Fantasy draft tiers: Top 100
Big bats go early, plenty of pitching available late
With pitchers and catchers packing their bags for Spring Training 2011, the new season is officially in its preparatory stages.
For fantasy owners, that can only mean one thing: It's time to dust off those trapper keepers (or iPads) stuffed full of stats, sleepers and busts and dive headfirst into draft day preparations.
It's been a long, cold winter for all those owners who came up just short of the fantasy promised land -- and for all the rest who came up a bit further than just short -- last year. Unfortunately, we can't send Josh Hamilton back in time and make him suddenly appear in your head-to-head playoffs last September.
But we can do the next best thing: roll out a detailed and comprehensive draft blueprint to serve as a complement to the 2011 MLB.com Player Preview.
Because it's important to know how players compare to one another across positions and where talent levels drop off, what follows is a user-friendly list -- divided into tiers -- of the Top 100 mixed-league players.
Come draft day, when the clock is ticking and the pressure is mounting, owners can take a quick glance at this template and simplify the process of determining whom to scoop up with just a few seconds to spare.
A few of the usual suspects stand out here among some of the game's emerging stars. Gaining a Top 3 pick means a guarantee of Pujols, Hanley or Miggy, which is all an owner can ask for. Following those annual super-heavyweights are some of the most intriguing names in the game. Tulo has submitted back-to-back MVP-caliber second halves while Votto actually succeeded in wresting the MVP hardware away from Pujols in 2010. Braun has the ability to contribute in all five categories and A-Gone has seen his stock rise since being acquired by the high-octane Red Sox.
Tier 2: David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, Carl Crawford, Mark Teixeira, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Zimmerman, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Felix Hernandez, Prince Fielder, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum
Pick your poison in this tier replete with Grade-A talent. Be it primetime hot cornermen (D-Wright, Zimmerman, A-Rod), young outfield studs (CarGo, Crawford, Hamilton), keystone sensations (Cano, Utley) or Cy Young winners (Halladay, King Felix, Lincecum), there are many directions to go; it simply depends on what kind of blue-chipper owners want to build their team around. And don't sleep on Prince, who has shown a knack for following up underwhelming efforts with monster campaigns.
Like the previous group, this tier offers an assortment of upper echelon talent. In standard mixed leagues, an owner will already have made at least one pick. If that choice was spent on a masher, then a top-of-the-order guy like Reyes or Pedroia could help create a dynamic 1-2 punch. Power and run production are vital to any squad, so owners who scooped up a Halladay or Crawford early will probably want to make a play for Howard or Youkilis. Of course, it never hurts to have Joe Mauer behind the dish.
With the exceptions of Kershaw, the players in this group are mostly established veterans. Kinsler stands out as having the highest risk/reward while Morales appears poised to pick up where he left off last year before a freak injury. Dunn and Lee are the closest to locks for elite production at their respective positions, and Uggla is perhaps the heaviest hitting second baseman in baseball.
At this point in typical mixed-league drafts, owners will have built a core of three or four blue-chippers. Depending on philosophy, that could either mean overloading in one area or opting for a balanced approach. In the former case, the decision to snag a Greinke or Sabathia will be a no-brainer if an owner's roster contains only offensive players. In the latter scenario, it's probably time to start taking position scarcity into account -- making guys like V-Mart, McCann and Bautista premium selections given their shallow positions.
This tier includes several rising stars along with the reliable Rivera and Rios. For any owner to build a winning squad, it's crucial to make a play for an up-and-comer and hope he breaks out. Many thought last year would be Bruce's breakout season, but a subpar first half hurt his overall numbers. Posey is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign and Stanton showed monster power in his debut. However, now that pitching staffs have had time to make adjustments, can these young boppers deliver over 162 games?
Tier 7: Jayson Werth, Alexei Ramirez, Heath Bell, Martin Prado, Justin Verlander, Joakim Soria, Brian Wilson, Paul Konerko, Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Liriano, Cole Hamels, Neftali Feliz, Jacoby Ellsbury
This tier stands out, if only because it's the first time there are multiple closers among the talent. When to pursue a fireman is typically one of draft day's more hotly contested debates. Acquiring a guy like Bell, Soria or Wilson gives an owner an immediate anchor in the bullpen, making adding 'pen depth later in the draft an easier proposition. However, because owners often overlook speed in the name of power early on, there's a chance that a roster may have a need for both speed and saves at this point. There's nothing wrong with that, but steals are harder to come by than saves, so owners lacking lightning on the basepaths should probably give some serious thought to snagging Ichiro, Ellsbury or Rios.
Since owners traditionally spend the bulk of their early picks on offensive players, at this juncture it's usually wise to take a long look at the available arms. While the Top 15-20 starters will likely be off the board, it's tough to go wrong with a Hanson, Price, Latos or Weaver -- all are young, power pitchers with lots of upside. Owners who have already committed big bucks to one or two frontline starters can start diagnosing any perceived holes on their roster and go from there. Those with a need for hits and average should be able to satisfy it with Butler, whereas owners searching for a power/speed combo don't have to look any further than Young or Rasmus.
Tier 9: Casey McGehee, Ben Zobrist, Yovani Gallardo, Roy Oswalt, Geovany Soto, Aramis Ramirez, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Jonathan Papelbon, Delmon Young, Francisco Rodriguez, Corey Hart, Andre Ethier
Rounding out the Top 100 is the first tier of players with some significant question marks. Was Zobrist's '09 season just an aberration? Can Aramis stay healthy enough to play 140 games? Will Upton ever take the next step? What happened to Papelbon last year? Will Young provide a worthy encore to his breakout '10? In some respects, this is when the real drafting begins.
Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.