Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With a little less than a week remaining until the umpire yells "play ball" for the first time in 2010, we continue our travels around the six divisions, looking for interesting players and fantasy situations.
In Part Three of six we head to the National League Central.
St. Louis - Albert will be Albert, meaning he'll post another stellar season and Matt Holliday should thrive as the Cardinals' cleanup hitter. Meanwhile, the key to St. Louis could lie in No.2 hitter Colby Rasmus and No.5 Ryan Ludwick. Rasmus has been installed into the best spot in baseball, in front of Pujols. With his talent and the "big bat" behind him he should feast on fastballs down the middle of the plate. He could be the "steal of the draft" if you select him at his ADP of 185.5. Ludwick, ADP 134.2 followed up a "monster" 2008 season (104 runs, 37 HR, 113 RBI, .299 BA) with a disappointing 2009 (63 runs, 22 HR, 97 RBI, .265 BA). The question everyone wants to know is, "Which is the 'real' Ludwick?"
Chicago - Derrek Lee was a great middle-round pick and will once again give you solid value for your pick, but fantasy owners everywhere want to know what to do about Geovany Soto and Alfonso Soriano. Based on the numbers, Soto (ADP 166.6) is expected to rebound slightly from his nightmare 2009 season, but not to his rookie season level. He lost weight in the offseason, but the more immediate problem is that he'll be batting at the back end of the Cubs order (probably seventh). That's less opportunities and fewer men on base when he gets up. That's the same problem with Soriano (ADP 112.5). Gone are the days of the left fielder leading off the game with a homer...he'll bat sixth in this lineup. And gone are the lofty expectations I had for him last year.
Milwaukee - First baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Ryan Braun are fantasy studs, although if you choose Fielder please be aware that his best years have been in odd-numbered seasons. In even-numbers seasons Fielder is averaging 84 runs, 158 hits, 31 HRs and 91 RBIs with a batting average of .273 a slugging percentage of .495 and an OPS of .855. In odd-numbered years Fielder averages 106 runs, 171 hits, 48 HRs and 130 RBIs while hitting .293, slugging at a .610 pace and has an OPS of 1.013. After a 20-20 season in 2008, Corey Hart (ADP 192.1) disappointed fantasy owners last year and is getting little respect to date. That could be an opportunity if Hart returns to his form of 2007-08. Rickie Weeks was having a solid start to his 2009 season when he incurred a season-ending injury to his wrist. He had homered nine times and knocked in 24 runs in the team's first 37 games. Weeks could also be a bargain given his ADP of 130.8 if he plays up to his potential.
Cincinnati - Second baseman Brandon Phillips is a perennial 20-20 guy with 75-95 RBI, but doesn't get treated like one on Draft Day. With an ADP of 38.2, he's always a good choice in the fourth round. Meanwhile, Joey Votto puts up similar numbers without the speed and has an ADP of 29.2. That's why Phillips is frequently on my team and Votto isn't. Jay Bruce (ADP 122.4) missed 60 games last year because of injury and could be a solid bargain on Draft Day because many owners look strictly at the numbers (47 runs, 22 HR, 58 RBI, .223 BA) and don't pay attention to the quality of the player. Don't you be one of them. For a late-round option, consider Cuban Aroldis Chapman (ADP 210.1) and his 100 m.p.h. fastball.
Houston - Lance Berkman is already struggling with injury and missed 26 games last year...be careful he's likely overpriced at an ADP of 81.6. Carlos Lee (ADP 64.1) is a guaranteed 25 HR, 100 RBI guy, but Hunter Pence has the power and speed combination to be the best bargain in the Astros lineup. He's got an ADP of 96.9 after posting a 76 runs, 25 HR, 72 RBI, 14 SB, 282 BA season in 2009.
Pittsburgh - The Pirates develop young talent well, unfortunately they usually do their best work for other teams. This year's Bucs have solid fantasy players in catcher Ryan Doumit, first baseman Garrett Jones and outfielder Andrew McCutchen. If Doumit bats cleanup as expected, his ADP of 186.4 is way too low for his hitting ability. If you don't get one of the top-three catchers (Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Brian McCann), getting Doumit late would be a great strategy. If Jones gets 550 at-bats this season and hits homers at the same pace as 2009, he'll smack 36 homers and would be a "steal" in the 15th round (ADP 178.8). McCutchen is the Pirates' most talented player, but in this "pop- gun" offense might not be able to generate enough fantasy points to warrant a fifth-round selection (ADP 60).