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A-Rod edges Longoria for top spot at hot corner

For obvious reasons, we're going to ignore A-Rod's monster 2007 season (54 HRs, 156 RBIs, 143 runs, 24 steals, .314 BA) and focus on the last two years as the jumping-off point for 2010. That aside, he's still the No. 1 player at his position -- and most likely the No. 3 choice in all drafts. Projections: 41 HRs, 108 RBIs, 101 runs, 11 steals and .303 average.

Longoria can certainly challenge A-Rod in homers, RBIs, runs and maybe even steals. But unless the batting average breaks .290 this season, he'll have to wait until his fourth MLB season to become top dog at the hot corner. Projections: 32 HRs, 115 RBIs, 97 runs, 8 steals and .289 average.

Wright deserves the benefit of the doubt for his 10 HR/72 RBIs slumber in 2009, his first season at cavernous Citi Field. But it took a few rewrites to rank him ahead of Mark Reynolds. Even if the fences at his home ballpark are lower, Wright likely has no shot at eclipsing 30 homers or 110 RBIs this year. But there's ample reason to believe he'll experience career-bests in batting average. Projections: 23 HRs, 93 RBIs, 103 runs, 26 steals and .329 average.

Forget about the 44 HRs/102 RBIs/24 steals/223 strikeouts for just one second, as we point to this telling stat: In 2009, Reynolds hit just .208 with runners in scoring position. That alone should indicate Reynolds' dream season was not a fluke. In fact, he might be in store for more good karma in 2010. Projections: 32 HRs, 104 RBIs, 92 runs, 27 steals, .259 average.

As great as Young was in 2009 (22 HRs/.322 average), we're inclined to lean on the production from a year earlier when establishing output: 17 HRs, 84 RBIs, 94 runs, 10 steals and .301 batting average. But then again, perhaps we're underselling his role on the AL's greatest run-producing machine of 2010 (the Rangers). And maybe, just maybe, we're underestimating JulioBorbon, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler's abilities to post OBPs of .380, enabling Young to rack up 90-plus RBIs. Projections: 19 HRs, 83 RBIs, 99 runs, 12 steals and .324 average.

In the past three seasons, Ramirez's home-run rate has ranged from 1 per every 19.46 at-bats (2007) to 1 per every 20.52 at-bats (2008), including last year (15 HRs in 306 at-bats). So, assuming the 31-year-old Ramirez can stay relatively injury-free and amass 530 at-bats, he's a precedent-citing lock for 26 HRs, 112 RBIs, 87 runs, 1 steal and .308 average.

Just imagine what kind of damage Sandoval could do if he had better protection in the Giants' lineup. And then imagine how many runs and steals a slimmed-down Sandoval could register in only his second full season. Well, there are reports that Sandoval lost significant weight during the offseason, which should boost his runs and steals to 85 and 11, respectively. As for the lineup-protection part, he still must overcompensate for the power-deficient travails of Eugenio Velez, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, Aaron Rowand and likely Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff. Projections: 25 HRs, 94 RBIs, 85 runs, 11 steals, .331 average.

In last year's preview, I correctly asserted that Jones would fall back to earth after an amazing 2008 season. And now, I'm happy to get back on the bandwagon of a suddenly underrated lock for 22 HRs, 87 RBIs, 83 runs, 4 steals and .323 average. Why so optimistic about the 37-year-old Jones? Well, he's too good to be 2009-bad and he's playing on a club that's loaded at every position -- even if the Braves delay Jason Heyward's ballyhooed arrival until June 1.

Someone had to draw the short straw here and it just happens to be the best infielder on the majors' worst team (or so we think). Yes, Zimmerman racked up 33/106/110 runs/.292 in 2009, but I'm just not sold on him as a 30/100/100/.290 machine, year-in and year-out. If I'm wrong on this pick -- like way off -- feel free to ignore next year's countdown at the hot corner. In the meantime, let's assume Zim is no fantasy match for Chipper, Sandoval and Ramirez. Projections: 24 HRs, 73 RBIs, 95 runs, 3 steals, .291 average.

Ideally, Figgins would garner a top-7 ranking that doesn't account for his move from Anaheim to Seattle. But he's bound to pay a fantasy price for accepting the Mariners' lucrative in the offseason -- in the form of falling woefully short of 114 runs/42 steals from last year. And while we're making cuts here, wave bye-bye to the .395 OBP! Projections: 4 HRs, 51 RBIs, 97 runs, 37 steals and .304 average.

There's just something about a guy named "Ian" who once enjoyed Brandon Wood-like production in the minor leagues (that's a good thing) and gets to play 81 games in the thin Colorado air (humidors be damned!). And there's just something about a versatile player who seems like a strong candidate for 26 HRs, 80 RBIs and 80 runs ... and has absolutely no shot of hitting .228 again. This pick is admittedly a gamble; but in Stewart's defense, the next six second basemen have their fair share of negative nellies, as well. Projections: 24 HRs, 79 RBIs, 84 runs, 7 steals, .264 average.

The second-year Beckham is going as high as 42 in mixed-league mock drafts -- a slot that suggests a significant upgrade from 2009 (14 HRs, 63 RBIs, .270 in 378 at-bats). But let's not get too hasty here in overprojecting a future stud with plenty of hard knocks still ahead.If you're looking for 16 HRs, 72 RBIs and 13 steals from Beckham this season -- he's your man! But if you're not willing to accept another .270 campaign with mediocre run totals, just make sure to wait longer than Round 4/5 to grab him.

Boston or no Boston, Beltre is still an erratic hitter who can no longer dominate any one category. Of course, it'd be foolish to think he won't eclipse 75 runs and 15 steals while playing in Fenway Park ... along with 19 homers. After that, all bets are off. Projections: 19 HRs, 61 RBIs, 75 runs, 15 steals, .260 average.

Around June 1 or so, our 2007 mancrush for Gordon will officially expire, leaving us no choice but to live vicariously through Casey McGehee, Mat Gamel, Brett Wallace or Jake Fox. In the meantime, however, we cannot forget about Gordon's amazing natural gifts as a hitter, which explains this ambitious output for a full (and healthy) campaign. Projections: 20 HRs, 67 RBIs, 78 runs, 13 steals and .288 average.

Speaking of mancrush expirations, I had no great aspirations for Atkins before his trade to the Orioles. But now, he has an outside chance of almost reaching his 2008 totals (21 HRs, 99 RBIs, 86 runs, .286 average) on a club with solid power hitters and potentially stellar pitching. And get this, no one will expect him to carry this club in any way. Talk about an easy way to make a living! Projections: 19 HRs, 86 RBIs, 91 runs, 4 steals, .283 average.

This time next year, McGehee (16 HRs, 66 RBIs, 58 runs, .301 average in just 116 games in '09) could easily be a top-10 second basemen. Heck, he might even crack the top-7 -- if Milwaukee entrusts him with at-bats while playing second, third base or maybe the outfield. Or, whenever Rickie Weeks (predictably) visits the infirmary sometime in June. Projections: 20 HRs, 74 RBIs, 71 runs, 4 steals, .304 average.

How long has Cantu been a placeholder for Marlins farmhands Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez? It seems like forever. And yet the man has true staying power in the Florida lineup -- partly because of his versatility and partly due to his capacity for 100 RBIs in any given year. Projections: 22 HRs, 92 RBIs, 81 runs, 2 steals, .291 average.

This is probably Blake's last season as the Dodgers' uncontested third baseman, along with his top-20 swan song for this countdown. Perhaps he'll finish on a high note -- a la George Costanza when working for Krueger Industrial Smoothing. Projections: 20 HRs, 79 RBIs, 82 runs, 2 steals, .276 average.

Peralta's partly production in 2009 (11 HRs, .254 BA) was probably just a fluke and nothing more. Of course, this mediocre ranking would seemingly suggest otherwise. Projections: 20 HRs, 65 RBIs, 71 runs, 3 steals, .283 average.

The minor league publications from 2005-06 had Headley ticketed for major league stardom by 2010. That just hasn't happened yet. But that doesn't mean that Headley won't ultimately achieve greatness at whichever position he calls home for the next 10 years. He's on the right track. Give it time. Projections: 16 HRs, 68 RBIs, 66 runs, 11 steals and .271 average.

Best Of The Rest21. Jake Fox, Athletics22. Scott Rolen, Reds23. Brandon Wood, Angels24. Martin Prado, Braves25. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Athletics26. Brandon Inge, Tigers27. Troy Glaus, Braves28. Mark Teahen, White Sox29. Mike Lowell, Red Sox30. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

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