FanPost

The Five People You Meet at the Top of the First Round

USA TODAY Sports

A Fantasy Baseball Lesson Inspired by Mitch Albom

"Each affects the other, and the other affects the next." Every pick in a fantasy baseball draft affects the picks that follow. The first overall pick sets the tone for the first round and the first round influences each round after. That's why player valuation cannot be performed in a vacuum. It demands a strategy. Connectedness is the overarching theme in Mitch Albom's novel, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," and each of the five people in the book teaches a lesson. These lessons can be applied to help us evaluate players and plan a strategy when picking at the top of the first round.

The First Person You Meet - Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

"Take one story from two different angles" (Albom, 42).

Most people want a sure thing with the first overall pick. You'll often hear the phrase, "Championships aren't won in the first round." If you subscribe to this ideology, you may be a bit weary of drafting Mike Trout with the first pick. The obvious argument here is that it would be difficult for any player to repeat the season Trout had in 2012. Among qualified hitters last year, here's how Trout ranked in Standard 5x5 categories:

Among All Hitters

Category

Trout

Rank

Leader

Stat

AVG

0.326

4

Miguel Cabrera

0.330

R

129

1

Mike Trout

129

HR

30

21

Miguel Cabrera

44

RBI

83

47

Miguel Cabrera

139

SB

49

1

Mike Trout

49

Among Outfielders

Category

Trout

Rank

Leader

Stat

AVG

0.326

2

Andrew McCutchen

0.327

R

129

1

Mike Trout

129

HR

30

13

Josh Hamilton

43

RBI

83

23

Josh Hamilton

128

SB

49

1

Mike Trout

49

Some people may want to see Trout do it for more than a season. The biggest question about him is whether or not the power is for real. As a prospect, Baseball America tagged Trout as having average power but noted that "His physicality and bat speed hint at more power down the road." In addition, Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, wrote in his Future Shock article from last February that "(Trout) projects to hit 18-25 home runs annually." Although, many did not project for Trout to hit for power right away, it's not as if he doesn't have the tools for this type of production.

The buzzword you will hear haunting Mike Trout this offseason is "regression". To regress means to "go back". So what exactly is Mike Trout going back to? His major league sample size is relatively small, but he has a career average of .334 in the minors and stole 111 in just over two seasons there. He will be hitting in front of two of the best hitters in baseball and will have a full slate of at bats this season. Trout has unbelievable speed, emerging power and a mature approach. Although he strikes out more than you would like, these aspects of his game mitigate any concern that he will not continue to produce. He's a five category contributor with the potential to almost single-handedly win a category if he reaches 60 stolen bases. This potential coupled with a relatively high floor puts Mike Trout atop this list.

The Second Person You Meet - Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

"And you lost something, but you gained something as well" (Albom, 94).

With Trout off the board, you missed out on the most electrifying player in baseball. But the door is now open for you to select the player who is the most significantly better than his peers. Robinson Cano is by and far the best second baseman in baseball today. Position scarcity is a concept that is widely used in fantasy baseball, but we are on the verge of position extinction. With the aging crop of used-to-be "elite" second basemen and the relative lack of youthful promise at the position (no offense to Jose Altuve), the cliff at second base is steep.

But just how steep is it? If we look at the Cano's average stats for the last three seasons compared to the rest of ESPN's Top 10 for 2013, it highlights how drastic the difference is:

Player

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

Robinson Cano

160

691

30

104

107

5

0.311

0.370

0.539

ESPN 2-6

151

663

17

89

73

20

0.271

0.341

0.430

Difference

9

28

13

15

34

-15

0.041

0.028

0.109

Cano is almost unanimously thought of as the best second baseman but when we really look into it, we see that he is much better than even the rest of the top players at the position. It's this gap between number one and the rest of the field, not to mention the lack of depth overall at the position, which makes Cano the number two player for 2013.

The Third Person You Meet - Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

"In order to move on, you must understand why you felt what you did and why you no longer need to feel it" (Albom, 142).

Third base hasn't been the hotbed for power hitters that it was in the 90's and early 2000's. But Miguel Cabrera's move back to the position last year, coupled with the emergence of some up and coming third basemen (and reemergence of Adrian Beltre), has changed that. Cabrera ranks as the number one third baseman for 2013 and would have ranked as the number one first baseman, if he still had eligibility. First base is still a little deeper than third (although the gap has narrowed), so this boosts his overall value slightly.

Cabrera has been a mainstay as a top fantasy producer since bursting onto the scene with a home run off of Roger Clemens in the 2003 World Series at age 20. Cabrera is coming off a year in which he won the American League Triple Crown and, subsequently, the AL MVP. He posted career highs in home runs and RBIs while hitting .330. The addition of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez give the Tigers the best top half of a lineup in the AL and Cabrera is the biggest bat of them all. He should continue to put up high power and RBI numbers. Although he's not the fleetest of foot and won't do much for you in terms of stolen bases, he should also score plenty of runs. Cabrera is a four category monster who comes into 2013 with eligibility at a position a little further to the left on the position depth spectrum.

The Fourth Person You Meet - Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

"And then I waited for you" (Albom, 157).

In 2013, there seems to be a distinct group of truly elite players - the three players previously mentioned and Ryan Braun. Many have made the case that Braun should be number one on this list, a point with which it's hard to argue. Since making his Major League debut in 2007, Braun has hit less than 30 home runs just once. He's never had a season in which he's hit under .285 or scored less than 90 runs or stolen less than 14 bases. The only time he's failed to drive in 100+ runs was his rookie year and he had 97 RBIs that season. His average 5x5 line for his career is .313 AVG - 102 R - 33 HR - 107 RBI - 21 SB.

Braun is as safe and productive as they come but he's not without risk. His name has been linked in the Biogenesis PED scandal and it remains to be seen if any disciplinary action will be taken. While I don't suggest drafting Braun with the expectation that he will be suspended, it is a possibility. I think we've seen the apex of Braun's production and, at age 29, he's a finished product. Mike Trout's ceiling, Cano's production gap and Cabrera's monster numbers at a thinner position push him to the fourth slot for me on draft day.

The Fifth Person You Meet - Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

"Supposed to be there" (Albom, 191).

For more than a decade, Albert Pujols has been the most feared hitter in baseball. Many feel that is no longer the case and that Pujols is in a state of decline. However, at age 33, he is still one of the best hitters in the game. Pujols' best days may be behind him but that is more a testament to how good he's been than it is an indication of his current level of production.

Pujols played in a different uniform for the first time in his career last season. The AL is generally considered to be the stronger league and the Angel's stadium is not regarded as a hitter's park. That being said, it's understandable that a player would struggle after making such a move. And Pujols definitely struggled. - at first. After tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training, Pujols went 28 games without a home run and hit .217 in April. He went on to hit .355 the rest of the season with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. He stole 8 bases which was fourth among first basemen and added 85 runs, as well.

In 2013, Albert Pujols will have a full year of Mike Trout and Erick Aybar batting in front of him. His walk rate has decreased each of the last two years but he still doesn't strike out much and he should benefit from Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo batting behind him. Pujols may be on the wrong side of 30 but he's played less than 150 games only twice in his career and is only a year removed from a 37 homer season. He will have a year in the AL under his belt and I believe he will build upon the summer he had in 2012.

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