Get yourself primed for fantasy baseball

Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants (Credit: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants (Getty Images))

Spring training games herald the return of fantasy baseball to the rotisserie fans' lives. With the season's start less than three weeks away, here's a primer for those who have yet to do their homework before drafting their fantasy teams, broken down by position and based on leagues that track batting average, runs, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts, saves, ERA and WHIP

Catchers
-- Top option: Buster Posey is the prize this year. The reigning NL MVP boosts fantasy lineups in all categories other than stolen bases. That being said, beware of the fact that the Giants backstop has played just one full season in a three-year career.
-- Buyer Beware: Victor Martinez missed the Tigers' entire season last year. The 34-year-old is easily the oldest option among the consensus top 10 catchers, and has a high risk-reward factor.
-- Sleeper: The Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy hit .320 last year. If you miss out on the more trusted options at the position, he's not a bad late-round pickup, offering decent power and reliable batting average.

First Basemen
-- Top option: While the Reds' Joey Votto has a case here, it's still Albert Pujols, thanks to a loaded lineup around him. His 2012 adjustment to the AL featured some growing pains, but Pujols will be back to his dominant self this year.
-- Buyer Beware: Mets fans are painfully aware of Ike Davis' struggles at the plate in 2012. Sure, he still managed to hit 32 homers, but a .227 average is a real drag in fantasy baseball. He'll be better than that in '13, but how much better? Don't draft him too high.
-- Sleeper: Another Davis, Chris of the Orioles, is capable of putting up just about the same stats as the Mets' first baseman, and he can be had later in drafts. A better lineup around him figures to make him a more reliable option, to boot.

Second Basemen
-- Top option: The best Yankee on the board, Robinson Cano, is also a no-brainer in just about any scoring format at second. Take him in the first round and enjoy the fruits of contract-year labor. No other player at the position provides as much power.
-- Buyer Beware: Jose Altuve was a fantasy steal for those that scooped him off the waiver wire early last year, but with the Astros moving to the American League, expect a more pedestrian batting average than the .290 he posted in 2012.
-- Sleeper: If Jedd Gyorko wins the position battle with the Padres, take him late. The rookie has pop in his bat, which isn't always the case when it comes to second basemen. He's sure to be around late in the draft.

Third Basemen
-- Top option: AL MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera loses eligibility at first base this year, but he's still the best 3B in any format. He's still in the prime of his career and provides a rare combination of big power and high batting average.
-- Buyer Beware: Brett Lawrie, 23, is poised for a great career. Though the Blue Jays lineup is far more formidable than it was a year ago, his health concerns should be enough to make fantasy owners wait on drafting him when more reliable names are around.
-- Sleeper: The Red Sox thought enough of Will Middlebrooks to trade Kevin Youkilis last year and give him the position. Though his .288 batting average may not carry over to 2013, he figures to produce the type of power a 3B should.

Shortstops
-- Top option: Those willing to chance that Troy Tulowitzki has put his 2012 health problems in the past will be handsomely rewarded. The Rockies' SS possesses by far the most powerful bat at the position, and could add eight to 10 SBs, too.
-- Buyer Beware: The Phillies' Jimmy Rollins is no spring chicken. Like Martinez at catcher, he's the oldest top-10 option at 34 years old. It's not that he should be avoided entirely; just think about the mileage on the tires first.
-- Sleeper: This one is a bit of a cop out, but another Rockies SS warrants attention. Josh Rutledge is expected to be the primary 2B in Colorado, but isn't eligible at the position yet. He's got power and speed, will have two-position eligibility, and he'll be there in the draft late.

Outfielders
-- Top option: It's a toss-up between the Brewers' Ryan Braun and the Angels' Mike Trout. But if you're in a keeper league, the 20-year-old Trout wins easily. Trout provides more speed, but his numbers could take a step back.
-- Buyer Beware: Any player with a hype-train is bound to be drafted too high. Bryce Harper is a great player and will be a deserved All-Star for the Nationals this season. Just don't over-draft him unless it's in a keeper or dynasty league.
-- Sleeper: Look for Shin-Soo Choo to benefit from a switch out of the AL Central to the NL Central. With Votto behind him in the lineup, he's a threat to score 100 runs for the first time in his career and contributes in the five major categories.

Starting Pitchers
-- Top option: Justin Verlander and a contract year is a frightening combination. He's the most reliable pitcher in the game and boosts all starting pitching categories while logging a ton of innings. If you prefer youth, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is a fine alternative.
-- Buyer Beware: A trade brought James Shields to the Royals in the offseason. He's clearly their ace, but if you're drafting him hoping he returns to 2011 form (2.82 ERA), think closer to his 3.89 career ERA - or higher.
-- Sleeper: Matt Harvey flashed enough in his late season call-up with the Mets (2.73 ERA, 70 K, 1.15 WHIP in 10 starts) to show he's a future fantasy stud. Wins may be harder to come by, but he'll give you everything else at a discount.

Relief Pitchers
-- Top option: Closer Craig Kimbrel is the only RP worth consideration in the first few rounds of your draft. He's a strikeout monster who could find even more save opportunities with a slightly retooled Braves lineup setting the table.
-- Buyer Beware: Joel Hanrahan pitched well in Pittsburgh last year, but an offseason trade shipped him up to Boston. He's unlikely to duplicate his 2012 stats (2.72 ERA, 36 SV) against the dreaded AL East.
-- Sleeper: With Jonathan Broxton taking over the closer role in Cincinnati as the Reds convert Aroldis Chapman to a starter, he's poised to have plenty of save opportunities for the NL Central's top club. He saved 27 games for the mediocre Royals last year, so saves in the 30s with an ERA under 3 is reasonable.

Tags: SPORTS

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