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July 24, 2013

Sporer Report

The 2014 First Round: A Look Ahead, Part Two

by Paul Sporer

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It was almost a month ago now that I began looking at some of what we learned and how it applies to the 2014 season. I’ve wanted to get part two out, but I had a few other topics that I thought were more helpful for the here and now, so I gave them precedence ahead of this piece. Of course, with an extra month, we’ve seen that much more action and things have evolved even more now. Monday’s bombshell about Ryan Braun mixes things up a bit, too. Let’s cover a few more areas of what we’ve learned before I unveil my first crack at a top 12 for next year.

Shortstop Remains a Wasteland
The top two shortstops by ESPN’s Player Rater have been revelations this year, as San Diego’s Everth Cabrera has utilized his speed and plate discipline to turn himself into a premier asset. He drastically upped his contact rate, garnering even more use of his speed en route to a .289 AVG and .386 OBP, which have subsequently yielded 34 stolen bases. That puts him on pace to lead the NL again. And yet he’s nowhere near a first-rounder, as he remains a complete non-factor in home runs and RBI while the ineptitude of his teammates has left his 39 percent on-base rate underused, as he paces toward just 75 runs scored.

On the other hand, Jean Segura has been much more of a do-everything asset at the thinnest of positions pacing his way toward a .321-92-18-62-49 season. That is the kind of line you could draft in the first round, since we have seen Jose Reyes get drafted there on multiple occasions. The problem, or better stated, the concern with Segura is that this is the first we’ve seen of this kind of transcendent production even dating back to his minor-league days—which, by the way, ended in Double-A. He wasn’t expected to ever hit 18 home runs in a season, much less do so in the first 96 games of his first full season. So whether he falls just short of, meets, or somehow exceeds that line, there will still be questions surrounding the sustainability in year two.

A couple of incumbents have shown why we’ve liked them so much in the past while a 2012 breakout is having a strong follow-up. Beyond that, the position has offered very little save a handful of one-or-two category producers who will be lucky to sniff the top five rounds, let alone get anywhere near the first. Troy Tulowitzki is on a rinse-and-repeat method at this point: show everyone how amazing you are at baseball and then miss some time due to injury. This marks the fourth straight year he will fail to reach the 150-game plateau.

Thankfully he was able to put up full seasons worth of production in two of them (2010-2011), but as he inches closer to 30 years old the expectations of him remaining healthy for an entire season diminish more and more. And with the speed now gone from his game (12-for-17 over his last 1,095 PA spanning 2011 through Tuesday night), there is an increasing burden on his batting average to remain elite if he expects to remain a first round value with 140 games or fewer as the counting stats just can’t make the grade and stolen bases used to close that gap.

An injury in the WBC derailed Hanley Ramirez’s season before it ever got going and then a strained hamstring four games after his return sent him right back to the disabled list. He has made up for lost time though with a stunning 40-game outburst since returning on June 4. He has a .384/.442/.688 line with nine home runs, 30 RBI, 32 runs scored, and four stolen bases over 154 plate appearances. He will lose his awesome dual-eligibility barring a run of time at third base to close out the season, but he keeps the important position, and he’s shown that he is still an elite talent when healthy. Keep in mind that his “down” season last year was a 24 HR-21 SB campaign with 92 RBI despite half a season on the Marlins.

The only other prime asset at the position is Ian Desmond who is following up his .292-72-25-73-21 season capably with a .275-70-24-81-18 pace. Of course the dirty little secret there is that he’ll have needed 30 extra games to do it as he was limited to just 130 a season ago. Tulo, Ramirez, and Desmond are the only three reliable all-around assets while Segura will have to make his case in 2014 and the rest of the position is young and unproven or old and uninspiring from an all-around production standpoint. It remains a thin position—the thinnest in fact—for now. The future is very bright if a handful of prospects continue on their current trajectory.

Second Base is Thicker Than Most Think
I’ve been beating this drum for a while now. For some reason this is seen as a painfully thin position and while it’s not brimming with talent a la first base, it’s definitely holding its own on the positional scarcity chart. Second base could feature as many as three first-rounders in some leagues. Robinson Cano continues to lead the pack and he shows no signs of slowing down; even at 31 years old, he will be a heavily sought-after top pick.

Dustin Pedroia remains a force despite not doing any single thing at an elite level. The “erosion” of his power is overblown, because of the outlier 21 home runs he hit back in 2011. Without that career-year, his trajectory of 17-15-12-21-15-10 (current pace) isn’t so crazy. Meanwhile, he’s on pace to maintain his 20-plus-stolen-base streak for the third straight season and fifth out of six. Plus he’s pacing toward 92 runs scored and driven in, the latter of which would be a career-high. He remains elite. He’s turning 30 next year and it’s a little nerve-wracking to have a pair of 30-or-above second basemen in or near the top round given the drop off seen at the position around that time, but these are two of the best players in their era and nothing in their profiles calls for a collapse of skills.

Then you have the new kid on the block. Jason Kipnis has already done in 391 PA what he couldn’t in 672 last year: hit 15 home runs (he had 14). He is just 10 stolen bases and 14 RBI away from matching his 2012 totals, too. He appeared headed toward this kind of season or better last year with a .284 AVG, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 43 R, and 15 SB through the first 60 games of the season (270 PA). He collapsed from mid-June on hitting .239/.329/.325 with just four homers, 36 RBI, and 43 runs scored. His 16 steals buoyed his value and kept him from becoming a total disaster.

If he carries out the rest of the season on this pace, he will hit thresholds only achieved thrice in the integration era (since 1947). Only he, Alfonso Soriano (2002), Roberto Alomar (1999), and Joe Morgan (1976) will have reached or exceeded .299-92-24-100-34. The other three men topped every threshold save Alomar’s 24 home runs, but it doesn’t diminish the feat should Kipnis achieve it.

Beyond that we have the venerable Brandon Phillips, Howie Kendrick, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley, and even Aaron Hill—though his season was severely stunted by injury—chugging along at above-average clips, though all but Kendrick are north of 30. They are making way for the next crop that includes Nick Franklin, Anthony Rendon, and Jose Altuve. Altuve has the most experience of that trio, but his season has been knocked off the tracks since he dislocated his jaw running into Jimmy Paredes and lost his grandmother in a short span earlier this season.

While Kipnis is the standout drawing the attention, Matt Carpenter has been unbelievable. He’s headed toward an amazing season of .324-127-15-80-2. The reason he is overlooked is because his biggest value added are those runs and that category is often overlooked in fantasy baseball. In fact, his batting average is his second-best asset and that’s the second-most overlooked category in a standard 5x5. That said, he doesn’t carry any first-round weight because of how team-dependent runs scored are, and if the Cardinals weren’t just out of their minds as a team with runners in scoring position, he likely wouldn’t be pacing for such a crazy number.

His contact and on-base skills have no doubt contributed, yielding a .399 OBP that puts him in position to be driven in by the Craigs and Beltrans, but you simply can’t project that kind of run scoring year-to-year for anyone. Consider that we’ve only seen two seasons over 127 runs in the last five years: Curtis Granderson with 136 in 2011 and Mike Trout last year at 129.

Even as the position ages in key spots, the next crop leaves it in good hands and considering that the veteran group still has some gas in the tank, the position has some strength to it.

The 2014 First Round, for Now
Okay, we covered five little nuggets about what we’ve learned through about 100 or so games in the 2013 season and how those apply to the dynamics of the 2014 first round so now it’s time to unveil my first iteration of a 2014 first round.

I didn’t give Ryan Braun his own little header mainly because I’m exhausted by the topic already. He’s serving his time and he will be back next year. It bumps him down, but I don’t think whatever he took made him what he was, so it’s not like he will become a Logan Schafer clone all of a sudden—sorry Loges!

Also keep in mind that I don’t advocate pitchers in the first round barring some funky scoring rules that bump them up significantly. I much prefer a high floor (with an elite ceiling) and pitchers are far too volatile (*cough* Verlander *cough* *cries* *Tigers fan*). Thus there was no coverage surrounding what we’ve learned there. Okay, here we go…

15. Adrian Beltre, 3B

14. Evan Longoria, 3B

13. Ryan Braun, OF

12. Hanley Ramirez, SS

11. Troy Tulowitzki, SS

10. Prince Fielder, 1B

9. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B

8. Andrew McCutchen, OF

7. Robinson Cano, 2B

6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

5. Bryce Harper, OF

4. Joey Votto, 1B

3. Carlos Gonzalez, OF

2. Mike Trout, OF

1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B

Just missed: Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Davis, and Manny Machado

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

Related Content:  Ryan Braun,  Fantasy,  Jean Segura,  Jason Kipnis

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