The Best of the Bunch
CL) J.J. Putz: The best reliever in baseball, bar-none (and that includes Papelbon) pitches in Seattle and you won't want to miss him when the inevitable run on closers begins in the early rounds of your draft. His tremendous K/BB ratio, microscopic ERA and WHIP and the high probability of an increased number of save chances in 2008 with a better rotation to get him leads give him an outside shot at 50 saves.
CF) Ichiro Suzuki: John McLaren entered the offseason making grand claims about his desire to see Ichiro steal more bases this year. Even if his average falls off a little from the .350 range, he's still going to be one of the two or three most valuable properties in the AL if those steals do in fact rise into the 60s. Either way...the high stop loss with him (you know he's going to hit you .310+ with 40 steals and 110 runs) makes him very attractive.
SP) Erik Bedard: Well let's run through the accolades shall we? He led the AL in K/9, was second among starters in K/BB, led the majors in xFIP and went 13-5 in a slightly shortened season with a terrible ballclub. He's only 29 this season, and he's now pitching in a park that heavily favors ground ball pitchers, left handed pitchers, and pitchers who do well against both sides of the plate, all of which describe Bedard. Don't be totally surprised to see him win a Cy Young award this year if he can stay healthy and get all 34 starts this time around. With the Mariners bulked up for real contention, he could win 18-20 games easily. Johan is in the NL, so you folks drafting in AL only leagues should consider making Bedard your #1 pitcher in the draft queue.
SP) Felix Hernandez: No matter what you may think of Hernandez' inconsistency to date, the man is the most talented pitcher in the AL, and now that he'll have to chart the pitches of one of the best in the game at his peak, I expect big things from "King Felix." Buy low if you can - some folks have forgotten how big his potential is - but treat him like the ace he is.
The Second Tier Stars
3B) Adrian Beltre: He's probably never going to duplicate his dominance over the NL in 2004, but Beltre has been steadily growing into his role wiht the Mariners and learning the AL. His numbers have steadily improved with time and would have been far more impressive in 2007 if a bad hand injury hadn't screwed up his swing right in the middle of a red hot streak in June. If he can get on a roll and then stay fully healthy, Beltre could still pop 30 HRs and hit .280+.
The Third Tier
1B) Richie Sexson: Here's a steal you can probably grab very late in your draft. The man is coming off of his worst season as a pro and he doesn't come without risk, but he's not old enough to make me believe all of that power of his is truly gone. I expect a significant bounce-back season, perhaps even a shot at the comeback player of the year award. If you can grab 30 HRs and 100 RBIs in the 20th round, have at it!
LF) Raul Ibanez: He's always had the label of a platoon guy even as he's posted some of the best value-seasons in the game several years running. Last year, his miserable (injury plagued) first half made most people give up on him, but if he stays healthy, especially in his upper body, he can still be a very productive 3rd or 4th outfielder for your team. Think 25 HR and 100 RBI to go with a .290 AVG.
OF) Brad Wilkerson: Don't be fooled by injury-fouled seasons with the Rangers. Brad Wilkerson is still a sabermetric dream...a combination of power and discipline that comes attached to a low batting average. He can be a solid fourth outfielder or utility man for you and you can probably pick him up in the final rounds of the draft and enjoy his 25 HRs and decent on base skills for free.
The Question Marks
SS) Yuniesky Betancourt: For a guy with YuBet's natural speed, he's been a non-factor on the bases, which is a grave disappointment to those who compared him to Ozzie Smith. McLaren is preaching aggressive baserunning this year and YuBet will get some help from base stealing guru Rich Amaral and leadership guru Tony phillips this year. He and Jose Lopez will both be trained in the art of stealing bases but Betancourt is the most likely to translate that training into improved value in fantasy baseball. If he can steal 20-25 bases this year (he's capable of many more), he will have a lot more value than he presently does.
SP) Brandon Morrow: At the moment, flame-thrower Morrow has no spot i the Mariner rotation, but his potential is undeniable, with many scouts both inside and outside the Mariner system comparing him to Justin Verlander. If the Mariners are smart, they will eventually trade Jarrod Washburn or rotation Miguel Batista back to the bullpen where he's had success in the past in order to make room for their third ace. If Morrow ever cracks the rotation, don't even look at his statistical line. He's not the kind of pitcher who does well with his control when asked to come into a game on short notice and face a few hitters. He needs time to develop a pitching rhythm. In winter ball, he showed off his superior command as a starter, walking barely 3 men per 9 innings. If he starts, be ready to grab him.
Keep your eyes on how the Mariners decide to deploy Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement this year. If either gets to play regularly at any point, they could be major waiver wire grabs for you. You might also want to pay attention to Jose Lopez. If he can get his head in the game after the tragic death of his brother last season, he still has the potential to become a solid middle infielder both offensively and defensively. He's low on the radar screen but if he gets hot, be ready to store him on your bench.
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