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Fantasy baseball began in the early 1980's but its proliferation perfectly coincided with the chicks-dig-the-longball era engendered by smaller ballparks and more significantly, larger, chemically enhanced baseball players. It became commonplace for players to pop 30, 40 or even 50 home runs in a season. And when power numbers surged, managers all became Earl Weaver-disciples and deciding to sit back and wait for the three-run home run instead of manufacturing runs on the basepaths.
In 1998, the pioneering season in the massive power surge, 13 players hit 40 or more home runs, while 17 stole 30 or more bases. Five years later the 40 home runs hitters dropped to 10, yet top base thieves numbered just 11. Last season only two players, Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn reached 40 home runs while the count of stolen base specialists soared to 16.
Now nearly every team has someone who's at least capable of stealing 30 bases. Reacting to the trends, managers like Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker, Dave Trembley and Ron Gardenhire realize that pitching and defense has come back into vogue, and the best way to combat those is by being more aggressive on the basepaths.
As pure power hitters become more scarce and base-running threats increase, be sure to adapt your own personal strategies to keep up with the trends. It's simple supply and demand. Make sure you have one or two more power hitters on your roster than you would have in past seasons, sacrificing a little speed, obtainable at any time, in the process.
Here are the runners with 30-steal potential for 2009...
Orioles: Brian Roberts, Cesar Izturis
Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury, Julio Lugo
White Sox: Alexei Ramirez
Indians: Jacoby Ellsbury
Tigers: Curtis Granderson, Josh Anderson
Royals: Coco Crisp
Angels: Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu
Twins: Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, Alexi Casilla
Yankees: Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner
Athletics: Rajai Davis, Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera
Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki, Endy Chavez
Rays: Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett
Rangers: Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus
Blue Jays: None
Diamondbacks: Felipe Lopez
Braves: Jordan Schafer
Cubs: Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot
Reds: Willy Taveras, Brandon Phillips, Chris Dickerson, Jerry Hairston
Rockies: Dexter Fowler
Marlins: Hanley Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio, Cameron Maybin
Astros: Michael Bourn, Kaz Matsui
Dodgers: Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre
Brewers: Rickie Weeks, Mike Cameron, Corey Hart
Mets: Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo
Phillies: Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino
Pirates: Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth
Cardinals: Colby Rasmus
Padres: Everth Cabrera
Giants: Randy Winn, Emmanuel Burress, Eugenio Velez, Fred Lewis
Nationals: Lastings Milledge, Willie Harris
A couple of years ago I wrote a column on this site which looked closer at the least known players in the majors who could help give you a fantasy edge. From now on we'll reprise that idea with the Who's He of the Week. This week anonymous player is Mariners 30-year old reliever Chris Jakubauskas.
One of the biggest surprises of the spring was the showing of the former Golden League and Big 12 outfielder/first baseman who earned a spot on one of the major league's least accomplished pitching staffs by throwing 22 2/3 spring innings, allowing only five earned runs, 17 hits and five walks in seven appearances. The former power hitter went undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2002, ending up in the Independent Frontier League. It was there that in 2003 he made the change from below average hitter to the mound.
It wasn't until he met up with longtime major leaguer Charlie Hough with the Fullerton Flyers of the Golden Baseball League that his career took off. Jakubauskas earned his league's Pitcher of the Year honors in 2006, going 8-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He signed with the Mariners in 2007 and last season on three different levels was 8-1 with a 2.88 ERA and a nearly four-to-one strikeout to walk ratio. He possesses no outstanding pitches, but learned well from Huogh how to set up hitters. He's the definition of crafty and on a team with potentially large holes in their staff, Jakubauskas has a chance to be a fantasy contributor sooner rather than later.
Five guys to think about picking up, especially in deep leagues...
Josh Outman, P, A's: Overshadowed by Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, Outman has just as good a chance of being a productive starter this season as his fellow prospects. And he'll often have the advantage of facing other teams' fourth and fifth starters and not their twos and threes.
Sean Green, P, Mets: The hard-throwing righthander drew lots of inquiries from other teams after he arrived in New York from Seattle, seemingly as a throw-in. He'll be one of the seventh inning guys in front of J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez and should be a great source of relief wins and strikeouts.
Chris Dickerson, OF, Reds: If you saw Jerry Hairston play left field on opening day, you'll see why the rookie (yes, he still qualifies according to the NL Green Book) will be seeing lots of time, eventually taking over the fulltime gig. He's a good power-speed combo guy and worth the roster spot in most leagues.
Michael Barrett, C, Blue Jays: The former All-Star appears primed to challenge Rod Barajas for playing time in Toronto.
Austin Kearns, OF, Nationals: Manny Acta chose to give the veteran Kearns the starting job in right field over the erratic Elijah Dukes. Kearns isn't a long-term answer, but is worthy of a fifth outfield spot while he's playing.