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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fantasy baseball top 100: Nos. 1-25

Before we get to the finale of our four-part breakdown of the top 100, let’s get to a few quick injury notes.

The best second basemen on the board — Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and Philadelphia’s Chase Utley — seem to be recovered from abdominal and hip ailments, respectively.

Pedroia is playing again after straining his abdomen in the World Baseball Classic, and the reigning American League MVP seems to be a safe second-round pick.

Utley, who had offseason hip surgery, homered for the first time this spring on Tuesday. He says there’s “no question” he’ll be ready for the start of the season.

If that’s the case, he’s probably much too low on this list. There’s probably less risk in taking the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Manny Ramirez early in Round 2, but Utley — who has averaged 29 homers, 104 RBI and 14 steals the last four seasons — certainly has the most (to borrow a term from NFL and NBA draft circles) upside.

Another notable spring injury was the high-priced left elbow of Mets stud Johan Santana. He threw five effective innings Sunday and is also on track for opening day, making him a solid No. 3 at his position (behind Tim Lincecum and Brandon Webb) and an early second-round pick on this board.

Finally, the No. 1 debate: Albert Pujols or Hanley Ramirez?

I certainly can’t fault owners who select the Marlins’ shortstop, especially in category leagues in which Ramirez’s total of 86 steals the last two seasons is too enticing to pass up.

Ramirez batted .332 in 2007 and .301 last season, with averages of 31 homers, 74 RBI and 125 runs in that span.

Pujols, meanwhile, has eight-year major-league averages of 40 homers, 122 RBI, 118 runs, 43 doubles, a .334 average and .425 on-base percentage.

Deciding between the two is a nice problem to have. With Pujols, you know exactly what you are getting.

Ramirez owners, on the other hand, have the advantage of starting him at shortstop, where it’s much more difficult to find a stud. If you’re OK with losing the difference between Pujols and Ramirez in batting average, home runs and RBI, then take one of the game’s best young players.

I would make the guaranteed pick and worry about steals later.

25. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets: He’s not going give your batting average much of a boost (Beltran is a career .281 hitter), but he’ll hit for power and steal bases (a combined 101 homers, 340 RBI and 66 steals the last three seasons).

24. Matt Holliday, OF, Athletics: He leaves Coors Field, where he accounted for 15 of his 25 homers and 59 of his 88 RBI last season, for Oakland, which diminishes his value a bit.

23. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins: He won’t steal any bases, but he does everything else.

22. Carlos Lee, OF, Astros: He hits for average and he’s consistent in the power department — at least 28 homers and 98 RBI in each of the last seven seasons.

21. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers: The one-time phenom has finally realized his potential, but he’ll have a hard time driving in 130 runs again this season.

20. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies: Utley’s injury was much more serious than Pedroia’s — enough that I would give Pedroia a slight edge.

19. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: He was one of fantasy’s biggest surprises of 2008.

18. CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees: The big lefty’s 251 strikeouts were 42 better than his previous career high, which must have impressed the Steinbrenners to the tune of $161 million.

17. Roy Halladay, SP, Blue Jays: He’s always a threat to win 20 games with a sub-3.00 ERA, and last year he struck out more than 200 batters for the first time since 2003.

16. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies: The good: He’s averaged 51 home runs and 110 RBI the last three seasons. The bad: He’s batted .268 and .251 the last two seasons. The scary: He’s struck out a combined 579 times the past three years.

15. Johan Santana, SP, Mets: His elbow injury makes him a second-round risk who could still be the best pitcher on the board not named Lincecum.

14. Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: Don’t be worried about his early hamstring injury — Manny being Manny.

13. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: He was fantastic in his NL MVP season of 2007 (.296, 30 homers, 94 RBI, 41 steals), but provided little pop and stole only 11 bases a year ago.

12. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: He’s missed 27 and 53 games, respectively, the last two seasons, and his stolen bases have slipped to 19 each year.

11. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers: If this slugger is third-base eligible in your league, this ranking is too low for a player who’s had at least 26 homers and 112 RBI in each of the last five seasons.

10. Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks: You might prefer to add some pop here, but I’ll take a durable pitcher who is a combined 56-25 with 555 strikeouts the last three seasons.

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: He’s had at least 30 homers and 105 RBI in each of the last five seasons, and the latter stat should only improve batting in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.

8. Lance Berkman, 1B, Astros: Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira are the bigger names, but I prefer the player who stole 18 bases, batted .312 and scored 114 runs last season. Berkman’s power numbers aren’t bad, either (averages of 36 homers and 115 RBI the last three seasons).

7. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants: The best pitcher on the board is a diminutive Giant who was 18-5 with a 2.65 ERA and 265 strikeouts in 227 innings (an average of 10.5 per nine innings) in his second major-league season.

6. Grady Sizemore, OF, INDIANS: A 40-40 threat, but one who strikes out too much (an average of 143 K’s the last four seasons) and hits for too low of an average (.268 in 2008) to justify a top-five pick.

5. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers: All he’s done in two big-league seasons is bat .301, crack 71 home runs, steal 29 bases and drive in 203 runs — in fewer than 1,100 at-bats.

4. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets: He won’t help you much in the power department, but he’ll steal 55 to 75 bases, score at least 110 runs and bat in the .290 range.

3. David Wright, 3B, Mets: Even if A-Rod was healthy, Wright — with averages of 32 homers, 116 RBI and 25 steals the last two seasons — could have been considered the best third baseman on the board.

2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins: He’s a legitimate 40-40 candidate who does everything well except drive in a lot of runs.

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: He’s batted no worse than .314 with at least 32 homers and 103 RBI in every season since 2001. Hanley Ramirez’s speed is enticing, but Pujols crushes him in two categories (RBI and batting average), will hit more homers and has averaged 118 runs scored per season in his eight-year career.


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