With many fantasy baseball drafts just around the corner, it’s time to start breaking down each position. Here’s part one of my two-part preview, in which I give you my top hitters at each position:
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals (2006 stats: .330 avg. -49 homers-137 RBIs-7 steals)
2. Ryan Howard, Phillies (.315-58-149-0)
3. Lance Berkman, Astros (.315-45-136-5)
4. David Ortiz, Red Sox (.287-54-137-1)
5. Mark Teixeira, Rangers (.282-33-110-2)
6. Derrek Lee, Cubs (.286-8-30-8)
7. Justin Morneau, Twins (.321-34-130-3)
8. Paul Konerko, White Sox (.313-35-113-1)
9. Gary Sheffield, Tigers (.298-6-25-5)
10. Carlos Delgado, Mets (.265-38-114-0)
First base has more elite players than any other positions except outfield–seven will be taken in the first two rounds. I would draft one early, as there are multiple players with .300/40/100 potential. First up is Albert Pujols, the number 1 players on everyone’s board. There are three others who should go in the first round: David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, and Lance Berkman. Berkman is slipping into the second round in many leagues, and he’ll reward you with a consistent four-category production as well as outfield eligibility.
Though Teixeira struggled mightily during the first half of last season, I think he’ll return to his usual 40-homerun form. Morneau, though I’m not betting on a year any better than his MVP campaign in 2006, would make a great pick around the third round. The X-factor at this position is Lee. He was injured most of last season, which is causing him to slip in the draft. However, in an improved lineup, I see no reason why he can’t return to somewhere near his .335-46-107 production in 2005. The most underrated first baseman is Konerko, who has been consistent in the power categories (homers and RBIs) for the last three years nearly silently.
If you don’t draft one of the above first basemen, then you’ll be stuck with the mediocre mid-round depth at this position. Sheffield is an interesting albeit risky pick as he moves to Detroit and will hopefully be healthy. However, other aging vets like Todd Helton, Richie Sexson, and Jason Giambi should likely be avoided. If you for some reason don’t pick a first baseman in the first eight or so rounds, I’d make sure to draft either Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez, who broke out last year and are poised for even greater success this season. But as a general rule, pick a first baseman early. Any of the first eight players on my list are nearly guaranteed to produce.
1. Chase Utley, Phillies (.309-32-102-15)
2. Robinson Cano, Yankees (.342-15-78-5)
3. Brian Roberts, Orioles (.286-10-55-36)
4. Dan Uggla, Marlins (.282-27-90-6)
5. Josh Barfield, Padres (.280-13-58-21)
6. Tadahito Iguchi, White Sox (.281-18-67-11)
7. Rickie Weeks, Brewers (.279-8-34-19)
8. Brandon Phillips, Reds (.276-17-75-25)
9. Ian Kinsler, Rangers (.286-14-55-11)
10. Ray Durham, Giants (.293-26-93-7)
Besides maybe catcher, second base has the least amount of decent players. Chase Utley, who ranked 70 spots overall above any other second baseman last year, is far and away the class of the position. Behind him, the next player to take is Cano, who led all second basemen in average and will become a stud at the position. Roberts, who declined slightly after a monster 2005, still delivers plenty of steals and a decent average.
Many are predicting Dan Uggla won’t put up anything close to his 2006 numbers. I don’t think he’ll quite match them, but he’ll still be good enough for a top-5 showing at this position. Barfield, Iguchi, and Weeks are all very similar players who are worth drafting around round 10. They’ll put up decent numbers across the board with some steals as well. Phillips can run too, but I’d avoid him due to his grave inconsistency last year. Kinsler is an up-and-comer who hits in a strong lineup and will improve. Durham put up a career year last season, but always gets injured and likely won’t duplicate those numbers. Still, he might be worth a look in the scrap rounds.
Jeff Kent of the Dodgers appears in the twilight of his career, but still might be able to put up one more good season. Marcus Giles, who was terrible last year in Atlanta, won’t improve because of his move to San Diego. Avoid him. One player who will be worth picking in the later rounds is Jorge Cantu of the Devil Rays, who was hurt for a lot of last year but put up a 28-117 in 2005.
Overall, this is one position not to use a pick on for at least the first 10 rounds unless you can get Utley or Cano. And since it’s a weak position, at least try to get some steals out of it.
1. Jose Reyes, Mets (.300/18/81/64)
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees (.343-14-97-34)
3. Miguel Tejada, Orioles (.330-24-100-6)
4. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (.277-25-83-36)
5. Michael Young, Rangers (.314-14-103-7)
6. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (.292-17-59-51)
7. Carlos Guillen, Tigers (.320-19-85-20)
8. Bill Hall, Brewers (.270-35-85-8)
9. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers (.300-15-63-37)
10. Edgar Renteria, Braves (.293-14-70-17)
Shortstop is one of the deepest positions this year. Each player in the top 10 could be an excellent starter on anyone’s team. Last year Jose Reyes set himself apart from the rest with a five-category season for the ages. He’s a consistent 50-base stealer whose power and average numbers are on the rise. Miguel Tejada is the best power-hitting shortstop in the game, while Jeter is close to Reyes in everything but steals. Another player who showed surprising power last year was Jimmy Rollins, who set career marks for OPS and homeruns.
One of my favorite shortstops is Michael Young, who could fall to the fifth or sixth round in some drafts. He has four consecutive .300 seasons in addition to good power. He doesn’t deliver steals though, while Hanley Ramirez does. Ramirez is one of multiple Marlins sophomores who will be difficult to predict after great rookie years. He should fare well though, as he was relatively consistent from month to month. Carlos Guillen, who for some reason is drafted low in most leagues, would make a great pick. He can do it all: great batting average, decent power numbers, and some steals. I’d pick him easily before power-hitting Bill Hall or tough-to-predict Julio Lugo.
Furcal, who has been a top-ten shortstop for four years, and Renteria, who should finally return to his old form, round out the top ten. Other interesting options include Stephen Drew, a rookie last year for Arizona who will see increased playing time, and steal-happy Orlando Cabrera of the Angels. The only players to avoid are Felipe Lopez, Bobby Crosby, and Jhonny Peralta. But shortstop still has more usable players than any other position but outfield. Try to pick one of the five-category studs–there aren’t many of them out there.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Marlins (.339-26-114-9)
2. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees (.290-35-121-15)
3. David Wright, Mets (.311-26-116-20)
4. Garrett Atkins, Rockies (.329-29-120-4)
5. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs (.291-38-119-2)
6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals (.287-20-110-11)
7. Scott Rolen, Cardinals (.296-22-95-7)
8. Chipper Jones, Braves (.324-26-86-6)
9. Joe Crede, White Sox (.283-30-94-0)
10. Freddy Sanchez, Pirates (.344-6-85-3)
This is one of those positions where you need to draft an elite player. After the top five, there are many question marks. I put Cabrera number one instead of the consensus pick A-Rod. This was due to Cabrera’s significantly better batting average, and the fact that he’s going up while A-Rod’s best years are behind him. Of course Rodriguez is a good pick, and a star in every category–just like David Wright, another standout.
The above three will go in the first round or early second, while you can get Atkins or Ramirez in the third. Atkins was virtually silent last year, but he put up shocking numbers. Ramirez has hit at least .290 with 30 homers for three straight years and won’t be stopping soon.
The next tier has many players who either had a breakout last year or are injury-prone. Ryan Zimmerman leads this group after a rookie campaign that should have won him a Rookie of the Year. The only concerns are about the weak lineup he hits in and the pitcher park he plays in. Still, Zimmerman should put up even better numbers than last year. Scott Rolen and ChipperJones are two similar players. Each is very vulnerable to injury but can put up very strong all-around numbers when in the lineup. The next two, Crede and Sanchez, each had breakout seasons in 2006. They likely won’t repeat those numbers, but they would make a good value pick around the 13th round.
Other options include two breakout candidates, Chad Tracy of the Diamondbacks and Mark Teahen of the Royals. Risky picks that could pay off are Hank Blalock, Eric Chavez, and Morgan Ensberg. Each of those had dreadful years in 2006 but have been studs in the past. Though it seems like all these players give third base some good depth, you’d be wise to draft one of the top six. They’ll reward you with great power numbers.
1. Brian McCann, Braves (.333-24-93-2)
2. Joe Mauer, Twins (.347-13-84-8)
3. Victor Martinez, Indians (.316-16-93-0)
4. Mike Piazza, A’s (.283-22-68-0)
5. Jorge Posada, Yankees (.277-23-93-3)
6. Ramon Hernandez, Orioles (.275-23-91-1)
7. Kenji Johjima, Mariners (.291-18-76-3)
8. Michael Barrett, Cubs (.307-16-53-0)
9. Russell Martin, Dodgers (.282-10-65-10)
10. Ivan Rodriguez, Tigers (.300-13-69-8)
Finding a decent catcher won’t kill you as it has in the past. There are plenty of good choices this year, which makes reaching for McCann, Mauer, or Martinez crazy. In the first five rounds, you shouldn’t even have catchers on your mind.
Piazza qualifies at catcher even though he will play DH, so his stats will be up. Posada and Hernandez are two of the most powerful catchers, though Posada would make a better choice because of his consistency. Two up-and-comers include Johjima and Martin, who will be among the top five at this position next year. If you need average out of your catcher, pick Barrett, Paul Lo Duca of the Mets, or Josh Bard of the Padres. With all of these solid players, why go for one of the top tier catchers?
1. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (.276-46-95-41)
2. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels (.329-33-116-15)
3. Carlos Lee, Astros (.300-37-116-19)
4. Carl Crawford, Devil Rays (.305-18-77-58)
5. Carlos Beltran, Mets (.275-41-116-18)
6. Matt Holliday, Rockies (.326-34-114-10)
7. Bobby Abreu, Yankees (.297-15-107-30)
8. Vernon Wells, Blue Jays (.303-32-106-17)
9. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (.321-35-102-0)
10. Jason Bay, Pirates (.286-35-109-11)
11. Grady Sizemore, Indians (.290-28-76-22)
12. Jermaine Dye, White Sox (.315-44-120-7)
13. Johnny Damon, Yankees (.285-24-80-25)
14. Andruw Jones, Braves (.262-41-129-4)
15. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (.322-9-49-45)
Outfield has more of a distinct elite class than any other position. There is an enormous drop from these 15 players to the next 15, so grab at least one of them. Soriano and Guerrero are an easy 1-2, but some may be surprised to see Carlos Lee at 3. I’m high on him this year for multiple reasons: he’ll be next to Lance Berkman in the lineup, be playing in a hitter’s park, and he puts up all around numbers. Crawford and Beltran should repeat last year’s success as well.
While Matt Holliday is the 12th outfielder drafted on average, he was second-ranked at the position last year behind only Soriano. Does anyone see a reason why he won’t repeat his 2006 numbers? Abreu was a huge disappointment last year–until he moved to New York. As a Yankee from the beginning this season, he’ll return to his usual 30-30 form. Wells, Ramirez, and Bay would all make great choices in the third round. Sizemore to me is a tad overrated–he does not excel in any one area except runs. Also, his numbers are eerily similar to those of Johnny Damon, who will be drafted about three rounds after Sizemore. Jermaine Dye is a wild card after greatly exceeding all of his career highs last year. He will regress, but is still a worthy pick. As for the last two, Andruw Jones and Ichiro Suzuki, they each have the skills that the others lack (Jones is a power hitter, Ichiro is a contact and speed guy). Neither is balanced enough to be worth an early selection.
Here are the best of the rest: Raul Ibanez, Torri Hunter, Magglio Ordonez, Alex Rios, Brad Hawpe, Reed Johnson, and Rocco Baldelli. But there are plenty to avoid: Adam Dunn, Chone Figgins, Gary Matthews Jr., Nick Swisher, Corey Patterson, Scott Podsednik, Luis Gonzalez, and Ken Griffey. Now do you see why you need one of the top players?
I’ll bring you the best of the pitchers sometime around next week. Eventually, a non-fantasy season preview will arrive.
Source for draft position, stats, and last year’s rankings: Yahoo.com