Less than one month. That’s all that is left before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. Although that may seem like an eternity to those of us who crave baseball, it will be upon us all too quickly. While players finish last minute workouts and clubs continue to fill roster needs, it’s time to start thinking about the 2013 Fantasy Baseball season.
The beginning of every season means a fresh start. It gives struggling players the chance to revitalize their respective careers. The same can be said for fantasy managers who might not have faired so well last year. In January, hope springs eternal. But in order for a better season in 2013, some changes must be made. To do this, we must learn from our mistakes, and perhaps take on a new strategy. Hopefully by learning and growing, we can all take home some hardware come championship time.
In the first round of your draft, you are probably hoping for Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander or some other big time, proven player. You would be unwise not to. However, in order to win at Fantasy Sports, one must endure a season of peaks and valleys. Inevitably, a star player will go down midseason and strategic line-up alterations will ensue. For that reason, fantasy baseball is rarely won in the first few rounds of the draft. Instead, the mid-to-late round picks, as well as mid-season pick-ups, ultimately decide how the season will end.
With that in mind, I’m going to highlight a couple of players that I believe could have the most value for your team. It is important to note that by value I don’t mean players I think you should select in the first round, necessarily. These are players I believe will be available later in the draft, or could possibly be picked up later in the season, that can still be very helpful to your team.
In 2013, solid fantasy catchers are in good supply; more-so than in years passed. Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, Carlos Ruiz, the list goes on. That being said, because there is so much depth behind the plate this year, you can focus on filling other positions first, and coming back to catcher later.
One guy that can really give you great value is Kansas City catcher, Salvador Perez. In only 76 games last year, Perez hit .301 with 11 home runs and 39 runs batted in. Including non-qualified hitters, his .301 average ranked Perez 3rd for American League catchers. Over the course of his 115-game career, Perez is averaging .311 with an on-base percentage of .339. It will be interesting to see if Perez can keep that up over of an entire season, and I believe he will.
Another catcher to keep an eye on is Rob Brantly of the Miami Marlins. Brantly made his debut for the Marlins on August 14th of last season after being traded from Detroit. In the 31 games he played last year, Brantly batted .290 and netted an OBP of .372. Brantly is definitely someone who could fulfill a fantasy roster spot down the road.
Of course, at first base there are the same names we see year after year; Pujols, Fielder, Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, etc. Most of these players will go in the first few rounds, as they should.
One player I believe will join those ranks this year is Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals. Last season, Craig led all NL first basemen with a .307 average. He also blasted 22 Hrs and earned 92 RBIs in only 119 games. I would not be surprised if by year’s end, Craig is in the top five for fantasy first basemen.
One first baseman that could surprise a lot of people is Anthony Rizzo. In what was essentially half of a season for the Chicago Cubs in 2012, Rizzo hit 15 home runs, batted .285, and amassed 48 RBIs. Those statistics extrapolated over a full year could mean big things for Rizzo and the Cubs.
Traditionally, second base is reserved for high-average, high-speed players. Over the last few years however, we’ve seen a shift towards power with guys like Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill, and Dan Uggla at the helm. As a result, 2nd base is a big strategy position for fantasy baseball. You can go for either speed and average or for raw power. Of course, there’s no question your best best at 2nd is still Cano, who will undoubtedly hit .300, belt 30+ home runs, and drive in 100+ runs. After Cano though, things get interesting.
One player to seriously consider is Marco Scutaro. Despite the fact that Scutaro is 37, he put together one of his best seasons last year. Split between Colorado and San Francisco, Scutaro had nearly 200 hits, and yielded a combined batting average of .306, including a .362 clip in his 61 games as a Giant. Scutaro’s stats have only improved over his 11-year career, and I see that trend continuing in 2013.
Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar players out there is Logan Forsythe of the San Diego Padres. Last season, Forsythe hit .273, with a slugging percentage of .390 in 91 games. His numbers become really impressive at home in Petco Park where he batted .313 and slugged .493. If Forsythe can hit on the road as well as he hits in pitcher-friendly Petco, he could easily be a fantasy hero this year.
Much like 1st base, 3rd base provides that same list of reliable players year after year. Guys like Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Adrian Beltre, and Ryan Zimmerman are cornerstones of their respective clubs and will be cornerstones of many fantasy teams also. So where do you turn when those elite players aren’t available?
Without a doubt, a great fantasy third basemen for 2013 will be Martin Prado of the Atlanta Braves. With Chipper Jones enjoying life after baseball, Prado is set to take over duties at the hot corner in Atlanta. In the last five years, Prado has hit .300 or better four times. Last year was easily Prado’s best with career highs in games played (156), stolen bases (17), RBIs (70), and OBP (.359). Prado isn’t the “typical” fantasy third baseman in that he wont hit a slew of home runs; his career high was 15 in 2010. That being said, if you’re looking for a third baseman that can help you in areas other than power, Prado may very well be your guy.
One of the top up-and-comers for third basemen is Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox. Playing in a mere 75 games for Boston last season, Middlebrooks recorded 15 homers, 54 RBIs, a .288 average, and a .509 slugging percentage. His .509 SLP ranked him fourth for AL third basemen, behind only Cabrera, Beltre, and Evan Longoria. Not bad company. Definitely keep an eye on Middlebrooks.
From a fantasy perspective, shortstop is an interesting position this year. You have Troy Tulowitzki coming back from an injury plagued 2012, Jose Reyes in the AL East, and Hanley Ramirez with a full year in Los Angeles. There are also a slew of young shortstops looking to take the reigns for their ball clubs, such as Starlin Castro, J.J. Hardy, and Ian Desmond. There are a lot of different directions you can go at shortstop this year.
From a value perspective, I think your best bet is Josh Rutledge of the Colorado Rockies. Now with Tulowitzki back, Rutledge will most likely start at 2nd base, but he should also qualify as a shortstop. In 73 games last season, Rutledge had 8 home runs, 20 doubles, and a SLP of .469, which ranked him fourth for NL shortstops. Given the chance for a full season, Rutledge could be an interesting play at short.
Keep an eye out for Everth Cabrera in 2013. Cabrera plays shortstop for the San Diego Padres, and will undoubtedly steal 50+ bases this year. Last year, he stole a league-leading 44 bases in only 115 games. If you need steals, and can absorb the .250 average and low power numbers Cabrera will produce, he might not be a bad pick-up at short.
The outfield can often be a tricky place for fantasy owners. Depending on your league, you may have players qualify for the whole outfield, their individual position (C, LF, RF), or all three. Because the outfield offers so many players with vary abilities, it’s important to strategize how you will use each position. For example, Jason Heyward of the Braves can provide you power and speed in right field, but he might hurt you somewhat with average. To combat that, perhaps you also use someone like Nationals’ CF Denard Span who will most likely hit for better average, but less power. Use whatever strategy you see fit, it is just important that you have a strategy in place.
The outfielder I think could provide the most value in 2013 is Yoenis Cespedes of the Athletics. Last year, in his rookie campaign, Cespedes totaled 23 home runs, 82 RBIs, and a batting average over of .292. If it wasn’t for a man named Mike Trout, Cespedes could easily have won Rookie of the Year last season. To be fair, Cespedes was a professional in Cuba for almost nine years before coming to the MLB. As such, he has developed the tools to be a staple in the majors for a long time. Look for Cespedes to have even bigger numbers this season.
An outfielder to keep an eye on is Twins’ Darin Mastroianni. Last season, Mastroianni swiped 21 bases in only 77 games. His speed is a tool that can vault him true fantasy value. At the top of the Minnesota batting order, I believe Mastroianni will score at least 80 runs and steal more than 40 bases. If he can raise his average from last year’s .252, Mastroianni might be a good gamble in 2013.
It is really common for starting pitching to win a championship, and that goes for on-the-field as well as fantasy leagues. Depending on league settings, starting pitching can carry a team to the playoffs with almost no help from the position players. For that reason, it is really important to get an ace like Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez early in the draft. Still as we well know, sometimes aces don’t act like aces. That’s when the other starters you have really need to pitch well.
I think the single best value for a starting pitcher in 2013 is Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays. Moore pitched 177.1 innings last year and struck out 175 batters. Combine that with a 3.81 ERA, and 1.348 WHIP, and Moore had a a very solid season a year ago. As the Rays’ third starter behind David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, I see Moore getting favorable match-ups and increasing his win total from 11 in 2012 to 14 or 15 this year.
One of the starting pitchers to note is Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers. Holland had some issues in 2012, but despite an ERA of 4.67, he still won 12 games and managed a WHIP of 1.221. In 2011, he totaled 16 wins and an ERA under 4.00. I believe that this year, Holland will be back over the 15 win mark and could be a very valuable 3rd or 4th starting pitcher.
Relief pitcher is one of the most difficult positions to predict. Often guys who start in the bullpen end up in the rotation. Kris Medlen of the Braves best showcased this last year. Still, saves and holds can be a big swaying point in some fantasy leagues, so it’s important to have a solid relief pitcher on your roster.
Drew Storen of the Washington Nationals could be a great closer this year in terms of fantasy value. The Nationals will contend for the NL East, and may very rely on Storen for 30+ saves. Although an inflamed elbow only allowed Storen to save four games a season ago, he was able to secure 43 games in 2011. I suspect Storen to be back to 2011 form, when he had 74 strikeouts and a 2.75 ERA in 75.1 innings pitched.
It may be beneficial to keep an eye on Chris Perez of the Cleveland Indians. Perez totaled more than 30 saves each of the past two years, including a 39-save campaign last season. Despite a fairly high 3.59 ERA, Perez still finds a way to close out games. Plus with a career average close to a strikeout per inning, Perez could definitely be a fantasy hero by season’s end.
Tags: Allen Craig, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Perez, Darin Mastroianni, Derek Holland, draft value, Drew Storen, Everth Cabrera, Fantasy Baseball, Fantasy Baseball Draft, Josh Rutledge, Logan Forsythe, Marco Scutaro, Martin Prado, Matt Moore, Rob Brantly, Salvador Perez, Will Middlebrooks, Yoenis Cespedes