It's freezing most everywhere in the country. The Midwest and Northeast are blanketed with snow. That can only mean one thing. Time to talk baseball.
The early rounds of a baseball draft set the stage for what you do in the middle rounds more so than in football. Going with the best available player is far more viable in football, since, other than quarterbacks, every other position ostensibly contributes in the same way. You're just trying to pile up as many yards and touchdowns as you can, no matte where the stats come from.
In baseball, you need to compete in at least 10 categories in most cases, and in some leagues even more. Baseball is about balance. You can't load up on power and ignore speed. You can sometimes get away with punting a category, but that often comes back to bite you in the end. In football, so many players end up coming from out of nowhere, that you can miss on one or two of your first picks and still succeed thanks to the waiver wire and the luck involved in playing such a small sample of games. The same cannot be said in baseball, where such a large pool of players is drafted, and a 22-week regular season usually results in the cream rising to the top.
With that said, hitting on your early-round choices in baseball is paramount. We know guys like Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera can't miss, but every year new players shoot toward the top of the draft board. Conversely, players we once believed to be in the Pujols-Ramirez-Cabrera class slip due to poor performance, injuries, change of venue, whatever. Invariably, you will be faced with drafting a player who falls into one of those two classes. The best way to handle those situations is to know what you think of each player heading in, and the best way to do that is to rationally value each player as you prepare. There's no better place to start than the top, and there's no better time to start than now.
There's no doubt about what he can do when he avoids injury. In his two primarily healthy seasons, he has combined for 64 homers and 230 RBI. But health will always be a question. He's not old, and he doesn't have a ton of miles on the baseball odometer, but he'll turn 30 in May. In "you-couldn't-make-it-up-if-you-tried" fashion, as I was writing this section, my Twitter feed filled up with reports that Hamilton was in the hospital being treated for pneumonia. It was the perfect reminder that the unforeseen malady can strike this guy at any time.
I rank Hamilton as the sixth outfielder, behind Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Justin Upton. Overall, I put him in the early- to mid-20s, behind Ryan Zimmerman and Jose Reyes, but ahead of Dustin Pedroia and any pitcher not named Roy Halladay.
I have him lower than most, but still a first-rounder, behind Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Votto and Ryan Braun. By draft day, I may have Matt Kemp ahead of him, as well.
If you are inclined to go with a pitcher this early, the only pitchers on my board ahead of Kershaw are Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright.
Reyes is the slam-dunk No. 3 shortstop behind Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, and I wouldn't let him slip past the 20th overall pick.
I wouldn't consider Mauer until about 50th overall, and he's not the top catcher on my board. That distinction belongs to Buster Posey, who put up 18 homers and 67 RBI in 100 fewer plate appearances, to go along with a .305/.357/.505 slash.
You're going to have to use a top 50 pick on Rollins, and I just can't advise that. Let someone else take the bait.
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