It’s the age-old trap on draft day: do you pick the guy you like or the guy who’s really going to help you win?
Every fantasy baseball competitor has found themselves with this dilemma at some point or another, and for Dodger fans, 2013 provides an entirely new challenge.
In the past, the list of Dodgers worthy of drafting was no longer than a few players — guys like Kershaw, Kemp, Ethier and Jansen — but this year, the Dodgers have 10 guys ranked in the top 250 according to ESPN, including five of the top 63 players.
So as a Dodger fan, which guys should you draft and which should you stay away from? Are some of these guys overrated? Maybe underrated?
Well, here’s a look at the top 10 Dodgers players according to ESPN and my thoughts on where these guys belong.
1) Matt Kemp (#6 ESPN; #5 Yahoo!)
With no surprise at all, the Dodgers center fielder finds himself ranked among the elite players in all of fantasy baseball. As a guy with potential to hit home runs, steal bases and hit for average, Kemp has rightfully earned his spot in the first round.
The skeptics will point to Kemp’s durability and his inconsistency as reasons to stay away from him in your draft, but your decision on Kemp all comes down to your strategy.
If you’re a swing-for-the-fences type of player, who likes players with high ceilings at the risk of drafting a dud, then Kemp is the guy for you. Obviously, Kemp’s “dud” year would still rank him among the top 25 players in the game, but it might not justify a first round pick.
On the other hand, though, Kemp is one of a few players who could compete for the triple crown in any given year and could find himself atop the fantasy rankings at the end of the year.
Verdict: If you’re looking for consistency, a guy like Albert Pujols or Carlos Gonzalez might be the better bet here, but if you’re willing to take a chance on a guy with an elite ceiling, then Kemp is the right guy for you.
2) Clayton Kershaw (#14 ESPN; #13 Yahoo!)
Like Kemp, Kershaw has earned his stripes as one of the league’s elite players with his performance over the past few seasons.
Unlike Kemp, however, Kershaw has done it consistently. Over the past four years, Kershaw has started between 30-33 games for the Dodgers, posting an ERA between 2.28-2.91.
Obviously, the one stat that doesn’t remain the same is wins, which have varied from 8-21, however with a power-packed lineup in 2013, I expect Kershaw to be amongst the league leaders in wins.
Verdict: Aside from Justin Verlander, Kershaw is by far the best option out there and well worth your second round pick if you can get him.
3) Hanley Ramirez (#23 ESPN; #28 Yahoo!)
Once among the hottest fantasy baseball commodities in the game, Ramirez has fallen down the rankings slightly over the past few years as his average and consistency have dissipated.
That said, Ramirez has the rare ability to play both 3B and SS in some formats, making him an option at two of the scarcest positions out there. If HanRam can bring his average back closer to .300 while maintaining 25+ home runs, his position in the third round of some drafts could make him a steal.
Like Kemp, however, there’s always the chance that Ramirez disappears for stretches at a time or that his real ability is more in line with the .250 average he has posted the last two seasons.
Verdict: With the ability to play multiple positions, I think Ramirez is an absolute steal in the third round. Compared to guys like Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia, Hanley provides significantly more value. If you prefer the conservative approach to drafting, however, you might look for more pitching this early in the draft.
4) Adrian Gonzalez (#40 ESPN; #43 Yahoo!)
Like Ramirez, AGon is just a couple years removed from the first round of most fantasy drafts but has seen his stock drop in light of recent production.
After six straight seasons of at least 24 home runs, Gonzalez blasted just 18 last season. The good news is that his average remained consistent at .299, but if you’re only getting 18 bombs from your first baseman, your fantasy squad could be in trouble.
I like Gonzalez to rebound this season amidst a stacked lineup and back in sunny Southern California, but whether that means he returns to the upper echelon of first basemen remains to be seen.
Verdict: The last of the top-tier first basemen, if you’re desperate for one in the fifth round, Gonzalez is your guy, otherwise I might look elsewhere for average and power. A guy like Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks will likely put up similar numbers to AGon and can be had 2-3 rounds later in the draft.
5) Zack Greinke (#63 ESPN; #39 Yahoo!)
Looking at the two projections and how far apart they are from one another, it’s safe to say there’s some confusion about who Zack Greinke really is.
On the bright side, Greinke should win a lot of games this season playing in front of a Dodgers lineup that has three hitters ranked in the top 40 players.
On the flip side, though, Greinke is already dealing with some arm issues and has become a bit of a wild card regarding expectations.
Greinke’s best year was way back in 2009 while a member of the Royals, when he posted an ERA of 2.16 and won 16 games. Since then, Greinke has yet to push his ERA below 3.48, which he posted in 2012.
So which Greinke could we expect this season?
Many believe Greinke has the stuff to be one of the top pitchers in the game, but the question is whether we’ll ever see him put it all together again. If the Dodgers can get a 3.40 ERA from Greinke I think they’ll be moderately satisfied, but will you be as his fantasy owner?
Verdict: Taking Greinke in the fourth round is a bit too early for me, but if he falls more in line with the ESPN ranking, then I think he’s a safe bet. Guys like C.C. Sabathia and R.A. Dickey are just a few spots ahead of him, and seem to be better options than Greinke, but a guy like Mat Latos, ranked just six spots behind Greinke, presents a steep drop off.
6) Carl Crawford (#141 ESPN; #114 Yahoo!)
Like Greinke, it’s all a question of which Carl Crawford shows up.
Heading into last season I was a big Crawford fan, expecting a nice bounce back season from him. Fortunately, another member of my league swooped in and grabbed him just minutes before it was my turn, saving me from a lifetime of hating Carl Crawford.
In reality, I think we could see a .300 average with 15 home runs and a bunch of steals from Crawford, but that’s a guess filled with massive amounts of uncertainty.
I think this is another pick that comes back to how risky you want to be.
Verdict: I think Crawford is a stay-away from me unless you can get him in the 15th round or later, simply because you don’t want to waste this high of a pick on a guy who has a good chance of being on the fantasy waiver wire in just a few months. If you like risk-taking and don’t have a Dodger yet, I suppose Crawford could be useful.
7) Andre Ethier (#153 ESPN; #151 Yahoo!)
Is Andre Ethier a full-time player? Will he sit against lefties? Can he even hit lefties?
Before we take a serious look at Ethier, I think these are the questions that really need to be addressed more than anything else.
According to Don Mattingly, Ethier is an everyday guy, which is good news for fantasy owners, but if he hits .220 against left-handed pitching again, it’s hard to imagine that stays the case for long.
Personally, I’m an Ethier fan.
I think from a fantasy perspective, Ethier is more valuable than Crawford when both are playing up to their potential. I’d rather have a .310 hitter with 25 home runs and a solid slugging percentage than a .300 average, 15 home runs and 30 steals — especially if I’m getting Ethier a couple rounds later.
Verdict: Ethier could be a steal this late in the draft. This is a guy who has proven he has the tools to be an elite outfielder in the league if he can stay healthy and focused. My biggest concern is his lack of motivation with a brand new contract, but I think Ethier is definitely worth the pick here.
8) Kenley Jansen (#202 ESPN; #228 Yahoo!)
Jansen definitely has the talent to be ranked this high, but without a closing job, drafting Jansen at all is a massive risk.
If Jansen gets his closing job back, he’s worth being drafted here, but until then, I’d steer clear.
Verdict: Steer clear of relief pitchers who won’t get you saves!
9) Josh Beckett (#227 ESPN; #198 Yahoo!)
Of all the guys on this list, Beckett might be the one I am most excited about.
In seven starts with the Dodgers last season, Beckett posted a 2.93 ERA with 38 strikeouts in just 43 innings. Now, obviously seven starts isn’t enough to make assumptions with, but in the 20th round or later, Beckett is one of the only guys you’ll find capable of making a massive impact on your season.
Consider this, since 2005, Beckett’s ERA has been: 3.38, 5.01, 3.27, 4.03, 3.86, 5.78, 2.89 and 4.65.
In looking at that, there’s two things to consider: first, Beckett seems to rebound from every bad year he’s ever had by lowering his ERA the next season; and secondly, Beckett is just 12 months removed from a 2.89 ERA in 30 starts!
Verdict: Draft him even earlier than projected just to be safe, I think he could be the steal of the draft.
10) Brandon League (#240 ESPN; #232 Yahoo!)
Getting a closer on a team projected to win a lot of games is always a big deal. Whether that closer will keep his job, however, is League’s biggest question.
League looked good in limited action as a Dodger last season and earned the right to become the team’s closer down the stretch. Historically, however, League was shaky as a Mariner, which led him to being traded to LA in the first place.
The good news for League is he has the job, but the bad news is that no one thinks he’ll have it for very long.
Verdict: If League can hold onto the job all season, this will be an absolute steal. If he loses his job in May, however, it’s a waste. I’d stay away unless you’re desperate.