The 2012 baseball season is winding down. We have several exciting pennant races going on, several interesting award races, and the (for many) hilarious sight of Red Sox Nation wallowing in its collective misery as the Sox head toward their first below-.500 finish in 15 years. We've got neck-and-neck races in the AL East, AL Central, AL West, AL Wild Card, and in the NL Wild Card. We've got Cy Young races going on in both leagues, between Chris Sale and Justin Verlander in the AL, and between Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey (among others) in the NL. Pray for those of us with MLBTV, for our ability to function in society may never be the same after this is all over with. So with all of this going on, who in the world would want to start talking about next year? Me, that's who.
Right before the 2012 season began, I compiled a list of the top keeper league players, by position, in fantasy baseball. This list was comprised of my picks, by position, of which players you would want to draft first if you were drafting in a keeper league. Now that the season is almost at an end, I thought it would be fun to look ahead a bit, and come up with a revised list, as some of my picks from March have faltered a bit, and some new heroes have emerged out of the ether to grab hold of the top spot at their respective positions.
Once again, the criteria for keeper leagues is a little different. A player like Josh Hamilton, who is leading the majors in home runs and having an awesome year in general, would not rank as high on a keeper league list because he is over 30, and also has an injury history, to boot. A player like Starlin Castro, on the other hand, would rank higher because he's extremely young and, while he hasn't broken out for a star season quite yet, projects as a fantasy stud and has several more years before he reaches his peak.
Without further ado, after the jump, my end-season list of the top keeper league players by position.
1B: Joey Votto
In my preseason list, I went with Eric Hosmer here, mostly due to his extremely young age and stud potential, but Votto is so clearly head and shoulders above every other first baseman in the league that it's really hard to justify robbing him of this particular crown. As good as Hosmer projects to be, he's not likely to be as good as Votto at any point in his career. The man has a .467 OBP this year, for cryin' out loud, and it's .413 for his career. Votto missed a big chunk of time this year due to a knee injury, but he's never been particularly injury-prone, and we still have a year until his 30th birthday. He's the cream of the crop in a strong first base field and you could make an argument for him as the first pick overall.
2B: Robinson Cano
I'm changing directions here, as well. Last time I picked Dustin Pedroia at second base, but after a year of watching Cano kick Pedroia's butt in just about every category and eclipse 30 home runs for the first time, I'm ready to switch bandwagons. Cano only has a year on Pedroia anyway, and with Ian Kinsler slumping and many of the top young second basemen (Dustin Ackley, Jemile Weeks) stalling, Cano is the clear top fantasy second baseman in the game, and should be at the top for several more years.
SS: Jurickson Profar
Normally when I compile a list like this one, I pass over even the elite prospects if they have little or no big league experience, figuring that even the best of the best can suffer setbacks and never reach their potential. I prefer going with players who are both young and have had a year or two of star showing in the big leagues, which is why I went with Troy Tulowitzki in my list in March. For Profar, though, I'll happily buck that trend.
Profar launched fourteen home runs and slugged .452 in AA this season...as a 19-year-old. He's about to make Elvis Andrus irrelevant in a stacked Rangers lineup, which tells you all you need to know about his all-world ability. He homered in his first major league game this year and it should only be a matter of time before he's battling Mike Trout for the title of best all-around fantasy player.
3B: Evan Longoria
Call it irrational fixation on Longoria, but I'm sticking with him even now that Miguel Cabrera is 3B-eligible. Even though it seems like he's been around forever, Longo won't even reach his age-27 season until next year. He missed a large chunk of time this year due to a hamstring injury, and that, plus other assorted nagging injuries, threaten to give him the dreaded injury-prone label. However, his combination of relative youth and potential for a monster season are enough for me to continue to call him my top fantasy third sacker.
OF: Mike Trout
Wow, what a difference five months makes. I listed Justin Upton in this spot in March, and while Upton has gone about making that selection look all kinds of awful, Trout has only been having perhaps the best rookie season in the history of baseball. Trout is hitting .329/.396/.562 and is leading the league in runs scored, stolen bases, and OPS+. If you're into WAR, he's lapping the field at 10.2 (the next-highest WAR of any player is 6.7).* He's doing all of this despite turning 21 just six weeks ago. It absolutely boggles the mind. Trout is a freakish, once-in-a-lifetime talent who is, for my money, the hands-down top overall pick in any draft going forward, keeper or redraft.
*The 10.2 number is from Baseball Reference's WAR. Fangraphs has him at a still-league-leading 9.3.
C: Buster Posey
Posey was met with mild skepticism from more than a few fantasy writers before the season, obviously due to lingering concerns over his season-ending knee explosion in May of 2011. Said concerns have disappeared faster than Scott Cousins's major league career, as Posey has quieted all of the skeptics with a monstrous .392/.466/.656 second half. He leads all catchers in batting average, OPS, hits, and RBIs. To top it off, he's going to be first base-eligible for the foreseeable future, as the Giants attempt to keep him fresh while keeping his bat in the lineup. Set aside your fears of his knee suffering a setback. Posey should be the top catcher taken in all drafts until further notice.
I took some flak for picking Strasburg over Clayton Kershaw here in March, and here I am doing it again. When will I ever learn? Despite the innings cap imposed on him by management, Strasburg still managed to be studly in his first full season back from TJ surgery, albeit in a truncated form. While Kershaw and others (Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, etc.) are still quite young and awesome, I insist Strasburg will be better than any of them in the next few seasons. Case in point: his league-leading 11.1 K/9 this season, despite being just 23 and coming off of said major surgery. The Nationals will likely take the kid gloves off the further he gets from the Tommy John procedure. Call me irredeemably insane, but I think Strasburg's potential to be the dominant pitcher in the National League for the next several years puts him at the top of this list.
RP: Aroldis Chapman
The control problems that plagued Chapman's sophomore season have vanished completely. What we're left with is one of the greatest seasons by a relief pitcher in baseball history. Chapman has been brilliant ever since taking over the closer reins in Cincinnati, striking out a crazy-good 15.8 batters per nine innings. The usual reliever caveats apply here, of course. Due to the inherent unpredictability of relief pitchers, Chapman could get hurt or he could start walking everyone and their mom's dog again, but I'll nab him as the first closer taken, even ahead of the similarly-unhittable Craig Kimbrel.