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".

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