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Fantasy Outlook

With fans from around the country convening for fantasy league drafts, staff writer Alan Rittner provides a cheat sheet for those in need.

By ALAN RITTNER
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002


Top 5 Fantasy Rays

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Rays outfielder Ben Grieve is considered a good risk as a fantasy slugger.
In most fantasy leagues, Devil Rays aren't going to be in great demand, though a few might draw interest in keeper leagues. Here are the five who should command the most attention:

1. TOBY HALL, C: By far the Rays' most valuable property, Hall is a catcher who can hit, and there aren't many of those around. In AL-only leagues, Hall might be one of the top five catchers picked.
2. JOE KENNEDY, LHP: He needs to build up some stamina, a common problem with young pitchers, but otherwise all the signs are good. He dominated in the minors and held his own in the bigs, he's a big, strong kid with nasty stuff and good command and he hasn't had any injury setbacks.
3. BEN GRIEVE, OF: Which is the real Ben Grieve, the one who slugged .481 and .487 the two previous seasons or the 11-homer, .387-slugging bust of a year ago? Baseball Prospectus: "... Players like him don't just stop hitting at age 25." He's a good risk.
4. PAUL WILSON, RHP: We've been here before with Wilson: a great spring coming off a terrific second half. Those of you who were burned by him last season will be understandably gun-shy. This time you might regret passing him up.
5. JASON TYNER, OF: A .332 on-base percentage isn't going to cut it from the leadoff spot, but in the meantime he looks good for a .280-plus average and 30-plus steals, a rare and valuable commodity in the age of the slugger.

Five Overvalued Players

1. BRET BOONE, 2B, MARINERS: The question is, was that a fluke season or did he find a new level? The giveaway was the age: It is very, very rare for a player to take that big a leap at 32 and sustain it. His plate discipline is still weak, so a falloff seems likely.
2. MO VAUGHN, 1B, METS: What's sometimes overlooked is that even when healthy, Vaughn was a decent, not great, first baseman for the Angels. He's 34, injury-prone and an immobile tub o' lard, and Shea Stadium could really hurt his numbers.
3. JOE MAYS, RHP, TWINS: 4.5 strikeouts per 9 innings ... hmm. The Twins have a tremendous defense, but it's a bit much to expect a 3.16 ERA again.
4. JON LIEBER, RHP, CUBS: He has been underrated for years, but there are warning signs here. His strikeout rate has dropped the past two seasons, he tired some in the second half and he has been worked awfully hard. A lot of Cubs had career years for pitching coach Oscar Acosta, who now gets to work his magic in Texas.
5. (TIE) BRIAN JORDAN, OF, DODGERS; TINO MARTINEZ, 1B, CARDINALS: A couple of guys in their mid 30s switching teams after bounce-back years. Neither is likely to repeat. (You could also throw Vinny Castilla in here.) Jordan is an especially bad risk; L.A.'s lineup is truly rank, and his injury history still has to worry you.

Five Undervalued Players

1. ADRIAN BELTRE, 3B, DODGERS: A down year after appendix surgery should not scare you off this guy. He turns 23 on April 7 and already has shown power, speed and patience. He's gold if you're in a keeper league; there's every chance he'll be one of the top three third basemen in baseball within the next three years.
2. BRAD PENNY, RHP, MARLINS: Josh Beckett gets more ink, but he's a rookie, and even if he's great he'll be handled gingerly. Penny's performance started to match his stuff and command last season, and he's right on the verge of a breakout.
3. JEREMY GIAMBI, OF/DH, A'S: Oakland appears ready to give him a full-time job. He could be Edgar Martinez.
4. PAUL KONERKO, 1B, WHITE SOX: He set career highs for homers and walks last season and is 26, just entering his peak. There's simply no reason to overbid on a Mo Vaughn if this guy is available.
5. MARCUS GILES, 2B, BRAVES: There was some talk that Wilson Betemit would make the majors as the everyday shortstop and move Rafael Furcal over to second. But it seems the Braves are starting to realize that Betemit needs more minor-league seasoning, which is good for the Braves, Giles and whoever winds up with him in a fantasy league. Like his brother he's a ballplayer, not an athlete, and he's likely to be one of the league's top half-dozen second basemen.

Three Fantasy Games for Obsessives

STATS FANTASY BASEBALL 2002: Do you know what runs created and range factor mean? Are you convinced that on-base percentage is the most valuable offensive tool and that RBIs and steals are overrated? For $49.95, the folks at Stats Inc. can put you in a league with 11 other stats junkies. You can join through April 14; visit fantasy.stats.com/sfbb/sfbb_promo.asp.

CLASSIC FANTASY BASEBALL AT ESPN.COM: Starting with a $50-million budget, you draft a 30-man roster (25 actives, five minor-leaguers) of players from throughout history. You are assigned to a 12-team league and play a 162-game season over nine weeks, followed by a best-of-five wild-card round and a best-of-seven World Series. The winner gets a free team, saving $49.95. Visit games.espn.go.com/legends/.

HACKING MASS: Sort of the anti-fantasy league, the annual free contest at baseballprospectus.com asks you to predict the worst hitters in baseball at five positions: catcher, first base, third base, middle infield and outfield. Yep, you're meant to root for players to fail. Points are .800 minus each player's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) multiplied by plate appearances, with the five totals added together. Hint: Build around Rey Ordonez.

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