In one of my fantasy leagues, I have the honor of picking where I want to draft in the 2012 draft. Generally, I like to be somewhere within picks 3 to 6 for a 12-team roto league because that's the latest point where you can get a stud player while getting a better pick in the second round by not picking 1st or 2nd. In a crude experiment, I looked at the final standings over the past 6 years of this particular league and compared that to where the teams picked in that draft. It confirmed my thought process as picks 3 through 6 averaged out as the four highest spots in the final standings (picks 1, 8, 10, 12 were the worst four spots in case you were curious).
With that in mind, in most years, I would look at early ADP data or expert rankings and see where there's seemingly a dropoff within the 3 to 6 range. Usually, you can see the stud players and then a quick drop to the great-but-not-stud players somewhere within there. This year, every ranking or ADP data seems to be ranking the Top 10 differently. Looking at four different expert rankings, there are 16 different players ranked within the Top 10 between them. Out of those 16, there are only 5 players who appear in the Top 10 in all four rankings. As I look at the various rankings though, I can start to see some clear lines on three separate tiers of players.
All five guys are in the Top 10 of each rankings and ADP
Albert Pujols (1B, ANA)
Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET)
Matt Kemp (OF, LAD)
Jose Bautista (OF, TOR)
Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL)
This might either be one big tier or two mini tiers. I think that Pujols, Cabrera and Kemp shape up a solid top three and that Bautista and Tulowitzki are on the outside looking in of this tier but it's a group of five solid players regardless. As I've stated before, drafting for power instead of speed is extremely important at this stage in the game. You can always find speed at any point in the draft but you cannot find power later. Kemp and Tulowitzki should be closer to the 30 HR department but Kemp brings speed and Tulowitzki brings position scarcity. Pujols and Cabrera are in the 35-40 HR department but bring batting average and other goodies while Bautista is a HR machine that now seems to be hitting for average too.
Guys in the Top 10 of three of the four rankings
Adrian Gonzalez (1B, BOS)
Joey Votto (1B, CIN)
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, BOS)
This is a solid little cluster of guys who should be in all Top 10 lists by the time the 2012 drafts start rolling around. I think these players and the first tier above combine to make the clear top eight players. As far as these three guys, Ellsbury is the most curious and unpredictable as his 32 HR came out of nowhere last year. If the power turns out to be legit then he will be quite the total package. Votto and Gonzalez are fairly similar but Gonzalez has shown to have more pop in his bat historically as it seems that Votto has a 30 HR ceiling while Gonzalez at least has the potential for 40 HR.
Guys which appear in one or two Top 10 rankings
Robinson Cano (2B, NYY)
Justin Upton (OF, ARI)
Prince Fielder (1B, ???)
Justin Verlander (SP, DET)
Evan Longoria (3B, TB)
Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS)
Now this is where it gets a bit murkier as it's tough to really say which of these six players belong in the remaining two spots in the Top 10. Each of these players has their own question marks. Is Longoria healthy? Do you draft an SP this early? Where will Fielder play? Will Upton repeat or regress? If I was forming my own Top 10 here, I'd likely choose Fielder and Longoria as you might be getting great value if Longoria is healthy and Fielder ends up in a good situation.
Ryan Braun (OF, MIL)
Of course, there is the mystery that is Ryan Braun. What do we do with him? It all depends on his appeal of his suspension. If he successfully appeals the suspension then he jumps up into Tier One and everything shifts around a bit. But, I say that things are not looking like they're going in that direction at this time so it's probably best to ignore him.
So, by taking all of that info and looking at it in tiers like this, we start to get a clearer picture on what the upcoming 2012 first round will look like. When I'm placing my money on these guys, I like to rely on the guys who have been in the first round before so Pujols, Cabrera, Tulowitzki or A. Gonzalez seem to be some of the more attractive options at first glance. But, luck and injuries will surely have a big effect on things and we'll laugh at this list 9 months from now. Regardless for the time being, this seems to be the path that will be laid out for drafters in 2012.
(And, as full disclosure, I decided to go with the sixth pick this year because I feel comfortable with anyone in that 3-6 range and feel that there is slight risk to each of them. That being the case, I'll end up with someone from that group and a better second round pick as a result.)