- Matt Holliday—COL — Coors Field showed some preference to playing at home, but he is going to play 81 games there again this year, so here’s to the thin air! At 28 years old, he is right in his prime, so expecting another .330/35/125 season is not unreasonable.
- Carl Crawford—TB —A tough selection, but Crawford’s ability to help you in a few different ways gives him the number 2 ranking. He has hit over .300 for each of the last three years, topping out at .315 last season. I expect him to get very close to, or eclipse the 20 HR level this year as well. But Crawford’s number one weapon is his feet. Averaging over 50 steals since 2005, Carl has won the AL steals crown four out of the last five seasons. Tampa Bay actually has a few offensive players to complement Crawford now, so at age 26, I expect an increase in production.
- Grady Sizemore—CLE — Another stat filler, Sizemore is a guy that will put impressive numbers across the board. He took a slight step back last year, but at just 25, the sky’s the limit for Grady. There are two concerns, however. The first is he plays center field with absolutely no regard for his body. Sizemore regularly lays out for sinking liners, and climbs the wall like Spiderman. With this “Jim Edmonds” flair for the dramatic play comes injury concerns. He is young now, but one of these days Mother Nature won’t let Grady bounce back so fast. The second is his plate discipline. Sizemore strikes out a lot, 150+ the past two seasons. If he is to ever grow into a .300+ hitter, he needs to get that under control. He is a favorite of mine none-the-less, and I expect a .285/34/95/37 steal campaign.
- Alfonso Soriano—CHC — Just a year removed from a 40-40 season, Soriano struggled in his first year in Chicago. An injury cost him almost 30 games and his numbers showed. His homers dropped 13, RBI down 25, and steals off by 22. Assuming he can come back healthy there’s no reason to get back to his 30-30 self. He is 32 entering the season, so his speed may begin to diminish over the next couple of years, but you should be safe to ride Soriano for a .279/35/89/31 season. No longer a first round selection, but sometime early in the second round would be a good time to grab him.
- Vladimir Guerrero—LAA — Once the crown jewel of the outfield position Vladdy has slowed some, but not much. The biggest difference is his stolen bases. Once good for 30-40 a year, Guerrero’s steals fell to a pathetic two in 2007. At age 32, one can expect his steal numbers to stay in the single digits. However, when it comes to punishing a baseball, whether it is in the strike zone or not, few inject more fear than Vlad. His is a perrenial .300+ hitter and ’07 was the first season since his injury shortened ’03 season that he didn’t top 30 homers. The Angels will most likely use him more at DH than before to preserve him from injury. I don’t expect this is the season he falls too far off of his averages, look for .321/31/115 this year from Mighty Vlad.
The Next Five
6. Carlos Beltran, NYM.
7. BJ Upton, TB.
8. Curtis Granderson, DET
9. Magglio Ordonez, DET
10. Lance Berkman, HOU
Rising Star: Corey Hart—MIL — There were so many different ways possible to go with this one. I thought I’d go slightly outside the box. After a pretty solid minor league career, the Brewers weren’t prepared to give Hart a full time gig until last year. And it was a break out season for Hart, as he nearly hit .300 and went for 24 HRs and 23 steals in just 140 games. Now the starting RF for Milwaukee, Hart could approach 30/30 and finally hit that elusive .300 average.
Falling Stock: Manny Ramirez—BOS — While his defense left him long ago (if it was ever there), the bat isn’t as impressive for Manny either. Granted, he has had nagging injuries for the past couple of seasons, but he is not striking fear in the hearts of AL pitchers like he used to. In 2005, Manny nearly hit .300 with 45/144. Just two seasons later, his batting average is still similar, but the power numbers were just 20/88. Manny will still be a productive hitter for some years yet, but at age 35, his best years are obviously behind him.
Make or Break Year: Jason Bay—PIT — After collecting the NL ROY in 2004, it looked like the sky was the limit for Bay. 2005 and 2006 were even better for Jason as he reached career highs of 35 homers and 109 RBI is ’06. Then, came 2007. Bay’s average dropped nearly 40 points! Homers were down 14, and RBI down 25! The Pirates are hoping that the knee injury he played through was the reason for the drastic drop in production. If that’s the truth, Bay will return to the 30/100 player we came to expect. Possibly, however, Bay may have peaked already at the tender age of 29.
Risky Pick: Vernon Wells—TOR — Wells will drive you nuts! 2002 and 2003 it looked like Vernon was on his way to being one of the new young studs that would carry the torch for MLB into the future. Since then he really only has had one great season (2006). Every time you go to write Vernon off, he puts up another great season, and the hype machine goes back into full swing. At this point, you can either expect a solid .300/30/120 season from Wells, or a .266/18/78 line. Which will it be? Your guess is as good as mine.
Top Prospect: Justin Upton-ARI —The number one overall pick in the 2005 draft arrived sooner than we expected. He was figured to make his debut sometime during the upcoming 2008 season, but due to injury and ineffectiveness, Justin got his chance in 2006. Upton had a special year in the minors in 2007, and although he struggled after being brought up to the big club, Upton has all the talent in the world. He will put up incredibly gaudy numbers someday….my prediction is it will be 2009. If you are in a keeper league, do yourself a favor, suffer through the growing pains with this guy, he will reward you very soon
As always, your questions (adds, drops, trades, draft questions, etc) and comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. I guarantee a response within 18 hours.