A few weeks back, as the 2011 season was coming to a close, a group of elite, highly analytical drafters set their sights on 2012. This select group, known as the “Premature E-Draftulators” embarked on their second season as the first pay NFBC satellite league of the 2012 season.
Last year, in its inaugural season, I was fortunate enough to finish atop this wonderful league (and take home the $1,000 cash prize!). Rather than resting on my laurels though, I am more than ready to defend my title, and come back bigger and stronger than ever in 2012.
What I love most about this league is that there is no average draft position data for us to work from. Every drafter is working solely off his own rankings. As the draft season progresses and ADP data become readily available, most drafts tend to at least mirror the flow of the ADP. In this draft, we set that initial curve and stand behind our personal rankings and evaluations.
I had the displeasure of picking from the 12th spot in this draft. My preference was to score a top six pick, as I believe the top six this year are a cut above the rest, and then the next 15 or so picks could be interchangeable depending on your own preferences.
Here’s a rundown of how that first first round of 2012 shaped up, along with my thoughts on each of those picks.
1) Matt Kemp: It’s hard to argue with the selection of Kemp first overall coming off his monster 2011. Anyone who has the ability to approach 40 homers and 40 steals with a plus average and ample run and RBI opportunities should be a no-brainer at No. 1, right?
Eh, not on my board. You’ve probably heard the adage, “You can’t win a draft in the first round, but you sure can lose it.” I tend to be very risk averse early in drafts and lean toward more proven and consistent production. Obviously, if I felt that Kemp would repeat his numbers from last year he’d be at the top of my list, I just don’t believe that he will. For one, I think don’t believe his large average increase is sustainable, and will likely finish closer to his career average of .294 than last year’s .324. Second, though he is entering his magical age 27 season, I also expect his HR/SB to each drop slightly. He’s certainly capable of 30/30 with plus numbers across the board, but there are a few other more stable and proven players I would rather have at pick one. Just make sure you glance at Kemp’s 2010 season before you go all-in with him.
2) Troy Tulowitzki: Another pick that is hard to completely argue with, but surely not a slam dunk either. On the plus side, he still plays half his games at Coors field, and is far and away the best player on the board at an extremely shallow shortstop position. He also has that entering-his-age-27-season thing going for him. It’s possible that as good as Tulo has been, we still haven’t seen his best work. On the other hand, there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, he has durability concerns and seems to miss significant games every season. Also, he has seen a major decrease in his stolen base opportunities over the last few years. He’s still extremely valuable and easily a top six pick, but if he’s going to steal only nine bases again, there are players I would rather have at pick two.
3) Jacoby Ellsbury: Here’s a guy whose value is very difficult to gauge heading into the 2012 season. Obviously, if he repeats his 2011, he’s a stud even at pick three. The question you need to ask yourself, though, is how likely is that repeat effort.
I believe players who have hit 20 career home runs in over 1,350 at-bats don’t just become 32-homer hitters overnight. Ellsbury hit a similar percentage of fly balls in 2011 as he did in 2009 (his last full season), yet he saw his homer/fly ball ratio nearly quadruple! I don’t see any way that is sustainable. He did seem to improve his plate discipline, and squared more balls up as evidenced by his increased line drive rate. That, combined with entering his physical prime, could explain a portion of the power spike. Hitting atop the Red Sox lineup, he will still score plenty of runs and hit for a solid average. I’m projecting him for 18-20 HR and 45 steals with around 80 RBI. These are still very solid numbers, similar to what was expected of Carl Crawford in 2011. I think that places his value in the mid-late first round; he may be a bit of a reach at pick three.
4) Albert Pujols: It may be hard for some people to truly figure out Pujols’ value without knowing where he’ll be playing his home games next season, but for me it’s simple. He’s an absolute beast when he plays, and will be regardless of where that is. I’m not even sure this guy is human. He broke his arm midway through last season and was back on the field in two weeks! And even in his “down” year, he still approached most of his career norms and lead his team to another World Series title. He’s still only 32 years old and has at least a few more great years ahead of him. Pay for the consistency. He’s currently the No. 2 player on my board.
5) Adrian Gonzalez: This is another player I’m having a difficult time getting a true value on this early in the offseason. When he moved to Boston last year, everyone predicted big things for Gonzalez and he shot up into the mid-first round. I was leery of his power output due to his shoulder injury, and my fears seemed justified as he only finished with 27 homers, far under what many prognosticators thought he would have. However, what surprised everyone is that he went from being a .284 career hitter to batting .338 last season! He seemed to be especially comfortable hitting in the friendly confines of Fenway Park. I’d expect the average to regress a tick next year, likely in the .315 neighborhood, but also see an increase in power to around 35 HR. This would place him in the 7-10 range on my board.
6) Ryan Braun: Ding, Ding, Ding, we have a winner: The No. 1 player on my board for 2012! Some would argue that Braun and Matt Kemp are similar players, and that since Kemp has the higher perceived ceiling, he’s the better pick. Again though, let me remind you that I pay for consistency in the early rounds and minimize risk as much as possible. Braun has been nothing but great since hitting the ground running in 2007. He’s in the middle of his prime and should continue to produce elite numbers in 2012. Some may question the impact of losing the “protection” of Prince Fielder behind him. I believe that with Fielder gone, Braun will actually have more freedom on the base paths and could run even more than he did last year, rather than being anchored at first for Prince to drive home.
7) Curtis Granderson: While he had a terrific 2011, this is another player I think may have been slightly over-drafted here. He could surprise and duplicate last season’s massive power spike, but I doubt it. Plus, 600 at-bats from Grandy are a huge drain on your batting average, especially in the early rounds where you are looking for anchors in that category.
8) Miguel Cabrera: As consistent of a performer as they come. One of the best pure hitters in baseball, and someone who you can easily pencil in for 100-plus runs and RBI, as well as 30-plus HR and an elite batting average. If he ran even a little, he would be my No. 1 overall pick. Currently stands, he’s No. 3 on my board. There is virtually no downside to Miguel Cabrera—draft with confidence.
9) Justin Upton: Another one of the game’s rising stars, Upton showed some of his tantalizing promise as a 23-year-old in 2011. This guy has big, big things in his future. It’s just hard to guess when that next step is coming. If you guess right, you could be looking at one of the top overall picks, similar to Matt Kemp’s 2011. If he takes a step back and produces like his 2009 or 2010, you’re not getting the production that you so desperately need in the first round. If you like to gamble, this is a solid mid-late first-round pick.
10) Jose Bautista: While most people were down on Joey Bats heading into 2011, I believed that his power was sustainable and that he’d produce a similar season. While I was right about the power output, no one could have forseen his tremendous average increase. I’m still not sold on the average, but 45-plus HR at a shallow third base position make him a top six pick in my eyes.
11) Prince Fielder: Unlike Pujols, who I think will be successful wherever he ends up, I have a hard time valuing Prince until I know where he’ll end up next season. If he ends up at Wrigley (where I think he will) he could put up some seriously massive power numbers. I think he could go anywhere in the eight-to-13 range and can’t really fault you for taking him there. He does seem to be one of those every-other-year performers though, so watch out for an average drop in what cyclically looks like it could be his “down” year.
12) Joey Votto: One of the game’s top young power producing first basemen seemed like an easy pick for me at pick 12. He will provide a solid average base, good power numbers and even chip in a 8-12 steals. A perfect first round pick to avoid risk and maximize overall production.
13) Robinson Cano: The other player I seriously considered taking at pick 12. A very consistent producer year in and year out. If it looks like he’s going to hit cleanup for the entire year, he may move further up my board as we approach the season. If he could steal double-digit bases, he’d be a top five pick.
14) Evan Longoria: While he has all the talent in the world and plays a scarce position, he hasn’t seemed able to put it all together yet. Similar to Justin Upton, one day Longo he will and be a fantasy wrecking ball, I’m just not convinced it’s this year (watch out in 2013, though!). If you’re the gambling type, he’s worth a look in the back end of round one, but he isn’t someone that I’ll be looking at there.
15) Clayton Kershaw: He’s the top pitcher on my board heading into 2012, but I’m not the type to draft a pitcher in the first two rounds. If you love him, though, and are picking at the back end of round one, you know that your only chance to get him is here. It’s a bold strategy, but if you have to have him I understand it.
There you have it folks, the first first round of the 2012 draft season! In the coming weeks I’ll elaborate more on my team here and my specific strategies. This is a teaser so you can start thinking about your own strategies. If you aren’t already preparing for 2012, you’re behind the curve. There are people in your league who are already knee deep in projections, spreadsheets and rankings.
As always, thoughts, comments and opinions are welcome.