The truth is nobody knows.
Whatever it is you're wondering, so are the rest of us. And all we can do is guess, based on what we've seen, heard or experienced.
But while guessing is fine for run-of-the-mill baseball fans, who have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying the ride, us Fantasy-playing types would prefer some reassurance. After all, we're actually sticking our necks out and acting on those guesses, for better or worse.
To that end, here are some of the questions you're most likely asking yourself -- or at least should be asking yourself -- as you prepare for your league's draft.
With any luck, some of these storylines will resolve themselves in spring training. For the ones that don't, we offer our best guess as some measure of reassurance on Draft Day.
Of course, it's just a guess. If you like yours better, by all means, act accordingly.
Mike Trout ... did that really just happen?
It boggles the mind and defies the senses. How could a mere babe of 20 years put up a line so impressive that some might argue he was a more deserving MVP than the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years? And yet it wasn't a dream or a movie script. It actually happened, and because it happened, Trout deserves serious consideration for the first overall pick in Fantasy. But isn't that dangerous? He's still young and, relative to other players of that ilk, unproven. True, but when you consider he outclassed Miguel Cabrera by more Head-to-Head points per game than Cabrera outclassed Jose Bautista last year, you get a sense of just how high his ceiling is.
My best guess: We all know what happened to Eric Hosmer and Brett Lawrie last year, but when arguably the best prospect in baseball puts together a 30-30 line -- or more like 30-50 line -- in less than a full season, you can be pretty sure it's not just a case of a still-developing talent catching the league by surprise. Maybe Trout's .269 batting average over his final 37 games shows he's in for a bit of an adjustment period, but given his pedigree, it figures to be a mild one. And given his power-speed combination, he figures to perform like a top-five option anyway. Maybe drafting him over Cabrera or Ryan Braun is a tad optimistic, but any point after that sounds about right.
Are Wil Myers, Travis d'Arnaud and Billy Hamilton worth the price of admission?
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: None of those three is Mike Trout. What he did as a rookie ... well, it boggled the mind and defied the senses. But it also made him the poster child for the latest trend of stockpiling prospects on the verge of reaching the majors. Hey, it wasn't just Trout who made a difference last year. Bryce Harper, Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Rizzo, Yasmani Grandal all had a say in the standings. And the same was true for Eric Hosmer, Desmond Jennings and Brett Lawrie the year before. Likewise, Myers, d'Arnaud and Hamilton don't figure to claim jobs this spring, but their day is nigh. And so, they're getting drafted even in shallower single-season leagues.
My best guess: While not every midseason call-up lives up to the hype right away, a good enough percentage of them do that this approach has some merit. The good news is that with the exception of Myers, who seems to be the safest bet to arrive sooner than later, none of these three should cost you more than a late-round pick, which is a small price to pay to beat the rush to the waiver wire. Just understand that if you draft and stash more than one, you'll be severely limiting your roster flexibility at the time of year when you need it most.
Is second base as bad as it looks?
Quick, who's the 17th-best second baseman in Fantasy? You might as well piggyback storyline No. 2 and say Jurickson Profar because anyone else you'd choose for that spot is uninspiring at best. OK, so not everyone agrees about when exactly the drop-off occurs, but it does occur before the end of a standard Rotisserie draft. And the front end of the position isn't much better. With mainstays like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Chase Utley and Dan Uggla either slowing down or breaking down and newcomers like Jason Kipnis, Jose Atluve and Danny Espinosa each having their own drawbacks, a few under-the-radar types would need to bail out the position to keep it from being Fantasy's worst this year.
My best guess: Fat chance of that. True, Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong may provide some relief midseason, but neither has first-tier potential. Gordon Beckham looks like a lost cause, as do Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, for varying reasons. Maybe Jemile Weeks or whoever else claims the job in Oakland (Grant Green? Scott Sizemore?) makes some sort of contribution, but again, none of these players has the upside to revitalize the position. Considering how few Fantasy owners figure to be satisfied with their second basemen, punting is probably the preferred solution to reaching at the position.
How much of a difference will the new dimensions at Safeco Field and PETCO Park make?
Well, we know how much of a difference the old dimensions made. Safeco Field reduced perennial MVP candidate Adrian Beltre to a puddle of mediocrity right in the thick of his prime, and to this point, no left-handed hitter other than Adrian Gonzalez has mastered PETCO Park. But on paper, the changes don't look like much -- about four feet around most of Safeco, with a 17-foot shift in left-center, and about 10 feet in left- and right-center at PETCO -- and it's not like the Mets' decision to move in the fences at Citi Field last year created an abundance of home run hitters.
My best guess: OK, but the Mets didn't have as many up-and-comers with dramatic home-away splits either. Jesus Montero hit .227 with a .605 OPS at home last year compared to .295 and .768 on the road. Kyle Seager's OPS split was .835-.632. For his career, Chase Headley has a .695 OPS at PETCO compared to .836 everywhere else. Yeah, it'll make a difference. The Mariners and Padres made these changes with the intention of generating more offense. They wouldn't have invested the time and money only to shortchange it. Reducing a park's most troublesome gaps by 10-15 feet is a big enough deal that the players who stand to benefit, which include those mentioned as well as Dustin Ackley and Yonder Alonso, should get a slight boost on Draft Day.
Isn't selecting Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Bautista in the first round just asking for trouble?
At this time last year, Tulowitzki and Bautista weren't only first-rounders, but top-five picks. Of course, season-ending injuries quickly rendered them afterthoughts. Bautista, who hurt his wrist early in the second half, lasted longer than Tulowitzki, who went down with a groin injury in late May, but if you drafted either player, you were left with a hole bigger than you could realistically fill on the trade market. So is the moral of the story "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?" That's one way of looking at it. The other is that those injuries could make Tulowitzki and Bautista first-round value picks, if there is such a thing.
My best guess: The first round normally isn't the time to gamble, but is selecting Tulowitzki or Bautista really such a gamble? They got hurt last year. It could happen to anyone. It did happen to fellow first-rounders Matt Kemp and Joey Votto, and you don't see everyone clamming up about them. True, Tulowitzki hasn't played more than 143 games in a season since 2009, but it's not like he was missing full seasons during that time. He still averaged 28.5 home runs and 100.0 RBI in 2010 and 2011, making him far and away the best shortstop in Fantasy. If you pick 10th or later, you want one of these two.
Kris Medlen: fact or fiction?
Pitchers have found success moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation before, but Medlen's metamorphosis last year was in a class of its own, if for no other reason than because nobody was clamoring for him to enter the starting rotation before it happened. We had seen him in the role before, prior to Tommy John surgery in 2010, and it was fine. Nothing earth-shattering. But when he transitioned for good late last July, he went from being a respectable middle reliever to Greg Maddux incarnate, posting a 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings in his 12 regular-season starts. Clearly, he's not that good, but reducing his performance to a simple hot streak seems equally disingenuous.
My best guess: Medlen, as the world learned last year, is a really good pitcher. Greg Maddux caliber? Of course not. Ace caliber? Perhaps not far off. At some point during his recovery from Tommy John surgery, his changeup went from being a decent pitch to something downright sinister, and his move to the starting rotation allowed him to make better use of it by reintroducing his full arsenal. Given his impeccable control, a step back would make Medlen something akin to James Shields. That more than justifies his average draft position, especially in leagues where you can take advantage of his relief pitcher eligibility.
So really, we'll be able to play Victor Martinez at catcher, right?
He's been a catcher in Fantasy since the day he arrived in the big leagues in 2002. He would have been a catcher last year if not for a knee injury that required microfracture surgery. So why wouldn't Martinez be a catcher now? It's common sense, right? Or is it common sense that, after going a whole year without earning eligibility anywhere, he would come back eligible only at his truest, purest position -- his "primary" position, as we call it? Martinez played 26 games at catcher in 2011, so he barely would have qualified there last year. He played 112 at DH, so he is, in his truest and purest form, a DH. But come on. He's so much more valuable at catcher. Pretty please, with sugar on top?
My best guess: Nice try, but no rules in any game worth playing exist for the sole purpose of making the game easier. They exist to facilitate fair play. Here's what wouldn't be fair: giving a player who missed a full season looser eligibility requirements than one who missed less than a full season. A player who plays only one month would most likely earn eligibility at only one position. But a player who plays no months automatically gets two? Not right. Martinez's best chance of regaining catcher eligibility is by means of another rule: five games at the position this year. Will he get them? The Tigers say no, and considering he's a poor defender who was transitioning from the position even before having knee surgery at age 33, they probably know best.
Looking at those home-away splits, Justin Upton is doomed, isn't he?
For years now, we've been waiting for Upton to break through as a genuine five-category stud -- a fixture in the first round of every draft, every year. He's come close a couple times -- specifically, in 2009 and 2011 -- but he's been unable to sustain that level of production from one year to the next. Still, he's 25 and in Arizona. The big breakthrough is bound to happen eventually. What's that? He's in Atlanta now? Oh gosh. He has a career .250 batting average and .731 OPS away from Chase Field. If he's not a lost cause now, then everything you know about splits is forever null and void.
My best guess: That's taking things a bit far now, isn't it? First of all, playing at home is an advantage unto itself, so chances are Upton's numbers would look better there regardless of where it was. Second, a road schedule for Diamondbacks and Rockies hitters is especially imposing because the other three teams in the NL West play in extreme pitcher's parks. Third, rarely do home-away splits translate so neatly. Everybody slumps. If a hitter's home ballpark happens to be hitter-friendly, he's less likely to slump there, but that doesn't mean he'll slump more once he leaves. Matt Holliday had dramatic home-away splits during his time with the Rockies, but he's done just fine with the Cardinals, hasn't he? If Upton slips to the third round in your draft, consider it a steal.
Will Sergio Romo be as good of a closer as his numbers say he'll be?
Most baseball fans already know Romo as Brian Wilson's equally bearded setup man, given the way the Giants used the two in the 2010 World Series, but few think of him as being better than Wilson. Statistically speaking, though, he is. He's also better than about 80 percent of the pitchers closing for other teams. See for yourself: Over the last three years, Romo has a 1.85 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Again, that's a three-year period, not just one outlier year. It's like what Joe Nathan did for the Twins in his prime. Better, even. So will it translate to ninth-inning duties with Wilson out of the picture, or will Sergio Romo, like Tony Romo, buckle in the big moment?
My best guess: You'd think we'd already know the answer by now, but based on early draft data, apparently not. Romo was on the mound when the Giants won the World Series last year. Moments don't get much bigger than that. He was their closer throughout the playoffs and had a 1.13 ERA as their closer over the final two months of the regular season. Yeah, they were initially reluctant to give him the role and don't entirely endorse him even now, but at some point, you have to tune out all the noise and go with what you see. And what you see is a highly effective reliever who has already proven he can handle ninth-inning duties. Romo is a top-12 option with top-five potential.
How will the Cardinals fill out the back of their rotation?
When the Cardinals announced Chris Carpenter will likely miss all of 2013 with what could end up being a career-ending injury, it was bad news for Carpenter, his family and perhaps the Cardinals clubhouse. But Fantasy owners couldn't help but see the silver lining. Another opening only helps break up the logjam of young pitchers ready to contribute at the major-league level. Unfortunately, it doesn't eliminate it. Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook are virtual locks for the starting rotation, which means only two of Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly can make it. Guess wrong, and you've wasted a pick. Guess right, and you have a potential steal.
My best guess: Of course, not all four of those young'uns would be a steal. Kelly has proven he's capable of getting outs at the majors-league level, but even if he wins the job, he'll be just a fringe contributor in mixed leagues. No sense investing heavily in him. Because Lynn has already been an All-Star -- just last year, when he won 18 games -- he has a leg up on the other three. The Cardinals shuffled him between the rotation and the bullpen in the second half, making his role less than a sure thing, but he's a safe enough bet that you should target him as a top-40 option. Rosenthal's stint as a shutdown reliever last year makes Miller the more likely of the two for the fifth spot. His upside makes him well worth a late-round pick.
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