Monday, February 06, 2006

2006 Fantasy 1st Baggers

DONE! Fantasy Baseball's 1st Baseman!

The First Baseman... the relatively "un-athletic" Corner-Infielder. Many 1st Baggers', such as Texas' Mark Teixeira and Chicago's Derrek Lee, are big, nimble guys with quick feet and rare agility; they'd take offense at such unflattering type-casting. That being said, perhaps more often than not a big bat is put at 1st to disguise, or diminish, the damage of defensive ineptitude.
So moving on- Along with your 3rd Bagger (and corner Outfielders), your 1st Baseman should fill a number of fantasy values for you and your team. A solid fantasy First Baseman will hit for average and power, he'll afford your team with 30+ HRs, 95+ Ribbies', and 80+ Runs.

Let's take a quick look at my list and projections from last season and see how they panned out!

“First Rate First Baseman”

Albert Pujols (STL): LAST SEASON I SAID: "As cool as the other side of the pillow, what can be said about this phenom that hasn’t been already? Pujols is certainly the best Right-handed hitter in the game, is probably the best hitter in the game, and is arguably the best pure-hitter since “Joe D" and the “happy-go-lucky” Ted Williams trod the basepaths. Pujols, a perennial Triple-Crown threat and top 3 overall fantasy pick, (is a) fantasy owner’s dream who tops (or darn close to) the league in multiple offensive categories. Here’s the kicker; with his strikeouts decreasing and his walk totals increasing, Pujols is actually improving! ...look for Pujols to again vie to be Baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since... who? And, to post eye-popping totals approximating .337/47/128 with a handful of stolen bases."

IN REALITY: If nothing else, Pujols used last season to demonstrate that his level of excellence is no aberration; the Card' 1B/LF'er is no flash-in-the-pan athlete. Although his stats' saw a modest correction, they were by no means "soft"; .330/41/117, with 16 SB. Last season's projection called for .337/47/128 with 6-7 SB, thus I was off by 7 batting average points, 6 "long-balls," and 11 RBIs. As an added bonus to fantasy owners everywhere, Albie' tripled his CAREER swiped bag total and with a rock-solid OPS of 1.039 and an OBP of .430, Pujols has become the games' most feared hitter... Barry Bonds included.

Todd Helton (COL): LAST SEASON I SAID: "At age 31, in the prime of his career, and as one of the top 3 fantasy options at First base, Helton has a ton of value. Last season ('04) saw a decline in Helton’s batting average, Hits, Runs Scored, and RBI totals. That decrease, however, should be attributed to a case of the Rockie 1st Bagger trying to do “too much” coupled with pitchers simply throwing around the talented batsman. That being said, Helton’s “diminished numbers” of .347/32/96 would have been career best digits for virtually any other player. This season, with more talent around him, look for Helton to post better numbers. Pencil the Colorado corner infielder in for .345/37/110 and 4 SBs."

IN REALITY: Helton definitely benefitted from playing in the rare-air of Colorado. A strong hitter over the span of his career, the 1st Baseman possesses a remarkable lifetime fielding % of .996 (precisely last season's fielding average).
An injury-shortened '05 season saw Helton play in 144 games wherein he belted-out .320/20/79. His numbers fell precipitously, probably due to both HIS injury and the lack of protection provided by the then injury-thinned Rockie lineup.

Mark Teixeira (TEX): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Texas' pair of corner infielders, 1st Baseman Mark Teixeira and 3rd Baseman Hank Blalock, are probably Baseball’s most powerful pair of book ends. Teixeira, a converted 3rd Baseman and skilled switch hitter, has 40 Homer ability. ...a student of the game, (he) should have ample RBI opps' with Ranger 2nd Bagger Alfonso Soriano most likely hitting lead off, Shortstop Michael Young hitting out of the 2 spot, and the aforementioned Hank Blalock batting 3rd. As impressive as last year ('04) was for the young Ranger (.281/38/112), this season looks to be even better; .288/41/119 with 5 swiped bags..."

IN REALITY: Teixeira took a BIG step forward last season by winning his 1st Gold Glove award and by playing in EVERY game. "Teix" indeed broke 40 on the ol' "Homer-Ometer," is reaching the lofty expectations the team held for him when they drafted him outta' Georgia Tech, and is doing so a bit sooner than they had dared to hope. The 2005 season saw the Ranger 1st Baggers' totals increase across the board; .301/43/144 with 112 Runs Scored and 4 SB. I had projected a season of .288/41/119 with 5 SB. No doubt, his owners were thrilled to see my RBI and Batting Average projections fall far short!

David Ortiz (BOS): LAST SEASON I SAID: "A mammoth of a man, the Red Sox 1st Bagger has now been made the full time DH and just looks like a devastating hitter. In his case however, looks aren’t deceiving... ...Baseball observers say that Ortiz has no weakness in his swing and can hit virtually any pitch with impunity. “Big Papi” ...should turn in a season similar to .295/39/135."

IN REALITY: As hard as it is to believe, Big Papi' looked even larger and more physically imposing than he did during the '04 season and his already impressive numbers certainly went **BOOM**! Ortiz's name (not to mention Ortiz himself) had been bandied about for league "MVP" honors, but the problem? The league, and many fans, were outraged (or at the least maintained strong opinions) at the prospect of a DH being awarded the MVP title. "Only position players deserve such consideration" they stated from their VERY high horses. The debate actually turned into weeks of Sports-Talk Radio fodder, much to the delight of ESPN and WFAN. Whether you agree or disagree matters not because one thing is indisputable; .300/47/148, with 119 Runs Scored. Scary diggies' for ANY ball player. While MY projections for Ortiz were on the... err, shall we say "anemic" side? Who could've anticipated that the Sock DH (then classified as a 1B as well) would have one of the all-time great Sock seasons? Apparently not I, that's for sure. I had Papi pegged for what I thought to be a VERY respectable .295/39/135. In actuality I was but 5 batting average points, 8 Home Runs, and 13 Ribbies' shy. Close, but no cigar.

“Just a Notch Below...”

Carlos Delgado (FLA): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Delgado started (2004) off rather slowly and was subsequently hindered by a rib cage injury that cost him the final 5 weeks of the season. Before he went down with the injury, however, Delgado rediscovered his swing and was red-hot from August 1st on, swatting .337 with 17 Homers and 54 RBIs. Clad in a new Uni’ and with good speed ahead of him in the lineup, look for Delgado to rebound this season and post a very solid .279/35/107. (if) Carlos steals even one base? It’ll be one more than he’s stolen since the ‘02 season.""

IN REALITY: After 12 seasons in Toronto, a lonely Baseball outpost to be sure, (Ok, Montreal was far worse) Delgado was sent to Florida. The Marlins placed 3rd last year with an 83-79 record, and one very big reason the team remained even that competitive was.... right, Senor Delgado and his ludicrous lumber. The 1st Baseman posted a very nice line of .301/33/115, and no... he never did steal that base. After rubbin' my "Fantasy Magic-8 Ball" last spring and seeing a year of .279/35/107 for Delgado, I was remarkably close- save for his batting average; Carlos hit 21 points better than I'd anticipated.

Jim Thome (PHI): LAST SEASON I SAID: "What’s NOT to like about Jim Thome; a guy that since ‘02 has deposited 141 balls into the cheap seats (with) 354 RBIs and 309 Runs...? Before the ‘04 All-Star break, Philly’s prodigiously powerful 1st Bagger was hitting a hair under .290, with 28 Home runs and 61 RBIs already in the bank. Yeah, yeah, great. Thome’s off to an MVP caliber season right? Wrong. The second half (of '04) saw the nicked up Thome’s play slide into an appreciable decline; his average fell to .253, he mashed but 14 more Homers and tallied a mere 44 more RBIs. ...Thome hit a somewhat less than breathtaking .204 with RISP in ‘04 (with) 144 (K's) out of 508 total ABs. ...So, why draft Thome? Because he still managed to top 40 Dingers', because he again drove in more than 100 RBIs, because his Slugging % remains in excess of .570, and because surrounded by talent, he’s playing within the friendly confines of Citizen’s Bank Ballpark. But, savvy owners will be aware that at age 34 Thome has clearly peaked and may have even entered a modest decline. ...those same savvy owners can look for one more productive year (from) the Philadelphia 1st Baseman; .275/40/112."

IN REALITY: You know- I've seen 'em crash but never actually burn... but Jim Thome managed to do both last year. While I DID include the disclaimer that "savvy owners will be aware that at age 34 Thome has clearly peaked and may have even entered a modest decline..." few could've forseen the Philly' 1st Bagger's horrifying 193 AB, .207/7/30 campaign (more like a fantasy cam-pain). Thome bottomed-out, undoubtedly due to the injuries that substantially impacted his season.

Aubrey Huff (TB): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Arguably Tampa’s most valuable player and an equally valuable fantasy player given his ample power... and ability to qualify as a third Baseman and DH (predicated upon your league), The 28 year old Huff primed for a career year, and could be as good as .305/31/105 with a fistful of swiped bags...."

IN REALITY: Huff disappointed 'Bay backers and fantasy owners alike last season, with a line of .261/22/92. While Huff DID swipe those bases I mentioned (8), he was also nailed 7 times. Speed-merchant? It would seem not. Still a young player, every offensive statistical category dipped and his strikeouts increased. Huff eventually started to press at the plate to unfortunate results; the versatile Devil Ray K'ed 74 times in '03 and 88 times in '05.
Although the 1st Bagger' should rebound and be a solid fantasy player, he still doesn't make this "Top 10" list. Look for a better season from Huff, with numbers resembling .280/27/99.

Derrek Lee (CHN): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Offering owners an intriguing blend of power (32 Home runs with 98 RBIs) and speed (33 SB over the past 2 seasons), Lee posted career highs in HRs, RBIs, Hits and Doubles last season ('04). Assuming he stays healthy, Lee is part of a most imposing lineup and has the potential to record a very good, .277/33/105 with 18 thieved bags."

IN REALITY: An "intriguing blend of power and speed?" "Career highs in '04?" projecting for a "Very Good .277/33/105 '05? Lee played "out of his mind" Baseball ALL season long last year, was a Triple Crown candidate for most of the season, and assuredly posted new career numbers in all categories! The heart-beat of the Chicago Cubs, although the team may have been a disappointment last year the 1st Baseman was anything BUT a letdown. Derreck Lee was a 1-man wrecking crew in '05, ripping and blasting his way through National League pitching; .335/46/107 with 120 Runs Scored and 20 Swiped Bags.
My humble prediction of .277/33/105 with 18 SB was accurate in terms of Ribbies' (I projected 105, Lee drove in 107) and Stolen Bases (I stated 18, Lee thieved 20), but again... who coulda' known that Lee would be SO unconscious at the dish.

Sean Casey (CIN): LAST SEASON I SAID: "...Casey isn’t your prototypical 1st Baseman due to his lack of pop. While Casey led the Reds in 7 different offensive categories last year ('04), he just doesn’t crush pitches the way (his) fellow 1st Baseman (do). What Casey does offer is average, gap power, and excellent plate discipline which results in very few strikeouts. If (his) team mates ...can stay healthy, Casey will enjoy wonderful protection and could record a season resembling .320/23/95 with 3 SBs."

IN REALITY: Ah well, another fantasy faux-pas. "In reality," if I may quote myself, the now former Red corner infielder swatted a mere .312/9/58. These numbers represent a palpable deterioration in real, and fantasy productivity.
Casey makes this list as a "Player in Decline" for obvious reasons. Now a Pirate, keep an eye on Casey's Spring Training and early season out-put. If he can turn his change of fortune and embarrassment into motivation... he might well serve as a solid backup fantasy 1st Baseman.

Paul Konerko (CHA): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Even with ...Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez shelved with various injuries last season, Konerko fell just 2 round trippers’ short of the AL Home run title en route to a career year of .277/41/117, with a Slugging % of .535. ...The Sox have been cleaned, starched, pressed, and virtually remade during this past off-season ('04). With the addition of eye-blink quick Center Fielder Scott Podsednik setting the table... ...Konerko could see his RBI totals creep up a bit in ‘05. A .280/35/123 season is certainly (within reach of) the powerful 1st Baseman. ...Pencil Konerko in for as many as 1 Stolen base."

IN REALITY: In no uncertain terms, Konerko keyed the White Sox's World Series run and win with his ball-crushing swing. "Small-ball / shmall'-ball, someone's gotta drive those men around the bags!" Although my RBI projection was a scoche' high, I was almost dead-on; I projected him for .280/35/123. In '05, the hard-hitting White Sock clubbed .283/40/100... and my Stolen Base prediction of "1" was off... by, umm, 1. Konerko can get around the bases easily enough, he just doesn't steal 'em.

Travis Hafner (CLE): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Another DH who slips onto rosters under the guise of a 1st Baseman, Hafner was available to virtually any owner through the Waiver Wire ...(He) recorded a simply outstanding ‘04 campaign, ... .311/28/109. With a little more work, league observers believe Hafner capable of posting a 40/125 year. Let’s be slightly more conservative and look for an improved .310/35/115 with a trio of swiped bags."

IN REALITY: Hafner was a fantasy stud D-Luxe' in '05, proving his worth in virtually every offensive category except stolen Bases. I projected a solid .310/35/115 season for the Indian DH, and he rewarded his owners with almost identical numbers; .305/33/108, with an insane SLG % of .595. Again, do I lie? Nope', I said so before and I say it again.

“Comeback Player of the Year”

Richie Sexson (SEA): LAST SEASON I SAID: "A shoulder injury limited the usually quite durable Sexson to 18 games in ‘04. Although the guy has a penchant for striking-out, (308 Ks out of 1,266 ABs the past 3 seasons) he’s been working on his plate discipline, offers great value, and may well be undervalued due to his injury (should be 100%) and move to Safeco Field. Let’s project a season of .275/38/110 for Seattle’s comeback kid."

IN REALITY: A series of nicks and knocks had Sexson hobbled for most of the '04 season, but he responded with precisely the type of season his owners had hoped for. My "Comeback Player of the Year" (I penciled him in for .275/38/110) notched a VERY respectable .263/39/121, all the more notable because Sexson was playing in giant home park, Seattle's Safeco Field.

“Breakout Players”

Brad Wilkerson (WASH): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Here’s an athlete who hit 32 Home Runs primarily out of the leadoff slot, and if he was on a more prominent franchise would be annointed as one of the game’s brightest young players.
Part of a Washington Nationals team that possesses more talent then many realize, Brad Wilkerson (offers increased) value due to his plate discipline (an eye-opening 106 Walks) speed (39 doubles, 2 triples and 13 SB) and versatility (he’ll qualify as an Outfielder too) ...There’s a lot to like about this kid and he’s more than capable of racking up a line of .275/27/75 with 15 SB."

IN REALITY: As a National, Wilkerson wasn't playing in a ball park... he was playing in a National Park! Without breaking down its dimensions, rest-assured that Washington's RFK Stadium is rather... ummm, "spacious" to say the least, and many would-be round-trippers' fell in for Doubles and Triples. From a fantasy perspective Wilkerson turned out to be a mixed bag, hitting .248/11/57 with 42 Doubles and 7 Triples. Those multi-base hits underscore Wilkerson's Roto-value and while he doesn't make this season's top 10... you can feel comfortable drafting the newly minted Texas Ranger. Sent to Texas and swapped for a surly Soriano (Big Al' ain't happy about HIS huge new digs, that's for sure!), Wilkerson stands to (yes, again I'm saying it but I really mean it this time!) post career numbers and could turn into a VERY potent fantasy force.
Amid a murderous lineup and in a hitter's park, look for Wilkerson to be a quick 'Wire grab (savvy owners will pluck Wilkerson off the 'board in the later rounds) should he get off to a hot start. Look for .279/35/80, and he could even be a bit better than that!

Justin Morneau (MIN): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Taking over at 1st when Doug Mientkiewicz was sent to Boston last July, Morneau is the best power hitting prospect Minny’s developed in decades. Capable of hitting while under pressure, team officials think “Mo” possesses 40 Homer po’. That’s nice, look for the young Twin to build upon a very good ‘04 (.271/19/58) and be close .279/37/110 with a duo of swiped bags for good measure."

IN REALITY: Okay, fine, so Morneau's '05 season didn't shake-out as either of us had planned. Instead of .279/37/110, the Twin killed me with a season of .239/22/79. Again, he's another 1B who doesn't warrant top 10 attention, but in fairness the dude DID suffer the injury bug. And, with something to prove and with youth on his side, look for Morneau to enjoy continued support from Minny's coaching staff.
A season of .255/27/83 is NOT inconceivable.

Adam LaRoche (ATL): LAST SEASON I SAID: "Given his exemplary performance and demonstrated upside over last year’s ('04) final 26 regular season games where he hit at a .347 clip with 8 doubles and 5 Round Trippers, I couldn’t leave LaRoche off the list of “up & comers.” ...Keep an eye on his spring and early season work. Should LaRoche pick up where he left off last season, there’ll be a sprint to the keyboard to see which of your league mates snatches him off the ‘Wire first.
Look for numbers akin to .280/20/65... ."

IN REALITY: Well dag' nabbit' if I wasn't on-TIME with this one! Although I took flak from several readers because of his inclusion, LaRoche did me righteous with '05 stats' of .259/20/78. While his production went into a noticeable 2nd half slide, a more seasoned and mature LaRoche should be a viable back-up fantasy First Baseman / "Flex" player.
Pencil the kid in for a year of .270/25/88, and that could be on the conservative side.

“In Decline”

Jeff Bagwell (HOU): LAST SEASON I SAID: “Friends,” the staggering financial performance of the “Dot-Coms,” summer... What am I getting at here? That all good things must come to an end. And, so to must the wonderful career of Jeff Bagwell. Boasting an utterly unique, trademark stance that made “Bags” look sort of intimidating and sort of like he was preparing to pass a little gas, Bagwell provided himself with a firm platform that allowed him to both drive the ball with authority to all fields and see the pitch for a fraction of a second longer. Nevertheless, at age 36, Bagwell is long in the tooth and must alter his approach due to significant shoulder woes (arthritis). That is a recipe for offensive mediocrity at best.
Look for “Bags” to post ...very average digits (maybe) .273/28/95 with 5 stolen bases."

IN REALITY: Do I lie? I say again... do I lie? Nope'. Bagwell's 2005 was a train-wreck. It was, unfortunately, a season throughly and completely abbreviated by a shoulder that's currently being held together by a couple of tendons, a ligament of 2, and I believe some Dental Floss, and of his 100 total ABs... Bags' posted a tiny, and for him shameful, line of .250/3/19. Extrapolated over the span of an entire season, the veteran player would've hung a line of .250/18/90-ish'. This projection graphically illustrates that the Astro 1st Sacker would have recorded a career-worst year. And yet, like so many athletes who are past their primes, Bagwell just can't let go of the game he loves. He's simply not prepaerd to hang-up the spikes and end a career that began 15 long years ago. Keep an eye on this situation not for it could become quite intriguing. Several Doctors have examined the hitter who's career marks of .297/449/1,529 fall, at this point anyway, just short of Hall of Fame quality. These physicians have all come to the same conclusion; Bags' still has significant damage, damage that will NOT heal this season and WILL impact his game.
To the dismay of the Houston brass the popular 1st Baseman remains adamant that he WILL attend Spring Training. Stay tuned.


Here we go; 2006 Fantasy Baseball's 1st Baseman! Hard to believe the Football season is over, Basketball's nearly at the All-Star Break, Kobe's still talking to his teammates (most, anyway), and Pitchers and Catchers are due to report shortly!

"Part 1 A Fantasy Baseball Positional Analysis!""


A couple of new names have hit this list; Dan Johnson, and Chris Shelton chief amongst them. Last season, the duo (and especially Shelton) posted surprising numbers... and I pushed them as "Waiver Wire pick-ups." Atlanta Brave Adam LaRoche was listed as a "Break-Out" player last season... and break-out he did! Keep an eye on Shelton and Johnson, as both franchises are amid rebuilding projects and each player enjoys modest protection.
Enjoy the 1st installment of this position-by-position series!

"The Cream of the Crop!"

1. St. Louis; Albert Pujols: At the ripe ol' age of 25 and after 5 incredibly productive seasons where he averaged .332/40/124, Pujols sits atop the fantasy Baseball draft board and has become a household (at least in those households that have an affinity for Baseball) name.
Last season Pujols won the 1st of what could be several MVP awards, and has become a model of consistency at the plate. The fact of the matter is, knowledgeable Baseball people look upon Pujols' brief career and are incredulous. It's not an exagerration to state that Albert Pujols may become the best player of this generation.
Taking a very workmanlike approach to hitting, the Card' star is an eye-popping batsman who rarely swings at bad pitches and has zero regard for 2-strike counts. He can hit with power to all fields and although the Cardinal lineup will likely miss the potent bat of OF'er Reggie Sanders, the lineup was often missing Sanders' bat due to his numerous injuries anyway. For a moment, let us assume that 30 year-old Scott Rolen's (3B) shoulder is finally sound and that he enjoys a bounce-back season, and that oft-injured CF'er Jim Edmonds also returns with all of his limbs intact (relatively speaking, anyway). Yes, these are quantum leaps of assumption... but just go with it. If gritty, all-out players David Eckstein (SS) and Aaron Miles (2B) are able to get on base and Pujols is afforded some protection, the immeasurably talented First Baseman should, at the very least, equal last seasons' production.
Let's be optimistic here as I believe the Cardinal lineup has about as many holes as a block of imported Swiss, and jot Albert Pujols down for an '06 season of .329/42/120.

2. Texas; Mark Teixeira: The locked-and-loaded Texas lineup gives the skilled 1st Bagger ample Ribbie' opps', Teixeira does his part by studying each pitcher and learning their tendencies, and at age 25 Teix' is already a proven student of the game. His sick fantasy numbers make him a Roto-darling, but with 2B Alfonso Soriano having split town for Washington... Teixeira's RBI opportunities may actually be diminished, to some degree anyway. The kid's batting eye improved demonstrably from the '04 season as evidenced by the 20 point jump in his BA, and his power numbers skyrocketed; 40 more hits, 30 more RBI, and 5 more dingers'.
There's absolutely no reason to believe that Teix' won't record another tremendous season; .305/43/135 is within reach.

3. Chicago; Derreck Lee: Lee was a fantasy weapon of "Mass Destruction" last season, posting career highs in every category... but in fewer games (Lee missed 4 games) and with fewer ABs (11 fewer ABs than '04). In addition, "see Lee crush ably"; a .662 SLG % and a .418 OBP- how ill! Without a doubt, the Chicago 1st Sacker is a 1st round fantasy pick in ALL formats and is a 5X5 fantasy league dream player. Entering his walk year, Lee and his agent should begin negotiations with the team sometime in the VERY near future. One can only hope that this contract thing doesn't become messy, drag on into the regular season, and become a distraction to D-Lee as this will, in all likliehood, be the Cub star's last Lotto-type contract. However, at the age of 30 you've got to believe that Lee will be a true pro and not let a little thing like $15-18 Million Bucks a year distract him.
At the very peak of his physical skills, Lee couldn't possibly improve upon last year's remarkable numbers, right? Nah', look for a very good season of .315/35/105, with another 15 thieved bags.

4. Colorado; Todd Helton: Helton's '05 season ended early due to a bum elbow, and he subsequently underwent arthroscopic reconstructive surgery. The good news is that the perennial stud is slated to be ready for Spring-Training, and the 5-time All-Star and 3-time Gold Glover remains a fantasy powerhouse. After struggling through a ghastly-bad 1st half, Helton blew-UP after the AS Break to the tune of .367/10/40, with 48 Runs Scored. Clearly, the man was on a mission and on his way to yet another fab' fantasy season. However, at age 32... Helton ain't upping' the ante any. As good as he is is as good as he'll be, and with career numbers of; .337 BA, a .607 SLG %, 1500+ hits and 915 RBI, Helton is walking the thin "Hall of Fame" line. It'll probably take another 2-3 seasons of typical "Helton-esque" ball to grease the Cooperstown skids.
Look for a HEALTHY Helton to whack his way to a .315/25/95 season, with 95-105 Runs Scored.

5. Boston; David Ortiz: Last season, ain't no question in my mind that Ortiz benefitted from the presence of LF'er Manny Ramirez, CF'er Johnny Damon (now a Yankee, Boston's lineup WILL miss his speed and OBP) 3rd Baseman Bill Mueller and C Jason Varitek. Still, you can't knock his crazy fantasy (and real) numbers. This year, due to lineup changes and the simple fact that his '05 out-put was SO ridiculous I would DEFINITELY look for Ortiz to come back to Earth..
I will carefully forecast .299/37/130. There will be slightly less protection in the BoSox lineup, and perhaps fewer men on base for Papi to drive in... thus the more modest numbers. Should OF'er Manny Ramirez actually be traded, Ortiz's numbers could take a more dramatic hit. Nevertheless, the Red Sock leviathan could again surprise and approach last season's outrageous production.

6. Cleveland; Travis Hafner: The truth of the matter is that Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez (30 HRs and 90 RBI between the 2) are already manning 1st in platoon fashion. Furthermore, talented young Ryan Garko is also in the fold, thus Hafner and his bat will be relegated to DH duty. That is not, however, an insult, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Without the need to practice scooping poorly thrown balls from the dirt (the Indians will have a young 3rd Bagger in either Marte or Gautreau), Hafner can hone his hitting craft. And in his strong hands, that lumber's lethal! With young and talented hitters littering the Cleveland lineup, Hafner's numbers could even see a slight up-tick. Look for a terrific all-around fantasy season from a "must start" player; .310/35/115.

7. Houston; Lance Berkman: With veteran Jeff Bagwell falling apart at the seams, the team plans to silde Berkman from the Outfield over to 1st Base. This should prove to be a boon to Berkman, and the move may even prolong his career. After his '05 season was cut short by 30 games and undergoing knee surgery, Berkman won't need to cover the ground of Right Field if he's at the right-corner. In fact, if Berkman moves 15-20 feet on any given play... that'll be a lot! Although Berks' batting average fell by 20+ points, his SLG % by 40+ points, and his OBP by almost 40 points (39, I round up), with Houston awash in young talent and with his knee approaching 100%, look for an all-around improvement in his numbers and game. The 'Stros' new 1st Baseman has the ability to produce a .295/30/95 campaign.

8. NY Mets; Carlos Delgado: Delgado has again changed Uni's, swapping his Marlin duds for a Met Jersey. New York GM Omar Minaya has coveted the 1st Bagger for a couple of years now, and finally secured his quarry during this past off-season. The '06 Mets, at least the position players, will bear some slight resemblance to their '05 counterparts. Minaya sent an aging and increasingly uncooperative Mike Piazza packing and brought in a solid back-stop and able bat in C Paul LoDuca, OF'er Mike Cameron was also given his walking papers, sent to San Diego for fellow OF'er Xavier Nady (though Nady probably won't be an everyday player), and I could certainly go on but don't care to bore you with Met-minutiae. Look, with David Wright manning the "hot corner" and wielding a hot bat, CF'er Carlos Beltran likely to be a mite more comfy' in NY after another full off-season and training camp, and SS Jose Reyes looking like a healthy, All-Star caliber player... Delgado should enjoy impressive protection and should have men on base in front of him with frequency, affording him consistent RBI opps'.
A regular .300/30 man assuming he remains healthy (back and knee trouble have haunted him in seasons past), look for a VERY solid fantasy season; .295/32/115 are utterly attainable numbers for the 33 year old Delgado.

9. Chicago White Sox; Paul Konerko: Konerko, a power hitter in the truest sense of the term, is in an interesting situation and on an interesting team. The Sox, under manager Ozzie Guillen, won the Series by playing "small ball." And yet throughout his career, Konerko seemed an ill-fit for an offense that demands a gaudy OBP and high BA. Aha! That's where things have changed for the 29 year old 1st Baseman. Although the guy still finds himself striking out 100 or so times a season, he's also posted back-to-back 40/100 seasons, with 300+ total bases, and SLG %'s of .535 in '04 and .534 in '05. With 1B Jim Thome now on the team and possibly (we'll give him the benefit of the doubt) healthy, Konerko may enjoy even better protection then he had last season...though that would be asking alot. I think Thome's a husk of the ball player he once was, but only time will tell.
Nevertheless, "Crush Konerko" should be good for yet another fine fantasy season, and a line close to .285/40/105 could be on the back of his Baseball cards by April of '07.

10. Seattle Mariners; Richie Sexson: The last player on this list, Sexson might get more love if he played for another franchise. Although Seattle trots-out capable veterans in RF'er Ichiro Suzuki, 3B Adrian Beltre and DH Carl Everett amongst others, the team is also festooned with young and marginal talents.
If the squad comes together... and youngsters such as CF'er Jeremy Reed hit, Sexson could post some very respectable numbers.
While ambitious, cross your fingers and look for .261/37/118 from Safeco Field's 1st Bagger.


Philadelphia Phillies; Ryan Howard: With a healthy and productive Jim Thome blocking Ryan Howard's ascension to the "Bigs" for a couple of seasons, the youngster could do nothing but bide his time and CRUSH Trip' A pitching. With patience being a virtue and all that tripe (please see "crap" or "animal innards" in the dictionary), Howard finally got his chance when Thome was felled by injury. And "man oh Manischevitz" did Ryan Howard make good on his opportunity! In 322 plate appearances, the "not-so-young" (26) rook' deposited 22 balls in the cheap-seats, drove in 63 Ribs', hit for a .288 average, and went on to win the "NL Rookie of the Year" award.
Now, as an everyday player in a "hitter's park" and with more protection than a big brother gives his hot sister, the big fella' is certainly capable of blasting his way to a .290/35/118 campaign!

Detroit Tigers; Chris Shelton: When fantasy buffs think of top-tier players they tend to think of those athletes who play for powerhouse franchises such as the NY sp'Ankees, the Red Sox, Cubs and Rangers. And, while the Detroit Tigers generally don't leap to mind, players such as Shelton, I-Rod (though he's aging rapidly), and Magglio Ordonez are working to change that perception. The knock on Shelton is his iffy work with the leather, and with a snazzy glove in Carlos Pena playing the same position... the offensive-minded Shelton could lose precious ABs. However, at age 25 and knowing that his defense needed work, Shelton put his nose to the grind-stone and honed his D over the winter. Is he a Gold Glove talent? At this juncture, certainly not. But, will he be an Achilles heel defensively? The answer to that is also an emphatic no. Although he'll probably always be known for wielding the wood, the fact that he's known is a wonder at all... and serves as a testament to his work ethic. Shelton started his career by toiling away at Low A Williamsport in '01, and "crushed alot" as he worked his way up through Mo-Town's minor league system. Never hitting below .305 (aside from a brief, 122 AB AA stint) during his minor league career, Shelton struggled when he "arrived" in '04- by hitting a feeble .196 in 46 appearances. But alas, last season was an entirely different story and Shelton mashed a .299/18/59 line, with a SLG % of .510 in 107 games! Playing in a Tiger offense that DOES have some bite, look for Chris Shelton to improve upon a very impressive 2005.
Something akin to .301/26/85 might be on the ambitious side... but heck, I'm a "glass 1/2 full kinda' guy!"

Oakland A's; Dan Johnson: The A's seem to go through Infielders the way most people go through socks. Come to think of it, Billy Beane may go through socks the way some other GMs go through players... I wonder... Well, anyway, Dan Johnson is one helluva' reach and someone out there is doubtlessly laughing at this pick. Then again, someone laughed at my selections of both Adam LaRoche and Ryan Howard last season, too. Johnson's another guy who paid some heavy Minor League dues... but here again, those dues paid off big time at the major league level. Last season Johnson provided the A's with some pop and a shot in the arm by swatting .275/15/58 in 109 games, and demonstrated a keen batting eye by striking out only 52 times in 375 ABs.
A fabulous mid-season fantasy pick-up in most leagues last year, Johnson has the 1B position locked-up this year and should be an even better player after a full off-season and training camp with his Oakie' teammates. Jot down .289/27/75, and if guys such as Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis can replicate their '05 numbers... "DJ" could... could be even better!.

Atlanta Braves; Adam LaRoche: LaRoche... you think that translates to "the roach" in French? I really gotta' look that up. Anyway, the Brave 1st sacker certainly bugged the hell out of opposing pitchers, that's for sure! It seems as if the Braves are constantly re-loading and never have need to rebuild, and LaRoche is part of that process. The fact that there's been no noticeable drop-off in talent over the course of 14 consecutive NL East titles is a testament to the team's scouting acuity and drafting acumen. After batting a respectable .259/20/78 with 28 Doubles and 53 Runs in 141 games, "Roach" need not worry about platooning with anyone at the corner. The position belongs to him, and I think he'll become a 30/90 kind of batter with a little more seasoning.
For '06, though, look for some improvement over last year; .275/25/85 is my prediction.
**NOTE: His brother, Andy, is a hot 3B commodity and plays for the Dodgers. If you're a Baseball card collector... see if you can get your hands on an auto rook'.


Chicago White Sox; Jim Thome: Thome's rehabbing a balky back and creaky elbow. If the dude can return to even 75% of what he was during his .274/42/105 season of '04, his owners... and his new team, the Chicago White Sox, will be de-freakin'-lighted! I do, however, look askance at Thome. The 35 year old ball player is good for a strikeout or 3 each game; Thome K'ed 144 times in '04, and 182 times in '03, and EVERY important statistical value is plummeting.
Making a HUGE leap of faith that Jim Thome will be in playing shape by April/May, look for a line of .269/30/95, and at this point... those are VERY zealous projections.

Texas Rangers; Phil Nevin: Nevin, aging, was never happy as a Padre in gargantuan Petco Park and made no secret of his distaste for the digs. An 11 year veteran, Phil was sent to Texas last year... and will have NO shot at getting his ABs as a position player with a young and much better Mark Teixeira entrenched at 1st.
Look for Phil to start the year as the regular DH, but should he struggle... the Rangers have no shortage of replacements. I'd keep well away from Nevin, he's DEEP into the twilight of his career.

Houston Astros; Jeff Bagwell: Much to his team's dismay, "Bags'" is determined to return even with an arthritic, surgically repaired... yet still weak shoulder.
I had the aging 'Stro pegged as my top "Player in Decline" last season, and fortunately or unfortunately... he didn't... or did, disappoint: it all depends upon how you look at it. He didn't disappoint me as;
A. I didn't draft him.

B. I made the call that he was deteriorating physically and would be an albatross around a fantasy owner's fantasy neck.
During Jeff Bagwell's truncated '05 season he took a grand total of 100 ABs in 39 games, hitting a meager .250/3/19.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Sean Casey: Things got awfully ugly for Casey last season and a lack of pop in the Red lineup can't be blamed. After watching his average and power numbers drop like a rock, the Reds saw fit to drop Casey like a rock. Now suiting up for Pittsburgh, Casey's only real protection will be provided by fast-rising LF'er Jason Bay... or it could be the other way around, with Bay serving as Casey's wing-man predicated upon the batting order. Still, such protection is tantamount to guarding the "Crown Jewels" with a Master Combination Lock" and an $8 per hour "Rent-a-Cop." (No offense intended to any Rent-a-Cops who may view this Blog) A quick perusal of Casey's digits; BA in '04 was .324, BA in '05: .312 (eh', not so bad, right? Wait) SLG % in '04 was .534, SLG % in '05: .423. His Home Runs fell from 24 in '04 to 9 in '05, and his RBI total dropped like a lead balloon; 41 RBIs fewer in '05 then '04. Again, I could go on but the numbers get so tedious.
Even if Casey should rediscover his seat-reaching stroke, and that'd be no easy feat mind you, the cast of characters around him in Pittsburgh is substantially diminished from his days in Cincy'.
I'd look for numbers approximating .300/12/55.



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