EDITIONS: USA DEPORTES More Asia Australia Brazil United Kingdom CITIES: BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS LOS ANGELES NEW YORK ESPN 788291 Share September 23, 2010, 6:03 PM Preliminary 2011 hitter rankings Where will breakout stars like Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez open next year? Email Print Comments By Tristan H. Cockcroft
There is no such thing as a fantasy baseball offseason. (Lazy ballplayers. Who's with me that we should extend the season to a full 365 days?)
I don't care that five of my fantasy football teams are 1-1, and that the natural instinct at this time of year is to shift the focus of my attention to upgrading those rosters. I'll find time. Who needs sleep? Besides, I've got two young kids, so it's not like I was getting much sleep anyway.
No, fantasy baseball is a year-round endeavor, and if you agree with me you've got a significant advantage over the people who don't. Championship-caliber owners are always paying heed to the news, stats and trends in this game, be it in March, July or November, and while many people have already shut off the lights, put a hold on their mail and turned down the water heater for their winter vacations, my advice to you would be this: Skip it. Stay home. Sit by the fire, and occupy your time perusing piles and piles of baseball statistics.
Or, failing that, print a copy of this column,
and take it with you while you're lying on some sunny beach in the tropics. At least then you'll be ahead of the game on your 2011 preparations. Just make sure to send me a postcard.
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCarlos Gonzalez's Triple Crown chase boosted his fantasy stock for 2011, but is he a bona fide first-rounder?
Consider this week's "Hit Parade" -- our final edition of
2010 -- your head start for 2011. Listed below are preliminary rankings for next season and next season alone. Player value encompasses standard ESPN rules like rotisserie 5x5 scoring, traditional rosters. Included under each position are some "quick picks," or early predictions, on some expected 2011 trends.
"Early buzz": A player most likely to spend the winter riding the hype machine, whether he's a top pick at his position or one primed to rise the ranks.
"Questions": Somewhat self-explanatory, but this is a player
I see potentially disappointing in 2011, even comparative to my ranking of him.
"Unranked value pick": Also self-explanatory.
"Hot stove impact": Players whose projected 2011
draft-day price tag might be significantly affected by winter transactions.
"Position eligibility": Any important nugget or shift in a player's eligibility that might have an impact on the rankings.
Let's get started …
Top 10 catchers
Rank Player Team 2010
Rater 1 Joe Mauer MIN 1 2 Brian McCann ATL 3 3 Victor Martinez BOS 2 4 Buster Posey SF 4 5 Carlos Santana CLE 28 6 Kurt Suzuki OAK 11 7 Geovany Soto CHC 9 8 Miguel Montero ARI 19 9 Mike Napoli LAA 5 10 Matt Wieters BAL 18
Early buzz: Carlos Santana's knee surgery probably keeps him beneath Buster Posey on the "buzz-worthy" scale, being that Santana's recovery timetable was 4-6 months from Aug. 6, the date of his operation. That means there is the possibility his rehabilitation bleeds into the early weeks of spring training. That said, the two could be equally tantalizing come 2011 drafts, but how can you not look at Posey's .324-15-62 rookie numbers in 97 games (projects to 20 homers, 83 RBIs over what is reasonably expected from a catcher over a 130-game full season), his No. 5-overall-in-2008 draft status, No. 7 overall prospect ranking by Baseball America (No. 4 by ESPN's Keith Law) before the season and the oodles of glowing reports by scouts over the past three years and not be most excited about him? Everyone seems tempted to compare Posey to a young Joe Mauer, except Posey has more power and is right-handed. I often wonder why people press themselves to make such comparisons when the
truth is talents like Posey are special enough to not make a logical comparison. Players like Posey are, simply put, that special.
Questions: Geovany Soto will be recovering from shoulder surgery come spring training, so keep tabs on him once camps open because his rehabilitation timetable is a mere three months from his Sept. 20 operation date. It's Jorge Posada with whom I have the most questions. He'll turn 40 next August, has spent 149 days on the disabled list the past three seasons combined, has battled various bumps and bruises on a day-to-day basis and has been able to give the New York Yankees only 624 1/3 innings behind the plate in 2010, slightly more than half of his workload in his prime. At this stage of his career, with some pop still left in his bat, he's better served as a full-time designated hitter, except that the Yankees have several other aging sluggers who need an occasional "rest" at DH. The Yankees top catching prospect, Jesus Montero, is probably also better suited to DH than catch. I don't doubt Posada's bat. It's the playing-time concerns that kept him beneath the cut. (Think a Mike Napoli-type role, but shift the first-base at-bats to DH and sprinkle in more injury risk.)
Unranked value pick: There isn't a lot to love outside the top 10, being that catcher is so thin that those with even a shred of talent are probably already in the top 10. That said, Ryan Doumit continues to show he's a
n underrated offensive resource (.267 AVG/.376 OBP/.465 SLG in his past 29 games), and could get a chance to steal a significant chunk of at-bats at catcher, first base or right field, if not for the Pittsburgh Pirates then with another team. John Jaso has a keen batting eye that might lead to better than his current .265 batting average in future seasons, not to mention his high on-base percentage could make him a sleeper in runs scored. I see a lot of John Baker in Jaso, and while you might remember the bad with Baker (2010) he has also experienced some good (2009), too.
Hot stove impact: Victor Martinez is the highest-profile free-agent catcher, but it's hard to imagine the Boston Red Sox letting him go with few reliable alternatives behind the plate. Change might bear the most watching up north, where the Toronto Blue Jays might let John Buck walk to pave the way for top prospect and minor league slugger J.P. Arencibia. If that happens, Arencibia would shoot up the rankings probably to the mid-teens, but I'd hesitate to put him in my top 10, being that despite his 30-homer power, he's still as much of a free swinger as prospects come, meaning increased risk of slumps and a low batting average. The Blue Jays might very well exercise Jose Molina's $1-million option and ease Arencibia in slowly, especially being that some of their young pitchers (Brandon Morrow most notably) threw so much better to Molina than Buck.
Position eligibility: Doumit already qualifies in the outfield and Napoli and Posey qualify at catcher and first base, but would you really use any of the three at those other positions? Jake Fox needs two more games to qualify behind the plate, which would present his best chance at 2011 sleeper potential.
Top 10 first basemen
Rank Player Team 2010
Rater 1 Albert Pujols STL 2 2 Miguel Cabrera DET 3 3 Joey Votto CIN 1 4 Adrian Gonzalez SD 5 5 Prince Fielder MIL 13 6 Ryan Howard PHI 7 7 Mark Teixeira NYY 11 8 Kevin Youkilis BOS 14 9 Kendry Morales LAA 44 10 Adam Dunn WAS 10
Early buzz: Over the winter you're going to hear a lot of buzz about how Joey Votto is a potential first-round pick and a possible threat to Albert Pujols' status as the No. 1 option at this deep position. It's with good reason; it's because Votto is both of those things. He's currently atop the Player Rater at first base and No. 3 overall, he's 27 years old and he's one of only 11 first basemen in history to manage at least 35 home runs and 15 stolen bases in a season, and the only one other than Pujols to have done it in the past five years (Pujols did it twice, in 2005 and 2009). And if you're worried about some of those advanced metrics that might hint he has had a "lucky" season: Votto's BABIP is .358, but that's just six points above his career number (.352). His home run/fly ball percentage is a somewhat bloated 24.5, but his career number is still a healthy 19.6, which means only about a 6-7 homer difference, plus let's not forget that he plays in one of the most homer-friendly ballparks for left-handed sluggers. Even if you claim Votto's "true" value is a .320-30-100-15 (SBs)-100 runs player, with the way the game is shifting towards pitching, that's still a first round-caliber talent.
Questions: They're all about the players whose seasons were cut short by injury, and if I'm ranking them from least to most concerned, I'll go Kevin Youkilis, Kendry Morales and Justin Morneau, which not coincidentally is the order in which I ranked them overall. Morneau barely misses my top 10, being that he's recovering from the second concussion of his career, and that's such an unpredictable injury. He's also a terrible second-half player historically, a signal that he's a player with fatigue concerns over the long haul, and from that angle, I wouldn't be surprised to hear people call him an "old 30" at some point next year.
Unranked value pick: Billy Butler did spin his wheels in terms of career development this season, but everything we liked about him entering 2010 remains the case heading into 2011, except that he'll be even closer to his prime (he turns 25 next April). His plate discipline has improved, he's still hitting a ton of doubles and I can't imagine that a player who kills fastballs to the levels he does won't get more elevation on his drives in coming seasons. Maybe we were a year early?
Hot stove impact: There are plenty of free-agent first basemen on the winter market, including Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena, and all four might very well be playing for new teams in 2011. But the player who would be most affected by a possible move is Adrian Gonzalez, who might yet be on the trade market because he'll be a free agent after next season and his San Diego Padres might be unable to afford him. A change in uniform might be huge for his fantasy value, especially if he lands either with a team that plays in a bandbox or has a loaded lineup; he's a .306/.381/.591 road hitter who since 2007, compared to .263/.375/.440 at Petco, and he has averaged one homer per 14.1 at-bats on the road compared to one per 14.1 at-bats at Petco. Konerko might suffer the opposite effect; his .278/.379/.523 road rates this season are good, but not necessarily top-10-wherever-he-lands-in-2011 good.
Position eligibility: This position is almost the reverse of catcher; if a first baseman qualifies elsewhere, you're probably going to use him at that other spot because it's not nearly as difficult to find another first baseman than, say, a second baseman. Ty Wigginton is a great example; he's also second base-eligible, and you'd surely use him there instead. Michael Cuddyer, Aubrey Huff and Garrett Jones are also outfield-eligible, and Cuddyer is six games from qualifying at third base, too.
Top 10 second basemen