Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more
It's hard to view the season as a total disappointment when you finish with a 89-73 record, but such was the case with the 2012 Los Angeles Angels. The team became a preseason World Series pick after signing Albert Pujols, but they sputtered out of the gates, going 8-15 in April. Rookie of the Century Mike Trout's promotion injected some much-needed life into the team, proven by the fact that the Angels had the best record in the majors starting with the day Trout made it to the bigs. Ultimately, they were done in by below-average performances from the pitchers behind Jered Weaver in the rotation, not to mention playing in one of the strongest divisions in baseball; as a whole, the AL West went 351-297 last year.
But coming into this season, expectations are even higher for the Angels -- they'll get a full season out of Trout, and they added Josh Hamilton to the mix. Gone are Zach Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. In are Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas. It's not often you talk about a top four in a bullpen, but with Ernesto Frieri, Ryan Madson, Sean Burett and Scott Downs, the Angels are loaded in the 'pen, with two righties and two lefties to suit manager Mike Scioscia's needs. In a division where two teams won at least 93 games last year, the team that won 89 is the prohibitive favorite. Therefore, with a talent-laden offense, it's also a favorite of fantasy owners.
PRINTABLE DRAFT KIT: Top 300 Cheat Sheet | Position rankings Cheat Sheet
1. Mike Trout, LF
2. Erick Aybar, SS
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Josh Hamilton, RF
5. Mark Trumbo, DH
6. Howie Kendrick, 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF
1. Jered Weaver
2. C.J. Wilson
3. Tommy Hanson
4. Jason Vargas
5. Joe Blanton
Bullpen: Ernesto Frieri (closer), Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams
? Can Mike Trout possibly match his rookie season? I talked a lot about Trout in the first installment of the Burning Questions series, so I'll point you there for my thoughts on Trout this season. Here's the abridged version: he's a world-class talent, the single best player you can have in a keeper league and an MVP favorite for 2013.
? Is Mark Trumbo an emerging star?Trumbo was a monster in the first half of the season, hitting .306/.358/.608 with 22 homers and 57 RBI. He fell off the map in the second half, though, hitting .227/.271/.359 with 10 homers and 38 RBI. While he still gave his fantasy owners a great overall season, his second-half swoon likely cost a lot of them in the playoffs. Even with that, he provided a major return on investment last year, and is one of the best pure power hitters in the league.
Trumbo proved he has power by hitting 32 homers last year and 29 in 2011, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg. Don't forget that he hit 36 homers and drove in 122 runs at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2010, and as a major leaguer, he has a career 19.1 percent home run/fly ball ratio. On top of all that, 2013 is his age-27 season, the start of a player's theoretical prime. It may be hard for a guy to jump a level in terms of sheer numbers, given where Trumbo already is, but he could push into the high-30s in home runs this season. With power now at a premium for fantasy owners, Trumbo is a valuable commodity.
While Trumbo may never be an asset in batting average or OBP, there were some encouraging signs in his plate discipline last year. According to Fangraphs, he cut his O-swing rate, the percentage of balls a player swings at that are outside the strike zone, down to 40.2 percent in 2012 from 42.7 percent in '11. While his strikeout rate jumped menacingly to 26.1 percent, he did increase his walk rate to 6.1 percent -- nothing to write home about, but nice to see. Even if he hurts you in batting average and/or OBP, the 30-homer floor should have you salivating over his potential.
? What do we make of Josh Hamilton's second-half struggles? Like Trumbo, Hamilton was an absolute beast the first half of the season. He hit .308/.380/.579 with 27 homers and 75 RBI, and it looked like he, not Miguel Cabrera, was headed for the Triple Crown, should someone finally break the 45-year dry spell. He still hit with plenty of power after the All-Star break, but he looked like a different guy at the plate, hitting .259/.323/.510 with just 16 homers and 53 RBI. At 31 years old, it became a fair to ask whether or not his tapering off was a sign of things to come.
Looking at Hamilton's plate discipline stats, it's pretty easy to see where things went wrong for him last year. He set career highs in O-swing percentage (45.4 percent) and swinging-strike percentage (20 percent, far and away the highest rate in the majors), and had a career-worst 64.7 percent contact rate. To put that contact rate in perspective, it was four percentage points worse than Mark Reynolds, and two percentage points behind Carlos Pena.
Hamilton has always been a bit of a free-swinger, but he clearly took it to another level last year. However, that doesn't mean he's fundamentally changed as a hitter. Even if it did, he still hit /285/.354/.577 with 43 homers and 128 RBI. I think there are plenty of players in the majors who would like to fundamentally change for the worse and finish the year with those numbers. I'm admittedly bearish on Hamilton compared with my fantasy colleagues, but I wouldn't let him get past the middle of the second round.
? Is this the year for Tommy Hanson? Hanson turns 27 at the end of August, just about to enter his theoretical prime, but I'm a bit leery of him heading into the season. He managed to stay healthy and make 31 starts last year, but he went just 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA, 4.57 FIP and 1.45 WHIP. And this is where things really start to look troubling: he struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings, a full 1.5 fewer than the previous season.
In 2009, Hanson's first full year in the majors, his average fastball clocked in at 92.3 MPH. The next year, it ticked up to 92.7. However, it fell to 91.2 in 2011 and 89.7 last year. His slider came in at 80.8 MPH last year, four MPH less than its 2010 peak. Meanwhile, he hasn't taken an equivalent amount off his changeup. Not only are his power pitches not as powerful when he looked like an ace in the making in 2010, the lack of differentiation between his fastball and changeup is making the latter a much less effective pitch. That probably explains why he threw it less than 2 percent of the time last year. Now he's taking that seemingly diminished repertoire to the American League. His one saving grace this year is that he'll likely be pretty affordable on draft day; I'll definitely still take him at the right price, but I won't be marking him in as a sure thing.
Ernesto Frieri: Frieri had a big 2012, saving 23 games and striking out 98 batters in 66 innings. Despite the addition of Ryan Madson, he'll start the year as the Angels' closer. You guys know how I feel about closers, but they're a major part of our fantasy existence. The key is getting good ones cheap, and Frieri offers you that opportunity. He's going to strike out a ton of batters, and he should have plenty of save opportunities playing on what figures to be one of the best teams in the league.
Howie Kendrick:I don't see a true bust on this team, so Kendrick becomes the pick simply because I feel he is overvalued. He won't hit for much power and is really just a modest contributor to steals. With Erick Aybar likely to hit second, he won't be a huge run scorer either. He'll give you decent production in two categories, but that's all he'll really do for you. That's not a guy who moves the needle a whole lot.
Mark Trumbo:We've already dedicated plenty of time to Trumbo in this column, but suffice to say I think he has the best year of his career this season. With Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton all hitting in front of him, the sky is the limit in terms of his counting stats. I'm projecting between 31 and 34 homers and 105 and 115 RBI.
AL-only guys to know
Ryan Madson: Ernesto Frieri enters the year as the closer, but Madson would be first in line to take over should Frieri struggle or get injured. We've seen Madson as a shutdown closer in the past, and even if he's nothing more than a setup man, he's a proven strikeout artist who will help you in the rate categories.
Erick Aybar: Aybar should give you 20-plus steals from the shortstop position, and hitting second in this lineup is a great place for any hitter. He could score 100 runs if he manages a .340 OBP.
Jason Vargas: Vargas' value for AL-only owners derives from his durability. In the last three seasons, he has throw 192 innings, 201 innings and 217.1 innings, respectively. On a team like this, 30 starts of middling performance, what you're likely to get from Vargas, could result in 15 easy wins.