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Fantasy baseball mailbag

Pitchers and catchers have reported and position players are straggling into camps. Let's start getting ready for fantasy season with another mailbag.

I'm looking for hitters than can give me some quality steals, a batting average that will help me and a little pop -- maybe about 10 homers. Who do you like more for this season: Jose Tabata, Angel Pagan or Andres Torres? Could you also give a short list of other guys that fit into this category that I could look at late?-- Ben, Johnstown, Colo.

The outfield is a great place to look for multi-category performers. Last season there were 26 men who patrolled the outfield grass that went 10/10. Fifteen of those went 15/15 while a mere six went 20/20 (Carlos Gonzalez, Shin-Soo Choo, Drew Stubbs, Alex Rios, Chris Young and Bobby Abreu). All three of the players mentioned in the letter were solid fantasy contributors last year, though all have concerns.

Tabata is going to earn his fantasy dollars with his wheels. He stole 19 bags in just 102 games last season, his first in the bigs. However, he was also caught seven times, so he'll have to avoid the trap of relying completely on his speed -- studying pitchers helps. Tabata also hit .299 for the Pirates. Is that sustainable? If he continues to beat the ball into the ground like he did last year with a 59 percent ground ball rate, he shouldn't be in danger of seeing his average tank. Still, make sure you realize he is one of those rabbits with little pop (four homers, .400 SLG), so you'll need to be sure you understand that he is really only a two-category performer (he will likely be stretched if you expect 10 homers).

Pagan was a top-35 fantasy performer last season. I know, shocking isn't it? If you don't believe me, give this Player Rater piece a review, or just consider this; in '10 there were two men in baseball who went .285-10-65-80-35 and they were Carl Crawford and Pagan. Concerns? Pagan hit a mere .263 with a .304 OBP over his last 71 games. Was he tired? Did the league catch up to him? Pagan also posted a mere 0.83 GB/FB ratio, a very poor mark for a guy who should be concerned with hitting line drives and grounders, not fly balls (his 44 percent fly ball rate was well above the big league average of 38 percent). With 500 at-bats Pagan will be a valuable source of steals, and his average shouldn't drag down your club, but expecting a repeat of last season is a stretch.

Torres was 32 last season, and for the first time in his career he had more than 170 at-bats in a season. In fact, from '02-09 Torres had 409 at-bats. He had 507 last year. That would seem to indicate his effort last year was like a conjunction of planets -- a wonderfully rare event that is spectacular but fleeting. Torres has always been fast, but the power he displayed last season outpaced anything he had ever done before. In addition, despite the out of nowhere 5x5 effort (.268-16-63-84-26), Torres was nothing more than league average in his GB/FB (0.99), BB/K (0.44) and his OBP (.343). He also hit a mere .254 with a .303 OBP and just nine steals over his last 62 games for the Giants.

If I was asked to rank the three, wait, that is what I've been asked, I would go Tabata, Pagan and Torres. Each player is flawed, but all make solid depth options in the outfield in mixed leagues. Tabata may not reach the 10 homers that were part of the initial question, but he is the youngest of the group and has considerable upside with his wheels.

As for a few other guys who could go 10/10 this year in the outfield, here are three names you'll likely be able to nab really late in mixed leagues. Nate McLouth averaged 23 homers and 21 steals in '08-09, and though he hit a mere .190 last year, he is primed for a bounce back.

A post-hype sleeper who's star has been tarnished after multiple false starts, Cameron Maybin appears lined up to play everyday for the Padres. He should go 15/15 with everyday playing time.

Finally, I'll throw out a name no one is talking about, despite the fact that he hit 11 homers with 16 steals in just 414 at-bats last year (only 19 outfielders reached both those marks last season). There are questions about playing time, and the addition of Rick Ankiel certainly isn't going to help, but Roger Bernadina could be the ultimate final round sleeper in mixed leagues if> the Nationals give him playing time.

I own Jonathan Papelbon in a keeper league and I'm nervous. Should I bail on him since the team added Bobby Jenks and already has Daniel Bard? I've been burned too many times by bad closers.-- Eric, Kentucky

I'm not overly concerned with Papelbon this year, and here are the two main reasons why.

(1) He has saved 35 games in each of the past five seasons. He is the only pitcher in baseball who has done that.

(2) He is being paid $12 million this season, which (a) makes he likely he won't lose his role unless he implodes; and (b) makes it unlikely he will be dealt unless the Red Sox simply eat a chunk of his salary to move him.

Those are the most obvious pluses on Papelbon's side. Of course, there are some concerns with the power righty as well.

(1) His performance slipped last season. In fact, his performance dipped to the point that he was basically no better, and actually less effective, than Bard last season (see Around the Horn: Offseason Moves).

I'll get back to Bard in a second, but before that, here are some of the "low lights" for Papelbon. He posted career worsts in blown saves (eight), ERA (3.90), WHIP (1.27) and K/BB (2.71). The raw numbers weren't awful, but they were still appreciably worse than what we had grown accustomed to with Papelbon (career: 2.22 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.02 K/BB).

(2) As mentioned, Bard is a hard-throwing righty who had a darn good season in '10. In fact, he was solid in his rookie season of '09 as well. Just look at his strong career totals (124 IP): 2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 10.09 K/9, 1.24 GB/FB, .197 BAA. Those numbers are clearly good enough to work the ninth inning.

(3) The Red Sox brought in Bobby Jenks this offseason. I tend to think this was a deal based upon the future, Papelbon is almost certainly in his last year with the Sox, and because the terms involved were relatively cheap (two years, $12 million). While some might discount Jenks after a 4.44 ERA and 1.37 WHIP last year, the wise would notice that he still pitched exceedingly well. Jenks had a five-year best in K/9 (10.42) and had the best GB/FB ratio of his career (2.80). That's an elite level of pitching folks.

Still, I wouldn't worry too much about Papelbon. He's being paid top dollar and has an established track record with the Sox, and that is likely to mean a lot to manager Terry Francona. In addition, he wasn't all that bad last season as he notched a three-year high with a 10.21 K/9 mark, and you can say he was a bit unlucky given that his runners left on base percentage was 68.7. Given that his career mark is 81.6 percent, a regression to the mean seems likely, which should allow his ERA to come back down. The only concern is if he struggles for multiple outings in a row. His leash might be a bit shorter this season, but I'd still expect him to work most of the ninth innings when the Sox are ahead by three or fewer runs.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147.

Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account. To e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at fantasyfandom@yahoo.com.

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