Some believe I've gone a bit overboard in selecting Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout as my top player for the 2013 season. Granted, Trout was awesome in 2012, and I concur that some regression is pending, but he delivered numbers we've never seen from a 20-year-old. Well, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper turned 20 in October. His rookie campaign may have paled in comparison to what Trout accomplished, but it was still mighty impressive. Harper's future is similarly bright for statistical goodness, and as a result he crashed my top-20 rankings this season.
In order to deserve this lofty a ranking, Harper will need to hit for batting average and significant power, which I think are givens, but he'll also have to steal enough bases to matter. There again, I'm not too concerned. Watch Harper play on a consistent basis, as I did this past season, and he's clearly fast and aggressive enough to make a significant impact in every offensive fantasy category. Plus, the kid has several chips on his broad shoulders. He wants to be great, and I see several 30/30 seasons in his future. As it was, he went 22/18 at age 19!
I don't mind exalting a young player with this ability to the second round because I think Harper is really, really safe. He has tremendous raw power. Young lefty hitters often struggle to look competent against left-handed hurlers, but Harper is going to work at his craft and improve, and I think he's probably a bit jealous that Trout got so much attention. I could see 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 25 steals from Harper as soon as this season, with a .300 batting average, but more likely in the .280 range. That's worth a top-20 pick for sure, and it's probably worth a top-10 pick. And in keeper/dynasty formats, he's about the best choice out there. Check our ongoing dynasty mock: Harper went third. I would have chosen him second.
For those wondering about my top 10, well, just click right here and see 'em! For now, here's my second round:
11. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
Wow. Just wow. I think the Diamondbacks are nuts to move a 25-year-old with MVP capabilities. A year ago, I had Upton in my top 10, and that didn't quite work out. A left thumb injury haunted him all season. Still, he's 25! He hit 31 home runs in 2011, he draws walks and he runs, averaging 19 stolen bases over the past four years. He also has hit .286 during that span. Um, can I redo my top 10? Upton would be back in it. As bad as his 2012 campaign was, I think we can live with a .280 batting average, 17 home runs, 18 steals and 107 runs scored. In Atlanta, with a team that actually wants him, playing with his brother, I see him having his best season yet.
12. Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers
The case can certainly be made for Fielder over Pujols (my No. 7 choice), but let's not quibble. Both are terrific. Fielder plays every game and hits for power, though it would be nice if he'd score more than 83 runs -- a returning Victor Martinez to the Detroit lineup should help that -- and perhaps Miguel Cabrera could leave a few more proverbial ducks on the pond so that Fielder could knock in more runs. He's safe, though, and the first base pool, while still fantasy's top offensive position, gets a bit worse each season, too, which is why I'm more inclined than ever to take a first baseman this early.
13. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Again, let's not rip the players that just missed the top 10. These are great players. It might cost a first-rounder in most leagues to get Votto, but I think people overrate him some. Yes, he hits for a high batting average. The power, though, is another story. He has hit 30 home runs just once. He's running less. And durability is an issue. Let's presume the RBI total rises with a legitimate leadoff hitter in place, but add up the question marks and he fits best in the second round for me.
14. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
I project only two players to reach 40 home runs this season. One is Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista; the other is Stanton. Sure, Stanton is probably still seething that the Marlins dealt all their top talent except him, but he'll be fine. Lineup protection is absolutely a myth. If Stanton's walk rate rises, intentionally or not, I'm all for it. I'll still take the under on 150 games, but the over on 40 home runs and 100 RBIs.
15. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
I do worry about how many games we'll get from Longoria, but if I can rank Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in my top 10, hey, I might as well be consistent. Longoria played in only 74 games last year, as a serious hamstring injury knocked him out, but I wouldn't call it a chronic problem just yet. Longoria smacked 17 home runs and knocked in 55 in less than half a season. In five seasons, his OPS has ended up between .850 and .896 each time. Simply put, he's an AL MVP candidate every year.
16. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers
Verlander's 2012 campaign was eerily similar to the year prior, when he took home AL MVP and Cy Young Award honors. He just won seven fewer games. This is another reason why wins are impossible to predict. Still, lest you think Verlander is slipping, he still finished in the top 10 overall on the ESPN Player Rater in 2012, and there's little reason to expect otherwise in 2013. That said, the sheer lack of offensive depth, as compared to starting pitching, keeps Verlander and the next guy out of my top 10.
17. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yep, a second pitcher makes my top 20. Hard to believe. But hey, at least it's not R.A. Dickey or Fernando Rodney, the top two pitchers on last season's Player Rater (Verlander and Kershaw were next). As with Verlander, the top NL option is a durable strikeout monster who consistently provides a solid ERA and WHIP. Likewise, his win total dropped by seven, but it could easily go back up. You can count on Kershaw for safe, reliable innings.
18. David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
A year ago, I ranked Wright in my top 20 -- I was widely mocked for that, by the way -- and enjoyed his bounce-back season on several of my fantasy teams. Wright might fall short of 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, but the overall package -- and, I think, his reliability -- makes him worthy of this spot. He finished 14th among hitters on the 2012 Player Rater, and he has the track record and runs enough to convince me he's still worth it.
19. Hanley Ramirez, SS/3B, Dodgers
Hanley reminds me a bit of Justin Upton in how he's foolishly viewed. Ramirez is not as young or brimming with power upside, but as bad as his 2012 season was, 24 home runs, 92 RBIs and 21 stolen bases from a shortstop is hardly complaint-worthy. What Jacoby Ellsbury did -- or didn't do -- is worth complaining about. Ramirez can play two infield positions, each scarce with depth, and I presume more 20/20 campaigns are pending. Perhaps the days of hitting .300 are past him, but when in doubt, grab versatility, both in terms of eligibility and statistical prowess.
20. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
As I explain above, I don't see this being much of a stretch at all. Besides, you'd probably have to take him this early if you want him. Draft the kid, and enjoy the fantasy goodness.
Who missed: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey misses for a few reasons. One, he's a catcher. They get hurt and are consistently poor early-round investments. See Joe Mauer for proof of that. Two, while I have the utmost respect for Posey's amazing season, it's tough for a catcher, even Mauer, to contend for batting titles each season. As great as Posey was in 2012, he still finished 27th on our Player Rater. In ESPN standard formats, you need only one catcher, and there's enough depth to wait on the position. ... I'm seeing Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, former Ranger and new Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman (he's no longer eligible at third base, which would have mattered) Edwin Encarnacion as popular top-20 selections. I have little issue with these guys. Beltre remains a Ranger, so the batting average and power output seem safe. Hamilton concerns me more in his new home ballpark, but really, it's more about the durability there. And I like Encarnacion. That power is legit. This trio of mashers and Posey made my top 30, along with Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg and John Lannan. (OK, just joking. Remove Lannan and insert David Price.)
Get ready for your drafts; our draft kit will be published in mid-February!