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October 18, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

The 2014 First Round: A Look Ahead, Part Three

by Paul Sporer

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During the summer I did a two-part series (Part I, Part II) taking my first look at the 2014 first round. It’s time to once again take a look at the top 15 and see where we stand with the regular season in the rearview mirror. We also have a pair of industry mock drafts to look at to see how some of the best fantasy baseballers around are mapping out their top picks.

NO CHANGE AT THE TOP
Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout remain the top two pick in some form, though my first iteration, both mock drafts, and now this assessment of the top 15 has it with Cabrera first and Trout second. The gap might be larger if Cabrera hadn’t essentially missed September. He played 21 games and only missed 14 the entire season, but he was clearly playing at something well below 100 percent throughout the month. He has just one homer, seven RBI, eight runs scored, and a .278 batting average. That said, he still took the top spot on ESPN’s Player Rater and remains my top choice.

RESHUFFLING THE REST OF THE TOP FIVE
The remainder of the top five is different from the first run. Back in July, I had Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Bryce Harper here. All three remain in the top 15 (spoiler alert?), but none in their original spot or in the top five at all. Andrew McCutchen is biggest upward mover jumping from eighth to take the third spot. He dropped 10 homers, 10 runs scored, 10 points of batting average, and 12 RBI from his excellent 2012, but added seven stolen bases and the net effect was dropping just two spots in ESPN’s Player Rater to sixth. His top similar batter through age 26 on Baseball-Reference is Carlos Beltran which bodes remarkably well for his future should he stay on that trajectory.

Paul Goldschmidt jumped up a couple of spots from sixth to fourth. His season conjured images of another amazing first baseman who has recently been dumped from the first round since moving out west. Since 2000, Albert Pujols is the only other batter to meet all of the thresholds we saw from Goldy this year: 36 HRs, 125 RBI, 100 R, 15 SB, and .300 AVG.

Pujols’ qualifier—his 2009 season—was even better at 47-135-124-16-.327, so Goldschmidt still has something to strive for, but it’s nice company to keep. When you extend the timeframe to 1990, four late-90s seasons from two players join the mix: Andres Galarraga in 1996-1997 and Jeff Bagwell in 1997 and 1999, but then you have to go back to 1959 for another first baseman to meet the thresholds. Frank Robinson’s age-23 season with the Cincinnati Reds was remarkably similar to Goldschmidt’s: 36-125-106-18-.311.

Technically Chris Davis could be considered the biggest upward mover as he went from an honorable mention on the first run to fifth now, but I was limiting that distinction to guys who appear on both top 15 lists. Davis finished with and MLB-leading 53 home runs and 138 RBI. Averaging his 2012 and 2013 seasons yields a .278 hitter with 43 home runs, 112 RBIs, 89 runs scored, and three steals thrown in just for fun.

COMPLETING THE TOP 10
Here we find the three guys dropped from the top five with Gonzalez and Harper at six and seven and then Votto checking in at 10. Gonzalez played in just 13 more games after claiming the third spot in July 24th piece unveiling the top 15 and he only had at least one plate appearance in six of them serving at a defensive replacement/pinch-runner in seven September contests. He is so good that he doesn’t need to play a full season to deliver first round value, but his career high of 145 was set four years ago and that has to be taken into account when slotting him. Someone is going to strike it rich when he finally does have a 150+ game season.

Harper not being to tell when the surface under his feet went from grass to dirt cost him this season. He was never the same after crashing into the Dodger Stadium scoreboard. He missed 40 games from that point on including all of June. He had a 1.022 OPS to that point and then posted a .789 in his 83 games following the incident. Even with all of that, he still had an amazing season and who knows how high he would’ve climbed the chart of best age-20 seasons had he gotten a full season? As it were he finished with the seventh-best OPS+ among 20 year olds with at least 497 plate appearances (his total from 2013). We will likely see him taken after Cabrera and Trout in some drafts as someone bets on the upside and knows that the no. 3 slot is the only chance they will have at him.

Robinson Cano slides a spot down to eighth and Edwin Encarnacion holds his late-July slotting in ninth. I don’t expect Cano to leave New York in free agency, but hopefully they improve the lineup around him as he saw his runs scored drop by 24 despite an OBP four points higher than 2012 at .383 in 681 plate appearances. It snaps a streak of four straight 100+ runs scored seasons. Encarnacion played just nine games in September ending with a whimper and had wrist surgery on September 19, but he has plenty of time to heal and hit spring training at 100 percent. With 10 games at the hot corner, he will regain third-base eligibility in some leagues, too.

Votto fell to me at 27 in an ongoing industry mock draft. He was a disappointment in the RBI department with 73 thanks to an MLB-worst OBP out of the Cincinnati two-spot (.281), but he still scored 101 runs, hit 24 homers, and swiped six bases. I honestly couldn’t believe he fell that far. His drop from four to 10 for my rankings has to do with more dynamic assets passing him by than anything he did wrong. He isn’t an overwhelming power asset as I don’t think we will see 37 again, but he is still a lock for mid-20s and he offsets that deficiency with batting average and speed. His 16 stolen bases from 2010 are a clear outlier, but he has averaged six in the three years since. That put him fourth at the position.

THE FINAL FIVE
We have three of our four newcomers in this final quintet starting with a second Oriole joining the list. Adam Jones backed up 2012’s power spike and has become almost an underrated five-category threat. Those focused on his lack of walks really miss out on all he can do for their team. He has back-to-back 30-plus HR/100-plus R/.285-plus AVG seasons and he set a career-high with 108 RBIs in 2013. He doesn’t dominate the basepaths, but he’s a contributed a steady 12 to 16 the last three seasons.

Hanley Ramirez finished 68th on the Player Rater probably doesn’t sound impressive at first blush, but when you consider that he needed just 86 games to do what Ryan Zimmerman (who finished 69th) did in 147 games, it becomes more notable. In 608 plate appearances with the Dodgers since 2012 he has a .312 AVG, 30 HR, 101 RBI, 92 R, and 17 SB. He will be just 30 in 2014. The only real hurdle here is health, but that didn’t stop people from taking Troy Tulowitzki in the first round forever and Ramirez’s health record is much better.

My podcast co-host Jason Collette took Carlos Gomez fifth overall in the mock draft we are currently in (just after I took Goldy at four) which might surprise you until you assess his recent work. Over the last two seasons, Gomez is essentially averaging 20 HR/40 SB—something done just 12 times since 2000 and only thrice in the last five years with Trout and Kemp joining Gomez. The 28-year-old didn’t exactly embarrass himself in the other categories either with 80 runs, 73 driven in, and a .284 batting average.

Adrian Beltre hops up a spot with another amazing season. Even at age 35 it is hard to have major concerns about Beltre. Since leaving Seattle he has averaged .314 AVG, 32 HR, 100 RBI, and 87 R in 149 gamesan average held down only by his 124 in 2011. Apart from that season he has played 154 or more in the other three. Oh, and he’s averaging a stolen base per year … can’t forget that!

And finally, Ian Desmond nabs the final spot with a second straight 20/20 season at the most scarce position on the diamond. Fantasy folks would’ve probably preferred some more improvement than just five runs scored and seven driven in with an additional 108 plate appearances from 2012 to 2013, but the consolidation of his skills yielding another strong season is enough to remain fully confident in the 28 year old. Since 2000, there have only been five shortstop seasons meeting Desmond’s 2012 thresholds. The four are all confined to 2007 and 2009 with Ramirez owning a pair of them and then Tulowitzki meeting them in 2009 and Jimmy Rollins doing so in 2007.

Dropped Out: Prince Fielder (10), Tulowitzki (11), Ryan Braun (13), and Evan Longoria (14)

Honorable Mentions: Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rios as well as the dropouts

KFFL ran their mock draft back on September 25 and the one Jason and I are in is still going on via email, but here is a look at how the initial 15 and this recent iteration fared in those two drafts:

Player

24-Jul

MLB

KFFL

Now

Cabrera

1

1

1

1

Trout

2

2

2

2

McCutchen

8

3

6

3

Goldschmidt

6

4

5

4

Davis

-

6

4

5

Gonzalez

3

9

3

6

Harper

5

8

12

7

Cano

7

7

7

8

Encarnacion

9

14

8

9

Votto

4

27

9

10

Jones

-

11

11

11

Ramirez

12

10

15

12

Gomez

-

5

27

13

Beltre

15

21

18

14

Desmond

-

18

21

15

Fielder

10

19

10

-

Tulowitzki

11

22

22

-

Braun

13

16

16

-

Longoria

14

26

36

-

I’ll revisit this again in the winter as we warm ourselves with a busy hot stove season.

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

4 comments have been left for this article.

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