1. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees)
2. Evan Longoria (Rays)
3. Pablo Sandoval (Giants) [also eligible at 1B in most leagues]
4. Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals)
5. David Wright (Mets)
I was reading Athlon Sports fantasy preview the other day and was deeply surprise to find that they ranked A-Rod 26th overall and fourth among third-basemen. Although I would agree that A-Rod is no longer a consensus #1 pick, as he has been for most of the last decade, I think passing on him in favor of guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Dustin Pedroia, and Mark Texeira might be a premature estimation of his demise. Do you think Mark Texeira would even draft himself in front of the guy who protects him in the order?!? I doubt it.
That said, it's pretty easy to see the top five here as interchangeable. Each of them offers a modest risk. A-Rod has that amazing "self-healing" hip thing. David Wright plays his home games on a Par 5. Kung Fu Panda and Z-Pack have yet to prove they can produce at an elite level two years in a row. And, Evan Longoria, well, actually, I'm having a hard time finding the chink in Longoria's armor.
6. Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox) [also eligible at 1B]
7. Aramis Ramirez (Cubs)
8. Mark Reynolds (D-Backs) [also eligible at 1B in most leagues]
9. Chone Figgins (Mariners)
Get while the getting is good, because after these top two tiers, the position gets really shallow really fast. Believe me, you don't want to get stuck with Jorge Cantu as one of your top corner infield options.
One could probably argue that Youkilis and Ramirez belong in the top tier and I'd be perfectly satisfied drafting either of them, but they are also both coming off injury shortened campaigns, which is why I rated them slightly lower. Reynolds and Figgins are elite one-category producers (for Reynolds it's power, for Figgins it's speed), who offer solid production in other areas as well. Reynolds can be a bit of a drag on your batting average in a roto league and in points leagues that register deductions for strikeouts, but he is also one of the game's few 30/30 threats.
10. Adrian Beltre (Red Sox)
11. Miguel Tejada (Orioles) [also eligible at SS]
12. Michael Young (Rangers)
13. Jorge Cantu (Marlins) [also eligible at 1B in most leagues]
14. Chipper Jones (Braves)
Some will be mighty surprised that Chipper doesn't even make my top ten, and I am in no way denying his ability to provide excellent production...when he's on the field. But in this year particularly, when there are not a lot of quality three-baggers available late in the draft or on the waiver wire, I'm not comfortable having a #1 guy who's guaranteed to spend at least a couple weeks on the DL, and maybe much more. Chipper has made as many as 140 starts since 2003. I love the risk/reward ration if you can get him as a backup/utility option, but not as a #1.
I'm probably unusually high on Beltre. His recent seasons certainly haven't been superior to many of the guys I've ranked below him, but I like the fact that he's moving away from the spacious Safeco Field and into a lineup which will provide him with a lot more run-producing opportunities. This could be the year he finally has another 30 HR, 100 RBI season.
15. Alex Gordon (Royals)
16. Gordon Beckham (White Sox) [will be eligible at 2B early in the season]
17. Andy LaRoche (Pirates)
18. Jake Fox (Athletics)
Grasping at straws! So soon! There are a full four tiers of risky young players in this preview, because several teams don't have clear starters and may even be flirting with platoons (otherwise known as "fantasy kryptonite"). These are the youngsters I'm highest on, each of whom is likely to have a full-time gig...if they stay healthy and play well.
19. Scott Rolen (Reds)
20. Troy Glaus (Braves) [will be eligible at 1B early in the season]
21. Mike Lowell (Red Sox?)
22. Jhonny Peralta (Indians) [also eligible at SS in most leagues]
23. Casey Blake (Dodgers)
24. Brandon Inge (Tigers)
Hopefully, by the time you get around to drafting a Scott Rolen or a Jhonny Peralta, you already have a least one premium option in front of him. These guys are decent investments in very deep leagues or as insurance against injuries, but they offer very little upside and all (with the exception of Blake and Peralta) are serious health risks themselves.
Mike Lowell is currently in limbo and his ranking may be dramatically effected by what happens between now and Opening Day. If he proves his health during Spring Training and the Red Sox succeed at trading him someplace where he'll be a full-time starter (at DH, cross your fingers) than he probably jumps into the top fifteen. If he doesn't have a strong start to the season or the Red Sox choose to hang onto him as a utilityman (which would be, I think, the right baseball decision), than he falls into the forties.
25. Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays)
26. Ian Stewart (Rockies) [also eligible at 1B and 2B in many leagues]
27. Chris Davis (Rangers) [also eligible at 1B in most leagues]
28. Kevin Kouzmanoff (Athletics)
29. Brandon Wood (Angels)
The second tier of youngsters. All of these players have the inside track to start, but their leashes will not be particularly long. The Blue Jays have Jose Bautista and Brett Wallace. The Rockies have Melvin Mora. The Rangers have Justin Smoak. The A's have Eric Patterson, Adam Rosales, and, if he's every healthy enough, Eric Chavez. And the Angels have Maicer Izturis and Freddy Sandoval. So, even when the season begins, they'll be candidates from frequent "rest."
To make the situation more auspicious, every one of these guys, though possessing plenty of upside, has been susceptible to the extended cold streak. If that happens this year, you can bet they won't stay in the everyday lineup.
30. Hank Blalock (?)
31. Mark DeRosa (Giants) [also eligible at OF in many leagues]
32. Joe Crede (?)
33. Mark Teahen (White Sox) [also eligible at 1B and 2B in many leagues]
34. Pedro Feliz (Astros)
Mark DeRosa's versatility was a boon for fantasy owners as much as his actual managers. Especially in head-to-head leagues, DeRosa made an excellent backup, who could be inserted at any number of positions when player got hurt or the match-ups weren't favorable. However, last season he only played two games at 2B, only ten games at 1B, and only 28 games in the outfield, so in many leagues he lost at least part of his eligibility. That, combined with inhospitable move to San Francisco, make DeRosa a less tempting investment than in years past.
Hank Blalock and Joe Crede are very similar players. They are both solid hitters when they're in the lineup, providing strong power numbers particularly, but both have struggled with balky backs for several seasons running and, as a result, both are still looking for work. If either lands a job where he would at least have a shot a starting (candidates might include Minnesota, St. Louis, Chicago (AL), and Florida) than he might make a good late-round flyer in a deep league. More likely, however, they are destined to accept a Spring Training invitation and start the season on somebody's bench, making them nothing better than an addition to your waiver wire watchlist
35. Josh Fields (Royals)
36. Garrett Atkins (Orioles) [also eligible at 1B in many leagues]
37. Casey McGehee (Brewers) [also eligible at 2B in many leagues]
38. Chase Headley (Padres) [also eligible at OF]
39. David Freese (Cardinals)
Again, these guys benefit primarily from having the inside track on a starting position early in the year. I have reason to doubt that any or all of them will be able to stay in the lineup everyday, but in deep leagues, these are guys you'll need to jump on at the tail end of the draft or with a $1 flyer.
40. Matt Gamel (Brewers)
41. Brett Wallace (Blue Jays)
42. Pedro Alvarez (Pirates)
43. Josh Bell (Orioles)
These are your top prospects. Wallace and Gamel might make the Opening Day roster, but probably not the Opening Day lineup. I expect all will be in the bigs for good by Augusts. In keeper leagues, you may need to make room for them on Draft Day. Alvarez, especially, is a high-ceiling talent. He murdered AA for the second half of '09 (1009 OPS). If he continues at that pace, he'll be in Pittsburgh sometime in May (remember Evan Longoria's rookie year). Even if Andy LaRoche also develops nicely, the Pirates could move one of them to first.
44. Chad Tracy (Cubs)
45. Ty Wigginton (Orioles) [also eligible at 1B in many leagues]
46. Melvin Mora (Rockies)
Don't bother drafting these guys, but put them on your watchlist. They are part-time players with modest upside who are likely to get a chance at starting sometime this season, if the players currently in front of them underperform or succumb to injury. In Tracy's case, I am anticipating that the Cubs will also look to get him some starts in the outfield.