EARLY First Round Ranks for 2011

The 2010 fantasy baseball season has come to an end. As we get ready to enjoy the postseason action, let’s take an EARLY look at the 2011 first round. Can I just emphasize the word EARLY one more time? There is a lot to go over in the offseason and, while I’ve already started on some 2011 projections, things can change drastically as we head into next February.  Consider this list a quick “eyeballing it” gauge on the 2011 top 12.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols celebrates winning the MLB National League baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in St. Louis, Missouri, May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Sarah Conard (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

1. Albert Pujols – With a stellar 2010 season and a stellar track record to his credit, it is just too difficult to rank anyone higher.

2. Miguel Cabrera – Small injuries caused him to miss some time and maybe 40 home runs. He is in his prime and a .320, 40 HR season is possible in 2011.
3. Joey Votto - Ranking three 1B’s to start the top 12 isn’t ideal, but all three of these sluggers should continue to put up top-end fantasy stats. Votto in particular is just now entering his prime.
4. Troy Tulowitzki – While his 31% HR/FB rate in September is not likely repeated in 2011, his talent is top-of-the-charts. Add in the big-time position scarcity at SS and you’ve got a sure-fire first rounder.
5. Robinson Cano - Disregard my ranking of Utley over him in the EARLY 2B ranks. I’ve flip flopped on this for a month now and finally decided that Cano’s age, lineup/lineup spot and home ballpark give him a slight edge over Utley despite Utley’s strong track record.
6. Hanley Ramirez - A down season has dropped Hanley from number one contention. He now has had similar HR/SB totals in back-to-back seasons with a big difference in value coming from the effects of the lineup around him (R/RBI). Mike Stanton and Dan Uggla will provide protection in 2011, but who will get on base in front of Hanley to ensure 100-plus RBI? Either way, position scarcity ensures that his value remains very high.
7. Evan Longoria - Longo’s loss in power this season shouldn’t make owners panic too much. His HR/FB rate was the lowest of his career and has a very solid chance to bounce back up next season. The potential for a huge season of .300/35/100/10 is well within reach.
8. David Wright - With Citi Field no longer affecting Wright’s mental game, the power returned as he fell one HR/SB each short of a 30/20 season. The rise of swings and misses and strikeouts is a concern for his AVG, but he still hit .285 in 2010.
9. Ryan Braun - The only part of Braun’s game that went missing in 2010 was the 30-plus home runs. Given his age (27 in 2011) and track record, we can expect him to come back with more pop next season. There is still potential for a 40-plus home run season here.
Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley waits on a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 2, 2010 in Denver. The Phillies lead the NL Wild Card race.   UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom
10. Chase Utley - Despite Utley’s down season, he remains a first rounder in my eyes. He had 10 home runs through May and a thumb injury in early July cost him a good chunk of time. The fact that he stole seven bases in September leads me to believe he may have been hiding a leg injury early on (only five steals Aprils through June). Utley is the last player one expects to reveal any sort of injury and this is purely speculation on my end, but he’s too good and has such a great track record that I can’t look at his 2010 numbers and simply assume that decline was the main factor.
11. Carlos Gonzalez - Car-Go finished the 2010 season with the number one overall ranking in Yahoo!, yet he shows up toward the bottom of the first round on my EARLY list. Much has been noted on his home/road splits, but my main concern lies elsewhere. He has a .384 BABIP this season, which is extreme for any player in any ballpark. Out of the top five in BABIP from 2009 (Wright, Ichiro, Hanley, Mauer, Votto in that order) only one (Votto) came even close to repeating in 2010 (.371 to .361). Add on top of the inflated BABIP his free swinging ways and you have a recipe for extreme variation in AVG from year-to-year. I still rank Car-Go in the top 12 because I believe his 30/20 skills are absolutely legit. However, I would be nervous to use a first round pick on him if I were picking in the first half. 
12. Carl Crawford – 2010 was Crawford’s best fantasy season. That being said, I’d take caution to the fact that these numbers came in his contract year. It is almost certain that he will not be returning to Tampa Bay in 2011, which means he’ll be adjusting to a new team, a new city and possibly a new division or league next season. Those factors go beyond the stats and are worth keeping in mind when projecting his 2011 value.
You’re probably surprised these names missed…
Josh Hamilton - He is the natural, but luck still played a role in his 2010 numbers. As stated above with regard to Car-Go’s BABIP, Hamilton was second to only Austin Jackson with a crazy high .390 BABIP. That number is almost certain to regress big-time in 2011. Injuries are the other part of the equation. Hamilton played in only 133 games in 2010 and has sustained fairly serious injuries in each of the past two seasons. His injuries have been of both the impact and wear and tear varieties so the likelihood of another set of problems in 2011 is better than average. With a regression in AVG, his numbers may look more like Mark Teixeira’s (pre-2010) and .300 with 30 home runs for an outfielder is no lock for the first round in 2011.

Alex Rodriguez – There are more than a few issues when it comes to A-Rod in 2011. He has had some injury problems over the past two seasons and his age (35) doesn’t suggest that those problems will simply go away. A four-year regression in ISO is another concern. Granted, A-Rod can still hit you 30 home runs, but his AVG is far from a sure bet. The injuries have also cut into his stolen base potential. A-Rod stole 10 fewer bases in 13 more games from 2009 to 2010.

Jose Bautista - I saw the potential for 25-plus home runs from Bautista this pre-season, but 50-plus is incredible. Since he has zero track record of doing anything like this in the past, it is extremely hard to imagine him repeating the feat in 2011. Without the top-end home run totals, the RBI totals will also regress and he doesn’t do enough in the AVG/SB categories to earn first round value. Given the risk involved in his possible regression I’m not sure I’d even want to use a top three round pick on Bautista in 2011, which may mean he doesn’t end up on any of my teams.
Matt Holliday - Holliday is a rock solid second round pick, but he doesn’t have the upside to do much more than he did in 2010. His stolen base numbers have regressed for three straight seasons.
Mark Teixeira – I believe that Tex’s AVG will bounce back a bit in 2011 and the HR/R/RBI numbers should continue to thrive in that ballpark with that lineup around him.