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Trail of Tiers

Picture your fantasy baseball draft as if you were preparing to eat dinner at a buffet. Some customers will scour the buffet lines to add a little of everything to their tray. Others will fill their plates with only their favorite items as they rarely venture out of their comfort zone to try anything new. One last group will keep a watchful eye on the items low in supply. Although this group is still finishing their main course, they also have cravings for freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, only a few remain without a guarantee that more will be available. If they fail to grab a cookie now despite still feasting on their first course, there will be a risk of not receiving one of those delicious cookies for their entire meal. I apologize if your stomach is beginning to growl, but buffet strategies can be translated to your upcoming fantasy draft. Will you be drafting your favorite players that you target every season? Will you be overloading on the “best” player on the board despite their position? Or, will you choose to draft the most complete lineup with respect to the positions that are deeper than others?

At one point or another, I have been guilty of all of the notorious drafting mistakes in my fantasy baseball career. From drafting only my favorite players to grabbing the “best” player on the board and ending up with too many first basemen and a no-name shortstop, I have found ways for my team to be defeated before Opening Day. With most of us drafting in the next few weeks, it is important to recognize the importance of positional depth, so you will not be without any freshly baked cookies.  

At the end of this season, will Hanley Ramirez finish higher on the player rater than Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun or Carl Crawford? He may not as all three surpassed him last season, but he sits higher on nearly every ranking board. Shortstop is considered by most to be the shallowest position, which makes top talent even more valuable. Albert Pujols will likely be drafted first in every league this season. However, there were 11 first basemen finishing in the Top 100 last season compared to four shortstops. Twenty-one first basemen hit at least 20 home runs. Although most of us would lay out the red carpet for Pujols to join our team, there is a relatively deep supply of first basemen compared to all other positions. Let’s take a dive and review the depth at each position.

First Base

Tier 1 has been donned with superstars

Albert Pujols and

Miguel Cabrera. Both of these fantasy heavyweights routinely deliver 30-plus home runs, 100-plus runs, runs batted in and averages. Pujols has posted this stat line for the last decade, while Cabrera has stayed within this elite range for the most part over the last seven years. While other players peak and dive, Pujols and Cabrera have remained healthy and consistent in their production. However, there is concern about Cabrera’s recent DUI arrest as this would have a detrimental effect on his fantasy value if he receives any type of lengthy suspension.  

Tier 2 includes names that were formerly drafted in the first round, but may have struggled last season or shown some signs of inconsistency. 

Prince Fielder, Mark

Teixeira and

Ryan Howard suffered down years in 2010, but they are still fully capable of rebounding with their potent offenses. Cincinnati’s

Joey Votto had a career year despite a rather brief resume, which has earned him first-round interest in hopes of an encore.

Adrian Gonzalez has contributed more than 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a solid average each season of his career. Hitting cleanup for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia in front of him, Gonzalez is projected to have a career year now that he is out of pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Adam Dunn sits on the bubble of Tier 2 and 3, but we’ll give him up benefit of the doubt. Dunn has not received the fantasy respect that a player of his caliber deserves with at least 38 home runs and nearly 100 RBI for seven consecutive seasons. Hitting third or fourth for the Chicago White Sox this season should only boost his value.

If you are drafting first basemen in

Tier 3, worry not as the position is arguably the deepest in fantasy. Several of these names include

Justin Morneau and Kendry Morales, who suffered season-ending injuries in 2010. Assuming both returns healthy, they have potential to rise to Tier 2 as both have the ability to pop 30 home runs with an average near .300.

Kevin Youkilis finds himself in this category despite less power than Morneau and Morales, especially with Boston’s version of Murderer’s Row. With homerun power in the mid-20s, Youkilis will be a solid pick if he can remain healthy. Lastly,

Paul Konerko reinvigorated his career with an unanticipated 39 home runs, 111 RBI and a .312 average despite a career high in strikeouts. Konerko may have one more 30 home run/100 RBI season left, especially with the addition of Dunn.

Second Base

Although deeper than previous seasons, second base is still a fairly shallow position yet again. The first tier(

Tier 1) and top pick has traditionally been owned by

Chase Utley. The Phillies’ second baseman averaged 29 home runs, 101 RBI and a .301 batting average from 2005-09, while frequently rewarding owners with double-digit stolen bases. However, Utley missed a chunk of 2010 with a thumb injury. Utley has now begun the preseason sidelined with “leg soreness” and his Opening Day status is uncertain, which has caused doubters to question his durability at 32 years old. Thus,

Robinson Cano has now claimed the top spot on most ranking boards after two straight seasons of 25-plus home runs, while batting well higher than .300. If Utley can stay healthy and place 2010 behind him, he should return to a first-round pick.  

The second tier(

Tier 2) of second basemen is muddled with a few more players injured last season that may be in store for a rebound. First,

Dustin Pedroia is recovering from a broken left foot that resulted in missing half the season. If 100 percent, Pedroia can produce 15-plus home runs, 100-plus runs and an average around .300. With the improved Boston offense, he becomes even more intriguing.

Ian Kinsler is another high-risk, high-reward pick. Averaging 38 games missed per season over his career, he is likely to get banged up at some point this season. However, he has also inked a 20/20 and 30/30 season on his resume, and he plays for one of the most potent offenses. One of the safest selections an owner can make at this position is

Dan Uggla. Now playing in Atlanta, Uggla is a guaranteed 30 home runs, 90 RBI and an average around .260 in the bank. He is a solid pick that is still often overlooked in drafts.

Brandon Phillips is another option that may fall too far down on your draft board. Although his numbers were lower in 2010, he may be a cheaper and safer choice for 20/20 than Kinsler. Lastly, Milwaukee’s second baseman

Rickie Weeks finally lived up to expectation. In fact, he may have surpassed them with 29 home runs and 11 stolen bases as he stayed injury-free all season for the first time in his career. Weeks is still considered a dangerous pick as he is injury-prone and frequently whiffs with 184 strikeouts last season.

Tier 3 becomes relatively thin.

Aaron Hill and

Ben Zobrist are members of this group and in desperate hopes of redemption. Both AL East second basemen became fantasy phenoms in 2009 and busts in 2010. In his sophomore season,

Gordon Beckham was pegged as a sleeper. Unfortunately, he never awoke as his numbers fell in nearly all categories despite playing in 28 more games. With Chone Figgins struggling mightily in Seattle’s lackluster offense and Brian Roberts missing two-thirds of the season, both proven veterans may be decent late-round picks specializing in runs and swipes. Lastly, Kelly Johnson and Martin Prado rose to fantasy existence in 2010 and may be intriguing picks if they are able to repeat.  

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