The 2013 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit is finally here, which means that your fantasy draft day is quickly approaching. The three players at the top of the Crackerjack’s Top 251 list are Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout. Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Rotoworld, and just about every other reliable fantasy draft rankings will have those three men lined up at the top. So if you have the number 1 pick (or the number 2 pick), who should you take?*
If you like projections, ZiPS** has Trout projected at 8.0 WAR, Cabrera at 7.0 and Braun with 5.8. But that is not the whole story, ZiPS factors in defensive value, which will be largely ignored in all but the most complex fantasy leagues. Removing defensive value from the equation and Cabrera’s value goes up, as ZiPS has Cabrera as a -6, Braun as a 0, and Trout as an 8. So Trout’s value is tied to his defensive skills far more than the other two, Braun’s value essentially all comes at the plate, and Cabrera’s value is even higher as his defensive ability hurts his real-life value.
Braun and Cabrera are predicted to hit 33 and 34 home runs, respectively, but Trout is just behind them with 29, and his base running more than makes up for his lack of power. We can continue to pick apart their ZiPS projections, but I do not know if that will get us any closer to knowing which guy is best for your team.
If you are in a league that gives you generic Outfield positions, I would lean towards taking Cabrera as there is a bigger drop off between Cabrera and the rest of the 3B crowd than there is between Braun and Trout and guys like Matt Kemp, Andrew McCuthen Carlos Gonzalez and Giancarlo Stanton. So positional scarcity might push you towards Cabrera.
If your league uses specific player positions for outfielders, then I probably like Braun the most, Cabrera next, and Trout third. Only because I think that Left Field is a little thinner than Third Base and Centerfield. Again, position scarcity drives this decision, but only because these three players have almost identical fantasy value.
If you are still not sure who you like best, consider the types of teams you usually end up with when your drafts are over. Are you the kind of GM that chases home runs late in the draft so you have a bunch of guys who might hit 15 home runs (129 players hit 15 or more home runs in 2012)? If so, then you might want to take a more versatile base runner like Mike Trout and the 49 bases he stole in 2012. The 129th best stolen base season in 2012? Scott Hairston, with 8. So those stolen bases become a lot more valuable than home runs later in the draft.
One of the downsides with taking Trout with the top pick in the draft is that he is a lead-off hitter, so his RBI totals are not projected to be close to what Braun and Cabrera might put up. But if you are a smart GM you know that with Trout’s on-base skills and high batting average that you can afford to roster a batting average sink-hole like Delmon Young, a $1 player in the Crackerjack Draft Kit who is projected to have 80 RBIs. So do not be afraid of taking Trout at the top, just understand what you are getting.
One final thing to consider is the other GMs in your fantasy league who hold the other two top-three choices. If you know that one of those two GMs really wants Ryan Braun, and you are still undecided, I would encourage you to draft Braun if you think that you can then turn around and trade Braun to that owner for either Trout or Cabrera plus another play, maybe a late round pick. Then you have not only come out with one of the three best players in the league, but you created some extra value out of nothing.
So draft whoever you want, but understand the weaknesses of whoever you draft, build your team with that in mind, and always look for extra value.
*If you are in one of those leagues where you get to select your draft position and you have the first pick, I would suggest you drop plop yourself into the #3 spot, grabbing whichever of those three guys is left, but setting you up for a better pick at the tail end of Round 2, where you can hopefully grab your pitching Ace (Felix Hernandez, David Price, Stephen Strasburg) and start off your team with a big bat and power arm in the first two rounds.
**ZiPS projections courtesy of Fangraphs.