Inspired by my colleague, Brad Johnson’s previous column, I’m going to take a stab at my top 12, looking ahead to 2011. I think this exercise will give some insight into the way different philosophies, or maybe just dispositions, lead to different conclusions. Brad noted in the comments section of his article that in the first round, he is shooting for the best overall line with positional scarcity heavily factored in. That’s an ambitious mission statement and certainly a legitimate approach. My curmudgeonly self on the other hand, might sum my first round modus operandi up as just not trying to shoot myself in the foot. I’m very conservative in the early rounds of fantasy drafts.
At the first pick overall, it really pays to be quite conservative. You literally have everything to lose and nothing to gain; you can only lose or break even on this pick. Therefore, I want the surest best option possible. As I work backwards from pick No. 1, I pretty much consider three performance related factors, in addition to positional scarcity – production, dependability, and potential. When it comes to production, I want a proven track record, meaning I just can’t put Carlos Gonzalez ahead of the rock solid consistency of Miguel Cabrera. When it comes to dependability, I’m thinking both variance of production year to year and durability. Potential pretty much functions as a tie-breaker, when I’m feeling ambivalent about a group of players I then ask myself which player has the best chance, or a viable chance, to fulfill Brad’s goal.
Before revealing my list, I will offer two disclaimers. One, the above philosophy is a general organizing principle, and may not hold perfectly true between every two ordered players. The truth is that drafts are not won in the first round and the difference between most of these guys if they put up a “normal” season is very small. Two, this is my first draft of the list and it is most likely to change in the coming months. And now, away we go.
1. Albert Pujols
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. Joey Votto
4. Robinson Cano
5. Miguel Cabrera
6. Troy Tulowitzki
7. Ryan Braun
8. Evan Longoria
9. Carlos Gonzalez
10. Alex Rodriguez
11. Carl Crawford
12. David Wright
I’m a Pujols man. If you predetermine your draft order, and you get the first pick and don’t plan to draft The Machine, I advise that you try to trade the pick. Moving up a few spots in the following round will probably benefit you, and by trading you create the previously non-existent potential for you to profit on your pick.
I like Ramirez better hitting in the three hole, especially since it doesn’t seem to affect his steal attempts. Last year looked like his floor and his season was still ranked 25th overall by Yahoo, despite playing 12 fewer games than he averaged over the previous four seasons. Hanley scores on all three fronts – elite production, high reliability, very good chance at having the best season of all.
Joey Votto has done everything a player looking to unseat Pujols should be expected to. He continues to develop his power and plate discipline while providing some sneaky speed. At some point, somebody will unseat Prince Albert as the best hitter in baseball, and young Mr. Votto has as good a chance as anybody to inherit the crown, but I don’t see the sense in betting on it before it happens.
Robby Cano (don’tcha know) has finally fully won me over. I wish he’d steal even 10 bases, but he’s established himself in the average department, and we’ve seen power two years in a row. He hits in an amazing lineup and a wonderful park, and over the past two years has hit 10 of his 25, and then 13 of his 29 homers against lefties. He’s pretty much in his prime and he’s played 159 games or better in four consecutive years.
If Miggy was still 3B-eligible as he was a few years ago, I’d rank him even higher. He’s a bastion of consistency, and still well on the right side of 30. Even as 1B-only, he’d be a pick ‘em with Votto if there was any chance of him swiping a dozen bases.
I think Brad made the general case for Tulo. Injuries are just too much of a concern for me to pass on Cabrera in Tulo’s favor. I’m also not really sure what the SB situation is with him. In 2009, he swiped 20, but at a horrible success rate. Last year, he only pilfered 11, but at a high success rate. Does he run more next year, or is this where the balance nets out?
Like Ramirez, Braun solidified himself with “failure.” It seems like this was an off year for Braun, and in some respects it was. But, it was still good for 13th overall, 100-plus runs and RBI, 39 combined homers and steals, and an average above .300. He did this with some nagging injuries too. Braun has a legitimate shot at being the No. 1 overall player, and if you’re playing in a five-OF format, even with 10 or 12 teams, he qualifies as giving you some positional scarcity value.
I still think Longoria has quite a bit more potential to fulfill, but I actually consider him a somewhat boring pick. He’s very solid at a thin position, but I haven’t seen top overall performer ability yet.
I’m hesitant to even rank Carlos Gonzalez here. Last season was a quantum leap in some regards, but his rise to superstardom wasn’t exactly unexpected. He did post a near .900 OPS in his half season in Colorado in 2009. We all know about the BABIP, so let’s not get any further into that. I guess I’ll just leave you with the following question. Here’s Cargo’s 2010 line: 111/34/117/26/.336. Who do you think has a better chance of putting that line up in 2011 – Cargo, or a 27-year-old Braun who has already put up one season like this (2009), one that was better on a prorated basis (2007), and a couple of valiant attempts in his other seasons?
If A-Rod can play 150-plus games, he’s the best bet in the sport for 150 RBI. His batting average has dropped a bit over the past two years, and he barely ran at all in 2010, but the power and RBI ability hasn’t really faded. I know age is not on my side in this bet, but I’m not ready to hop off this train just yet. Admittedly, I’m going a bit on “gut” here.
I’ve seen a few alarming trends with David Wright. The strikeouts have increased and the walks decreased in three consecutive years, and last season he just seemed more like a “guess hitter” than I’d ever seen him. Perhaps what we saw is him sacrificing a bit of the average to maintain his power in his home stadium. He also got caught stealing a ton in the early half of the season. If he doesn’t raise the OBP to previous levels, it’s going to be tough for him to score 100 runs. Wright is a pretty safe bet, and only briefly removed from a run where he held a legitimate claim as a potential No. 1 overall player, but I don’t think he can out-produce A-Rod without playing significantly more games.
I’m not willing to rank a pitcher this highly, even though doing so is perfectly defensible. I’m also officially worried about Chase Utley’s ability to stay healthy and feel his skills have slipped just a tad. My money would be on Crawford in this spot. His landing spot could mildly influence how I feel about this, but speed doesn’t slump and as long as he doesn’t go to an extreme pitcher’s park that will zap his ability to hit 15 or so homers, I think this is a fair spot for Crawford. Boston may actually even be a better destination for him than New York, as I could legitimately see him batting third in the Boston lineup, but figure he’d bat first for the Yankees.
Before signing off, let me offer a few words about some also-rans. Halladay and Hernandez are legitimate choices toward the back end of this round too, but there are just too many close replacements to be had several picks, and even rounds later. I discussed Utley already, but he’s certainly in the mix here. I’d avoid any of the 1B trio here if only because I think they’re too interchangeable value-wise, so if I was in the market for one, I’d just try to grab the one that falls the furthest. Finally, I don’t think we should forget about Matt Kemp just yet.