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Quote: OMR Said, I'd like the ones for the Yankees, the Mets, the Indians, the Phillies, and the Rangers.
Quote: Yanquis Apparently, money can't buy you everything. The Yankees seem to be learning that, ever so slowly, after absorbing the title of "this decade's Atlanta Braves," a label once applied to the 14-time National League East champions for their ability to reach the postseason but inability to bring home a championship. Since the Yankees' 2000 World Series win against their cross-town rival New York Mets, the Yankees have lost twice in the World Series (2001 and 2003), once in the American League Championship Series (2004) and three times in the Division Series (2002 and 2005-06).
Much of the reason for the Yankees' recent failings in October can be blamed on a lack of chemistry or their stockpile of aging, often overpriced, veterans. But as we head into 2007, the Yankees seem committed to gradually reducing the age of their major-league roster, and strengthening the farm system. During the winter, they traded two of their three oldest players , left-handed starter Randy Johnson (43) and outfielder Gary Sheffield (38), and there's a good chance their second-oldest, Bernie Williams (38), won't be back with the team. In their places, the Yankees uncharacteristically didn't throw loads of money at All-Star replacements. Instead, they opted to add talented pitching prospects like Ross Ohlendorf and Humberto Sanchez.
But are the Yankees really in the midst of rebuilding? Don't count on it. There's every bit as big a chance the team was loading up on prospects to have more trade chips at midseason, when the Yankees should have a better sense of their needs. This team's not much less talented than the 2006 model, as the lineup runs nine deep, with July's acquisition, Bobby Abreu, sliding right in at the No. 3 hole and in right field, Sheffield's old spot. On the mound, Andy Pettitte takes over for Johnson, and Japanese import Kei Igawa assumes the spot of Jaret Wright, who was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
PROJECTED LINEUP: CF Johnny Damon SS Derek Jeter RF Bobby Abreu 3B Alex Rodriguez DH Jason Giambi LF Hideki Matsui 2B Robinson Cano C Jorge Posada 1B Doug Mientkiewicz
DEPTH CHART: (Projected starters listed in bold, players expected to begin the year in the minors listed in italics) C: Jorge Posada, Todd Pratt, Wil Nieves, Raul Chavez, Ben Davis 1B: Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Phillips, Jason Giambi, Miguel Cairo, Josh Phelps, Eric Duncan, Juan Miranda 2B: Robinson Cano, Miguel Cairo, Andy Cannizaro, Angel Chavez 3B: Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cairo, Andy Phillips, Andy Cannizaro SS: Derek Jeter, Miguel Cairo, Andy Cannizaro, Angel Chavez LF: Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese CF: Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese RF: Bobby Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Reese DH: Jason Giambi, Andy Phillips, Josh Phelps, Eric Duncan SP: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Philip Hughes, Jeff Karstens, Humberto Sanchez, Sean Henn, Darrell Rasner CL: Mariano Rivera RP: Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Proctor, Luis Vizcaino, Brian Bruney, Chris Britton, Mike Myers, Ron Villone, Jose Veras, Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, T.J. Beam, Colter Bean
First base might be the only real question for the majors' leading offense from 2006 (5.74 runs per game), and even then, in the worst-case scenario, the Yankees have an extra outfielder in Melky Cabrera who could shift someone to designated hitter and Jason Giambi back to first. The fact that Cabrera, who hit .280 as a 21-year-old in 2006, has no place to play regularly speaks volumes about this team's offensive depth.
On the mound, meanwhile, the rotation might lack an ace talent, but the offseason additions of Chris Britton and Luis Vizcaino should strengthen the bullpen. Yankee starters might no longer be early-round picks, but with that lineup providing them great win potential, their starters still look pretty appealing.
FANTASY STUD: It's amazing how quickly a backlash has developed around Alex Rodriguez, mostly dating back to his double-play grounder in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2005 Division Series. Since then, A-Rod has been under constant pressure for his lack of "clutch" hitting, though it's hard to imagine a guy with 35 homers and 121 RBI never had a clutch hit all year. Sure, he had a down year by his standards, but give the guy a break. He's two years removed from an MVP and remains a first-rounder.
OVERRATED: Chien-Ming Wang is coming off a 19-win, 3.63-ERA season, but be careful not to grab him too early. Consider that he's a dominating home pitcher (3.03 ERA, 1.171 WHIP) who isn't much better than average on the road (4.35/1.470). In addition, he doesn't get strikeouts -- only 76 in 218 innings -- meaning his strongest category by far is wins. Sure, the Yankees will help Wang rack up those wins, but remember, that's a streaky category, and he's not an elite pitcher in any of the other departments.
TOP SLEEPER: Doug Mientkiewicz will happily tell you he's not anything special for fantasy, but he happened to pick the one team this winter where he might be able to offer a little help. Good luck spelling his name, but don't overlook him. Mientkiewicz topped a .300 batting average in 2001 and 2003, and hit .283 in 2006. If he does that in New York, batting ninth, he could drive in 75 runs. Just ask Scott Brosius, a No. 9 hitter who managed a 98-RBI season batting mainly eighth and ninth for the 1998 Yankees.
INTRIGUING SPRING BATTLE: It's the fifth starter job, and not only because fantasy owners are curious whether top prospect Philip Hughes will be able to rise up to claim the role right out of camp. Carl Pavano's the favorite, but considering his health limited him to 17 starts in 2005 and none in '06, it's not unthinkable that job could go to Hughes. Sleeper Jeff Karstens will be in the mix as well.
PROSPECTS FOR NOW: • SP Philip Hughes: A bona fide ace in the making, Hughes stands this year's best chance at a midseason fantasy impact, à la Jered Weaver or Anibal Sanchez in 2006. For his minor-league career, he has a 2.13 ERA, 0.860 WHIP and .181 BAA in 46 games. • SP Jeff Karstens: In the long haul, he's not nearly the prospect Hughes is, but might be a little more prepared for a starting role right now thanks to four quality starts in six tries late in 2006. Karstens had a 3.29 ERA and 1.205 WHIP in the minors in 2006.
PROSPECTS FOR LATER: • SP Dellin Betances: His eighth-round draft postion in June was more a result of his commitment to Vanderbilt than his talent. Betances has first-round, ace-caliber talent. At 19, he's a few years off, but he could eventually join Hughes at the top of the rotation. • OF Jose Tabata: He profiles as a tremendous power hitter down the road, though it could be awhile coming, as he's only 18 years old right now. It's tough to read Tabata's talent; he could end up a perennial home-run champion, or only a solid big-league regular.
THE BALLPARK: It's hard to believe Yankee Stadium was the fourth-least friendly ballpark for scoring in 2006 (0.900), especially since it was a top-10 park the previous year (1.051, 8th). For the most part, it's a neutral park, though its dimensions do make it awfully favorable to left-handed power hitters, and tougher on the righty home run types.
Quote: or much of last year, it seemed as if the Mets stood an excellent chance at a third World Series championship, exactly 20 years after their last one. With a team built much like that 1986 title-winning squad, around several key farm products and a few shrewd free-agent and trade acquisitions, the Mets wound up getting to within one game of the World Series in 2006, falling short in the final inning of the NLCS Game 7.
Now, with their homegrown products a year older and a year more experienced, the Mets head into 2007 a favorite to finally get over that hump. Few teams in baseball can boast the kind of firepower found in the top half of the New York lineup, beginning with Jose Reyes, who finally developed into the elite table-setter the team envisioned. He batted .300 in a breakout year in which he became the first player in history to manage at least 63 stolen bases, 120 runs scored, 192 hits and 19 home runs in a single season. No. 2 hitter Paul Lo Duca batted .318 and finally bucked the trend of poor second-half performances. No. 3 hitter Carlos Beltran, a bust of a free-agent signing in 2005, rebounded with career-high performances in home runs (41), RBI (116) and OPS (.982). Cleanup man Carlos Delgado struggled in batting average, but nonetheless managed 38 homers and 114 RBI in a "down" year. And David Wright, the No. 5 hitter and, along with Reyes, the team's other standout farm product, managed a 20/20 season in which he hit .311 with 116 RBI.
With all five players back on board for 2007, there's little doubt the Mets should challenge their No. 7 ranking in runs per game (5.15), especially with talented veterans like Moises Alou and Shawn Green following them up. Neither player is that exciting for fantasy, but considering Beltran, Delgado and Wright each managed better than a .360 on-base percentage, there should be plenty of RBI chances for Alou and Green.
PROJECTED LINEUP: SS Jose Reyes C Paul Lo Duca CF Carlos Beltran 1B Carlos Delgado 3B David Wright LF Moises Alou RF Shawn Green 2B Jose Valentin
DEPTH CHART: (Projected starters listed in bold, players expected to begin the year in the minors listed in italics) C: Paul Lo Duca, Ramon Castro, Mike DiFelice, Jose A. Reyes, Joe Hietpas 1B: Carlos Delgado, Julio Franco 2B: Jose Valentin, Damion Easley, Anderson Hernandez, David Newhan, Ruben Gotay 3B: David Wright, Damion Easley, Jose Valentin, David Newhan SS: Jose Reyes, Damion Easley, Jose Valentin, Anderson Hernandez LF: Moises Alou, Endy Chavez, David Newhan, Lastings Milledge, Jose Valentin, Ruben Sierra, Ben Johnson, Chip Ambres CF: Carlos Beltran, Endy Chavez, David Newhan, Ben Johnson, Chip Ambres RF: Shawn Green, Endy Chavez, David Newhan, Lastings Milledge, Ruben Sierra, Ben Johnson, Chip Ambres SP: Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park, Dave Williams, Mike Pelfrey, Jorge Sosa, Philip Humber, Jason Vargas, Alay Soler CL: Billy Wagner RP: Duaner Sanchez, Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Ambiorix Burgos, Scott Schoeneweis, Chan Ho Park, Dave Williams, Jorge Sosa, Juan Padilla, Jon Adkins, Jason Vargas, Alay Soler
But the one place the Mets are weak, however, is in the rotation. Former ace Pedro Martinez, 22-11 with a 2.88 ERA and 0.947 WHIP in his first 46 starts as a Met, slipped to 2-5 with an 8.74 ERA and 1.588 WHIP in his final eight starts of 2006 before succumbing to shoulder surgery that could cost him more than half of 2007. Since news first broke of his shoulder problems, the Mets have added depth in pitching, including Oliver Perez and Dave Williams last year and Chan Ho Park and Jorge Sosa this winter, yet the team has since lacked a true "ace" during that time. Top three starters Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and John Maine are capable of solid numbers, and pitching coach Rick Peterson has the track record to help out the lesser candidates, but there are no guarantees at the back end of this rotation. Don't rule out a midseason trade for someone proven this time around.
FANTASY STUD: It appears the work all-time stolen base champion Rickey Henderson did with Jose Reyes in 10 days last spring helped make the Mets' leadoff man a more complete player in 2006. He managed a career-high 64 steals, but most importantly, he boosted his on-base percentage by 54 points from his 2005 numbers, thanks to improving his walk rate from once per 27.1 plate appearances to once per 13.3 in 2006. Now Reyes ranks among the best five-category players, making him an early-to-mid first-round pick.
OVERRATED: Though Lo Duca's .318 batting average, strong second half (.338 average, .819 OPS) and No. 2 spot in the lineup might seem enough to vault him into top-10 catcher status, don't be so hasty. He has only 11 homers and 106 RBI combined the past two seasons, and he's not the ideal on-base specialist to hit second. If Lo Duca's batting average slips at all, he could easily be dropped lower in the order.
TOP SLEEPER: He'll likely begin the year in Triple-A, but Lastings Milledge is a five-tool youngster next in line to start at either corner outfield spot, where the Mets have the brittle Moises Alou and the declining Shawn Green. Plus, there's always the possibility Milledge could be moved for pitching, in which case he might stand a better chance at a starting job. He's 21, but even now could have 15-homer, 25-steal ability as a starter.
INTRIGUING SPRING BATTLE: After Glavine, Hernandez and Maine, the Mets will have to hope Peterson can squeeze a quality season or two out of a mix that includes the erratic Perez, unproven rookies Mike Pelfrey, Alay Soler and Philip Humber, and journeymen types like Park, Sosa and Williams. Whoever wins the spots will surely reap the benefits of the pitching-friendly environment and plenty of run support, but none of these guys is exactly a "safe" choice.
PROSPECTS FOR NOW: • SP Philip Humber: Tommy John surgery slowed his progress, so he'll likely begin the year in Triple-A ball, despite being 24 years old and nearly ready for the Mets' rotation. By midseason, Humber should be ready, and he has No. 2/3 starter upside long term. • SP Mike Pelfrey: He didn't seem overmatched in a four-start trial with the Mets last summer, and really, improving his slider is the only roadblock to him being a big league star. Pelfrey could quickly rise into the role of ace of the staff, perhaps by as soon as 2009.
PROSPECTS FOR LATER: • OF Carlos Gomez: Some scouts say he could be as exciting a player as Reyes in his prime, but more likely, Gomez will be a .290-hitting, double-digit power, 40-steal type as a big leaguer. That's still great for fantasy, so look for him in mid-2008. • OF Fernando Martinez: He's only 18 years old, so it's going to take time for him to develop, and once he does, it's anyone's guess whether he'll be a serviceable regular or a perennial All-Star. Scouts love his raw talent, so he'll be fun to track the next few seasons.
THE BALLPARK: Generally considered one of the five most pitching-friendly ballparks in baseball, Shea Stadium ranked 26th in runs scored (0.902) and 20th in home runs (0.881) in 2006. Since 2000, not once has the park leaned toward the hitting side.
Quote: Who Gives a Fuck about the Phillies? Perhaps it's that Phillies fans tend to be so pessimistic that has caused the baseball world to overlook how close they've come to the playoffs the past two seasons. In back-to-back years, the Phils have finished second in the National League East and second in the NL wild-card race. They've now averaged 86 wins the past four years, getting within six games of a playoff spot each time, a good performance but not quite great.
But is 2007 the year the Phillies finally snap their 13-season playoff drought? If the team's superstar infield has anything to say about it, they might. First baseman Ryan Howard, age 27, is coming off an astonishing 58-homer, 149-RBI breakout year that landed him the MVP, and now he's considered one of the game's premier sluggers. Second baseman Chase Utley, 28, has managed back-to-back years with at least a .291 batting average, 28 home runs, 102 RBI and 15 stolen bases, and is now the hands-down top fantasy player at his position. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 28, is coming off a year in which he set career highs in homers (25), RBI (83), runs scored (127) and OPS (.812), vaulting him into fantasy's top-five at his position. All three are in their prime, occupy three of the top four lineup spots and are early-round fantasy picks, which on its own would be enough to make a team a top-10 offense. And that doesn't even consider the fourth infielder, new third baseman Wes Helms, who batted a remarkable .329 with a .965 OPS as a part-timer in Florida last year.
Add Helms and a quality veteran catcher in Rod Barajas to mentor prospect Carlos Ruiz, and consider that right fielder Shane Victorino is now a year more experienced and a year closer to his prime, and you've got the makings of one of the game's most underappreciated lineups. In case you missed it, Philadelphia averaged 5.34 runs per game in 2006, fourth in the majors, so this really wasn't a bad team in the first place.
PROJECTED LINEUP: SS Jimmy Rollins RF Shane Victorino 2B Chase Utley 1B Ryan Howard LF Pat Burrell 3B Wes Helms CF Aaron Rowand C Rod Barajas/Carlos Ruiz
DEPTH CHART: (Projected starters listed in bold, players expected to begin the year in the minors listed in italics) C: Rod Barajas, Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste, Dusty Wathan 1B: Ryan Howard, Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, Randall Simon, Brent Abernathy 2B: Chase Utley, Abraham O. Nunez, Danny Sandoval, Brent Abernathy 3B: Wes Helms, Abraham O. Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Danny Sandoval SS: Jimmy Rollins, Abraham O. Nunez, Danny Sandoval LF: Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Chris Roberson, Karim Garcia, Greg Dobbs, Ron Calloway, Michael Bourn, Brent Abernathy CF: Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Chris Roberson, Karim Garcia, Ron Calloway, Michael Bourn RF: Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Chris Roberson, Karim Garcia, Greg Dobbs, Ron Calloway, Michael Bourn SP: Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, Jon Lieber, Eude Brito, Justin Germano, Alfredo Simon CL: Tom Gordon RP: Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, Antonio Alfonseca, Matt Smith, Clay Condrey, Fabio Castro, Eude Brito, Brian Sanches, Justin Germano, John Ennis, Jim Crowell/i
The pitching staff appears on the rise as well, with rookie Cole Hamels coming off one of the strongest second halves of anyone; he had a 3.39 ERA, 1.106 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 87.2 innings. Brett Myers, still only 26, rebounded from off-the-field problems to finish with a 2.68 ERA and 1.053 WHIP in his final eight starts. And offseason acquisition Freddy Garcia, a key to the Chicago White Sox's 2005 championship team, brings with him one of the game's most remarkable records against the National League; he's 19-6 with a 2.34 ERA in 31 career games against NL foes. That's three-fifths of the rotation, and that doesn't even account for the experienced Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber.
Lieber, in fact, will probably be traded before opening day, perhaps to strengthen the bullpen, one of the weaker parts of the team. Closer Tom Gordon is experienced but injury-prone, while setup men Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca struggle with inconsistency.
FANTASY STUD: Though Howard will probably be picked earlier in most drafts, Utley's sheer dominance at the thin second base position shouldn't be overlooked. He finished 13th overall on the 2006 Player Rater; putting aside Alfonso Soriano, an outfielder all last year, the next-best second baseman was Dan Uggla, at No. 94. With .300-35-110-15 ability, Utley could easily do that yet again in 2007.
OVERRATED: If you live anywhere near Philadelphia or are a Phillies fan, you probably won't come close to overrating Pat Burrell in a fantasy draft. But people in other areas of the country might not be aware of how maddening a player he can be to watch, or own in a fantasy league. Burrell led the majors in called third strikes (63), and batted .169 with 131 K's in 254 at-bats in two-strike counts, .222 with runners in scoring position and .167 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Whether you believe in the notion of "clutch" hitters, Burrell was -- statistically speaking -- anti-clutch in 2006.
TOP SLEEPER: Shane Victorino doesn't garner nearly the attention a young player with his skill set should, and it's probably because his career got a bit sidetracked in 2003, when he was a Rule 5 draft pick. Did you know that in 2005, between the majors and minors, he managed 20 homers, 17 stolen bases, 16 triples and a .309 batting average? Maybe Victorino won't do quite that in 2007, but at 26 years old, he could be on the verge of a breakout year, especially if he lands the No. 2 lineup spot.
INTRIGUING SPRING BATTLE: Rod Barajas, who belted 47 homers in 325 games in Texas, now comes to Philadelphia, where he'll get the benefit of a ballpark comparably favorable to hitters. He'll compete with Carlos Ruiz, a .307 hitter with 16 homers in 100 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2006, and the player the team considers its future at the position. And let's not rule out Chris Coste, who batted .328 with seven homers in 65 games with the Phillies late in 2006.
PROSPECTS FOR NOW: • OF Michael Bourn: The organization's steals champion three years straight, Bourn is a left-handed hitting leadoff type, a sort of "lite" Juan Pierre. If Aaron Rowand is traded at any point, Bourn could take over and be a .280-hitting, 40-steal man right away. • C Carlos Ruiz: He's better known for his arm and his handling of a pitching staff than his bat, though he has batted .300-plus in back-to-back years in the minors. Ruiz is a good contact hitter who could be a useful No. 2 fantasy option in that bandbox ballpark.
PROSPECTS FOR LATER: • SP Carlos Carrasco: He's only 19 -- he'll turn 20 in two weeks -- and has shown a tendency to need time to adjust to new levels of competition. But Carrasco does have the makings of a future ace, depending on how he fares in Double- and Triple-A ball. • SP Kyle Drabek: Doug's son is said to have better pure stuff than his father, but off-the-field issues in his past are a concern. Plus, he struggled in rookie ball after being drafted last year. If he merely matures, Drabek could be a future ace, perhaps by 2010.
THE BALLPARK: Though the Phillies moved Citizens Bank Park's fences in left and left-center field back five feet and raised them two and a half feet before the 2006 season, the park remained awfully hitter-friendly, ranking eighth in runs scored (1.063) and sixth in home runs (1.201). It's still easily one of the National League's best hitters' parks.
Quote: Offense has long been the name of the game in Arlington. The Rangers have ranked among the majors' top 10 offenses in terms of runs per game in each of the past six seasons, and during that time, they've boasted 11 instances of players topping 30 homers and 100 RBI.
In 2007, however, the Rangers might need to get more creative scoring runs. Gone are center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. and utilityman Mark DeRosa, both of whom posted career years in 2006, combining for a .305 batting average, 32 home runs, 84 doubles and 180 runs scored. In their places, the Rangers brought in some interesting, yet aging, bats, a group that includes Kenny Lofton, a 32-steal man at 38 years old in 2006; Frank Catalanotto, a .297 career hitter; and Sammy Sosa, a 588-homer career hitter but also a 38-year-old who sat out the entire 2006 season.
But it's that last name -- Sosa's -- that has raised the most eyebrows this winter. Incredibly, he's drawing all the attention, mostly because reports have new manager Ron Washington considering using him as his regular designated hitter and No. 5 hitter. In reality, Sosa might only be a useful platoon partner at this stage of his career, the type of player the Rangers seem well stocked with heading into 2007. That'll make for an interesting spring training, and some tough choices for Washington, who will have to mix and match and play matchups to get the best out of all three outfield and the DH positions. Meanwhile, for fantasy, it's not so appealing to us that guys like Sosa, Catalanotto, Brad Wilkerson and Nelson Cruz might only play against their stronger sides, as it'll help their batting averages but limit them in the cumulative categories. More important is that while platoons might make a lineup look thinner on the surface, done well, it's an angle that could deepen the offense, meaning RBI chances could still be plentiful for the heart-of-the-order hitters.
PROJECTED LINEUP: CF Kenny Lofton LF Frank Catalanotto SS Michael Young 1B Mark Teixeira DH Sammy Sosa/Jason Botts 3B Hank Blalock RF Nelson Cruz/Brad Wilkerson C Gerald Laird 2B Ian Kinsler
DEPTH CHART: (Projected starters listed in bold, players expected to begin the year in the minors listed in italics) C: Gerald Laird, Miguel Ojeda, Guillermo Quiroz, Chris Stewart 1B: Mark Teixeira, Jason Botts 2B: Ian Kinsler, Jerry Hairston Jr., Joaquin Arias, Ramon Vazquez, Drew Meyer 3B: Hank Blalock, Joaquin Arias, Jerry Hairston Jr., Ramon Vazquez, Drew Meyer SS: Michael Young, Joaquin Arias, Ramon Vazquez, Drew Meyer LF: Frank Catalanotto, Brad Wilkerson, Jason Botts, Marlon Byrd, Jerry Hairston Jr., Victor Diaz CF: Kenny Lofton, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Freddy Guzman RF: Nelson Cruz, Brad Wilkerson, Marlon Byrd, Jerry Hairston Jr., Victor Diaz DH: Sammy Sosa, Jason Botts, Frank Catalanotto, Nelson Cruz, Brad Wilkerson, Victor Diaz SP: Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy, Robinson Tejeda, John Koronka, Jamey Wright, Josh Rupe, Edinson Volquez, Bruce Chen, John Rheinecker, Kameron Loe, Mike Wood, Thomas Diamond CL: Eric Gagne RP: Akinori Otsuka, Wes Littleton, Rick Bauer, Ron Mahay, Josh Rupe, Joaquin Benoit, C.J. Wilson, Scott Feldman, Francisco Cruceta, Frank Francisco, Kameron Loe, Bruce Chen, Mike Wood, Franklyn German, Willie Eyre
Pitching, meanwhile, hasn't been a strong suit of the Rangers, though they were noticeably better in 2006, ranking a middling 18th, not bad considering the team's bandbox ballpark. Ace Kevin Millwood went from 2005 American League ERA champion to a 16-win, 1.307-WHIP season, not too bad for fantasy. Vicente Padilla is a serviceable innings eater worthy of matchups status, while young Brandon McCarthy, acquired from the Chicago White Sox, would be a more attractive sleeper if not for the ballpark. The trio isn't a bad start, and it shouldn't be overlooked entirely simply because homers fly out of Ameriquest Field.
The bullpen, meanwhile, could be noticeably deeper depending on Eric Gagne's health. That's a big question mark, though Akinori Otsuka, last year's closer, is more than capable of stepping in as needed. He's a must-have handcuff for Gagne owners in 2007.
FANTASY STUD: Though Mark Teixeira was a painful player to own in the first half of 2006, with his .275 batting average, nine homers and .798 OPS, he roared back with one of the most exceptional second halves in baseball, with .291/24/.998 numbers. Teixeira's 31 doubles before the break seemed to indicate that he simply needed a little luck punching those balls over the wall, and he sure fixed it after that. He's 26 years old, only entering his prime years, so a return to his 2005 numbers could be coming.
OVERRATED: Though Hank Blalock is now 26 years old, it's a disturbing trend that his slugging percentage has declined in each of the past three seasons. Sure, a shoulder problem limited him in 2006, but Blalock wasn't much better in that category in 2005 (.431), when he was healthier. He's a .221 career hitter with a .617 OPS against left-handers, which screams platoon, and his .242/.693 career mark in road games says that if he's ever traded, he might wind up an ordinary, .250-20-75 type. Be cautious.
TOP SLEEPER: Like the Yankees' Jorge Posada, Gerald Laird was nicely eased into the big leagues as a part timer for a few years, and like Posada in 2000, Laird now has the starting job all to himself. It's not unthinkable Laird could be a Posada-like offensive source with time, either, as the ballpark should help him in the power department, and he did bat .296 in a part-time role in 2006. He's not a bad No. 2 mixed-league catcher with upside.
INTRIGUING SPRING BATTLE: Settling those platoons in the outfield and at designated hitter is crucial for the Rangers, who have no shortage of candidates. Sammy Sosa and Frank Catalanotto are considered two of the favorites to claim everyday roles, but in reality, they might be the perfect platoon mates at DH. Nelson Cruz is a high-upside prospect who would be more exciting if he holds off the competition in right field, while Brad Wilkerson and Marlon Byrd could platoon nicely in left. Any of them could be more attractive fantasy picks if they can land everyday roles, though.
PROSPECTS FOR NOW: • DH Jason Botts: He's the one player who rarely seems to get mentioned in the outfield/DH mix, though one could argue he'd be a better bet in Sammy Sosa's projected role than Sosa himself. Botts has 25-homer power, and he can get on base, too. • OF Nelson Cruz: Perhaps the favorite for the right field job, Cruz was a .302-20-73 hitter with a .906 OPS in 104 games for Triple-A Nashville before coming to Texas in the Carlos Lee trade. He's strikeout prone, but there's big power potential in his bat.
PROSPECTS FOR LATER: • SP Thomas Diamond: The oldest member of the "DVD" trio (John Danks and Edinson Volquez are the others), Diamond is a high-strikeout type who had command issues in Double-A ball. But there's still time for him to become a mid-rotation starter. • SP Eric Hurley: The team's first-round pick in 2004, Hurley is a power pitcher who merely needs to improve his changeup to stay on track as a top future big-league starter. He could always be groomed to close in the next year if that doesn't pan out.
THE BALLPARK: Since the turn of the century, Ameriquest Field has been the American League's most hitter-friendly environment. The high temperatures and swirling winds make Ameriquest a great home-run park; the Rangers have averaged 231 homers as a team in their last six seasons, 126 of those hit at home.
Tristan Cockcroft covers fantasy football, baseball and hockey for ESPN.com. Send feedback to him right here.
-------------------- After one comes, through contact with it's administrators, no longer to cherish greatly the law as a remedy in abuses, then the bottle becomes a sovereign means of direct action. If you cannot throw it at least you can always drink out of it. - Ernest Hemingway
If it is life that you feel you are missing I can tell you where to find it. In the law courts, in business, in government. There is nothing occurring in the streets. Nothing but a dumbshow composed of the helpless and the impotent. -Cormac MacCarthy
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus
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