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Gimme 5: Fantasy Edition

By ALAN RITTNER
Published April 3, 2005


TOP 5 PLAYERS: AL

1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees. Though no longer shortstop-eligible, he's still at a premium position, and he's still the player most likely to provide an impact in every fantasy category.

2. Vlad Guerrero, RF, Angels. He was 2004 MVP, deservedly, by having a basically average season by his standards.

3. Miguel Tejada, SS, Orioles. A better player than when he won the 2002 MVP, Tejada has become the class of AL shortstops and is a good bet to age well.

4. Manny Ramirez, LF, Red Sox. He has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting seven straight years. There's nothing to suggest that won't happen again.

5. Eric Chavez, 3B, A's. Now that he has tightened his strike zone and figured out how to hit lefties, Chavez may have no flaws as a player, and at 27 he's at just the right age to make a leap into the AL's elite.

TOP 5 PITCHERS: AL

1. Johan Santana, LHP, Twins. From about June on, his numbers resembled Bob Gibson's in 1968.

2. Randy Johnson, LHP, Yankees. A freak.

3. Roy Halladay, RHP, Blue Jays. It's a sizable falloff from the top two, but Halladay's Cy Young two years ago was no fluke. He should bounce back.

4. Curt Schilling, RHP, Red Sox. He'll miss at least a start or two at the beginning of the season, so he's downgraded slightly, but basically the guy's an ox.

5. Zack Greinke, RHP, Royals. Greg Maddux, the Next Generation? Wait and see, but Greinke's so eerily intelligent and composed that I can't hold his age, his home park or his team against him. He's especially valuable in keeper leagues.

TOP 5 PLAYERS: NL

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals. Might as well say right from the top that I'm not going to list Barry Bonds here. Four months of Bonds still might rank among the league's top fantasy players, but who knows if we'll get even that much? So meantime, you have this guy, the best player in baseball who isn't the best player ever. Think you can settle?

2. Carlos Beltran, CF, Mets. Shea won't do his batting average any favors. Given he's a decent bet for a 40-40 season, it's a small sacrifice.

3. Bob Abreu, RF, Phillies. His sponsor at baseball-reference.com writes, "Seems to be under-rated everywhere, even in Philadelphia." Philadelphians booed Mike Schmidt, too.

4. Jim Edmonds, CF, Cardinals. He has hit .295 or better four of his five seasons in St. Louis, has had 39 or more homers three times. His average 162-game season: .294-34-102. If your league counts walks, he'll help you there, too. He should enter more discussions about baseball's best players.

5. Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies. He slugs better than .500 on the road. In other words, he's not Vinny Castilla. (See below.)

TOP 5 PITCHERS: NL

1. Jason Schmidt, RHP, Giants. The risk here is that without Bonds, the Giants' lineup is barrel scrapings. I'm guessing Bonds will return, giving Schmidt a chance to finally claim that Cy.

2. Pedro Martinez, RHP, Mets. Pedro allowed 26 homers last season, most since his first in the AL. That won't happen at Shea. He might be PEDRO! no longer, but he's still capable of greatness.

3. Ben Sheets, RHP, Brewers. Milwaukee is about two years from being a major player in the Central, and here's a big reason. 264 strikeouts and 32 walks? That's better than Santana.

4. Roy Oswalt, RHP, Astros. In some ways his numbers are going in the wrong direction: His ERA jumped a bit, and his groundball/flyball ratio degenerated for the third straight season, though it didn't hurt his home run rate. But why quibble? He's good, he's healthy and he's 27. Go get im.

5. Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Cubs. NL pitching is deep. The guys I haven't listed here include reigning Cy Young Roger Clemens (age), next Roger Clemens Mark Prior (injuries) and ERA king Jake Peavy (can't think of a single reason). You'd be justified ranking any of those guys ahead of Zambrano; I just have a hunch. Zambrano is a strikeout-groundball pitcher, my favorite kind, and last season he was more consistent with his sinker and improved his command. Snatch him up before the Cubs ruin his arm.

TOP 5 DEVIL RAYS

1. Carl Crawford, OF. As I said last year, those guaranteed 50 steals make him a fantasy stud. And every year he gets better at the other things.

2. Aubrey Huff, OF. There's a reason teams with playoff hopes want to trade for the guy.

3. Danys Baez, RHP. A solid closer, and a nice bargain pickup for the Rays last year.

4. Jorge Cantu, 2B. Here you have a player who, at 22, batted .301 with a .462 slugging percentage as a rookie middle infielder and combined for 79 extra-base hits in the majors and minors. He's somewhat undisciplined and might hit a few bumps, but basically, what's not to like?

5. Julio Lugo, SS. Lugo was arguably better last season than Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, Cristian Guzman and Omar Vizquel, all of whom made offseason killings. Because some of his value is tied up in things like doubles and range, he might be better in reality than fantasy, but he's still solid.

5 BREAKOUT

CANDIDATES: AL

1. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins. One question: What took them so long? I'll be shocked if he doesn't top 30 homers.

2. Bobby Crosby, SS, A's. Don't let his rough second half scare you. Crosby battled through fatigue and nagging injuries, helping suppress numbers that were likely at the bottom of his range. Look for a big leap across the board.

3. Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, Tigers. He's figuring it out. His ERA dropped from 6.03 to 3.70 after the break, his walks from 45 in 94 innings to 28 in 90. His strikeout rate went from six per nine innings in 2003 to 8.22. And he has survived after what seemed like a premature promotion from Class A at age 20. Kudos to Detroit for monitoring his workload.

4. Rich Harden, RHP, A's. Oakland's ace down the stretch last season, he has a good chance to outpitch both Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder on a team that's going to be better than a lot of people think.

5. Laynce Nix, CF, Rangers. Nix was off to a nice start before running into a wall and spraining his shoulder. When he returned, his offense went south. I like his odds to recover. In the minors he had power and pretty good plate discipline, and he was generally young for his level. The ballpark helps, too.

5 BREAKOUT

CANDIDATES: NL

1. Josh Beckett, RHP, Marlins. He's regarded as a bit of a disappointment, but after three full seasons he's still just 24. He lopped about half a walk off his nine-inning average last season, and his blister problems may actually have saved him from overworking an immature arm. His upside still is enormous.

2. David Wright, 3B, Mets. With his game and personality, he could become the most popular player in New York within a short time. Not just in Queens; in NEW YORK.

3. Hee-Seop Choi, 1B, Dodgers. It's a little offensive the way some people, in their fanatical hatred of Moneyball-type organizations, seem to almost root for certain players to fail. Choi was putting up a solid season for Florida before crumbling in Los Angeles, a fact many reported with something resembling glee. Here's predicting, and hoping, he shows them up.

4. Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Mets. Matsui slugged .500 in July with a healthy chop to his strikeouts, but a lower back strain limited him to 41 at-bats the rest of the season. The Yankees' Hideki Matsui needed a year to figure out American pitchers; expect something similar with the crosstown version.

5. Kip Wells, RHP, Pirates. A repeat on this list, Wells was making that pick look good before elbow and blister problems sabotaged his season. Healthy now, he still has frontline stuff and his strikeout rate keeps climbing, so let's give it another try.

5 COLLAPSe

CANDIDATES: AL

1. Jaret Wright, RHP, Yankees. He topped 100 innings for the first time since 1999. He had a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time ever. He's no longer pitching for Leo Mazzone. I mean, c'mon.

2. Ryan Drese, RHP, Rangers. A lot of warning signs here: 4.25 strikeouts per nine, a heavy workload (1612⁄3 more innings than in 03), a 4.73 ERA after the All-Star break.

3. Steve Finley, CF, Angels. His career-high 36 homers were, I suspect, a last gasp at age 39. He's in terrific shape, but his speed is eroding fast, and he won't have the BOB helping to pad his power numbers.

4. Carlos Guillen, SS, Tigers. What the heck? He may have been more responsible than Ivan Rodriguez for Detroit's turnaround; shame on the MVP voters for placing him 24th. But there's nothing to suggest he can repeat, and his injury history is a red flag. (He's coming off a torn ACL.) More likely he'll settle into a nice, Jeff Blauser-like career.

5. Carl Pavano, RHP, Yankees. It's possible he has suddenly become a durable Cy Young candidate. It's more possible he had a career year that he's unlikely to duplicate in front of the Yankees' sluggish defense.

5 COLLAPSE

CANDIDATES: NL

1. Moises Alou, RF, Giants. Like Finley, he's an older player (38 last season) coming off a power spike and going from a hitter's to a pitcher's park. Unlike Finley, he doesn't have a history of good health.

2. Al Leiter, LHP, Marlins. Leiter gets by almost exclusively with his splitter, which he rarely throws for strikes (hence an ugly 97 walks in 1732⁄3 innings last season). That's not going to work much longer.

3. Russ Ortiz, RHP, Diamondbacks. What were they thinking? He's durable; he's just not very good. Leaving the Ted could add a run to his ERA.

4. Vinny Castilla, 3B, Nationals. He batted .218 in road games last season, .321 at Coors. Jim Bowden should have given Chuck LaMar a call.

5. Lyle Overbay, 1B, Brewers. His production last season wasn't entirely driven by batting average; he hit 53 doubles and drew 81 walks, if your league counts those things. Most don't, which means if he drops back into the .270s and a .245 second half bodes poorly he isn't likely to do you much good. Prince Fielder is going to start pushing him soon.#