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By Tony Meale
If you’re fantasy baseball draft hasn’t happened already, it’s going to be happening soon. Here’s a look at the top five players at each position.
- Albert Pujols, Angels After a dreadful start to 2012, Pujols still finished with 30 homers, 108 RBIs and a respectable .285 batting average. With Mike Trout leading off and Josh Hamilton batting cleanup, Pujols should have plenty of RBI opportunities and see plenty of good pitches. He has at least one more year as the top first baseman in fantasy.
- Joey Votto, Reds The power outage following his return from two knee surgeries – Votto went homer-less in 127 plate appearances – was indeed worrisome, but the former MVP is back, healthy and hitting in one of the best lineups in the National League. Expect 25 homers, 100 RBIs and a .320 batting average.
- Prince Fielder, Tigers Since 2006, Fielder ranks among the top five in all of baseball in home runs and RBIs. He won’t have Votto’s batting average, but the power numbers will be a little more plentiful.
- Buster Posey, Giants Yes, I’d much rather have Posey as my catcher than my first baseman, and yes, catcher is surprisingly deep this year, but Posey’s two-position eligibility makes him worthy of a second-round pick. His .336 batting average will almost certainly digress, but .300/20/100/80 is certainly realistic.
- Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays After several inconsistent seasons with the Reds, Encarnacion finally had a put-it-all-together year in 2012, swatting 42 homers to go with 110 RBI’s and a .280 batting average. While Billy Butler and Adrian Gonzalez are probably safer picks, Encarnacion’s tantalizing power gives him the top-five nod.
- Robinson Cano, Yankees Cano has recorded four straight seasons of a .300 batting average and 25+ home runs. He’s as safe as they come, which is why he’ll be a top-five pick in a lot of drafts this year.
- Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox Pedroia is the David Wright of second basemen; he’s a legit 20/20 threat who will hit around .300 and score 80+ runs. He won’t win you any category, but he’ll help you in all of them.
- Brandon Phillips, Reds It’s too bad that “ridiculously sweet defensive plays” aren’t a rotisserie category, because if they were, Phillips would be a first-round pick. As it stands, Phillips is Dustin Pedroia Lite – an all-around talent who will hit at least .280 with 15+ homers, 15+ steals, 75+ RBIs and 90+ runs.
- Ian Kinsler, Rangers While many might prefer Kinsler to Phillips, the Texas two-bagger has hit .256 or worse in three of the last four years. He’ll hit five more homers and steal five more bases than Phillips, but you’ll have to draft him at least two rounds earlier – and in my eyes, that’s just not worth it.
- Ben Zobrist, Blue Jays A notch below the top four, Zobrist remains an all-around contributor who is also eligible at shortstop and outfield. You may have to overpay a bit for that versatility, but it might be worth it.
- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies The ultimate risk-reward pick on draft day, Tulowitzki has averaged just 120 games played in his six full seasons in the bigs. When healthy, he’s the best shortstop in the game. Key words being “when healthy.” Proceed with caution.
- Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers Once a consensus first-round pick, Ramirez’s power and batting average have taken hits in recent years, but he’s still a 20/20 guy – not bad for a late-second or early-third round pick.
- Starlin Castro, Cubs Sorry, Jose Reyes lovers; I’ll take the 23-year-old Castro over the almost-30 Reyes, especially since Castro will hit more homers, knock in more runs and steal almost as many bases.
- Jose Reyes, Blue Jays I’ll show Reyes some love by including him on this list, but if you want him, you’re going to have to draft him by the middle of the third round; for me, that’s simply too high for a one- or two-category player who has hit above .300 just once since 2006. I’d rather wait and take Ben Zobrist or the guy listed below.
- Ian Desmond, Nationals Desmond, who hit .292 with 25 homers and 21 steals last year, might be the least valued 20/20 man in the game. His 17.5 home run/fly ball percentage will likely regress, but he’s also 27 and played in just 130 games last year.
>>CBS Local Baseball Feature: 30 Players, 30 Days
- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers Dude won the Triple Crown last year. If he’s not a top-three pick in your league, your league is awful.
- Adrian Beltre, Rangers Although he has more mileage than David Wright, Beltre, who turns 34 in April, has recorded back-to back seasons of 30+ homers and 100+ RBIs. He’s also hit .321 in two of his last three seasons. In other words, this guy isn’t lasting past the second round.
- David Wright, Mets One of the best hitters in the game, Wright’s liability – if you want to call it that – is that he plays in an underwhelming lineup. That said, he’s still a good bet for .300/20/80/90/15.
- Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals One of the most underrated players in fantasy, Zimmerman has hit 25+ homers and accounted for 85+ RBIs in three of the last four years and has hit .282 or better in each of the last five. Most rankings you’ll see have him in the top eight or nine at the position. For me, he’s top five (make that top four).
- Evan Longoria, Rays The Troy Tulowitzki of third basemen, the oft-injured Longoria is a stud – when he actually suits up. Given his ADP – probably third round in a 12-team league – I’d rather avoid the injury risk and wait for a Ryan Zimmerman, a Chase Headley or even a Pablo Sandoval.
- Buster Posey, Giants No explanation necessary – aside from him being the NL MVP and all.
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals A consensus top-two catcher, Molina is the rare backstop who hits for average (.315 last year) and power (22 homers) and steals bases (12, which led the majors at his position). He’s also durable, having averaged close to 140 games over the last four years. Draft with confidence.
- Joe Mauer, Twins While the 28-homer season in 2009 has proved the exception – and not the rule – Mauer is still a a .320/15/80/80 candidate.
- Carlos Santana, Indians Santana enters his age-27 season with .270/25/90/80 potential.
- Matt Wieters, Orioles Like Santana, Wieters enters his age-27 season with good power potential, as he’s seen his home run totals increase from nine to 11 to 22 to 23 in his four seasons in the majors.
- Mike Trout, Angels I’m all for track record – which is why some experts have Trout going third overall behind Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera – but Trout is simply too good to pass on. Despite missing the first month of last season, he still finished with a .326 average, 30 homers, 49 steals and 129 runs scored. Bottom line? This guy should be the top pick in your league. Period.
- Ryan Braun, Brewers One of the few true five-category studs, Braun should be, at worst, the third pick in your draft. He’s a virtual lock for .315/30/100/100/25.
- Matt Kemp, Dodgers After coming one homer shy of joining the 40/40 club in 2011, Kemp missed 50+ games last year and still hit 23 homers. He’s only 28, and if he stays healthy, he’ll put up first-round numbers.
- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates A top-five player – not outfielder, but player – in 2012, McCutchen is a five-tool star in the making. Don’t expect a repeat of his .327 batting average, but .300/25/80/100/20 seems within reach.
- Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies His home/road splits are nothing to brag about, but CarGo’s is a virtual lock for .300/20/80/90/20.
- Justin Verlander, Tigers He’ll finish with a sub-3.00 ERA, he’ll strike out around 240 and he’ll win 19 or 20 games. This guy is a first-round pick.
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers Kershaw is a workhorse, plain and simple. Given the additions to the offense, he should have no issue surpassing the 14 wins he mustered in 2012.
- Stephen Strasburg, Nationals Strasburg had 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings last year. That’s just silly. With the innings limit apparently a thing of the past, Strasburg should surpass 200 Ks with ease and will likely approach 250. Throw in 17 or 18 wins, and you’ve got an early second round pick.
- Felix Hernandez, Mariners A 20-game winner on virtually any other team, Hernandez has managed only 13-14 wins in each of the last three seasons. Still, he’s logged 200+ innings in each of the last five years and 217+ Ks in each of the last four. He’s a top-five fantasy starter – in spite of his offense.
- David Price, Rays Price, a 20-game winner in 2012, gets the nod over Matt Cain.
- Craig Kimbrel, Braves No explanation is necessary, but here’s one anyway: Craig Kimbrel struck out more than half the batters he faced last year. That’s really all you need to know.
- Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies One of the most consistent closers in the game, Papelbon has 40-save potential.
- Aroldis Chapman, Reds Although he’s slated to become a starter, Chapman’s arm is too electric to not try to own in some capacity. While I think he should remain Cincy’s closer, he may wind up back in the bullpen should he struggle out of the gate.
- Rafael Soriano, Nationals After saving 42 games for the Yankees last season, Soriano signed a two-year deal with the Nationals – thereby becoming the closer for arguably the best pitching staff in baseball. Anything fewer than 35 saves would be shocking.
- Fernando Rodney, Rays The guy saved 48 games last year and posted a 0.60 ERA. He won’t approach either of those numbers in 2013, but 35+ saves and an ERA in the 2.00s aren’t bad, either.
>>CBS Local Baseball Feature: 30 Players, 30 Days
Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.