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Is Jacoby Ellsbury a top-10 fantasy option?

7/22/2011

Trusted colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft and I had an interesting debate on Friday's Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast, as an emailer wanted to know whether Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had impressed us enough to warrant top-10 overall status for 2012 drafts. Think about how far Ellsbury has come from back in March, when he was often described as either brittle or a one-trick fantasy pony, or perhaps both.

He enters this fine July weekend as fantasy's No. 3 overall player, a mere base hit behind No. 2 Jose Bautista and certainly within striking distance of top dawg Matt Kemp. We've been raving about Kemp and Bautista all year long, and here comes this stolen base champ, sneaking in with 15 home runs, 28 stolen bases and a career-best .316 batting average.

How many outfielders did you draft instead of Ellsbury? I can raise my hand to choosing Jason Heyward, Jayson Werth and Mike Stanton before him. I tend to avoid powerless hitters on draft day unless it's Round 15 and Juan Pierre is sitting there. In the first few rounds, I target Kemp types who can hit for power and steal bases (though that's not Stanton). I've got Kemp in numerous leagues. I have Ellsbury in one league, a simulation format in which I persuaded Cockcroft to part with him in a dubious draft-day trade (apologies, Tristan, had to do it).

In other words, I didn't see a 25-homer season coming from Ellsbury. I probably didn't see him hitting even double digits, but after smacking a pair in Baltimore on Wednesday he's on pace for precisely 25, with 91 RBIs, 47 stolen bases and 118 runs scored. Leadoff hitters don't generally do this. Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won an MVP award in 2007 for hitting 30 home runs, knocking in 94 and swiping 41 bases. He hit .296. Ellsbury is having an MVP campaign in real life, not just the fantasy world, folks.

Anyway, after the podcast ended, I put some research into my thought and -- voila! -- I think Ellsbury is a first-round pick in 2012 fantasy drafts. Of course, we still have a third of this season still to be played, as well as a potentially busy offseason, and much can transpire. But based on what I think now, here is my early line on the top 10. Feel free to chime in and speak your mind, and perhaps you can even alter my thinking a bit with intelligent commentary.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Chicago Cubs: OK, I'm just kidding about the Cubs. He'll resume his Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals career. And he takes back the top spot, though I could easily be convinced the mildly younger guy who should have the third base and outfield eligibility by then and is next on this list is a tad better.

2. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays: I still can't find a fault with him; he is leading the world in home runs and might even win the AL batting title.

3. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers: Uh-oh. He hasn't scored or knocked in a run in four days. Time to panic! He falls short of 40-40 but is young enough to go 25-25 for years, no matter who or what entity owns the franchise.

4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: The AL version of Pujols. No, really.

5. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: He slipped from the first round in some of my leagues this year. Watch him flirt with 30-30.

6. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies: Sorry, I cannot call 29 home runs, 105 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a .277 batting average -- his current pace across the board -- a disappointing season. I call the shortstop that did go before him on draft day -- he's next -- one of those, though.

7. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: I'm buying a big final two months for Ramirez, if he feels like playing. Let's hope he does. He's capable of being top 10 -- or top 1 or 2 -- again.

8. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox: Yes, better than Joey Votto. Gonzalez is outdoing what Votto did a year ago.

9. Jose Reyes, SS, Los Angeles Angels: Sure, there's nothing wrong with Erick Aybar, but c'mon, move him to second or third base. Reyes gets dealt to L.A. next weekend and decides to stick around. He'll hit fewer triples, but fantasy owners will live with it. And no, it's not crazy to place three shortstops in the first round. If anything, based on depth, it's easier to argue that putting three first basemen in the top 10 is crazy.

10. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox: Think about where Carl Crawford went in 2011 drafts. He went third in ESPN average live drafts. Crawford went 19-90-47 last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Ellsbury is eerily on a similar pace, and he's 27. A year ago he was a top-20 pick, and we didn't think he had power.

Just missed: Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies; Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks; Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays; Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees; Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers.

Have a great weekend!