Tuesday, February 21, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL'S SHORTSTOPS; 2006!

ALMOST THERE, SO CLOSE, WHAT CAN I SAY, I'M THOROUGH! ALL ATHLETES ARE LISTED AND MOST BLURBS ARE UP!

The Shortstop...in the mid-90's through '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 of the 'board until you are ready to do so. The position boasts even "Deeper Sleepers" such as Milwaukee's J.J Hardy and the Dodgers' Brandon Wood.
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 when YOU are ready to do so.

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. Included in his numbers were a stultifying 50 Doubles (the most hit by any SS), 5 Triples, 337 total bases (2nd only to Michael Young's 343) and razor-sharp batting eye. Tejada K'ed a mere 83 times in over 650 ABs. While my BA and HR productions were close, Tejada hit 40 fewer Ribbies' than I anticipated. In fact, 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; 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, with 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) off at a glacial pace would be a marked 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 mainstay, 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 continues to play a rock-solid Shortstop with 15 errors.

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 his 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 Nomar's 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 line)"

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 healthy rendered him a fantasy zero for a 2nd straight season. 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. Pencil 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 Shorty', 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, by virtue of his position, must be able to work the count in order to force a Walk and record a high OBP in the process; Rollins' OBP was a somewhat less than breathtaking .338, and the guy walked 47 times (to 71 Ks) 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 over-estimated 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 Renteria 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 old 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 over-estimated his batting average by 15 points, 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 statstics 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 2 bum wheels Guillen was able to post a nice average, but offered zip in the way of 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 Cabrera'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 and his .257/8/57, 70 run, 21 SB line ended up on many leagues' Waiver Wires.

JACK WILSON (PIT): Last Season I Said: "This dude broke OUT last season. Available through most league's Waiver Wires, 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, if you should elect to draft Wilson, I'd make certain to have another athlete who offers flexibility at the Shortstop 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 2004 season. Even so, my .285/10/62 projection was within striking distance of his actual .257/8/52 campaign. For obvious reasons, Wilson doesn't rate a ranking on this 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 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 some pop 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, 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 continues 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 season 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, a year of .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 season. Yeah, yeah, Valentin came back in late August, but ended the injury-marred year with a ghastly bad line of .170/2/14. Honestly... even I couldn't have forecasted a season THAT bad.
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 the departure of Marlon Anderson. 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 in the 3 hole at the position. And yet, the Ranger's remarkable productivity only serves to bolster my case. Certainly the 29 year old middle-infielder benefits from the All-Star laden lineup that surrounds 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 Washington... for now) to surprise OF'er David Dellucci, the Rangers are 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 boasts 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 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 more protection than President Bush enjoys, 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 answer to the "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. The position and correlational expectations may never be the same given the legacy the aforementioned will leave. 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 of 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 SS Michael Young 3rd last season, but he acquitted himself remarkably well and is this season's top ranked shorty'... so 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-popping 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 that surrounds 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 failed to land a proven stopper during the off-season, and it's eminently possible that Miggy's moved for an established Closer 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 April 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:

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 capable of carrying a fantasy team as some of the other SSs can, but you'll snare a certain stats' contributor.
Amid a lineup capable of reducing 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. However, 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: A ghastly-bad first half of .187/1/19, with a SLG % of .267 gave way to a new player who comfortably swatted 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 utterly pulverized the ball, clubbing 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. Look for something in between his '04 and '05 seasons' I'm calling for .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 moved the SS up and down the lineup. 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-hitter 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 in the fold (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 rebound a bit, Cabrera's still going to offer little fantasy value batting at the 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!

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home