Tag: Justin Smoak

Logan Morrison: LoMo NoMo in Seattle?

Hart
Recent Seattle additions: Corey Hart and Logan Morrison

When the Seattle Mariners acquired first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison from the Miami Marlins via trade for relief pitcher Carter Capps on the same day that the club signed first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart away from the Milwaukee Brewers via free agency, I felt that there was something strange to the deal. The Mariners already had a lot of options at first base, albeit not tremendous ones, in Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero (who has likely moved off of catcher and is a first baseman/DH), and Dustin Ackley (who appears to be a utility player and has experience at first base from his time playing the position at North Carolina). Adding familiar, more successful names, particularly with Hart and the huge Robinson Cano signing was one thing, but how does Morrison really fit in with the Seattle club?

After making some noise in his first 185 games of his career for the Marlins by posting a .259/.351/.460 with 45 doubles, 11 triples, 25 home runs, 90 RBI, and a 150:95 K:BB in 812 plate appearances, Morrison has bombed to a .236/.321/.387 triple-slash since the start of the 2012 season, with 28 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 72 RBI, and a 114:69 K:BB in 667 plate appearances. There is still some production there, but Morrison hasn’t been nearly as impressive; however, considering that he is still just 26, there would seem to be some time for him to get his career back on track. But will it be in Seattle?

MorrisonIn addition to the gluttony of first basemen in Seattle, Logan Morrison is an absolute nightmare in the outfield, as he has posted a -26.9 UZR in his career as a left fielder, which is, of course, much worse than the -4.3 UZR that he has provided as a first baseman. After Corey Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to micro-fracture surgery on his right knee, it is safe to assume that he will either be the Mariners’ new DH or first baseman, which could be troublesome for the Seattle defensive outlook if it forces Morrison to the outfield on a full-time basis.

Which brings me to the continued efforts and rumors of a David Price to Seattle trade…After likely losing James Loney to free agency (especially considering his rumored $9-10 million annual salary that he is seeking), the Tampa Bay Rays could still use a first baseman, as the current roster makeup would leave a lot of playing time for Sean Rodriguez at first base, which doesn’t seem like a smart, Rays-like idea. So, could it be possible that the Mariners stole Morrison, which they did in acquiring him for a bullpen arm in Carter, to package him with other, in-house players in a deal for David Price?

It isn’t as if Logan Morrison could be the central figure in the Rays’ return in a deal, but three years of team control on a player with enough of a bat to be useful within Tampa’s unconventional, stats-driven ideology would make him an intriguing addition. With Cano at second base, Nick Franklin appears to be available, and while he isn’t much of a defender at shortstop, the Rays have Yunel Escobar through the 2014 season, with slick fielding shortstop Hak-Ju Lee coming up the prospect pipeline. Franklin could take over second base in 2015 if the Rays decline Ben Zobrist‘s 2015 option (very unlikely with a $7.5 million salary and his yearly effectiveness), or the club could utilize Zobrist all over the field, as they have done over the last several seasons. Taijuan Walker, the 21-year-old top prospect of the Mariners, continues to be the key name mentioned as the centerpiece of a deal, and by packaging this trio to Tampa Bay, the Mariners rotation would have one of the most frightening rotations this side of the Greg MadduxJohn SmoltzTom Glavine Braves, and Tampa would have affordable, young, major league ready talent that they continually covet. (Side Note: The Mariners gave Corey Hart the No.27, Walker’s number from 2013…were they suggesting something here?)

The Mariners shocked the world when they swooped in and signed Robinson Cano to a ten-year, $240 million deal, and they appear to have moved from a slow and steady rebuild to a team looking to contend immediately. With a unique blend of young talent in Ackley, Franklin, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, and Kyle Seager already around, the addition of Cano, Morrison, and Hart seemed to implode the existing philosophies on where the team was heading in a matter of a week.

PriceMorrison may not be a star, but he could have been the additional piece needed to pluck David Price away from the Tampa Bay Rays. While there have been plenty of questionable moves by Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik over the last several seasons, the acquisition of Morrison wasn’t one of them, and as the team looks to continue to make bold moves to turn itself into immediate contenders, it will be interesting to see how many more deals and signings could be made in the Pacific Northwest to bring a winner back to the house that Griffey built.

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My Reaction: James Paxton Debut

James Paxton, the Seattle Mariners 4th round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft (after being taken in the 1st round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 and not signing), made his debut against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night.

First Inning

  • The Rays broadcast was saying his fastball fluctuates 7 mph throughout the game, but it was sitting 94-95 mph in the first inning, touching 97, which would make him a pretty dynamic starter, even if it is as a No.3 or No.4 starter, as it appears that he would be in Seattle behind Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker down the road.
  • Paxton’s breaking ball was bouncing a lot in the first, but his release point looked consistent from the couch.
  • 14-pitch first, which isn’t bad in a debut. Two ground-ball outs.

Second Inning

  • Mid-90’s in the second still, hitting 96 on Wil Myers.
  • He got behind Myers 3-1 with several very close fastballs (nothing but fastballs in the six-pitch at-bat), but came back and got the ground out to third.
  • Relying heavily on the fastball in the second after bouncing nearly every off-speed pitch that he threw in the first.
  • Hit 98 on a fastball against James Loney, who then lined the next pitch to left on a 3-1 count.
  • Finally threw a big, looping curve for a strike in the second to Sean Rodriguez, following that with a high and tight 97 mph fastball.
  • Really off with the off-speed stuff, which is why he’s relying so much on the fastball.
  • Walked Rodriguez. Inconsistent with release, almost aiming.
  • Three ground-ball outs in the second. Even with the inconsistency in his secondary stuff to this point, Paxton has good downward plane on the fastball, which is making the Rays hitters pound the ball into the ground.
  • 24-pitch second inning for Paxton but even with the hit and the walk, it was good to see him overcome that and continue attacking the zone.

Third Inning

  • Two-pitch at-bat for Yunel Escobar, who, shockingly, grounded out.
  • Very nice breaking ball (85 mph) to Desmond Jennings in the dirt, who will go down as Paxton’s first career strikeout…on three pitches.
  • One-two-three inning as Ben Zobrist hits the ball hard to Michael Saunders for the final out.
  • All of seven pitches to get through the third inning as Paxton continues to show solid velocity and seems to be getting more comfortable with the breaking ball release; although, he is still using it very sparingly.
  • Six of nine outs via the ground-ball variety.

Fourth Inning

  • Evan Longoria jumped on a first-pitch fastball – ground-out to Kyle Seager at third.
  • Looks like an 88-90 mph changeup that Paxton has, rather than the seven mph difference mentioned earlier, but it isn’t very sharp and it looks like it is aimed.
  • High flyball to Raul Ibanez by Delmon Young for the second out.
  • Paxton still is pounding the fastball down against right-handed hitters. With the velocity, the Rays seem overwhelmed.
  • A fastball up to Myers driven to left for a base hit.
  • Good, 79 mph breaking ball to Loney to start off the at-bat. followed by a good 96 mph fastball down in the zone.
  • Ground-ball to Nick Franklin for out number three.
  • 12-pitch fourth for Paxton.

Fifth Inning

  • Paxton started the fifth by working around Sean Rodriguez again, nibbling the outside corner with several fastballs before striking him out with a 97 mph heater.
  • Curveball is looking much more impressive – Jose Lobaton‘s swing at the offering was not very impressive. A couple of pitches after flailing at the curve, Lobaton grounded out to Franklin at second.
  • I saw three breaking balls in the inning and they were all strikes. He got Escobar to ground out to third.
  • 15-pitch inning. 2 K’s, 1 BB, 2 H, 10 ground-ball outs through five solid innings.
  • Still sitting 94-97 with the fastball at 72 pitches (46 strikes).

    Six Inning  

 

  • Paxton seems more confident in his stuff without trying to overpower hitters, as he is sitting on the outside corner at 94 pretty consistently…then comes inside and gets Jennings to groundout to short.
  • Zobrist pounds it into the ground to Seager at third, but a throwing error allows him to reach first.
  • After falling behind 2-0 to Longoria, Paxton gets a visit from Mike Zunino, goes fastball inside (94), and 95 in Longoria’s wheelhouse for a long home run.
  • Paxton regains his composure and strikes out Delmon Young on a good breaking ball in the dirt.
  • Pitch number 89 was 96 mph to Wil Myers. Still bringing good velocity.
  • Myers blooped it to right and it hits off of Justin Smoak‘s glove while Smoak’s right knee clipped Nick Franklin’s head…scary injury.
  • Loney follows Myers hit with a long fly-ball to Saunders for the final out.

 

    After six innings and 95 pitches, it is safe to say that Paxton’s debut was very solid. His final line:  

PaxtonSolid fastball and occasionally solid curveball out of Paxton during his debut. It seems as though he’ll get a much longer look in the rotation over the rest of the 2013 than Taijuan Walker, who will likely be shutdown after his start next week.

Paxton has the stuff to be a solid, innings-eater in the middle of a rotation, but if he were to find more consistency with his stuff, he could be a No.2 starter. A 94 to 97 mph fastball is very good for any pitcher, but that type of velocity out of a left-handed pitcher is downright sexy. He had 11 ground-ball outs tonight, pounding his fastball down in the zone. His curveball wasn’t consistent enough to warrant a lot of praise, but if he finds more consistency out of both the curve and the changeup (which wasn’t very useful or present tonight at 88 to 90 mph), he could be very useful to the rebuilding Mariners.

After tossing 145.2 innings in Triple-A, Paxton should be a fixture in the Seattle rotation in 2014. While he is still a work in progress, The stuff is there to be effective in the majors. Tonight was a very good debut for the 24-year-old left-hander, but there is still some work needed for the powerful southpaw.

2013 Nerdy Baseball Stat Projections: Hitters

Baseball nerds are looking at all kinds of statistics that weren’t listed on the back of a baseball card when we were growing up. With the newer FIP, BABIP, and WAR statistics that have become a part of analysis of player abilities, it seems to be easier to project rebound candidates, potential breakouts, or potential flops based on these newer, sabermetric-based statistics. After looking at pitchers, lets take at look at some hitters:

BABIP Winners and Losers for 2013

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is an interesting statistic. FanGraphs.com has some really useful information on BABIP in their glossary and Tristan H. Cockcroft (awesome name, bro) had an interesting piece on how to use BABIP when putting your fantasy team together. Both discuss variables in how the statistic can be flawed, as Fangraphs focused on defense, luck, and talent level, while Cockcroft focused on “raw hitting skills, raw pitching skills, type of contact, and quality of contact.”

Regardless of those variables, the fact remains that, as Cockcroft says, the league average in 2012 was .297, while Fangraphs goes further, stating:

The average BABIP for hitters is around .290 to .310.  If you see any player that deviates from this average to an extreme, they’re likely due for regression.

However, hitters can influence their BABIPs to some extent. For example, speedy hitters typically have high career BABIP rates (like Ichiro and his .357 career BABIP), so don’t expect all players to regress to league average.

For the purpose of this piece, however, the extreme deviations from normal are taken into consideration.

Hitters to Target

 

Courtesy: NJ.com
Courtesy: NJ.com

Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets:  If you search this site, you’ll see that I have a bit of a man crush on Davis. In 2012, Davis managed to hit .227/3.08/.462 with 32 home runs and 90 RBI, all while posting a BABIP of just .246. The .271/.369/.460 line, 26 home runs, and 41 doubles over his first 750 plate appearances shows that Davis is quite capable of becoming an offensive force. The regression in batting average can be related to the Valley Fever that sapped his energy in spring training of last season, but with an increase in BABIP, Davis could become a .270 hitter with 35-40 home runs, even while playing half of his games at Citi Field for the Mets. Davis will turn 26 in late March and is well on his way to a huge rebound or breakout in 2013.

 

 

HosmerEric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals: Sophomore slump…yeah right. Hosmer hit .232/.304/.359 with 14 home runs in 2012, while posting a .255 BABIP. He increased his walk rate from 6 percent in his rookies season to 9.4 percent last year, while maintaining a line drive percent (18.7 percent in 2011, 18.5 percent in 2012). It just seems like the ground ball percentage, which jumped from 49.7 to 53.6 percent, played a role in his huge decrease in BABIP, which was at .314 in 2011. Hosmer will play the entire 2013 season at the age of 23. With great plate discipline and tremendous athleticism, he is a tremendous name to grab in hopes of a potential All-Star campaign. His early spring results (.391/.462/.696) could be an indication of such a breakout, as Hosmer heads off to take Mark Teixiera’s place on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics: Weeks is an interesting player, having thrived in 2011, much like Hosmer, posting a .303/.340/.421 line, before crashing to a .221/.305/.304 line last season. Weeks has tremendous speed, but he has been thrown out stealing 16 times in 54 attempts, a 70 percent success rate, which has been about the norm throughout his career, as he was 41 for 55 (74 percent) in the minors. Weeks had nine infield hits in 2011 but just eight in 2012 in 74 more plate appearances, while his BABIP fell from .350 in 2011 to .256 last season. With a drastic increase in his walk rate (from 4.8 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012) and the potential for a rebound in his BABIP to even .290, Weeks would see a solid increase in overall production. However, the Athletics have reloaded their roster, trading for Jed Lowrie, signing Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, while welcoming back Scott Sizemore from injury. With so many options, Weeks needs to start quickly. If he can find a way to use the speed that he has with the ability to utilize slap the ball all over the field, as he did in 2011, Weeks will be valuable to the A’s and fantasy baseball owners.

SmoakJustin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but…this is the year that Justin Smoak breaks out!!! Smoak may be one of the most unlucky hitters in baseball, as his career BABIP is just .256. A career line of .223/.306/.377 in 1,421 plate appearances could say that Smoak is what he is…bad. However, over the last month of the season, Smoak hit .341/.426/.580 with five home runs, 11 RBI, and a 13:13 K:BB in 101 plate appearances. This spring, Smoak is hitting .500/.556/1.000 with two home runs in his first 16 at-bats. After posting another low BABIP in 2012, .242, while seeing his walk and strikeout rates hold to around his career norms. Smoak needs to stay hot after the Mariners added Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Kendrys Morales to the club this winter, each of whom could slide into a DH/1B/LF role, which would limit Smoak’s playing time.

Hitters to Avoid

Fowler1Dexter Fowler, OF, Colorado Rockies: Fowler turns 27 in late March, the magic number for a prime breakout. In 2012, Fowler posted an absurd .390 BABIP, while compiling a .300/.389/.474 line, 18 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs, and 12 stolen bases, the definition of a box score filler. He has always had solid plate discipline, as his 12.8 percent walk rate and .364 career on-base percentage show, so is he for real? Maybe this is just who he is, as he posted a .351 BABIP in 2009, .328 in 2010, and .354 in 2011 before the jump to .390 last season; however, .390 is so unrealistic and “lucky”, isn’t it? Even if Fowler manages to maintain his career .353 BABIP, he’ll see a slight decline in his overall numbers. I’m a big fan of Fowler’s, but expecting him to duplicate his BABIP is unreasonable, though he could add enough power with his on-base skills to be very useful for the Rockies and fantasy geeks alike.

Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers: Jackson is the poster boy for inflated BABIP and what they can do with inflation and deflation. Check out these statistics:

Year Tm AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2010 DET 618 103 181 34 10 4 41 27 47 170 .293 .345 .400 .745
2011 DET 591 90 147 22 11 10 45 22 56 181 .249 .317 .374 .690
2012 DET 543 103 163 29 10 16 66 12 67 134 .300 .377 .479 .856
3 Yrs 1752 296 491 85 31 30 152 61 170 485 .280 .346 .416 .761
162 Game Avg. 644 109 180 31 11 11 56 22 62 178 .280 .346 .416 .761
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2013.

In 2010, Jackson’s BABIP was: .396

In 2011, Jackson’s BABIP was: .340

In 2012, Jackson’s BABIP was .371

While Jackson has a career BABIP of .370, if he reverts to his undisciplined, free swinging ways  of 2010 and 2011 (when he had strikeout rates of 25.2 and 27.1 percent), he could see a large decline in his overall numbers, similar to the drop-off in 2011. However, with his gains in power (career-high 16 home runs) and his walk rate (10.8 percent), he, too, will still have some value, especially hitting in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

PoseyBuster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants: Posey was the NL MVP, and with good reason, posting a .336/.408/.549 line in 2012. The only issue could be that batting average, which could have seen a huge bump from Posey’s .368 BABIP. Previously, he had posted BABIPs of .315 in 2010 and .326 in 2011. While Posey does have some speed, will he be a catcher capable of 17 infield hits every season? While he is a very special talent, Posey may not repeat his incredible 2012 totals, especially if Brandon Belt solidifies himself as an everyday first baseman. Will they sit Belt if he is having a breakout season so that Posey can take a day off behind the plate? Posey is still the top catcher available in fantasy leagues and the top offensive catcher in baseball, with the ability to post numbers that only Matt Wieters, Salvador Perez, or Carlos Santana seem capable of reaching, but can he continue to post an extremely high BABIP going forward? For that reason alone, be cautious in putting too much stock into the superstar catcher.

What Are the Mariners Doing?

Courtesy: seattletimes.com
Courtesy: seattletimes.com

Last year, the Seattle Mariners finished 75-87, last place in the AL West, a spot that they have held for seven of the last ten years. What are the Mariners doing to build a contender?

Not much.

The club is loaded with pitching prospects, like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, Brandon Maurer, and James Paxton, and they have collected some fine offensive prospects, like Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller along the way. With Jesus Montero being added last season and the ascension of Dustin Ackley to the majors, you would think that the Mariners were building for a run in 2015.

However, that can’t be the case after the club has traded for Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse, both free agents after the 2013 season. While the club gave up John Jaso to get Morse and Jason Vargas to get Morales, the Mariners left themselves with some question marks.

FelixWith Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez, and Blake Beaven penciled into the rotation, the club may have to rely on Hector Noesi, Hultzen, or Paxton in the rotation to start the year. Noesi was 2-12 with a 5.82 ERA for the M’s in 2012, Hultzen was just 1-4 with a 5.92 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts in 2012, and Paxton would be jumping to the majors from Double-A. While Vargas isn’t close to being considered an ace, the Mariners will have a tough time replacing the 217 innings and 3.85 ERA that he provided last year.

After trading Jaso to Oakland, the Mariners only have Jesus Montero at catcher. Montero, who turned 23 in November, caught in just 56 games in 2012, throwing out 17 percent of base runners and posting a -8 Rtot (runs below average that he was worth defensively). While his bat has great potential, Montero is not an everyday catcher at the major league level.

Add in the Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez signings to the trades that Seattle has made, and the club is loaded with mediocrity.

There are two examples of their everyday lineup that I have found:

Example 1                                                                     Example 2

C: Montero                                                        C: Montero

1B: Morse                                                          1B: Smoak

2B: Ackley                                                         2B: Ackley

3B: Seager                                                         3B: Seager

SS: Ryan                                                            SS: Ryan

LF: Ibanez                                                         LF: Morse

CF: Gutierrez                                                    CF: Gutierrez

RF: Saunders                                                    RF: Saunders

DH: Morales                                                     DH: Morales

Example one is eliminating Justin Smoak from the equation. Smoak has over 1,200 at-bats and has a career slash of .223/.306/.377 line, but he is just 26 years old and he posted a .341/.426/.580 in September, showing a glimpse of what he can do when he is healthy, and he has battled a thumb issue for the last couple of seasons.

Example two eliminates Raul Ibanez from the lineup. Ibanez has had great success in Seattle, having played 10 of his 17 seasons with the Mariners, but at the age of 41, he may just be a situational talent.

The Mariners could really use a catcher. If the club was able to deal Smoak to Boston for Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway, the Mariners could then move Montero to DH, Morales to first, and Morse can play left field. The Red Sox only have Mauro Gomez at first base right now, so the deal would make sense for both clubs, as the Sox have David Ross and whatever catcher they don’t trade to roster.

The M’s could also rush Mike Zunino, who was the top college player in last year’s MLB draft. Zunino could take over at catcher, allowing for the same moves with Morales and Morse as above, while the club could keep Smoak around in case of an injury. Zunino had 51 at-bats in Double-A last year, so he could use some more seasoning in the minors, but he could be a better option behind the plate than Montero already.

Regardless of the moves at catcher that the Mariners could make, the additions that the club has made have not been stellar.

Morse has a powerful bat but he has issues making contact, having posted a 223:52 K:BB while hitting 49 home runs over 928 at-bats over the last two seasons. Turning 31 years old in March, Morse has two seasons with a WAR over 1.0 (1.2 in 2010 and 3.1 in 2011), so one has to wonder if his 2011 season (with 31 home runs and a .910 OPS) was his peak.

Ibanez is not a player that a rebuilding team needs. His age and declining skills limit his potential.

Morales rebounded nicely after missing nearly two years due to injury, posting a .787 OPS. In 2009, Morales posted a .924 OPS and he had an .833 OPS in 2010 prior to his celebratory injury. Is the drop in production due to his injury, timing issues due to being away from the game, or pressing to hit at the levels that he did in 2009? Can he reach those numbers when he is playing half of his games in Seattle?

Add in the interest that the Mariners have in Justin Upton and the supposed offer (Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor, and Charlie Furbush) that they made, and the team seemingly has no long-term or short-term direction. The Mariners pitching, as it stands, is questionable at best. If the team is rebuilding, why would they offer two of their top five prospects instead of cashing in on any of their veterans that have value, even Felix Hernandez?

While John Jaso and Jason Vargas aren’t superstars, you have to wonder if the club would have been better off with the two players still on their roster. While they wouldn’t have made many moves to improve upon their last place finish from 2012, the Mariners wouldn’t have question marks all over the field like they do right now.

Fantasy Baseball Rankings: First Basemen

Below you’ll find the rankings for 1B for the 2012 season.  You’ll see 2012 projections in italics. 

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 

.344/.448/.586, 48 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 2 SB in 572 AB

.327/.431/.596, 49 2B, 37 HR, 121 RBI, 1 SB in 579 AB

How can one of the best hitters in baseball get even better?  Adding Prince Fielder to the lineup.  The Tigers are going to need run production with Cabrera playing some 3B, as their defense may become as ugly as the Patriots secondary.

2. Albert Pujols, Angels

.299/.366/.541, 29 2B, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 9 SB in 579 AB

.313/.389/.563, 36 2B, 34 HR, 112 RBI, 5 SB in 599 AB

Pujols had a “down” year in 2011.  If only everyone could look so good when they’re so “bad.”  He’ll rebound with health, and he’ll maintain that health with the ability to DH on occasion.  His lineup is filled with vets, but it shouldn’t hold him back THIS YEAR.  I still don’t think he’s going to be worth the contract by 2015 or 2016…ARod style.

3. Prince Fielder, Tigers

.299/.415/.566, 36 2B, 38 HR, 120 RBI, 1 SB in 569 AB

.315/.426/.588, 43 2B, 35 HR, 119 RBI, 1 SB in 559 AB

Prince isn’t losing anything by moving away from Ryan Braun’s protection with Miguel Cabrera filling that role nicely.  He immediately makes Detroit a contender with his arrival, especially since they were already there before he got there.  Scary good with the Comerica Park gaps.

4. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

.338/.410/.548, 45 2B, 27 HR, 117 RBI, 1 SB in 630 AB

.327/.422/.553, 39 2B, 33 HR, 124 RBI, 1 SB in 614 AB

Gonzalez will have a full season of a not-God-awful Carl Crawford to drive in, and he’ll be comfortable in Fenway to start the year, so he won’t lose a month of power like he did at the start of 2011.

5. Joey Votto, Reds

.309/.416/.531, 40 2B, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 8 SB in 599 AB

.329/.426/.569, 36 2B, 38 HR, 106 RBI, 6 SB in 587 AB

Votto is a very patient hitter in a lineup that lacks patience.  He’ll take pitches and lose RBI’s due to guys not getting on around him, and walking about the same number of times that he strikes out.  He’s going to step up his production as he heads towards Free Agency after 2013, developing a market for himself early.  He’s in a great ballpark, Great American to be exact, to make it happen.

6. Eric Hosmer, Royals

.293/.334/.465, 27 2B, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 11 SB in 523 AB

.287/.362/.501, 31 2B, 26 HR, 89 RBI, 14 SB in 598 AB

Hosmer had a strong rookie season and is only going to get better.  2012 will be the first signs of what he is capable of, but his numbers will continue to climb from here.  He has power and is athletic enough to continue stealing bases.  He could eventually become a Ryan Braun clone at 1B, with fewer stolen bases.  I have him high on the list because he showed what he is capable of in the 2nd half of 2011.

7. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 

.248/.341/.494, 26 2B, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 4 SB in 589 AB

.253/.339/.513, 28 SB, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 2 SB in 594 AB

Teixeira’s AVG and SLG have fallen significantly in the last several seasons, and his high strikeout rate suddenly screams that he is on the decline, as he can’t keep up with fastballs like he used to.  With that being said, he is still mashing.  I have a slight bounceback coming, but he isn’t capable of the high averages and power like he used to be.

8. Michael Young, Rangers 

.338/.380/.474, 41 2B, 6 3B, 11 HR, 106 RBI, 6 SB in 631 AB

.318/.372/.468, 37 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 5 SB in 639 AB

Young just keeps hitting.  He led the league in hits last year and continues showing the ability to be versatile, which has a lot of value in various fantasy formats.  Look for more of the same with a solid lineup around him, even as he continues aging.  He showed no signs of breaking down last year.

9. Freddie Freeman, Braves 

.282/.346/.448, 32 2B, 21 HR, 76 RBI, 4 SB in 571 AB

.294/.357/.467, 34 2B, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 3 SB in 584 AB

With a name this bad, you’d think there was no way that he would be a successful baseball player.  Maybe a plumber or sales guy…however, Freeman is very young and is a polished hitter.  He’s hitting better than previous super-prospect Jason Heyward  has to this point, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he continues to do so in coming years.  He may never hit 30-35 homers per season, but he will do more than enough to be an asset in fantasy and for the Braves.

10. Michael Morse, Nationals

.303/.360/.550, 36 2B, 31 HR, 95 RBI, 2 SB in 522 AB

.286/.342/.549, 34 2B, 33 HR, 107 RBI, 1 SB in 571 AB

Morse came out of nowhere, kind of, to post very valuable fantasy numbers in 2011.  He has tremendous power and a long swing, which still will make his susceptible to slumps and strikeouts.  The Nationals are improving around him, though, so he should continue to build value.  He will ultimately be a first baseman, but he will patrol left field to open the season.  He could move to first if or when Adam LaRoche’s next injury strikes, but he’ll certainly be there by 2013 for good. 

11. Billy Butler, Royals 

.291/.361/.461, 44 2B, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 2 SB in 597 AB

.314/.379/.501, 41 2B, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 1 SB in 599 AB

12. Ike Davis, Mets 

.302/.383/.543, 8 2B, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB in 129 AB

.291/.372/.538, 32 2B, 28 HR, 93 RBI, 1 SB in 586 AB

Davis was headed towards a breakout prior to the ankle injury that he suffered in 2011.  Imagine the capabilities in an offense that is relying heavily on him, especially after the fences were moved in.  This is the year.

13. Lance Berkman, Cardinals 

.301/.412/.547, 23 2B, 31 HR, 94 RBI, 2 SB in 488 AB

.283/.394/.527, 21 2B, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 1 SB in 506 AB

He won’t hit as well with added pressure to perform, but he should maintain health by moving to first.  He’s aging, even if he posted a solid season for what seems like the first time in years in 2011, so don’t think he is going to get a whole lot better than last year.

14. Ryan Howard, Phillies 

.253/.346/.488, 30 2B, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 1 SB in 557 AB

.247/.339/.479, 23 2B, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 0 SB in 486 AB

Decline City.  Major injury + drops in OPS over the last few years = the NL version of Teixeira with a whole lot less to offer.  Howard will miss the first month, but he’ll still post solid power numbers.  He isn’t a top of the line bat anymore, and he and his teammates are aging quicker than Benjamin Button, only the opposite way.

15. Paul Konerko, White Sox 

.300/.388/.517, 25 2B, 31 HR, 105 RBI, 1 SB in 543 AB

.309/.392/.524, 28 2B, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 1 SB in 564 AB

There’s no way that Konerko can’t be better in 2011 because Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and Gordon Beckham will be better around him.  He’ll drive in more runs and see more pitches.

16. Mark Reynolds, Orioles

.221/.323/.483, 27 2B, 37 HR, 86 RBI, 6 SB in 534 AB

.232/.331/.489, 26 2B, 39 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB in 541 AB

17. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks 

.250/.333/.474, 9 2B, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 4 SB in 156 AB

.259/.341/.510, 28 2B, 25 HR, 84 RBI, 7 SB in 533 AB

18. Yonder Alonso, Padres

.330/.398/.545, 4 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB in 88 AB

.309/.389/.508, 36 2B, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 1 SB in 531 AB

19. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins

.266/.352/.427, 35 2B, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 3 SB in 572 AB

.271/.354/.449, 37 2B, 18 HR, 83 RBI, 2 SB in 576 AB

20. Michael Cuddyer, Rockies 

.284/.346/.459, 29 2B, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 11 SB in 529 AB

.279/.339/.453, 31 2B, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 8 SB in 559 AB

21. Carlos Lee, Astros

.275/.342/.446, 38 2B, 18 HR, 94 RBI, 4 SB in 585 AB

.271/.341/.439, 36 2B, 21 HR, 89 RBI, 2 SB in 591 AB

22. Justin Morneau, Twins

.227/.285/.333, 16 2B, 4 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB in 264 AB

.264/.326/.411, 21 2B, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB in 403 AB

If he stays on the field, he’s still going to have to adjust and be consistent.  Chris Parmelee may be the best Twins first baseman to own going forward.

23. Justin Smoak, Mariners

.234/.323/.396, 24 2B, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 0 SB in 427 AB

.271/.359/.489, 31 2B, 22 HR, 83 RBI, 1 SB in 568 AB

This is the year, guys!  Smoak stays healthy, has help with Montero coming over, and he develops.  He’s still just 25!

24. Aubrey Huff, Giants

.246/.306/.370, 27 2B, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 5 SB in 521 AB

.261/.326/.409, 31 2B, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 4 SB in 535 AB

25. Carlos Pena, Rays

.225/.357/.462, 27 2B, 28 HR, 80 RBI, 2 SB in 493 AB

.231/.379/.491, 26 2B, 29 HR, 84 RBI, 2 SB in 519 AB

26. James Loney, Dodgers

.288/.339/.416, 30 2B, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 4 SB in 531 AB

.281/.341/.421, 34 2B, 14 HR, 70 RBI, 3 SB 546 AB

27. Casey Kotchman, Indians

.306/.378/.422, 24 2B, 10 HR, 48 RBI, 2 SB in 500 AB

.311/.386/.441, 31 2B, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 1 SB in 562 AB

28. Adam Lind, Blue Jays

.251/.295/.439, 16 2B, 26 HR, 87 RBI, 1 SB in 499 AB

.255/.310/.441, 18 2B, 29 HR, 84 RBI, 1 SB in 512 AB

29. Mitch Moreland, Rangers

.259/.320/.414, 22 2B, 16 HR, 51 RBI, 2 SB in 464 AB

.265/.329/426, 29 2B, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 3 SB in 520 AB

30. Todd Helton, Rockies

.302/.385/.466, 27 2B, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 0 SB in 421 AB

.294/.376/.459, 24 2B, 13 HR, 67 RBI, 0 SB in 432 AB