Commentary

A-Rod is first-rounder but Mauer is not

Tristan H. Cockcroft explains some of his more difficult rankings decisions

Updated: November 20, 2009, 5:16 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Ranking baseball players can be a fun exercise, but there's something even more fun than that: debating those rankings.

Believe me, as our Called Out! columnist for fantasy football, I know this firsthand. People like to talk about, debate and challenge rankings, and I mean even the very people who publish the rankings. For example, I recently posted my top 200 fantasy baseball players for 2010, and I had some serious internal debates about where to rank certain players. Things can change rapidly in this game, and as I continue to tweak my projections, which tends to be an ongoing offseason process, I'm sure even I might have a change of heart (or three).

To offer you some insights as to my rankings, I've picked out a few names and topics below that, in a Called Out!-style column, might be ones you'd ask about.

Alex Rodriguez (No. 4): It might seem odd to have a guy who didn't crack the 2009 Player Rater top 50 in my top five overall, but let's not discredit the guy simply because he missed the season's first 28 games. Scale his numbers to a full season, and he would have had 36 home runs, 121 RBIs, 94 runs scored and 17 stolen bases … you know, typical A-Rod numbers.

David Wright
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesWhether David Wright can hit for power in 2010 is the biggest question mark attached to his value.

David Wright (No. 14): Shortly after filing my top 200, I learned that a few of my editors had each predicted my probable top 10 in advance, and Wright was predicted by one. It's understandable; I've been one of our team's most staunch Wright supporters throughout his career. Ranking him 14th is, in a sense, maintaining my faith. It sounds like the New York Mets won't be altering their ballpark dimensions, so Wright's power outage might continue to some degree (hence the second-round ranking), but he maintained 80-RBI, 30-steal and 100-run paces with a .300-plus batting average despite what I'd argue was the most unlucky season I've ever seen for any team in the injury department. His fly ball-home run ratio in 2009 was 7.3, compared to 13.5 in his career entering the year, so that suggests horribly poor luck was a factor. I'll put the over/under on Wright's 2010 home runs at 20, but who's to complain about .310-20-100-30-100?

Joe Mauer (No. 20): His might be the most debated ranking of any of my top 25, as I could see him going in the first round in some drafts. But Mauer did finish "only" 17th on the Player Rater in a career year, and I'd be a hypocrite to rank him much higher than 20th, having just argued at Baseball HQ's First Pitch Arizona that Mauer effectively would have to be a .300-30-100 player -- or bat .350 -- to have even a chance at a top-20 Player Rater finish in 2010. Let me be clear: I love the guy, and I don't typically love catchers. But let's be realistic, shall we?

Jose Reyes (No. 23): Another player one of my editors picked for my top 10, and my response was that if there were any ranking in which I completely lacked confidence, it was Reyes'. Two months from now, I could just as likely see Reyes at 123 as at his current 23, since he's returning from surgery to repair a torn hamstring and much of his value is driven by his stolen-base contributions. His current prognosis has him ready in time for spring training, hence the confident placement for now, but he's easily the riskiest pick in my top 25.

Starting pitching: I'm more confident in picking starting pitching this year than in any of the previous 10 years (and perhaps longer), mainly due to the pendulum swinging back more toward pitchers than in the homer-happy era from 1998 to 2003. The other reason: Aces win fantasy titles. Three of my top four starters entering 2009 -- Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay -- finished in the top 10 at their position. Ten of my preseason top-25 pitchers finished in the top 25; an identical number of hitters did that. Surefire first-rounders David Wright, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore and Jimmy Rollins fell noticeably short of that status, so who's to say pitchers are clearly the bigger risks? Not that I'm ready to endorse a pitching-heavy draft strategy in the early rounds -- I still have only 29 pitchers in my top 100 -- but I wouldn't be as scared to spend an early pick on an ace.

Grady Sizemore (No. 26): Elbow and groin surgeries cut his 2009 short, but as of November, his rehabilitation was on track and he wasn't expected to suffer any impact on his offseason conditioning program. Sounds good to me, and let's remember that Sizemore remains in his prime (he's 27) and he did look like the same old Sizemore in the very brief stints in which he was healthy. We're talking a 30/30 candidate with 120-run potential, and those are rarities.

Mark Reynolds (No. 44): That I ranked a 200-strikeout hitter -- a trait that makes him an extreme long shot to ever bat .300 -- this high seemed generous enough to me. Reynolds' home run-fly ball ratio was 26.0, and Chase Field's number in the category was 9.9. Heck, maybe even 44th is too generous.

Tommy Hanson (No. 86): I'm a believer. I talk a lot about pitchers' adjustment periods, but I think Hanson already had his, between his shaky big league debut and that four-start span in July in which he had a 4.86 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. It only gets better from here.

Matt Wieters
G Fiume/Getty ImagesMatt Wieters, 23, hit .288 with 9 home runs in 354 at-bats for the Orioles in his rookie season.

Matt Wieters (No. 105): Perhaps the most difficult player to project and rank, and I'd have liked a little more time to decide how I feel about him. Actually, I know how I feel about him -- he's going to be a perennial All-Star, and it's only a question of how soon. A key step in doing my preliminary rankings is generating rough projections, and here's what my spreadsheet spit out for Wieters: .295 BA, 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 77 runs scored. That's in 135 games; he's 23 years old, and he had a .301 batting average, .351 on-base percentage and .415 slugging percentage in starting 63 of 74 Baltimore Orioles games after the All-Star break. What's not to like about this kid now that the mega-hype is in his rearview mirror?

Jake Peavy (No. 129): Typically a top-25-overall candidate, Peavy is a guy I'm avoiding entering 2010. He has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past two seasons, his numbers in recent years have been Cy Young worthy more as a product of his ballpark than his talent and he's now in the tougher offensive league. Peavy might have won all three of his late-season starts for the Chicago White Sox, but to put those in context, one was against the Kansas City Royals and the other two were against the righty-heavy, slumping Detroit Tigers. I'll set the over/unders at 25 starts and a 3.50 ERA, and I'm not overly confident in his chances at either.

Have any other thoughts about specific top 200 rankings? Send 'em my way; I'm always happy to hear alternate angles. You can e-mail me here.

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