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February 26, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Infield Projections

2006: 727 PA, .282/.371/.514, 99 R, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 2 SB
2007: 725 PA, .290/.373/.546, 104 R, 39 HR, 124 RBI, 3 SB
Batting Position: Probably 4th to start, maybe 3rd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Always a slow starter, Teixeira didn’t speed up until mid-July last season and disappointed owners who drafted him in the first round. Tex inexplicably struggled at home (.266 with 12 homers) and was strangely powerless in the 1st inning (.245/.368/.336). He hadn’t experienced those troubles before and should be free of them in 2007. Expect slight-to-moderate increases in all categories except steals. Also expect another mediocre April and an eventual reward for not trading him during said month. He might aggravate you during the spring, but his Teixeira’s 2006 totals of 99 runs, 33 homers and 110 RBI were his worst since his rookie season. Teixeira is as healthy as an ox. I rank him third among true first basemen behind Pujols and Howard, fourth if including David Ortiz.

2006: 473 PA, .286/.347/.454, 65 R, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 11 SB
2007: 650 PA, .276/.340/.445, 85 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 16 SB
Batting Position: As low as 9th against righties and probably 2nd against lefties to start the season. Could be 2nd or anywhere between 5th and 9th eventually.
Upside: Low (see below)
Downside: Moderate

Kinsler roared out of the gate as a true rookie in 2006, injured his thumb sliding into second base, and finished the season rather flat. ESPN ranks him 15th among eligible second basemen, but I believe he can help owners in all but the smallest of mixed leagues. That thumb injury held him to only 473 plate appearances last year; a reasonable 650 this season would boost his rookie numbers by 37%. Thus, Kinsler could surmount 80 runs and RBI, 20 homers and 15 steals simply by showing up. Only a handful of second basemen can say the same. I say his upside is low because I already grade him so highly.

On the downside, there is some chance that the real Kinsler is the one who hit .267/.329/.399 after the All-Star break, and his tremendous start (.320/.379/.553 during the first half) was a fluke that just about any player can have. He also hit extraordinarily well with runners in scoring position; a return to normalcy could reduce his RBI total considerably. Further, new manager Ron Washington has considered batting him ninth against righties, which would cut into all his counting stats.

Again, I’m not projecting fantasy greatness for Kinsler, just solid production at a lackluster position. Are you counting on 35-year-old Ray Durham to repeat his career-best 26 homers, or on Brandon Phillips to repeat his out-of-the-blue success, or on 39-year-old Jeff Kent to stay on the field? Kinsler just might best all of them.

2006: 646 PA, .266/.325/.401, 76 R, 16 HR, 89 RBI, 1 SB
2007: 650 PA, .269/.328/.428, 76 R, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 1 SB
Batting Position: Probably 6th to start, between 5th and 7th as the season progresses. Possibly on the bench against lefties toward the end of the season.
Upside: High
Downside: Moderate

A shoulder injury hampered Blalock during last season’s second half, but it provided only temporary cover for what has become a depressing decline into mediocrity. Blalock hit .216/.281/.315 against lefties and .253/.311/.383 on the road last year. He might be a platoon player (or worse) if not for his astounding first two full years at the ages of 22 and 23. Last year, I suggested he’d partially return to form and recommended trading him early if he started hot. This year, in small and medium-sized mixed leagues, I wouldn’t bother with him. Unlike at second base, the hot corner is rich in fantasy talent. Blalock doesn’t measure up.

That said, Blalock has publicly rededicated himself to his craft. Blalock is only 26, a year younger than both Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard, and has genuine potential to recapture his former glory. He’s a worthwhile risk in AL-only leagues and worth eyeing in mixed leagues. Alas, he has a long history of cratering in the second half. Irrespective of how well he plays to start the season, his owners should trade him by the All-Star break, even if for a seemingly modest return.

2006: 748 PA, .314/.356/.459, 93 R, 14 HR, 103 RBI, 7 SB
2007: 725 PA, .304/.351/.461, 97 R, 17 HR, 93 RBI, 7 SB
Batting Position: Probably 3rd to start, maybe 2nd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Young finally crested at age 29, showing declines in most categories for the first time in his career. His 2005 appears to be a mild outlier, which is to say he’s only excellent, not other-worldly. Though Young won’t accrue the steals of Reyes and Rollins or the homers of Tejada, he is the rare shortstop who will surpass 90 runs and RBI. Like Teixeira, Young doesn’t get hurt or take days off. He’s averaged 734 plate appearances per season during the last four years. After the frontrunner Tejada, I rank Rollins, Young, Jeter and Reyes very closely in that order.

Posted by Lucas at February 26, 2007 06:17 PM