Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more
Last season may have been an ugly one in Denver, but if I had to bet on one team to pull off an Orioles- or A's-style unexpected run to the playoffs in 2013, my money is on the Rockies (and since I'll be in Vegas a week before the baseball season starts, that might not be just a figure of speech). They have two studs in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, both do-it-all offensive players -- Dexter Fowler gives them speed and on-base skills at the top of the order, and Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario and Tyler Colvin provide power through the middle. Quietly, this has the potential to be one of the better offenses in the entire National League.
The starting rotation is a work in progress, and will depend heavily on two pitchers making injury comebacks. Jhoulys Chacin made 14 starts last year, but missed the entire middle of the season with a pectoral injury, rendering him ineffective for most of the year. Jorge De La Rosa tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow in 2011, and he'll make his return from Tommy John surgery this year. If those two stay healthy and Drew Pomeranz can take a step forward, the rotation could be good enough to get the Rockies a playoff berth, considering how powerful the offense might be. That's a tall order, which is why none of Colorado's pitchers warrant your attention until the latter stages of your draft or auction.
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Wilin Rosario, C
6. Tyler Colvin, RF
7. Chris Nelson, 3B
8. Josh Rutledge, 2B
1. Jhoulys Chacin
2. Jorge De La Rosa
3. Drew Pomeranz
4. Juan Nicasio
5. Jeff Francis
Others: Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich
Bullpen: Rafael Betancourt (closer), Wilton Lopez, Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino, Josh Outman, Will Harris
? Is Wilin Rosario a top-tier catcher? Rosario burst on the scene last year, hitting .270/.312/.530 with 28 homers and 71 RBI in 426 plate appearances. While he definitely fattened up on Coors Field, hitting .297/.348/.609 with 18 homers at home, he still slugged .448 and hit 10 bombs on the road, so it's not like he wasn't a factor when the Rockies left Colorado. He even managed a 19.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio on the road, which is well above league average. And guess what? This is a Rockies preview, and we're talking about him. That means he's still in Colorado and still gets half his games at Coors.
So yes, Rosario is definitely a top-tier catcher, but one area for concern is his righty/lefty splits. He smacked 14 of his homers against righties, but he hit .348/.381/.759 against lefties, compared to just .239/.286/.440 against righties. I may be out on a limb here, but the only catchers I'd rather have are Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez. Rosario amassed those impressive numbers as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012, and I can't see any reason for him not to continue on the trajectory he set for himself last season. Get ready for a 30-homer year.
? Is Troy Tulowitzki still a can't-miss guy? Tulowitzki ruined many a fantasy season last year. Everything was going along swimmingly, despite a slow April, but he suffered a groin injury in May, which required surgery and ended his season. It's hard to draw any conclusions off of his advanced stats from last year since the sample is so small, but we don't really need to -- Tulo was right on pace for another one of his typical seasons. He was hitting .287/.360/.486 with eight homers, 27 RBI and a pair of steals through 47 games.
In answering this question, it doesn't make a ton of sense to compare Tulo to his fellow shortstops. No matter who you are, you should have him -- along with Joe Reyes -- in your top two at the position. The question here really is, do I want to use one of my first two picks on a somewhat-injury-prone shortstop? For me, the answer is yes. Shortstop is still one of the shallowest positions on the board, and Tulo is likely to give you 30 homers and close to 100 RBI with very good rates. Moreover, his ISOs in the three seasons before 2012 were .256, .253 and .242, which is usually good for somewhere between eighth and 12th in the majors. And that's from your shortstop. Finally, he turned 28 in October, so he's right in the middle of his prime. Tulo is the No. 16 overall player on my board and my top shortstop.
? Was Dexter Fowler's 2012 breakout for real? It took four seasons to fulfill the promise he showed in the minors, but Fowler put it all together last year, hitting .300/.389/.474 with 13 homers and 12 steals. He had a .390 BABIP, but that's not quite as large an outlier for him as it would be for other players; his career BABIP is .353, and his worst-ever BABIP for a single season is .328. Fowler's line-drive rate jumped six percentage points to 27.2 percent, and he had 18 combined infield and bunt hits, which support his unusually high BABIP.
Of course, the batting average leap is what really makes Fowler a fantasy asset. He has a career 12.1 percent walk rate, so he'll likely be a positive in OBP. Last year's 13 homers were a career high, and he's now entering his age-27 season. If the power jump is for real and if he can sustain his batting average, he'll become a player who gives you solid production in all five categories. Given that he's right at the start of his prime years, the chances that he can stabilize at last year's level are strong. Realistically, we have to expect the batting average to come down a little. Duplicating a .390 BABIP season is a lot to ask. Still, even if he falls down to his career .353 BABIP, he should be able to get to a .275/.370/.450 slash with low double digits in homers and steals.
Josh Rutledge: Last year the Rockies fast-tracked him to the majors in July, and in 291 plate appearances as a rookie last year, Rutledge hit .274/.306/.469 with eight homers, seven steals and 37 RBI. The 23-year old (he turns 24 at the end of April) never played a game at Triple-A, and played just 87 at Double-A before his promotion. He hit .306/.338/.508 with 13 homers in those 87 games at Double-A, so the power looks like it could be for real. He's my favorite endgame target at second base this season.
Tyler Colvin: Colvin had a huge bounce-back season in 2012, hitting .290/.327/.531 with 18 homers and 72 RBI in 136 games. He did so on the back of a .364 BABIP while still striking out more than one-quarter of the time and posting a walk rate beneath five percent. His line-drive rate jumped to a career-best 21.4 percent, but I'm not betting on him sustaining such a high BABIP. Without the batting average, he's another one of the many outfielders who can hit homers in the high teens or low-20s. He's still worth a pick in deeper leagues, but I'm not betting on another level here.
Wilin Rosario: I won't rehash my whole argument for Rosario here, but he's definitely the breakout candidate on this team -- in fact, he's one of my favorite breakout candidates in the entire league. A 30-homer catcher is a true difference maker in fantasy leagues, and this will be the last year he's considered outside the top five at his position during draft season.
NL-only guys to know
Chris Nelson: In 2012, his age-26 season, he hit .301/.352/.458 with nine homers, 21 doubles and 53 RBI, but beware of his .374 BABIP from last year, though. A regression there will be felt across his slash line.
Juan Nicasio: Nicasio's surface stats look ugly, but he has a career 3.80 FIP in 24 starts. He had a .376 BABIP last year, suggesting terrible luck, though that was counterbalanced a bit by his 68.1 percent strand rate. He also fanned 8.38 batters per nine innings, so there's clearly some value here.