2010 Fantasy Baseball Predictions: Risk-Free Batters You Need On Your Team

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2010 Fantasy Baseball Predictions: Risk-Free Batters You Need On Your Team
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You can take Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Howard. I didn't want them anyway.

With the first spring training games just days away, I was happy to see an invitation for a fantasy baseball league sitting in my inbox.

I'd been mining bits and pieces of fantasy data for a few weeks now anyway, a sure-fire way to know that despite the snow, baseball is on its way.

Like every fantasy player, I want the studs; the guys who "can't fail." Projecting stats and predicting performance is, at best, spotty, but I at least want a puncher's chance on draft day of avoiding the flops.

"You can't win your league on draft day, but you sure can lose it." Ever heard of that saying before?

I want players who do not have storied injury records. I want players who have above-average power or speed and who put the ball in play.

I want players who have at least some Major League experience, batters who have seen significant playing time and have been consistent producers. I want guys like Ryan Zimmerman, a top 10 infielder in 2010.

I want to minimize my risk on draft day and target the studs. I’m not looking for “the next big thing” with my No. 1 pick. I want a boring player who I can count on to carry my team.

You want Justin Smoak or Chris Davis on your team, that's fine. But they're not guys you can consider until the latter stages of your draft.

If you’ve been on the DL for more than 60 days combined in the past three years, you’re gone. While freak injuries, or at least unexpected injuries, are a part of the game, there’s no better predictor of an upcoming stint on the DL than past injuries.

If you strike out in more than 20 percent of your at bats, you’re gone. Listen, you can’t be productive if the bat is on your shoulder.

You at least have the opportunity to drive runners home if you ground out or hit a deep routine fly ball. In leagues where strikeouts count against you, guys like Mark Reynolds can cripple your team, regardless of the power they bring to the party.

On a more subjective level, if you’re not going to hit 15 home runs or steal 15 bases, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to be passing on you inside the first seven or eight rounds.

There’s nothing scientific about this, other than to say I want my top guys to possess league-average power or league-average speed. That’s not too much to ask out of my stars, right?

So, where does that leave us?

Let’s start with the 585 batters we expect to see playing time in 2010.

• Cut anyone who strikes out in more than 20 percent of their at bats. That’s 207 gone right there.

• Cut anyone who’s been on the DL for more than two months in the last three seasons…bye bye 71 more.

• League average speed or power? No? That’s 158 more gone.

• Finally, cull sophomores and inconsistent veterans…and you’re left with 37 players.

Considering I only really need eight of these to build my offense around, that’s not a bad thing.

Is the list of criteria arbitrary? Of course. I could have chosen a 25 percent strikeout rate or 90 days on the DL.

But I didn’t. I stuck with the basic filters suggested by Ron Shandler’s Portfolio3 plan and, in doing so, I gave myself a much more manageable talent pool, sans 85 percent of chaff.

This strategy is far from new but it can be a starting point when you're researching prospective talent.

If you really want the cream of the crop, you can only target guys who walk 10 percent of the time, or who walk at least as often as they strike out.

By then though, you're really getting in to niche skill sets, and names like Luis Castillo will start to come into play. Castillo is reliable for sure, but he's currently going undrafted in more than 80 percent of mock drafts...it's safe to say you can leave him until much later!

Is it foolish to pass on A-Rod to pick Chase Utley with your No. 3 pick, or Ryan Braun to take Mark Teixeira? Of course not. Some people would make those choices anyway. After all, a lot of players are interchangeable.

I mean, does it really matter whether you get Jimmy Rollins or Jose Reyes as your shortstop? 137 days on the DL tells me I’m not going to pick Reyes in the second round. I'll let someone else take that risk.

With that in mind, here’s how your first eight batters could look, round by round.

Round One: Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, Mark Teixeira, or Miguel Cabrera

Round Two: Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Holliday, or Jimmy Rollins

Round Three: Brandon Phillips or Ryan Zimmerman

Round Four: Justin Morneau, Dustin Pedroia, Ichiro Suzuki or Brian Roberts,

Round Five: Andre Ethier or Carlos Lee

Round Six Shane Victorino or Bobby Abreu

Round Seven: Hunter Pence or Nate McLouth

Round Eight: Raul Ibanez, Jason Kubel, or Johnny Damon

All of these 23 batters meet the strict, if arbitrary, criteria, and they could all give you a solid foundation to your team. While catchers and third basemen are in short supply (Bengie Molina in fact is the only catcher in this prospective shortlist, but he's more of a 12th-round pick) there's enough talent, consistent talent, to stack your offense front to back.

Bragging rights are there for the taking. Come and get yours.

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