Top fantasy draft picks for 2013, plus trends for August
Mike Trout has trumped Albert Pujols, who is steadily returning to his old form
After a down year for elite hurlers, Justin Verlander is the only sure early pick
Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett are good crunch-time grabs; forget Big Papi
Tired of fantasy football draft season by now? Bitter about how fantasy football steals baseball's thunder in August? Well, let's kick up some talk for 2013.
OK, it is not quite the timely fantasy insight you need to set your playoff lineups in crunch time, but if you're still paying close attention in your fantasy baseball league, you don't need much help. Instead, let's map out what Round 1 of next March's fantasy baseball drafts might look like.
This exercise can be of specific interest to keeper-league owners, at the very minimum. For the rest of you, it is something that can be topics of debate.
Now on the clock for 2013 ...
Pace: .340, 31 homers, 92 RBI, 126 runs, 51 steals
Yes, in just four months and at 21 years of age, this "Supernatural" Sports Illustrated cover boy has risen to the very top of the fantasy heap. Not only is he a runaway AL Rookie of the Year, he should be the runaway AL MVP. No kidding. Not since the legendary 2001 season of Albert Pujols have we seen such dominance from a rookie, and Trout has somehow been able to trump Pujols. As remarkable as the numbers are, it is his consistency that should lead us all to believe, no, trust that he is not going to be a one-year wonder or flash in the pan.
Braun lost his lineup protection in Prince Fielder and lsome love this past spring because of a positive drug test, but he wound up averting suspension on appeal and proved that he is still one of the year-to-year monsters. Smack dab in his prime at age 28, Braun might be the most rock-solid pick in all of Round 1 next year, which is why he is right behind 21-year-old wunderkind Trout.
The consistency from this 29-year-old is incredible, but his top-three status might be as much a function of his return to third-base eligibility. Miggy crushes at a position that has been down the past few years and he figures to remain there for years to come. He has proven capable defensively and is not quite at the age where he needs to be moved to DH full time, or back to first base -- assuming Fielder isn't moving to DH, either.
He was a huge bust at, of all ages, 27, so we can no longer make him a candidate for No. 1 overall. If he hadn't suffered his hamstring issue and rushed back too soon from it -- Kemp would have posted numbers that challenged Trout and Braun. Let's chalk this season up to an aberration, particularly since Kemp exceeded 600 at-bats in each of his four prior seasons.
We warned you about free agents in their first year in their new home. Actually, it was just a month and a half of bad news -- albeit, real bad news. Since mid-May, Pujols has been the monster we have known so well for over the past decade. He leads all players with 28 homers and has hit a more Pujols-like .322 with a .646 slugging percentage. Year 2 tends to be better for the big-time free agents, so consider Pujols an early first-rounder still.
This one looked a lot more certain through July, the month McClutch hit .446 with seven homers, 15 RBI and 22 runs scored. He has cooled in August (.252-2-13) and has just one steal since the All-Star break. He was also a bit disappointing out of the gate in April with no homers and just seven RBI. This inconsistency month-to-month might lead you to believe he was running just a bit too hot and might be a candidate to disappoint next year. Really, it should merely be a reason why you don't consider this 25-year-old (just entering his prime) among the top five. He is still the best five-category talent after Trout, Braun and Kemp.
It seems like there will be a significant dropoff after the top five next year. Cano is the next best pick, though, because of his year-to-year consistency and dominance at a notoriously thin position. One word of worry is that he will be 30 next season. Yes, we have a 33-year-old Pujols steady in the top five, but Cano plays a position where the years take more of a toll. We have already seen his numbers in decline, but at least his 2012 totals will still be reachable even with one more year of wear and tear.
CarGo returns to Round 1 with a season that looked far closer to his breakout 2010 form (.336-34-117-111-26). If not for his mildly disappointing 2011 (.295-26-92-92-20) or August '12 swoon (.208), we might have considered him a top-five pick candidate. He does turn 27 this October, so you can perhaps make a case to reach up for him even earlier, particularly in rotisserie formats.
This is going to be the most dangerous pick of Round 1. He has shown that he can be the most productive. The key note on him is not his injury woes or substance-abuse battles but the fact that he is going to earn a big-time long-term contract this winter. We learn every year that the biggest offseason contracts tend to make the players who sign them fantasy disappointments, so we are probably setting ourselves up for failure here. His 2012 numbers still warrant him getting picked somewhere in the second-half of Round 1.
He lost some homers in spacious Comerica Park, but have you heard our theory about free-agent signees in their first year in their new homes? Yeah, OK, we sound like a broken record, but we are going to see even better numbers out of Fielder next season. He'll have Victor Martinez back at catcher/DH, so the Tigers's supporting cast around Fielder will be even better. In his prime at age 28, we should be happy with him as a first-rounder.
Pace: 15-8, 2.80 ERA, 1.039 WHIP and 252 strikeouts
It's been a down year for elite pitchers, but this does not apply to Verlander -- except for his wins total, which can still heat up in the final month. Despite his not getting 20 victories (we assume he won't win his eight starts from here on out), Verlander was steady in every other category. The first pitcher off the board in rotisserie drafts tends to be late Round 1 and he is the only sure (enough) thing to pick this early among pitchers.
It might be a bit lost on you, but after a signing a big free-agent contract and starting slowly, Reyes has looked like the player he was in 2011. That is a first-round pick, because of the production and steals he provides at the thin shortstop position. He is no longer a 40-plus base thief, but his overall offensive game is still developing. He has shown more pop during the second half (.315-8-21-30-9, .361-.545) and is still a viable late first-rounder. He just might have put that injury-prone stigma from early in his career behind him.
He wasn't quite a first-rounder coming off his 32-30 2011 campaign, but now that he is proving to be healthier and more consistent year-to-year, we should consider him a late first-rounder. You will have other owners picking the likes of Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and perhaps even Clayton Kershaw before Kinsler, but there is something to be said for consistency.
As for the long-delayed remainder of fantasy baseball's trends for August ...
Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday: Jessica White
SI Now: Houston must slow down LaMarcus Aldridge