Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more
The ink on the press release announcing Justin Upton's trade to Atlanta had yet to dry, but baseball's perennially widest-open division had already slimmed down a bit. From year to year, the National League West is the hardest to predict. Every team has won the division since 2006 except for the Rockies, who went to the World Series as a Wild Card in '07. While Upton's departure doesn't eliminate the Diamondbacks before the season starts (Martin Prado could, theoretically, match Upton's WAR), they're running a clear third, at best, behind the Giants and Dodgers.
If the Diamondbacks are to compete this year, their starting pitching will have to lead them. That's where fantasy owners will want to pay the most attention when thinking about this team. Ian Kennedy slipped a bit last season, but still fanned 187 batters in 208.1 innings. Wade Miley went 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 4.8 WAR, nearly besting the Nationals' Bryce Harper for Rookie of the Year honors. Trevor Cahill posted career bests in ERA (3.78), xFIP (3.76) and strikeouts per nine innings (7.02), while throwing more than 197 innings for the third straight season. Arizona also added former A's starter Brandon McCarthy, who dealt with injuries last season but still went 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. And Daniel Hudson continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury, while youngsters Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs figure to be part of the equation this year, too.
The staff remains strong, despite the loss of prospect Trevor Bauer in a three-team deal with the Indians and Reds. Still, even with the return of shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius from the Reds, many in the organization considered Bauer a future ace before last season.
There isn't a whole lot to get excited about on offense, but Paul Goldschmidt proved himself a reliable masher in the first half. Miguel Montero is a top-six catcher and Jason Kubel should go for another 30 home runs now that he'll be playing every day. Aaron Hill regained the form he showed in 2009, blasting 26 homers and putting up a .302/.360/.522 slash. Still, this team doesn't move the needle all that much offensively. From a real-life standpoint, the Diamondbacks will have to surprise like the Oakland A's did last year to make the playoffs. For fantasy purposes, if the guy's name wasn't mentioned above, you probably don't want him on your roster.
1. Adam Eaton, CF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Jason Kubel, RF
5. Miguel Montero, C
6. Aaron Hill, 2B
7. Cody Ross, LF
8. Cliff Pennington, SS
1. Ian Kennedy
2. Wade Miley
3. Trevor Cahill
4. Brandon McCarthy
5. Patrick Corbin
Bullpen: J.J. Putz (closer), David Hernandez, Heath Bell, Tony Sipp, Brad Ziegler, Josh Collmenter
Others: Daniel Hudson (shoulder injury), Tyler Skaggs
? Who is the real PaulGoldschmidt? Goldschmidt came into last season with a lot of hype, and justified it up until the All-Star break. In the season's first half, he hit .302/.368/.552 with 12 homers, 25 doubles and 42 RBI. His counting stats didn't suffer too much in the second half -- eight homers, 18 doubles, 40 RBI -- but his slash fell to .271/.351/.431. Was this the result of a prolonged slump? A young player (Goldschmidt turned 25 in September) running out of steam in his first full major league season? The league finally compiling a book on him? Or was there something else at work? Let's dig into the numbers.
The first place to look with rates that stark is BABIP, and indeed, Goldschmidt's BABIP dipped to .320 in the second half from .364 in the first. Here's the interesting thing: Most of his other peripherals improved after the All-Star break. His line-drive rate jumped to 26.8 percent from 20.7 percent. His ground-ball rate fell to 38 percent from 42.6 percent. What explains the dip in BABIP? It's likely he was putting more balls in play. In the first half, 17.4 percent of Goldschmidt's fly balls went for home runs. In the second half, that fell to 11.1 percent. Put simply, Goldschmidt popped out a lot more.
Given that we're talking about a guy who's 25 and went 20/18 in his first full year in the majors, I'm willing to forgive Goldschmdit's tepid second half a season ago. He's the No. 5 first baseman on my board.
? Who replaces Justin Upton in the outfield? While not a true apples-for-apples replacement, 24-year-old speedster Adam Eaton is likely to start in Arizona's outfield alongside Kubel and Ross. In 488 at-bats at Triple-A Reno last year, Eaton hit .381/.456/.539 with 46 doubles and 38 stolen bases. He earned a cup of coffee at the major league level last year, and flashed impressive on-base skills, registering a .382 OBP in 103 plate appearances. Though Eaton is a rookie, manager Kirk Gibson would do well to slot him atop the batting order, followed by Prado, Goldschmidt and Kubel. For fantasy purposes, Eaton is definitely a guy to consider in the endgame, and if you're in a five-outfielder league, you'll likely want to have him on your mind even before then. Assuming he leads off, he could approach 100 runs scored with 40 steals and a strong OBP.
In a way, Kubel will also replace Upton in the outfield. Thanks to Arizona's outfield glut a season ago, Kubel started just 130 games. With Upton in Atlanta, that number should jump to about 150, resulting in 100 or so more at-bats. Kubel belted 30 homers with 506 ABs last year, making him potentially a very cheap source of power. His .296 BABIP despite a career-high 23-percent line-drive rate and career-low 33.2 ground-ball rate suggests he was extremely unlucky last year.
? Is it safe to believe in AaronHill again? Plenty of fantasy owners wrote Hill off after a dreadful 2011 in which he hit .246/.299/.356 with eight homers. But if you looked a bit closer, you would have seen that he hit .315/.386/.492 after getting dealt to Arizona. Well, he picked up right where he left off, posting a .302/.360/.522 slash line with 26 homers, 44 doubles and 85 RBI last year. He even stole 14 bases for good measure. The question now is, at age 31, can we trust him?
I believe the answer is yes. Hill has been an interesting player over the last four seasons. He broke out in 2009, hitting .286/.330/.499 with 36 homers for the Blue Jays. He followed that up by falling all the way to .205/.271/.394 in 2010, though he managed 26 round-trippers. So in the last four seasons, Hill has given us two monster campaigns and two terrible ones, though the power has been there in three years. What does that mean for him this year? Well, first, he plays at a relatively shallow position. Robinson Cano is a star, and Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis are objectively better players than Hill. But after those four, whom would you rather have? Ben Zobrist? Brandon Phillips? Chase Utley? Jose Altuve? Danny Espinosa? Rickie Weeks? All of these guys carry serious question marks. Hill has hit for major power at the second base position, with regularity.
Second, Chase Field is one of the best hitters' parks in the majors. According to park factors, it was the sixth-best run-scoring stadium a year ago and surrendered the sixth-most home runs. Hill clearly adjusted well from his first day in Arizona. I don't see any reason for that to change this season.
JasonKubel: You could talk me into Eaton as well, but I think Kubel is already being significantly overlooked. While none of his peripherals spiked last year, Kubel enjoyed his best season, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 90. If anything, his .296 BABIP suggests he was unlucky. Now, he's looking at starting every day, but you can still get him on the cheap. Doing so will provide you with a serious return on your investment.
BrandonMcCarthy: As much as it pains me to do this to one of the most entertaining, refreshing players in all of professional sports, I'm staying away from McCarthy at draft tables this year. Yes, the transition to the NL should help, but I think that will be canceled out by leaving Oakland, one of the best parks for pitchers, and moving to hitter-friendly Arizona. Since he has never been a big strikeout pitcher, he won't bring you any value there. He does have a strong left side of the infield in Prado and Pennington, but that's not enough to assuage my fears.
PaulGoldschmidt: I made my feelings about Goldschmidt pretty clear earlier, but in case there were any doubts, I absolutely love him this year. I see a 25-year-old first baseman who could easily get to 30/20 this season. Even if he falls short of those totals, it's hard to imagine a floor any lower than 25/18. That's a helluva year, especially if you miss out on the Vottos and Pujolses and Fielders of the world.
NL-only players to know
Patrick Corbin: Likely the fifth starter in the rotation, Corbin got stronger as the season went along last year, posting an impressive 3.54 FIP in 69 innings after the All-Star break.
David Hernandez: J.J. Putz has delivered two impressive years in the desert, but he's entering his age-36 season, and is no sure thing to continue along this trajectory. Meanwhile, Hernandez was truly dominant last year, striking out 98 batters in 68.1 innings. He's likely already the better pitcher, and is breathing down Putz's neck to be the closer.