|Now isn't the time to question the potential of Bryce Harper. (cbswashington.com)|
Debating the merits or possibility that Bryce Harper will emerge as a fantasy baseball megastar is a tale that isn't as old as time, it just feels that way. Before we're picking if we're on the teapot side or the chandelier side of this argument, let's just say that Harper was well on his way to meeting every one's expectations last year before injuries cost him a lot of productivity. Two stints on the DL and lingering injuries to his back and knee hobbled the then 20-year-old. Plus the manner in which he did that unleashed a hella lot of gifs and funny Internet imagery that Harper even mentioned during Spring Training, he was tired of hearing. It's like if you got a really bad high in college, stripped your clothes off, and started running around the dorms naked screaming, "I can't feel real!" Except you're in front of a stadium full of people and plenty of camera angles to play that on repeat. It's embarrassing.
What's tougher to decipher is if being America's favorite wall-runner-into or the incredible rise of Mike Trout burns Harper more. Sure, Trout was the #1 ranked prospect to Harper's #2 most of their minor league careers, but that was primarily due to Trout's elite defense and run tools. Harper was the top prospect that was supposed to steal the show. He was supposed to be the teenage wunderkind who could hit 40 home runs and have a SportsCenter clip dedicated to him everyday. He has the sizzle, but the steak has been all Trout so far.
Ultimately, that's part of the problem. Trout has been so dominant in reality and fantasy that by comparison Harper is just not deserving of his hype. Not that hype is something you prescribe to yourself, but something that is put upon you by others. Yes, Harper hasn't shattered any records or won any MVP's yet, but that doesn't mean it's time to doubt his career arc.
Looking back on 2013, it was a step forward for Harper. He increased virtually all of his key stats compared to 2012. You can really just go across the board to his advanced stats and see his increase in walk rate, decrease in strikeout rate, increased OPS, ISO, and on and on.
While people want to see this growth over a full season, there's no doubting that Harper has made gains. Of course, there are some outstanding issues for the young slugger. No doubt, you have to keep the injury issue in the back of your mind. It's by no means chronic, but more a situation where he has to be monitored more closely and make sure he protects himself from dangerous situations on the field. As he continues to grow, he has to be able to hit left handed pitching better. He batted only .214 AVG with a wRC+ of 86. He did walk more against lefties, so he's not squeezing the bat too tightly, just needs to adjust to lefties and their breaking pitches.
Certainly there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, but Harper has shown that he'll figure things out. I don't view his health as an issue at this point, and I look forward to seeing what gains he can make in 2014. For a player like that it might seem too early to select him at #13, but the limitless potential makes him a good value for me at this point. Per Tristan H. Cockroft, Harper could just be setting himself up to make a run at closing that gap on Trout.
2014 (age 21): .288 AVG, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 16 SB
2015 (age 22): .297 AVG, 33 HR, 102 RBI, 15 SB
2016 (age 23): .302 AVG, 38 HR, 115 RBI, 11 SB
Let's not let some lingering feelings of disappointment cloud the vision of what kind of natural ability is there to be had.
The rest of the names on this list are all solid contributors and easy early round selections. Adrian Beltre is as steady as they come, but without that beloved upside and 35 years on the planet, his value will at the very least be conservatively ranked. There was some power drop off for Beltre last year, and while hitting in that line-up in Texas will cover up a lot, I wouldn't be surprised to see his overall production dip a bit further this year. He can still get to high 20s in home runs, but his 30 home run days might be in the past. Also, don't look past Beltre's batting average. He's hit .315 or better in 3 of the last 4 years.
I mentioned this last year, but Joey Votto might have become a better real life baseball player than fantasy. In standard leagues where on-base percentage isn't valued (and really, it should be at this point) a lot of Votto's true value is diminished. Sure, it's great if he walks and gets on base for Jay Bruce to drive him in, but when he doesn't put the ball in play with runners on 2nd and 3rd, that's a problem. He simply leaves too many opportunities on the diamond. While he always makes great contact, Votto has only topped 30 HR once. He's skill set is much more in line with a mid-20s HR out put to go along with a high average and run scoring ability.
The great fallacy of Jason Kipnis is that his performance dipped yet again in the 2nd half. There was a drop, but nothing I would call alarming. His K% remained solid, and the hits he took were primarily due to losing some points off his BABIP and ISO. Expecting a 20/30 season from him might be a bit much, but at 2B going 90/18/85/30 across the board will fill any one's roto team nicely. With a little more push he could challenge Robinson Cano for the top 2B spot overall.
Here's something I did want to mention for those people taking Clayton Kershaw in the upper half of your draft. Doing so means that you are making the statement that a dominant starting pitcher (there are a few others out there not named Clayton) is very valuable to you. So if you are one of these people and you're aggressive about getting Kershaw, then you should be ranking fellow dominant SP's higher as well. This certainly includes Yu Darvish, who led the league with 277 K's. That number alone cannot be ignored, but even though the Astros might have helped fuel that line, well who cares because Darvish still gets to face them as many times in 2014. He's made great strides so far in majors, but his propensity to throw a lot of pitches and not work deep into games continues to hurt him in the wins category. Also, I do begin to worry just a little bit about the little injuries he tends to pick up here or there. It hasn't been anything major yet, but I won't be surprised if/when he does go on the DL for a long period of time. I debated dropping him lower in my SP ranks for some other hurlers I'll talk about in my next rankings, but for now, he's the #2 SP.
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On Deck: David Price, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez
OVERALL RANKINGS THUS FAR
Only one switch thus far, and that was Edwin Encarnacion swapping spots with Chris Davis. Encarnacion is carrying dual position eligibility, seems healthy after wrist surgery, and his floor is much higher than Davis'.
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