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2013 Draft Prep: Position player tiers

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We might call the game "Fantasy," but at least when it comes to drafts, it resembles real life in an important way. No matter how much you prepare, strategize and try to control your destiny, your best-laid plans are likely to become obsolete in short order.

That's because drafts take on a life of their own. An unexpected catcher run or a flurry of prospect picks can wreak havoc with your master plan, and you'll have to adjust on the fly. That's where tiers come in handy. While you may generally prefer to draft a third baseman before a shortstop, if the current highest tier of available shortstops is growing thin while the corresponding tier of third basemen is well populated, it may be time to switch things up and grab a shortstop. Every pick is about tradeoffs, and tiers cluster players together with similar value while marking the spots where there is a relative dropoff. They give Fantasy owners a shortcut for weighing the tradeoff involved with each potential drafting dilemma.

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Below are the tiers for position players I will be using in drafts this year. I have included projected starters who will have relevance outside of the deepest of leagues (except for outfield, which excludes even more deeper-league options) as well as any others whom I have given an auction value for standard mixed leagues. If a player does not appear in these tiers, it means that he is strictly an option for your deeper mixed, AL-only and NL-only drafts.

While the composition of the tiers is based on players' overall projected performance for Rotisserie and Head-to-Head leagues, I will highlight certain statistical trends for some players, with an emphasis on strikeout rates. These rates, more than indicators of power or batted ball tendencies, tend to be very stable from year to year, so getting hitters who excel in making contact and getting on base may have a leg up on their tier cohorts.

Of course, pitcher tiers need to be considered alongside those of the hitters, and those will be addressed separately in an upcoming column. Now, though, I'm stepping up to the plate with tiers for catchers, infielders and outfielders.

Note about players with multiple position eligibility: Players are listed at each position at which they are eligible to play in standard formats, but their ranking and tier is based on their value at the listed position. For example, Buster Posey is a first-tier catcher, but if you intend to use him as a first baseman, he has fourth-tier value, in part because he is likely to get fewer at-bats than many regular first basemen.

Catchers

Overview: The dropoff from the top three catchers to the rest of the field could be substantial, but Matt Wieters could be a nice consolation prize if you miss out on the first tier. He may have already reached his peak in terms of power, but there is room for batting average improvement, assuming he can rebound from last season's strikeout spike. Wilin Rosario's power makes him an enticing option in the third tier, at least for Rotisserie formats, but his low walk rate makes him a low-end option in standard Head-to-Head leagues. In two-catcher leagues, consider holding out for John Jaso. He should be available in the late rounds, despite the fact that he has posted consistently excellent BB/K rates and has been increasing his power.
First tier: Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer
Second tier: Matt Wieters, Yadier Molina
Viable first catchers: Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero, Jesus Montero, Ryan Doumit, Jonathan Lucroy, Wilin Rosario, Alex Avila, Salvador Perez, Brian McCann
Second catchers: A.J. Pierzynski, Russell Martin, John Jaso, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Ellis, Chris Iannetta, Carlos Ruiz, Kurt Suzuki, J.P. Arencibia, Tyler Flowers
For deeper leagues only: Rob Brantly, Jason Castro, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Hanigan, Travis d'Arnaud, Welington Castillo, John Buck, Nick Hundley, Chris Stewart

First basemen

Overview: Prince Fielder's flyball rate has been gradually sagging over the last three years, so he's a poor bet to equal the production of Albert Pujols or Joey Votto. However, with favorable walk and strikeout rates, he will be closer to keeping pace with them in Head-to-Head leagues. Is Billy Butler someone to hold out for in the second tier, or someone to avoid by targeting Allen Craig? It all depends on whether you buy the more-than-doubling of his home run-to-flyball ratio on the road last year. My skepticism has landed him in the third tier. If you do miss the first two tiers, set your sights on Freddie Freeman. His minor league numbers suggest that he can improve his contact skills, and a likely BABIP rebound (from .302) will add even more points to his batting average.
First tier: Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder
Second tier: Adrian Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Teixeira, Allen Craig
Third tier: Billy Butler, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt
Fourth tier: Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, Justin Morneau, Nick Swisher, Ike Davis, Mark Trumbo, Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso, Joe Mauer, Corey Hart
Last call for standard mixed leagues: Michael Cuddyer, Adam LaRoche, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Ryan Howard, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Kendrys Morales, Todd Frazier, Mike Napoli
For deeper leagues only: Logan Morrison, Brandon Moss, Brandon Belt, Chris Carter, Adam Lind, Brett Wallace, Chris Parmelee, Mitch Moreland, Lance Berkman, Carlos Pena, Luke Scott, James Loney, Justin Smoak, Garrett Jones, Matt Carpenter, Todd Helton

Second basemen

Overview: The gap between the first tier and the rest of the field is huge at second base, simply because nearly every member of the second tier is riddled with risk. Will Jason Kipnis and Jose Altuve develop power? Will Rickie Weeks avoid a repeat of last season's extended strikeout binge? Can Aaron Hill keep his batting average above .270, given that neither his contact nor batted ball rates saw much change last year, when he hit .302? If each of these questions were to be answered in the affirmative, then there would be less need to chase after a first-tier option, but the track record of the top four players at the position is much more convincing. Should you pass over the first two tiers entirely, Marco Scutaro offers a surprisingly safe alternative. He has lowered an already-tidy strikeout rate the last two seasons, and he is due for only a slight BABIP regression. He should be good for about 90 runs and a .300 average.
First tier: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Ben Zobrist
Second tier: Jason Kipnis, Rickie Weeks, Jose Altuve, Brandon Phillips, Aaron Hill
Third tier: Dustin Ackley, Marco Scutaro, Neil Walker, Dan Uggla, Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley, Danny Espinosa
Last call for standard mixed leagues: Howard Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, Kelly Johnson
For deeper leagues only: Omar Infante, Jeff Keppinger, Darwin Barney, Jamey Carroll, Logan Forsythe, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, Brian Roberts, Daniel Descalso, Donovan Solano, Chris Nelson, Tyler Greene, Maicer Izturis, Chris Getz

Third basemen

Overview: As a likely top three overall pick, Miguel Cabrera has distanced himself from his hot corner colleagues, but there are still plenty of good options deep into the rankings. The emergence of Chase Headley, the second-half resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman, and the addition of Hanley Ramirez have beefed up the second tier, while emerging stars Mike Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, Pedro Alvarez, Kyle Seager and Will Middlebrooks provide some incentive for owners to wait into the third tier to fill their third base needs. Moustakas in particular has some sleeper appeal, as he has already proven to be a capable power hitter who could still hit with even more home run clout. He also has better contact skills than what he showed last season, so he could get his batting average into respectable territory.
In a class by himself: Miguel Cabrera
Second tier: Evan Longoria, David Wright, Chase Headley, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez
Third tier: Martin Prado, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Moustakas, Brett Lawrie, Pedro Alvarez, Kyle Seager, David Freese, Will Middlebrooks
Last call for standard mixed leagues: Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, Trevor Plouffe, Todd Frazier
For deeper leagues only: Jeff Keppinger, Manny Machado, Lonnie Chisenhall, Placido Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Jamey Carroll, Alberto Callaspo, Adeiny Hechavarria, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso, Luis Cruz, Matt Dominguez, Chris Nelson, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Sizemore, Jedd Gyorko, Wilson Betemit, Ian Stewart, Juan Francisco, Maicer Izturis, Chris Johnson

Shortstops

Overview: As a group, shortstops are good contact hitters, but they're not especially prone to getting hits on balls in play at a high rate. Starlin Castro and Derek Jeter are rare in their ability among shortstops to post consistently favorable strikeout and BABIP rates. The dropoff from the first tier to the second tier is not that great, so it's worth your while to consider passing on Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes and target Castro for his emerging power and potential to hit .300. In early drafts, owners are typically taking Hanley Ramirez just ahead of Castro, but Ramirez's advantage in home run power pales in comparison to the disadvantage he will have in the batting average category. Because of last year's ankle injury and his age, Jeter is clearly riskier than Castro or Ramirez, but he should still have far more value than any of the "last call" options, should you still be looking for a shortstop in the middle rounds.
First tier: Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes
Second tier: Ben Zobrist, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Elvis Andrus, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez
Third tier: Asdrubal Cabrera, Marco Scutaro, Derek Jeter, Josh Rutledge, Erick Aybar, Danny Espinosa
Last call for standard mixed leagues: J.J. Hardy, Stephen Drew, Alexei Ramirez, Jean Segura, Andrelton Simmons, Everth Cabrera, Alcides Escobar, Hiroyuki Nakajima
For deeper leagues only: Yunel Escobar, Zack Cozart, Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Pennington, Jamey Carroll, Rafael Furcal, Jed Lowrie, Luis Cruz, Ruben Tejada, Tyler Greene, Brendan Ryan, Maicer Izturis, Clint Barmes, Brandon Crawford, Pedro Florimon

Outfielders

Overview: Outfield is normally considered to be deep with offensive talent, but because of steep dropoffs between several of the tiers, owners should feel a sense of urgency to get at least their first two outfield slots filled. There is also not much safety in the position. The top tiers have their share of players with health and durability concerns (Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Bautista), relative inexperience (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper) and inconsistency (Curtis Granderson, Justin Upton). If you haven't grabbed your second outfielder from one of the first four tiers, it's time to load Desmond Jennings, Austin Jackson and Josh Reddick into your queue. Jennings may not last long, but coming off a down season, he could slide in some leagues, and he still has power/speed potential. Owners may not buy into Jackson's or Reddick's progress in 2012, but both put up minor league numbers that support their respective breakouts.
First tier: Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, Matt Kemp
Second tier: Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Gonzalez
Third tier: Curtis Granderson, Matt Holliday, Justin Upton, Jose Bautista, Alex Gordon, Bryce Harper, Jay Bruce, Jason Heyward
Fourth tier: Allen Craig, Nick Markakis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes, Melky Cabrera, Ben Zobrist, Shane Victorino, Shin-Soo Choo
Fifth tier: Alex Rios, Josh Reddick, Desmond Jennings, Michael Bourn, Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Norichika Aoki, Angel Pagan, Alejandro De Aza, B.J. Upton, Austin Jackson, Martin Prado
Sixth tier: Hunter Pence, Nick Swisher, Carlos Gomez, Mark Trumbo, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran, Corey Hart, Denard Span, Nelson Cruz, Ben Revere, Dexter Fowler, Andre Ethier, Lorenzo Cain
Last call for standard mixed leagues: Michael Morse, Torii Hunter, Adam Eaton, Chris Davis, Michael Saunders, Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin, Jayson Werth, Coco Crisp, Leonys Martin, Starling Marte, Jon Jay, Juan Pierre, Wil Myers, Michael Cuddyer, Dayan Viciedo, Logan Morrison, Peter Bourjos, Jason Kubel, Rajai Davis, Justin Ruggiano, Emilio Bonifacio
Noteworthy deeper league options: Colby Rasmus, Domonic Brown, Michael Brantley, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Quentin, Alfonso Soriano, Delmon Young, Jeff Francoeur, Raul Ibanez, David Murphy, Lucas Duda, Brandon Moss, Matt Joyce, Ryan Doumit, Cody Ross, Travis Snider

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also send us an email us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara not utilizing fastball this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has been throwing an unusual amount of offspeed pitches to start the season. Uehara has thrown fastballs on just 15 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Boston Herald.

Manager John Farrell isn't reading too much into it.

"He's going to go with what he feels," Farrell said. "Every 3 mph is about a foot distance in traveling to home plate. So there's a little bit different reaction time. But regardless of velocity there still needs to be the use of (the fastball) just to create separation between his fastball and his split."

Uehara is 1-1 so far this season with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 4 1/3 innings.


White Sox send reliever Daniel Webb back to Triple-A
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) White Sox reliever Daniel Webb , who was called up Sunday as the 26th man for the team's doubleheader against the Royals, was sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. 

Webb pitched in 57 games last season for the White Sox but was one of the team's final cuts in spring training. 


Diamondbacks struggling to fill in void at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knew his team wasn't going to go the entire season without an injury. But the skipper was hoping to avoid the issue he currently has at third base, according to AZCentral.com.

With Jake Lamb on the disabled list with a foot injury, Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas have struggled to put it together, combining for a .559 OPS in the last five games.

"Yeah, that's huge," Hale said. "You're going to have injuries all year. There's going to be a multitude of them for every team. If you can't make the adjustment — if guys can't come in and fill the void — then you're going to be in trouble as a club."

Tomas is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats this season while Hill is scuffling along at .156 in 45 at-bats.


Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allows seven runs in rehab start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed seven runs in five innings of work in his third rehab start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, according to Philly.com.

Billingsley, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury, added three strikeouts and two walks in the appearance. He has yet to appear in a major league game since 2013 while dealing with multiple elbow injuries.


Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez still working out of funk
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has yet to put things together at the plate so far this season. Gonzalez is hitting just .197 with two home runs in 66 at-bats and it's wearing on him a bit, according to the Denver Post.

"I'm not in a good place. I'm still hitting (.197)," he said. "But I'm happy that I'm healthy, and that I'm playing, and that we are winning. I think we are having a good month so far as a team."

Manager Walt Weiss thinks he's really close to seeing Gonzalez get all the pieces together and go on a run.

"I saw real good signs from CarGo, hitting the ball hard the opposite way," Weiss said. "It wasn't just the couple of hits he got. It was the way he got them. Those are things that he had been working on. Then, to get results like that, is always encouraging."

Report: Josh Hamilton trade expected to be completed Monday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) The trade of outfielder Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers is expected to be completed Monday, with Hamilton then reporting to Texas' spring training site in Arizona to continue his rehab from offseason surgery, per MLB.com. 

The trade was rumored to have been completed Sunday, but complications arose in finalizing the deal. The Rangers are expected to hold a press conference announcing the trade on Monday. Hamilton is expected to play several games in Triple-A before being called up to the Rangers. 


Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins not concerned with early slump at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't worrying just yet about his struggles at the plate, according to the Orange County Register.

"Well, some people like to panic. That has never been my MO," he said. "I have, what, 50, 60 at-bats, I'm not sure. So if these are my worst 50 at-bats this year – I'm glad they're happening now. (If they are his worst at-bats) it’s going to be a very good year."

Rollins is hitting just .186 in 70 at-bats so far this season. He believes he's still been taking good swings at the plate, just not finding the gaps in the defense.

"It's hard to compute if you just look at numbers," he said. "I'm getting myself in good counts, just not finishing it off. I know it's coming. I'm hitting some off the end, some are getting in just a little bit. But the swing path is right. It's just a click here, a click there.

"The process is good. You have to continue to trust in the process and believe in the process. You get oriented in just results – especially at times like this – then you're trying to make all these technical changes and that's when you go from one to two to 100. So the process is right. Executing it is about fine-tuning."


Angels OF Matt Joyce hopes hit signals end of slump
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce saw his eight-game hitless streak come to an end Sunday with an eighth-inning single that ended an 0-for-26 skid. The right fielder, who figures to be a fixture in Los Angeles' lineup with the expected departure of Josh Hamilton, said he hopes the small start will lead to bigger things, according to the Los Angeles Times

"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to stick with Joyce, who is hitting just .140 on the season. 


Mets starter Jonathon Niese struggles vs. Yankees
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Mets starter Jonathon Niese was not sharp Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series against the Yankees, lasting just five innings while allowing six runs and eight hits. Niese was betrayed somewhat by his defense, which committed four errors behind him, leading to two unearned runs. 

Niese was spotted a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he quickly gave it back, allowing a first-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez and then giving up four second-inning runs as the Yankees broke the game open. 

"You can't look into it too deeply," Niese said to MLB.com. "It's a loss. It's a tough loss. Obviously we want to win, but we've just got to get through it, learn from it, move on and play better."

Niese, who threw 86 pitches, saw his ERA rise to 2.74 in absorbing his first loss of the season. 

"I just wish I could have a couple pitches back," Niese said. "But I threw them. The results were what they were. I've just got to move on."

Niese will look to get back on track Saturday against the Nationals.


Nationals considering keeping Yunel Escobar at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Nationals manager Matt Williams will have a decision to make when his regular third baseman Anthony Rendon comes back from injury. With Rendon on the shelf, Yunel Escobar has shifted to third and Williams is considering leaving him there even after Rendon returns, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The team is unsure yet what will happen when Rendon returns, but one theory has Escobar staying at third and Rendon shifting to second base, according to Heyman.

Escobar is hitting .292 with five RBI in 65 at-bats while slotted at third base.


 
 
 
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