Everybody has their guys. Maybe you like rookies, or pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery, or post-hype sleepers. Maybe you fill a spreadsheet with data and trust your formula. Maybe you go to a dozen spring training games and trust your eyes. Maybe you throw it all in a blender and trust your gut. What you see below are my guys for the 2013 fantasy season -- the players I'll be targeting in my drafts, and a handful that I won't have under any circumstances.
These types of articles always end on such a low note -- 10 players you like, getting you all excited about drafting, then five you don't, reminding you of how disappointing baseball players can be. Let's do it differently this year! I'll lead off with five players you want to avoid in any league, then give you the 10 you should be targeting, so you turn the page enthusiastic about the 2013 season.
Michael Bourn, OF, CLE: The Bourn Conundrum? As Santa loaded up his sleigh with presents for all the girls and boys, the center fielder was unemployed. With all the other free-agent center fielders off the market and a couple of teams addressing their needs in a trade, it appeared as though Bourn was in much less demand than he had hoped. It may be that the market sees what I do: a high-risk player whose combination of strikeouts and middling power bodes ill for his future production as he enters his 30s, a time when even the best basestealers run less. Last year's homer spike was a stone fluke, as he doubled his career HR/FB rate. Let someone else pay top dollar for Bourn's 30 steals and 90 runs scored, while finding your speed in younger players with stronger underlying skill sets – like many MLB teams are doing. The Indians ended up signing Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal in February, but that doesn't change the aforementioned concerns about his core skills.
Jim Johnson, RP, BAL: The baseline strikeout rate for one-inning relievers is 25 percent. If you're not whiffing one of every four men who steps to the plate, you're losing ground. Johnson whiffed 15 percent of hitters last year, and while a strong groundball rate and good command can paper over not missing bats, it tends to be short-lived success. Johnson, who saved 51 games a year ago, may not save that many over the rest of his career. No matter what else you do, it's hard to survive as a high-leverage reliever with a low strikeout rate in modern baseball. Look for Johnson's ERA to rise by more than a run and for him to lose save opportunities during the season.
Derek Jeter, SS, NYY: Perhaps you don't need me to tell you this, but given the state of the shortstop position in 2013, it may be tempting to buy into Jeter after his strong season at age 38. Don't. In all of baseball history, just seven players have gotten 400 PAs as a regular shortstop at age 39. Just seven have notched 100 hits. Just three have stolen 10 bases. In all of baseball history, 39-year-old shortstops have hit 28 home runs. Just two players, Craig Counsell and Omar Vizquel, have been full-time starting shortstops at age 39 since Luis Aparicio in 1973. You can bet that there will be all kinds of happy talk coming out of Tampa in the spring about Jeter's ankle; send links to all your friends and then draft someone else.
Kyle Lohse, SP, FA: Like Bourn, Lohse went into the holiday season unsure of what the future would bring. He was the last top starting pitcher standing...and in that sentence is the problem. Lohse isn't a top starting pitcher, but rather a mid-rotation starter -- at best -- who happened to post a career-low 2.86 ERA and career-best 16-3 record last year. While Lohse has shown substantial improvement in his command since joining the Cardinals, his strikeout rate is below average. Lohse's last two years were driven by extremely low batting averages on balls in play (.269 and .262), and 2012 featured the highest strand rate of his career. Nothing in Lohse's skill set leads you to believe those numbers are sustainable. At best, Lohse is a LIMA candidate, but there is significant blow-up potential here, especially if he lands in the AL.
Mark Trumbo, OF, LAA: The counting stats -- 32 homers, 95 RBI -- and his status as the Angels' primary DH in the wake of the Kendrys Morales trade will make him a popular player this spring. Don't be reeled in; after a strong start, Trumbo ended the year having barely improved his plate discipline (36:153 BB:K) and walk rate, and he was simply exploited by the league in the second half: .227/.271/.359 with a 14:88 BB:K. Trumbo won't make enough contact to keep a regular job or produce anything near the power we saw last year.
Now, the fun stuff. Here are the 10 guys my fantasy season will rise or fall upon in 2013.
Henderson Alvarez, SP, MIA: Among fastball pitchers – those who threw at least 60 percent fastballs in 2012 -- just four had an average fastball better than Alvarez's 93.3 mph. He's something of a one-trick pony, with a decent changeup and a mediocre slider, but what's interesting about Alvarez is that he has good command of the fastball. He reminds me of Chien-Ming Wang, another righty who threw hard and got a ton of groundballs but not many strikeouts. The trade to the Marlins should help Alvarez, especially if Adeiny Hechavarria and his great glove wins the shortstop job behind him. The Marlins will largely be forgotten this year, and you can get a lot of value scouting the unsexy teams in the market. Alvarez will take steps forward this year -- ERA in the 3.00s, double-digit wins, and a good WHIP.
Chris Archer, SP, TAM: The biggest beneficiary of the trade of James Shields, Archer should step into the Rays' No. 5 starter spot and be effective from Day 1. The righty struck out 26 percent of the men he faced at Triple-A last season and had two quality starts of four during two stints with the big club. Command is going to be the concern, but if you look at the Rays, you see that they have had success teaching their talented young pitchers to go after hitters and trust the strong defense behind them. That instruction is why Rays pitching prospects become MLB starters, while other teams scratch their heads and look around at their scouting department. This rating is part Archer's stuff, part faith in the organization.
Peter Bourjos, OF, LAA: The other big winner in the Morales deal, Bourjos should now be the Angels' everyday center fielder. Two years ago, left alone to play, Bourjos hit .271 with 12 homers and 22 steals. Last year, squeezed by veterans making huge money and the emergence of Mike Trout, he lost his regular playing time and his performance went south with that. Merely regaining his role as the everyday center fielder -- he's the best defensive center fielder in baseball -- should help his rate stats while having a big effect on his counting stats. Bourjos will be 26 years old during the 2013 season and should be headed for the best year of his career -- .280 with 15 homers and 25 steals are my baseline expectations.
Sean Doolittle, RP, OAK: Last year was just Doolittle's second as a pitcher in the pros, and he became, arguably, the A's best relief pitcher. Doolittle had a dominant 60:11 K:BB and struck out 31 percent of the batters he faced. He's a big guy who doesn't fool people, pounding the strike zone with a 94 mph fastball that he throws nearly all of the time to great effect. Ryan Cook yielded the closer role to Grant Balfour, who held it for the first time in his long career. History suggests that Balfour will give it up (he'll be working his back from arthroscopic knee surgery to be ready for Opening Day), and Doolittle is best situated to take it and keep it for a while, perhaps as soon as the season's first month.
Stephen Drew, SS, BOS: Drew lost nearly a full season to a broken ankle, and he clearly wasn't the same player when he came back from the injury in 2012. With nearly two years between him and the injury, he may be ready to get back to the player he was, a .270 hitter with good power for his position and a little speed. Moving to Fenway Park could be a fantastic play for him, as he can go the other way for doubles off the wall while having enough pull power to be a threat to get into the deep right-center gap. New Red Sox manager John Farrell loves the running game, so if Drew retains any basestealing ability -- he attempted just three steals last year -- he could get the green light and swipe 15 bags. This is a strong match of player and park, one of the few Red Sox offseason moves that made sense.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, KAN: Any list of 2012's most disappointing players has to include Hosmer, who hit a stretch of bad luck for the season's first month, and seemed to press for much of the year afterwards, trying to get his batting average up over .200. There was no injury, just some mechanical issues that he never really worked through. All of the raw talent that made Hosmer a top-10 prospect is still there, so look for his BABIP (which fell 60 points) to tick back up and the homers to start flying out of the yard, which should make him one of the fantasy bargains of 2013.
Ryan Madson, RP, LAA: Madson was supposed to be the Reds' closer last year, but he blew out his elbow in spring training and missed the entire season. This gave us one of the great reliever seasons in Aroldis Chapman's performance, so that's something. Meanwhile, Madson has taken his act to Anaheim, where he enters the season set to be the Angels' closer. Mike Scioscia has shown a real preference for having one guy in that role, and Madson has the most closing experience of the top four relievers in Anaheim, as well as the best command. With the Angels' upgraded offense and relief depth, save opportunities should be abundant, and Madson will feel much more risky -- due to the missed year -- than he actually is.
Rick Porcello, SP, DET: Porcello is still -- still -- just 24 years old. He's got four full years under his belt in a major league rotation, save for four starts spent in Triple-A in the summer of 2010. He's healthy. He throws 92 mph. More than half the balls put in play off him are hit on the ground, and that's one of the things that kills him, because the Tigers haven't had a good defensive infield in years. Porcello's health record, stuff, and batted-ball outcomes all point in a good direction; he may need a new team -- or at least a new set of infielders -- to make it happen, but he remains a desirable commodity with upside. Porcello remains broadly comparable to Greg Maddux at a similar age, and the potential for a big step forward is there.
Carlos Santana, C, CLE: The power that Santana showed in the minors hasn't shown up as much in his two full seasons in the majors. Santana has 44 homers and a .439 SLG the past two years, which while respectable for a catcher isn't the kind of pop the Indians expected. Santana has retained his excellent approach at the plate -- 90 walks a year -- and is an acceptable, though unspectacular, defensive catcher. Remember that he lost a season to injury, so he's older than you think – he turns 27 in April. Santana's peak is now, and there's an excellent chance it will look like that of Mickey Tettleton, who averaged 26 homers a year with a .471 SLG 20 years ago for the Orioles, Tigers and Rangers. Santana hits 30 bombs and drives in 100 this year.
Brayan Villarreal, RP, DET: Consider this to be "Not Bruce Rondon," with Villarreal – who struck out nearly 30 percent of the men he faced last year – in a group with Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit to get saves for the Tigers. The team seems set to give Rondon, a Venezuelan who has been in the system since 2008, first crack at the job. Rondon, 22, has a grand total of 29.2 innings pitched above A-ball, and in those frames he's walked 11 percent of the batters he's faced. Let's just say that deciding he's ready to face Adam Dunn with the game on the line is...optimistic. The saves will fall to someone else, and I like Villarreal, who was having a fantastic season before neck and elbow injuries hindered his effectiveness, to get the job. Fading Rondon and collecting the competition will be a strong play, particularly in leagues that draft early before Rondon takes the mound in March.