Now that the Super Bowl result is in the books (no one left to beat, Joe Flacco), the roto public turns an eye to pitchers, catchers, and the rest of the fantasy baseball carnival. The top of the ranking board is always a hot-button topic, and today, in this forum, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski have a difference of opinion on how they'd kick off a draft. Share your thoughts (and Ryan Braun sympathizing) in the comments.
B-Fun leads off: Last season, Miguel Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win a Triple Crown. That's a first place finish in the AL in three of the five categories in our roto racket. But despite his rare trifecta, and the fact that Mike Trout spotted Miggy a one month head start on '12 season, Trout still cruised to the top spot in the Yahoo! fantasy game - with a mere 40 games of previous experience.
So there's no question as to whether Trout can be the No. 1 fantasy player. He's been there, done that (in his age 20/21 season, mind you). And after falling a SB shy in '12, this season he'll get an extra 20-some games to shoot for the vaunted 30/50 club, a membership that counts just two (Barry Bonds and Eric Davis) in the history of the game. And that power/speed combo is the straw that stirs our roto drink. Just look at the last three No. 1 finishers: Trout in '12 (30/49); Matt Kemp in '11 (39/40); Carlos Gonzalez in '10 (34/26).
Trout naysayers will point to his inflated BABIP, third-highest in MLB. And I can subscribe to the theory that his average (.326) could regress this season. But how much for a guy that hit .342 in 1,117 minor league at bats and above .300 in each half of last season? The guy hits the ball on the screws and is lightning on the base paths. If you start projecting anything below .290, I'm tuning you out.
Miggy gets points here for the position depth angle. It's harder to fill third base with a quality player than an outfield spot, no question. But let's at least acknowledge that the hot corner isn't looking quite as bare as usual, with nine players being taken on average inside the top 69 picks in early mock drafts, according to MockDraftCentral, and that's not including World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, who could make a case for going that high.
It's hard to grasp the idea that Trout could be even better this season. But he's in the early stage of his career arc, so it's something we have to strongly consider. Hitting in front of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, maybe we see 150-plus runs this season. Maybe he becomes the first 30/60 player in MLB history. And, hey, maybe he regresses a little bit. But with an extra month of counting stats coming his way, I'm still eagerly buying him at the top.
Pianow closes up: Before I start my Cabrera defense, let me establish that I have nothing but love and admiration for Trout's game and stat-grabbing abilities. He's No. 2 on my current board (now that there's some Braun uncertainty to deal with). I'll gladly welcome him on a bunch of 2013 teams. He's a blast to watch, and a legitimate five-category weapon (something we can't say about Miggy). His theoretical upside is the highest of anyone currently in the game.
But when it comes to early picks, I'm usually more focused on floor over upside. I want the safest overlord I can find, a proven commodity and an extensive track record. With that in mind, let's appreciate just how consistently dominant Cabrera has been throughout his career.
Cabrera's 162-game stat averages jump off the page: .318-103-34-120-4. Okay, fine, we'll get the stolen bases elsewhere. And it's perfectly legitimate to look at the 162-game average from Miggy because this guy is as durable as they come. Check the games-played column, starting in 2004: 160, 158, 158, 157, 160, 160, 150, 161, 161. That's the security that allows fantasy owners to sleep soundly at night. Cabrera is taking dead aim at his tenth dominant season; Trout is looking to do it for the second time. That matters to me.
And while we have no reason to expect a Trout injury, his devil-may-care approach in the field and on the bases does bring some risk with it. Cabrera, meanwhile, is a conservative base-runner and a conflict-free defender. His mediocre play at third base isn't a fantasy deal-breaker.
Although the Tigers don't offer the deepest lineup top-to-bottom in the majors, there are enough support players to keep Cabrera's run-production afloat: Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder, and welcome back, Victor Martinez. And don't let Comerica Park throw you at all, it's a misunderstood yard (it's slightly favored the hitters in recent years). The steady diet of AL Central opponents also helps the cause; there isn't a pitching-dominant opponent to worry about. Age isn't a concern yet, as Cabrera merely turns 30 in April.
There's plenty of time to be a hero later in the draft. When I'm picking first, I want the closest thing to a can't-miss player. On my clipboard, that's Miguel Cabrera.