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Fantasy Fix: Baseball's Top 40

Fantasy basketball leagues have been on All-Star hiatus since last Thursday and just starting up again as I write this. So, this week, will skip our fantasy hoops treasure hunt and go right to our first fantasy baseball report of the year.

As Major League Baseball spring training starts this week, there's no question who will be the first two picks, but after that things get pretty interesting. Overall, I think it will be a big year to go after starting pitchers in the early rounds, and probably a good time to lower superstar outfielder expectations. Here's my top 40:

1. Albert Pujols, 1B, STL: No doubter, despite what was actually a slow second half last year.

2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, FLA: Still young, still looking for batting average, stolen bases to grow.

3. Ryan Braun, OF, MIL: A stat motherlode. BA, SBs make him a better third choice than A-Rod.

4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, NYY: His first un-stressed season in years after a great post-season, but aging.

5. Chase Utley, 2B, PHI: Tough call because all-around stud could easily be third. No. 1 in 2011?

6. Evan Longoria, 3B, TB: Another youngin' growing toward his best years. 2010's AL HR king?

7. Prince Fielder, 1B, MIL: Ready for a 50 HR year. His only weaknesses: SBs and veggie buffets.

8. Tim Lincecum, SP, SF: Last year's Cy Young has everyone expecting even more this year.

9. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET: RBIs dipped in 2009, but a great hitter at the best age for hitters - 27.

10. Joe Mauer, C, MIN: Everyone's expecting another huge year. Will power live up to top 10 billing?

11. Mark Teixeira, 1B, NYY: Fits the Mr. Yankee mold as well as Derek Jeter. 40+ HRs this year?

12. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD: 30/30 HR/SB candidate could be 40/40 if Torre batted him higher.

13. Justin Upton, OF, ARI: Unlike brother B.J., pulled out of a slump and could go 30/30 this year.

14. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, COL: Another slump buster and extra-bases machine hitting his stride.

15. Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA: Ready for his first Cy Young, pitching lights-out on a much better team.

16. Carl Crawford, OF, TB: Has 80-SB talent and needs to go for it now at 29. HR/RBI boost needed.

17. Mark Reynolds, 3B, ARI: Could go higher, but were 44 HRs, 24 SBs a career high?

18. Zack Greinke, SP, KC: So dominant, but still in K.C., where they win early and then far less often.

19. Ryan Howard, 1B, PHI: 45 HRs, 141 RBIs at No. 19? His consistent production is due to tail off.

20. Roy Halladay, SP, PHI: Should see NL boost in numbers similar to fellow AL ex-pats Santana, Lee.

21. Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX: Young, fast top 10 2009 draftee is injury-prone, but still second-best 2B.

22. Matt Holliday, OF, STL: Will benefit from Pujols effect, but STL's offense won't help RBI stats.

23. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS: All about the SBs, which should give fantasy points almost every game.

24. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: Low slot for a guy who might be ready for bust-out 30+, .320+, 100 RBI year.

25. CC Sabathia, SP, NYY: Slow starter last year hit his groove and no reason to fall off this season.

26. Adam Wainwright, SP, STL: Won't get many runs, but won't need them as he'll pitch deeper.

27. Victor Martinez, C/1B, BOS: Flex nature, Fenway boost could drive him higher in draft.

28. David Wright, 3B, NYM: Sapped power never came back. SBs, BA keep him from falling farther.

29. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, WAS: I might take him over Wright. 120 RBIs on improved team?

30. Jose Reyes, SS, NYM: Health issue. Super-fast, but RBIs, runs may be tough to come by in NY.

31. Grady Sizemore, OF, CLE: Another injury concern. SBs, HRs, runs balanced by bad BA.

32. Jimmy Rollins, SS, PHI: poor BA means he needs 30/30 HR/SB to deliver a payoff.

33. Ichiro, OF, SEA: Getting older, but team is improved and he's still so consistent and speedy.

34. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, TB: If you really want him, take him higher. Buzz says 30/30/100 HR/RBI/SB.

35. Jayson Werth, OF, PHI: Is 40 HRs, 25 SBs a reach after his 2009 breakout year?

36. Justin Verlander, SP, DET: Should lead AL in Ks again and finally bring home 20 wins.

37. Cliff Lee, SP, SEA: Loses NL edge, but has transformed himself from reject to legit superstar.

38. Jake Peavy, SP, CHW: Injury threat, small park darken promise, but will anchor stellar Sox staff.

39. Johan Santana, SP, NYM: His numbers are worth betting on rumor of Opening Day readiness.

40. Josh Johnson, SP, FLA: Threat for 20 wins and NL ERA crown.

There are several guys who didn't make my top 40 - Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Dan Haren - whom you will definitely see picked in the top 40 in many leagues.

But if I'm doing my math right, BaseballReference.com suggests there were 273 team shutouts and 63 complete-game shutouts pitched last year. The first figure is the highest it has been in at least nine years. I guess you could say I'm buying into that possibility that in the post-steroids era, these numbers will form the beginning of a new trend.

I'll get back to covering fantasy hoops next week with news on several NBA trades in the works as I write this. I'll also start my weekly baseball pre-draft position rankings and sleeper picks. Get ready to play ball.

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Dan O'Shea's Fantasy Fix appears in this space every Wednesday. Tips, comments, and suggestions are welcome. You can also read his about his split sports fan personality at SwingsBothWays, which isn't about what it sounds like it's about.

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