Today, the fantasy baseball season finally begins.
There are many titles to be defended and even more defeats to be avenged.
For those in yearly public leagues, it is a novel chance to display their genius and shrewdness as managers.
Either way, be prepared to come out guns a-blazing and not let up until the chambers are empty in early October. This is a six-month, O.K. Corral-style fight we are voluntarily and collectively entering.
While every team has its share of the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday caliber kind of premier fantasy studs, it is the lesser known Virgil and Morgan Earp style players that maintain teams atop the standings and assist in winning championships.
Below is a short list of such players who are undervalued or up and coming which will either help you to a title or at least be a stopgap solution.
Kenji Johjima (Seattle Mariners)
Once considered a top-tier catcher, last year Johjima had a nightmare season, hitting a paltry .227 and setting career lows in hits, runs, RBI, and home runs.
Much of this can be attributed to an extremely unlucky .233 BABIP, light years below his lifetime mark of .275.
For those uninitiated with the BABIP stat, it stands for batting average on balls in play. Simply put, it is a percentage of at bats which result in a ball in play, excluding home runs. BABIP is the essential sabermetric statistic in determining flukes.
Normally, the league BABIP mean is just above .300.
As we all know, baseball is a game of averages and in time all ships will right themselves. Therefore, rather than Johjima's 2008 campaign becoming the norm, his stats should rebound toward his previous major league numbers.
However, since Kenji will be 33 this year, do not expect the statistics he puts up in 2009 to topple those of the past.
But with the threat of prospect Jeff Clement gone and an excellent performance in the World Baseball Classic, somewhere between 375 and 400 plate appearances does not seem out of the question.
These at-bats will result in an average around .270 and yield at least 10 home runs.
David Freese (St. Louis Cardinals)
The latest report out of the Cardinal camp is that resident third baseman Troy Glaus is, at the earliest, targeting an All-Star break return date from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
As a result, David Freese has been handed the hot corner starting gig until Glaus is ready for action.
A career .307 minor league hitter, Freese crushed 26 homers and amassed 91 RBI last year for the Redbirds Triple-A affiliate.
Jayson Werth (Philadelphia Phillies)
During the 2008 post-season, Jayson Werth batted a clutch .316. This year, the major sport sites predict the product of the Home of Lincoln to hit less than his lifetime average with a regression in both power and speed numbers.
Where's the love?
As an everyday outfielder in an offensively stacked Philadelphia lineup, I see Werth as a 20/20 lock while posting a very respectable .275 batting average.
Randy Winn (San Francisco Giants)
Yes, Randy Winn is 35 years old. Yes, he plays for the powerless Giants.
However, Winn is a leadoff hitter with a career .288 BA who will collect double-digit totals in homers and steals.
You could do a lot worse for a third outfielder.
Brad Penny (Boston Red Sox)
In 2008, Brad Penny was the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this spring found himself battling for a spot at the back end of a Red Sox rotation.
Bothered by shoulder problems for the duration of last season, Penny has recently stated that he now feels better than he has in a year.
Throughout Boston's 2009 preseason, the Sooner State native compiled a 3.75 earned run average, and his fastball has been gunned as high as 96 miles per hour.
Whereas many pundits have argued that Penny is merely eating innings until the mid-season return of veteran John Smoltz or the recall of minor leaguer Clay Buchholz, it must be noted that Penny's career stats show he is a markedly better pitcher before the All-Star break.
Freddy Sanchez (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Like Penny, Freddy Sanchez dealt with a sore shoulder in 2008, causing him to hit a personal low mark of .270, considering his aggregate major league totals are 30 points higher.
Not long ago, the 2006 batting champion declared himself to be fully recovered. Therefore, consider the Pittsburgh second bagger to be free agent gold for an upgrade at the middle-infield position or for those looking to balance power hitters with a low BA.
Matt Wieters (Baltimore Orioles)
There is nothing I can write about baseball's best hitting prospect that hasn't been already been hyped. But a recent demotion to the minors has caused Wieters to hit more than a few waiver wires.
Do yourself a favor and check if he's available in yours.
Baltimore's backstop salvation is coming soon, and I am psyched. Do the kids still say "psyched"?
Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson (Oakland Athletics)
Both hurlers were top ten prospects. Each has been given a spot in the Athletics starting rotation. Cahill possesses a fastball and a knee buckling curve while Anderson has four different pitches with pinpoint control.
If kept in tact, they could be the basis of the next big three in Oakland (who remembers when Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson were all still relevant?).
As each rookie is respectively bound to be a star, the major concern is that because neither has seen much action above the Single-A level, have the A's advanced them too quickly?
Phillipe Aumont (Seattle Mariners)
The vortex of despair that is the Seattle bullpen looks terrible on paper, even for a team in the AL West.
Young Brendan Morrow has been reverted to late-game duties, but he alone will not quiet the riot which will be wrought upon the Puget Sound relievers.
If the bullpen is as bad as advertised, then a second-half promotion of 20-year-old pitching phenom Phillipe Aumont could be possible. This is an organization that brought up Felix Hernandez at the same age.
Standing at 6'7" and weighing 220 pounds, Aumont has been tabbed as the right-handed Canadian version of former mullet-coiffed Mariner mound king Randy Johnson.
During the recent World Baseball Classic, Team Canada found themselves in a bases loaded with no outs situation versus the United States. In front of a sold out Toronto crowd, they handed the ball over to Aumont.
The raw Quebecois responded by inducing David Wright into a broken bat infield fly before striking out Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson, thereby retiring the side without a run scored.
If Aumont makes his major league debut in 2009, he will definitely be on my keeper lists for next year.
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