Last time out, I covered 11 names I legitimately considered for the top 15 for 2012 and I am sure there were a few names that you were surprised to see on the outside. Let’s see who actually makes the top 15 as it stands right now:
15. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS, OF) – On a Carl Crawfordian pace this year of 51 SB, 19 HR, 83 RBI, 118 R and .304 AVG. So they added a Crawford-like line to the lineup, just not from the guy they paid all the money to in the offseason. Ellsbury is more of a .285 hitter, but that’s a difference of 13 hits for his at-bat total which isn’t too much to a fantasy team’s bottom line. He is just one home run from a new high watermark in home runs, but I’m not sure he can be counted on for high-teens power just yet. Even still, he can almost singlehandedly win you the stolen base category while getting you a nice head start in runs at the same time. The power production is an added bonus.
14. Prince Fielder (MIL, 1B) – Fielder is a tremendous power source who has just entered his prime. I might be alarmed by the on-off pattern of his OPS totals (sub-.880 in even years, 1.010 or better in odd years) if those kind of staggered patterns had any predictive value whatsoever. The fact is that even in his “down” years, he is a still 30-home run hitter. I put a lot of stock in his 157+ games played record from 2006-2010. My goal in the early rounds is bankable production as nothing kills a team more than missed time. You can’t predict injuries, but Prince sure hasn’t shown any propensity for getting hurt so with him you are playing the favorable odds.
13. Alex Rodriguez (NYY, 3B) – Are you ready to write him off? I’m not. He is on pace for another 30-100 season, marks he hasn’t been below since 1997. And he would have a streak of 30-100-100 just as long if it hadn’t been for some injuries the past two seasons. Third base is painfully thin which boosts his value even though his numbers don’t really “overwhelm” anymore. That he was able to reach 30-100 the last three years despite games played totals of 138, 124 and 137, respectively, only tells you the kind of transcendent talent he is even in his mid-30s.
12. Robinson Cano (NYY, 2B) – “Oh hey guys, don’t mind me, I’m just Robinson Cano and I’m on pace for .290-30-100-100-13. Yeah, I have added some speed to my game this year already setting a career high in June (6), no bigs. Yes, I started the first half of May on a .186 slump and I was even hitting just .273 as of June 9th, but that didn’t suit me so well so I have been hitting .420 since putting to rest any fears about me.” Thanks, Robbie. The counting stats are pretty much locked in because of his teammates and nothing in his profile suggests you can’t count on mid-20s to low-30s home runs totals with a .300-.320 average. Oh and he’s played 160-159-161-160 games the last four years and he’s on pace for 160 this year. Consistency, embrace it!
11. Troy Tulowitzki (COL, SS) – He is currently on pace for .276-30-107-85-13 with just one of his patented “cannot-get-him-out-for-two-weeks” streaks which he started the season with back in April. I would be willing to bet that he has at least one more of those which will surely boost his season pace. He is an across the board star at shortstop and posting three 24-32 HR/92-99 RBI seasons in the last four has earned him first round credibility. Though the one chink in his armor is the streakiness. This applies to head-to-head leaguers, but while he can win two weeks going away during one his streaks, he will disappear for weeks at time shortly thereafter. In roto you set it and forget it, but in H2H I would push his ranking down a bit.
10. Hanley Ramirez (FLO, SS) – Barring an insane second half, he is in line for the worst year of his career, but it still somewhat salvageable. Despite the busted year, it would be foolish to overreact and downgrade him too much. This is still a guy with five elite years under his belt at the thinnest position on the diamond. You want to pass him over? Good, more for me. It will depend how his final line looks, but there is a good chance it will look pretty lame for Ramirez’s standards and that will drive his value down too much in a lot of leagues.
Those owners who benefit from his drop will be like the owners who have Jose Reyes this year, in other words, they will have a great value on their hands. I still bumped him down a bit from where I had him this preseason, but that is based more on guys who emerged than a pure downgrade of Ramirez. I could still envision a scenario where I take him in the top 5-7. There aren’t major gaps in talent between these elite players. I think it is as close between 1 and 15 as it’s ever been. Or least as I ever remember.
9. Evan Longoria (TB, 3B) – Injuries have derailed the huge year I thought we would see from Longo in 2011 and there is a growing chorus that believes he is overrated as a first round fantasy pick. I’m steadfastly in the Longoria camp and I don’t plan on leaving for 2012. He is one of six players to start his career with three straight seasons with a .500+ SLG in 500+ PAs*. The others are Albert Pujols, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Earl Averill and Paul Waner. For those of you scoring at home, that’s five Hall of Famers (yep, I’m putting Pujols in as an active player). He will need to do some work to notch a fourth (which all the Hall of Famers achieved), but either way this is a superstar in the making. Like Ramirez, there is still time to salvage his season this year. His skills profile is worth betting on, especially at 26 years old playing a thin position.
(*the one flaw in this is that Baseball-Reference’s Play Index doesn’t delineate between first season and rookie season so any player who may have had a cup of coffee one year and then went on to three straight 500 PA/.500 SLG seasons won’t be captured in this study.)
8. Carlos Gonzalez (COL, OF) – CarGo’s 2010 has a good chance to end up as his career year, yet many believed it was a sign of things to come and elevated him as the top outfielder in the game. Gaudy BABIP and HR/FB rates propped up his batting average and home run totals meaning it would take a unique streak of luck to see 34/.336 again in 2011. That doesn’t mean I thought he would stink, but I preferred him a little later in the first round than most and third amongst outfielders. Let’s not forget that he will be just 26 years old next year. Not only is the elite talent bunched together as we head into 2012, but a lot of the key pieces are still very young.
7. Jose Reyes (NYM, SS) – This is about where he would have ranked this preseason had his health been guaranteed and he wasn’t coming off of his two worst seasons including one in which he played just 36 games. He has more triples in 73 games this year (13) than he had in his 169 games the last two years (12). His pace for 57 stolen bases would eclipse the two year total by 16. In other words, he is back to being superstar Reyes. He isn’t on pace for the double-digit home run total we saw in four out of five years from 2006-2010, but he is still raking the ball as evidenced by the triples count and the pace for a career-high of 42 doubles. This season is well in line with the track record he established from 2005-2008 and if you favor positional scarcity, Reyes is worth a pick anywhere between here and the top of the draft.
6. Matt Kemp (LAD, OF) – Back in November of 2010, I ranked Kemp 23rd in my top 24 and by the time draft season rolled around, I was taking him anywhere in the second round even if it was the 13th pick overall (1st pick in the 2nd round of a standard 12-teamer). In that piece I said he could rebound for a big 30-30 season in 2011. Jeez, I may have severely undersold him. He is on pace for a 44-44 with 125 RBIs, 104 Rs and a .324 batting average. Even as bullish as I was on Kemp, I didn’t necessarily see this. There is still more than half the season so nothing is set in stone, but one thing we do know is that Kemp is a fantasy star. Sure his .249 batting average hurt those who took him in the first round in 2010 (*raises hand*), but he still played EVERY game and delivered pretty big numbers in the other four categories. The Bison is a beast… and he turns all of 27 next year.
5. Adrian Gonzalez (BOS, 1B) – Remember how many times you thought, “what would Gonzalez do if he wasn’t stuck in Petco?”. The answer is: this! Gonzalez has been downright elite and he is on pace for a .356-34-151-119 season doing exactly what we all thought he might with the Green Monster (peppering it with a league-high of 25 doubles; on pace for 53). He would merit some first round consideration from 2006-2010 (a period during which he played fewer than 160 games just once and it was 156), but his home park and weak supporting cast would always hold him back. Coming in this season, he was a first round pick in a lot of leagues, but not quite a consensus first rounder. Now everything sets up in his favor and at 30 next year, he is still in his prime. Even if he falls off of his absurd paces (especially the .356 & 151), he will no doubt be elite and finally be a no doubt first rounder.
4. Jose Bautista (TOR, 3B/OF) – It is a big statement to rate him this high based on 229 games, but does anyone really still see him as anything close to fluke at this point? He has actually improved on a career year and significantly so taking his game from a power-only to well-rounded with a gaudy .328 batting average, an absurd .473 on-base percentage and a pace for double-digit stolen bases. Not only that, but a recent move back to third base all but guarantees his eligibility there for 2012 which adds a lot to his value given the dearth of talent at the position beyond the small tier of elite options. He has given us every reason to believe his surge into stardom, but I still couldn’t rank him above the legend. His third base/outfield eligibility is definitely a huge plus and I could see someone taking him #1 overall or at least ahead of this next guy, but I had to go with the insanely long track record of excellence.
3. Albert Pujols (STL, 1B) – Even in the midst of what was considered a “down” year, Pujols was on pace for .279-36-95-110-11 before going down with a major injury. In fact he was adding to his pace almost every day in June and it isn’t unreasonable to believe that he would have continued to stay hot and get back near the paces we are used to from Prince Albert. Alas, Pete Kozma has no idea how to throw a ball. Pujols has been knocked from his #1 perch, but I certainly wouldn’t blame someone for keeping him there, even at 32 years old. He is as reliable as a player gets and even his “bad” year was a very good season (currently ranked 17th amongst hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater, 22nd overall) before it was derailed by a major injury.
2. Ryan Braun (MIL, OF) – I had Braun 5th coming into the season so this isn’t a major leap for the 27-year old outfielder who is kicking off his “prime” with a bang. He is displaying some newly discovered speed that may or may not be totally legit, but regardless of that he earns this high ranking for his remarkable consistency, the same reason he check in 5th for me in 2010. Remember the .500 SLG stat about Longoria? The only reason Braun wasn’t on it is because he missed the threshold of 500 plate appearances by eight in his rookie year. I think we can let him slide since he posted a .634 SLG that year. Since then he has three straight years of 663 or more plate appearances with .500+ SLG (including seasons of .553 and .551). It just doesn’t get much better or more reliable than Braun. And given his age, there is reason to believe he can do more than the .307-32-105-99-16 average we have seen in his first four full seasons.
1. Miguel Cabrera (DET, 1B) – I don’t care if he plays the deepest position on the diamond, I am building my team around a guy who has seven straight years averaging .317-34-117-100 in 158 games. And he is well on his way to an eighth season right in line with those averages. During the stretch, he has been below the batting average mark just twice (.292, .294), the home runs three times (26, 33, 33), the RBIs three times (103, 112, 114) and the runs scored three times (85, 91, 96). In other words, even when he strays from the average, he remains elite. None of the deviations would leave fantasy owners disappointed in Cabrera even in the seasons where he combined two “below average” categories together. He will be just 29 years old next year and with his ridiculously strong skills profile (he’s actually on a four year decline in strikeout rate from 22% in 2007 to 16% so far this year), I have him as the #1 overall pick for 2012.
I would love hear your thoughts on the rankings, if you thought there were snubs and who you’d take #1 if not Cabrera. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.