Troy Tulowitzki's durability issues make him a risky early-round draft pick
Fantasy Baseball Season 2013 edition is underway!
There is no better time of the year for sabermetric nerds and fans of the middle reliever. Athlon Sports has constructed its consensus ’13 Big Board, the 26th annual preseason preview magazine is on newsstands and drafts have begun in earnest.
Veteran fantasy baseballers know that a championship cannot be won in the first three or four rounds, but it can definitely be lost with one or two blown picks early in the draft. Just ask Roy Halladay owners who likely used an early pick on the aging Phillies ace. Or those who reached on Carlos Santana? What about Tim Lincecum? Owners who leaped in the first four rounds for Jimmy Rollins, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hunter Pence, Alex Rodriguez and/or Adrian Gonzalez were likely disappointed GMs a year ago as well.
Each year, there are players who are universally highly touted but fail to produce in relation to where they end up getting drafted. Using Athlon Sports' own fantasy rankings from this year's baseball preview magazine, here are the most likely candidates to disappoint in 2013 (in order of Athlon's ranking):
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado
Athlon Rank: 13th
When healthy, Tulo (28) is the best all-around shortstop in the game. He can hit for average and power and will produce in each counting stat. But owners would likely appreciate more dependability from a first- or second-round pick. He missed 115 games a year ago and hasn’t topped 150 games in any one season since 2009. In fact, in his six full seasons in the majors, Tulo averages just 119.8 games and has topped 140 games only three times. Draft with caution.
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta
Athlon Rank: 14th
The Braves outfielder is a classic case of risk and reward. He had a growth season last year in which he set career highs in runs, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. There is a certainly a chance he continues to develop and establishes himself as a reliable early-round pick. However, he is a career .261 hitter with a career OPS of .799 and he posted his worst strikeout-to-walk rate of his young career last fall (152 K, 58 BB). He is a young, blossoming star in this game, but he would have to improve on career numbers once again to justify his ranking as an early second-round pick.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Angels
Athlon Rank: 17th
The star outfielder turns 32 in May and is now hitting in Anaheim rather than Texas. Enough said? Hamilton goes from one of the best hitter's parks to one of the worst and has yet to prove he can play a full season at full strength. He has missed 157 games over the last four years and had an off-the-field “relapse” in February 2012. He is easy to root for and has elite skills, but has some red flags that make him a riskier choice than other guys selected in the first half of the second round.
Gio Gonzalez, SP, Nationals
Athlon Rank: 21st
Gonzalez has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this winter as his name is linked prominently to the Biogenesis fiasco in South Florida. After being traded across the country from Oakland to Washington, Gonzalez had easily his best year. He somehow figured out how not to put people on base as his 1.13 WHIP last year is dwarfed by his career 1.33 mark. And this improvement netted him career-best numbers in ERA (2.89), wins (21) and strikeouts (207). The obvious and ominous question looms about his breakout season and his connection with PEDs, so using a second-round pick on Gio seems foolish.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
Athlon Rank: 23rd
This may be the most “gut instinct” red flag of all the dangerous high draft picks. He is a stud and has been so good that he is now worth $175 million to Seattle. Yet, someone floated the idea of elbow issues (perhaps as a negotiating ploy) and few players have pitched as much as King Felix the last four seasons. Hernandez has thrown 954.0 innings over that span with no fewer than 232.0 in any one season. In 2009-10, he went 32-17 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 449 strikeouts in 488.1 innings. In two years since winning the AL Cy Young, he is 27-23 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 445 strikeouts in 465.2 innings. Those are extremely useful fantasy numbers, but aren’t worth a second-round pick.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
Athlon Rank: 24th
The case for Beltre is simple: 261 runs, 96 homers, 309 RBIs and sterling .314/.912 ratios. The case against Beltre is three-fold and raises concerns about being the slugging third baseman being a borderline second-round pick. He turns 34 on April 7 and has played more than 150 games only twice since 2006. He also won’t have Michael Young in front of him or Josh Hamilton behind him in the Rangers' lineup as both have moved on. He is a career .280 hitter with a career .807 OPS, so a repeat of his remarkable .321/.921 seems unlikely.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins
Athlon Rank: 26th
Mauer will never hit 28 home runs ever again. He has averaged 8.6 homers per season in his other seven full seasons in the big leagues. In fact, his 2012 season might be what fans can expect from the former MVP from now on. His 81 runs scored led all catchers, his eight stolen bases were second, his 85 RBIs were third and his .319 average was fourth. But his 10 dingers were 25th among backstops and his overall line wasn’t any better than names drafted dramatically later last year (e.g., Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero or Carlos Ruiz). Mauer is a stud but with a long track record of injuries, there is no reason to overpay for a small impact in the counting stats.
Jered Weaver, SP, Angles
Athlon Rank: 28th
Most of the concern about Weaver’s upside as a high pick stems from his decrease in velocity in September last year. His fastball averaged 87.8 MPH in the final month of the season a year ago and it hurt his numbers in a big way. His first half was sick: 96.2 IP, 10-1, 1.96 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 73 K. His second half was not: 92.0 IP, 10-4, 3.72 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 69 K. Names like Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Adam Wainwright might be safer selections.
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Athlon Rank: 49th
So Headley isn’t ranked in the top two rounds, but many have him lumped in with the elite three-sackers (Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman). He doesn’t belong in that group and no one should consider drafting the Padres' third baseman in the first four rounds. Through four full seasons, Headley never hit more than 12 home runs and never drove in 70 — both of which took place back in 2009. Yet, he pounded 31 bombs last year and led the league in RBIs with 115. He is a career .273 hitter and has a career OPS of .769 so don’t expect another .286/.875 season. Especially, from a guy in one of the worst hitting parks in the National League who tolls in one of the weakest lineups in the Senior Circuit.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?