NOTE: Every year fantasy experts, enthusiasts and rookies alike trot out their opinions for each position. Explaining that Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes are top shortstops or that Carlos Lee falls somewhere in the top tier of outfielders does/is not ground breaking advice.
As I preview each position leading up to the regular season, I will list my rankings and focus on several players who I believe are under or over-valued.
1) Ian Kinsler (TEX)
2) Chase Utley (PHI)
3) Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
4) Brandon Phillips (CIN)
5) Brian Roberts (BAL)
6) Robinson Cano (NYY)
7) Alexei Ramirez (CHW)
8) Dan Uggla (FLA)
9) Jose Lopez (SEA)
10) Howie Kendrick (ANA)
11) Placido Polanco (DET)
12) Mike Aviles (KC)
13) Rickie Weeks (MIL)
14) Kelly Johnson (ATL)
15) Mark DeRosa (CLE)
Jose Lopez (SEA): Lopez improved his numbers across the board for this third straight major league season. Remarkably consistent, his home/road, right/left and 1st half/2nd half splits were virtually identical. (He did hit 13 of his 17 home runs at home - a good sign considering Safeco Field ranks 20th in home run efficiency according to ESPN.com's Park Factor rating.)
While Lopez is not going to hit 30 home runs (Chase Utley, Dan Uggla) or steal 20 bases (Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts), all signs point to continued improvement for Seattle's 25-year-old second baseman. For the first time in recent fantasy baseball memory, the second base position is deep. Lopez is being drafted 143rd overall in ESPN drafts.
If you need someone to man second base and he slides to you, draft with confidence and pencil in .295, 70 runs, 80 RBI and 20 home runs. While he has not run much in his major league career (average of 5-6 stolen bases the past 3 seasons), he did steal 31 bases in 2002 while in the minor leagues. Lopez is young and will be counted on to generate runs in a very ordinary Mariners lineup in 2009.
Robinson Cano (NYY):
Plainly put, I love Cano this year. He certainly is not a sleeper, so let's call him a bounce-back candidate instead. Cano took a step backwards last year, in large part to an abysmal start to his season (.151, two home runs, six runs in April). In all fairness, the Yankees as a whole were dreadful in April.
Cano rebounded to finish with a respectable .271/70/14/72 line, thanks to a .307 average after the All Star break. While Cano has always been a second half player, his usual consistency was absent in 2008 in other areas. His .263 average against right handed pitching was an anomaly (career .305) and his .245 road average was significantly below his career mark of .308.
At 26, look for Cano to rebound towards his 2007 numbers, hitting over .300 with 20 plus home runs while approaching 100 RBI. Opportunities abound in the Yankees lineup (even without Alex Rodriguez for the first 6 weeks of the season). Cano should hit 5th or 6th (depending on Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada), putting him in prime RBI position behind new Yankee Mark Teixeira.
Mark DeRosa (CLE): Don't get me wrong, DeRosa is a solid player. Well worth owning in any mixed league. He is eligible at 2B, 3B, OF. He will hit in a very dangerous Cleveland lineup. And he had a career year in 2008 with the Cubs. I want DeRosa on my team, I'm just not paying for him like he will hit 20 home runs and score 100 runs again. At 34, DeRosa is entering just his fourth season as a full time starter.
In 2006 and 2007, he averaged 11.5 home runs and 71 runs with a very respectable .290 average. Those numbers are much more in line with his full season projections while he was a part-time player between 2000 and 2005. I have DeRosa ranked 15th amongst second basemen for 2009 (he is currently going 12th in ESPN drafts).
I like Mike Aviles to build on his 2008 breakout campaign and Kelly Johnson to continue his steady 80-90 runs, 10+ home runs, and 10+ stolen bases. I also think Rickie Weeks continues to improve his average and power numbers while stealing 20-25 bases in 2009. All three of those players are being drafted after DeRosa with higher upside.