SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 16, 2013

Can Trout continue swimming upstream for fantasy owners?

Fantasy Focus
Andy Silva

---- — Despite the mountains of snow found throughout the North Shore and all of Massachusetts this week, take heart: baseball season is almost here.

The first signs of spring have arrived as spring training begun this week in earnest in Florida and California. And with the start of spring training comes the beginning of fantasy baseball season.

One of the biggest questions going into many fantasy drafts is this: can Mike Trout come close to replicating his unbelievable 2012 rookie season?

Trout burst onto the scene last year like a supernova. The former first round pick hit .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBI and 49 stolen bases for the Angels. Baseball America noted in a recent issue that he had the third-highest WAR (wins against replacement) of ALL-TIME. Not just for a rookie, not just for 2012, not just among Angels all-time. His WAR rate of 10.7 ranked only behind Barry Bonds in both 2002 (11.6) and 2001 (11.6).

Trout enters the 2013 season not under the radar, as he was going into last season, but with a target painted firmly on his back. Yahoo! has ranked Trout as its No. 1 overall player going into drafts, and surely finishing second in the AL MVP vote will guarantee that he won’t last beyond the top three picks in your draft.

I find it hard to believe that Trout can replicate his amazing rookie campaign completely, but that isn’t an indictment; rather, it’s what I believe to be a realistic appraisal.

I still believe he’ll have an outstanding season in 2013, but surely the league will attempt to adjust to Trout after seeing him for almost a full season, then breaking down what worked and didn’t against him this past offseason. Trout made his own adjustments over the offseason, reportedly bulking up by 10-15 pounds, and will have to adjust on the fly to the adjustments pitchers make to him.

At the end of the day (and despite striking out 21.8 percent of the time), Trout still has all the tools to excel. He can hit for average and power, gets on base and can steal bases. It’s his composite skills, something that separates him from even the other elite players in the game, which make me confident in declaring him worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts — and my pick for the top fantasy player of 2013.

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New year, same old story.

There were questions early on in 2012 what type of effect swirling steroids stories would have on Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. The Brewers’ outfielder wound up beating a suspension on a technicality and went on to have a fine season, hitting .319 with 41 homers and 112 RBI.

Now this season he’s been implicated in the ongoing Biogenesis scandal; ESPN reported yesterday that’s Braun’s name appeared on a list of players who reportedly received PEDs from the clinic and owner Anthony Bosch. Braun had previously said he showed up in Biogenesis’ ledgers because he had hired Bosch as a consultant during his successful challenge of his suspension last spring. But yesterday’s reports once again bring about fantasy questions about Braun heading into the draft.

Yahoo! has Braun at No. 2 in their preseason rankings. Given the black cloud hanging over Braun and perhaps the threat of looming discipline, not to mention the potential distraction this could prove to be, it would be hard taking Braun that high. In early drafts I don’t know if I would even feel comfortable taking Braun in the first round.

The later in the spring your draft is held, the clearer Braun’s situation will be; if you have to make a decision earlier than that, tread carefully. I don’t think I could personally take Braun ahead of any other players Yahoo! has in the top 25; I feel like outfield is deep enough that you can afford to pass on him.

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Andy Silva writes the Fantasy Focus column for The Salem News. He can be reached at asilva@salemnews.com.