Fanstasy baseball to the rescue

03/21/2008 4:49 AM

03/21/2008 4:54 AM

After losing two hours of work because of a renegade right pinkie, having another finger shredded while breaking up a cat fight and then hearing Michael Bolton groan the words "when a man loves a woman" before a bat could be reached and the radio put out of its misery, it was clear the seventh chamber of hell had just been entered.

To best visualize my response to the longest 2 minutes and 27 seconds of my 38 years and four months, dust off a copy of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and fast forward to Napoleon's reaction to rolling a gutterball.

Despite the forces of nature and evil conspiring against us, we managed to pull ourselves out of the burning ring of fire and quickly return to the business of preparing for next weekend's fantasy baseball draft in San Diego.

And after two months of intense studying and coffee swilling, I think we're ready.

To assist with your draft prep work, here's a quick glance, based on a 12-team format, at how we see the first round potentially playing out.

1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees -- Rodriguez remains the fantasy gold standard and the consensus No. 1 pick. He hit 54 homers with 156 RBIs, 143 runs, 24 stolen bases and a .314 batting average in an MVP 2007, and there's no reason to believe he won't approach those numbers again. Look out, Barry, A-Rod's a-comin'.

2. David Wright, 3B, Mets -- A 30-30 man with 40-40 potential, Wright (.325 avg., 30 HRs, 107 RBIs, 113 runs, 34 SBs in '07) is a lock to knock in and score 100-plus runs and contend for a batting title, and he won't make it past me with the No. 2 pick next Saturday.

3. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins -- The only thing that can stop Ramirez (.331 avg., 29 HRs, 81 RBIs, 125 runs, 51 SBs) is Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, who insists on batting him leadoff rather than in the No. 3 or 4 hole, which could end up costing Ramirez 40 to 50 RBIs.

4. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets -- Reyes (.281 avg., 12 HRs, 57 RBIs, 119 runs, 78 SBs) was an MVP candidate in 2007 before turning into Gilligan Reyes in the season's final weeks. He bats atop one of the game's most dangerous lineups, has 20-HR potential and could swipe 100 bases if he can keep his average above .300.

5. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies -- Utley (.332 avg., 22 HRs, 103 RBIs, 104 runs, 9 SBs despite missing a month with a broken hand) possesses five-tool ability, plays in the hitter's paradise called Citizens Bank Park and is the head of the class at a thin position. Any more questions?

6. Matt Holliday, OF, Rockies -- Holliday became a household name last season after batting .340 with 36 HRs, 137 RBIs, 120 runs and 11 steals for the National League champion Rockies. A repeat performance (one that could include a few more HRs and steals) is a strong possibility from a guy who plays half his games at Coors Field.

7. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers -- Cabrera (.320 avg., 34 HRs, 119 RBIs, 91 runs) went from the outhouse to the penthouse when the Marlins traded him to the Tigers during their annual offseason fire sale. Cabrera, who's also been known to spend time at the steakhouse, dropped about 20 of the 40 or so pounds he'd put on since breaking into the majors in 2003. Batting fifth in baseball's most potent lineup, Detroit's Big Cat (Andres Galarraga will always be The Big Cat) could top the 150-RBI mark if he gets 600 at-bats.

8. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies -- The reigning NL MVP, Rollins became a first-time member of the 30-30 club last season. He might not duplicate his 30 HRs, 94 RBIs, 139 runs and 41 steals of '07, but we bet he'll come close.

9. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies -- Despite playing more like his Dunder Mifflin namesake in the first month of 2007 (three HRs, .221 avg.), Howard still managed to put together an impressive season (.268 avg., 47 HRs, 136 RBIs, 94 runs). The average was low, but remember he batted .313 in 2006, when he had 58 HRs and 149 RBIs. With Rollins and Utley batting in front of him, there will be no shortage of RBI opportunities.

10. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers -- Fielder had fans in Milwaukee barking loud enough to be heard in San Diego after batting .288 with 50 HRs, 119 RBIs and 109 runs in '07. Only 23, and with Ryan Braun batting next to him, The Prince Show will be a hit for years to come.

11. Johan Santana, P, Mets -- The two-time American League Cy Young Award winner had an "off" year in '07 -- 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA, 235 strikeouts and a 1.07 WHIP -- but remains the pitching prize in any draft. Traded by the Twins to the Mets for a bean bag and a bag of Red Vines, a healthy Santana could reach 20 wins and 250 strikeouts.

12. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals -- A damaged wing is the only reason Pujols appears this low on our list. Coming off a "disappointing" season in which he batted .327 with 32 HRs, 103 RBIs and 99 runs, Pujols has torn the cover off the ball this spring, but the torn ligament in his his right elbow could necessitate surgery before the weather heats up. Feeling lucky?

We'll see you in two weeks with a complete draft report.

To comment, click on the link with this story at

www.modbee.com. Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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