May 18, 2010

One of the most underrated shows on television is Friday Night Lights. Critics like the NBC series, but ratings have never been very good. Maybe viewers still think the scripted drama is just about Texas high-school football. Maybe it needs more guest stars. Or maybe more popular reality shows like The Hills and The City are products of the devil. But I digress.

You should watch FNL because of its great characters. Now in its fourth season, the show has sadly said goodbye to some of my favorites like wheelchair-bound hero Jason Street, cocky running back "Smash" Williams, troubled dame Tyra Collette and pretty do-gooder Lyla Garrity (who ran away with Derek Jeter, of course).

Fortunately, we still get the spirited marriage of coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, now the school principal. There is still aspiring artist/pizza boy Matt Saracen and his high-school sweetheart Julie Taylor, the coach's daughter. We still get ladies man Tim Riggins and his self-destructive behavior. And we still get the reliably vanilla Landry Clarke.

Similarly, there is always a talented cast of players in fantasy baseball that go unnoticed. In the spirit of FNL, here are a few with ties to the Lone Star State that I recommend you start watching:

Scott Podsednik, OF (Royals)

The population of West, Texas is no bigger than 2,700 and one of their greatest exports is a thief. That would be "The Podfather," who has made a career out of stealing bases (a career-high 70 with Milwaukee in '04 and 59 with the White Sox in '05). He has battled injuries in recent seasons but with healthy legs again, he's excelling at the top of Kansas City's lineup (.319 BA, 13 SB).

Josh Hamilton, OF (Rangers)

Like Riggins, the tattooed Hamilton has a bad reputation. The former drug addict almost threw away his career after Tampa Bay drafted him No. 1 overall in '99 but he finally fulfilled his potential with Texas in '08 (.304, 32 HR, 130 RBI). Hamilton took a step backwards in '09 due to injuries (.268, 10 HR, 54 RBI) and while many owners don't trust him, the talented slugger is worth the risk.

Kelly Johnson, 2B (Diamondbacks)

The Austin native has always displayed good power but staying healthy has been the issue. Johnson only played 106 games with Atlanta in '09 and was largely ignored by owners prior to this year's draft. After 36 games, he's among the top 2B in homers (11) and slugging percentage (.614). Johnson isn't in the same category as Chase Utley but Aaron Hill of '09 would be a fair comparison.

Brad Hawpe, OF (Rockies)

Hawpe doesn't get the same recognition as past Rockies outfielders (Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday) despite his stellar production the past six seasons (.285, 25 HR, 95 RBI are his 162-game averages). He's off to a blistering '10 start (.354 BA, .662 SLG). I bet his old coaches at Boswell High School in Fort Worth are rooting for him.

James Loney, 1B (Dodgers)

Not many fantasy owners fall in love with a light-hitting defensive first baseman but that's exactly what the Houston-born Loney has been in his young career. He hit 15 HR in his '07 rookie season, only to digress to 13 in each of the past two seasons (to be fair, he also drove in 90 RBI). We'd really like to see him hit .300-20-10 and he's nearly on that pace in '10 (.311, 4 HR, 24 RBI in 37 games).

Hunter Pence, OF (Astros)

Pence is living the dream of any Texas kid -- born in Fort Worth, he attended Arlington High School, played ball at the University of Texas at Arlington and now is the starting right fielder for the Houston Astros. He seemed headed for greatness after finishing third in ROY balloting in '07 (.322, 17 HR, 69 RBI) but two recent mediocre seasons have lowered his stock. Pence has come on strong recently (.367, 4 HR, 9 RBI in 7 games), which might indicate the 27-year old is ready for a big breakout.

Other Texas natives to keep an eye on: Brett Anderson, SP (Athletics), Clayton Kershaw, SP (Dodgers), John Lackey, SP (Red Sox), Josh Beckett, SP (Red Sox), Michael Bourn, OF (Houston Astros).

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