An early look ahead at the 2011 draft

For those among the fantasy masses who haven’t converted solely to auction leagues, 2011 is going to be one of the most interesting draft boards in recent history. Typically, by the time draft day rolls around, the experts and mock draft crowd have created a kind of groupthink draft board that many fantasy owners roughly adhere to. The purpose of today’s exercise is to put together an early draft board before that groupthink sets in. At the very least, this can be the pioneer article of Groupthink 2011.

Over the last few seasons, Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez have generally dominated the top two slots of the draft board in standard leagues. Pujols and Ramirez remain contenders for that first pick, but they’re joined by Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, Troy Tulowitzki, and Evan Longoria as legitimately defensible first overall selections. Rounding out the first round are names like Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, David Wright, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, and Joe Mauer. Undoubtedly, players like Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard will see their share of first-round selections, although positional scarcity should push them back to the second round.

It will be interesting to see who becomes the consensus top choice. The perennial fantasy machine, Pujols may win by virtue of being so ultimately consistent. However, with the quality of options available, concern about Pujols’ elbow as well as the generally average batting order surrounding him could see him pushed aside for up-and-comer Joey Votto. For those who prefer to address scarce positions, four quality options present themselves. Evan Longoria is the obvious top choice at a position that offers six choices of varying quality (Wright, Rodriguez, Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre). Over at shortstop, it’s a bit unclear who is top dog between Tulowitzki and Ramirez. What is clear is that the position is a veritable black hole after that duo. Jose Reyes, Stephen Drew, and Jimmy Rollins head the second tier of players and are only marginally better than the weaker options. Finally, Cano has emerged as a four-category monster and the top fantasy second baseman. He offers a high batting average, plenty of runs and RBIs thanks to a potent Yankees lineup, and a respectable home run total.

So who is top dog? Due to the utter dearth of secondary options at shortstop, that honor should probably fall to Hanley or Tulo. Deciding between the two is almost a matter of preference. Tulowitzki offers considerably more power as part of his four-category package with an ISO above .250 over the last two seasons. That should translate to more home runs and RBIs on the fantasy docket. Ramirez posted a career-low .175 ISO in 2010 amidst some health issues, but we can expect that to bounce back to around .200. While Hanley trails in power, his five-category tool shed, replete with 30-steal ability, will not disappoint anyone, making him the top choice (barring injury). Colorado’s lineup tentatively looks like the better run production unit, so let’s place Tulowitzki atop the draft board.

Now the issue is to sort out who follows these top choices. Personal preferences are bound to color the remainder of the list, but here’s as good a first draft board as any.

1. SS-Troy Tulowitzki
2. SS-Hanley Ramirez
3. 1B-Joey Votto
4. 1B-Albert Pujols
5. 2B-Robinson Cano
6. 3B-Evan Longoria
7. OF-Carlos Gonzalez
8. OF-Ryan Braun
9. 3B-David Wright
10. 1B-Miguel Cabrera
11. SP-Roy Halladay
12. 2B-Chase Utley

Now, let’s defend some of these choices.

Carlos Gonzalez is unlikely to repeat his breakout 2010 thanks to a .384 BABIP. However, his five-category skill set makes him an easy first choice for top outfielder. Ryan Braun trails Cargo thanks to a much weaker showing in the stolen base department as well as a declining ISO. Still, he has a strong track record and—unless the Brewers deal Fielder—a formidable supporting cast. Noticeably absent is Josh Hamilton, who featured a similar fortune to Gonzalez on the BABIP front. His all-out style of play makes him a risky pick in such a deep first round. Much like Chipper Jones in his heyday, he’s become a constant injury concern.

Speaking of Jones, Chase Utley’s hard-nosed style of play and refusal to heed injuries may be taking his career straight down a Jonesian path. Many fantasy analysts are going to be naming Utley as the top value pick in the early rounds and his average draft slot could end up well after the No. 12 listing he has here. Firmly ensconced as the third hitter in a still-potent Phillies lineup, Utley is a good bet to provide four-category value along with a useful number of steals; just don’t be surprised if things go awry. Going with a safer choice at No. 12 would be understandable.

Now the fun part: you are cordially invited to destroy this draft board. What’s right? What’s wrong? What needs more explanation? It’s time to start groupthinking our way to an early head start in 2011.

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  1. Andrew said...

    Tulo is way too risky to take first overall. Also, why take Longoria 3rd when you can get a very similar player in Zimmerman 15 to 20 picks later? Both Tulo and Longoria are projecting to be very overvalued next year if the masses agree with you.

    I can see the argument for Hanley over Pujols but nobody else. Pujols is the definition of money in the bank, and it’s all about reliability in the first round. Miggy at 10 would be an absolute steal, as he’s the safest player outside of Pujols and Hanley. As Scott pointed out, Crawford has to be in the top 10 too.

  2. Peter D said...

    I agree with Andrew, Miggy at 10 is way too late.  I don’t care if he’s a 1st baseman, you just can’t get numbers like that from a player outside of the first round.

  3. Brad Johnson said...

    For the record, I have Longoria 6th. At some point we’ll have position depth charts, at this time it’s way too early to call Zimmerman comparable to Longoria. We know Evan is going to have a great lineup immediately in front and behind him. We don’t know that for Ryan. Longoria also has a smidge more power in his profile along with a handful more steals. I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to take Zimmerman around pick #20 or that they’re not similar real life players. Really at pick #6 with the only 2 good SS and the top 2b off the board, you can opt to address scarcity at 3b or you can go safe/boring on a 1b like Cabrera.

    I’ll plead guilty to being a serial undervaluer of Pujols. I worry more about his elbow than he’s given us reason to. In retrospect he should be #3 although I still wouldn’t blame anyone for preferring Votto.

    As for Hanley/Tulo, I’m indifferent between the pair but I am certain that you can’t pass them up at #1/2. Even if you pencil Tulo in for 135 games, you still have to take him #2. Shortstop is just THAT bad this year. Let’s put it this way, I’d rather have 135 games from Tulo and the 15 best 1b than 160 games from Pujols and the 5th best SS.*

    Last but not least, I probably should have said this more explicitly in the article, but #7-10 is really just a 4 way tie for #7. It’s all a matter of preference but they need to be put in some sort of order. I usually ignore elite 1b (someone’s always wiling to dump a slumping Tex, Howard, or Fielder at some point) so Cabrera fell to #10. Cabrera should go no earlier than 6 and no later than 10.

    *At some point I’ll take another look at this list with the help of Oliver. I’ll especially take a look at this statement.

  4. Brad Johnson said...

    Let’s look at this a different way by listing the range of where a player should be picked.

    Hanley 1-2
    Tulo 1-3
    Pujols 2-4
    Votto 3-5
    Cano 4-5
    Longoria 5-7
    Cabrera 6-10
    Gonzalez 7-10
    Wright 7-10
    Braun 8-10
    Halladay 11-18(ish)
    Utley 12-20(ish)

    You’ll notice the range on some of these guys doesn’t quite line up with where I had them ranked. That’s really just a reflection of my preferences. I prefer Longoria, Cargo, Braun, and Wright to Cabrera so he got bumped back to #10 but he’s viable as pick #6.

  5. Andrew said...

    I get your point about Tulo. He’s a stud when healthy, undoubtedly. And true, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of the other SS outside of Hanley.

    I just think you’re setting him up for failure by taking him in the top 2. Here’s a player who’s averaged 126 games played the past 3 seasons. He also only had 12 HR going into his incredible September.

    I guess it’s just a difference in philosophy. I like to have no concerns over my first round pick. I think floor, not ceiling, is what matters in the first round. In short, I could never pass on Pujols for Tulo.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    ^This is why this article was written, the parity in top choices is going to let everyone draft to their preferences. Setting a standardized draft board is doomed to failure. You prefer to limit floor, I like to aim at best expected line with positional scarcity factored in very heavily. Someone else will want to draft pure ceiling and then there will be legions who draft based purely on 2010 numbers. And those are the guys who will take Hamilton with #6.

  7. Chicago Mark said...

    I don’t understand your thoughts on Crawford with the ChiSox!  They have a better park than Tampa and Ozzie will let him run wild.  Is Chicago a possible landing spot?

  8. Brad Johnson said...


    1. I’ve seen Chicago and DC as possible dark horse candidates. The Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox are definitely the early front runners.

    2. I think Crawford running wild means 45-55 sb which is exactly what is being paid for.

    3. I don’t expect him to repeat that .188 ISO unless he signs in NY

    4. I think the White Sox lineup depresses his R/RBI totals unless they add way more than Crawford.

    But ultimately that’s probably all for nil, I doubt the Yanks or Angels let him go to Chicago.

  9. Scott said...

    Can’t blame anyone for letting Halladay sneak into the first round, but I think I’d almost be willing to take Carl Craford before I take a SP. 90+ RBI’s and 40+ SB is tough to beat.

  10. Scott said...

    In a perfect world, I prefer that my first round pick be without injury complications. There’s a handful of guys in that list I’d choose over Tulo, I see him going later in the first round.

    Pujols is Pujols. I know he’s over 30, and we’re waiting for him to decline, but he’s still one of the top 2 picks.

    Hanley had issues this year, in part because of injury, and I think some of it was team & manager related. I think he’s going to improve in 2011.

    After that, I’d put Votto, Cano & Cabrera in the same area, followed up by Tulo and the rest.

    Votto has been rumored to have all this power for years, he’s legitimate. Same with Cano.

    Cabrera is 27/28, and in his prime. The only issue with Miguel, is that when half his team went down with injuries in August, his production disappeared, as did all the talk of him reaching the Triple Crown. What Detroit does in the off-season (re-signing Brandon Inge does not count) will make a difference in Miggy’s numbers. The guy got intentionally walked every game the last 4 weeks he played.

    I come from the school of thought that I’ll never draft a guy who only plays every 5 days in the first round, so I’d still pick Crawford over Halladay, but Brad’s points about where he ends up are accurate. Boston, NY and California are all the rumored front-runners.

  11. Brad Johnson said...

    Ah yes, I really should have addressed Crawford. On the Yankees, he’s probably pick #11 or 12, maybe even higher due to that lovely RF fence. On the Red Sox or Angels he’d be a guy I’d consider over Utley at #12 but would prefer in the 14-16 range. On the White Sox, I would just let someone else buy him.

    I could also be dead wrong on Halladay. He’s the most dependable pitcher in baseball and probably the best bet for 20 W after CC. However, with guys like Felix, Wainwright, Lincecum, and CC lurking after him on draft boards, I’d probably pass him up for a 2b/3b or maybe even one of those high RBI 1b’s. Wouldn’t know until I was in the draft.

  12. mymrbig said...

    Seems like a good year to be drafting 3rd through 6th.  I don’t think Tulo gets taken in the top 2 in many drafts (regardless of individual rankings), and getting one of Tulo, Cabrera, Votto, Cano, etc. at 5th or 6th would be a nice start.

  13. John K said...

    I really need to hear more about Wright.  Everyone feels like this year was so good for him, and it was for most fantasy purposes, but what of the sustained high K% from last year? The decreased BB% and OBP?  The terrible SB success rate?  Ugh

  14. Brad Johnson said...

    Well you said it yourself, despite the warts he had himself a lovely fantasy season. I’m expecting very similar fantasy production to ‘10 personally, I think there will be a few more hiccups in store for us in ‘11 but none that really change his value.

  15. Brad Johnson said...

    As promised in Derek’s comments, a group think updated list.

    12a Wright
    12b Utley

    What changed?

    -I had Tulo and Hanley as similar injury risks thanks to Hanley’s struggles last year. This was wrong. Still, if I at all have the option, I will avoid sifting through the 2nd tier of SS’s at all costs. The shortstops top my board. Unless Tulo trips down Clint Barmes’ stairs whilst carrying groceries, that won’t change.

    -As I admitted earlier, I always tend to worry way too much about Pujols’ elbow. I think if you take Votto before Pujols you won’t regret it, but there’s no reason to sacrifice surety to get the same expected performance.

    -I perceive Cabrera as a bit of a lumberer. And I always expect lumberers to get hurt in the field, much like Jim Thome. That expectation stands but it’s way too early in his career to be penalizing him on the draft board because of it.

    -Longoria slips because 3b isn’t quite as thin as I initially perceived it to be. I agree completely with Derek, as far as first rounders go, Longoria is boring.

    -Derek was right about A-Rod, he’s a better bet to put up R/HR/RBI than Wright, even if a trip to the 15 day is lurking.

    -What can I say, Crawford should have been there from the beginning. Swing and a miss on my part.

    -Halladay is the surest bet in baseball to throw 250 IP, win 20 games, and look damned good doing it. Take Wright or Utley over him if you want, I know I’d use all 90 of my seconds trying to decide on draft day.

  16. bk said...

    I agree that the top pick should be a combination of performance and healh. Tulo is no way a legitimate top pick. He’s been injured too much in the past few years to justify the top selection. I have no qualms with players listed 2-5 though as the top selection.

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