Is Josh Hamilton a First-Round Pick?

Of the players likely to go in the first few picks, perhaps the hardest to forecast is Josh Hamilton. Over at Mock Draft Central, Hamilton has been picked as high as second and as low as 18, which is a pretty wide split. Let’s compare that to two other guys who have topped out as the second pick. Jose Reyes has not dropped below eighth and Grady Sizemore’s lowest position was 11th.

Now Hamilton as the second pick is probably a reach, but he is in a group of people to consider at the end of the first round and the beginning of the second. Some analysts think it is crazy to draft Hamilton on the first round when you can get Carlos Lee on the second. Others see the production that Hamilton delivered last year – .304-32-130-98-9 – in his first full season and see room for improvement.

Part of the problem with Hamilton is that so much of his value derives from that high RBI total. He was second in the majors last year and only a second-half slump kept him from posting even gaudier totals in the category. Hamilton had 61 RBIs the first two months of the season and only 26 combined in August and September.

Fantasy owners like HR, SB and AVG because for the most part, the players are in control of their numbers in these categories. Meanwhile, as Jim Rice can tell you, RBIs are dependent on opportunities. It sure helps when you have Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans (or Ian Kinsler and Michael Young) getting on base a ton for you to drive in.

Hamilton’s monster first half coincided nicely with Kinsler’s terrific start. Then when Kinsler faded and then got injured in the second half, Hamilton suffered with him. It was a rough August for Hamilton, but he hit great in September (.366/.443/.516) and still managed just 13 RBIs.

A look at Hamilton’s profile shows nothing outlandish. Yes, his BABIP was high at .339 but nothing to be overly concerned about given his line drive and ground ball tendencies. Hamilton does not hit a ton of fly balls (32.9%) but has a good rate of converting those into home runs (19.2%). The fly ball percentage is low and will probably keep him from ever contending for the HR crown. But the Ballpark in Arlington, where he hit 19 HR last year, should keep him a 30-HR player.

In fantasy football, it is very common to look to capitalize with a QB-WR combo to give yourself a nine, 10 or 12-point connection. This year fantasy baseball players might be wise to do the same with Hamilton and Kinsler. Now you just have to decide which one to draft first.

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I think Hamilton’s second half decline had a lot to do with the fact that he went from not playing to a full season in a short period of time.