Fantasy Baseball 2012: Early-Season All-Star Team

Jay Clemons@ATL_JayClemonsFantasy Sports Lead WriterApril 18, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Early-Season All-Star Team

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    The following slideshow touts fantasyland's early, early All-Star team, a 20-man listing that honors 2012 statistics but doesn't necessarily reflect a player's status coming out of spring training.

    The competition amongst outfielders and starting pitchers was particularly we added a few more slots. And yet, this should hardly mollify the embedded masses crying foul over alleged snubs involving Hanley Ramirez, Cole Hamels, Omar Infante, Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, Kyle Lohse, Corey Hart, Adam Jones and even Jake Arrieta.

    We'll revisit the fantasy All-Stars again in mid-May. Enjoy the show!

Catcher: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

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    This spot could have gone to either Wieters (four HRs, nine RBI, five runs, .333 batting average, 1.136 OPS) or White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski, but a .442 OPS (including more walks than strikeouts) clinched the deal for Wieters.

    Fingers crossed on Wieters realizing his 27 HR, 90 RBI potential with Baltimore this season.

First Base: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Only time will tell how long Pena (three HRs, seven runs, 11 RBI, .390 batting, .490 OBP, 1.197 OPS) can maintain this all-world pace, especially with batting average and on-base percentage.

    But right now, he's the biggest fantasy marvel ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder—by a substantial margin.

Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers

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    Neither fame (consecutive World Series berths) nor fortune (new $75M contract) can lull Kinsler (one steal, four HRs, seven RBI, 12 runs, .295 batting, 1.097 OPS) into a complacent state of self-satisfaction. For that, fantasy owners should be overjoyed.

    Kinsler will likely have tough competition for this spot next month; but at this stage, he has no fantasy peer at his position.

Third Base: David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals

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    There's nothing fluky to Freese's start to the season (three HRs, six runs, 11 RBI, .371 batting, 1.050 OPS), just like there was nothing aberrational about his World Series MVP honors last October.

    Bottom line: If another owner offers a sell-high deal for Freese, as a means of playful subterfuge, it might be wise to take it—after a negotiable tweak or two.

    After all, why not get rewarded for understanding the difference between a short-term supernova and sustainable fantasy asset?

Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

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    We couldn't have a countdown without acknowledging Castro's prodigious start in runs (six), RBI (seven), OBP (.404) and OPS (.846).

    But Castro's real separation from the likes of Hanley Ramirez (three HRs, 10 RBI) and/or Derek Jeter (.367 batting) comes with his MLB-high seven steals (tied with Dee Gordon/Emilio Bonifacio).

    The kid has more than justified his Round 5 draft price.

Outfield: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Kemp is neither the first superstar to enjoy a scalding-hot start to a season (six HRs, 13 runs, 16 RBI, .465 batting, 1.477 OPS) nor to be extra-motivated to right the wrong of an MVP "snub" from the year before.

    It just seems like it.

    How good has Kemp been this month? His No. 3 overall ranking in March may have been a mild injustice, even though (No. 1) Miguel Cabrera should have full 1B-3B eligibility soon and (No. 2) Albert Pujols is probably this century's greatest hitter.

Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Hamilton can be quite the versatile entertainer during even-numbered years, pleasing fantasy owners with all-world numbers (five HRs, 11 RBI, 11 runs, .414 batting, 1.209 OPS) and then thrilling real-world fans with enduring images of diving catches or home-run blasts—like Tuesday's moon shot at Fenway.

    If there's a better Round 4 fantasy value this year, I cannot recall his name.

Outfield: Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Similar to Carlos Pena, it remains to be seen whether Young (five HRs, 13 RBI, eight runs, two steals, .410 batting, 1.397 OPS) can maintain April's prodigious hitting pace, but there's no denying the greatness of his two-week start.

    The athletic Young has flirted with 30-30 twice in his career (2007, 2010), but this may be the year when everything finally comes together.

    Maybe he'll even break his career mark of .257 batting.

Outfield: Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins

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    Willingham's admirable first impression with the Twins (five HRs, nine RBI, nine runs, .375 batting, 1.257 OPS) has been a triumph for fantasy owners everywhere, except those who had sky-high hopes for speedy outfielder Ben Revere heading into the season.

    That's not to say Revere and his 40-steal potential won't emerge in Minnesota sometime in May; it just means that Willingham is a full-time fixture in left field. He's also a solid bet for 29 homers in back-to-back seasons.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals

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    The loss of you-know-who in St. Louis has been minimized by the early-season dominance of third baseman David Freese and Beltran (four HRs, five RBI, 10 runs, two steals, .351 batting, 1.142 OPS).

    Frankly, I should have seen it coming.

    Even at the tender age of 35, a healthy Beltran remains a good bet for 24 homers, 90 RBI and a .285 average. Consequentially, Beltran was an absolute heist at Round 14 of 12-team drafts.

Utility Spot: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    There's no shame in Ethier (MLB-high 17 RBI) garnering the UTIL spot for this countdown, even if I had no plans for it when first compiling the info.

    Bottom line: Ethier's terrific start (four HRs, seven runs, .310 batting, 1.121 OPS) may have been slightly obscured by teammate Matt Kemp; but he's still an All-Star talent at this point.

    The big question now: Will this red-hot April lead to a repeat of his 2009 numbers (31 HRs/106 RBI)?

Starting Pitcher: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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    After just three starts, Weaver (2-0, 2.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 23/2 K-BB) seems to be the safest American League bet for 20 victories. He's also an easy lock for 200 strikeouts and a WHIP that requires a microscope to view by season's end.

    Speaking of great WHIPs, you wouldn't believe the number of near-invincible starters who didn't make the early All-Stars: Cole Hamels, Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse and even Barry Zito (1-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.69 WHIP).

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Verlander (1-1, 2.13 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 23/5 K-BB) has amazingly had three separate two-run leads heading into the ninth inning this season—with only one victory (and one 130-pitch outing) to show for it.

    But it's not necessarily about wins for baseball's best pitcher right now. He's been an unstoppable force in his focused pursuit of yet another American League Cy Young Award.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Forget about the Nationals' alleged pitch/innings count for every start. In his current state, Strasburg (2-0, 1.42 ERA, 0.95 ERA, 19/5 K-BB) is a top-10 pitching dynamo—up to and including the seventh inning.

    Strasburg is also a primary reason for Washington's surprising hold on first place in the hotly contested National League East.

Starting Pitcher: Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    To label Billingsley's hot start (2-0, 1.33 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 17/1 K-BB) as "superb" would be a gross understatement.

    Billingsley has managed to overshadow his Cy Young teammate Clayton Kershaw and now, he's within range of stealing a portion of Matt Kemp's white-hot fantasy spotlight.

    Will Billingsley be part of this countdown four weeks from now? The best indicator of success in that realm lies with strikeouts and walks...although no one should expect only one walk every three starts.

Starting Pitcher: Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers

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    So much for the notion that MLB hitters had finally adjusted to Lewis (2-0, 1.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 22/1 K-BB) after his wildly successful two-year stint in Japan (2008-09). So much for the rationale that Lewis would fall behind Rangers starters like Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, while also being the first casualty if/when Martin Perez earned a big-league promotion.

    Here's a contrived question to explain Lewis's worth: How many starting pitchers can you name with fewer walks (one) than homers allowed (two)...and a sub-2.00 ERA?

Starting Pitcher: Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs

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    This might be the only controversial pick of the entire countdown.

    Dempster (0-1, 1.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 23/8 K-BB) has neither a winning record nor a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but his excellence with ERA, WHIP and K/9 rate (10.2) clinches a ranking just ahead of Hamels, Garza, Lohse, Lynn and company.

Starting Pitcher: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    At first, I resisted the urge to include Halladay in the countdown, based on his slightly less-than-awesome 14/4 K-BB ratio. But I'm amenable to granting this one-time exception, given his sterling reputation of the last five years and 3-0 start to this season.

    By season's end, Halladay (1.17 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, .173 opponents' batting average) will be a top-five pitching asset and hopefully the primary source of many blockbuster fantasy trades.

Relief Pitcher: Javy Guerra, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The fourth and final Dodger of this countdown, Guerra (1-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, five saves) has quickly adapted to his role as full-time closer.

    He has also been a fantasy coup for every 12-team-league owner who waited until Round 17 to draft a high-end closer.

    It's early in Guerra's development, but he may already be a healthy bet for 30 saves in 2012.

Relief Pitcher: Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Tigers and Angels fans might have a different assessment of Rodney's staying power at closer, but there's no denying his well-deserved spot in this countdown: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.23 WHIP and four saves.

    There's a sell-high aspect to Rodney in mixed leagues, even though 2011 closer Kyle Farnsworth (elbow) might be out for another month or so. But that's the territory that comes with middling career marks in ERA (4.25) and WHIP (1.45).

    Rodney's an interesting risk-reward proposition for owners that only care about saves.