Drafting in a keeper league draft is a completely different animal than drafting in a one-season league. For starters, you have to take the long-term ramifications of your draft into account. Drafting a bunch of 30-year-old star players may seem great for the here-and-now, and might even win you a championship in the immediate future, but the point of a dynasty league is to win a ton of championships. You can't do that by loading your team with older players who are subject to a sharp decline at any moment simply due to the ravages of age.
Thus, when going into a keeper draft, you have to strike a delicate balance between immediate impact and long-term potential. While it's folly to draft a bunch of veterans, it's also unwise to simply draft a bunch of prospects and pray that they pan out. Even the most talented phenom can crap out on his way to the majors, so solely banking on prospects without drafting any vets is a poor way to invest for the future. Remember when Brandon Wood was a can't-miss future All-Star? How'd that turn out? How about Jeremy Hermida? Or Andy Marte?
After the jump, the top keeper league players by position. These are the players, I feel, who provide the perfect balance of current- and future-production to make them ideal top keeper league draft picks.
1B: Eric Hosmer
Sort of the perfect keeper league player, in that he's ridiculously young still (22), and yet could easily bust out to be a top five first baseman in 2012 and the best fantasy first baseman in a few short years. Adding eleven stolen bases was a pleasant surprise, but we'll have to wait and see if that's going to be a standard part of his game or just a dry hump. Expect perennial .300-30-100 numbers sooner rather than later.
2B: Dustin Pedroia
The second base crop is surprisingly bereft of hot shot young uberprospects. The exception is Dustin Ackley, but I don't think Ackley quite projects to have the kind of power that stars Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, and Dustin Pedroia do today. Hitting in Safeco Field will do him no favors either. So for our second base keeper needs we'll take Pedroia. He doesn't have the power of Cano or Kinsler, but I'll give him the edge because he's a year younger and he gives you better across-the-board production. There literally is not a category where Pedroia won't help you, whereas Cano doesn't walk or steal bases, and Kinsler won't hit for a high average and has been a bit inconsistent over the years.
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
The hip pick here is going to be Starlin Castro, but I'm sorry, I don't see it. I'm sure Castro will develop into a star, but Tulo is just now entering his age-27 season and he's the most productive fantasy shortstop in the game. He's already a star, and is poised to be for years to come. His numbers may be a bit Coors Field-addled, but guess what? He signed a ten-year extension before last season and will be hitting in altitude until the year after Blade Runner takes place.
3B: Evan Longoria
Like Tulowitzki, Longoria is already the best fantasy producer at his position and should be at or near the top for the next decade. The scary part is, we probably haven't even seen his best. Longoria will only be 26 this year and is just entering his peak. Not only is he the top keeper league third baseman, but he's on the short list for the top overall keeper league draft pick. Don't get too concerned over his injury- and BABIP-caused drop in batting average last season. Expect a rebound and an MVP award or two in the future.
OF: Justin Upton
Yes, Matt Kemp is awesome, but Upton is younger and is going to be even better. He cut his strikeouts dramatically last season, and a higher percentage of his hits went for extra bases than ever before. Oh, and he gets to play in hitter-happy Chase Field. There's a mammoth season coming somewhere along the line, and Upton is a five-category stud in the making.
C: Matt Wieters
In case you hadn't figured it out, I'm a big fan. I'm taking him over Carlos Santana and Buster Posey because, while he hasn't been as productive as those two thus far, I think his upside is much higher. We already saw hints of it last year, when he broke out for 22 home runs. As I had mentioned in my article this past Thursday, if his production against righty pitchers goes back to its career norm, he's going to be the best-hitting catcher in baseball.
Yep, ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, or any other established star not coming off of Tommy John surgery. Strasburg came back in September and showed no ill effects from the injury and long layoff, walking just two (!) batters while striking out 24 in as exactly as many innings. He was still averaging 96 mph when he came back and was probably not allowed to cut loose. No pitcher in the game has the potential to dominate for the next decade like Strasburg has.
RP: Craig Kimbrel
Relievers are the afterthoughts in fantasy drafts that no one wants to deal with until somebody breaks the seal and the run starts. Then the managers unlucky enough to not get a top-five closer during the run are stuck scrambling to pick up the Brandon Leagues or Joel Hanrahans of the world in the final round. I hate closers, and I especially hate them for fantasy purposes, but I guess if you're going to draft one in a keeper league, make it Kimbrel. Unlike most closers, he can actually help you in more than one category, that being strikeouts. Unlike Carlos Marmol, he doesn't have awful control problems to go along with the whiffs. Kimbrel is great now but, as with any closer, young or old, who knows how long he'll last. Don't be surprised if he gets hurt and is out of the league in four years.