Every year, it seems like I keep drafting a handful of the same players for my fantasy teams. Here are the guys I'm targeting this year. These are for standard, 10 team 5x5 category mixed leagues.
C Geovany Soto
I have no problem waiting on catchers, and you won't find me drafting a Brian McCann or Mike Napoli in the fifth or sixth round, not when I could have a Jon Lester or a David Price to anchor my staff. Ideally, I'd like to snag a Miguel Montero, Joe Mauer, or Alex Avila in the middle rounds, but if one of them doesn't fall into my hands then I'm waiting until the end of the draft to get my backstop. Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, and J.P. Arencibia will all be sitting there, but I find myself picking the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year. He's been an every-other-year guy during his four full seasons, with his better numbers coming in the even years, and last time I checked 2012 was an even year. Therefore, I'm optimistic about the possibility of a rebound season. Worst case scenario, he doesn't hit and/or gets hurt and I can toss him out on the waiver wire and pick up one of the aforementioned catchers. Soto tends to miss 40 to 50 games a year, so there's plenty of injury risk here, but if he can just stay healthy I like his chances of cracking 20 homers and batting close to .280. In the final rounds of your draft, that's a bargain.
2011 Numbers: 46 runs 17 home runs 54 RBI 0 steals .228 average
My Projections: 52 runs 18 home runs 56 RBI 0 steals .267 average
1B Mark Teixeira
Unfortunately I think his days of batting .300 are behind him, and you'll have to settle for something in the .250-.260 range (meaning he's now the AL equivalent of Ryan Howard). But once the top first baseman (Cabrera, Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder) all come off the board, Tex is the last first sacker who's guaranteed to give you big time power production. He's working on a streak of eight straight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 ribbies, and if barring a serious injury he's a lock to do it again in 2012. Combining his durability and power with that lineup and ballpark translates to some impressive counting numbers. I'm not too concerned with his two-year decline, and wouldn't be surprised if he eclipses 40 long balls and 120 RBI while protecting Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in the batting order. With power becoming increasingly scarce these days, you need to treat it like oil and get it while you can.
2011 Numbers: 90 runs 39 home runs 111 RBI 4 steals .248 average
My Projections: 102 runs 36 home runs 114 RBI 2 steals .252 average
2B Kelly Johnson
A lot of this has to do with the fact that he's projected to bat second in the Blue Jays powerful lineup, ahead of Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie. With those big bats behind him, all he has to do is stay healthy and get on base at his .343 career rate and he could easily score 100 runs. People might think he's a batting average killer because he hit just .222 last season, but remember that he hit .284 the year before and has a career .260 mark. In addition, he batted .270 after the D-Backs swapped him for Aaron Hill and John McDonald last August, so there's no reason to think he can't bat somewhere close to that in 2012 while supplying his typical power/speed combo (47 homers and 29 steals over the past two years). Don't panic if you miss out on a Dan Uggla or Brandon Phillips early on, because second base isn't as thin as it normally is, and guys like Johnson and Hill will still be there late in drafts.
2011 numbers: 75 runs 21 home runs 58 RBI 16 steals .222 average
My projections: 91 runs 23 home runs 64 RBI 15 steals .260 average
3B Mark Reynolds
Yes, he's a batting average killer, but if you find yourself shorthanded in the power department he's a great way to boost those totals during the latter rounds of a draft. He's averaged 35 home runs, 92 RBI, and a dozen steals in 152 games over the past four seasons, and he's only 28 years old. Camden Yards benefits righthanded power hitters, and he has plenty of firepower in that lineup with J.J. Hardy, Markakis, and a pair of breakout candidates in Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. The hot corner is loaded with question marks this year (Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Zimmerman, and Kevin Youkilis all spent time on the DL last year), so why not take a durable slugger who could give you 40 dingers and 100 ribbies?
2011 numbers: 84 runs 37 home runs 86 RBI 6 steals .221 average
My Projections: 82 runs 35 home runs 88 RBI 5 steals .224 average
SS Alexei Ramirez
If you miss out on Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, or Jose Reyes, it makes sense to wait on a shortstop. I'm passing on the aging Jimmy Rollins and light-hitting Elvis Andrus in the fifth and sixth rounds, and if I don't get Starlin Castro there then I'm targeting the Cuban Missile a few rounds later. He's a lot like the Nick Markakis of shortstops because although he has settled down as a reliable player who can give you a little bit of everything, he hasn't fulfilled the promise he showed as a youngster, when he finished second in the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year race behind the incomparable Evan Longoria. Ramirez doesn't hurt you anywhere, and as the number two hitter he will benefit (read; more runs scored) if Adam Dunn and Alex Rios bounce back this year. His strikeouts have increased each year and in 2011 he set career lows in batting average, but his walk rate improved and he deserves extra credit for not falling off a cliff like everyone else on his team not named Paul Konerko. One last thought on Ramirez: I think a lot of people (myself included) believe he's 27 or 28 years old because he's only played four year, but in reality he will turn 30 in September.
2011 numbers: 81 runs 15 home runs 70 RBI 7 steals .269 average
My Projections:89 runs 16 home runs 74 RBI 10 steals .276 average
OF Ryan Braun
This probably has more to do with my draft position than anything else. I keep getting stuck with the fourth or fifth pick, after Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Matt Kemp are gone. The fantasy sports mantra is that nobody wins their league in the first few rounds, but you sure can lose it if your top players go bust or get injured. I like to go safe in the eary rounds, and the Hebrew Hammer is as safe as they come. I don't feel confident that he'll steal more than 30 bases or bat over .330 again, but even with some regression he'll still provide elite production in all five categories. I'm not too worried about Prince Fielder's departure (lineup protection is one of the more overestimated concepts of baseball) and think Aramis Ramirez will stay healthy and productive enough to drive him in. I also don't think his "tumultuous" offseason will have much of an effect, either. Draft him as you normally would, because Braun is money in the bank.
2011 numbers: 109 runs 33 home runs 111 RBI 33 steals .332 average
My Projections: 104 runs 34 home runs 112 RBI 24 steals .316 average
OF Andrew McCutchen
If you're looking for this year's Matt Kemp, your best bets are Justin Upton (already a late first rounder) and this guy. He's a 25 year-old five tool stud who is just coming into his prime. His home runs have jumped from 12 to 16 to 23 over his first three seasons, so his power is trending up and this could be the year he reaches 30 bombs. I'd be shocked if his batting average didn't come up at least 20 points, but he's probably not a .300 guy. Unfortunately he has no support in that Pirates lineup, but then again neither did Kemp last year. Nonetheless, it's going to be very difficult for him to reach 100 runs/RBI unless Pedro Alvarez develops 35 home run power overnight. Even if he just replicates his numbers from last year and boosts his batting average back to his career norms, that will be more than enough to recoup his draft day value.
2011 Numbers: 87 runs 23 home runs 89 RBI 23 steals .259 average
My Projections: 92 runs 26 home runs 94 RBI 28 steals .282 average
OF Nick Markakis
Markakis has frustrated many fantasy players because he flashed so much promise at such a young age, but has regressed/plateaued during what were supposed to be his peak years.
2007-'08 102 runs 22 home runs 100 RBI 14 steals .303 average
2009-'11 82 runs 15 home runs 78 RBI 8 steals .291 average
That's a pretty major drop off in each category there. On the bright side, he's cut down on his whiffs, has averaged 158 games played per year and can bang out 45 doubles in his sleep (but like Billy Butler, it would be great if he could get a few more of those two-baggers to clear the fences). At this point he is what he is, and we know what to expect from him; he'll play everyday, hit for a good average, and supply double digit homers and steals He spent most of last year hitting out of the two-hole but found himself batting third for most of September. Not a huge difference to his value either way-if he bats second he might get a few more runs and steals while hitting third might result in some additional RBI.
The appeal of Markakis is that he's consistent, durable, and safe. He doesn't have a high ceiling but does have high floor, meaning even in his down years he can still be valuable. Look at his career worst roto line: 72 runs 12 home runs 60 RBI 2 steals .284 average. That's his worst case scenario, and you could do a lot worse by hanging on to an Alex Rios, you know? He's a perfect "glue guy," a third or fourth outfielder who won't hurt you in anything, will help in batting average and has shown the ability to sock 20 dingers, score/drive in 100 runs and steal almost 20 bases.
2011 numbers: 72 runs 15 home runs 73 RBI 12 steals .284 average
My projections: 82 runs 16 home runs 74 RBI 11 steals .294 average
SP Daniel Hudson
Last year everyone was expecting Hudson to emerge as Cy Young candidate after going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP during his eleven start teaser with Arizona in 2010 . Instead his teammate, former Yankee prospect, Ian Kennedy, shocked everyone by winning 21 games and blossoming into one of the game's elite hurlers. Hudson quietly established himself as a top number two starter, and after a strong second half he seems poised to take off in 2012. With Kennedy a sure bet to regress, I'm taking Hudson over him every time. Oh, and he's only 25.
2011 numbers: 16 wins 3.49 ERA 1.20 WHIP 169 strikeouts
My Projections: 18 wins 3.12 ERA 1.17 WHIP 186 strikeouts
SP Tommy Hanson
Hanson only played two-thirds of a season last year because he failed to make a start after August 6th, so if you project his numbers to 33 starts he would have finished with 17 wins, 195 innings, and 213 K's. He's just 25 years old and I think this is the season he busts out. At the very least he should be the ace of a staff that includes Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Jair Jurrjens.
2011 Numbers: 11 wins 3.60 ERA 1.17 WHIP 142 strikeouts
My Projections:15 wins 3.37 ERA 1.16 WHIP 198 strikeouts
RP Huston Street
If he can stay healthy, he'll more or less put up Heath Bell numbers in San Diego; the ERA will be higher but the WHIP should be lower. A move from Coors Field to Petco should boost his value, and I wouldn't be shocked if he racks up 40 saves next year considering that the Padres are tied for second in most save opportunities since 2009. There's plenty of risk here, since he's saved more than 30 games just once during the past five seasons, but he was on pace for 42 saves last year before a DL stint cost him his closer's job. I think he'll put up numbers similar to the ones from his Oakland heyday, before hotshot rookie Andrew Bailey replaced him.
2011 Numbers: 29 saves 3.86 ERA 1.22 WHIP 55 strikeouts
My Projections: 37 saves 3.24 ERA 1.08 WHIP 62 strikeouts
RP Joe Nathan
This is a speculative pick more than anything else. I'm hoping Nathan can find some semblance of his former self next year for the Rangers, who will give him plenty of ninth inning leads to lock down. Because of his age--37--and struggles last year I'm not expecting him to be the elite closer who averaged 41 saves per year with a 1.87 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with the Twins from 2004 through '09, but if he can avoid the DL then he should be able to clear 30 saves with ease.
2011 Numbers: 14 saves 4.84 ERA 1.16 WHIP 43 strikeouts
My Projections: 32 saves 3.43 ERA 1.11 WHIP 65 strikeouts