Tuesday, February 28, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL'S 2ND BASEMEN; 2006!

DONE AND REVISED!

Ahhh, 2nd base; home to the defensively questionable and hiding place of the weak-armed infielder! Unlike the emarrassment of Roto-riches at 1st, 3rd and Short', there's a dramatic drop-off in both depth and talent after the VERY few "elite" 2nd basemen, and without doubt this is fantasy Baseball's thinnest position. If you hope to snare a top tier 2nd Sacker, then you'll need to expend an early pick on him. Further, many of the better 2nd baggers are youngsters who have yet to prove themselves capable of being consistent commodities.
Nevertheless there's value to be had, particularly among the mid-pack players, if you know where to look for it... or are willing to take a gamble. And experienced owners are well-aware that fantasy baseball, just like it's real-life counterpart, is about calculating risks!

But before we bust-down the position for 2006, let's take a look and see how last seasons' players and projections panned-out.

2ND BASEMAN; 2005:

"Fantasy Baseball's Top Second Baseman"

LAST SEASON I SAID:Alfonso Soriano (TEX): "Wow! As talented a player as he is, watching "Sorrie" bat can be an exercise in frustration. ...Assuredly not the most discriminating of hitters, Soriano frequently displays poor plate discipline, seemingly has no plan, and will fish for pitches that are well out of the strike zone. ...(He) strikes out almost once per every 5 ABs; for you stat-fiends, it actually works out to be 1 K/4.86 plate appearances. Nevertheless... ...look for Soriano to improve upon last season's very solid numbers. He is an elite option at his position, and (enjoys) the protection afforded by a lineup imposing enough to make any Pitcher shudder. (Sorrie') should notch (numbers approaching) .290/32/95 with 25 SB.
*NOTE: It's looking more and more likely that Soriano will be permanently moved to the leadoff spot. If that should be the case, look for his Home Run and RBI totals to dip, and his swiped bag total to jump as high as 35."


IN REALITY: The Texas 2nd sacker's batting average may have dropped a few points, but a .268/36/104, 102 run, 171 hit, 43 Double, 30 SB season rendered him a valuable fantasy commodity indeed! In fact, Sorrie' joined the select company of Jeff Kent and Rogers Hornsby as the only 2nd Basemen to hang 3 consecutive 30 dinger' seasons. Last season was also the now former Ranger's third 30/30 season.
Sent to the Washington Nationals for a package headlined by OF'er Brad Wilkerson, Soriano remains surly and his stay in our nation's capitol may well be a brief one.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Marcus Giles (ATL): "Giles is a classic example of what and where old fashioned hard work can take you. ...(he) recorded a phenomenal .316/21/69, with 14 SB and a Slugging % of .526 in '03. A collision with teammate Andruw Jones that resulted in a broken collarbone significantly abbreviated Giles' '04... And even upon his return, Giles was at less than 100%... Even still, of 118 hits last season ('04)- 32 were of the extra base variety. Giles is a rare breed; a 2nd Baseman who offers very good power, will hit for average, possesses excellent speed, will take a Walk, and doesn't whiff too often. Expected back at full strength, the Brave coaching staff expects Giles to approach the numbers he posted in '03... and you should too; .315/20/70 with 15 SB..."

IN REALITY: Some mags' and sites call Giles "a notch below elite," but his '05 diggies' of .291/15/63, with 104 Runs, 16 swiped bags, and 45 Doubles seem to indicate otherwise. Other 2nd baseman may have hit more round-trippers' while still others drove in more runs, but for all-around production-Giles is a multi-category contributor and that's where his value lies. Any owner that drafted Giles for his Ribbies' and Homers just doesn't know fantasy Baseball. As for my projections... I missed his Avg. by 24 points, HRs by 5, RBIs by 7, and SB by 1. So-so accuracy, and slotting him in 2-spot last year might've been slightly ambitious... but few owners will quibble.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Jeff Kent (LA): "While he won't win anyone's "Mr. Congeniality" award, Kent has walloped more Home Runs than any 2nd Baseman in history, averaging 28 Homers and 102 RBIs over the past 3 seasons... There are... valid concerns in ranking Kent at the 3 spot. ...Kent's ranked as high as 2 and as low as 7 at his position. In years past, Kent would have vied with Soriano for the top slot. However, Kent's now 37 and if he were any slower there would be a grave danger of his growing roots. In conjunction with his distinct lack of speed and advanced age, an off-season move to Dodger stadium could negatively impact his numbers. But having demonstrated an ability to hit in pitcher's parks, look for Kent to post one more solid fantasy season. Still, I'd look for Kent's numbers to take a modest dip and be close to .280/24/95 with 4 SB."

IN REALITY: I called for a season of .280/24/95 with 4 SB, and Kent responded with nearly the identical numbers of .289/29/105, and 6 SB. As mentioned above Kent won't win any "Mr. Personality" awards, but his offensive consistency is most meritorious! After anticipating a slight correction in his offensive output due to an off-season move to Dodger Stadium, Kent remained remarkably consistent in his ability to hit in so-called "pitcher's parks." While he hit almost 60 points higher on the road, his "home to road" Run and RBI splits were mirror images of one another (home 15/54, road 14/54) and Kent was, without doubt, the most consistent threat in LA's lineup.

"No Second Rate 2nd Baggers"

LAST SEASON I SAID: Mark Loretta (SD): "Forming a rock steady double-play combo with Padre compadre' SS Khalil Greene, Loretta was San Diego's MVP, participated in the All-Star game, and had an all around fantastic ('04) season. Loretta, who at last season's start was undervalued and available through many league's Waiver Wires, was remarkably productive. Having (notched) 208 hits, the first Pad' to reach 200 hits since Papa Gwynn hung up the spikes, Loretta was constantly on the basepaths. But ...Loretta was no dink and dunk, "seeing-eye ball hitter." With a modest 16 HRs and an eye-opening 47 Doubles, he also recorded 108 Runs, 76 RBIs, and with a microscopic 45 Strikeouts out of a hefty 620 ABs, the San Diego 2nd Baseman was one of the toughest Ks in Baseball. Loretta's numbers improved dramatically for the second consecutive season last year, and it would be hard to imagine him having a better season. At age 33, expect his numbers to level off ...(but) with (a) powerful stroke, (he) could reach 20 Home Runs this season. Although he (isn't) amongst (the) elite at 2nd, another fine season such as he enjoyed (in '04) will put him in their company. Expect a very good '05; .328/20/75."

IN REALITY: To anticipate a leveling off in an aging Loretta's numbers was one thing, but to see them fall off the table was something else entirely! The former Padre tore ligaments in his left thumb in mid-May, was subsequently lost until mid-July, and played in just 105 contests. But even before the bum thumb, "M-Lo" suffered from a serious power-outage. Prior to his injury, the middle infielder hit .300/.388/.344 in 160 Abs, with 5 Doubles, 1 Triple, and 1 Homer. In the 244 plate appearances following his return, he batted an even weaker .266/.342/.348, with 8 Doubles, 0 Triples, and a scant 2 long-balls.
Mark Loretta's injury-stained campaign came to a merciful conclusion, but not before he hung a final tally of .280/3/38, with 54 Runs and 8 SB, and those numbers are a LOOONG way from the .328/20/75 season I envisioned.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Jose Vidro (WAS): "A knee injury saw Vidro's '04 season end in August. However, Vidro is now away from Montreal's archaic Astro-turf and will be playing on the cushioned comfort of RFK Stadium's natural grass. According to reports, the Washington Nationals' 2nd Baseman is currently working out on a treadmill, taking grounders, and is expected back at full strength. ...a lifetime .304 hitter, Vidro will... miss OF'er Vladimir Guerrero's mighty bat, ...(but with the protection provided by the other talented National players) pencil the Nat' in for a season of .310/16/80. The guy's had 2 serious knee injuries and... will not be a base stealing factor."

IN REALITY: Another year, another bevy of injuries. Vidro's '04 "cam-pain" was curtailed by 52 games due to a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, and last season ended even earlier, after just 87 games. A sprained left ankle sidelined the 2nd sacker for 2 months, and further knee trouble cost Vidro all but 5 games in September. As opposed to undergoing additional surgery, team physicians recommended rest and rehab'.
Over the span of his half-season, the 31 year old veteran watched as every offensive stat' took a tumble... Washington's cavernous RFK Stadium seems to have that effect on numbers. In his 87 games Jose hit .275/7/32, and had he played in 150 or so tilts, aside from a considerable drop in Avg. Vidro may well have approached the .310/16/80 line I set for him.
Although I considered slotting him as a second "Comeback Player of the Year," his relative frailty prohibits such a suggestion. Further, with recalcitrant Alfonso Soriano on the team and refusing to make the move to the outfield (a milk-curdling personality coupled with terrible offensive numbers away from his former park, Arlington, make Sorrie' a tough trade), and speedy, versatile Damian Jackson also on the roster... it's entirely possible that Vidro gets shipped off to an AL team where he can serve as a DH.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, owners must plan for Vidro to remain Washington's 2nd baseman as Manager Frank Robinson stands firm in his intent to move Soriano, a defensive liability at 2nd, to the Outfield where his iffy glove can do far less damage. If... IF Vidro's body can remain intact, he could be a solid fill-in starter and provide depth at 2nd. That said, with RFK taking a bite out of his numbers and the threat of injury always lurking, there's little doubt that Vidro can be gotten in the later rounds of mixed-league drafts.
A solid "value" pick offering above-average production for a back-up, look for a season approaching .295/12/55+.


LAST SEASON I SAID: Luis Castillo (FLA): "It's difficult to slot the Marlin 2nd Baseman because he had such a poor '04 (for him anyway). Although he doesn't hit for power and seemingly as an allergy to RBIs, he nonetheless retains value due to his speed. Castillo's numbers might've suffered last season, at least in part, due to a chipped bone in his pinkie. Look for (his) numbers to rebound a bit and approach .305/4/45 with 25 SB."

IN REALITY: The litany o' leg injuries (hip, quad', thigh, knee and hamstring) suffered by Luis Castillo cost him 40 games last season, and sapped him of his speed and zapped base stealing ability. And, with speed serving as this 2nd bagger's calling-card, an '05 of .301/4/30, with 10 SB, 12 2-baggers and 4 3-baggers must be looked upon as a bitter disappointment.
I, however, am anything BUT disappointed in Castillo's production for I came within a hairs breadth of nailing Castillo to the number! I missed his Avg. by 4 points, his HR total by just 1, and overestimated his RBI and SB totals by 15 each. Castillo is yet another ball player who doesn't rate this season's list. After a decade spent in Marlin duds, Minnesota sent hurlers Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler to Florida and Castillo will supplant the largely unsuccessful Twin platoon of Nick Punto and Luis Rivas. In the 30 year old infielder manager Ron Gardenhire feels he has a legit leadoff or #2 hitter, and batting alongside speedy OF'er Shannon Stewart and siting atop the order instead of at the end of it... Castillo should see his batting average, Runs, and RBI totals creep up a bit.
Another solid sub-starter or back-up, .290/3/50, with 85+ Runs and 15 SB should be attainable.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Ray Durham (SF): "Durham used to make his living off of great speed (he thieved 26 bags in '02). Having been hobbled by a litany of injuries in recent years however, Durham's become a much more selective hitter and recorded a career low 60 Strikeouts out of 532 ABs last season. Setting the table for the potent Giant lineup, the aging Durham led all National League leadoff men with 65 RBIs, and his 17 Dingers ranked him 3rd. He's a defensive liability, but that shouldn't affect his fantasy value. Owners can anticipate at least one more productive offensive year out of Durham, he should post a line akin to .285/15/20 with 12 SB."

IN REALITY: Allow me to preface; 20 RBI? That was obviously a typo, and in the original article I forecast a season of .285/15/60, with 12 SB for the veteran Giant. Ray Durham played in 142 games in 2005, his highest total since '02, and whacked his way to a .290/12/62, 6 SB season. Hot on the heels of Luis Castillo's spot-on projection, I'm batting 2 fer' 2! I missed Durham's average by a fistful of points, his HR total by a scant 3, and his Ribbie's by just 2... or 42 if you go with the misprint! Not too shabby, fantasy friends!
Durham was, however, a walking M.A.S.H unit last year having suffered finger, groin, back, wrist, heel, and Hamstring injuries, he even sat out a game with an ingrown toenail! Yech. An assortment of leg injuries have robbed Ray of his greatest asset, his speed, and render him a below average defensive ball player. Nevertheless, Durham can still wield the wood and his .290 BA was a career-high mark.
Still, I can't and won't push Durham as a top-tier 2B, and his offensive numbers may even enter a modest decline next season. Complicating matters for Durham is a severe case of Plantar Fasciitis and manager Felipe Alou. Durham served as San Fran's 5th hitter for most of the year and hit a po-tent .323/.471/.378. And yet Alou is defying logic by contemplating moving Durham to the leadoff or 2-hole. Statistically, such a move makes little sense as Durham hit a paltry .214/.262/.333 at the top of the order last season. But within the last few days it would seem as if Alou shook free from his "mental-midgetry," asserting that "OF'er Randy Winn did a tremendous job hitting leadoff (.356/.688/.380 tremendous) for us... and I won't mess with success." Let us hope not.
Durham projects to bat 3rd, and should Barry Bonds return to bat "clean-up" at even 75% of what he was... Ray can expect to see a lot of Fastballs. Moving down in the order will likely result in fewer RBIs for the Giant 2B, but should help his Run total increase. A credible back-up or "Flex" player due to his high average, owners would be wise, however, to limit their hopes for another 140+ game season.
The aging and increasingly injury-prone infielder looks like a 120-135 game, .275/14/50, 5 SB ball player at this late stage of his career.

LAST SEASON I SAID: "On The Way Up"

Kaz Matsui (NYN): "The New York Yankees did SO well (both on and off the field) with their Matsui (OF'er Hideki), that the Met management went out and acquired their own Matsui. But playing Shortstop for the Mets last season proved to be very stressful for this former Japanese All-Star. Being shifted to 2nd Base should benefit both he and his owners, and such a move will provide Kaz with appreciable fantasy flexibility. Batting in the 2 spot, Matsui MUST cut down on his strikeout total (97 strikeouts out of 460 ABs). ...at age 29 and having a full season under his belt to acclimate to New York and American Baseball, Matsui offers nice upside. Jot the "Met-sui" in for an improved season of .280/10/50 with 20 SB."

IN REALITY: I said it before and I'm sayin' it again; "Oy Vey!" With Bret Boone's retirement Wednesday (3/1/06) comes a battle for 2nd. The contenders? The breathtakingly underwhelming Kaz Matsui (.255/3/24, with 6 SB in 87 games), against unprovens Anderson Hernandez (.056/00 in 18 '04 ABs... and that's no misprint!) and Jeff Keppinger (.284/3/9 in 33 games last season). If you wanna' get technical, Matsui played roughly 50% of the season and if you extrapolate his diggies' over the full 162 game complement, you'd end up with something like .255/6/46, with 12 thieved bags. Close enough to my early-spring projection, but there's no question that the "Met-Sui" has disappointed the fans who've flocked to Flushing to see him.
A former All-Star Shortstop in the Japanese League, upon breaking into American Baseball in 2004 Kaz participated in 114 games and hit a semi-respectable .272/7/44, with 14 SB and 32 Doubles. Only "semi-respectable" because a great deal more was expected from a player whom former Met manager Bobby Valentine coached (in Japan) and declared an "All-Star" caliber (in American ball) player. Matsui's issues may be two-fold. Firstly, at age 30 he's no youngster, and secondly he's struggled to remain healthy. American Baseball is far more physical and much less "polite" than its asian counterpart, and at 185 Lbs soaking wet and with change in his pockets, Matsui may well have been ill-prepared to have 210 Lb First Baseman come crashing into him in the hopes of disrupting a Double-Play.
While Jeff Keppinger offers promise, a solid spring will keep Kaz at 2nd. Surrounded by great talent, if he can remain upright and healthy Kaz Matsui's disciplined approach could result in something approaching .280/8/55, with 10+ SB. In essence, a quiet back-up "sleeper."

LAST SEASON I SAID: Aaron Miles (COL): "Having spent 9 long years toiling primarily in the Astro and White Sox minor league systems, no one can say that Miles hasn't paid his dues. But when he finally got his chance in May of last year to bat leadoff for the Rockies, Miles took full advantage and recorded some very good stats of .293/6/47 with 12 SB. With an OBP of .329, Miles isn't your typical leadoff hitter. He IS, however, a contact hitter who keeps the ball down and he led all rookies with 153 hits and 75 Runs... The concern here is the number of rookies the team will (start). That much youth will surely result in growing pains... Let's be conservative here, a line of .299/7/55 with 14 SB are certainly attainable numbers for the old/youngster in the rare air of Coor's Field."

IN REALITY: It seems as if I interpreted the-then Rockie rookies' season numbers ('04) incorrectly, and I certainly didn't see his ghastly sophomore season coming! A free swinging switch-hitter, Miles lacked any apparent command of the strike-zone last season, and boasted a brutal Walk to Strikeout ratio. In 324 ABs, Miles whiffed 38 times and Walked a microscopic 8 times. At first glance, .281/2/28 with 4 SB, 12 Doubles, and 3 Triples doesn't seem so bad, right? But consider that Miles recorded a line of .347/.412/.360 in Colorado's comfy' confines... and .208/292/.247 outside of it. Those numbers are no longer quite so impressive, are they?
Even if St. Louis' newest middle infielder somehow manages to beat out both Junior Spivey (.232/7/24, 9 SB in 259 ABs) and Hector Luna (.285/1/18, 10 SB in 137 ABs) for the starting job, the only category he looks to be a contributor in is runs.
Bottom line? At best, he'll see action in between 50 and 60 games.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Brian Roberts (BAL): "Batting atop another AL East "Murderer's Row" type lineup, Roberts sets the table for some mighty big boppers. A gap hitter who lacks Home Run power, Roberts has excellent speed, led the league with 50 Doubles last year, and should build upon a very good '04. A stat-line of .279/4/60 with 32 SB and 100 Runs would be a reasonable projection."

IN REALITY: A marginal .273/4/53 '04 campaign (.270/5/41 23 SB in '03) ensured that Roberts was barely a blip on the Roto-radar. And if not for a notable 29 swiped bags, the Oriole 2B would have remained thoroughly inconspicuous. But last season's .379/8/26, 10 Stolen Base MONTH OF APRIL (encompassing a preposterous .379/.726/.459, 1185 OPS) caused many an owner to suffer what has since become known as "Highlight-Whiplash." Compounding matters; an appreciable percentage of those same owners suffered additional bumps, bruises and contusions in their haste to get to the Waiver Wire, but were well-rewarded as Roberts continued his out-of-nowhere offensive assault with a combined .357/5/18, 17 Double, 2 Triple, 6 SB May (1009 OPS) and June (.942 OPS).
"B-Rob's" production returned to earth's orbit over the summer, and he concluded the '05 campaign with a line Nostradamus himself couldn't have foreseen; .314/18/73, (.314/.515/.387) with 27 "snagged bags," 92 Runs, 45 Doubles and 7 Triples. And as for my pathetic (in hindsight) pre-C' projection of .279/4/60 with 32 SB and 100 Runs? That's why they play the games! My stolen base and "runs scored" predictions were accurate... but who knew the 5-9/175 former middling hitter would morph into Mighty Mouse!

LAST SEASON I SAID: "Comeback Player of the Year"

Todd Walker (CHN): "A somewhat streaky hitter who needs to play every day in order to find his stroke, Walker will again be a full timer and possessing good pop, should be a solid fantasy contributor. Of his 102 hits last season 38 were for multiple bases, and on average every 2 hits yielded 1 RBI. That's pretty good production over limited time, and stretched across a full season of plate appearances... let's project a .293/18/65 season."

IN REALITY: Due to assorted injuries Walker's missed substantial chunks of each of the past 2 years, and last year a balky knee cost the offensive-minded Second sacker almost a full 1/3 of the season. But in the games he DID play, "T-Walk" made the most of his opportunities and clubbed his way to a .305/12/40, 50 Run, 25 Double, 3 Triple year. Had the Cubby' 2B remained healthy and on the same pace, he'd have met or exceeded the .293/18/65 I called for.
Due to the ample talent and depth at the position, and given the fact that both Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston are each gunning for the starting spot, Walker isn't ranked this year.
Still, T-Walk' won't swing at trash and offers above-average power for a 2nd Baseman; something neither Perez nor Hairston can claim, and although Chicago has dangled him as trade-bait he remains a Wrigley resident. If Walker can get his legs into game-shape he'll be the most likely candidate to win manager Dusty Baker's nod of starting approval. A sneaky-good fantasy back-up, .290/18/60.

LAST SEASON I SAID: "Deep Sleeper"

Chris Burke (HOU): "Having proven everything there was to prove at Triple A, Houston promoted the young middle infielder to the big club. Last season Burke went 1-17 in his limited engagement. Assuming he sticks, Burke's a speedster with gap power. (But if he's) your best option, frankly, you've got trouble. With no track record to rely upon... my "Fantasy Magic 8 Ball" shakes out a season of, .239/5/50 with 22 SB."

IN REALITY: My "Magic-8" was pretty accurate when asked to divulge the secrets to Chris Burke's upcoming '05 season. Available through virtually any Wal-Mart or Duane Reade, "The 8" was dead-on accurate in calling for 5 round-trippers' and came within 9 BA points. Burke started the year off slowly, but finished with the acceptable fantasy stats' of .248/5/26, with 11 SB. Burke also became Houston's hero when, in the 4th game of the NLDS, he crushed an 18th inning offering and sent it "deep into the Texas night."


LAST SEASON I SAID: "On the Way Down"

Brett Boone (SEA): "If you listen to Brett Boone, a horrible '04 season is squarely in his rear-view mirror and it's full steam ahead for '05. Boone feels a substantially altered off-season regimen will aid him in re-discovering the form that allowed him to be one of Baseball's top all around performers in '03 when he posted a line of .294/35/117 with 111 Runs and a SLG% of .535. While I applaud the whole positive thinking approach, the guy IS going to be 36. And, while he's just old enough to run for President of these United States (the minimim age for a U.S President is 35), Boone's best days are also probably in his rear-view mirror. Even with the lineup protection afforded by Suzuki, Beltre and Sexson, look for Boone's numbers to... be very similar to last year's if not to continue their slide; .255/25/85 with 8 swiped bags."

IN REALITY: To call Bret Boone's production "a modest decline" would be like calling the Grand Canyon "a hole in the ground." Boonies' production didn't slide nor did it decline. Rather, Bret Boone's level of play and career flat-lined. After a banner '03 came "the decline" in 2004, when the veteran player posted pedestrian numbers (.251/24/83) and looked nothing like the player we'd seen in years past. In fact, his play prompted much Sports Talk radio chatter, finger-pointing, and "enhanced play" accusations. And while I won't go that far, Boone's career went "full steam ahead" alright, straight into retirement. In '05, he hit .231/7/34 in 273 ABs as a Mariner, and .170/0/3 in 53 Minny' ABs.
After suffering the indignity of being cut by the Mariners, the Twins came calling. The 3-time All-Star and 4-time Gold Glover played just 14 games for Minnesota before they too cut him, and after entering Met camp as a non-roster invitee with no guarantee of a job... Boone called a 14 year career quits. A lifetime .266/252/1,021 hitter (1,775 hits), Boone's best season came in 2001 when he simply pulverized the ball at a .331/37/141 pace.

LAST SEASON I SAID: Tony Womack (NYA): "Womack enjoyed a career year last season ('04) which coincided nicely with the St. Louis Cardinals 105 win season. Although he could surprise again (as a member of) the positively stacked Yankee lineup, the smart money say's no. A season of .277/3/30 with 20 SB will make Womack a solid, but unremarkable 2nd Bagger."

IN REALITY: Tony "No-Mack" was SO whack, and his .249/0/15 season as a Yank' underscores the wisdom (or lack of it) of inking a veteran who hangs gaudy diggies' in his "walk-year" a big buck contract. 'Mack was so bad, both offensively and defensively, that NY moved him to fill a hole in the Outfield and was forced to promote young Robinson Cano.
Womack, now a Red, is with his 6th team in 4 seasons. Vying with promising Ryan Freel for the starting 2nd sack job, I'd steer clear for Mack'll knife your fantasy team!



AND NOW THE GOOD STUFF! FANTASY BASEBALL 2006; SECOND BASEMAN!

"Cream of the Crop!"

1. LA Angels of Anaheim, Chone Figgins: "Already Reviewed as a 3rd Baseman!"
Figgy' qualifies at a number of positions... and may even qualify as a Gatroenterologist this season if he got enough time on the ol' Endoscope during the winter.
Please refer to the most recent installment of this series, "Fantasy Baseball's 3rd Baseman" for Figgy's prognostication!

2. Philadelphia Phillies; Chase Utley: Utley beat out incumbent Placido Polanco (does his name NOT sound like an obscure medical condition? "I'm very sorry... but you have a Placido Polanco and there's nothing we can do") dealt with manager Charlie Manuel's indecision, and after a hot start allowed the team to trade Polanco, became the Phills' every-day 2B.
Utley became fantasy's TOP op' at his position in most leagues, churning out a tremendous .291/28/105, 93 Run, 39 Double, 6 Triple, 16 SB season. Although the hitter-friendly dimensions of Citizen's Bank Ballpark are changing and won't be quite so... friendly, with above-average power and speed to burn, Utley should still be good for .290/28/105, with 15 SB and 90+ Runs scored.
Very quietly Philadelphia's assembled quite a cast of mashers; 1B Ryan Howard (22 HRs in just 88 games), 2B Chase Utley (28 HRs in 147 games), SS Jimmy Rollins (12 HR, 41 SB), LF'er Pat Burrell (32 HR), and RF'er Bobby Abreu (24 HRs, 31 SB) could be quite a lineup, and if the rotation can hold up... Philly' has a real shot this year. A 3rd rounder in most "mixed leagues," the blossoming Utley is a 1st rounder in "NL Only" formats.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Jorge Cantu: Reviewed as a 3rd Baseman!

4. Baltimore Orioles; Brian Roberts: A dislocated elbow and torn tendon ended Roberts' season on September 20th (roughly 20 game early) and necessitated surgery. Although the O' 2B is still gunning to be game-ready by Opening Day, he's not yet progressed to soft-toss batting practice. The fact of the matter is, B-Rob' probably won't approach 100% until perhaps early summer. Taking a quick peek at his split-season stats, it's almost like looking at 2 different ball players. Prior to the break, Roberts was crushing the ball at the "Ruthian" pace of .345/15/49, with 18 SB and a SLG % of .591. After the break... ahhh, not so much; .274/3/24, with 9 SB and a SLG % of .419.
Physically he's entering his prime (28), but I'd be hard-pressed to believe that he's really as good as his 1st half numbers would suggest... and he's probably much closer to the athlete we saw following the All-Star break. Without the benefit of a Yankee, Cardinal or Red Sock type of lineup, I'm thinkin' .285/15/50, with 30 thieved bags and 105 Runs. Still, draft Roberts with caution as he remains an injury risk, and savvy owners will draft a player who offers flexibility at the position... just in case.

5. Washington Nationals; Alfonso Soriano: With Soriano ranking as last season's top 2nd baseman, why the sudden fall from grace for such an offensively talented athlete? Firstly, there's no question that "Big Al" benefitted from hitting within the friendly confines of Arlington's "Ameriquest Field," and Washington's RFK Stadium is a fly-ball graveyard. Shots which would carry out of his former smaller and warmer park will turn into deep pop-outs at his new park. Secondly, the Nationals are eager to move Soriano to the Outfield and given his shoddy glove-work... that's not such a bad idea. Never known for his defense, Soriano committed 21 errors and notched a fielding % of .972 last season, and in his 2 seasons in a Ranger Uni' he's booted 46 balls and recorded a fielding % of .970 and change. The problem? To date, the middle infielder is adamant in his refusal to accept such a move and isn't keen on playing for the Nationals to begin with. And lastly, while numbers can be twisted to suit anyone's needs, Soriano's stats' are incontrovertible; .315/.656/.355 (BA/SLG/OBP) at Arlington, and .224/.265/.374 away from it.
So, where does this leave us? Trade rumors, particularly for starting pitching, abound... but so far nothing seems to be sticking. Operating under the assumption that Soriano will remain a National as few GMs would be inclined to trade equal value for a 2nd bagger whose displayed poor glovework and abysmal batting numbers away from Texas, you can bet your boots that Soriano's batting average takes a hit. Also, if the guy is that miserable in Washington... his dissatisfaction will likely manifest itself on the field. Tentatively, look for .275/25/85, with 33 SB.
***NOTE:Manager Frank Robinson has declined to play Soriano in the 2 pre-season games before the "World Baseball Classic," stating "he's not playing because I didn't put him in the lineup." Anyone owner who would choose to expend a high draft pick or "keeper" slot on the malcontent National would be well-served to keep an eye on upcoming developments, as this has the makings of a VERY ugly clash of wills.

6. Atlanta Braves; Marcus Giles: The Braves' players always work together, operating as smoothly as a Swiss Watch. And after Hot-Lanta banked a stupefying 14th consecutive NL East title last season, you've gotta' figure... the Brave front office has it down to a science by now! When diminutive Marcus Giles took the field back in '01, team observers figured that San Diego OF'er Brian Giles' (Brian was a Pirate back then) little bro, all 5-8/180 of him, would be a platoon player at best. But Giles wanted to be more than that; 5 seasons later, the Brave 2nd baseman has proven to be the catalyst that sparks the offense.
With SS Rafael Furcal now a Dodger, Giles will land in the leadoff spot. Eh', not so great for a fantasy owner as Giles' Ribbie' opps' will be limited. The upside? Marcus Giles possesses above-average speed and will now have the opportunity to use it, and with an eye towards getting on base instead of driving in runs... look for an improved batting average, more Doubles, and more runs scored.
Indeed, look for a season of .295/12/50, with 110 Runs and 22 "bags snagged."

7. Detroit Tigers; Placido Polanco: Polanco lost his job in Philadelphia to young Chase Utley. This does not, however, mean that Polanco can't contribute to a fantasy team. After being exiled to Motown in exchange for C Uggie' Urbina and 2B Ramon Martinez, all Polanco did was notch a .331 batting average, second only to Cub 1B Derreck Lee, with 9 HRs, 56 Ribbies', 84 Runs and 4 SB. "PP" will be Detroit's starting second Bagger, and with more talent then many realize in Magglio Ordonez, Chris Shelton, Craig Monroe, Carlos Guillen and Dmitri Young, he'll have ample scoring and RBI opps'. Look for something resembling .295/15/65, with 8-10 SB.

8. Cleveland Indians; Ronnie Belliard: Finishing second in the AL Central to the World Series winning Chicago White Sox last season, the Cleveland Indians are rapidly climbing the ranks of the American League. Fueling this ascension? A talented group of young position players, with 30 year old 2B Ronnie Belliard serving as the "old man" of the group. A .284/17/78 hitter last year, Belliard offers owners consistency (posted .774 OPS each of the past 2 seasons), a sharp eye, and above average power. After ringing-up an awfully impressive 48 Doubles in '04, Belliard hit 36 last season but saw his Home Run total rise from 12 to 17. In addition, the 8-year Vet' concluded '05 with 54 extra base hits, notched career highs in Homers and RBIs, and followed up 2004's career-best 169 hits with a "2nd best" 152.
Although he hit 6th for most of last season the chatter is that Belliard will hit lower in the order this year. While that could cost him some RBIs, frankly, batting anywhere in a stacked lineup that includes OF'er Grady Sizemore, DH Travis Hafner, SS Jhonny Peralta, and C Victor Martinez should mean loads of RBI chances and Fastballs aplenty!
A top op' at the position due to the strength of those surrounding him, look a .289/15/70 campaign.

9. Oakland A's; Mark Ellis: After missing all of '04 to a dislocated shoulder, the A's Mark Ellis was an "out of nowhere" fantasy stud last season, and in 122 games he recorded a line of .316/13/52. A bona fide 2B starter, Ellis hit .244 in April, .283 in May... and then really got his groove on! The ball must've looked like a beach ball and moved at approximately the same speed, because the dude was scorchin' June through August, hitting at a .313 clip. Accordingly, Ellis' SLG and OBP percentages sky-rocketed over the same span; SLG= .435, .492, and .530, and OBP= .373, .362, and .394. His production reached a stunning crescendo in September, when Oakland's 2B recorded a dizzying .368/.446/.604, and an OPS of 1050.
While I find it difficult to believe that Ellis is the second coming of Robby Alomar, I also don't believe his season was an anomaly. The A's have a proven formula for finding solid hitters... and Ellis falls right into line. If 3B Eric Chavez can stay healthy, RF/1B Nick Swisher continues to develop and OF'er Milton Bradley hits like he did last season (.290/13/38 in just 75 games), pitchers will be unable to dance around the talented 2B and he should be able to cross Home Plate 95 or so times.
Although a great deal needs to come together, .290/15/65, with a fistful of swiped bags and 110 Runs scored should be about right.

10. Boston Red Sox; Mark Loretta: Now part of the BoSox brutish lineup, Loretta need not worry about driving in runs. Hitting out of the 2-hole behind the unfortunately named "Coco Crisp" and in front of the potent 3-4 punch of Big Papi (David Ortiz) and ManRam (Manny Ramirez), all the 2nd baseman needs to do is remain healthy (he claims his thumb is "100%") and work the count. Loretta's proven that he can hit for average, as evidenced by his .335 2004 season, and spacious Fenway Park will afford him lots of room to hit the ball where the Outfielders ain't. Capable of hitting to all fields and still retaining some speed, Mark Loretta could be a sneaky-good late-mid round grab in mixed league formats.
Supported by Beantown's still murderous lineup, "M-Lo" will be the least of the opposing pitchers' worries and should thrive as the #2 hitter. Look for a bounce-back .295/12/70, 110 Run, 5 SB season.



"On the Way Up!"

1. Chicago White Sox; Tadahito Iguchi: Not all Japanese Baseball imports have done as well as the White Sox's 2nd Baseman. Swatting from the top of the lineup, Iggy' hit .278/15/71, with 15 SB and 74 Runs. A model of consistency, the speedy Sock hit .280/5/33 before the break and .276/10/38 after it. Iggy's power numbers DID change however, improving over the season's 2nd half; his OBP rose to .346 from .339, and more dramatically his SLG % rose to .474 from .409.
Team manager Ozzie Guillen dropped his 2B to 6th in the lineup which is a curious move given the success Iguchi enjoyed at the top of the lineup last season. Ostensibly, Guillen is looking to afford Iggy' the opportunity to flash his power and speed, but the experiment has not borne fruit in the early pre-season.
Assuming Iguchi sticks in the 6-spot, look for .285/19/88 with 18 SB.

2. NY Yankees; Robinson Cano: Cano was called up to the Bigs from Triple-A Columbus after Tony Womack proved himself utterly incapable of playing 2nd base for the Yankees. He started off slowly, and saw his average soar to .315 over June and July. Opposing pitchers got a decent read on Cano over the summer, but Jeter took the yongster under his wing and escorted him to a surprising .297/14/62 rookie campaign. Remarkably poised for a young player forced in to a starting role, a series of big hits led to high expectations. It got to a point where even his teammates started to look for Cano to park the late-inning, game-winning Homer'. Although his glove-work leaves much to be desired, Torre likes Cano's bat and "cool." With Johnny Damon now a Yankee, Cano will likely hit in the bottom 1/3 of the order. Look for a solid sophomore season of .285/20/90.

3. Cincinatti Reds; Ryan Freel: The Reds' starting 2nd Sacker last season, Freel's body took a beating and he missed almost 40 games with assorted nicks and knocks. But Cin' city loves Freel's speed and owners should too; coupled with his gap power, Freel's speed should escort him to an increased number of Doubles and Triples. Last year he hit .271/4/21, with 36 SB. This season, assuming he can keep himself on the field and off the Trainer's Table, he projects to be a .275/5/40, 35-40 SB kinda' player. I wouldn't over-pay for him, nor would I expend anything other than a late round, "Mixed League" pick on him. Although I like Ryan Freel as a "Player on the Way Up," his ceiling is limited and the odds of his staying healthy for 160 games are slim. He'll need to prove his worth again this season.



"Top Sleepers!"

1. Milwaukee Brewers; Rickie Weeks: Much like Ron Belliard, Weeks is on a young team that's smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding project. But unlike Belliard, Weeks is a cornerstone of the project.
Weeks' rapid rise through the minors allowed the team to deal Junior Spivey, and in some 360 plate appearances last season, he hit .239/13/42, with 13 Doubles, 2 Triples, and 15 SB. For a player not quite 24, Rickie Weeks is a patient hitter and he should thrive batting from the 2-spot. With proven bats in 3B Corey Koskie, 1B Prince Fielder, and OF'ers Carlos Lee and Geoff Jenkins behind him, Weeks should also cross the plate 85 or so times.
A potential 30/30 talent (but not this year), Weeks' batting average should improve and his power should blossom. Look for a .275/23/75, 25 SB season.

2. Houston Astros; Chris Burke: The Astros' '01 first-round pick was to be the heir-apparent to greybeard second Baseman Craig Biggio, but Burke did nothing to distinguish himself at 2nd and was subsequently moved to Left Field. Biggio, who has no plans to retire any time soon (much like his good friend and fellow 'Stro Jeff Bagwell, Biggs' would very much like to play into the next century if sports science can find a way), was moved back to 2nd from the Outfield and both players acquitted themselves reasonably well. Follow? Thus, the Houston braintrust is looking for a way to exact the most value from Burke... and that could come via a trade while his stock remains high. Burke hit the historic, 18th inning NLDS winning Homer, and with a .275/.335/.446 line over the season's 2nd half. Listed under the heading of "Deep Sleeper" last season, Burke got off to an inauspicious start, suffered through injury, and hit like... well, a 2nd Baseman; I.E with all the power of a Fruit Fly. He handled the move to the Outfield with grace, played solid defense, and improved offensively. But with Biggio entrenched as the starting 2B and the Outfield crowded (Preston Wilson, Jason Lane and Willie Taveras look to be the starting trio), Burke could be the odd man out. In order to avoid such a measure the erstwhile Astro's been playing some Shortstop and could end up a reserve OF'er.
Keeping fingers crossed that he'll get his opportunity on this club or another, Burke should make for a fine "Flex" or "Utility" fantasy player assuming he starts 145 or more games. After again shakin' my trusty "Fantasy Magic-8," look for .285/15/55, with 15 SB.



"Deeper Sleeper!"

1. Oakland A's; Antonio Perez: The Dodgers grew tired of Perez's unwillingness to learn another position, and subesequently packaged him up with Milton Bradley and sent him to Oakland. Now, since this is the 4th time he's been traded since the Reds inked him outta' the Dominican Republic in '98, and seeing as how A GM Billy Beane saw something in him.... I've got to believe there's talent there. He hit .297/3/23, with 11 SB in 98 games last season and looks to be the A utility-man. Assuming he sees time at 3rd and 2nd, and "time" constitutes at least 225 ABS, .285/10/35, with 15 SB is in the cards. Speaking of which- if Perez should again be dealt, but this time to a team prepared to play him regularly... he might just be a capitol "Sleeper!"

2. LA Angels; Howie Kenrick: The Angels drafted Kendrick in '02... and he's been smackin' the white off the ball ever since! He's hit .368, .367 and .367 over each of the past 3 seasons, and that speaks to both his ability AND consistency. With only Adam Kennedy barring the door to the "bigs," look for Kendrick to smack his way onto the L.A roster by mid-season at the latest. The game's preeminent 2nd Base prospect, owners in deep leagues might wish to gamble a late, late round pick on him and not wait for Howie to make his big league debut.
With little to go on, .320/12/35 this season... and expect Kendrick to be a fantasy mainstay once he makes his splash.




"On the Way Down!"

1. Houston Astros; Craig Biggio: It took some investigating, but Biggio's a rock-solid candidate for this slot. While some would find it difficult to argue with a .264/26/69, 94 Run, 40 Double, 11 SB season... I will. I am not saying that Biggs' won't contribute to a fantasy squad, but I AM saying that he's clearly in decline and much of his apparent productivity was accomplished by virtue of smoke and mirrors. Entering his 19th Major League season and closing in on 3,000 hits (2,795) and 300 Home Runs (260), the career Astro will be eager to get his ABs.
But about that sleight-of-hand number game. Consider that he hit .291 in Houston as compared to .235 Away, 19 of his 26 round-trippers' were hit at Minute Maid and 49 of his 69 RBIs were hit at Home as well. Those figures aren't quite as impressive now, are they? In addition, Biggio has developed a nasty habit of slumping over the 2nd half over the past couple seasons. Last season, .288/.497/.391 (Avg./Slg./OBP) before the star-studded gala, and .237/.434/.294 after it. Enough numbers.
While Biggs' value should continue to take a "Nestea Plunge" and he therefore rates the ranking... an owner will likely get something approximating .263/18/65, with 10 "bags snagged".

Monday, February 27, 2006

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE YOUNG

When highly regarded Texas Longhorn QB Vince Young went looking for an agent, apparently he looked no further than his family's circle of friends.

Instead of hiring an established agent such as Tom Condon or even the hated Poston Brothers or "Agent of Mass Destruction," Drew Rosenhaus... Young hired the world-reknowned... Major Adams. What, did Adams enroll in an Internet "Sports Marketing" or "Distance Learning" program? How on earth could an allegedly bright kid with a mega-million buck future make such an egregious error in judgement?

Well, that leads us to the next point; Vince Young's intellect and maturity. Apparently, Young bombed the "Wonderlic Test". Now the Wonderlic is only one of a number of tests administered to fledgling Footballers, and while some teams afford it nominal weight... others think the measure is a very accurate predictor. Either way, Young scored a "16" on the exam. Many franchises won't even consider a QB with a score below 20. Which, by the way, leads us to a VERY good question; how is it that the media received Vince Young's Wonderlic results before many NFL GM's? The score(s) are supposed to be confidential, kept under virtual lock & key. It does seem that the youngster has grounds for a law suit, especially if his stock plummets due to the negative media attention.
All of that aside, an established agent of would've had his client prepared for the inevitable bombardment of questions, exams, tests, pokes and prods. But alas, the good "Major" is but a minor player in this game, and his hiring may be the most accurate predictor of Young's judgement and preparedness.

In addition to the above, we're also talking about a Signal Caller possessing a side-arm delivery (such a motion has NEVER translated to the NFL) who operated almost exclusively from the Shotgun, and who rarely connected with his Wideouts. Instead, Young had a penchant for his Tight Ends... and his "big game" performances were also somewhat suspect.

Vince Young has undoubtedly cost himself millions of dollars. While he'll have a pro day to recoup some of the lost funds... there's no way Young receives a contract correlational with his abilities. That, my fantasy friends, is a shame. While my heart doesn't break for a kid whose signing bonus is a tenfold-multiple of my yearly income, I do feel that players entering the NFL are besieged by sharks and continue to receive advice that contradicts their best interests.

No one could have saved Young from himself as this was his decision. HOWEVER, the NFL players should start to look a bit deeper into the "protection" the Player's Union is providing them with.... because the way it looks to me, the Player's Union has allowed its members to get the shaft time and time again.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

2006; FANTASY BASEBALL'S SHORTSTOPS!

PIECE COMPLETE!

The Shortstop...from the mid-90's through approximately '03, the position was Baseball's answer to the Supermodel. Formerly comprised of nimble, speedy, strong-armed slap-hitters, the position became a powerful triad of Jeter (Yankees), A-Rod (Seattle then Texas) and Nomar (BoSox)... but alas, no more.
While Miguel Tejada (his "arrival" turned the "triad" into a "quartet") and Jeter still man the position, Rodriguez is now the Yankee 3B and Nomar's attempting to ressurect an injury-plagued career with the Dodgers as a 1st Baseman.
And yet even without A-Rod and Nomah', the position boasts talent, depth, power, and runs at least 15 athletes deep. From Cleveland's impressive Jhonny Peralta to St. Loos' gritty David Eckstein, and from the Mets' fleet-of-foot Jose Reyes to the Cincinatti Reds' surprising Felipe Lopez, there's value scattered throughout the league and thus, there's no need to panic and pull a Shorty' off the 'board until you are ready to do so. There are even "Deeper Sleepers" such as Milwaukee's J.J Hardy and the Angels' Brandon Wood, so don't be pressured or fall into the "position run" trap. No doubt Shortstops are gonna' start to fall like dominoes early in the draft, yet if you do your research and set your board wisely you'll be able to snag a VERY competent middle-infielder in the mid-later rounds..

As we did with the 1st and 3rd Base positions, let's briefly checkout how my '05 projections fared!

Last Season I said: AT THE TOP OF THE GAME:

MIGUEL TEJADA (BAL): Last Season I Said: "For a notoriously slow starter, Tejada started off as hot as Texas asphalt and never cooled off last season. The move to Baltimore apparently agreed with "Miggy" as he posted a career high 150 RBIs. Tejada is a textbook fantasy stud; he hits for power, average, offers a sharp eye at the plate, and while he doesn't walk much... he won't hurt you with strikeouts either. Last season's ('04)numbers were simply eye-popping, .311/34/150 with a 107 Runs scored. While the Orioles didn't make any earth-shaking off-season moves (though the acquisition of OF'er Sammy Sosa should provide the lineup with even more punch and power), the Orioles still have a loaded lineup and there's no reason to believe that Tejada won't have another splendid season. Look for Tejada to again be Baseball and fantasy's top Shortstop, and put up numbers akin to, .313/33/138."

IN REALITY: Tejada was Balty's main cog, driving the team almost single-handedly to an early first-place start. Miggy finished the season with a line of .304/26/98, and included in his numbers were a stultifying 50 Doubles (the most hit by any SS), 5 Triples, and 337 total bases (2nd only to Michael Young's 343). As usual, Tejada's batting eye was razor-keen and he fanned a mere 83 times in over 650 ABs. While my BA and HR projections were close, Tejada hit 40 fewer Ribbies' than I anticipated and the last season that saw the Oriole Shortstop record fewer than 106 RBIs was '99 (84). His marked lack of Run production is attributable to both a dearth of men getting on base in front of him and a post-All Star Break "slump." Prior to Baseball's "Dog & Pony Show," Tejada was whacking the ball with impunity; he bragged a .329 Avg, a SLG % of .604, 19 HRs and 62 RBIs. After the star-fueled show, Tejada was a .276 hitter with a SLG % of .416, an OBP of .322, 7 HRs, and 36 RBIs. While his season was in no way disappointing, his 2nd half digits left his owners frustrated and confused as to whether or not to trade him.

DEREK JETER (NYA): Last Season I Said: "To say that Jeter started last season ('04) at a glacial pace would be a distinct understatement. ...Jeter was a house afire over the season's final four months and he ended the '04 campaign with a very good line of .292/23/78, with 111 Runs scored and 23 swiped bags. While there are many who’ll say that Jeter is the second best Yankee Shortstop (those people are generally Red Sox
supporters), he nevertheless possesses remarkable intangibles and is a run waiting to happen. Batting in the best lineup money can buy, Jeter remains an elite option at Short and should post another outstanding season as he continues his relentless march to Cooperstown. Look for .297/22/80 with 23 SB."


IN REALITY: I was almost money with my projections for the Yankee bellwether, missing his Avg. by 12 points, HRs by 3, and Ribs' by 10. Captain courageous swatted .309/19/70, with 14 swiped bags and 122 runs scored. In addition, Jeter recorded his first 200+ hit (202) season in 5 years (201 in '00), matched his career high for games played with 159, and continued to play a very solid Short' with 15 errors. If there's any criticism to be made it's that "Jeets'" defensive range might've diminished somewhat.

MICHAEL YOUNG (TEX): Last Season I Said: "While listing Young as the #3 fantasy Shortstop is sure to provoke criticism, the dude DID have almost 220 hits and put up .313/22/99 while hitting primarily out of the leadoff slot. Add 114 Runs scored, 12 SB, 44 Walks, and 89 Ks out of 690 AB's, and perhaps the ranking will make a little more sense. The Texas lineup's got a cast of mashers, remains imposing, and Young is just entering his prime. Let's pencil this gamer in for .315/25/97 with 16 SB."

IN REALITY: Several readers commented upon the "foolishness" of listing Young as my 3rd ranked Shortstop last season, stating that athletes such as Bobby Crosby and Rafael Furcal, amongst others, rated the slot. A .331/24/91 (with 220+ hits and a mere 91 Ks) campaign that saw Young top ALL Shortstops with an OPS of .899 vindicates the selection. Young is firmly entrenched in Texas's lineup... and affirmed his "elite" status with a 3rd consecutive .300+ Avg./200+ hit season.

NOMAR GARCIAPARRA (CHN): Last Season I Said: "Nomah' is also going to be jotted in as my "Comeback Player of the Year." While he battled through an injury plagued '04, he was also forced to contend with the legion of distractions that surrounded his trade from Boston to Chicago. The confluence of issues no doubt contributed to his down season and arguably poor attitude. Nonetheless, assuming he stay's healthy Garciaparra's got the potential to bounce back into the top 3 at his position. However, such an assumption is a bit of a risk due to Nomar's age, 31. Anticipating that Garciaparra, a very talented athlete, has recovered from his Achilles injury look for a line of .310/20/95. (This could be a very generous projection, though)"

IN REALITY: The former favorite Red Sock son is now with his 3rd team in 2 seasons. The injury bug continued to stalk Garciaparra and his inability to stay on-field rendered him a fantasy zero for a 2nd straight year. After playing precisely half of the '04 season (81 games, a line of .308/9/41), Garciaparra played a scant 62 games in '05 for the Cubbies' before he tore his groin muscle... away from the bone. The 2-time "AL Batting Champ'" and 1997 "American League Rookie of the Year" managed to play just 14 games before being smitten by his knee clampingly painful injury, and in those games he hit at a feeble .157 clip. Upon returning from his injury after the All-Star Break, Nomar participated in 48 games and stepped it up considerably, hitting a substantially improved .318, with 9 HRs, 11 Doubles and 26 RBIs.
Still, given the lofty expectations held for him, the '05 season must be considered a 62 game, .283/9/30 washout.

JIMMY ROLLINS (PHI): Last Season I Said: "No longer just a "good" fantasy Shortstop, Rollins has "crossed into the blue" and become an elite Shortstop. Offering power, speed and excellent production, if Rollins hits the basepaths running he's got a shot at having a career best season. Jot the still developing Rollins in for .299/17/77 with 35 SB."

IN REALITY: While '05 didn't turn out to be a "career" year for the Phillie, Rollins approached, met, or exceeded many of his career numbers... and ended the campaign on a 36 game hitting streak. "Fast" Jimmy notched a very nice season of .290/12/54, with 41 swiped bags sweetening his fantasy pot... acceptably close to my .299/17/77, 35 SB projection. The knock on Rollins' season? A lead-off hitter must be able to work the count in order to force a Walk and record a high OBP, and Rollins' OBP was a somewhat less than breathtaking .338. In conjunction, his Walk to Strikeout ratio needs work; the guy walked 47 times and struck-out 71 times in 675+ ABs.

"YOU WON'T GET "SHORT-CHANGED" WITH THESE GUYS"

RAFAEL FURCAL (ATL): Last Season I Said: "There's admittedly a bit of a drop-off after Miggy', "DJ," Young and Nomah." Still, Furcal offers his owners rare speed and decent pop. If Furcal can tear himself away from his local Pub (The guy’s got a real substance issue), (a line of) .285/17/65 with 30 SB is certainly within reach."

IN REALITY: I'm getting closer! Furcal took off the "Beer Goggles," refocused his attention on Baseball, and found his way to a .284/12/58, 46 SB season. I missed his BA by 1 measely point, and overestimated his Homer' and RBI totals by 5 and 7 respectively. Not too shabby! Furcal's 46 thieved bags ranked him 3rd amongst ALL National Leaguers, and his SB production nearly equalled several teams' production!

EDGAR RENTERIA (BOS): Last Season I Said: "Owners hoping that he would duplicate his remarkable '03 season were sorely disappointed. Renteria's hits dropped from 194 to 168, Runs from 96 to 84, HRs from 13 to 10, RBIs from 100 to 72, SB from 34 to 17, Walks from 65 to 39, and his average plummeted to .287 from .330. If you include the near 100 point drop in OBP (.406 to .314), the difference was almost night and day. And yet the brighter side is that even with the diminished productivity, Renteria remains a top 10 Shortstop. Let's operate under the assumption that Renteria's true numbers lie somewhere between his '03 and '04 seasons, and look for .291/8/85, with 80 Runs scored and 25 SB."

IN REALITY: Ever hear the axiom that warns against "assuming?" Yeah, well, I'd have been well served to have adhered to such sage advice. After moving from St. Louis to Boston, Renteria's numbers, most of 'em anyway, continued their downward spiral. The one-time 100 RBI, .330 hitter was NOT amongst the top 10 at his position, and the Sox Shorty' posted a season of .276/8/70, with 100 runs and 9 SB. I nailed his Home Run total on the button, but overshot his batting average by 15 points, his Ribbie' total by the same number, 15, and Stolen Bases by a "mere" 16. Another down year? Yes, I think so. The upside? Edgar, or "Eddie" to friends, quadrupled his number of Triples! In '04, Renteria hit... 0. In '05, 4! Ya' see? every cloud has a silver lining if you look deep enough or know how to twist statistics to suit your needs!

CARLOS GUILLEN (DET): Last Season I Said: "Having torn up his knee (ACL tear), Guillen is anything but a sure thing. However, a trade that sent Guillen to Detroit from Seattle seemed to be the spark that ignited a career season. At his physical peak, if healthy Guillen could even build upon last season's numbers and again be a very good fantasy weapon. Monitor his rehab progress closely, and if he’s 95% or so look for .293/16/95, with 8 SB."

IN REALITY: I am sorry to report that Carlos Guillen's '05 season fell right into line with each of his prior 7; it was fun while it lasted! The paper Tiger played a total of 87 games in a season punctuated by pain, and hit a nearly powerless .320/5/23, with 2 swiped bags. It was apparent from the start that his right knee (torn ACL in '04) was going to be problematic, and a left Hamstring pull did nothing to help matters. With a pair of bum "wheels," Guillen was able to post a nice average but offered zip, zilch and zero power.

ORLANDO CABRERA (ANA): Last Season I Said: "Another Shortstop who benefited from a change in scenery, a move to Boston from Montreal's comparatively barren lineup spurred Cabrera to finish the season with confidence. Now part of Anaheim’s excellent lineup, a full season with his Angel teammates could even result in a slight up-tick in Orlando's numbers. Look for .280/12/73, with 22 SB."

IN REALITY: Contrary to the opinions of many a fantasy analyst, not to mention the hopes of the Angel coaching staff, Cabrera's numbers only slid deeper into the quicksand of Baseball mediocrity. Any owner who held out hope that "O-C" would replicate his impressive .297/17/80, 95 run, 24 SB '03 was sorely disappointed. Instead, Cabrera (.257/8/57, 70 Runs, 21 SB) ended up on many leagues' Waiver Wires.

JACK WILSON (PIT): Last Season I Said: "This dude broke OUT last season. (Undrafted in most formats), Wilson (only 27) surprised fantasy owners and teammates alike with a .308/11/59 season ('04). Given that he hit at a mere .256 clip in '03 with a Slugging Percentage over 100 points lower than his '04 figure of .459, everyone's surprise was understandable. While Wilson's not much of a base stealer and doesn't draw many walks, he won't kill you with strikeouts either. However, should you elect to draft the Pirate SS I'd make certain to have another athlete who offers flexibility at the position... just in case. Was Wilson's '04 campaign an aberration and career year? Quite possibly, but let's think positively and assume his '05 numbers will lie somewhere between his previous 2 seasons; look for something like .285/10/62."

IN REALITY: Yet another underwhelming Shortstop whose high '05 ranking was erected upon the scaffold of a single, apparently anomalous season. Even so, my .285/10/62 projection was within hailing distance of his actual .257/8/52 campaign.
For obvious reasons, Wilson doesn't rate a ranking on this year's list. He's certainly NOT amongst the game's elite, and at 28 he's neither "On the Rise" nor "In Decline." Jack Wilson's just an average Shortstop on an average team that fields... you guessed it, average talent (aside from OF'er Jason Bay). If you decide to "punt" the position for several rounds in order to add depth to your roster Wilson, who hung a .292 2nd half average with 31 RBIs and all 7 of his SB, could be a sneaky late-round grab. A season akin to .275/12/70 is posible.


"SHORTSTOPS ON THE RISE"

BOBBY CROSBY (OAK): Last Season I Said: "Asked to fill some mighty big shoes at Short' in Oakland, Crosby responded with a solid season that earned him "A.L Rookie of the Year" honors. A flawless season it was not, however, and Crosby MUST become more discerning at the dish as another 141 strikeout season would be unacceptable. Another off-season of work and spring training should have helped Crosby develop a better eye, and his developing power bodes well for the future. Look for (the A' Shortstop) to build upon last year and avoid the sophomore slump (hopefully) that afflicted fellow Shortstop Angel Berroa. Jot the A young'un in for .250/25/75 with 8 swiped bags."

IN REALITY: Crosby's season started off on a sour note when he sustained broken ribs on Opening Day. Upon returning from his busted-up mid-section, the Oakie' infielder suffered a fractured ankle at the end of August... and helped no one when he returned prematurely in order to provide a boost to a team in the thick of the AL West hunt. Crosby went 4 for 25 before shutting it down for good, but his late-season return, while well-intentioned, cost him statistically. In 84 games and 333 plate appearances, the A Shortstop posted a respectable .276/9/38. Extrapolated over the span of a full 162 game season, Croz' would've hung something like .276/17/70 and been pretty close to my .250/25/75 projection.

KHALIL GREENE (SD): Last Season I Said: "With a high Baseball IQ and ample power potential, Greene's got a bright future. (And,) while playing in San Diego's spacious Petco Park doesn't help his Home Run numbers... Greene still managed to mash 15 round' trippers. Although he's no speed merchant, the 25 year old Padre has decent range, 20 Homer potential, and should have improved with another Spring Training under his belt. Look for Greene to post .285/18/75 with 5 SB."

IN REALITY: Well, Again, I was close. Greene's season shook-out to be .250/15/70, with 5 SB. I was on-time with the Pad' SS's Homers', off by just 3, RBIs, missed by a scant 5, and I nailed his exact SB number, 5. While I may be thrilled to have projected Greene accurately, his owners could NOT have been thrilled with 2 stints on the DL due to different broken bones, an OBP of .296, and a Shortstop who attempted to try and pull everything out of gargantuan Petco Park.
Greene doesn't make the top 10 list, nor will I slot him in any of the other categories. A Padre who does possess .300 potential, Greene has fallen in love with the Home Run and must come to grips with the fact that even the strongest hitters have trouble driving balls out of Petco. If Khalil Greene would simply embrace his strengths; speed (61 Doubles and 6 Triples over the past 2 seasons) and the ability to make contact, he'd be a far better ball player. If Greene can do that much he'll be a serviceable fantasy middle infielder, but until such time as he does... he's nothing more than a nice insurance policy for your starting Shortstop.

JOSE REYES (NYN): Last Season I Said: "The Mets moved the tremendously gifted and quick as a blink athlete from his natural position of Shortstop to 2nd Base... and (then) back to Short again. An assortment of injuries (predominantly leg) have significantly abbreviated Reyes' tenure in New York... and valid questions about his durability remain. If Reyes can stay healthy and off the Trainer's Table, he possesses immeasurable real and fantasy ability. With a quick bat and absurd speed, Reyes has top 15 Fantasy player potential. ...if (he) can stay on the field, look for .291/8/35 with 31 SB. Note: ...I am NOT a big Reyes fan and question his ability to remain healthy playing at this level. Make certain you have another player capable of filling in for him if need be."

IN REALITY: In reality, I couldn't be more pleased to have been more incorrect! Now don't get me wrong, although he hung some nice diggies' Reyes was NOT a fantasy monster last season. Statistically, .273/7/58 and an OBP of .300 were somewhat underwhelming. But, the fact that Reyes managed to avoid the types of injuries that plagued him in years prior (mainly leg and nagging Hammy' pulls) was a victory in and of itself. In 2003 "El Rey" played 69 games, in '04...53. But in '05, Reyes played a whopping 161 games, scored 99 runs, and led the league with 17 Triples and 60 Stolen Bases. Encouraging? Absolutely!


"ON THE WAY DOWN"

OMAR VIZQUEL (SF): Last Season I Said: "To say that Vizquel is in "decline" might be a bit of a misnomer as he hit .291/7/59 and recorded 19 swiped bags for Cleveland last season. Nevertheless, Vizquel (37) is in the twilight of a wonderful career and at his age, an athlete's stats can plummet from one season to the next. While Vizquel's probably won't fall off a cliff, I still anticipate a modest correction in his numbers. Look for a very reasonable, .275/5/55 with 12 SB."

IN REALITY: "The Viz!" Older than dirt, but still stealing bases and plugging for 3rd! As for my .275/5/55, 12 SB projection? If this were Horseshoes... it wouldn't have been a ringer but I'd have clanked the spike! In actuality, the "Viz" posted a .271/3/45, 24 SB line.
San Fran's venerable Shortstop started the season red-hot, hitting at a .305 pace prior to the break. After the star-studded week... well, not so much. Vizquel's age really seemed to catch-up with him, and he hit a much cooler .229 over the season's 2nd half. The guy continues to be a magician with the glove, however, and after 16 AL seasons in which he won 9 Gold Gloves, Vizquel won his first as an NL player with the Giants.
Naturally, coming off of a down season and at 38 (39 in April) I wouldn't suggest drafting Vizquel, but an argument can be made that just like the rest of the Giant lineup, Viz' missed the protection afforded by Barry and his big bat. But 24 SB, his highest total since '99, 28 Doubles, 4 Triples, and 150 games played indicate that Vizquel's got some life left in him. An '06 "insurance" Shortstop? Perhaps, particularly if Bonds can stay healthy and in the lineup.
Assuming the latter happens, .280/4/55, with 18 "Bags Snagged" is not inconceivable.

JOSE VALENTIN (LA): Last Season I Said: "Even with 30 Home Runs (in '04) Valentin's second half numbers were abysmal, his batting average declined for a 5th consecutive year, and his OBP (.287) was lower than many players' Batting Averages. At age 35, and with young Cesar Itzuris (24) demonstrably better, Valentin is no starter."

IN REALITY: You know, as hard as it is to believe Valentin would've paid cash-money for a season that approached his stinkin'-bad '04. An Orthopedist's dream last year, an injured wrist prompted an early season 0-26 slump, and 3 torn leg liggies' sufferered in early May effectively ended his year. While Valentin attempted a comeback in late August, he ended an injury-marred year with a ghastly bad line of .170/2/14.
Met GM Omar Minaya added Valentin to his still-growing collection of Latin players. No longer an everyday player, Minaya envisions the 14 year vet' filling the void left by Marlon Anderson's departure. That is, coming off the bench as a late inning pinch-hitter and serving as a backup to David Wright (3B), Jose Reyes (SS), and possibly the OF'ers. Either way, unless you belong to a deep, DEEP "NL Only" league... I'd avoid Javier Valentin altogether.

"COMEBACK PLAYER"

NOMAR GARCIAPARRA (CHN): Last Season I Said: Please see above... and review below!

"TOP SLEEPERS"

JOSE REYES (NYN): Last Season I Said: Please see above... and review below!

IN REALITY: "Please See Above."

B.J UPTON (TB): Last Season I Said: "The kid's got a big time bat, but the knock on him remains his iffy work with the leather. Although he's got great Po', potential is often akin to a 4 letter word. Upton, who may well be slotted at 2nd Base this year, should even be available through your league's Waiver Wire. Keep an eye on his Spring Training numbers before you do anything drastic."

IN REALITY: Upton was also listed as a 3rd Bagger'... and "in reality," the kid never even got a sniff of the "Bigs." His brother is also a big-time prospect. If you're a trading card collector and consider yourself a "Rookie Speculator," young Justin Upton's also a 5-tool talent with a world of upside.


NOW THE GOOD STUFF! 2006 FANTASY BASEBALL'S SHORTSTOPS!

"CREAM OF THE CROP"

1. Texas Rangers; Michael Young: Last season, numerous readers e-slapped me for slotting M-Young as the 3rd ranked Shortstop. And yet, the Ranger's remarkable productivity only served to bolster my case. Certainly the 29 year old middle-infielder benefitted from the All-Star laden lineup that surrounded him; from 1B Mark Teixeira to 3B Hammerin' Hank Blalock to 2B Big Al' Soriano (his big bat and faux birth certificate were sent off to the Nationals... for now) to surprise OF'er David Dellucci, the Rangers were (and remain) loaded 1-9. And yet... even with the gaudy offensive numbers, the atrocious pitching ultimately came back to bite Texas on its collectively muscular rump last season. Kenny Rogers served as the "ace" of the staff, and his 14-8, 3.46 season was by far the team's best. Now, a revamped rotation that brags a brand spankin' new 1-3 in Kevin Millwood, Vincent Padilla and Adam Eaton should ease the scoring burden on the position players. It's got to be awfully demoralizing to hang 10 runs on an opponent... only to lose by a score of 14-10, and scores such as those scrolled across Sports Center with some regularity last season.
This season, the team will trot-out 5 20+ Home Run hitters who hit for power AND average, with SS Michael Young stirring the pot. Surrounded by "Secret Service" type protection, M-Young should again post ill fantasy diggies'. I'm calling for a 4th straight 200+ hit season, and a line of .320/27/95, with 8 SB.

2. NY Yankees; Derek Jeter: During the late 90's, Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar and a bit later Miggy', were Baseball's "Rat Pack." Attractive, extremely wealthy athletes who were known by their first names and nicknames, they elevated the position from that of "spunky" slap-hitter to that of a leather-flashing power-hitter... and the position, and correlational expectations, may never be the same. But why talk legacy when these guys are still playing top-notch Baseball? Just like the #1-rated Shorty' Michael Young, "Jeets'" is ensconced in the best lineup Boss Steinbrenner's money can buy! A remarkable player who possesses that elusive "It," "It" defies explanation. Is "It" a suite of intangibles? Is "It" the ability to elevate the games of those around you? Is "It" the innate ability to be in the right place at the right time? Or is "It" all of these things... and more? Dunno', don't care. All I DO know is that Jeter DOES have "It," and he's the kind of player who you'll be able to tell your Grandchildren you watched play.
With a new OBP machine in Johnny Damon, a resurgent Giambi, a pulverizingly powerful Alex Rodriguez, an OF'er in Sheffield who seems to have an axe to grind with every pitcher he faces, and an improving Matsui... not to mention Posada and young Robinson Cano, opposing pitchers can ill-afford to dance around Jeter.
Hot off his 1st .300+ season in 5 years, look for yet another highly productive campaign from the Yankee Cappy'; .301/22/75, with 15 thieved bags.

3. NY Mets; Jose Reyes: Slotting him at #3? Is he crazy? I can hear the criticisms already. But if one takes into account that Reyes is just 22 and is trying to discover his game, the ranking will make more sense. Hey, I took flak for slotting Texas's Michael Young 3rd last season, he acquitted himself remarkably well, and is this season's top ranked shorty'. Ergo, my #3 rankings seem to pan out well.
For a leadoff hitter, Reyes's '05 .300 OBP was laughable. However, Reyes was put under much duress to become the "2nd coming of Rickey Henderson," arguably the best leadoff hitter to ever trod the basepaths. While the young Met has nice pop, lightning speed, and was able to stand up to the excruciating pressure mentally, his numbers wilted a bit. Furthermore, Reyes had an irritating habit of swinging at, and making an out on, the 1st pitch. Nevertheless, 17 3-Baggers and an eye-opening 60 swiped bags bode awfully well for the future. Better yet, Henderson himself will be working with Reyes during Spring Training. Better plate discipline, pitch selection, and the improved talent around him should elevate Jose Reyes's game. That being said, I must include this pair of caveats; his batting average probably won't leap 30 points over the course of a single off-season, and when mulling the wisdom of drafting Reyes the specter of injury must always be considered.
I will cautiously project a .285/10/70, 55 SB, 115 run season. Those of you who have ice coursing through your veins won't hesitate to gamble an early pick on Reyes.

4. Baltimore Orioles; Miguel Tejada: Miggy's season ended on both a down-note and under former fellow Balty' bird Rafael Palmeiro's accusations. While few believe the stud Shorty' took "enhanced" B-12 injections, his poor 2nd half numbers are incontrovertible. The difference being that while the numbers themselves are incontrovertible, they do not offer incontrovertible proof of anything.
Let us assume that the big hitter uses only approved supplements and plays straight pool. He'll be eager to shake-off his poor finish and continue to try and lead the O's towards a Wild-Card berth; no mean feat in an AL East dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox. If the position players can stay healthy, Tejada should be amongst the top 3-4 in each of the "Triple Crown" categories. And yet... the team could STILL be shopping the 29 year-old middle infielder. Rampant 'Roid rumors and depleted production aside, Baltimore's starters had a collective ERA that brushed 4.30, and the Closer projects to be 24 year-old unproven Chris Ray (1-3, 2.66 ERA, 43 K's in 40.2 Inns.). Rook' manager Sam Perlozzo sought, but failed to land a proven stopper during the off-season, and it's eminently possible that Miggy's moved for either an established Closer or top of the rotation starter before... or during the season. Forgetting the "what if" game for now, on THIS team and with THIS lineup, Tejada'a numbers should remain a solid .305/33/115.

5. Philadelphia Phillies; Jimmy Rollins: At 28 and with 6 seasons of big-league experience under his belt, Rollins is peaking. Sure, experience and better dish discipline will help him notch more Walks and record a higher OBP in so doing, but it's hard to find fault with a guy who swatted 38 Doubles, 11 Triples, and stole 41 bases (Rollins was thrown-out just 6 times). While many Major Leaguers are draggin' butts and bats by September Rollins was a house a'fire, hitting an improbable .402 in September (and 2 games into October), with a SLG % of .648 and an OBP of .455, and along with 1B Ryan Howard (10 HRs and an ill .691 SLG % in Sept.) kept the team in the Playoff hunt. Despite the late-season heroics, Philly' finished 1 heartbreaking game behind the NL West Astros for the Wild Card, and 2 games behind the Braves for the AL East crown.
Getting back to Rollins, though, the speedy SS enters the season to much fanfare; with 36 consecutive games with at least 1 hit already in his hip pocket, another 20 "1-fer'" (at least) games will see Jimmy Rollins tie the legendary Joe Dimaggio's equally legendary 56 game hit streak... and 21 games with at least 1 hit will establish a new record, and possibly a new legend. The Phills' early season slate may work against the happy-go-lucky Rollins, however. The team opens the season with a 6 game Home stand... and Pennsylvania can be awfully cold in early April. They then travel cross-country for 3 games in the rare-air of Colorado where it IS awfully cold in April; the Rockies have played through several early season snow-squalls. The cold weather makes hitting that much more difficult and Rollins has his work cut-out for him.
While interesting, all of this has bupkiss to do with his fantasy value... and that's all we're really interested in, isn't it? Playing in a great hitter's park and with a sneaky-strong lineup behind him, Rollins is a top "NL Only" pick, a mid-rounder in "Mixed League" formats due to his base stealing ability, and is a candidate for a .290/15/70, 33 SB campaign.
**NOTE: For whatever it's worth, my hunch is that the interruption in his streak wrought by the end of the '05 season combined with April's cold weather will bring little Jimmy's pursuit of Joe D's record to an end.

6. Cincinatti Reds; Felipe Lopez: It took four seasons, two teams (Lopez started his Major League career in Toronto), and an injury to incumbent Rich Aurilia later, but Lopez finally found his way into an everyday lineup!
And let there be no question, once given the opportunity the 26 year-old Shortstop was... ahh, "Reddy," and took full advantage hitting .291/23/85 with 97 Runs and 15 SB... primarily out of the leadoff slot. Further, he led ALL NL Shortstops in Home Runs with 23, RBIs with 85, and OPS with .838 (.920 against righthanders). A late-bloomer certainly, but Lopez is in a great hitters park and has a ball-crushing cast of characters around him. The knock on Lopez is really more of a "tap," he hit .243 against lefties (with a .644 OPS) as opposed to .312 against righthanders.
Although a position move could be in the cards (there's been talk of moving him to 2nd or sliding him over to 3rd), Lopez can hit to all fields with power (34 Doubles, 5 Triples), maintains a high average, is unafraid to steal, and I see him maintaining his place amongst the elite at the position for the next few years. In other words, don't let this multi-category contributor slide past the 5th-6th round in "Mixed League" formats!
My "Fantasy Magic-8 Ball" say's "It's a bit murky, but look for .285/25/95, with 20 SB."

7. St. Louis Cardinals; David Eckstein: A gritty player who's unafraid to give up his body diving for a ball or breaking up a Double-Play, David Eckstein was a VERY tough out (he fanned just 44 times in 630 plate appearances) and he did an outstanding job replacing his predecessor, Edgar Renteria. "Eck" set or met career highs in games played (158), ABs (630), hits (185), HRs (8), Walks (58), BA (.294), OBP (.363), and SLG (.395). In addition, owners were pleased to see their Shortstop deliver 26 Doubles and 7 Triples. All of the above is the good news. The bad news? I'd be hard-pressed to believe that David Eckstein is capable of significantly better play... and although he's been relatively durable thus far, his "all or nuthin'" style makes him something of an injury risk. If you can snatch Eck' up in your draft's later rounds... and he's sure to be a late-mid to late round selection (unless an owner makes a panic move), you'll secure yourself a Shortstop who may not be able to carry a fantasy team as some of the other SSs can, but you'll snare a certain stats' contributor.
Amid a lineup that WILL reduce most opposing Pitchers' bowels to water, look for a very solid season from the Card' middle infielder; .295/10/65, with 90+ runs and 12 SB.

8. Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Julio Lugo: Coming off of a .295/6/57, 89 run, 39 SB season... Lugo should again rank amongst the top 10 at his position. A curious player to say the least, Lugo's RBI production took a nosedive falling from 75 in '04 to 57 in '05, but last year he notched 22 more hits (182) and nearly doubled his Stolen Base total with 39 (up from 21 in '04). Lugo's split-season stats are rather interesting as the Shortstop hit .287, with 15 Doubles and a SLG % of .365 before the Break. Over the season's second half, he hit .306, with 21 Doubles and a SLG % of .451. If the Ray infielder can pick-up where he left off... '06 could be scary!
However, whether or not Lugo remains a Devil Ray remains a question mark as the team would like to promote promising B.J Upton. Assuming he remains a part of Tampa's powerful AND speedy lineup, Julio Lugo should again put up numbers resembling .301/7/65, with 28 SB.

9. Oakland A's; Bobby Crosby: Checking in at #9 on the Shortstop countdown, Oakland's 26 year-old "boy-blunder" Bobby Crosby. The SS's season was hampered by injury from start to finish, and some of the injury rap falls on Crosby's shoulders. A late September return from an ankle that was broken merely a month earlier was a flat-out bad decision... and that decision cost him. From August to September, Crosby's average plummeted by 148 points, his SLG % by 245 points, and his OBP fell to .222 from .333. Looking at things over a more substantial time frame: before the All-Star break Croz' clubbed a line of .324/5/21, or in even greater detail; .324/.545/.380 (BA/SLG/OBP). After the Week-long hiatus, Crosby was a different player; .239/4/17... .239/.388/.321 different. Incidentally and irregardless of the All-Star break, the guy struggled in big situations. With runners in scoring position, Croz' hit a feeble .223 and notched an equally anemic .287 SLG %.
Looking forward, as of today, February 24th, team observers note that Bobby Crosby is nursing a sore throwing shoulder and may have injured himself while lifting weights over the off-season. Starting a new year with a creaky joint is NOT a recipe for Roto success, and frankly I'd let someone else draft and fret over Crosby's health and suspect durability.
A "boom or bust" fantasy commodity, IF Bobby can stay both on the field and in the 3-hole, I would think .280/24/85 to be reachable.

10. L.A Dodgers; Rafael Furcal: Last on this list, Atlanta Brave Raffy' Furcal. Sure, the Dodger Shortstop could've been slotted a bit higher due to his speed and the potential of the lineup that surrounds him, but as I stated in the previous positional analyses- use this list as a guide!
Furcal's another lead-off hitter possessing a less than desirable OBP (in his case, .348), but 62 Walks and 46 swiped bags successfully assuage his poor OBP pain. Helped by his cat-quicks', Furcal rapped out 31 2-baggers, a career-best 11 Triples, and his 175 hits were the 2nd best of his career.
While the 28 year-old switch hitter underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee early last month, he's expected to report to camp at full base stealing strength. A mid-round pick in "5 X 5" leagues and a 2nd-3rd rounder in "NL Only" leagues, Furcal would be a guy I'd wait on in "Mixed Leagues." Now that's NOT to say I wouldn't draft him because I certainly would. However, given the depth at the position and Furcal's need to adjust to his new team and ball park, another owner is bound to jump on Furcal several rounds before he/she needs to.
Hitting within the pitching friendly confines of Dodger Stadium and possessing great speed and gap power, Furcal should thrive. He does not, however, have the likes of "the Jones boys," Marcus Giles, or Adam LaRoche around to protect him. Jot Raffy' down for something like .280/9/50, with 30 SB.

"ON THE WAY UP"

1. Cleveland Indians; Jhonny Peralta: Platooning with Alex Cora at the beginning of last season, Peralta started the year like a snowball rolling downhill. Initially, hitting 9th and at an unimpressive .222 clip, few noticed the young Indian. However, after swatting .295 with a SLG % of .520+ over May and June, Peralta's .333/6/19, 7 Double, .578 SLG % July forced manager Eric Wedge to stand-up and take notice! It also, for the record, caused owners everywhere to trip over one another in their haste to get to the Waiver Wire. Wedge made little Jhonny (is it me... or does he spell his name incorrectly?) an everyday player, moved him to 3rd in the batting order (rock solid decision there), and reaped the rewards over the course of the remainder of Peralta's .292/24/78, 35 Double, 4 Triple, 82 run season. While I would be surprised to see Peralta rack another .887 OPS, stranger things have happened. Many Baseball insiders thought Albert Pujols' .329, 37 Dinger' 2001 was an aberration... until he followed it up with a .314, 34 Homer' '02, and then of course came his showstopping .359, 43 HR '03 campaign!
While comparing Peralta to Pujols is a ligament tearing stretch... you get the point. Peralta has arrived! He benefits from a VERY strong and talented core of young position players, and I would antipate a solid season; .289/28/90, with 100 runs scored.

2. Milwaukee Brewers; Bill Hall: Hall enjoyed a wonderful breakout season of .291/17/62, with 18 SB and 39 Doubs' in 146 games played. Notching statistical highs in virtually every offensive category was nice, but he was also a D-Dazzler at 3 positions!


"TOP SLEEPERS"

Colorado Rockies; Clint Barmes: I was lovin' this kid and pushing him like Turkey on Thanksgiving... and then a season that had "Rookie of the Year" written all over it came to a collarbone breaking end, "Deer me." Barmes played precisely half the season, recording 350 ABs before he slipped and fell down his steps while carrying an armload of Venison. In those plate appearances the promising youngster whalloped his way to a .289/10/46 line, with 19 Doubles, 55 runs scored, and 6 SB.
But here again, more lies beneath the surface. While the Rockie Shorty' clubbed the ball at Home, he endured substantial troubles on the road; the Home-Road splits are; Home: .332/.369/.508 to Road: .239/.286/.350. Nonetheless, Colorado remains convinced that Clint Barmes is the goods and WILL be their leadoff or #2 hitter.
Too talented NOT to succeed, look for Barmes to emerge as a top op' at the position by season's end, and hang a line close to .300/22/95, with 15 SB.

L.A Dodgers; Nomar Garciaparra: ***BRIEFLY REVIEWED IN THE 1ST BASE PIECE:
Nomah' a Shortstop no mo'
, the former Red Sock and Cub is now attempting to make the transition to 1st Base for his new team, the Dodgers. Garciaparra's struggle to stay healthy and on the field of play is well documented, but so too are his offensive skills. A career .320 hitter with a career SLG % of .520, the one-time stud SS whiffed a mere 24 times out of 230 total ABs last season, and over the span of his decade-long career that's been about his average; 1 strikeout for every 10 ABs.
A career .968 fielder, the move to 1st should not prove overly challenging for a ball player with Nomar's Baseball IQ and still-sharp reflexes, and as a corner-infielder he won't be expected to cover nearly as much ground. Strong 2nd half numbers ('05) indicate that IF Nomar can stay healthy, and that's a mighty big if, the skilled batsman could again produce .290/25/95 type numbers.

"DEEPER SLEEPERS:

Milwaukee Brewers; J.J Hardy: An awful first half of .187/1/19 with a SLG % of .267 gave way to a new player who comfortably sprayed the ball to all fields and notched .308/8/31, with a SLG % of .503. While Hardy's probably not prepared to sustain such a white-hot pace over the span of 150+ games, a .275/14/60+ season should be in the cards. Worthy of a late round flyer, look upon Hardy as a diamond in the rough.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Brandon Wood: Dude lit it UP at Rancho Cucamonga last year! Wood simply demolished opposing pitching as he mashed his way to a .321/43/115 season, with an astounding 51 Doubles, 109 Runs, and .672 SLG %.
Just 20, Wood's power potential is through the roof and his ceiling is not yet within sight. While he'll likely start the season in the minors... at some point in the not-too distant future, Wood WILL be on the big club roster. Deeper "Keeper" leaguers may wish to take a long look at "Baseball America's" #3 prospect.


"COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR"

Atlanta Braves; Edgar Renteria: Renteria, with his 3rd club in as many seasons, will be setting the table (maybe the 2-hole) for an impressive and powerful Brave lineup. While he'll never replicate his highly productive '03 season, he's also not as bad as last season would suggest so look for something that lies between his '04 and '05 numbers. I'd look for.... oh, maybe .280/9/68, with 15 SB.


"PLAYERS IN DECLINE"

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Orlando Cabrera: In an effort to jump-start the flagging Cabrera, Angel manager Mike Scioscia yo-yo'ed the SS through the batting order. Opening the season as the 6-hitter, Cabrera drove in an unacceptable 11 RBIs in 41 games and he ultimately landed in the 2-hole, with the speedy Chone Figgins batting lead-off. Scioscia feels that Figgy' and "O-C" get the job done and set a nice table... but his optimism for the Shortstop has no statistical support. Figgy's fine as a lead-off hitter, but Cabrera's average as the "2" was .262, with a .317 OBP and a .375 SLG. It would seem that the 2nd year Angel is better suited to hit 7th or 8th; slots that would afford little fantasy value. Further, with 2 years left on his hefty $32 million dollar contract (hefty for HIS underwhelming production, anyway) and elite prospects waiting in the wings (Erick Aybar and a scorching-hot Brandon Wood), it wouldn't be a shocker to see the Angels absorb a big chunk of contractual change in order to move Cabrera and promote Wood.
Even if his power numbers DO rebound a bit, Cabrera's still going to offer little fantasy value batting at the back end of the Angel order. A late round (7th-8th) "AL-Only" player, a bottom of the barrel "Mixed Leaguer," and a $14-$16 Shorty' in Auction formats, "O-C" projects for .260/12/50, 22 SB season.

Detroit Tigers; Carlos Guillen: Perhaps slotting Guillen as a "Player in Decline" is too harsh a judgement. How do you assess a player whose never played a full complement of games? And yet... I see no upside here. After breaking into the league as a Mariner in '98 (and that was after a 6 years of Minor League ball), Guillen's never played more than 140 games in a season. Now 31, the injury-prone Shortstop has the potential to be a nice player with a bit more pop than he offered last season... but we'll never know just how good the multi-tooled Guillen could've been. Potential can be both compliment and curse.
The only real consistency the Tiger infielder has shown is his inability to stay healthy.
Even so, savvy owners might be willing to gamble a late mid-round pick on a 140 game, .315/15/80 guy.

FANTASY BASEBALL'S 2ND BASEMAN COMING SOON!