It’s that time of year again: Spring training.
All the experts and analysts can finally end their discussions of what the projected stats of Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) and everybody else will be like for the upcoming season.
There are plenty of fans who don’t care about these made-up projections and statistics, unless they’ve got a fantasy baseball team.
With nearly a month to go until the first game of the year is played on Easter Sunday (Texas Rangers vs. Houston Astros, if you’re curious), fantasy owners everywhere are trying to figure out which players they should draft for their respective teams.
This reminds me, if you plan on playing in a league this year and have yet to come up with a team name that uses somebody’s last name in the form of a pun, you should probably start brainstorming right now.
We all have our high expectations for the superstars of the league, but we know there are more than just two rounds to a draft. Who are the sleepers? Who are the ballplayers that will be worth waiting for, instead of going on autodraft and walking away from your laptop after 15 minutes of drafting?
I will go around each position and tell you who the best picks are, as well as who I think you should consider picking up in the later rounds of your fantasy draft.
Catcher: By all means, if you can pick up Posey, don’t hesitate on getting the reigning National League’s Most Valuable Player. Don’t sleep too much on Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals), who is very much under the radar but ranks as one of the better hit-for-average players in the game.
First base: Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds), Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers) and Albert Pujols (Angels) are all solid picks for the first round. If there are ducks in the pond when Billy Butler (Royals) is up to bat, he’s going to give many pitchers a run for their money.
Second base: Robinson Cano (New York Yankees) is one of the best power hitters in the game today, but watch out for Danny Espinosa (Washington Nationals). If this free swinger can show more patience and lower his strikeout total, you’ll see his on-base percentage soar way above the .315 percentage he had last season.
Third base: If Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) isn’t your top-rated third baseman, you probably shouldn’t be in any fantasy league.
Drafting Martin Prado (Arizona Diamondbacks) would serve your team a lot of justice. He’s a durable player, has good base-stealing ability and has potential to hit for a very respectable average again. Not to mention he’s eligible at 2B, 3B and in the outfield.
Shortstop: Assuming he’ll be physically able to play all year like he’s expected to, Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies) is your best bet to draft in this position. I feel like Erick Aybar (Angels) is in the perfect situation to make an impact this season. Projected to be Anaheim’s two-hitter with Trout in front of him then Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo to follow, he could rack up stats in the stolen base and on-base percentage columns.
Left field: Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) and Trout are two of the best players in the draft. Trout might not meet the numbers he put up last season, but there’s a very slim chance at seeing him fall into a sophomore slump. As risky as it sounds, Alfonso Soriano (Chicago Cubs) and his near .500 slugging percentage is good to have in your back pocket. He may be 37 years old, but he can knock a few out of the park.
Center field: Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates), Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers) or Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) are all very valuable pick-ups who can provide a lot of power to your lineup.
What about Ben Revere (Philadelphia Phillies)? He might get you one longball if you’re lucky, but he can get you plenty of stolen bases if you haven’t grabbed somebody who can already do that for you.
Right field: You’d be silly not to draft Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins), who is one of the best young sluggers in the big leagues, if the opportunity presented itself. Even though Carlos Beltran (St. Louis Cardinals) didn’t play the second half of last season nearly as well as he did before the All-Star break, he’ll still add value your fantasy roster.
Starting pitcher: I’m pretty sure we could all name about 10 aces off the top of our heads, and they’ll all be gone by the second or third rounds of your draft. Don’t sleep too much on Ian Kennedy (Diamondbacks), though. He’ll get you around 200 punchouts in over 200 innings of work for the season.
Relief pitcher: Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves) was a strikeout machine last year, putting on one of the best seasons as a closer ever. Don’t forget that John Axford (Brewers) had a spectacular year as well, stat-wise. Though he only had 35 saves in 75 games, his strikeout per nine-innings ratio was at a 12.07. If he learns how to keep his walks to a minimum, he’ll get you more saves along the way.
Fantasy baseball is fun, especially if you get nerdy about these sorts of things. It’s stressful and long, but I promise you the more you choose to invest your time into making the right trades and picking up the right free agents off waivers instead of having a social life, the more fun and memorable your summer will be.