Fantasy Baseball: Who to Draft in Round One if You Don’t Have a Top Three Pick

By Jeff Boggis “The Sultan of Stats” of Fantasy Sports Empires

Most fantasy baseball league experts have either Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera (in some order) going off the boards as the first three picks selected in 2013 fantasy baseball league drafts. From picks 4-12, there is no real consensus of the draft order. The purpose of this article is to assume that Trout, Braun, and Cabrera will be off the board with the first three draft selections, and to take a closer look at picks 4-12.

The Top 3

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun
Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun 8 is congratulated by catcher Jonathan Lucroy 20 after hitting a 2 run homer in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park Mandatory Credit Benny Sieu USA TODAY Sports

1. Ryan Braun (OF – MIL)

Ryan Braun’s draft status should not be changed due to new allegations of using illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) as his name appeared recently on a piece of paper at the South Florida Clinic Biogenesis. If anything, I would use this information to help drive down Braun’s value in my fantasy leagues. Even if Braun is suspended for 50 games (which is highly unlikely due to the strong player’s union), he will still put up statistics of a player drafted in round one.

From 2008 to 2012, Braun has averaged 605 at bats, 105 runs scored, 34 home runs, 109 runs batted in, 22 stolen bases, and a .312 batting average.  These are great numbers to build the foundation for your fantasy baseball team in 2013. Braun has also managed to stay healthy his entire major league career, although he played through some minor groin, Achilles, and right hip issues last season. He overcame adversity in 2012 with the potential for being suspended for 50 games due to a banned substance. With both of these mental and physical issues behind him, Braun is poised for a career season and will please fantasy owners who drafted him first overall in 2013 fantasy baseball league drafts. Braun has averaged 33 home runs, 109 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases. I am projecting a 35 home run and 20 stolen base season in 2013.  He is my top pick in 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.

Ryan Braun

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

106

33

109

26

0.318

2013 Projection

102

35

107

21

0.307

2. Miguel Cabrera (3B – DET)

The difference between Cabrera versus Trout and Braun is position eligibility. While both Trout and Braun both qualify at a deep outfield position, Cabrera qualifies at third base, which is not shallow or deep this season. Cabrera will keep motivated this season to win a World Series ring versus another triple crown. Cabrera will be drafted anywhere from first to third overall in 2013 fantasy baseball league drafts, and I have him ranked #2 in my overall rankings.

Miguel Cabrera

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

110

37

123

3

0.334

2013 Projection

104

35

117

2

0.318 

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout 27 stretches before his at bat against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim Mandatory Credit Kelvin Kuo USA TODAY Sports

3. Mike Trout (OF – LAA)

My drafting philosophy over the years has been risk adverse in the early draft rounds. Your first round pick is the anchor and foundation of your team.  And although Mike Trout had an outstanding rookie season, he’s only done it one time. We have such a small sample size in one season, or do we?  If you take a look at last season and his time in the minor leagues, they don’t compare.

Year

AB

HR

HR/AB

SB Att

SB

CS

SB Success Rate

AVG

2010

508

10

50.8

71

56

15

79%

0.341

2011

476

16

29.8

47

37

10

79%

0.326

2012

559

30

18.6

54

49

5

91%

0.326

In 2010 in the minors Mike Trout had 508 at bats and hit a whopping total of 10 home runs, or one home run in every 50.8 at bats. This home run rate improved in 2011 to roughly one home run in every 30 at bats. In 2012, he hit one home run for every 18.6 at bats. If Mike Trout has 600 at bats in 2013 and regresses to one home run in every 25 at bats, the projection would be for 24 home runs. If Trout regresses to one home run in 30 at bats which replicate his performance in the minors in 2011, the projection drops to only 20 home runs. I have a realistic home run projection for Mike Trout in 2013 for 20 to 25 home runs. I also don’t think that Trout can maintain the 91% stolen base success rate he accomplished in 2012. I have projected 70 stolen base attempts which is close to his 2010 statistics and a stolen base success rate of 80%. The resulting projection would be for 55 stolen bases. I do believe Trout’s batting average is legit, and I am projecting .325 +/- .005.  In summary, if all goes perfect, Trout’s projections are for 24 HRs, 50-55 SBs, and a .320 to .330 batting average.  He is a top 5 pick, but too much risk for an overall top pick in 2013.

Mike Trout

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

2012

129

30

83

49

0.326

2013 Projection

105

24

79

50

0.320

Picks Four Through Twelve

4. Robinson Cano (2B – NYY)

If you are a strong proponent of positional scarcity, then it makes the most sense in taking Robinson Cano fourth overall in your fantasy baseball league drafts. Robinson Cano is in a positional class by himself at one of the weakest positions this season at second base. One of my concerns is the aging of the New York Yankees, which could limit Cano’s overall RBI totals in 2013. With Alex Rodriguez out until at least after the All-Star break, and Derek Jeter a question mark for Opening Day, Cano will be asked to carry this team in 2013. Will he meet this challenge or cave under the enormous pressure of the New York sports media?  Cano is in the final season of his current contact and will have more incentive to produce this season as he looks for a larger contract this off season.  Cano has remained healthy over the past six seasons and he has averaged 625 at bats over the past three seasons. He contributes in four out of five hitting categories. I typically like to draft second baseman for speed purposes, but you can make an argument that you can find speed in other positions to make up for drafting Cano in the first round. You will just have to get your stolen base stats from other positions.

Robinson Cano

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

104

30

107

5

0.311

2013 Projection

87

26

98

3

0.306

5. Matt Kemp (OF – LAD)

You could make an argument for picks 4-12 to be in a lot of different orders, and it all comes down to your drafting style and they way that you like to create your rosters. Some people go for power, some for an ace starting pitcher, and others go for a combination of power and speed (hybrid). Matt Kemp offers the best option at a hybrid player that can contribute in all five hitting categories. He is not without risk as he spent two trips to the DL last season due to hamstring issues. In the off-season, Kemp had surgery on his torn labrum and is targeting a return for Opening Day. Don’t be surprised if he gets off to a slow start. The good news is that Kemp has reported to camp and has slimmed down over the off-season. This may elevate his stolen bases this season. He was a consistent 600 AB per year player the previous four years, but was limited to 400 at bats last season. Based on his hamstring issues in 2012, I have lowered his stolen bases to 15 for 2013.  Please keep in mind that Kemp was the 2011 fantasy baseball MVP and was off to a great 2012 before he became injured. It all comes down to your level of risk/reward, and for me, I lean towards being conservative in round one, but there are a lot of risks with players in round 1 this season.

Matt Kemp

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

90

30

95

23

0.292

2013 Projection

83

27

92

15

0.286

6. Albert Pujols (1B – LAA)

Pujols is coming off of knee surgery to his surgically repaired right knee. I think he has some left in the tank and is the oldest of the first round projected players at age 33. The positives are that he will hit in an incredible Angel lineup that will offer plenty of offensive protection and opportunity. Where my concern is that he had a career high in at bats in 2012 with 607 at bats. He is more like a 550 – 570 at bats hitter. Is he also in a state of power decline?  His home runs from 2009 to 2012 were 47, 42, 37, and 30, which is roughly a 10% decrease each of the past four seasons. His on base percentage, slugging percentage, and his on base + slugging (OPS) also has shown decline. Will he continue the trend and only hit 25 home runs this season?  I am projecting a slight rebound in power in that Angel lineup with 35 home runs. He has incredible protection with both Trout and Hamilton in the lineup. He also has had a season to adjust to American League pitchers, while no longer having to have the spotlight solely on him with the emergence of Mike Trout and the acquisition of Josh Hamilton.

Albert Pujols

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

102

36

107

10

0.299

2013 Projection

100

35

110

10

0.295

7. Joey Votto (1B – CIN)

Joey Votto also fell to the injury bug and missed two months on the DL with an injured knee in 2012. With his knee injury behind him, I look for the 29-year-old Votto to return to form and to be a safer pick from regression than Albert Pujols. The key to Votto is staying healthy and having his knee at close to 100 percent all season. In the past four seasons, Votto has averaged 497 at bats, but had 599 at bats in 2011. Votto was actually hitting the ball great before his injury last year, with a home run in every 26.7 at bats. Votto will carry the Reds and hopefully your fantasy team in 2013. Keep an eye on Votto’s knee in spring training over the next month.

Joey Votto

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

89

27

91

10

0.323

2013 Projection

96

31

103

6

0.320

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen 22 prepares to bat against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning at PNC Park Mandatory Credit Charles LeClaire US PRESSWIRE

8. Andrew McCutchen (OF – PIT)

Andrew McCutchen had a career year with Pittsburgh last season, and I see a lot of regression for 2013. Although still in growth mode at age 26, there is nothing in his stats to say that he is a 30 home run hitter. In fact, he is closer to a 20 home run hitter. My bigger concern for McCutchen is his stolen bases. He gets caught stealing more than you might think. Here is a breakdown of his numbers:

SB

CS

SB%

33

10

77%

23

10

70%

20

12

63%

McCutchen has declined an average of seven percent per season in successful stolen bases. His overall stolen bases have also declined over the past couple of seasons. He may be limited going forward in the ability to get a green light to steal bases, and I have taken that into consideration when projecting 17 stolen bases for 2013. His durability is also an issue as his numbers fell off in the second half of the 2012 season. Although he has 20/20 potential, all would have to go right, and I am not willing to take that chance in a first round pick.

Andrew McCutchen

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

96

23

80

25

0.291

2013 Projection

88

22

85

17

0.287

9. Carlos Gonzalez (OF – COL)

Along with Ryan Braun, Gonzalez is one of five players who will significantly contribute in all five hitting categories in 2013. But there is a risk associated with picking Gonzalez in round one. He is an injury risk and over the past three seasons, he has averaged only 529 at bats and 136 games played. His runs scored, home runs and RBIs have decreased over the past three seasons. His batting average has been up and down, and his stolen bases have remained steady. If Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, he can return to form of his 2010 fantasy MVP season as he reaches his prime age of 27 this season. I think he will continue to regress and could find himself doing another DL trip sometime in 2012, but he is worth the first round gamble if you miss out on Braun, Trout, Kemp and McCutchen. I personally like Gonzalez’s upside better than McCutchen in round one.

Carlos Gonzalez

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

97

27

98

22

0.299

2013 Projection

85

25

91

20

0.310

10. Prince Fielder (1B – DET)

If we look at the three first baseman who are being drafted in round one, only Fielder comes without an injury risk. Most surprising to me has been Fielder’s durability over the years. In the past seven seasons, Fielder has averaged 160 games and 578 plate appearances. We did see some drop off in home runs with the move from Milwaukee to Detroit last season as Fielder had 30 home runs in 2012. He averaged 40 home runs over the previous five seasons in Milwaukee. Now that he has had a year to grow accustomed to the confines of Detroit, I am projecting a compromise between the 30 home runs in 2012 and the 40 home run average during the previous five seasons in Milwaukee. He is still in his prime at age 29 and looks to be a solid first round pick at the end of the first round in league drafts this season.

Prince Fielder

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

Three Year Average

91

33

104

1

0.291

2013 Projection

85

35

102

1

0.290

11. Justin Verlander (SP – DET)

Most likely to be the first starting pitcher off the board, I expect some continued regression from Verlander.  Wins are the toughest statistic to project each season and he won’t repeat the 24-5 record in 2011, but 17-18 wins this season should be a solid projection. He is now 30 years old, but has some years left in the tank. Verlander’s ground ball to fly ball ratio is a model of consistency as it has been around .75 over the past three seasons. He averages a strikeout per inning and has a K/BB ratio of four. I personally do not take a starting pitcher in the early rounds of fantasy baseball league drafts, but if you want an ace to anchor your pitching staff, Verlander is a top choice.

Justin Verlander

W

K

SV

ERA

WHIP

Three Year Average

20

236

0

2.80

1.05

2013 Projection

17

225

0

3.05

1.10

12. Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD)

We are splitting hairs when trying to decide between talking Verlander or Kershaw in round one of fantasy baseball drafts as both pitchers are top options. Kershaw also has similar metrics to Verlander with K/9 of 9.3 and G/F ratio of .85. Kershaw is still maturing at the age of 25 and pitches in a better pitcher’s park. When comparing both Verlander and Kershaw, although they have similar stats over the past two years, I feel that Verlander is the easier pitcher to project from a statistical standpoint. Which Kershaw will we see this season?  Will we see stats from Kershaw like we did when he was 21-5 in 2011, or the one that was 13-10 in 2010 and 14-9 in 2012?  I am projecting somewhere in between for 2013.

Clayton Kershaw

W

K

SV

ERA

WHIP

Three Year Average

16

230

0

2.57

1.06

2013 Projection

15

225

0

3.25

1.10

As a fantasy baseball league manager, the best advice I can give you is to be risk adverse in round one. The player you draft in round one won’t win the league for you, but they can certainly lose it for you due to a small sample size, underperforms, becomes injured for most of the season, or gets suspended for PEDs. I always go with power in the early rounds as it is easier to find speed and pitching in the mid to later rounds of your draft. Based on my criteria, only Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Prince Fielder are the first round players you want to target in your fantasy baseball league drafts that minimize your overall risk.

Follow Jeff Boggis on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/JeffBoggis and check out his site http://www.FantasySportsEmpires.com and his fantasy baseball draft guide 

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