Top 50 keepers for 2012

"My keepers are better than your keepers."

Oh yeah? How can you be so sure?

You don't know my league. You don't know the rules. You don't know what those players will or won't cost me heading into 2012. And vice versa.

When it comes to keepers, leagues have wildly different approaches that require wildly different strategies. Some are a free-for-all, where each team keeps a set number of players and forfeits nothing in return. Some are a bargain bin, where each team surrenders draft picks relative to where each keeper was selected last year. Some are a simulation, where each team has a farm system, an annual budget and a long-term outlook. And some incorporate aspects of all three.

With so many varieties, each with their own long- and short-term consequences, comparing keepers across different leagues is virtually impossible.

Yet here I am attempting to do just that.

Clearly, any discussion about keepers needs context, so before we get into my list of the top 50, I should first lay out a few ground rules:

1. Value, as determined by last year's average draft position, is a priority. Good players are good keepers -- that much is obvious -- but the best keepers are the ones that would cost less to keep than to draft, whether by two rounds or 10. If you could keep a projected fourth-rounder for the price of a fourth-round pick, why not just re-draft him and use the keeper slot on someone else? I understand the emphasis on value alienates those in free-for-all leagues, but if all you need to know is which of your players are the best, you already have a list for that. It's called the player rankings.

2. The emphasis is on 2012. I understand Bryce Harper is a future stud who you'll eventually want to keep forever and ever, but in most leagues -- even most keeper leagues -- he's going undrafted this year. What good is keeping him now?

3. Late-rounders need not apply. This is more or less a combination of Rules 1 and 2. Yes, Mike Minor and Jason Kipnis have long-term appeal, but if you can draft them late, they're not good keepers. Rather than keep them, simply make a point to draft them again. If they break out the way you hope, they'll be in the keeper discussion next year.

Right away, you should know whether or not this list is directly applicable to your league. If not, hopefully you'll get some value out of it anyway. If so, understand that it still can't possibly reflect every scenario. I can tell you a player's average draft position last year, but if his actual draft position in your league was different, the list changes.

At the end of the day, it's a matter of opinion. Nobody knows the exact dynamics of your league better than you, and nobody knows your personal philosophy better than you. If you have the ninth overall pick in your upcoming draft and, therefore, would have no chance of getting Troy Tulowitzki back, then keeping him would obviously be a reasonable choice even if it's not a "value" pick.

But enough with the fine print, stipulations and other lame attempts to ward off the inevitable criticism. You came wanting keepers, and I have them for you, in list form, numbered 1-50. Make of it what you will.

Scott White's Top 50 Keepers for 2012
Player Team Pos. '11 Roto ADP '11 H2H ADP Projected '12 ADP '11 stats
1. Jacoby Ellsbury BOS OF Round 5 Round 7 Round 1 .321-32-105-119-39
Is Ellsbury going to hit 32 homers again? Hard to say. But if he hits even half that, his other numbers will make him a first-round talent. Those scared off by his 2010 rib injury could be paying for it for years to come.
2. Curtis Granderson NYY OF Round 9 Round 8 Round 2 .262-41-119-136-25
Granderson isn't as safe as Ellsbury because his keeper value is entirely dependent on his power breakthrough. The so-so batting average, the less-than-exciting number of steals -- they're what allowed him to fall to the ninth round in the first place.
3. Matt Kemp LAD OF Round 4 Round 5 Round 1 .324-39-126-115-40
Kemp was already regarded as a first-round pick entering 2010. Then, he disappointed. Then, I decided his high strikeout rate would prevent him from hitting .300 again. Then, people listened to me, allowing him to slip to the fifth round. Shame they didn't wait even longer. Otherwise, he might rank No. 1 on this list.
4. Jose Bautista TOR 3B/OF Round 3 Round 3 Round 1 .302-43-103-105-9
Go ahead and say it: Bautista was already a high-round pick last year, so where's the value? But studs are what win in mixed leagues. Anytime you can get a first-round talent for less than a first-round pick, it's an easy move to make. And Bautista might be the best of the first-round talents.
5. James Shields TB SP Round 17 Round 12 Round 4 16-12, 2.82-225-1.04
Yeah, you'll find some reasonable arguments for why Shields will regress in 2012, but even in his earlier years, he was typically much better than he was during the disastrous 2010 that allowed him to slip so far in drafts. And what if he really has put it all together? You'd have an ace for virtually nothing -- again.
6. Ian Kennedy ARI SP Round 16 Round 15 Round 4 21-4, 2.88-198-1.09
Kennedy's value was trending upward even before his near-Cy Young season. So what if he skipped a few steps on his way to becoming an overnight ace? That just makes him a more valuable, and therefore easier, choice to keep. His peripherals suggest he's legit.
7. Asdrubal Cabrera CLE SS Round 20 Round 19 Round 3 .273-25-92-87-17
True, Cabrera slowed down in the second half, and yes, a slight dip in power would make him no longer an "elite" shortstop. But he was drafted so late in 2011 that he's a value keeper no matter what he does. To have the weakest position in Fantasy sewn up for the price of a 19th-round pick, it's an easy call.
8. Justin Upton ARI OF Round 4 Round 6 Round 2 .289-31-88-105-21
Upton made us think he had broken out in 2009, but he waited until 2011 to actually do it. In between, Fantasy owners lost just enough confidence in him to make him a value keeper in 2012. The value isn't as high as Granderson's or Kemp's, but it's of the same ilk.
9. Madison Bumgarner SF SP Round 15 Round 14 Round 6 13-13, 3.21-191-1.21
Bumgarner is one of several former top pitching prospects who broke through in 2011 despite getting drafted late. So what makes him different? He crossed the 200-inning threshold, making him the most likely of the group to take the next step forward and become a legitimate ace. He's both the short- and long-term choice.
10. Stephen Strasburg WAS SP Not drafted Not drafted Round 6 1-1, 1.50-24-0.71
He had to turn up sooner or later. Strasburg has arguably the most upside of any pitcher in baseball. So why doesn't he rank even higher on this list? His next two years might be less than ace quality with the Nationals limiting his innings. Still, for the price of a late-round pick, you'd be crazy not to keep him.
11. Alex Gordon KC OF Round 25 Round 24 Round 5 .303-23-87-101-17
Make no mistake about it: Gordon was elite in 2012. If you could trust him to be elite again, he'd be the world's best keeper. But his slow fulfillment of his long-forgotten potential is rightful cause for skepticism. Still, throwing him back for a late-round pick would be far more reckless than keeping him.
12. Carlos Santana CLE C/1B Round 6 Round 7 Round 3 .239-27-79-84-5
So a guy who goes off the board relatively early hits only .239 and is actually more valuable heading into the next season? It sounds weird, yeah, but Santana's patience, power and consistent at-bats at first base nearly made him the top Head-to-Head catcher last year even with the low batting average. With any improvement, he's a first-round talent.
13. Michael Pineda SEA SP Round 23 Round 22 Round 7 9-10, 3.74-173-1.10
Few expected Pineda to make a smooth transition to the majors in his first year, but given his command of his high-90s fastball, you have every reason to believe it'll continue. His poor supporting cast and need to accumulate innings are the reasons he doesn't rank higher on the list.
14. Mike Napoli TEX C/1B Round 13 Round 14 Round 5 .320-30-75-72-4
Napoli's postseason performance should have cleared up any doubts about him playing full-time in 2011, which is a scary thought considering he put up Mike Piazza numbers as a part-timer. I'd say the days of him being a middle-round, "if only" option are over. Unlike the Angels, the Rangers know what they have in Napoli. Good timing for those who drafted him in 2011.
15. C.J. Wilson TEX SP Round 16 Round 15 Round 5 16-7, 2.94-206-1.19
Yes, Wilson has some potential for regression, but his free agency is blowing it out of proportion. Fantasy owners were skeptical of him coming off his breakout 2010 season, and he responded with an even better 2011. Now that he's considered a near-ace, you'd be giving up too much value by cutting him loose.
16. Eric Hosmer KC 1B Not drafted Not drafted Round 8 .293-19-78-66-11
Granted, you wouldn't normally prioritize such an unproven player, but Hosmer gets bonus points for long-term appeal. His big September is reason to believe he's close to meeting his monster potential. You wouldn't necessarily want to stake your season on it, but if you hope to keep him forever and ever, now's the time to buy in on him.
17. Adam Wainwright STL SP Not drafted Not drafted Round 7 Did not play -- injured
With each Tommy John surgery comes the anticipation of an undervalued Fantasy option. It's the same old song and dance in every case. Wainwright put in his time, but he's going to be fine. And considering where he was before the surgery, whatever shrewd owner decided to pick him up and stash him at some late stage of 2011 is going to have a prize whenever the Cardinals choose to activate him.
18. Starlin Castro CHC SS Round 13 Round 14 Round 6 .307-10-66-91-22
Castro took the step forward you might imagine in 2011, adding enough power and enough speed to rank among the big boys at shortstop. If he can improve that much in his age-21 season, imagine what he'll do when he turns 25, 26 or, yes, even 22? This might not be the last time he's on this list.
19. Alex Avila DET C Not drafted Not drafted Round 7 .295-19-82-63-3
Sure, some Fantasy owners pegged Avila as a sleeper last year, but more of the in-case-I-need-a-second-catcher than the out-of-nowhere-All-Star variety. Because he ended up being the latter, he's too much of a value for you to consider throwing him back.
20. Brett Lawrie TOR 3B Not drafted Not drafted Round 8 .293-9-25-26-7
Every once in a while, a prospect reaches the big leagues already looking like a finished product. Last year, Lawrie was that player. He might come back down to earth over a full season, but wouldn't you want to keep him just in case the more-likely scenario that he's already a high-end third baseman is true?
21. Desmond Jennings TB OF Round 30 Not drafted Round 9 .259-10-25-44-20
Whatever expectations anyone had for Jennings last year, he exceeded them when he finally got the call to the majors, meaning he's already on the verge of elite status entering 2012. Is there danger in drafting him that way? Sure. But you're not the one reaching for him in the fifth round; you're the one keeping him in the 30th.
22. Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B Round 2 Round 3 Round 1 .307-21-91-102-26
Really? Keeping Pedroia is worth it even if it shaves only a round off his price tag? Really. If you keep Pedroia with your second-round pick, you're essentially getting two first-round picks and all the assurances that go with them. Those assurances are worth more than whatever "value" the remaining 27 players on this list can offer.
23. Ian Kinsler TEX 2B Round 3 Round 4 Round 2 .255-32-77-121-30
Kinsler is arguably the better value than Pedroia if he repeats his 2011 performance. But that's of course no guarantee for him. Before last year, he had only once played in more than 130 games in a season. He's a stud, no doubt, and you'd rather not throw him back. But as a keeper, he shouldn't necessarily be your top priority.
24. Mike Stanton FLA OF Round 7 Round 8 Round 5 .262-34-87-79-5
Stanton put balls into orbit in 2011. The only problem is everyone expected him to and drafted him accordingly. As a result, his keeper value isn't what it could be. He still figures to be a relative value -- he hasn't had that 45-homer season yet -- but if your keeper slots are limited, he's not automatic.
25. Emilio Bonifacio FLA 3B/SS/OF Not drafted Not drafted Round 8 .296-5-36-78-40
For most of his career, Bonifacio was a scrub, but you can't overlook his midseason breakthrough last year. He hit .320 with 35 steals in what amounts to half a season. Those are stud numbers, and while the threat of regression is real, the possibility of getting stud numbers at any of three positions makes Bonifacio a surprisingly attractive keeper.
26. Craig Kimbrel ATL RP Round 15 Round 16 Round 7 46/54, 2.10-127-1.04
Closers aren't the most attractive keepers. The turnover at the position is high, with new options emerging in the late rounds every year. But Kimbrel's ridiculous strikeout rate and ideal supporting cast put him in perfect position to remain the top closer in Fantasy. If you can have the best at a bargain rate, why not take it?
27. Dustin Ackley SEA 2B Not drafted Not drafted Round 10 .273-6-36-39-6
Ackley did exactly what he was supposed to do when he arrived in the majors last year: get on base with decent pop and base-stealing ability. He's not quite an elite second baseman yet, but his all-around ability could get him there as soon as this year. The long-term incentive is reason enough to hang on to him if possible.
28. Ricky Romero TOR SP Round 15 Round 13 Round 6 15-11, 2.92-178-1.14
Romero may never crack the top tier at starting pitcher in Fantasy, which is why he doesn't rank higher on this list, but with the strides he made last year, he's at least at the doorstep. If you toss him back thinking he'll be available in the middle rounds again, you're delusional.
29. Michael Morse WAS 1B/OF Round 22 Round 24 Round 9 .303-31-95-73-2
Morse's out-of-nowhere 2011 has spawned its share of skeptics, and if you're one of them, you might be inclined to throw him back in a keeper league. But for as little as you could keep him, you'd better be right. Keep in mind his breakthrough actually began late in 2010, much like Jose Bautista's began late in 2009.
30. Drew Storen WAS RP Round 18 Round 22 Round 9 43/48, 2.75-74-1.02
Storen is one of those relievers who was destined to close from the time he was drafted. His rocky spring training scared many Fantasy owners away, but it was a non-factor once he assumed ninth-inning duties. With the organization making steady improvements, 2011 could be his first of several 40-save seasons. He's enough of a long-term answer to justify keeping.
31. Jesus Montero NYY C Round 30 Not drafted Round 12 .328-4-12-9-0
Montero has precisely 61 major-league at-bats, which could cause him to slip in some drafts. But what he did in those 61 at-bats should convince most Fantasy owners that he's already one of the top 12 options at catcher, with the upside to join the top five. Don't miss the opportunity to secure him for next to nothing.
32. Ben Zobrist TB 2B/OF Round 9 Round 10 Round 5 .269-20-91-99-19
He's not as good as his 2009 numbers would have you believe, but Zobrist's across-the-board performance in 2011 should eliminate any talk of him being a one-hit wonder and confirm that his disappointing 2010 was injury-related. Unless you expect him to hurt his neck again, you shouldn't expect him to slide to the middle rounds again.
33. Michael Bourn ATL OF Round 10 Round 19 Round 8 .294-2-50-94-61
It's not that Bourn's projected output has changed. It's just that, in these days of declining power numbers, his ability to steal 60-plus bases is more valuable than it used to be. His relatively low ceiling might cause some keeper-league owners to pass on him, but he's clearly more than the spare part he was drafted to be in 2011.
34. Adrian Beltre TEX 3B Round 5 Round 6 Round 3 .296-32-105-82-1
Fantasy owners shied away from Beltre in 2011, fearing he might regress after signing a big contract. But between the 32-homer season, the postseason heroics and all the other achievements that come with playing half his games in Texas rather than Seattle, he has proven he's an elite third baseman. You won't get another one of those with your sixth-round pick.
35. Justin Masterson CLE SP Round 32 Round 29 Round 10 12-10, 3.21-158-1.28
Masterson went from being a former top prospect who couldn't live up to the hype to a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter in the span of one year. In other words, unlike some of the rags-to-riches stories on this list, he has the pedigree to back it up. His mediocre strikeout rate is the only reason he's less than a no-brainer.
36. Brandon Beachy ATL SP Round 28 Round 25 Round 12 7-3, 3.68-169-1.21
Beachy was a nothing entering 2011, which is part of what makes him such an attractive keeper now. The name still doesn't quite match up with the numbers, which look like a truncated Zack Greinke season, but at the price you'd be able to keep Beachy, you don't need to worry so much about his lack of pedigree.
37. Matt Moore TB RP Not drafted Not drafted Round 12 1-0, 2.89-15-1.29
Usually, one good start isn't enough to make a final determination on a player, but Fantasy owners don't need to see any more from Moore. He was the talk of the minors in 2011, striking a zillion batters every step up the ladder. Having proven he can do it in the majors as well, he's already a prime draft target.
38. J.J. Hardy BAL SS Round 24 Round 25 Round 10 .269-30-80-76-0
Granted, Hardy isn't an exciting keeper, with most Fantasy owners resigned to believe his 30-homer season was a fluke. But even 20-homer seasons are rare at shortstop, and it's not like Hardy is a stranger to those. If the chances of you drafting an elite shortstop are slim, keeping Hardy might be your best option at the position.
39. Pablo Sandoval SF 3B Round 10 Round 10 Round 7 .315-23-70-55-2
Like Zobrist, Sandoval's 2011 performance was enough to convince Fantasy owners that his breakout 2009 was no fluke. Fortunately, they weren't as willing to believe in 2010, which is the only reason Sandoval is such an affordable keeper now. His size is an issue long-term, but you might as well take advantage of the value now.
40. John Axford MIL RP Round 11 Round 13 Round 8 46/48, 1.95-86-1.14
You can understand the skepticism over Axford entering 2011. He came out of nowhere in 2010, and closers that come out of nowhere often go back to nowhere. But Axford was so effective in the role that he retained it even after the Brewers acquired high-profile Francisco Rodriguez. No reason for skepticism now.
41. Matt Wieters BAL C Round 11 Round 12 Round 10 .262-22-68-72-1
Wieters is an odd case because you could probably get him back at about the same place you drafted him in 2011. But he showed such clear signs of a breakout in the second half last year that the fear of losing him right before he goes bananas might just be enough for you to pull the trigger.
42. Jay Bruce CIN OF Round 7 Round 10 Round 8 .256-32-97-84-8
That 40-homer season didn't happen for Bruce in 2011, but the 32-homer season did. It was enough of a step forward for the 24-year-old that you still have to believe an early-round pick is in his future. He's not necessarily a value selection in 2012, but you want to be the one who locks him up long-term for a bargain price.
43. Gio Gonzalez OAK SP Round 13 Round 12 Round 10 16-12, 3.12-197-1.32
Though he came into the season a distant third behind Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson in the Athletics' latest rendition of the Big Three, Gonzalez emerged as No. 1 with his performance in 2011. His so-so walk rate might prevent him from becoming a bona-fide ace, but at the price you'd be keeping him, he doesn't need to.
44. Jeremy Hellickson TB SP Round 10 Round 14 Round 10 13-10, 2.95-117-1.15
Hellickson's keeper appeal is obvious coming off a Rookie of the Year season, but his RP eligibility entering 2011 caused Head-to-Head owners to reach for him on Draft Day, limiting whatever value he might have had as a keeper. Still, even if the value is only a round or two, that's enough for a player with his upside.
45. Lance Berkman STL 1B/OF Round 22 Round 21 Round 6 .301-31-94-90-2
At age 35, Berkman wins the prize for oldest player on this list. Certainly, if your ambitions are more for the long-term, you should probably pass on him. But if your primary objective is to build the best, most cost-efficient roster in 2012, he's a deserving candidate to keep. As things stand now, his miserable 2010 season is looking like the outlier.
46. Melky Cabrera SF OF Not drafted Not drafted Round 9 .305-18-87-102-20
"Fluke!" you scream. "Fluke!" OK, Cabrera's out-of-nowhere breakout in 2011 makes him not the most attractive keeper in Fantasy. But you still can't deny the value. The guy was a nothing, but at least he's a something now. Something is more than what you usually get in the late rounds.
47. Jordan Zimmermann WAS SP Round 19 Round 18 Round 12 8-11, 3.18-124-1.15
The Nationals have become servants to the innings limit, which is reason to believe Zimmermann, who was shut down early because of said limit in 2011, won't get the 200-plus innings needed to realize his ace potential this year. He'll get there eventually, but he's unlikely to be more than a moderate value in 2012.
48. Jemile Weeks OAK 2B Not drafted Not drafted Round 15 .303-2-36-50-22
Weeks hasn't gotten much hype in Fantasy, perhaps because he homered only twice as a rookie. But in Head-to-Head leagues, he outperformed Dan Uggla and Dustin Ackley on a per-game basis. In a world with justice, he'd rank higher on this list, but in a world where he could potentially slide to the late rounds, he's only the 48th-best keeper.
49. Anibal Sanchez FLA SP Round 17 Round 14 Round 11 8-9, 3.67-202-1.28
Fantasy owners remember Sanchez more for his rocky finish to 2011 than his brilliant beginning. But anyone who strikes out 200 batters in a season is on the cusp of greatness in Fantasy. A lot of his issues stemmed from a lack of run support, which is unpredictable enough that he's worth another look for the cost of a 15th-round pick.
50. Ervin Santana LAA SP Round 17 Round 14 Round 11 11-12, 3.38-178-1.22
Santana would look a lot more attractive as a keeper if he hadn't been so up-and-down over his career. He ended 2011 on a high note, which is at least some reason for optimism. If nothing else, it means he'll go earlier in 2012 than he did in 2011. If you're allowed a high number of keepers, you might as well take advantage of the discount.

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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