ESPN colleague Buster Olney blogged Tuesday about 10 young players who need to step up this season, and make no mistake, it's a good list, discussing players such as Mike Stanton and Aroldis Chapman. Those players matter, but they can't be trusted in fantasy just yet. When it comes to really mattering in fantasy baseball, we put the most stock in the early draft picks. Fantasy owners seek to minimize risk in Round 1, but Round 2 is when people start taking chances, picking players who could easily produce like a first-rounder.
And what better chance to take than on a young, toolsy, fill-the-box-score talent such as Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton? The fact is, Upton is all of 23 years old, and while 2010 was a disappointing season for him, it's way too early to give up now. Upton was the No. 17 option in ESPN average live drafts a year ago, someone being predicted for 30/30 numbers, at the very least. He fell well short of those marks; as such, most sets of rankings won't even have him in the top 30. Well, mine does. He's my No. 20 player overall.
One of the things I tend to do in all fantasy drafts or even when determining my rankings is look at young players with tremendous upside who everyone loved a year ago but still have yet to reach their potential. Players get forgotten quickly. It's not like Upton was going to slip to Round 8 in your draft, but I don't think much has changed in a year for him to drop more than a few spots. He's still very young and very talented. His progress has not stalled. Health played a role in his hitting a mere .273 with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases last season, and hey, it could have been far worse. You didn't lose your league because your second-round draft pick hit only .273 with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
I have made some interesting choices in my early rankings for this baseball season, as you can see from the top 10 I posted last week. Go ahead and respectfully disagree; I invite it. Make Joey Votto your No. 3 overall pick. Fine by me. But I'm here to make you think a bit. A year ago, when he was 22, Upton was headed for superstardom. I believe his path hasn't been disrupted.
Without further ado, here are the players I rank 11 through 20, while also discussing who misses. Have thoughts on these? Click on the Conversation link at the bottom and share them.
11. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Hey, I didn't drop him that far. Not to belabor this point, but there are so many first basemen out there that I think you're better served focusing on other needs. Votto's power numbers are repeatable, including the RBIs (yes, even if someone like Fred Lewis is leading off), but will he steal 16 bases every year? What if he hits .280 instead of .324? Votto is a second-rounder to me, though I'll likely take someone else in Round 2 and wait for Kendry Morales or Justin Morneau much later on.
12. Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: My first pitcher off the board and a worthy one. I see no reason why Halladay can't win 20 games every year with a sub-2.50 ERA. Reach for him in the top 10, if you must, because Halladay is safe.
13. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox: We're all excited about the numbers he could put up in Fenway Park, which is about as far from Petco Park as possible. But I'd definitely take the under on that batting title and 150 RBIs.
14. Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Surprise! Look, the same thing I wrote for Upton also holds true for Kemp. He's a bit older, and he definitely took a step backward in 2010, but 28 home runs, 89 RBIs and 19 stolen bases is hardly tragic. He didn't forget how to steal bases; he just forgot how to be safe. I say he remembers quickly and remains our best shot at a 30/30 season, hitting at least .275. I think he's a bargain at Pick 14.
15. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Redemption Road takes us to Philly, and my only middle infielder of Round 2. And yes, I did look for others. I just can't make the case for Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips or Utley's declining double-play mate, Jimmy Rollins. Utley hit 16 home runs and stole 13 bases in 115 games, missing time because of a thumb injury I wouldn't call a chronic concern. If he goes 25/15 this season and hits his career mark of .293, that's a second-round value, at least, considering he plays a weak position.
16. Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees: Don't feel too bad if you miss out on Votto or Gonzalez; Teixeira might actually be better. I just don't know if we can count on him salvaging that batting average after a brutal April every season. In-season trends do matter for fantasy owners, especially in head-to-head formats.
18. Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: I nearly placed Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder here -- Howard first -- but I don't feel safe about their respective batting averages. Plus, it's not like they are safe 40-homer, 130-RBI guys anymore. They totaled 191 RBIs between them last season. Holiday always hits for average, his power was on par, he runs enough to matter, and if you need five outfielders in your league, don't wait to start filling those spots in the ninth round.
19. Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: No, I didn't forget him. He and King Felix are about even for me. There will be no World Series hangover, and let's not overrate Lincecum's poor August. He rebounded fine.
20. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: By 2013, he will own at least one NL MVP Award.
Who's missing? Alex Rodriguez checks in at No. 21, then Josh Hamilton, Pedroia and Howard/Fielder. I have nothing against these gentlemen. But just because others like A-Rod in their top 10 doesn't mean I need to. There's definite risk here, and not just his health. I don't think he'll steal double-digit bases again, for one. (I suppose that could be related to health.) I think the Yankees will be happy with 140 games from him; A-Rod hasn't played more than that since 2007. Third base is not as deep as first base, so I would take A-Rod over Howard/Fielder. Hamilton is an even bigger injury risk. He's potentially dominant, a batting-title winner with amazing power, but I can't play the every-other-year game with him. Round 3 seems right. Cliff Lee is my next starting pitcher, and you might see three more Red Sox in my top 30, led by Pedroia, but later perhaps featuring Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. Adrian Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman, Ichiro Suzuki and Joe Mauer are also borderline third-rounders.