Today’s first round analysis is not a question as to if these players belong in the first round or not. We all know they do. The question is who should be taken first overall. If Ryan Braun were not facing a 50 game suspension he would likely be involved in the discussion as well, but with that looming large he is easily bypassed at this point.
To me the first spot comes down to three players in Albert Pujols, Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista. You can argue that Miguel Cabrera deserves to be mentioned as well, but since he is lower on my draft board than Pujols it eliminates him from the discussion. If I am going to take a first baseman in the top spot, it is going to be Pujols without question.
So, with it being a three man race, let’s take a look at each player and try to determine who belongs in the top overall spot this season:
Albert Pujols – First Baseman – Los Angeles Angels
The case for him – We all know that he has been the premier hitter in the game since his Major League debut in 2001. Despite missing time in 2011 Pujols just fractionally missed an eleventh straight season of .300/30/100 as he hit .299 with 37 HR and 99 RBI. His prior low in the average department was .312. He only once has fallen short of 100 runs scored (99 in ’07). Since 2002 he has hit fewer than 37 HR once (32 in ’07) and has hit at least 40 HR six times. In other words there is no other player in the league that offers his elite bat and consistency.
The case against him – He is a first baseman, which is one of the biggest negative obstacles he has to overcome. Playing arguably the deepest position in the game, you can easily pass over Pujols and get a 1B who can produce solid numbers at the end of the second round. Mark Teixeira would be a very realistic target in the second/third round. How about Eric Hosmer and Freddie Freeman a few rounds later? You also have the question about his age, though having not slowed down yet it is hard to hold that one against him.
Matt Kemp – Outfielder – Los Angeles Dodgers
The case for him – He showed in 2011 that he has the potential to be among the elite sluggers in the game by coming within a hair of the elusive 40/40 plateau (39 HR/40 SB). Considering that there have been just four players to accomplish the feat, it puts him in exclusive company. Throw in a .324 average and Kemp’s talk of becoming the first 50/50 player and there is an awful lot to like. The fact that he is the only candidate who brings both power and speed is a big boost to his candidacy.
The case against him – It was a huge season, but do we really believe that he is going to be able to replicate it? First of all he had never shown that type of power before, yet he posted a 21.4% HR/FB rate. Can he match that type of potential? He has been improving year after year, but the sixth best HR/FB in the league? It’s not a stretch to see his power fall slightly. Throw in the fact that his average came courtesy of a .380 BABIP, and thus an overall regression is possible. Let’s also not forget that in 2010 he hit just .249 with 28 HR and 19 SB. Of the three players we are talking about he brings the most question marks. At the top spot, do we really want a question mark or more of a sure thing?
Jose Bautista – Third Baseman/Outfielder – Toronto Blue Jays
The case for him – He has become the premier slugger. After many thought he couldn’t replicate his 2010 success, but he followed it up with 43 HR and a .302 average. His 97 HR over the past two seasons leads the league by far (Albert Pujols is second with 79). Before we doubt his improved average, remember that his 2010 struggles (.260 average) came courtesy of a .233 BABIP. Last season’s .309 mark is far more realistic, giving him the potential to hit over .300 and lead the league in home runs. With third base eligibility, which we all know is one of the shallowest in fantasy sports, it just adds to his appeal.
The case against him – The biggest knock against him is his lack of speed and maybe that he doesn’t have a long-term history of success. However, with his past two years how can anyone still doubt his abilities?
For me, while Kemp is definitely a Top 3 option in fantasy drafts there is a little too much risk involved in selecting him with the top spot. It’s hard to simply forget his 2010 campaign and there are a few red flags that indicate a regression is likely. If his average and power are both going to fall, would he still be a candidate for the top spot? He’ll still post elite numbers, but I would prefer to own either of the other two at this point.
Deciding between Pujols and Bautista is a little bit tougher. The fact that a Mark Teixeira like player could be available with my second selection does make you think. If you miss out on Bautista can you expect to get an elite 3B next time around? Evan Longoria, David Wright & Adrian Beltre could be off the board, leaving Ryan Zimmerman as the potentially next best option. While he has the potential, is there a guarantee that he can stay healthy for an entire season?
The idea of having Bautista/Teixeira is alluring, but the consistency and upside of Pujols is way too much to pass up in my mind. His floor is probably his 2011 production and is anyone going to complain with a top pick that hits .300 with 37 HR, 100 R and 100 RBI? Considering he could easily go .320 with 40+ HR, 110+ R and 120+ RBI and wouldn’t think so. The upside is just way too high and he gives you too big of an advantage over the rest of the field.
While it is tough to bypass Bautista due to the position eligibility, getting a Pablo Sandoval or Brett Lawrie a few rounds later definitely won’t hurt you.
For me it is Pujols, Bautista and Kemp in that order. What about you? If you had the top selection who would you take? Why?
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Make sure to check out our other 2012 first round analysis: