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.
Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP
Athlon Sports' 2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves(A)
First you get all the saves, of which there were an MLB-high 88 the past two years. But Kimbrel is also like having a half-season of a league strikeout leader, plus two months of a starter who’s on a record pace for ERA and WHIP. Plan B closer: Jordan Walden
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies(A)
The pure-closer pool is thinning so markedly that no pitcher has saved 30 games each of the past three years except Pap, who’ll be working on his eighth in a row. As such, he’s the closest thing left to a guarantee in this increasingly quirky corner of rotodom. Plan B closer: Mike Adams
3. Jason Motte, Cardinals
The longball was Motte’s sole snag in his first season as a closer, costing him six of his 12 blown saves-plus-losses. We call fluke, and think he’ll be even better this time around. First Cardinal ever to account for every one of his team’s saves (42). Plan B closer: Trevor Rosenthal
4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees(F)
When last seen as a youngster of 41, Mo was hanging up his 11th sub-2.00 ERA, fourth-highest save total and a WHIP and strikeout rate superior to his career average. Unless the torn ACL was a sign that his parts are wearing out, the presumptive position is that he’s just what he’s always been. Plan B closer: David Robertson
5. Fernando Rodney, Rays (E)
“I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father,” another Rodney once recounted. “He said he wanted more proof.” Well, we want more proof. Fernando’s 48 saves and MLB-record 0.60 ERA buttressed a relief season like no other, but previously there were years’ worth of reasons he didn’t get no respect. Plan B closer: Jake McGee
6. Rafael Soriano, Nationals
The former Yankee setup man took over for Rivera following his ACL injury last May, saving a career-high 42 in 46 opportunities. He parlayed that performance into a two-year, $28 million free agent contract with Washington in January, which could be worth another $14 million in 2015 if finishes 120 total games in 2013-14. A big reason for Soriano's success last season was he struck out more batters (69) than innings pitched (67 2/3), which is key considering he has some bouts with wildness (24 BB). Plan B closer: Drew Storen
7. Jim Johnson, Orioles(E)
Fifty-save seasons are the residue of opportunity, as well as aptitude. Not to say that Johnson won’t have another good year, but the 2012 Orioles were far-off-the-charts outliers in the number of close games they played and won. His 5.4 SOs/9 was the fifth-lowest rate ever by a pitcher with 40-plus saves. Plan B closer: Pedro Strop
8. Joel Hanrahan, Red Sox
ERA escalation from 1.83 to 2.72 was a byproduct of walks and homers, both of which ranked among the “top” five of 20-save men. Hanrahan can really hunker down, though; his 24 strikeouts while protecting a ninth-inning lead with men in scoring position were nine more than anyone else. Plan B closer: Andrew Bailey
9. Addison Reed, White Sox(B)
While others may be spooked by the 4.75 ERA, you shouldn’t be. Reed was the youngest of the full-time closers, and his ERA in save situations (of which he blew but four) was just about half as in lower-leverage scenarios. Plan B closer: Matt Thornton
10. Joe Nathan, Rangers(E)
Validated the second-year-back-from-Tommy-John hypothesis with a superb 2012. Successfully protected 15-of-16 one-run leads, and is now a perfect 24-for-24 in his career when entering a game in extra innings. Too bad he’s at a time-bomb age of 38. Plan B closer: Joakim Soria
11. Sergio Romo, Giants(B)
Despite Bruce Bochy’s rumblings about closing with a committee, we think Romo will be the chairman. Though new to the job late last year, he didn’t flinch — 18-for-19 in saves (including playoffs) and just one run allowed in those opportunities. Plan B closer: Santiago Casilla
12. Huston Street, Padres
Opponents batting average of .130 was second to Kimbrel’s .126 among relievers (min. 40 games). His curse is that there are training rooms in three cities with his name on a memorial plaque above the door. Plan B closer: Luke Gregerson
13. Chris Perez, Indians
Perez can let things get away from him on occasion; he allowed 15 of his 23 earned runs in just five outings. He did, however, indicate maturity by more than doubling his SO/BB ratio. Would rank a little higher if not for trade rumors. Plan B closer: Vinnie Pestano
14. John Axford, Brewers
“Good Ax” reeled off a string of 49 straight saves over two seasons. “Bad Ax” was just 29-for-38 with 10 homers allowed in 59.2 innings on the back end of it. In his favor, the Brewers have zero viable options as a replacement. Plan B closer: Mike Gonzalez
15. Greg Holland, Royals(B)
Fourth in AL with 16 saves after he was passed the closer baton on Aug. 1. Big strikeout bonus (91 in 67 IP). Has a shorter leash than most because of K.C.’s stable of alternatives. Plan B closer: Kelvin Herrera
16. Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners
17. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks (E)
18. Grant Balfour, Athletics
19. Ryan Madson, Angels
20. Casey Janssen, Blue Jays (F)
21. Glen Perkins, Twins
22. Kyuji Fujikawa, Cubs (C)
23. Jonathan Broxton, Reds
24. Jason Grilli, Pirates (B)
25. Rafael Betancourt, Rockies (E)
26. Steve Cishek, Marlins (B)
27. Drew Storen, Nationals (F)
28. Frank Francisco, Mets (F)
29. Brandon League, Dodgers
30. Bruce Rondon, Tigers (C,G)
31. Sergio Santos, Blue Jays (F)
32. Phil Coke, Tigers (B)
33. Carlos Marmol, Cubs (E)
34. Vinnie Pestano, Indians (C,D)
35. Andrew Bailey, Red Sox (D,F)
36. Jose Veras, Astros (B,C)
37. Sean Doolittle, Athletics (C,D,G)
38. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (D,E,F)
39. Jarred Cosart, Astros (C,G)
40. Joaquin Benoit, Tigers
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