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.