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Reality Check: The first two rounds of 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Enough with the charade.

By now, you pretty much know if you're in or you're out. The trade deadline has passed, the waiver wire is picked clean and your team is more or less on cruise control.

Which makes now the perfect time to shift gears to next season.

The draft -- you know you've wondered about it. How different will it be? What changes should you make to your approach? Why do you have to wait so long to find out these things?

Well, wonder no more. Over the next few weeks, I'll give you a sneak peak at next year's rankings. Keep in mind these rankings aren't meant to reflect just my own personal preferences but also public perception. If I think Edwin Encarnacion is the best player on earth but no one else does, he obviously shouldn't rank first overall. (Just an example. I don't actually think Encarnacion is the best player on earth.) Also, keep in mind these rankings are subject to change with the developments yet to unfold over the next month and beyond. They're meant as a sneak peak, not the final authority.

We'll begin with the beginning -- that is, the first two rounds.

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Projected first round for 2013:
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
3. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
4. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
5. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
6. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
7. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
8. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
9. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
10. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
11. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers
12. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays

I know where your eyes went right away: Mike Trout. And you probably didn't like what you saw. Third? How could he not be first!? He's been far and away the best hitter in Fantasy since his arrival in late April, outscoring Cabrera on a per-game basis by more Head-to-Head points than Cabrera has outscored Adrian Beltre.

Relax. Only on planet kneejerk would ranking a 21-year-old sophomore ahead of first-round mainstays like Pujols, Cano and Votto be considered disrespectful. Trout is no doubt a stud, and you could certainly make the case for him to go first overall. But with my first-round pick (particularly a high first-round pick), I want safe more than anything else. And as we've seen from stud rookies like Eric Hosmer and Jason Heyward over the last couple years, the league often adjusts to second-year players before they're able to adjust back.

Now, I know Heyward's and Hosmer's rookie seasons, as impressive as they were, weren't on the level of Trout's. I also know Trout maintained an other-worldly batting average every step up the minor-league ladder. He's different. I get it. Am I expecting him to take a significant step back next year? No, I'm not. But wouldn't you want to safeguard against the possibility by opting for one of the two most reliable studs in Fantasy, especially when their best is still better than what anyone other than Trout could offer? Maybe it's just me.

So what else stands out here? Probably that Tulowitzki, despite my sincerest efforts to hype him as a potential first overall pick each of the last two years, barely cracks the top 10. That's right: I'm no longer a slave to position scarcity. It has more to do with the changing landscape of the shortstop position than a philosophical revelation. With the emergence of players like Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Desmond and Alcides Escobar, not to mention the newfound eligibility for Ben Zobrist, the gap between the top two tiers at the position is no longer as extreme. And now that Tulowitzki is a definite injury risk, having spent significant time on the DL each of the last three years, the reach is that much harder to justify.

With any assessment of the first round, the pessimist in all of us can't help but pick out the worst place to draft -- the point where you'd essentially be getting a second-rounder with your first-round pick. I detect slight drop-offs after the third pick, the seventh pick and the ninth pick, but I think the pick I'd least want is No. 11. I still wouldn't mind building my team around the best shortstop in baseball, even if he's less of a sure thing these days, but if I had to start with a pitcher, knowing how plentiful aces are these days, I'd feel like I was playing catch-up all draft long.

I suppose I should touch on the last of the three Tigers before moving on to the next round. Fielder hasn't had a career season or anything, so why is he projected to go higher than ever before? Simple: Good hitters are hard to find, and they're becoming increasingly hard to find in the post-steroid era. Fielder may not outclass his position every year, like Cabrera and Cano tend to do, but his numbers are always stud-worthy. And considering he's in the thick of his prime at age 28, they figure to stay that way. By comparison, imagine all that could go wrong for any of the hitters listed here ...

Projected second round for 2013:
13. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
14. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers
15. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
16. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
17. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
18. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
19. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
20. David Wright, 3B, Mets
21. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
22. Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS, Dodgers
23. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
24. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays

Among all the players listed in these two rounds, Kinsler and Pedroia are the two most likely to strike you as overvalued. That's where position scarcity comes into play. Second base may very well surpass shortstop as the weakest position in Fantasy next year, if it hasn't already, which is why I ranked Cano ahead of Votto in the first round. With Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla continuing to decline and Ben Zobrist likely to be drafted as a shortstop, Cano, Kinsler and Pedroia are head and shoulders above the rest at the position. Cano is the most obvious of the three because he's a standout performer in two categories, but the across-the-board production of Kinsler and Pedroia makes up more ground than you think. In standard points leagues, Kinsler has actually outperformed Cano this year -- which, if anything, makes him a bit undervalued.

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As you can see, Kershaw and Hernandez are the only other pitchers included in my first two rounds, which may not be the way your actual draft goes. But ask yourself: Who would be the fourth guy? David Price? He's a great pitcher who's had a great year, but judging from his peripherals, he hasn't definitively distinguished himself from the Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner and Jered Weaver types. He's had the best numbers of the four this year, but if it's a toss-up who'll have the best next year, why reach for one?

Encarnacion is perhaps the most interesting name here, and I'll admit I didn't think I could justify ranking him in the second round. Don't get me wrong: I think his 2012 performance is completely legitimate, but I suspected the majority of Fantasy owners would be too skeptical of it to draft him so early. They still may be, but when I took the time to measure his numbers against everyone else's, I discovered that, on a per-game basis, the only hitters to outscore him so far this year are the top three: Cabrera, Braun and Trout. Knowing that, I don't see how I could justify ranking him lower than 24th overall.

I feel like Posey has provided so much at a weak position this year -- and with the pedigree to back it up -- that I have to rank him as high as I have, but I can tell you right now I won't be the one drafting him there. I learned my lesson with Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Mike Napoli and Alex Avila this year. Too much can go wrong for a catcher. It's the most physically demanding position on the diamond, which increases the risk of injury. A major one puts him on the DL for weeks at a time. A minor one limits his production for weeks at a time. Either way, the loss might be more than your team can survive.

Likewise, Ramirez is a player I'll probably avoid. I don't think the numbers he's put up this year are the best he can do, which is an exciting thought at a weak position like shortstop, but he -- like Jose Reyes, who was just off this list -- has a history of injury and inconsistency. I'm not saying I'd reach for players like Evan Longoria, Jason Heyward and Adrian Gonzalez over him, but I'd hope I'm not the one who has to make that decision.

Notable omissions (other than those already mentioned):

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals: Yes, we all know how talented he is, but if the Nationals stop him short of 175 innings this year, who's to say they won't stop him short of 200 next year? Until they're ready to turn him loose, he's not ready to be a Fantasy ace. Frankly, Chris Sale, who has outscored both Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw on a per-game basis this year, is a better candidate for the second round -- and he's a stretch himself.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: Three straight years of subpar batting averages pretty much tells you everything you need to know. At age 33 next year, Teixeira isn't likely to reverse course, and as things stand now, he's a worse contributor on a per-game basis than up-and-comer Freddie Freeman.

R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets: He's been by far the highest-scoring pitcher in Fantasy this year, but if drafting Edwin Encarnacion is scary, what about a 37-year-old whose success depends on a gimmick pitch? I believe in Dickey, but more to the tune of a fifth-round pick.

Joe Mauer, C, Twins: Even though his power numbers aren't as impressive, Mauer's Fantasy production has been about the same as Buster Posey's this year, and he may actually be the safer option given the Twins' growing hesitance to start him at catcher. Still, we know who Mauer is by now. Posey, on the other hand, might have room to improve.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals: You may have seen the Matt Holliday comparisons this year, but you probably haven't taken them as seriously as you should. On a per-game basis, Craig's production this year is actually closer to Joey Votto's. Yeah, really. I'll be especially curious to see how high he goes in next year's drafts. I have a feeling it won't be high enough.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Nationals taking a cautious approach with Nate McLouth
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) Nationals manager Matt Williams said Thursday the team will take a cautious approach with outfielder Nate McLouth, who has started a throwing program coming off shoulder surgery in August.

"If we were to say at the end of this week that we're going to play a game and Nate was going to go two innings, we probably wouldn't do that at this point because he has got to go through that progression," Williams said, per MASNsports.com. "What that timeframe depends on is how he feels. You can look at the big picture and say well, you need X amount of rehab for this particular surgery. Everybody is different, of course. But we want to make sure that when he's ready to play, he's ready, because we don't want a setback.

"That being said, he's going through the progression of all of his throwing, he's hitting right now. He doesn't have an issue with that. It's going to get sore, we know it. So there's going to be days where he's going to have to just shut it down for that particular day. Which is frustrating because you want to play. We'll get through spring training with him and kind of monitor him on an everyday basis to see where he is at and act accordingly."


Red Sox's Betts focused on preparing for season, not OF competition
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Mookie Betts knows he will have to put his best foot forward this spring in order to land a starting spot in the Red Sox's outfield. Betts, however, is not trying to think as much about the competition and rather focus on what he needs to do to prepare for the 2015 season.

“I feel as if I’m just getting ready for the season,” Betts told WEEI.com. “Whether it’s in the big leagues, Triple-A, Double-A, wherever it is, I’m just getting ready for the season and not really focusing so much on making the big-league team, just really just getting ready."

If Betts doesn't win a starting job in the outfield, then he could be a bench option for Boston instead of heading back to the minors.

“Whatever [manager John] Farrell and [general manager Ben] Cherington, whatever they do is what’s going to be best for the Red Sox,” Betts said. “And if that’s me sitting and watching, that’s perfectly fine and I’ll just fill into my role.”


Red Sox's Mujica reveals neck injury played part in 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Red Sox reliever Edward Mujica got off to a rocky start in 2014, posting a 6.41 ERA through the first two months of the season. He eventually settled down, posting a 2.68 ERA and seven saves over the final four months.

On Friday, Mujica revealed a neck injury played a part in his early season struggles. Mujica was diagnosed with his C1 vertebrae being out of place when he signed with the Red Sox and added the issue didn't clear up until midway through the 2014 season.

“My neck was bothering me when I got here, I got treatment and in spring training I felt good because of the weather,” Mujica said, per WEEI.com. “But then I felt sore in the neck because of the cold weather. I was also adjusting to the American League, all the teams have pretty good hitters 1-9. I just kept working every single day, watching videos, got that [physical] adjustment and got going in the second half.

“The C1 was a little moved out of place, but they put it in the right place in spring training to get through the season. With treatment every single day it helped me a lot after the first two months.”


Cardinals' Adam Wainwright targeting 2-3 weeks for spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:12 am ET) Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright is targeting 2-3 weeks before he is able to pitch in a spring game, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright was diagnosed with an abdominal strain Thursday after heading back to St. Louis for further evaluation.

Wainwright will have 4-5 days of light activity before he can gradually increase his workouts. He will be re-evaluated Monday before the Cardinals decide if he can rejoin the starters’ throwing program.

“The good thing is it doesn’t hurt so I can continue to throw off the mound and face hitters,” Wainwright said. “I can throw live BP and just won’t field my position.”

With his current timetable and barring setback, Wainwright could make four starts during spring training. 

“Everybody was saying that you need to scale back your innings in spring training,” Wainwright said. “God just naturally found a way to make that happen without ticking me off. ‘OK, Adam, you don’t want to have time off? I’ll make you take time off.’”


Report: Bartolo Colon in the running to start opening day for Mets
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(9:55 am ET) The Mets are strongly considering veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon for the opening day start April 6 at Washington, multiple sources told ESPN. The sources added the Mets have narrowed the choices to Colon and one other pitcher, who was not named.

If Colon, who went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA in 2014, gets the nod, then he would become the oldest pitcher (41 years, 317 days old) to start on opening day in the majors since Jamie Moyer (43 years, 136 days) and Randy Johnson (42 years, 205 days) in 2006. He also would become the oldest Mets' opening day starter, surpassing Tom Glavine in 2007 (41 years, 7 days). 

Colon has started six times on opening day. Dillon Gee started on opening day for the Mets last season.


Rays' Archer changes offseason program, already seeing benefits
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:45 am ET) Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer has spent the early days of spring training picking the brain of manager Kevin Cash about how Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber transformed into the 2014 AL Cy Young winner, according to The Tampa Tribune. Before taking the job with the Rays, Cash was the Indians bullpen coach (2013-14).

“Kluber has always had stuff, he just hasn’t had the success on that level,” Archer said. “And I’m trying to apply those things, because he saw it firsthand.”

Thus far, Cash has raved about Archer's bullpen sessions and said Archer appears to be game-ready. Archer believes the change in his offseason program is contributing to his promising start to spring training.

“In September, I had success but the body was tired, so I paced myself better in the offseason and I feel really good now,” Archer said. “I would just cycle it a little better to pace myself, because I’m thinking those (less intense) weeks in the offseason are going to help me feel better on the back end (of this season).

“I got to pump the brakes a little bit, because I don’t want to overdo it right now. Because what good is February and March? I’m trying to be good April through October.”


Ernesto Frieri hoping Rays pitching coach can revive career
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:32 am ET) Rays reliever Ernesto Frieri said one of the reasons he signed with Tampa Bay was for the opportunity to work with pitching coach Jim Hickey, per The Tampa Tribune.

“That’s why I’m here,” Frieri said. “I’ve seen Hickey, he’s the man. He knows what he’s doing. He fixed a couple of guys before, and I hope I’m not the exception. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the right information and I’m going to take advantage.”

The 29-year-old Frieri had a good run as the Angels closer in 2012 and 2013 before the wheels came off in 2014. He lost the closer's job with Los Angeles and was eventually traded to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, he was only there a few months before more struggles led to his release.

Frieri said his 2014 struggles were because he developed bad habits. Instead of getting quicker to the plate, he was taller in his delivery, which robbed him of the deception, and caused his fastball to flatten out. The results were a 6.39 ERA with the Angels and a 10.13 ERA with the Pirates.

"(Fernando Rodney was) decent before he got here, but when he got here, wow, he got amazing,” Frieri said. “Hickey said something to him that really worked for him. Hopefully he says something to me that really works for me.”

Thus far, Frieri appears to be the ideal student.

“He seems to be extremely eager to hear what we have to say,” Hickey said. “You never know (how it will turn out), but at least it demonstrated his willingness to be open and try things.”


Report: Angels' Hamilton likely to receive suspension
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(2:05 am ET) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will likely be suspended for at least 25 games, according to FoxSports.com.

Hamilton met with Major League Baseball on Wednesday for a disciplinary hearing. CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman reported that Hamilton experienced a drug relapse a few months ago, and confessed that relapse to MLB. 

This is technically Hamilton's second violation as a major-leaguer. Hamilton was on the Rays 40-man roster during his first suspension, making him a major-league player. Typically, players who violate their drug treatment program for the first time are subject to a 15-25 game suspension. Given that this is Hamilton's second violation of his drug treatment program, it's unclear how severe the punishment will be.

With that said, commissioner Rob Manfred is reportedly trying to be lenient with any punishment. The league has a "favorable view of Hamilton's efforts to remain sober." Since his return to the majors, Hamilton has spoken honestly about his struggles with addition.

On top of that, Manfred is concerned about making the punishment too harsh. Hamilton's past relaspes have come when he's been away from the game. Manfred reportedly is not close to making a final decision on Hamilton's punishment at this time. 

Hamilton was already expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a shoulder surgery. It's unclear how much longer he'll be out due to a suspension.


Angels, Huston Street haven't talked extension yet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) The Angels and closer Huston Street have not talked about an extension yet, according to MLB.com.

Both sides are reportedly interested in a deal, but Street wanted to wait a week in order to settle in to camp. Once that happens, the two sides are expected to start negotiating a new deal. Street is entering the final year of his contract, and will make $7 million in 2015.

Street, 31, posted a 1.37 ERA over 59 1/3 innings last year.


Phillies' Ryan Howard working on his swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is working on his swing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Howard has spent time working with Charlie Manuel during camp. Manuel was brought in as spring training hitting instructor. Manager Ryan Sandberg has noticed the change in Howard's approach already. "As far as making some adjustments there, to really zone in to something that can really be productive for him and a little bit more consistent," Sandberg said. "I think there has been a little tweaking going on there."

Howard apparently has looked different at the plate. His stance has been described as "looser" and his hands are much lower when he starts his swing. 

The 35-year-old hit .223/.310/.380 over 569 at-bats last year. 


 
 
 
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