If you've been following my series of Draft-Day Dilemmas, no doubt you have noticed that my mind keeps drifting back to Florida. In past installments, I've analyzed the fantasy fates of Juan Pierre, Carlos Delgado and Josh Beckett, matching them up with their peers and sorting through the stats.
I can attribute at least some of these thoughts to the absurd temperature swings here in upstate New York. One day I'm shoveling six inches of snow and the next I'm running through the neighborhood in a t-shirt and shorts. It's no wonder my thoughts drift to the next round of batting practice in Jupiter, Fla.
I return to the heart of the Florida lineup, sizing up the fantasy potential of 21-year old phenom Miguel Cabrera against that of the sweet-swinging Texas Rangers first baseman, 24-year old Mark Teixeira. Though still in the infancy of their Major League careers, both players are well-known commodities in the fantasy world. Casual observers of the game may be familiar with the postseason exploits of Cabrera as a rookie in 2003, but there's no doubt that both players will be household names and All-Stars for years to come.
2004 Totals (Cabrera has played one full season):
Teixeria: .281 average, 101 runs, 74 extra-base hits, 38 HR, 112 RBIs, 4 SB
Cabrera: .294 average, 101 runs, 65 extra-base hits, 33 HR, 112 RBIs, 5 SB
Both Teixeira and Cabrera stand at the threshold of monster careers. Given their youth, the only speculation to which they've been exposed this offseason concerns what new statistical highs they will reach and whether they'll cut down on their strikeouts (117 and 148, respectively). They combined for an astounding 139 extra-base hits in 2004 with 224 RBIs.
I love the flat-out mashing capability of Teixeira at the Ballpark in Arlington, but I'm snagging Cabrera if the opportunity presents itself.
Teixeira hits fourth in a top-heavy lineup in Texas. Michael Young, Alfonso Soriano and Hank Blalock will do their part to set the table for the switch-hitting slugger. Texas ranked fourth in scoring among all Major League teams in 2004, producing at a clip of 5.86 runs per game despite going up against the second and fourth-ranked American League pitching staffs of Oakland and Anaheim, who comprised 38 games on the Texas docket.
Through his first two seasons, Teixeira's productivity has been downright frightening. He averaged 32 HR, 98 RBIs and 83 runs scored. Teixeira clubbed 38 HR in 2004, which tied him for 12th among all hitters, and his 112 RBIs tied him for 12th overall. Coincidentally, that RBI total tied him with Cabrera.
A deeper look into Teixeira's prowess reveals a stark contrast between his home brilliance and merely mortal totals on the road. In 291 career games with the Rangers, Teixeira possesses a batting average 56 points lower on the road. More startling is the drop-off in power totals. Though he has hit only 10 fewer home runs, his RBI production has basically been cut in half (130 at home versus 66 on the road).
Coming into 2005, questions abound regarding the players who will hit in the lineup behind Teixeira. Richard Hidalgo has potential to put up huge numbers, but also has the potential to disappoint. His 2000 season stands out as a perfect example of a break-out season – he raised his home run total from 15 to 44 and RBI production from 56 to 122. Less cited is the fact that his average also rose 87 points between 1999 and 2000.
However, his regression at the plate in 2001 and 2002 leave fantasy owners wanting. Hidalgo rebounded to post good numbers in 2003, clubbing 28 HR and 88 RBIs to push his average back over .300. Then he struggled out of the gate last year before being dealt to New York. There, he hit 21 home runs, but batted an anemic .228.
The inconsistency of Hidalgo at the plate leads me to believe that Teixeira may be forced to reach for pitches to hit. While you can take the strikeouts (an out is an out), his batting average will likely suffer. I fully expect Teixeira and his tag team partner Blalock to continue their development, terrorizing opposing pitchers and hitting prodigious blasts. But the large gap in Teixeira's splits and suspect support behind him in the lineup push Cabrera ahead of him on my draft board.
Expectations were high for Cabrera in 2004 as a result of his calm demeanor as a rookie in the 2003 postseason (4 HR, 12 RBIs), but he shattered the projections of even the most optimistic prognosticator. Cabrera's 32 home runs tied him for 12th among all Major League outfielders, and his 112 RBIs ranked fifth at the position.
In 2004, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo posted tremendous OBP numbers, ranking 39th and 40th among every-day players. Once they got on base, Cabrera did his job in driving them home. His batting average suffered with runners in scoring position (.238), but he knocked in 75 runs in 202 at-bats in those situations. Additionally, he still hit a solid .284 with 14 home runs in 79 games at the cavernous Pro Player Stadium. Again, he produced all of these numbers at the ripe old age of 21.
The Marlins brought in a perennial superstar to hit behind him in Carlos Delgado. Despite an awful first half of the season (.223, 10 HR and 36 RBIs), Delgado rebounded to hit 30 home runs for the eighth consecutive season in 2004. After the All-Star break, he smacked 22 home runs, drove in 63 runs and hit at a .305 clip. His OPS has also topped .900 for the seventh straight year.
Pro Player Stadium will present some challenges in the power department initially, forcing Delgado to adjust from the run-fests at the SkyDome. However, with the potent Mike Lowell hitting in the fifth spot, Delgado will see pitches to hit, meaning additional runs scored for Cabrera.
The speed and activity at the top of the lineup combined with a solid heart of the order make Cabrera my choice in this spot.
I'll end, as always, with a couple notes from the mailbag.
When comparing his stats with the usual fantasy first- rounders, Alfonso Soriano doesn't seem to fit in. Why is he projected so highly? – Nathan from Boston
Soriano creeps into the first round due to the separation of the elite players at 2B from the rest of the pack. As you approach draft-day and assemble your rankings, this will become more readily apparent. Soriano has been the most consistent performer at 2B over the past several seasons. He's led all 2B in home runs for three straight seasons (35 per season) and has gone over 30 steals in three of the past four years. Soriano also possesses a lifetime .283 batting average and has played his entire career in two of the most prolific offenses in the game. One other factor off the stat sheet weighs in the argument in that Soriano is more than seven years younger than either Jeff Kent or Bret Boone and is just now entering his prime, batting ahead of budding superstars Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira.
Jeff Kent has hit 30 or more home runs once in the past four seasons, steals far fewer bases and took his game from Houston to the spacious Dodger Stadium. Bret Boone slipped in the charts after a sub-par 2004 season. He still hit 24 homers and drove in 83 runs, so he's by no means a stiff. But there are some questions to be resolved in '05. I suspect that he'll be back in the 100-RBI range with the additions of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.
Most other positions, save catcher and perhaps SS, do not separate quite so easily. Power hitting first basemen and outfielders, and flame-throwing hurlers litter the draft board. Though he's not mashing 140 RBIs or 45 bombs, Soriano is a no-brainer in the first round.
How come Johnny Estrada is being overlooked so much this year? Is there something I'm missing? I can understand why Javy Lopez and Ivan Rodriguez may be ahead of him, but Estrada was a stud all year, and he deserves to be in the top 5 picked!
Now that I've blown my draft strategy, I'll end this email. – Pat in Baltimore
Estrada is a hard player to plant coming into the 2005 season. Right now, I have him pegged in my fourth tier of catchers behind third-tier backstops Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer. Though his .314 batting average ranked fourth among Major League catchers in 2004, there are a couple of reasons that Estrada gets shuffled down on my list. He has never hit more than 12 home runs in a full professional season. (Yes, I know Mauer's high is only six, but that total came at the big-league level in 35 games at the age of 21.) Other than Mauer, each of the top catchers on my list has posted at least one season above twenty homers.
The bigger question mark surrounding Estrada concerns his drop-off in power numbers after the All-Star break. He hit one more home run after the break, but clubbed 18 fewer doubles and drove in 18 fewer runs. The at-bats taken by a single position (only 11 qualified for batting title consideration in 2004) won't swing that category, so I'd need to see a full season of power production to move him up the list.
Thanks for your notes and suggestions. I appreciate the time taken to provide your analysis and opinions.