2/4/2013 1:03 A.M. ET
Trout perched atop list of Top 10 fantasy players
By Steve Adams / MLB.com
Welcome back, fantasy players! Fantasy baseball is just around the corner, and with it comes a new set of rankings. Although many of the top projected players are holdovers from the 2012 list, there are some new faces among the Top 10, most notably American League Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up Mike Trout.
The Angels' 21-year-old center fielder entered last season as one of the game's top three prospects, and he set the baseball world on fire upon being recalled from Triple-A. Trout led the Majors in runs scored, with 129, and steals, with 49. He batted .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs, solidifying himself as a true five-category stud. He was also the recipient of some luck, as his .383 batting average on balls in play was the third highest in the Major Leagues. His incredible numbers came in just 139 games, though, so although there's some question as to whether he can repeat his batting average, any step back should be offset by an increase in countable stats with a full season of games.
The man who beat Trout for the AL MVP Award is no stranger to the top of fantasy rankings. Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera rode a .330 batting average, 44 round-trippers and 139 RBIs not only to the MVP Award but to the first Triple Crown in 45 years. In addition to winning his second straight batting title, he scored 109 runs and even swiped four bases. A career .318 hitter, he hasn't belted fewer than 30 taters since 2006, and he's never failed to top 100 RBIs in a full season. He's also one of the game's most durable players; he has played 792 games over the past five seasons, the fifth most in the Majors. Set to turn 30 in April, Cabrera is in the heart of his prime and should deliver another elite season.
Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun didn't win a second straight National League MVP Award in 2012, but the argument can be made that he had a better year than in 2011. Braun launched an NL-best 41 homers and led the league in runs scored, with 108. His 112 RBIs, 30 steals and .319 average were among the best single-season marks of his career. There were concerns that his production would suffer from the departure of Prince Fielder, but he quelled that talk by establishing a career high in long balls. At 29, Braun is one of the favorites to take home NL MVP honors in 2013.
Also among the favorites is MLB.com's fourth-ranked player, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp. A bad hamstring limited the 28-year-old to 106 games and nine stolen bases in 2012, but he still swatted 23 homers and posted a robust .303/.367/.538 line. Kemp is one season removed from 2011's 39-homer, 40-steal campaign. It should be noted that he underwent surgery during the offseason to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is ranked fifth after establishing career highs in homers (33) and runs (105). Over the past four seasons, Cano has averaged 29 homers, 104 runs, 103 RBIs and five steals to go along with a .314/.365/.534 batting line. That type of production is rare among second basemen, and Cano is as reliable a source as there is, having averaged 160 games per season since 2007.
Albert Pujols has slipped, but he remains the top-ranked first baseman. The Machine's first season with the Angels got off to a terrible start, but from May 12 on, he batted .310/.373/.581 with 29 homers. In 2013 he'll have a full season with Trout and Josh Hamilton hitting around him in the lineup. At 33, Pujols still has enough in the tank to be in the running for fantasy's top player.
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez enjoyed his third consecutive 20-20 season in 2012, and he also batted .303 with 22 homers, 20 steals, 85 RBIs and 89 runs scored. That came in just 135 games, as hamstring issues and the death of his grandfather caused him to miss nearly 30 games. CarGo will be 27 this season, and he has the tools to post a 30-30 season with a .300 average, 100 runs and 100 RBIs if he can overcome his injury woes.
Those same tools can be found in Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who hit .327 with 31 homers and 20 steals last season. McCutchen's supporting cast and home ballpark aren't quite as favorable, but he's averaged 156 games over the past three seasons. He probably won't repeat his .375 average on balls in play from 2012, but a 30-30 season and an average around .300 are possible.
A torn meniscus held Reds first baseman Joey Votto to 111 games in 2012, but he still led the league in walks -- a testament to his mastery of the strike zone and the fear he instills in pitchers. The 29-year-old has only once finished with an average below .300, and if his knee is healthy, he'll make a run at 30 homers, 100 RBIs and, perhaps, a batting title.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki rounds out the Top 10 despite having played only 47 games last season. A career .292/.364/.504 hitter who averages 28 homers per 162 games, Tulo is perhaps the game's most productive shortstop when healthy. He's had four stints on the disabled list over the past five seasons, so he comes with risk, but the reward is tantalizing.
And, really, risk is the name of the game. There are no sure things in fantasy baseball, but research and preparation can mitigate risk and position a team for success. MLB.com's Player Preview features writeups and projections for more than 800 players. The Top 10 is a good start, but next year's list could feature some faces who were nowhere near the top of this year's mountain. So dig deep, and best of luck on your 2013 season.
Steve Adams is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.