What do you mean it's too early to talk fantasy baseball?
My 6-year-old unveiled his 2009 Christmas list yesterday and revealed he's narrowed his list of career options to doctor, baseball player or the guy wearing the Chuck E. Cheese costume.
And if Kyle can have his future mapped out decades in advance, there's nothing wrong with me crunching baseball numbers in January.
The first number we always start with is 27.
Three was the magic number in "Schoolhouse Rock," ice cream law decrees there be but only 37 officially recognized flavors, and agent Jack Bauer has 24 hours to save the day in that TV show with the name I'm drawing a blank on.
In fantasy baseball, the hallowed number is 27 -- the age at which players reach their prime and typically enjoy their most productive seasons.
Here are some of the players to keep an eye who are or will be 27 at some point this season (2008 statistics in parentheses):
GRADY SIZEMORE, OF, INDIANS -- Sizemore, who turns 27 in August, will be baseball's next 40-40 man. Soon. Sizemore (33 home runs, 90 runs batted, 101 runs score, 38 stolen bases, .268 batting average) has increased his HR, RBI and steals totals in each of the past three years, and is more than capable of delivering a 40-HR, 40-steal, 110-RBI, 120-run season. With the seventh overall pick in this year's draft, we're taking ... ?
IAN KINSLER, 2B, RANGERS -- Kinsler (18 HRs, 71 RBIs, 102 runs, 26 SBs, .319 BA) was leading the American League in runs, competing for a batting title and on the fast track to a 30-30 season when the curtain came down on his breakout '08 campaign in mid-August because of a sports hernia. Look for Kinsler, who has fully recovered and turns 27 in June, to pick up where he left off in 2009.
ADRIAN GONZALEZ, 1B, PADRES -- Back-to-back 30-HR, 100-RBI, 100-run seasons have catapulted Gonzalez (36 HRs, 119 RBIs, 103 runs, .279 AB) to the top of many owners' wish lists. He turns 27 in early May, which means Gonzalez could turn 30-plus HRs into 40-plus HRs by October.
KELLY JOHNSON, 2B, BRAVES -- Johnson (12 HRs, 69 RBIs, 86 runs, 11 SBs, .287 BA), who turns 27 next month, was a disappointment last season up until September, when he stung the ball at a .398 clip. His strong finish took away some of the sting of my having declined a straight-up trade for eventual AL MVP Dustin Pedroia back in May (I know, and let me add a few: ignoramus, dingbat, fool, imbecile ... ) and has us thinking a 20-HR, 20-SB, 100-run, .300 season isn't beyond reason.
ANDRE ETHIER, OF, DODGERS -- The former Modesto Athletic is coming off the best of his three big-league seasons (20 HRs, 77 RBIs, 90 runs, 6 SBs, .305 BA) and is a good bet to go 25-100-100-.300 batting in the heart of a Los Angeles lineup that this Giants fan hopes doesn't include a guy named Manny.
CARLOS QUENTIN, OF, WHITE SOX -- With apologies to Pedroia, Quentin (36 HRs, 100 RBIs, 96 runs, .288 BA) would have been the AL's MVP had his season not ended a month early because of a fractured wrist, which cost him anywhere from eight to 10 HRs and 15 to 25 RBIs. The former Stanford star turns 27 in late August and could be staring at 50 HRs if he can see his way to 600 at-bats.
JAMES SHIELDS, P, RAYS -- While Scott Kazmir gets all the buzz, Shields (14-8, 160 strikeouts, 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) has emerged as the Rays' workhorse on the mound. The hard-throwing right-hander turns 28 in December and has logged 215 innings in each of the past two seasons and has a career 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio and 1.20 WHIP in three seasons with Tampa. Prediction: 20 wins, 180 strikeouts, 3.30 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and mine in '09.
Other notable 27s or 27-to-be's -- Rich Harden, P, Cubs; Carl Crawford, OF, Rays; Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians; Scott Baker, P, Twins; Adam Wainwright, P, Cardinals; Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians; Alexei Ramirez, 2B, White Sox; Nate McLouth, OF, Pirates; Jason Kubel, OF, Twins.
We leave you with another important number -- 19: The number of days until pitchers and catchers report.
Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.