Opening Day is less than three weeks away, meaning the fantasy baseball season is quickly approaching. Drafts are going across the country, and probably the globe, and Athlon Sports' annual Baseball Preview magazine is available on newsstands everywhere.
Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman, straight from our magazine for you to peruse, utilize and scrutinize as we get ever so closer to hear those beloved words, "Play ball!"
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2012.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.
Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB
Athlon Sports' 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: First Base
1. Albert Pujols, Angels (A)
Even after Pujols finally got off the longball schneid on May 6, he wasn’t quite the same: stats that would have extrapolated to .305-36-102-78 over 600 at-bats, compared to .328-42-126-123 previously in his career. His final .832 OPS in home games was by far his lowest ever, so this might be the new normal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
2. Joey Votto, Reds (A)
Votto’s season-ending skid of 147 at-bats without a home run (including playoffs) mirrored Pujols’ 110 to start it. Joey had an excuse: two summer surgeries on his knee. Mulligan taken, we expect a return to his traditional .310-30-100-100 terrain. After a year in which Cincy’s 1-2 hitters’ OBP was a pathetic .281, having Shin-Soo Choo atop the order will be big.
3. Prince Fielder, Tigers (A)
Batting directly behind a Triple Crown winner, Fielder theoretically should not have posted his lowest home run total since 2006 and fallen 33 shy of his RBI high. Still, both his walk and strikeout rates declined by more than 20 percent, and his .313 AVG was a personal best. Such counterintuitive outcomes send us to his full-season norm of .287-37-108-93 for predictive direction.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
Gonzalez can still be a cornerstone hitter, but we’ve amputated his “A” code. Here are his last four HR/PA %s: 5.9, 4.5, 3.8, 2.6 (1.2 at Dodger Stadium). Here are his last four BB/PA %s: 17.5, 13.4, 10.4, 6.1. That data has devolved from disquieting to alarming, so just know that the Grade-A A-Gon might be A-Goner.
5. Allen Craig, Cardinals(B)
Craig is either the all-time opportunist or one of the game’s next great hitters. After missing April, he finished with 21 more RBIs (92) than anyone who played in fewer than 120 games and was the only qualifier to bat .400 with runners in scoring position. Naturally, we need to see this again before Tier-1’ing him.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Two steals from going 20-20, Goldy was our featured first base sleeper last spring. There’s still a ton of upward mobility in his HR/RBI totals and walk rate, and we’d expect them to advance righteously in 2013.
7. Freddie Freeman, Braves(B)
Freeman still hasn’t settled on what type of hitter he wants to be. The one who ripped .323 with a 15-to-14 BB/SO ratio in July? The one with the 3/19 ratio in June? The one with a .216 AVG but 10 HRs in his last 167 at-bats? He’ll iron out those riddles soon and become an All-Star.
8. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
A fifth straight decline in OPS leads to the inevitable conclusion that Teixeira is, well, in decline. He’s the only regular first baseman other than Carlos “Hollow” Pena to hit below .260 each of the last three years. Yankee Stadium, the site of about 57 percent of his home runs since 2009, keeps him on the “able” side of “viable.” One thing to keep in mind with Tex, however, is that his 2013 season debut will be delayed until at least mid-May because of a wrist injury.
9. Mike Morse, Nationals
Back in 2009, Morse equated with Ryan Langerhans, for whom he was traded by Seattle even-up. His comparable since joining the Nats is more Ryan Zimmerman — .294-29-90 per 162 games versus Zim’s .292-29-100 in the same period. Likely won’t be in D.C. for long after the Nats re-signed Adam LaRoche, but he’s top-10 no matter where he lands.
10. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays(E)
Overhauled mechanics and a rededication to conditioning conjured an off-the-hook 42-homer lightning bolt from a previously oft-injured tease. What this Encarnacion incarnation might hold in store is as nebulous as the debt ceiling.
11. Eric Hosmer, Royals
A case of premature infatuation? Hosmer’s .232-14-60-65-16 was inexplicable after his rousing rookie year. But he oozes ability, and his .255 BAbip was absurdly low for someone who’s not a pure masher. Buy low. Unequivocally.
12. Corey Hart, Brewers
Mercifully relieved of leadoff chores, Hart saw his RBIs climb back into the 80s to go with what is now a three-year standard of 29 homers and 83 RBIs. Struggles to hit the league-average average, and his base-stealing days are over. He underwent surgery on his right knee in January, which will keep him out of the lineup until sometime in May.
13. Adam LaRoche, Nationals
The 2012 first base leader in home runs? Not Pujols, Fielder nor Teixeira, but LaRoche, with 33. Tends to top out around 100 RBIs (excellent), 75 runs (decent) and .270 AVG (neutral).
14. Ike Davis, Mets
There was not a millisecond of 2012 in which Davis’ AVG reached .230. It was a respectable .265 from June 9 on, though, and his 20 homers after the break led NL lefties. But Citi Field (.619 OPS there) just swallows him up.
15. Ryan Howard, Phillies(F)
Though Howard’s injury-delayed 2012 can be somewhat minimized, his 4-to-1 SO/BB ratio was appalling. We’d establish .250-30-75-90 as the upper limit of expectations.
16. Kendrys Morales, Mariners
17. Justin Morneau, Twins
18. Brandon Belt, Giants (C)
19. Yonder Alonso, Padres
20. Paul Konerko, White Sox (E)
21. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
22. Mike Napoli, Red Sox (F)
23. Garrett Jones, Pirates
24. Mark Reynolds, Indians
25. Tyler Colvin, Rockies
26. Logan Morrison, Marlins (F)
27. James Loney, Rays (C)
28. Mitch Moreland, Rangers
29. Brett Wallace, Astros (C)
30. Brandon Moss, Athletics (E)
31. Gaby Sanchez, Pirates (D)
32. Mike Olt, Rangers (D,G)
33. Chris Carter, Athletics
34. Jonathan Singleton, Astros (D,G)
35. Todd Helton, Rockies (F)
36. Justin Smoak, Mariners (D)
37. Carlos Lee, Free Agent (E)
38. Matt Adams, Cardinals (D,G)
39. Mat Gamel, Brewers (D,F)
40. Kyle Blanks, Padres (D,F)
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: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013