Sunday, January 28, 2007

And yet Aaron Sele is nowhere to be found

For no other reason than because we're seriously jonesing for some baseball right about now, we offer you this: a vaguely defined, completely subjective, semi-Rotisserie-oriented list of . . .

TEN PLAYERS WE LIKE IN '07


Coco Crisp, OF, Red Sox: Coming off excellent back-to-back seasons in Cleveland, he got off to a fast start in his first season with the Sox . . . then busted his finger, came back too soon, tried to do too much, struggled mightily, then busted the danged digit again. He's entering his prime at age 27, and with less pressure (Johnny who?) and less responsibility (he'll likely bat 7th or 8th), we're expecting Year 2 to be his Boston breakthrough.

Gary Sheffield, OF, Tigers: He's playing for a manager he respects, he's got a fat new contract, and he's motivated to stick it to a former employer, in this case Joe Torre and the Yankees. Ask me, that's long been the recipe for a monster season from Chris House's sparring partner.

Ryan Shealy, 1B-DH, Royals: There's a reason the Red Sox have always coveted him - he can rake. He'll club 30 homers if the Royals give him 500 at-bats.

Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners: The phenom known as King Felix seemed weighed down with all the Doc Gooden-in-'84 comparisons entering last season . . . and he was weighed down further, so to speak, by a conditioning regimen that consisted of sleeping, engulfing Doritos, and watching TV. But he reportedly will report to spring training in fantastic shape, and if you've seen him pitch, you know he has the best stuff of any big-league pitcher not currently employed by the Minnesota Twins. And he's only 20. The sky remains the limit.

Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians: He's 24 and stacked up .292-24-78 numbers in '05. So Omar Vizquel's successor can't possibly be as bad as he looked at the plate (.257-13-68) and the field (16 errors, Merloni-like range) last season . . . can he?

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: While your fantasy league homies slobber (justifiably) over future batting champion Howie Kendrick, it's this young, offensively gifted AL second baseman who might wind up being the draft-day bargain at second base.


Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: Call it hyperbole, but after watching him hit .342 with 15 homers at age 23 - and scaring the hell out of me every time he came up in a key situation against the Sox - I'm convinced he's going to be a lefthanded-hitting Paul Molitor. He may want to reconsider his wardrobe choices, however. Jeter sure does make his double-play partners wear some curious outfits.

Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies: Given the unlikely ascension to fantasy superstardom of Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins the past two seasons, we feel obligated to have at least one Coors Field hitter on this list, and the 26-year-old quietly put up .293-22-84 numbers last season.

Josh Beckett, SP, Red Sox: Provided new pitching coach John Farrell can drill through the sediment around his thick skull.

Aaron Harang, SP, Reds: Okay, so he was really a sleeper last year . . . but man, did anyone realize that the 28-year-old Oakland discard led the National League in strikeouts, and tied Derek Lowe among others for the league lead in wins? Talk about a quietly brilliant season.

. . . AND ONE WE DON'T

Trot Nixon, OF/Gimp, Cleveland: Nick Cafardo tells us Captain Dirty Cap "worked out harder this offseason that he has in many years." Well then, I'm convinced. Ol' No. 7 is absolutely poised for a monster comeba . . . whoa, wait a minute. Pardon my naivete, but I was under the impression real Dirt Dogs always kept in shape. You mean the back injury he got while driving was the result of him having a midsection that looked more like a keg than a six-pack? On second thought, good riddance, slug.

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