Play ball: It's fantasy season

MVP-winning Cardinal Albert Pujols hits a two-run home run in the against the Minnesota Twins at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. Pujols adds 30 some home runs each year to his team.Rya

Around this time of year I begin to anticipate an event like an overanxious child waiting for Christmas morning. St. Patrick’s Day is good and fine, March Madness is great and you gotta love daylight savings time, but all of these events pale in comparison to the wonderful awesomeness that is my annual fantasy baseball draft.

Dorky? Absolutely. Not real? Sure. Monetary reward? That’s illegal (yes). A complete waste of time and energy that will result in nothing more than empty knowledge regarding a utility player’s on-base percentage? Debatable. But I love it and so do 29.9 million people age 12 and above in the U.S. and Canada who play fantasy sports, according to a study done by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association in 2007.

Those not well versed in the fantasy baseball realm need not be afraid, and those whom consider themselves experts skip ahead, because these are arguably the top guys at each position:

C: Joe Mauer (Twins): He hit for a ridiculous .365 avg. last season, not to mention 28 HRs and 98 RBI and an American League MVP. He apparently struck out only once in high school. I didn’t even play baseball in high school and I’ve struck out more than him.

1B: Albert Pujols (St. Louis): The other MVP winner, Pujols just keeps churning out fantastic statistical seasons. Since 2001 he’s had a .300 avg. with 30 HR and 100 RBI every year.

2B: Chase Utley (Phillies): The class of a weak position, Utley did it all last year with an .282 avg., 31 HR, 93 RBI, 23 SB and 112 R. He and his wife, Jenn, also paid for medical bills and rehab for a puppy that was abused by people. How do you not like this guy?

3B: Alex Rodriguez (Yankees): Sure, he’s admitted to taking steroids, and yes, he’s no longer dating Kate Hudson, but he still had a .286 avg. with 30 HRs, 100 RBI and 14 SB while missing the first 28 games. If he does that for my team, I say shoot up until your head explodes A-Rod.

SS: Hanley Ramirez (Marlins): The best fantasy SS and maybe the best fantasy player. Ramirez hit .342 last season with 24 HR, 106 RBI, 101 runs and 27 SB. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, “In his free time, Hanley enjoys jamming to reggae and DJ’ing.” Luckily for me, I draft players based on their ability to hit for average, tendency to jam and how much fist pumping they can elicit.

OF: Ryan Braun (Brewers): He pretty much will contribute in every category as he hit .320 last year with 32 HR, 114 RBI, 113 R and 20 SB. The only category he won’t contribute in is making clothing I would consider wearing. Check for T-shirts I wouldn’t recommend to my enemies.

OF: Matt Kemp (Dodgers): A .297 avg., 26 HR, 101 RBI, 97 R and 34 stolen bases last year, and he’s already on the right track this year because he’s apparently involved in a relationship with Rihanna.

OF: Carl Crawford (Rays): The speedy outfielder stole 60 bases last year while hitting .305 and scoring 96 runs. He also has a considerable amount of power for a base stealer, slugging 15 last season. Crawford is also in a contract year, so expect him to give you the same numbers if not better.

There are always players who are picked later in the draft who outperform expectations and essentially can decide whether you win or lose the league. Guys who exceed their average draft positions and give you great return on your dollar are what I call the “sleepers.”

OF: Shin-Soo Choo (Indians): Not exactly a sleeper, but it seems like no one has heard of this guy. He’s apparently applying for U.S. citizenship so he doesn’t have to fulfill his South Korean military obligations. That makes him a hopeful soon-to-be American that batted .300 with 20 HR, 86 RBI and 21 SB last season. I know a patriot when I see one. I’m buying.

OF: Ryan Ludwick (St. Louis): You’ll be able to get him late because people will let him slip in the draft, and you can do worse than last year’s .265, 22 HRs and 97 RBI for your fourth or fifth outfielder. Plus, he hits behind a guy (Pujols) whose name is funny if you’re six (or me) and another guy (Matt Holliday) with a name that reminds me of times where I don’t have to work. Good things all around.

SP/RP: Neftali Feliz (Rangers): He had 39 strikeouts in 31 innings last season while only walking eight. He’s in the running for the fifth starter spot this Spring, too. Feliz is a little young (21), but he was a big prospect and people are letting him fall in drafts (248 average draft position on ESPN). He also has that great offense working for him in Texas. Now all Feliz needs to do is refuse an invitation from Josh Hamilton for a night out. Google it.

1B/3B/OF: Jake Fox (A’s): I never like seeing a player go from the National League to the AL, or potentially be in a platoon situation. On the flip side, he hit 11 HRs in 216 ABs last year. Hopefully, while he’s out in Cal, he can meet up with Megan Fox while wearing fox fur before they go on a fox hunt. I like his chances.

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