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I've returned from a long hiatus just time for the start of spring training. Over the next several weeks I'll have a position-by-position fantasy baseball breakdown, but let's start with my top 50 players:
1. Mike Trout. Everything he did as a rookie only has us thinking bigger, especially with news he has added 15 lbs. that could boost his power numbers. Totalling .330 BA/40 HR/100 RBIs/40 SBs/140 runs is, amazingly, not unthinkable.
2. Miguel Cabrera. He'll turn 30 in April, so you can start asking how long the Triple Crown winner will continue to put up seasons of .330 BA, 44 HRs, 139 RBIs, but I think at least one more year. CORRECTION 2/27: Oops. I mislabeled Cabrera as a 1B. He had been a 1B/3B, but with a lack of starts at 1B last year, he is now only a 3B.
3. Andrew McCutchen. I have him higher than most, and I guess a lot of people fear numbers like 31 HRs, 96 RBIs, 20 SBs and .327 BA last year can never be matched, but with his speed I see 30/30 potential.
4. Ryan Braun. I didn't expect a career year from him last year with a steroids scandal hanging over his head, but that's what we got. Can he do the same amid new PED allegations?
5. Carlos Gonzalez. Had a bit of a down year last year, but at 27 should be in his prime as a hitter, and like the guys at No. 1, 2 and 4 is power/speed/hitting triple threat.
6. Robinson Cano Lack of speed keeps him out of the top 5, but still a threat for 30 HRs, 100 RBIs and an average somewhere north of .300.
7. Matt Kemp. An injury-shortened 2012 season and failure to steal more than nine bases leaves me too nervous about putting him any higher than this, but supposedly he reported for spring training in great shape. Also could drive in 130 runs and score another 130 in a potent lineup.
8. Joey Votto. Continued to hit well (.337) in an injury-plagued 2012 season, and still has potential for 30 HRs, 100 RBIs if he stays healthy.
9. Albert Pujols. Ended up having a comeback season last year, and though he had knee surgery last fall, should get plenty of RBIs hitting after Trout and score plenty of runs hitting before Josh Hamilton.
10. Giancarlo Stanton. Thirty-seven HRs in less than 450 at-bats last year is startling. With Florida's lineup decimated, a lot of his homers this year will be solo, but he could still break 50.
11. Prince Fielder. His 30 HRs in 2012 were his fewest since 2006, while his .313 BA was the highest of his career. In many ways - though not physically - he's a miniature version of teammate Cabrera.
12. Clayton Kershaw. The top pitcher in the draft for the second straight year, at least in my opinion. With a powerful lineup backing him, he could be a slam dunk to lead the NL in wins, strikeouts and ERA, unless . . .
13. Stephen Strasburg. . . . a strikeout king in waiting could ruin Kershaw's chance for pitching's Triple Crown. If he gets to 200 innings this year, Strasburg could win 20 games and fan 250.
14. Justin Verlander. Could fatigue finally be a factor? Verlander could still win 20 games and strike out 230, while being a shade less dominant.
15. Jose Bautista. His teammate Edwin Encarnacion had 42 HRs and doesn't make my top 20, while Joey Bats does after an injury-shortened 27 HR campaign, but I think Bautista will again be among the top five in the AL in HRs.
16. Troy Tulowitzki. The talent is there for .300/30/100, though injuries are always a concern.
17. Adrian Beltre. With Hamilton and others gone, he's the man in Texas, but it's a great place for a hitter of his caliber to play 81 games. Overall average and power make him the sure thing of a talented but risky group of 3Bs.
18. Hanley Ramirez. Increasingly high hopes for this former top fantasy draft pick, He could go way higher than this spot in a league of gamblers, and is a good bet for 25 HRs and 25 SBs.
19. Evan Longoria. Another injury concern mitigates top 10 talent. If he could somehow manage to appear in 150 games, Longoria could easily hit 40 HRs. This year, he just might do it.
20. David Wright. Like Ramirez, he could be taken sooner after posting 21 HRs, 41 doubles and 93 RBIs in a comeback season last year.
21. Dustin Pedroia. Victim of a team failure in 2012?
22. Bryce Harper. A top 15 player in many leagues, he looks like Trout with a lower BA.
23. Felix Hernandez. Consistently dominant, but still looking for 20 wins.
24. Cole Hamels. Philly's best pitcher will leave famous teammates Halladay and Lee in his dust.
25. Edwin Encarnacion. 2012 break-out will be tough to top.
26. Justin Upton. Needs 2013 to look like 2011.
27. Ian Kinsler. Fell off after 30/30 2011, but still has power/speed combo.
28. Buster Posey. Reigning MVP barely makes top 30, but you can't draft catchers early.
29. Jose Reyes. Draft him for SBs, and hope a league switch pays off.
30. Josh Hamilton. Could have his best season ever, or could begin a long decline.
31. B.J. Upton. The better Upton last year has 30/30 potential, but faces tougher pitching.
32. Matt Cain. An ERA master still looking for 20 wins and 200 strikeouts.
33. Curtis Granderson. Now a true power hitter, and poor BA proves it.
34. Adrian Gonzalez. Numbers dipped last year, but poised to rise in great lineup.
35. Yoenis Cespedes. Star-crossed season of big numbers and frequent injuries in 2012.
36. Zack Greinke. With a great team in a pitchers' park, the stars may be aligned.
37. Chris Sale. Probably jinxing him, but his 2012 rotation debut had Cy Young written all over it until the last two weeks of the season.
38. Ryan Zimmerman. 17 HRs, 55 RBIs, .319 BA after the All-Star break in 2012.
39. Matt Holliday. Pure power hitter had 37-RBI increase from 2011 to 2012.
40. Jason Kipnis. 31 SBs in rookie campaign forgive a second-half slump.
41. Gio Gonzalez. Made 21 wins look easy, but now connected to PED scandal.
42. Starlin Castro. With all the tools, he could be ranked higher, but he also is a tool.
43. Adam Wainwright. Thinking post-injury rebound for 20-game winner in 2010.
44. R.A. Dickey. So hard to predict a knuckleballer's success, but I'll buy after 20 wins in 2012.
45. Chase Headley. Shocking 31 HRs and 115 RBIs last season will be tough to repeat.
46. Ian Desmond. Lead all shortstops in HRs last year with 25.
47. Jered Weaver. Dominant first half and 20 wins for a team that will be much better thus year.
48. Anthony Rizzo. Choosing to believe the hype, as his 2012 numbers project to about 28 HRs, 95 RBIs for a full season.
49. David Price. AL Cy Young will go higher in many leagues, but I think Sale is a better bet for more wins and strikeouts.
50. Alex Rios. According to his career track record, this should be a down season but he found an extra-base stroke last year that should serve him well this season.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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