There are still about 10 days left in the 2012 season, but my guess is that over 80 percent of this year’s fantasy participants have turned their attention to fantasy football or, in totally normal cases, their 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
Because everyone loves lists, and because I’m a sucker for alliteration, every Tuesday we’ll be unveiling a new Top 10. We’ll appropriately call it “Tuesday’s Top 10.” Sound good?
Today’s inaugural Top 10 takes a look at some early players I plan on targeting in fantasy drafts next year. Of course, we have no idea what the future ADPs of these 10 players will be six months from now, but my guess is that these guys will be high on my draft board next year. (And I won’t put Mike Trout on this list because, let’s face it, he’s going first overall. Everyone would love to have him.)
10. Jarrod Parker, SP, OAK
I’ve been a little obsessed with Parker for a couple weeks now. Earlier this week I told you his remaining schedule was too tough and it would be wise to drop him for better streaming options. Then he dominated the Yankees and I had to eat a little crow. A few days later I explained why he’s been so successful this season. There’s a nifty graph if you want to check that out. I like Parker for five reasons: (1) Despite posting average overall walk rates this year, his numbers have been improving all season and he has a history of good control, (2) he induces a lot of ground balls, (3) even when batters hit fly balls, he plays in Oakland with spacious Safeco and Angel Stadium also in the division, (4) while he’ll be a popular “sleeper” next year, I think he has ace potential, and (5) he’s building back strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
9. Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC
How high was Hosmer’s value entering this season? I traded him in the offseason for Andrew McCutchen and both sides thought it was a fair deal, but almost everything has gone wrong for Hosmer this year. Aside from his walk rate increasing from 6.0 percent to 9.5 percent, his 2013 stat line has been in free-fall mode. His ISO, something that’s supposed to increase for young players, is down from from .172 last year to .129 in 2012 (lower than Starlin Castro, Omar Infante, and A.J. Ellis). I’m not sure Hosmer will ever be a monster power threat, but I’ve always had visions of .300/25/100 seasons with 80-plus runs and double-digit stolen bases. And Hosmer’s still just 22. It’s way too early to give up on him. Instead, you should be buying.
8. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI
It’s not quite been the 2013 I expected from Goldschmidt, but that doesn’t mean he’s had a bad year. Far from it. Currently Goldschmidt is ranked 65th in Yahoo! leagues thanks to his production in all five fantasy categories. Seeing as Goldy Knocks only has 18 homers and 76 RBI with just about a week to go and he’s still a top-75 player makes me very happy. His strikeout rate has fallen this year from 29.9 percent to a much more acceptable 22.3 percent, and his line drive rate has improved as well to 23.6 percent. Two years of high BABIPs combined with the improved strikeout rate give me confidence that his .287 average isn’t a fluke, and we know he has the 16-steal speed he’s flashed this year. Imagine if he becomes a 30/100 player next year with the same batting average, speed, and run-scoring capability. We could be looking at a top-25 player.
7. Roy Halladay, SP, PHI
For the first time, the mighty Roy Halladay has shown his age. The question now becomes, “Is this the beginning of the end?” Given his age (36 next May) and all the innings he’s logged over the last decade (six straight 220+ inning years), it’s quite possible he isn’t the same dominant ace. But even if Halladay isn’t the Halladay of old, he still has all the hallmarks of a very good fantasy starter. He induces grounders nearly 50 percent of the time (or more), he limits walks (BB/9 under 2.00), and he has those years of experience. I’d gamble on a healthy Halladay remaining a 15-win, 200-inning starter who gives elite WHIP totals even if the ERA is around 3.40.
6. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF
I have a bona fide man crush on Zobrist. He might be the streakiest player in fantasy, and that’s annoying as hell at times, but he flirts with 20/20 every year, walks a lot, scores 80-plus runs with 80-plus RBI, and now he has shortstop eligibility. In all honesty, Zobrist wouldn’t have made this list if it wasn’t for his shortstop eligibility, but how many current shortstops would you take ahead of him next season? Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Starlin Castro are definites, but Zobrist is certainly in the conversation with Derek Jeter, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jimmy Rollins for fifth at the position. And, of course, he can play second base or outfield for you in a pinch.
5. Matt Moore, SP, TB
Moore’s 3.92 ERA and 1.37 WHIP don’t stand out as stellar, but he’s just 23 years old and he’s gotten much better as the year has progressed. Beginning in April, Moore has posted monthly ERAs of 4.68, 4.83, 3.16, 3.48, 2.19, and 7.31. His ERA had actually creeped down to 3.58 after a start against Toronto on August 30, but he he’s still looking for his first quality start of September with just over a week to go. The late-season swoon will cause his draft value to drop a little, but Moore is someone you should go all-in on. Moore has struggled with his control this season, but from 2009-2011 in he minors he improved his walk rates every year. I’d expect to see similar improvements in year two at the major league level. In keeper leagues Moore is certainly someone to go after.
4. Carlos Santana, C/1B, CLE
Much like Hosmer, though definitely not to the same extent, Santana hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this year. However, unlike Hosmer, you can find of improvement everywhere for Santana except with his counting stats. His strikeout rate, a serious sticking point entering this season, is down to 16.4 percent, and his line drive rate is up to 19.7 percent. He still needs to trade in some of those grounders for fly balls, but I can easily envision Santana knocking on .270/30/100 next year. Production like that from the catcher position hasn’t been seen since the steroid era. Or at least since the post-Joe Mauer knee injury era.
3. Brett Lawrie, 3B, TOR
I hyped Lawrie for months before this season even projecting him to be the third-best third baseman. Not quite correct. A quick look at Lawrie’s plate discipline data shows he’s swung at a lot more pitches outside of the strike zone this year (31.3% versus 22.3%) but he’s made contact with more of these pitches as well (70.8% versus 65.5%), so even though his overall strikeout rate has fallen, he hasn’t replaced those strikeouts with good contact. Lawrie’s hit fly balls just 29.4 percent of the time this year, and his HR/FB rate has fallen to 8.0 percent from 17.0 percent last year. I saw far too many things that I liked about Lawrie in 2011 to just give up on him now, and while he still represents one of the greatest risk/reward players in fantasy, he’s someone I’d target. I expect his ADP to fall from this year, which sat around 50. Something around 75-100 sounds right to me.
2. Adam Wainwright, SP, STL
I honestly have no clue what to make of Wainwright’s 2013 fantasy value. On one hand, he’s a former ace who’s made it through an entire season post-Tommy John without any physical setbacks. On the other hand, his ERA sits at 4.02 and I have a hard time believing most fantasy owners will be OK reaching on a starting pitcher who just had major surgery and came back to post an ERA over 4.00. (Secretly, I want Wainwright to bomb in his last starts this year for that reason.) Beyond the ERA, Wainwright has dazzled. His FIP is 3.15, right back where it was during his prime, and his walk, strikeout, and ground ball rates all mirror his numbers during his days as a top-five fantasy starter. I’d have no problem taking Wainwright in the third round next year in 10-team leagues.
1. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA
Stanton missed about a month this year due to injury but still has 34 homers. Had he been healthy all year those 34 homers would project to 42 right now. And Stanton is just 22 years old. He’s probably the most impressive physical specimen in baseball, and he hits the ball so hard that I’m completely convinced his .326 career BABIP is sustainable. That means despite strikeout rates in the high 20s, Stanton can be at least a .275 hitter with 45-homer power and the occasional steal mixed in. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from trying to rank and value players over the last three years, it’s that home run power is always undervalued in any rankings algorithm. You can find steals, runs, or whatever on free agency if you need them. Home runs you can bank on are much harder to find.