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: Outfield
1. Ryan Braun, Brewers(A)
Five full seasons, five fantasy categories — that’s potentially 25 top-10 National League rankings for Braun, and he’s delivered on 18. As a 2008-12 composite, he’s the only top-three finisher in four of those stats, and he’s eighth in the other (stolen bases). No clue if he’s clean or dirty, but his name instantly elevates the level of testosterone around a draft table.
2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers(A,F)
Kemp is Braun-y in every way except health; there’s a chance he won’t be 100 percent for Opening Day after having shoulder surgery in October. He figures to go .300-30-100-100 at a minimum, but he’s now more of 20-SB guy than his 30-to-40 of yore.
3. Mike Trout, Angels(A,E)
A case can be made that Trout’s season was the most explosive the hobby has ever known. There’s never been another to match his .326-30-83-129-49 line. An unsustainable .383 BAbip and plain ol’ probabilistic gravity say he won’t do it again. Even so, if his RBI total wasn’t moderated by leading off (as a point of comparison, he batted with 138 fewer runners on base than Miguel Cabrera), he’d be roto’s No. 1 overall property.
4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies(A)
There is a smattering of other players who outshine him column-by-column, but Gonzalez’s fusion of the five is nearly unique. Across all positions, only Braun can equal his three-year norm of .313-27-98-97-22.
5. Jason Heyward, Braves(A,B)
June 1 became a line of demarcation for Heyward — the day he found his way back to the path of superstardom. In 108 games from that date forward, he went .284-21-59-69-12. It will be onward and upward from there for the 23-year-old.
6. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates(A)
McCutchen was as big a fantasy fish as Trout for long portions of 2012. If he can address the streakiness (such as home run droughts of 25 and 20 games), he’s a similar player. Even after sagging to .247 in his last 46 games, his 68-point batting average hike (from .259 to .327) was the largest of NL qualifiers.
7. Josh Hamilton, Angels(A)
There will be stretches when Hamilton looks like a $25 million player and others when he’s returning a quarter on the dollar. A quarter, in fact, is exactly what fraction of games he sat out the last four seasons. The two sides to his coin: His Ruthian 1.305 OPS of mid-May disintegrated to a Shin-Soo Chooian .815 in his final 114 games; he’s homered once per 17.3 PAs in Arlington, but at barely half that rate in Anaheim; he’s the only man since 1974 to drive in one of every five ducks he’s had on the pond (min. 400 ducks), yet 14 players own more RBIs since his debut.
8. Justin Upton, Braves
Up(and down)ton has seen his HR/RBI totals pogo from 26/86 to 17/69 to 31/88 to 17/67 the past four years. A trade to Atlanta presents him with not only a change of scenery, but the opportunity to play with his brother, B.J. A lot of GMs think he’s on the verge of blowing up. Was stifled by a sore thumb for much of 2012.
9. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
Cespedes just kept getting better and better as he adjusted to the league and culture. Bearing in mind that he’s 27, he’s closer to the top of the mountain than most second-year big-leaguers. A CarGo-type season is not off the table.
10. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays(F)
Last year was destabilized by a wrist injury and a .215 BAbip (third-lowest in the AL, min. 150 PAs). But between Sept. 26, 2009, and July 2, 2012, Bautista hit 37 more home runs than anyone else in baseball. That’s like cramming an extra Albert Pujols campaign into two and a half seasons.
11. Bryce Harper, Nationals
Is Harper going to be a great player? That’s a clown question, bro. The three-ring circus enveloping his debut proved justified, as his 2012 performance was among the best ever by a teen. While there are still potholes to be dodged along the road to Cooperstown, he’s already evaded one: Facing the first adversity of his life — a 41-game, .194-hitting skid — he sloughed it off to bat .338 after Aug. 27.
12. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox(F)
After he bordered on being the preeminent fantasy chattel in 2011, Ellsbury’s durability now must be called into question. He’s averaged .302-16-71-104-53 in his three full seasons, but two of the last three have been near-washouts — playing in only 18 games in 2010 and just 74 games last season.
13. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
The slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton, Pujols and A-Rod are the only active players to have slugged .600 or higher in a season of 400 or more at-bats before turning 23. He’s gifted enough to be that type of hitter year-in/year-out, but Miami’s offseason divestiture leaves him naked in the lineup and none too thrilled about it.
14. Austin Jackson, Tigers(B)
Impressively declining SO/BB ratios from 3.6 to 3.2 to 2.0, coupled with converse-trending HR/SB relationships from 0.1 to 0.5 to 1.3, indicate that Jackson is evolving into a mid-order hitter. Though he’s stuck leading off, that’s generally good news for roto purposes.
15. Jay Bruce, Reds(B)
Bruce is the first player in baseball lore to hit 20 homers as a rookie then boost his total each of the next four seasons — all the way to 34 last year. Wouldn’t bet against a fifth.
16. Shin-Soo Choo, Reds
Historically effective anywhere in the first six spots of the order, Choo is now a leadoff man. He’s a true five-category resource, though not a true impact force in any. His singular blemish is a puzzlingly steady regression against lefty pitching (.199-2-13 in 2012), and the Reds — with Jay Bruce and Joey Votto batting close behind — are going to see plenty.
17. Curtis Granderson, Yankees(E)
Because The Stadium yields a 51 percent higher homer rate to lefties than righties, Granderson has been seduced into one-dimensionality. It’s been a huge dimension — 10 more homers (84) than any other player the last two years. Take heed, though, of his .191 AVG last August through the postseason, and his sudden swipe swoon from 25 to 10. Granderson got hit by a pitch in his very first spring training at-bat, fracturing his forearm. He is not expected back in the Yankees' lineup until late May at the earliest.
18. Adam Jones, Orioles (E)
Jones crossed the 100-run and 30-homer thresholds for the first time. A stubborn lack of intimacy with the strike zone hardly inspires confidence for consistency, exposing him to famines such as his last 58 plate appearances (including postseason): six singles, a double, no walks.
19. Alex Rios, White Sox
Another swing-at-everything type subject to tempestuous fluctuations. OPS has been .850-plus three times, but .703-minus in three. Had the largest AVG increase of qualifiers from 2011 (.227) to 2012 (.304), but it’s hard to know if that was a light bulb in his head or a flash in the pan.
20. Alex Gordon, Royals
Underwent an utterly predictable reversion from .303-23-87-101-17 to .294-14-72-93-10. Should float between those extremes — closer to the lower one — for the foreseeable future.
21. Matt Holliday, Cardinals(E,F)
Aggregately, Holliday has been a top-10 fantasy hitter over the past eight years. He’s still playing at a borderline Tier-1 level, but wear-and-tear (including tell-tale back problems) has made him smell like a player who may not age seamlessly.
22. Michael Bourn, Indians
Has slowed a half-step, making 40-to-45 steals — the foundation of his fantasy value — more realistic than his previous three-year norm of 58. Typically mirrors the league batting average and scores 90-ish runs.
23. Desmond Jennings, Rays(B)
Jennings stole 31 bases and scored 85 runs despite neither hitting (.246 AVG) nor walking (46) and batting atop a sketchy lineup. Five more hits a month make him something like .300-20-60-100-40. It could happen.
24. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
Streakiness and ticky-tack injuries confine him to the 20-homer/70-run/80-RBI plane. Ironically, six of his seven AVGs have held steady between .284 and .308.
25. Hunter Pence, Giants
Quizzically coupled his highest RBI total (104) with his lowest OPS (.743). Career-long difficulties at AT&T Park and evaporating stolen base totals have knocked him down several pegs.
26. Dexter Fowler, Rockies
The improvement came from getting into hitters’ counts 74.0 percent of the time — fourth-best in the game. Mitigating against more: a .390 BAbip that was the highest of all qualifiers. Fowler’s .300-13-53-72 is at the upper edge of his capabilities, but his 12 SBs could become 20.
27. Carlos Gomez, Brewers
There’s been so much oscillating exhilaration and frustration about Gomez over the past six years, it’s easy to forget that he’s still a pup. At 26, he finally put some big-dog bite in his stats with 19 homers and 37 steals.
28. Carl Crawford, Dodgers(F)
There are so many ways to look at this two-year epic fail, it’s probably best to look only for a palpable bargain. We’d set the over/unders at a .285 AVG, 75 runs, 65 RBI, 12 homers and 22 steals, and if we can’t get him at a price commensurate to that, we’d walk away from the table.
29. B.J. Upton, Braves
Despite a career-high 28 homers, his 2012 OBP rested nearly 90 points lower than his 2007-08 levels. That scarcely portends an offensive epiphany, and he won’t run as much in Atlanta, but at least he’s dropping into the middle of the order.
30. Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees
If Ichiro hits .300 and steals 30 bases, he’d join a 39-and-over club currently populated by only Rickey Henderson and Kenny Lofton. That’s on the optimistic side, but the right field fence — and a surprise 15 home runs — is well within his reach.
31. Ben Revere, Phillies
He’s that second cat Neo notices in “The Matrix.” The first one was Juan Pierre.
32. Michael Saunders, Mariners
Post-hyper (by three years) who’s in for a string of 20-20 seasons, though is limited by his approach. Owns fourth-lowest AVG (.220) of active players with 1,000 plate appearances — one slot below Livan Hernandez.
33. Carlos Beltran, Cardinals(E)
The soon-to-be 36-year-old Beltran’s dimensions are contracting. The power (32 HRs, 97 RBIs) is usually the last to go.
34. Shane Victorino, Red Sox
Barely moves the needle on a roster one way or another, except in the stolen base category. Duplicating his career-best 39 of 2012 is asking a lot.
35. Jon Jay, Cardinals
There is no Jay-walking for this free swinger, but there was some unexpected Jay-running in 2012, as he stole 19 bases in only 117 games. He’s going to hit .300 forever, so the thefts make the lack of power palatable.
36. Starling Marte, Pirates(C)
There have probably been more prospect washouts with a profile like Marte’s — big minor league stats, searing speed, power that so far exists only in the imagination, bull-in-a-china-shop approach, a touch of immaturity — than any other type. A player with his tools, though — you gotta give him a chance.
37. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
He finally played a full season, and the results (.260-24-90-86-8) were respectable, if underwhelming relative to some transient rampages we’ve seen from him.
38. Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays(E)
Anyone’s guess what’s left now that Cabrera’s gone from Mr. T to Mr. Low T. Let’s throw out last year’s enhanced edition, start with his 2009-2011 average of .282-12-66-73-12, and goose it up a little for Rogers Centre.
39. Nick Markakis, Orioles
His power potential evidently just a rumor, Markakis might now be a leadoff man, where the run-scoring and run-producing should be a wash. Has batted between .284 and .306 in all seven seasons.
40. Angel Pagan, Giants
30-year-old career-year’ers (.288-8-56-95-29) rarely repeat. Pagan has a better chance than most because he passes the eyeball test for genuine improvement and still can run like crazy.
41. Denard Span, Nationals
42. Carlos Quentin, Padres (F)
43. Norichika Aoki, Brewers (E)
44. Chris Davis, Orioles
45. Brett Gardner, Yankees
46. Cameron Maybin, Padres
47. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (B,C)
48. Josh Willingham, Twins (E)
49. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies
50. Dayan Viciedo, White Sox
51. Jason Kubel, Diamondbacks (E,F)
52. Josh Reddick, Athletics (E)
53. Torii Hunter, Tigers (E)
54. David Murphy, Rangers (B)
55. Ryan Ludwick, Reds (E)
56. Jayson Werth, Nationals
57. Nick Swisher, Indians
58. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (E)
59. Michael Brantley, Mariners
60. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays
61. Cody Ross, Diamondbacks
62. Adam Eaton, Diamondbacks (C,D,G)
63. Juan Pierre, Marlins
64. Coco Crisp, Athletics
65. Alejandro de Aza, White Sox
66. Wil Myers, Rays
67. Drew Stubbs, Indians
68. Chris Young, Athletics
69. Matt Joyce, Rays
70. Peter Bourjos, Angels
71. Lucas Duda, Mets (C,F)
72. Jeff Francoeur, Royals
73. Nolan Reimold, Orioles (B,C,F)
74. Justin Maxwell, Astros
75. Chris Parmelee, Twins (C)
76. Craig Gentry, Rangers
77. Will Venable, Padres
78. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals (D,G)
79. Andy Dirks, Tigers
80. Darin Mastroianni, Twins
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