The fantasy baseball draft season is officially underway and, as is usually the case, there are few elite players about whom opinions are dramatically split. Here are my thoughts alongside roto projection from four of the more popular outlets: Bill James, ESPN, CBS Sportsline, and Rotoworld.
David Wright - New York Mets - Third Base
Wright has been a consensus first-rounder in each of the last three seasons, but his 10 HR last year in the inaugural season at Citi Field has a number of fantasy pundits shying away. Others see it as perhaps your last opportunity to roster Wright on the cheap during his prime years (Wright is that magical age of 27).
2009: .307, 88 R, 10 HR, 88 RBI, 27 SB
BJAM: .302, 100 R, 23 HR, 99 RBI, 24 SB
ESPN: .304, 104 R, 21 HR, 97 RBI, 25 SB
CBSS: .300, 90 R, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 24 SB
ROTO: .310, 105 R, 28, 102 RBI, 24 SB
All four projections agree that Wright's power bounces back at least to the 20 HR plateau, but most see him nowhere close to the 30+ he hit in '07 and '08 at Shea. Yesterday, Nate Ravitz was arguing that Wright was still a good pick at the end of the first round, ahead of Miguel Cabrera, thanks in part to lack of depth at third base this season, but I don't see it. Cabrera trounces him in at least three of the five categories and Wright's obvious superiority in stolen bases doesn't make up for the outside chance he again falls short of 20 HR and 100 RBI. I've said it before and I'll say it again. In the first round, I want stat-hounds, guys that fill up the scorebook every single year, no matter where they play. I won't reach for Wright until late in the second round.
Justin Morneau - Minnesota Twins - First Base
Morneau's season ended early in 2009 as he suffered from some severe back pain, then had to have a bone chip removed from his wrist. Of course, wrist surgeries can be hell on hitters (see D-Lee, Big Papi, etc.), but this procedure was relatively minor. No reconstruction. No torn tendons. No pins. Before Morneau went down, he was on pace to once again be an MVP candidate, with 30 HR and 100 RBI in just 135 games.
2009: .274, 85 R, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 0 SB
BJAM: .282, 91 R, 31 HR, 115 RBI, 0 SB
ESPN: .278, 88 R, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 0 SB
CBSS: .299, 91 R, 30 HR, 117 RBI, 1 SB
ROTO: .286, 88 R, 31 HR, 114 RBI, 1 SB
Despite his problems, Morneau still netted his fourth consecutive 100 RBI season and he probably would've stolen a couple MVP votes if he'd stayed healthy to the end. Everything I've read suggests that Morneau is feeling fit this spring and has agreed to take a few more days off in order to keep his back problems from re-surfacing (thank goodness the Twins will finally be playing on real grass). I understand worrying about a power-hitter with Morneau's particular injuries, but in BLOGZKRIEG! he was the 10th most expensive first-baseman, a full $20 behind Prince Fielder. If he's going for under $25 in your standard league, you've got to make that play. In a draft, he should be one of the first 25 players off the table.
Jose Reyes - New York Mets - Shortstop
News of Jose Reyes' thyroid condition should factor into owners' concerns nearly as much as health of his hamstrings, which cost him almost the entirety of 2009. Reyes is, of course, a fantasy monster when healthy, but he hasn't yet taken the field in Spring Training, his health remains a major question mark.
2009: .279, 18 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 11 SB
BJAM: .285, 113 R, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 57 SB
ESPN: .283, 93 R, 11 HR, 54 RBI, 47 SB
CBSS: .284, 100 R, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 45 SB
ROTO: .289, 110 R, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 44 SB
All I see in those projections is the stolen bases. From '05 through '08 Reyes averaged 65 stolen bases a season. He could single-handedly dominate a category. As such, his value is intrinsically tied to his speed, which might be significantly jeopardized. If he's no longer good for 50+ SB, even if he ups his other numbers a little, he's not a top 25 player. If Reyes is still on the table in the third or fourth round, or for less than $25, he's probably a decent pick, but even then there is risk involved.
Jimmy Rollins - Philadelphia Phillies - Shortstop
Unlike Reyes, Rollins had no problem staying on the field last season, but he had serious problems getting on base (.296 OBP), which of course effected his statistics across the board. Several have suggested it was the beginning of J-Roll's precipitous decline.
2009: .250, 100 R, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 31 SB
BJAM: .271, 104 R, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 33 SB
ESPN: .273, 103 R, 19 HR, 79 RBI, 32 SB
CBSS: .274, 100 R, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 33 SB
ROTO: .271, 110 R, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 34 SB
The projections are very similar to Reyes, right? The difference is that while the projections for Reyes are optimistic and assume that he's healthy, the projections for Rollins are more like a baseline. It takes only a modest improvement in batting average and OBP for Rollins to easily surmount those numbers. I don't think that's going to be a problem. Rollins '09 numbers are heavily influenced by a first-half slump. From July 1 on he went .285-59-15-50-21. Project those numbers over a full season and Rollins is once again on a lot of MVP ballot (though maybe not at the top). J-Roll is only 30, still in the middle of his prime, so I think he's got at least a couple more big seasons in him. A second rounder (or $25-$30 at auction) with confidence.
Jacoby Ellsbury - Boston Red Sox - Outfield
Ellsbury is entering his third full season coming off his second consecutive year of pacing the American League in stolen bases. He's only 26-years-old and in '09 he improve upon his rookie year in almost every major indicator. In AL-only leagues and deep leagues (15+ teams) he's frequently taken in the first round, with the assumption that we haven't yet seen the limits of his skills.
2009: .301, 94 R, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 70 SB
BJAM: .302, 106 R, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 64 SB
ESPN: .296, 92 R, 7 HR, 58 RBI, 62 SB
CBSS: .285, 95 R, 8 HR, 47 RBI, 54 SB
ROTO: .296, 106 R, 11 HR, 60 RBI, 57 SB
As you can see, these are the most disparate of any of the projections we've looked at. The thing I keep asking about Ellsbury is, "How is it that a guy hitting atop the Red Sox lineup, getting 700 plate appearances a year, hasn't scored 100 runs yet?" Ellsbury's walk rate is a little worrisome, especially against right-handed pitching. More worrisome for potential fantasy owners is the fact that Ellsbury faces competition for both the leadoff spot (Marco Scutaro) and his position (Mike Cameron, Jeremy Hermida). Obviously, Ellsbury will still be on the field the majority of the time, but he could very realistically lose 75-100 AB this season. An outfield rotation makes the Red Sox a better team. It doesn't bode well for roto stats. I think Ellsbury remains good for 90 R and around 60 SB, which makes him a solid second or third round selection, but I won't reach into Carl Crawford territory until he shows a little more power, or the ability to hit .315.