April’s Fantasy Sizzlers and Fizzlers: Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?

Is Grienke this year's Cliff Lee?

Is Grienke this year's Cliff Lee?

The Royals are leading the AL Central! Jorge Cantu is on pace to drive in 203 runs! Swine Flu will destroy us all!Alberto Callaspo is hitting .379! Although a strong April doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good season (yes I mean you Chris Shelton), it’s never too early in the season to be on a roll (or in the midst of a horrific slump). The following players may be posed for a breakout year or a fiery, violent return to earth (Nate McLouth’s torrid start and following crash last season is thought to be the real reason dinosaurs went extinct). Regardless of which way their season goes it’s worth noting how good or bad these players performed in the first month, speculating on whether they can keep things up or turn them around, and what effect this will have on your fantasy squad. Should you sell ’em while their hot or keep them all season for a shot at the title? Read on to find out!

SIZZLERS

1) Zack Grienke (SP-Royals): Everyone who had a Royal’s pitcher on your short list of Cy Young candidates coming into the season, raise your hand, because those who bought into Grienke during spring training are being richly rewarded thus far. He is looking like this year’s version of Cliff Lee after posting a 5-0 record, 0.50 ERA and 44 Ks in April. Grienke has always had the stuff to be an ace, but has struggled with command and confidence issues. After finishing last year on a tear it looks like the 25-year-old is finally putting everything together for a monster season. Although he won’t repeat Bob Gibson’s 1968 otherworldly performance, look for KC’s defacto ace to mow down hitters all season long. Sell high, but expect a consistently strong season from ZG; somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-19 wins, sub 3.50 ERA and over 200 Ks.

2) Kevin Youkilis (1B-Red Sox): Beantown’s big fella has been crushing the ball in the early going to the tune of a .405 BA, 5 HRs and 15 RBIs. Additionally, the Greek God of Walks has drawn 14 bases on balls for a ridiculous, Barry Bonds-esque .516 OBP. Somebody call the HGH hotline!! After a MVP-like 2008, it is time to take Yook seriously as a fantasy threat. As part of one of the best lineups in baseball, Youkilis should be a constant source of RBIs and a high batting average all season long. Expect the handsome devil to post career highs in most offensive categories, finishing with a BA in the neighborhood of .320, 30 HRs and 120 RBIs.

Aaron Hill has spearheaded the surprising Jays.

Aaron Hill has spearheaded the surprising Jays.

3) Aaron Hill (2B-Blue Jays): The spunky secondbase for Toronto has made everyone forget about his injury plagued 2008 campaign and is a big reason why the Jays have raced out to an early lead in the division. Hill may be short in stature, but he has been towering over the competition in the AL East so far, hitting .365 with 5 HRs and 20 RBIs. He will have his ups-and-downs throughout the season, but should be a solid contributor at a position that is usually lacking depth. Look for Hill to hit .300-20 HRs-90 RBIs, not shabby numbers for a pint-sized middle infielder.

4) Dan Haren (SP-Diamondbacks): Despite dismal run support Haren has been the class of NL starting pitching in April. Don’t let the 2-3 record fool you, the rest of his numbers are spot on—1.54 ERA and 36 Ks in 35 innings. Haren has shown consistent improvement season to season throughout his short career, including decreasing his walks and increasing punchouts over the past two years. If the D-backs offense decides to wake up, Haren should break his career high of 16 wins. Enjoy this run while it lasts though, and prepare to sell him off at the All-Star break because Danny boy has historically struggled in the dog days of summer (2006-2008: Pre-All Star ERA-2.85; Post-All Star ERA-4.42).

FIZZLERS

There haven't been many reasons for Teixeria to smile in April.

There haven't been many reasons for Teixeria to smile in April.

1) Mark Teixeria (1B-Yankees): Sexy Texy has been anything but in the early going, stumbling out of the gate with a paltry .200 BA, 3 HRs and 10 RBIs. Those numbers might be OK if you play first base for the Washington Nationals, but not if you just signed an 8-year, $180 million dollar deal to play for the Yankees. Teixeria has shown good patience at the plate, drawing 16 walks against 11 Ks, but hasn’t been striking the ball with his usual authority (only 5 extra base hits). He can’t be this bad all season long (his BABIP suggests bad luck in the early going), so buy now before he starts playing like he’s worth $20 million a year.

2) Jake Peavy (SP-Padres): Although the Padres have been red-hot in the first month of the season (granted “red-hot” by San Diego standards isn’t saying much), their best pitcher has spent all of April getting knocked around. Peavy has been uncharacteristically wild, leading to a 2-3 record, 5.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. It hasn’t been all bad though, as he is still striking out around a batter an inning. He struggled with an arm injury last year and many are wondering if there aren’t some health issues for Peavy once again. Keep a close eye on him and be prepared to sell if he continues to struggle with control and coughing up gopher balls.

3) Lance Berkman (1B-Astros): The Big Puma has been playing much more like a housecat in April, hitting .162 with 5 HRs, 10 RBIs and no SBs. Berkman struggled down the stretch last season (he hit .347 before the break last year and .259 after) and it appears whatever issues he was having at the plate have carried over into 2009. Berkman is only 33 and has been incredibly consistent throughout his career so this prolonged slump should raise some red flags. He ran more than usual last year, stealing 18 bases but only 3 of them after the All-Star game, leaving some doubts about the condition of his lower body. Although Berkman will almost certainly turn things around, he is no longer the prolific fantasy producer he once was; wait for him to get on a hot streak and then sell high.  

C.C. has struggled in April, but he should turn things around soon.

C.C. has struggled in April, but he should turn things around soon.

4) C.C. Sabathia (SP-Yankees): The hefty lefty hasn’t been carrying his weight so far, with a record of 1-2, a 4.73 ERA and a pedestrian 19/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As the face of the new Yankee Stadium, he has been a disappointment in the early going and is major reason why New York’s pitching is sporting an atrocious 5.79 ERA. It’s a little early for fantasy owners to hit the panic button though, because Sabathia has a track record for slow starts (He posted a 7.76 ERA in April last year but finished the year with a 2.70 ERA). Try to buy low now, because Sabathia is too talented of a pitcher to struggle for much longer, and won’t finish the season ranked lower than Frank Francisco and Kyle Loshe.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: April “Oh My God Are We Actually in 1st Place?” Edition

He's not actually so bad after all.

Erik Bedard was stellar in April.

Record: 13-9

AL West Standings: Seattle, Texas 2 GB, LA 3 GB, Oakland 4 GB

Top Hitter: Many of the Mariners’ projected top hitters have struggled in the early going with Jose Lopez, Adrian Beltre, Ken Griffey Jr and Franklin Gutierrez all hitting under .255. The catalyst for the offense in the first month was offseason acquisition Endy Chavez, known for his glove but not necessarily for his bat. Despite his Nicole Richie-eqsue physique, Chavez has been coming up big for the Mariners’, whether batting leadoff or in the number 2 hole behind Ichiro. In addition to getting on base at a good clip, Chavez has  been a threat on the basepaths stealing five bases to go along with his .305 average. A defensive whiz in leftfield, Chavez will prove an invaluable member of the M’s on both sides of the ball if he can continue to anchor the top of the lineup with Ichiro.

Top Pitcher(s): Two surprises have headlined the Mariner’s pitching staff thus far and are a big reason why the team is near the top of the majors in ERA (despite the best efforts of Carlos Silva). Even though he was roughed up in his last start Jerrod Washburn is pitching like a man on a mission after posting a 5-14 record last season. Washburn nearly matched last season’s win total in April alone, going 3-1 with 3.42 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He has been complemented nicely in the rotation by the reemergence of Erik Bedard. Bedard pitched well last season but because he spent so much time on the disabled list, he had little effect on the M’s horrific 2008 pitching numbers. He is once again looking the ace that Seattle had hoped for, and through April is sporting a 2-1 record, 2.61 ERA and has 32 Ks in only 31 innings. Felix Hernandez, the one consistent pitcher for the M’s last year, has led the staff since day one and after the first month of the season is 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA and 36 Ks. Is the Cy Young talk far off? If these three can continue to deliver quality starts the Mariners should stay in contention all season long.

Chavez has been a big reason for the M's great start.

Chavez has been a big reason for the M's great start.

Biggest Surprise: The calendar has turned to May and the Mariners are still in first place…enough said. Let’s just hope we’re saying the same thing come September.

Biggest Disappointment: Although he has been a positive influence in the clubhouse and on attendance, Ken Griffey is playing much more like the senior rather than the junior version these days. Always one for seizing the moment, Griffey started the year strong by homering in his first game and still has about as many walks as strikeouts, but otherwise has struggled mightily at the plate. If he continues to hit at his current clip, Junior will be a major liability in the Mariners’ hunt for the AL West title, leaving manager Don Wakamatsu with a very tough decision about what to do with the aging slugger.

Injuries: The pitching staff has been missing starter Ryan Rowland-Smith since Spring Training. Rowland-Smith started the year with triceps tendinitis, but is expected to resume throwing soon and could return the first week of May, taking the place of Chris Jakubauskas (much to the delight of announcers everywhere). Catcher Kenji Johjima was placed on the 15-DL due to hamstring issues and is also expected to return in early May. Chad Cordero, a free agent signing in the offseason, is slated to throw batting practice soon and could join the roster in within a week or two if his right shoulder soreness improves.

May Schedule: 3 vs. Oakland, 2 vs. Texas, 2 @ Kansas City, 3 @ Minnesota, 3 @ Texas, 3 vs. Boston, 4 vs. Los Angeles, 3 vs. San Francisco, 3 @ Oakland, 3 @ Los Angeles.

Overall Grade: (A-) The Mariners have greatly exceeded expectations thus far despite a sub-par offense and some early issues in the bullpen. If Wakamatsu can figure out an effective lineup this squad could still be playing come October.

The Fish are Flying High: Why the Florida Marlins will win the 2009 World Series.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

1997-Florida Marlins over Cleveland Indians

2003-Florida Marlins over New York Yankees

2009-Florida Marlins over ????

It’s been six seasons since the Marlins last World Series title, and if history is any indicator, the stars are aligned for Florida to claim the Fall Classic once again. South Florida’s franchise hasn’t even been around for 20 years but already they have had more postseason success in that span than storied franchises like the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, L.A. Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. During the past 15 years, only three teams have won multiple World Series titles: the Yankees, Red Sox and yep you guessed it, the Florida Marlins. However, unlike New York and Boston who seek to build dynasties, the Marlins self-destruct after each championship; selling off their top players and in turn alienate their fans. With that in mind, the Marlins are off to a torrid start in 2009, and here are six reasons (besides the astrological signs) that Florida will win this year’s World Series.

1) Starting Pitching: The Marlins own one of the best starting quartets in the game with Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad. They also have an x-factor in 5th starter Andrew Miller who has the stuff of a future ace but still needs to harness his control. None of these pitchers is over 26-years-old and all of them have lots of room for improvement. If they can stay healthy and continue to mature this fearsome foursome could become any playoff opponent’s nightmare.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

2) Infield Power: The keystone combination of Hanley Ramirez at short and Dan Uggla at second combined for 65 homeruns last season, astonishing numbers for a pair of middle infielders. That number could increase this year as Ramirez moves down in the lineup and Uggla cuts down on his strikeouts. First baseman Jorge Cantu is capable of hitting 30 HRs and so is the heir apparent at 1st Gaby Sanchez. Throw in the speedy Emilio Bonifacio (who already has an inside-the-park homerun) and this is an infield that is capable of going deep over 100 times in 2009.

3) Outfield Upside: Often overshadowed by their infield peers, the Marlins’ outfield is poised for a breakout season in 2009. Jeremy Hermida has started the year on a tear and may finally live up to his limitless potential. He is flanked by speedy leftfielder and former #1 pick Cameron Maybin (who is still just 22) and Cody “the Toy Cannon” Ross in center. Super utility man Alfredo Amezaga can play any position in the outfield and is capable of stealing 15 bases off the bench. Although they may not match the infield’s power, this bunch is more than capable of holding their own among the NL East’s best outfields.

4) Youth is Served: The average age of a Florida Marlin is only 26-years-old, and while many may cite this inexperience as a reason they won’t win it all, it hasn’t stopped them before (the average age for the Fish in 2003 was only 27-years-old). The regular season is a 162-game marathon that wears down even the most conditioned players, especially older veterans with some mileage on their engines. The Marlins crop of youngsters may experience some hiccups along the way, but their relatively young age should have them fresh come playoff time.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

5) Zero Pressure:The Marlins are playing in one of the best divisions in all of baseball, but the pressure to win the NL East falls squarely on the shoulders of the New York Mets and defending champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Marlins were an afterthought coming into the season, but have raced out to an 11-1 start which already puts them five games up in the division. Although the spotlight in the NL has been shifted to Florida, if the young players can continue to play carefree baseball, the Marlins should cruise to the NL East title.

6) Odds and Ends: The Marlins have a well respected coach, Fredi Gonzalez, who has improved the team each year he has managed (71-91 in 2007, 84-77 in 2008, ??-?? in 2009). Florida is an extremely likable bunch of players with no bad apples and good chemistry, something that can’t be overlooked come playoff time (see the 2004 Red Sox). The Marlins will be able to play the “nobody believed in us” card in the postseason, and everybody except the Yankees love an underdog. The franchise has shown the ability to make key acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve their squad for the postseason push (Arthur Rhodes in 2008, Jeff Conine in 2003). And of course, the Mayans have been predicting this title run for over 1500 years, and they’re never wrong (besides the time they guessed that LC and Spencer would end up together on The Hills).

So hop on the Marlins’ bandwagon now before it fills up as quickly as Dolphin Stadium for a mid-April game, it just might be the best decision you ever make (outside of stockpiling your basement with Crystal Pepsi).

The All Ugly Team: AL Uggos Edition

Fret not AL fans. Despite the sterling record in All-Star games, your league has just as many fugly players as the senior circuit. So feast your eyes, or don’t, on the ugliest players in the American League:

 

 

 

braden

SP-Dallas Braden (Oakland Athletics): Apparently the Athletics wanted to pay tribute to their circus mascot, and decided this clown/Ronald McDonald/serial killer hybrid would be a perfect fit. Nearly as ugly as this mug was his 2007 season (1-8, 6.72 ERA). This is one clown you don’t want at kids’ birthday parties or starting for your baseball team…too many nightmares.

4286

RP-Scott Downs (Toronto Blue Jays): Scott Downs tries to take the focus off his baby face with a grotesque tribute to the 80’s-mullet. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on Downs’ quality stuff (1.78 ERA in 2008), all any fan can see is a younger version of Journey’s Steve Perry. Looks like Downs and Lyle Overbay go to the same tanning salon.

teagardevC-Taylor Teagarden (Texas Rangers): This face just screams “awww shucks”. Despite a rather feminine last name, Taylor Teagarden does look like a man…just an extremely goofy, unattractive one. Who knew Gomer Pyle had such athletic ability?

overbay11B-Lyle Overbay (Toronto Blue Jays): Yikes, Overbay is like Casper the Ghost, only with fewer eyebrows. Sure Toronto isn’t the sunniest town in America Jr. Canada, but good gosh, stop playing W.O.W. and get out of the basement every once in a while Lyle.

alexeirameriz12B-Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox): Despite the fact that Ramirez’s biography lists his place of birth as Cuba, it’s much more likely that he was spawned one of the moons of Glornak 9. Surprisingly, Mulder and Scully haven’t shown up at a Sox game in pursuit of this ET look alike.

lillibridgeSS-Brent Lillibridge (Chicago White Sox): Apparently the North Siders have quite the keystone combination, as both second base and short are manned by uggos. Lillibridge here picks up 84 channels with those satellite dishes he calls ears and has even been known to use them to fly in strong winds.

wiggy

3B-Ty Wigginton (Baltimore Orioles): Not even a change of uniform could help hide the fact that Ty “Piggly Wiggly” Wigginton was part of an unfortunate experiment that combined man and pig a la “The Fly”. Don’t leave loose change out when Wigginton is around, because he can’t help but gobble it up.

3537OF-Bobby Abreu (LA Angels): Bobby Abreu looks like a cross between a monkey from Planet of the Apes and one of those singing California Raisins. This guy aged worse than Joan Rivers…perhaps he should consider playing for a team like the Twins or Rays who play half their games in a dome–or at least use some sunscreen.

28545OF-Rajai Davis (Oakland Athletics): Poor Rajai Davis. Not only is he a career .252 hitter but he also looks like the baby of the Fresh Prince’s Carlton and Mr. Gopher from Winnie the Pooh. Not sure the pencil mustache and elfish ears exactly help him pull the look together either. The good news is that he’s a speed demon on the base-paths so fans rarely ever get a  clear look at his mug.

29239OF-Fernando Perez (Tampa Bay Rays): Not really sure where to start with this one. Sure he’s got a nice smile, but you just can’t take your eyes off that hair and/or opossum that is living under his hat. Let’s hope the Rays cut that hair just like they cut the Devil out of their name. The disproportionately small head and beady eyes do little to help.

5349

Utility/DH-Jamey Carroll (Cleveland Indians): IT”S BATBOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sure Carroll has never been much of a threat at the plate but his alter-ego saves the planet on a daily basis. Make sure to look for him on an upcoming cover of Weekly World News meeting with Obama to solve global warming or, simply find him wrapped in a cocoon of his own wings in a nearby cave,  just mind the guano.

Thanks to ESPN.com for the photos

The All-Ugly Team: NL Uggos Edition

Baseball is a beautiful game. The crisp green grass, the blue skies, Randy Johnson’s mullet, 6-4-3 double plays, etc. However, while the sport may be a feast for the eyes, not all baseball players are exactly dead ringers for Fabio. Most fans look at these players and wished their hats covered their entire faces, rather than just the top of their domes. These players are so ugly the ball actually veers of its course as it’s headed towards them. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the ugliest players at every position in the NL!

gorzelannySP: Tom Gorzelanny (Pittsburgh Pirates)–No ladies and gentleman, that’s not Sloth from The Goonies, it’s Pirates lefty Tom Gorzelanny. As if looking like that wasn’t enough, he’s fresh off a season in which he went 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA. WOOF!

ruach2RP: Jon Rauch (Arizona Diamondbacks)–Apparently ole crazy eyes here hasn’t heard of decaf coffee. It’s not Rauch’s pitching prowess that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing hitters, it’s that unflinching stare. Bonus points awarded for the unfortunate attempt at a soul patch.

fasanoC: Sal Fasano (Colorado Rockies)— 6-2″, 250 lbs + massive handlebar mustache=end of story. Fasano is responsible for over 10000 swings-and-misses in his career thanks to that impressive work of facial hair. He might want to consider spending less time grooming and more in the batting cage (.221 career BA).

laroche1B: Adam LaRoche (Pittsburgh Pirate)–Already another Pirate on the list? Apparently the only thing uglier than this team’s win-loss record is it’s players. LaRoche scores big in two categories, disgusting facial hair and Oscar the Grouch-esuqe eyebrows…and this is one of his better pictures.

uggla12B: Dan Uggla (Florida Marlins): His last name is Uggla, is there really anyway he gets left off this list? Even worse than his mug was his performance in last years All-Star game: 3 errors, 0-4, 3 k’s, GIDP. Ouch!

wilson

SS: Jack Wilson (Pittsburgh Pirates): Good lord, the city of Pittsburgh must add an ugliness supplement to its water, because the Pirates sure don’t have many lookers. Ole Jack-O here is sure to be a hit with the ladies due to his goblin-esque appearance. Rumor has it he served as an extra in Lord of the Rings.

lamb

3B: Mike Lamb (Milwaukee Brewers): Mike Lamb was supposed to be the Twins answer at 3B last year, which had been a void since the departure of Tony Batista. Instead he had exactly the same number of HRs as eyebrows (one). The .235 average in ’08 didn’t exactly make him a beauty queen either.

pierre

LF: Juan Pierre (LA Dodgers): Juan Pierre’s head would be just the right size, if he were 4-years-old. Apparently while the rest of his body was growing (including his honey-dew sized adam’s apple) Pierre’s head stayed just the same size. On the plus side, it does make him more aerodynamic for stealing bases.

rjohnson

CF: Reed Johnson (Chicago Cubs): Believe it or not, that’s not a live hamster on Reed Johnson’s chin, it’s actually facial hair–that he keeps there by choice. Granted he only made $1.3 million last year, very little in these tough economic times, but you think he could spring for a Gillette, or even just a pair of scissors. Who knows how many undiscovered animals live in that patch of wilderness on Johnson’s face (7).spilbroghs1

RF: Ryan Spilborghs (Colorado Rockies): Contrary to popular belief, Osama Bin Laden doesn’t live in a hilly area of Afghanistan, he actually plays rightfield for the Colorado Rockies. Where better to hide then on the roster of one the NL’s most mediocre teams? He does swing a mean stick though (.302 career BA).

gross1Utility: Gabe Gross (Milwaukee Brewers): Unlike Dan Uggla who joins this list simply because of his last name, Gabe combines the strength of his last name, Gross, with a head the size of Nadya Suleman’s pregnant belly–making him a true double-threat. Mother’s cover your children’s eyes, especially when this .238 hitter in ’08 comes to the plate.

Special thanks to ESPN.com for all the photos. One can imagine it’s not much fun to photograph these players.

Baseball’s Creamy Centers: The Surprise Players of 2009

Adam Jones is the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

Adam Jones is like the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

We’ve all had the experience before. You grab a chocolate and expect just that, chocolate, nothing more and nothing less. Yet when you bite into that delicious little piece of heaven an unsuspected but more than welcome guest is waiting there for you. Is it caramel? Peanut butter? Coconut? Nougat? Who cares? Either way, it’s a wonderful addition to something you already love. Much like strawberry filling in a chocolate, the following players will make the 2009 MLB season just that much sweeter. These soon to be studs are flying under the radar now but as the heat of summer increases their milk chocolate shells will disappear, leaving these surprising players in higher demand than one of Wonka’s golden tickets.

Adam Jones–CF–Baltimore Orioles: Unlike his football counterpart who shares the same name, this Adam Jones prefers hitting homeruns to hitting bodyguards and would much rather make the playoffs than make it rain. Jones came to Baltimore last year and started for the Orioles in centerfield as part of the historically bad trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle (*Bill Bavasi slaps forehead*). After struggling early in the season Jones came on strong in the second half and showed the exciting combination of speed and power that will make him a cornerstone of Baltimore teams for years to come. He plays centerfield with aplomb and a 20HR-20SB season is not out of the question for Jones in 2009; this kid’s upside is through the roof.

Ian Stewart-2B-Colorado Rockies: Stewart won’t be able to hide out in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains for much longer; this middle-infielder is a legitimate 30-HR threat. One of the Rockies top prospects last year, Stewart justified that title by bashing 10 HRs and driving in 41 runs in only 266 ABs during the 2008 season. Although he still strikes out at an astonishing rate, his power potential and ability to play any spot in the infield make him one to watch in 2009.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo Choo–OF–Cleveland Indians: Not surprisingly, Choo is a former Mariner prospect who flourished once he left Seattle. Choo absolutely tore the cover off the ball once he started getting at-bats last season, hitting .343 after the All-Star break. The South Korean Sultan of Swat should continue his assault on AL pitching in 2009 and coupled with Grady Sizemore give the Indians a potent offense. Look for Choo to hit around .300 with 20-25 HRs and 85-90 RBIs, not bad numbers for a guy that couldn’t stick in the Mariners’ outfield.

Chris Davis–1B-Texas Rangers: Chris “Crush” Davis earned his nickname in the minors because of his repeated tattooing of baseballs; he did nothing to change that reputation after his call-up last season. In just under 300 ABs Davis drilled 17 HRs, 23 2Bs and had 55 RBIs and 51 runs. Playing a full season in the bandbox that is the Ballpark at Arlington gives him a legitimate shot at 40 HRs, no small feat in the post steroid era (only 2 players hit more than 40 HRs last year, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard). AL West pitchers, handle with caution.

Elijah Dukes–OF-Washington Nationals: Sure he’s got more bats in his belfry than Charles Manson, but this guy knows how to hit a baseball. After being castoff from Tampa Bay for repeated bad behaivor, Dukes found a place to play that has no trouble turning a blind eye to criminals: Washington D.C.! He was an instant asset to the Nationals on both sides of the ball and if he can stay out of trouble, could contend for the coveted position of the one player that the team gets has to send to the All-Star game (sorry Dmitri Young). Dukes has the potential to hit 25 HRs and steal 20 cars bases in 2009.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain-SP-San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain has looked ready to break out for the past couple of seasons only to struggle with control issues and poor run support. Last season, he went 8-14 despite a 3.78 ERA and 186 Ks, mainly due to an anemic Giants’ offense that batted Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot (that’s like having a “Best of the ’80s” concert headlined by Banarama). The Giants have made significant strides during the offseason, and if Cain can cut down on his walks he should increase his win total and get some of the recognition that’s given to San Fran’s other ace, Tim Lincecum.

Johnny Cueto–SP–Cincinnati Reds: Although the words “Cincinnati Reds” and “quality pitcher” generally go together about as well as “Mark McGwire” and “honest”, the team has actually managed to assemble a stable of young, talented hurlers. Cueto struggled at times during his rookie year, and was overshadowed by the stellar season of his teammate Edison Volquez, but has some of the best stuff of any pitcher in the NL. Cueto showed flashes of brilliance last season, including striking out nearly a batter an inning after the break, and he should improve considerably in his sophomore campaign. Still just 23-years-old, Cueto has the potential to win 10-12 games and post an ERA under 4.00 with tons of Ks in 2009; buy now while the price is low.