Fantasy ranks summit: Notes and themes

It started Tuesday morning with much debate about the great -- or perhaps merely very good -- Mike Trout and ended during the evening Wednesday with closers and Cabreras (Melky and Asdrubal) sliding into our Top 100. In between, the ESPN Fantasy team laughed, cried and came to a friendly consensus while evaluating many players in our annual two-day Fantasy Baseball Rankings Summit.

I always look forward to our summits, not only because I can't wait to talk baseball on a cold January day (or any day, for that matter), but because it's a reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to help create and mold opinions for the upcoming season. And truth be told, plenty of opinions were swayed, including my own.

So with the myriad storylines from the awesome 2012 season not forgotten, but certainly in our proverbial rearview mirror, here are some of the noteworthy themes that came out of our meetings that are in clear focus for this season, mostly the result of interesting and productive analysis and debates.

Top of the mountain: I can't say this surprised me, but whereas in most seasons there's at least some token debate about the No. 1 pick, it's hard to remember a year like this, with three choices and one young player under such a microscope. So many of your favorite fantasy options will regress from the previous season, with Los Angeles Angels outfielder Trout likely among them, but to what degree? We opened the meetings discussing Trout versus Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers for the top outfield and potentially overall status, along with Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. One has to think the debate will rage on for months, even through the summer, with Trout's statistics being intensely poked and prodded from every angle. Ultimately Braun was given the group nod for No. 1, followed by Trout and Cabrera.

Catching the fever: It's easy to forget that there were so many other memorable performances in 2012, and what San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was able to accomplish certainly made a mark in our rankings. A year ago, our first catcher barely cracked the top 50, but Posey had little trouble crashing our second-round party for this year, edging out the likes of David Wright, Josh Hamilton and all but two starting pitchers. There's significant and unique high-end depth at the catching position, with batting average helpers (Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez), power threats (Wilin Rosario, Mike Napoli) and multiposition eligible options (Posey, Mauer, Carlos Santana each can play first base). It's clear there's much to like -- perhaps a bit too much -- at this oft-overlooked spot.

Hurt, and perhaps a bit forgotten: It's amazing how quickly a once-beloved fantasy option can fall out of favor, and there was great variance in how staffers viewed players coming off injury, such as Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Jacoby Ellsbury and Roy Halladay. A year ago, these players were either first-round picks or awfully close to it. They aren't anymore. There are no guarantees these players can return to past statistical glory, either due to their bodies betraying them or because they have set expectations at such a high level, but I seem to be a bit more optimistic and trusting than most. I already surprised colleagues by exhibiting non-conservative behavior on youngsters Trout and future stud Bryce Harper, and continued the trend with recovering veterans. I did, however, resist nominating Lance Berkman for Top 100 status!

Fool me once, fool me twice: Fantasy evaluators tend to possess a relatively short memory in conjunction with prior draft results, and this week was no different, with several young players apparently falling out of favor. Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer wasn't the only player ticketed for stardom to disappoint fantasy owners, but it was interesting to see how the room wasn't in the mood to be fooled by him or others falling short of expectations, such as Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and to some degree Giants hurler Tim Lincecum, each of whom ranked far better this time last year. I might have been more forgiving than most with these players, but not to the same degree as the elite hitters coming off injury.

Making the pitch: If you thought there was plenty of starting pitching depth last season, wait until you see what's waiting for 2013. Frankly, it's a bit difficult to avoid building a capable, if not strong, rotation. Reasonable minds can debate how long into drafts fantasy owners can and should wait for the elite strikeout starters -- I'm waiting a long time -- but if you're like me and want to be patient, there is ample reward in the teen rounds as well. For those who participated in fantasy leagues a decade ago and want to compare this hitter-poor era, just note that some of the statistical benchmarks aren't even in the same neighborhood. Depth is nice, but it also takes more to win pitching categories these days. Figuring out the proper balance in constructing a team will be critical.