Never too early for a 2012 fantasy baseball preview

Will Detroit's Justin Verlander provide a repeat performance in 2012? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

I do realize it’s only January. I know you’re probably sitting back and relaxing with a nice warm cup of hot chocolate or a winter lager craft beer, wishing that I would just chill for a month or two. But I have a fever … and the only thing that is going to cure it is some baseball.

Unfortunately for me (but probably fortunately for others), my hometown football team (the Eagles) did not make the postseason. And while fans in cities such as Boston and New York are still 100 percent focused on a possible Super Bowl, I am left to anticipate mid-February and spring training. A few years back, I decided to give fantasy baseball a try, and while I wasn’t a big fan, at first, it has now grown on me. Over the last week, I still watched some football and some basketball but I always found myself searching various sites for updates, rankings and projections for the 2012 fantasy season. That being said, I decided to Jackson Pollock my thoughts onto paper and this is what came from it: early top 20 rankings for 2012 fantasy baseball.

1.) Albert Pujols: New team but same story. Pujols is can’t-miss and a guaranteed top-three selection. His move to Anaheim should help his RBI numbers. Not much else to say about the best player in the world.

2.) Matt Kemp: A breakout year in 2011 has led to high expectations for 2012. The Dodgers financial woes have not helped build a better team around him as much as he would like, but numbers comparable to last year could be expected.

3.) Miguel Cabrera: Trouble with the law and a bad attitude would usually be the ultimate negative for a player, but it seems he put all of that mess behind and was focused last year. He may be asked to hit third this season. Expect big things.

4.) Troy Tulowitzki: He is dominant when on the field, but staying on it has been a problem for Troy. He is the top-ranked shortstop these days and should not be expected to last past pick five.

5.) Jose Bautista: The guy is a stud. He burst on to the scene a few years ago and has been an MVP-caliber player each year since. While I am not as high on him as some people, I do appreciate what he has done, and it’s really hard to argue numbers.

6.) Jacoby Ellsbury: Okay, this may be a stretch for Ellsbury; but I have to admit, I love watching this guy play. He may be the best all-around player in the game as far as fantasy goes, and his speed is definitely a plus. Plus the ladies love him! LLCoolJ

7.) Robinson Cano: The number-one ranked second baseman is Mr. Do-it-all for the Yankees. I’m not a huge Yankees fan, but thinking objectively, Cano has to be ranked in the top 10. He could get even better, potentially, because he still isn’t 30 years old, and the Yankees are expected to be contenders for years to come.

8.) Justin Verlander: Wait! What? The MVP and Cy Young winner ranked eighth? I must be nuts. He can’t have that type of season again, can he?… Can he?

9.) Joey Votto: Cincy is expected to compete this year, and Votto is the key to the offense. I expect another big year. The question is will he stay in Cincy much longer?

10.) Adrian Gonzalez: Gonzo had a decent year last year, but expectations were extremely high. This year, with a new manager and less commotion in the offseason, it is easy to see Gonzo bouncing back to the top 10.

11.) Roy Halladay: Damn, I made it all the way to number 11 without naming a Phillies player. At least I’m not a homer. Roy is as consistent a player as there is in baseball. The usual dominance is expected.

12.) Justin Upton: Fully out of the shadow of his brother B.J., he came into his own last year in a big way! Justin is well on his way to being a star.

13.) Evan Longoria: A top-10 pick last year, Evan has slipped a little, but he more than likely will improve enough to be top 10 again next season.

14.) Clayton Kershaw: The NL CY Young winner is a beast! There is no doubt in my mind he is worth more than the $6.5M that the Dodgers offered him in arbitration, which is a lot more than what you’ll spend on him with the #14 pick.

15.) Prince Fielder: He is taking longer to decide where to play this year than it took Nomar to get into the batter’s box. Wherever it is, he will put up numbers.

16.) Hanley Ramirez: A really, really, really off year last year caused him to drop from two last year to 16 this year. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but I am still a bit worried about him.

17.) Curtis Granderson: He was a huge surprise last season. Out of all people in the Yankees lineup, I don’t think anybody expected the power numbers to come from him. Let’s see if he can do it again!

18.) Cliff Lee: Cliff was hot for a month, then cold for a month and then hot for a month again. When he is on, he is unbeatable. Let’s hope for more hot months this year than last.

19.) Tim Lincecum: He has been one of the top pitchers off the board every year since he came to the pros. The two-time Cy Young Winner is expected, once again, to perform as one of the top pitchers, even though he has a striking resemblance to the kid in the movie “Dazed and Confused.”

20.) Dustin Pedroia: Pedroia has regained his elite status as a second baseman. The 28-year-old can make an impact across the board for a fantasy team. As long as he stays on the field, expect big things.

So, there you have it; a quick look at the top 20 players for fantasy baseball 2012 as I see them. Hopefully, you agree. Most of you probably don’t, but, hey, at least we’re talking about baseball in January. My thirst is now quenched … for a week or so.

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