Fantasy Clicks
By Jay Clemons
Back In Business
Albert Pujols: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The calendar may read Jan. 13, but it's never too early to delve into the worldwide obsession that is fantasy baseball. So, for the next three Wednesdays,we'll tread somewhat lightly into the sport, offering readers a tangible taste of the real action ... before busting loose with the official season premiereof Fantasy Baseball Clicks on Feb. 15.

Who's On First?

Here's our way-too-early list of the top 15 first basemen in 5x5 mixed leagues (HRs, RBIs, batting average, steals, runs). On the whole, we favor speed-average-power guys over sluggers -- Adam Dunn comes to mind -- who simply rely on their power to get through a given season. And it goeswithout saying, this list is subject to change ... about a thousand times before April 1.

1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
4. Ryan Howard, Phillies
5. Justin Morneau, Twins
6. Prince Fielder, Brewers
7. Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks (also 3B-eligible)
8. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
9. Kendry Morales, Angels (no longer OF-eligible)
10. Joey Votto, Reds
11. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
12. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
13. Lance Berkman, Astros
14. Victor Martinez, Red Sox (also C-eligible)
15. Billy Butler, Royals

Sleeper To Watch: Justin Smoak, Rangers

The Impetuousness Of Youth

It's a grim reality of fantasy baseball, folks: To win a roto-style championship in AL- or NL-only leagues, you must possess intimate knowledge ofbaseball's next wave of dynamic playmakers. To wit, here are the 23-or-under players who'll likely make the greatest fantasy impact:

1. SP Felix Hernandez, Mariners
2. OF Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
3. SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
4. SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers
5. OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
6. SP Brett Anderson, Athletics
7. SP/RP Netfali Feliz, Rangers
8. OF Jay Bruce, Reds
9. OF Travis Snider, Blue Jays
10. OF Desmond Jennings, Rays
11. SP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
12. SP Brian Matusz, Orioles
13. SP Rick Porcello, Tigers
14. 1B Jason Heyward, Braves
15. SP Trevor Cahill, Athletics
16. OF Cameron Maybin, Marlins
17. SP Matt Latos, Padres
18. SP Chris Tillman, Orioles
19. SS Alcides Escobar, Brewers
20. SP Derek Holland, Rangers
21. RP Drew Storen, Nationals
22. RP Ryan Perry, Tigers
23. OF Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks
24. 1B Justin Smoak, Rangers
25a. OF Austin Jackson, Tigers
25b. OF Michael Taylor, Athletics

For a detailed listing of each franchise's top 10 prospects (courtesy of Baseball America), click here.

Compare & Contrast

If we based our fantasy draft boards solely off the 2009 postseason, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia would be low Round 1 pickscome late March ... and Chase Utley would be pushing Albert Pujols for the No. 1 overall pick in 5x5 leagues. But alas, thegulf between Utley and fellow second basemen Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Brian Roberts and Brandon Phillips isn'tthat profound, right? (Wrong?)

Here are two early projections (one from, one from Fanball magazine) for Utley, Kinsler, Pedroia, Roberts and Phillips -- all of whom should be taken within thefirst 35 picks in standard leagues:

Utley 30 HRs, 107 RBIs, 117 runs, 23 steals, .296 BA
Fanball: 32 HRs, 103 RBIs, 105 runs, 16 steals, .294 BA

Kinsler 30 HRs, 95 RBIs, 100 runs, 30 steals, .268 BA
Fanball: 22 HRs, 74 RBIs, 90 runs, 27 steals, .278 BA

Pedroia 15 HRs, 72 RBIs, 112 runs, 20 steals, .308 BA
Fanball: 15 HRs, 78 RBIs, 114 runs, 18 steals, .309 BA

Phillips 20 HRs, 90 RBIs, 80 runs, 25 steals, .265 BA
Fanball: 22 HRs, 79 RBIs, 87 runs, 26 steals, .269 BA

Roberts 12 HRs, 69 RBIs, 105 runs, 29 steals, .295 BA
Fanball: 13 HRs, 69 RBIs, 112 runs, 37 steals, .289 BA

Verdict: Wow! Looks like Utley does have the market cornered at second base ... making him a solid choice at No. 3 or No. 4 overall thisseason (behind Pujols/Ramirez). And if we're sitting in Round 2 for AL-only drafts, we'd kill for Roberts' CBS projections with the Orioles, who may have thebest 4-man outfield in the majors (Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott) and the best stable of under-25 starting pitchers(Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Matt Hobgood, Brandon Erbe). In other words, Roberts may set career highs in runsand steals this year.

What's On Second Base?

Next up, the early, early listing of the top 15 second basemen:
1. Chase Utley, Phillies
2. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
4. Brian Roberts, Orioles
5. Brandon Phillips, Reds
6. Robinson Cano, Yankees
7. Dan Uggla, Marlins
8. Ben Zobrist, Rays (also SS/OF-eligible)
9. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
10. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
11. Ian Stewart, Rockies
12. Howie Kendrick, Angels
13. Chris Getz, Royals
14. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
15. Casey McGehee, Brewers

Sleeper To Watch: Sean Rodriguez, Rays

Things To Make You Go ... Hmmmm

Here are a few quick-hitting storylines to ponder before Groundhog's Day:
**Can two-time NL Cy Young Tim Lincecum once again ring up 250-plus strikeouts, while simultaneously keeping his WHIP around 1.00 and ERAbelow 2.50? (With the Giants' improved roster, he's a lock to eclipse 15 wins.) And even if he falls short of these numbers, is he still the runaway topchoice amongst starting pitchers?

**Which young starting pitcher will make the greatest four-category leap this season -- Minnesota's Kevin Slowey, Atlanta's TommyHanson, Florida's Josh Johnson, Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo, Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens, Baltimore'sChris Tillman or the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw?

**Have Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton universally usurped Grady Sizemore, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton at the top ofoutfield draft boards in 5x5 leagues? And if so, is this a reality-based overhaul ... or one that's proferred on the dreaded "U" word (upside)?

**Which outfielder will steal more bases this season -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn, Julio Borbon or the aforementioned Crawford? Whichoutfielder will crack more home runs -- Adam Lind, Jayson Werth, Jason Kubel, Andre Ethier, Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson or theaforementioned Kemp?

**Which outfielder has the better chance of recapturing his fantasy mojo -- Alfonso Soriano, Corey Hart, Nate McLouth, Magglio Ordonez, VernonWells or Jermaine Dye?

**What will be the greater number at season's end ... Jason Bay homers OR CC Sabathia victories?

**Does any third baseman (amongst Alex Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds, Evan Longoria, Evan Longoria) have a better-than-average shot at 30/30?

I Don't Know's At Third Base

Last but not least ... the early top-15 listing of third basemen:

1. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
2. Evan Longoria, Rays
3. David Wright, Mets
4. Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks
5. Michael Young, Rangers
6. Chone Figgins, Mariners
7. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
8. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
9. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
10. Adrian Beltre, Red Sox
11. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
12. Scott Rolen, Reds
13. Garrett Atkins, Orioles
14. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
15. Alex Gordon, Royals

Sleeper To Watch: Brett Wallace, Blue Jays

A Word About S-S-S-S-Slow Drafts

In the realm of covering fantasyland sports, it's common courtesy for so-called-expert writers to participate in numerous preseason mock drafts of other so-called writing experts -- as a means of networking, sharing knowledge and giving the general public something to think about before their respective seasonaldrafts (baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, etc.). And for the last two years, I have essentially moved mountains to accommodate as many Web sitesand publications as possible within this process ... because, frankly, it's just a nice way of doing business, while promoting But that was then ...for it's finally time to publicly flog one particular style of mock drafting: The slow draft.

The concept of a slow draft is rather simple (and stupid): A group of 10 or 12 owners get togther -- via the Web or email -- to select their make-believebaseball team. But instead of the standard 60-90 seconds between picks ... each owner has up to EIGHT HOURS to make his/her selection. Now, obviously, thesedrafts are designed for the busy, busy, busy person who simply doesn't have time to sit at his/her computer for 90 uninterrupted minutes and draft a completeclub; and, in theory, it allows everyone to acquire their preferred players without feeling the pinch of work, family, friends or time constraints tuggingthem in multiple directions. But to me, it's all a load of bull-loney, and the most painful way to satisfy one's fantasy fix.

In this day and age, you're either chained to your home/work computer for 14 hours a day ... or you're cruising around town with a BlackBerry or Droidsutured to your wrist. In other words, there are no more tolerable excuses for someone saying, I just couldn't get to a computer to make my pick.Sorry. As much I relish gauging Ryan Braun's draft status in a 12-team mixed league, OR fixating on Wade Davis'sstandard predraft value in 10-team AL-only leagues ... I'm especially looking forward to the whole thing being over, as well. And yet, the s-s-s-slow draftdoesn't give one the option of moving on with their lives ... it lingers on longer than an energy-sucking head cold or a needless Chelsea Latelymarathon on E! Television.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, one of my most ardent Twitter followers, Steve Adler of, has graciously invited me to an industry mock draft in the very-near future. And truth be told, I don't have the heart totell him about my deep-rooted disdain for slow mock drafts -- even if I REALLY NEED to know which outfielder ranks higher in mixed leagues amongst thegeneral populace: Jayson Werth, Andrew McCutchen, Justin Upton, Nelson Cruz, Adam Lind, Hunter Pence or CarlosQuentin.

So, Steve, if you're reading this particular mini-section ... now you know why I've been avoiding your e-vites! Sorry.

It's All About The Slot: #1

Some people consider having the No. 1 pick in a 12-team draft a mixed blessing. Yes, you get a free shot at two of baseball's biggest studs(Pujols/Ramirez) ... but you also have to wait 23 looooooong slots just to add a second player to the roster. (Seems a littleunfair, eh?) Well, hath no fear or ambivalence ... because here's a great strategy for nailing your mixed-league draft when owning the 1st and 24th picks(and so on and so forth):

Round 1, Pick 1: Motive -- Best overall player
1st option: 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals ... 2nd option: SS Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

Round 2, Pick 24 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or overall everyday player
1st option: OF Grady Sizemore, Indians ... 2nd option: OF Matt Holliday, Cardinals

Round 3, Pick 25 overall: Motive -- Best overall everyday player or starting pitcher
1st option: SS Jose Reyes, Mets ... 2nd option: SP Zack Greinke, Royals

Round 4, Pick 48 overall: Motive -- Best infielder or starting pitcher
1st option: C Brian McCann, Braves ... 2nd option: OF Nick Markakis, Orioles

Round 5, Pick 49 overall: Motive -- Best outfielder or starting pitcher
1st option: OF B.J. Upton, Rays ... 2nd option: OF Nick Markakis, Orioles

Round 6, Pick 72 overall: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or top-ranked closer
1st option: SP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers ... 2nd option: SP Cliff Lee, Mariners

Round 7, Pick 73 overall: Motive -- Best available outfielder or pitcher
1st option: OF Adam Jones, Orioles ... 2nd option: SP Cliff Lee, Mariners

Round 8, Pick 96 overall: Motive -- Top-ranked closer or best starting pitcher
1st option: RP Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox ... 2nd option: SP Jake Peavy, White Sox

Round 9, Pick 97 overall: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or high-end closer
1st option: SP Jered Weaver, Angels ... 2nd option: SP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Round 10, Pick 120 overall: Motive -- Best middle infielder or starting pitcher
1st option: SS Elvis Andrus, Rangers ... 2nd option: SP Chad Billingsley, Dodgers

Round 11, Pick 121: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or high-end corner infielder
1st option: SP Chad Billingsley, Dodgers ... 2nd option: SP Wandy Rodriguez, Astros

Round 12, Pick 144: Motive -- Best middle infielder or high-end closer
1st option: 2B Howie Kendrick, Angels ... 2nd option: RP Francisco Cordero, Reds

Round 13, Pick 145: Motive -- Best pitcher or corner infielder
1st option: RP Francisco Cordero, Reds ... 2nd option: SP Roy Oswalt, Astros

Round 14, Pick 168: Motive -- Best starting pitcher
1st option: SP James Shields, Rays ... 2nd option: SP Scott Baker, Twins

Round 15, Pick 169: Motive -- Best outfielder (emphasis on speed) or corner infielder
1st option: OF Dexter Fowler, Rockies ... 2nd option: 3B Ian Stewart, Rockies

Round 16, Pick 192: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or corner infielder
1st option: SP Kevin Slowey, Twins ... 2nd option: 3B Casey McGehee, Brewers

Round 17, Pick 193: Motive -- Best available player
1st option: 3B Casey McGehee, Brewers ... 2nd option: OF Juan Rivera, Angels

Round 18, Pick 216: Motive -- Best starting pitcher or outfielder
1st option: SP Clay Buchholz, Red Sox ... 2nd option: OF Nolan Reimold, Orioles

Round 19, Pick 217: Motive -- Best infielder or high-end rookie
1st option: 1B Jason Heyward, Braves ... 2nd option: C Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks

Round 20, Pick 240: Motive -- Best relief pitcher, starting pitcher or catcher
1st option: RP Jason Frasor, Blue Jays ... 2nd option: RP Kerry Wood, Indians

Round 21, Pick 241: Motive -- Best outfielder or starting pitcher
1st option: OF Julio Borbon, Rangers ... 2nd option: SP Mat Latos, Padres

Help Me Help You, MLB Network

In what's slowly becoming a wintertime tradition for Fantasy Clicks, here are four quick-fix programming suggestions for the MLB Network -- one of myautomatic-rotation channels on DirecTV ... but one that still needs to upgrade from the standard 15 re-airs of Hot Stove or daily broadcast of anyBob Costas-hosted retrospective show featuring Mickey Mantle or Bob Gibson:

1. Bring back The Baseball Bunch repeats for Saturday mornings. This unpretentious kids show from the 1970s and early 80s, dedicated to baseballfundamentals and team-building concepts, made media darlings of Johnny Bench, Tommy Lasorda and the world famous San Diego Chicken. It also reaffirmed my childhood belief that powder-blue uniforms would NEVER go out of style!

2. Biography on Barry Bremen -- "The Great Impostor" who successfully infiltrated the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, along with other big-ticket sporting events.

3. Regular airings of This Week In Baseball episodes from 1977-90 during the midday hours, spawning a new generation of baseball fans having lunchwith Mel Allen -- not unlike how kids from the 1950s and 60s spent their lunch hours with Soupy Sales (a pure comic genius).

4. MLB Original: Post-apopalyptic movie depicting the state of baseball if commissioner Bud Selig had attempted to contract the Yankees andRed Sox -- instead of wanting to dissolve the Marlins and Twins after the 2002 season.

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