Baseball season is officially underway, but there’s still time for some last-second fantasy advice. It’s never too late to start making some creative deals for stars who will carry your team throughout the fantasy season.
By now, most owners have studied pre-draft rankings and projections ad nauseam. Stats and numbers will help, but a little intuition goes a long way toward winning a championship. Relying on a stat sheet to make decisions isn’t always the best course of action.
Still, everyone needs a foundation on which to base important decisions, and that’s what we’re here for. The following is a list of projections for potential top offensive producers this season. Study it accordingly, but don’t be afraid to follow your gut.
*All stats acquired from ESPN.com.
1. Mike Trout: OF, Los Angeles Angels
It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see Mike Trout’s potential. The 21-year-old phenom burst onto the scene with a monumental 2012 campaign, in which he batted .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI and stole 49 bases from the leadoff position.
Trout’s growth from 2011 (.220/5/16 in 40 games) to 2012 was incredible, and he’s not done improving. In a lineup loaded with big bats from top to bottom, he’ll do even more damage this season.
Mike Scioscia still plans to slot Trout in the leadoff spot this year, but according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the skipper may be leaving the door open for Trout to drop down in the order this season:
Long range, he's probably better suited to hit second, third or fourth. Right now, there's no doubt he's part of an elite group of leadoff men. Mike could hit anywhere from 1 through 4 in any lineup in baseball.
Because of Trout’s versatility, he gets the nod over Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera in overall production this season—and don’t be surprised to see his home run and RBI totals increase if Scioscia decides to move him around in the lineup.
Production prediction: .305, 34 home runs, 102 RBI, 44 stolen bases
2. Miguel Cabrera: 3B, Detroit Tigers
Depending on the settings of your fantasy league, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun could easily flip-flop at No. 2 and No. 3. While Braun will provide 25-35 stolen bases, Cabrera’s ceiling in the home run, RBI and batting average categories will be consistently higher from year to year.
That said, too much emphasis is placed on individual categories (like stolen bases). Players like Michael Bourn or Juan Pierre can easily make up for the 30 stolen bases lost in choosing Cabrera over Braun, even if they only find a home in your lineup a couple days per week.
Cabrera is going to provide 40-plus home runs, 120-plus RBI and a batting average well above .300 this season. He’s one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, especially with a big bat like Prince Fielder protecting him in the lineup.
Production prediction: .328, 42 home runs, 131 RBI, OPS 1.022
3. Ryan Braun: OF, Milwaukee Brewers
One of the biggest questions regarding Braun this season will be his ability to sweep aside the PED discussions that will follow him throughout the season.
According to Dayn Perry of CBS Sports, Major League Baseball will be “targeting” Braun this season in its investigation of PED allegations. As long as nothing substantial comes of it, he’ll have another long, productive year.
The “Hebrew Hammer” is ridiculously consistent from year to year, and there’s no reason to believe his numbers this year won’t rival those of a season ago.
Production prediction: .321, 38 home runs, 107 RBI, 28 stolen bases
4. Albert Pujols: 1B, Los Angeles Angels
Pujols hasn’t received the credit he deserves from climbing out from under a terribly slow start in 2012. He finished the year with 30 homers and 105 RBI—numbers only Pujols would consider subpar.
We don’t often think about the psychological effects of switching teams, but Pujols obviously needed time to adjust to a new club in the American League. I’m not buying the “Pujols is on the decline” talk.
It’s fair to be cautious with the 33-year-old, but a spike in production wouldn’t be a surprise. He’s entrenched in the best lineup in baseball, and he’s still Albert Pujols.
Production prediction: .308, 34 home runs, 118 RBI, OPS .943
5. Joey Votto: 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Injuries hampered Votto last season, but the former NL MVP is poised for a bounce-back year.
The theme of the top five is consistency, and Votto is certainly among the most consistent left-handed hitters in baseball. His splits are always balanced against lefties and righties, at home or away from Great American Ball Park.
Despite knee injuries that required surgery mid-season, Votto batted .359 against righties and .288 against lefties in 2012. Fourteen points separated his home average (.344) from his road average (.330), and he hit almost as well at night (.332) as he did in day games (.346)
Take Votto’s consistent averages and mix in the kind of power he displayed in 2010 (37 homers) and you have the makings of another big-time fantasy season from the slugger. As long as his knees are healthy, he’ll bounce back with some big numbers this year.
Production prediction: .323, 36 home runs, 109 RBI, OPS 1.032
6. Josh Hamilton: OF, Los Angeles Angels
It’s hard to tell which stories will define Hamilton in 2013. It seems every season holds a reason to love the guy and another to doubt his ability to produce at a consistently high level.
Injuries hobbled the 31-year-old in recent years, but his ceiling is still incredibly high. If you take Hamilton in the first or second round, part of that decision will have to be based on the reward outweighing the injury risk.
To take nothing away from the Texas Rangers’ potent offense, it doesn’t compare to what Los Angeles will field this season. With big bats scattered throughout the lineup, expect Hamilton’s RBI and runs totals to teeter around his 2012 stats.
Production prediction: .299, 40 home runs, 126 RBI, 112 runs, OPS .957
7. Andrew McCutchen: OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m a huge fan of McCutchen, but it will take more than one monster season to convince me he can be a top-tier producer.
McCutchen hit .327 with 31 homers and 96 RBI last season, but his previous career bests (.286/23/89) give some reason to worry. He still has the potential for another terrific season—it’s just far from a guarantee.
Still, Pittsburgh is a team on the rise, and McCutchen is its cornerstone. Expect top-10 numbers from him again this season.
Production prediction: .308, 29 home runs, 92 RBI, 26 stolen bases
8. Prince Fielder: 1B, Detroit Tigers
Fielder is going to post big power numbers every season, but it’s not easy to predict what his averages are going to look like in a given year.
The 28-year-old has averaged 32.5 home runs in eight seasons, but he’s only hit .300 or better once (2012) and has only topped the 1.000 mark in OPS twice.
Still, a decline in strikeouts last season was a great sign, and as long as he can continue making consistent contact in 2013, he’ll have another top-10 season.
Production prediction: .301, 36 home runs, 109 RBI, OPS .998
Honorable Mentions: Robinson Cano (2B, New York Yankees), Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Miami Marlins), Bryce Harper (OF, Washington Nationals), Matt Kemp (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers)
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