Initially, I considered putting together an entire mock draft, but I decided against it for two reasons. First, I'm in a highly competitive keeper league that involves several of the writers for Joe & Joe Sports. If I were to start posting round after round of a mock draft, I'd either A) give away my opinions on various players, or B) use misinformation to try to throw off my competitors, but in doing so, offer you, the reader, a less than perfect product. Neither of those was acceptable, so I've decided just to do the first round. None of these players will be available in our draft, so there's nothing to hide, no need for misinformation.

Here we go.

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins - Hanley has become one of the best across the board players in recent fantasy memory. He's the 2005-2006 Shawn Marion of fantasy baseball (for those of you who know fantasy basketball). He produces towards the top in several categories, and the word is that he'll be dropped to third in the lineup to give his power a better opportunity to generate RBIs. While his steals might slip a little at that lineup position, I still see him as good for 20-25, and the bump in RBIs will be well worth the change.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - Most lists you see will have Alex Rodriguez at #1 or #2, but I'm taking Pujols ahead of A-Rod. It has nothing to do with the steroid revelation (which as you may have read doesn't bother me or Joe at all). It's the simple fact that batting average is getting harder and harder to find in the middle and late rounds of the draft. So to put yourself in prime position to compete in that category, you need your first few picks to be studs. Pujols is the definition of a batting average stud, with a career average of .334. Also, he's got some pop; his floor is 30-100-100.

3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees - Rodriguez somehow got almost completely excluded from the MVP talk last year, but he was right up there as far as the total package. He had a ho-hum .302-35-103-104-18 season that was somehow a disappointment. Fantasy owners know better than to question that kind of production. You could make a case for A-Rod all the way to the top. The first tier includes these three players, so drafting at #3 is one of the more favorable draft positions.

4. David Wright, 3B, Mets - Of course, that makes #4 one of the less desirable draft positions, but you can still be happy about landing Wright. He's consistently increased his fantasy value by improving in different statistics each year. In 2007, he hit .325 with 34 steals. In 2008, his average dropped to .302 and his steals to 15, but he posted a career-high 115 runs and 124 RBIs. While there may be some fluctuation in his individual numbers, you can be sure that he'll be a 5-category plus player, and the value in that is substantial.

5. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians - The #5 spot might be even less appealing than the#4 hole. Wright is kind of a sure thing at #4, but by #5, you're pretty much out of 5-category guys. Sizemore had his worst career batting average last year at .268, but posted career-highs in HR (33), RBI (90), and SB (38), while scoring at least 100 runs for the fourth straight season. Additionally, he was a .282 career hitter before last season, and his team was terrible last year. What I'm saying is that Sizemore was among the best players in baseball as far as production last year, and he's got the potential to improve noticeably.

6. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets - The position scarcity at SS in recent years might've made you scramble for Reyes as early as #2, but SS is stronger this year than it's been in a while, so Reyes should be evaluated more on his raw statistics. They are definitely impressive, especially when you consider that Reyes' 56 steals were a four-year-low. He's got some pop, though he'll never hit 30 HR or have 90 RBI. But his value as a leadoff hitter for one of the best lineups in the NL is enough to warrant a pick right here in the top half of the first round.

7. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers - Braun pretty much mirrored his outstanding rookie season except for a drop off in batting average from .324 to .285. The 2008 number is more along the lines of what you can expect from Braun, as his 2007 average was bumped by hitting a ridiculous .450 against lefties. Braun has three plus categories, and the other two (average and steals) he's good enough to not hurt you.

8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - If you're unsure as to how excited people were about Cabrera going into last year, consider this: Cabrera was a disappointment at .292, 37 HR, 127 RBI, 85 R. He still boasts a .309 career batting average, and as long as you believe he'll be around that number, he's worth a pick in the middle of the first round. He's still only 25, so according to conventional wisdom, his power is still growing. Another step forward for Cabrera puts him near Pujols' production.

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees - I've seen a lot of people putting Josh Hamilton over Teixeira, and it blows my mind. Hamilton could be a .300, 30, 110 hitter on yearly basis; Teixeira is that already. And certainly there's no way that a move to the Yankees and one of the strongest lineups in baseball hurts his production. I wouldn't be surprised if Tex drove in 150 runs in 2009.

10. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies - The talk continues to be that Utley will be able to play on opening day. While I still think he may start out on the 15-day DL, I'll take 90% of a season of Utley over most everybody. He puts up elite numbers for any position, and he plays one of the two truly scarce positions (the other being catcher). I'm willing to tie my fate to Utley late in the first, knowing that if he were certain to be healthy, he'd likely be my #1 pick.

11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers - I know, I just said that 2B was a scarce position; it just so happens that Kinsler has really blossomed into a beautiful young woman...well, in fantasy baseball terms. He missed 41 games due to an August sports hernia, but was still a top 25 rated hitter by Yahoo at the end of the season. Project his numbers for a full season and here's what you get: .319, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 126 R, and 32 SB. That puts him in Hanley territory. I'm sold.

12. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets - This is a real shocker for a lot of you, I bet. In doing some mock drafts over at Mock Draft Central, I've seen Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Johan Santana all go in the first round with more frequency than Beltran, and in Yahoo's "expert" mock draft, they all go ahead of Beltran, as do Prince Fielder and B.J. Upton. But take a moment and look for the hole in Beltran's fantasy game. Go ahead, I'll wait. Having trouble? There really isn't one. He went for .285, 27 HR, 112 RBI, 116 R, and 25 SB in 2008, and he'll still be just 31 on opening day. The Mets' lineup is stacked (as evidenced by the two other Mets in this first round mock), and Beltran is a safe bet to post similar numbers in 2009.

So that's it, that's your first round mock draft. I've got a follow-up post brewing in my head, hopefully I'll have time at work Monday or Tuesday to write it. Stay tuned. And no, it's not a second round mock draft. I'm more creative than that...marginally.

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