It may not be the subject ripe for the most in-depth discussion of strategy, but debating who should be the first overall pick in the upcoming season’s fantasy draft sure is fun. This year’s debate is probably livelier than many years past. Working under the assumption that Ryan Braun will not miss any time, the participants in this rumble are Braun, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout. Fittingly, these three options reflect a bit of a continuum of risk reward. While I don’t plan on reinventing the wheel here, let’s look at bit at the case for each of these players at the cream of the crop.
Miggy is probably the safest choice of the three candidates. What you are getting in him is the most reliably elite and durable four-category production on the market, with third-base eligibility. It is worth noting that Cabrera’s HR and RBI totals from 2012 were six and 12 above his previous career highs, respectively. Cabrera will be 30 years of age when the season starts and is still in his prime. He’s also hit nearly .330 over the past four seasons and has averaged 158 games played since becoming a full time major leaguer. There’s really not much to discuss here.
Like Cabrera, Braun is a proven commodity, but his make-up is a bit different. If Cabrera is the most reliably elite four-category producer in the game, Braun holds the title in the five-category class. While you sacrifice a bit of the RBI ceiling Cabrera offers, you retain similar run, home run, and batting average projections while gaining a huge edge in steals. In his six seasons in the show, Braun has averaged 56 combined homers and stolen bases, turning seasons of 66 and 71 over the past two years. Of course, Braun fills an outfield position.
Here stands the man with the highest ceiling of all. In 139 games last season, Michael Nelson Trout took the sport of baseball by storm. While I didn’t spend much time deep-diving into the numbers for the well-established entities that are Braun and Cabrera, I will offer some quick analysis on Trout.
The biggest question mark about Trout is his power. He surprised everybody by blasting 30 dingers is his inaugural campaign but had only hit 23 long balls 286 minor league games. What are we to make of that? It’s tough to draw conclusions, especially considering that he will play through most of the 2013 season before turning 22. Skills, especially power, have not fully blossomed at such a young age, so it’s not surprising to see jumps in those numbers early in a player’s career, though it does raise your eyebrows when it happens at the major league level.
Putting those questions aside and delving into the data a bit, we find that Trout posted what seems to be a bit of a high HR/FB ratio, especially in light of the average distance of his fly balls in play. So, a regression is certainly possible, if not expected. But his power numbers last year were not an aberration in the general sense. I see the profile of a player who should sock 20-25 homers more than one who should hit 30-plus. However, it wouldn’t be particularly shocking to see him repeat with similar power numbers, especially if skills development is still happening—as we have to believe it is. Another factor in Trout’s favor is that he’s a leadoff hitter and speedster, meaning the perceived cost of walking him is arguably the highest in the league, so he sees lots of strikes.
At the end of the day, when considering Trout, I just wanted to see enough to feel reasonably protected from a 12-homer sophomore slump. If he does everything else as expected, he could still emerge as the top overall player with 20-home run season.
We know Trout is the best bet in baseball to lead the sport in runs scored and is likely the front-runner to lead in steals, as well.
Personally, I feel bold enough to go with Trout with the first overall pick. But perhaps what I’d most prefer would be to get the third pick in my league, as you can’t go wrong there, and you gain a smidge of draft position in the even-numbered rounds.