1. Alex Rodriguez: The no-brainer pick; no other third baseman in fantasy can approach his level. The .300 average, 50 home run potential, 130 RBIs, more than 20 steals … you know the drill. My system values him at $48 in a 5×5 mixed keeper league. A-Rod is such a lock that I’d bid over that and make up for it elsewhere.
2. Miguel Cabrera: Various forecasting systems are divided on whether Cabrera will hold steady or get even better in 2006. PECOTA sees a mild dropoff, and ZiPS calls for an improvement. I share their optimism, as I think he’ll gain slightly in every fantasy category. That’d make for a another awesome season, well worth a bid in the mid $30s. Until someone shows me a statistical explanation, I don’t buy the argument that he will have a worse year because of a weakened lineup. The Fish will still have Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida helping out.
3. David Wright: I can see a .300-30-120 season from Wright, plus 100 runs and 20 steals. He’s a late first round/early second round pick worthy of earning $30 in 2006. Obviously you can’t go wrong with a five category keeper like Wright. He’ll benefit from more RBI opportunities this time around.
4. Aramis Ramirez: Ramirez was spectacular in 463 at-bats last season, but his fantasy owners would like to see 100 more at-bats in 2006. A sore quad and various other maladies followed him in 2005, and now the Cubs have John Mabry to serve as a backup. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I still have Ramirez down for 530 at-bats. At the high end, .315-40-120 is within reach.
5. Chone Figgins: He can play third base, but it makes more sense to employ him at second base. Figgins would be a different kind of third baseman for your fantasy team, contributing 110 runs and 50-60 steals instead of the usual power categories. I can see him topping .300 for the first time, too. A fine choice if you want to get creative with your roster.
6. Chipper Jones: A healthy Chipper can be counted on for .300-30-100. But after getting 472 at-bats in 2004 and just 358 at-bats in 2005, a full season is no safe bet. Jones did recover nicely from rotator cuff surgery, posting a 1.000 OPS in 200 at-bats after the break. I think he’s worth the gamble, as you can always filter in some league-average production if he hits the DL.
7. Morgan Ensberg: Ensberg rewarded loads of fantasy owners who were either very savvy or simply settled for him. Can he approach .280-35-100 again in 2006? Absolutely, and I think he can hit .290 this time around. Don’t be afraid to pony up $18-20 for him in an auction league once the top dogs are off the board.
8. Jorge Cantu: Yep, he qualifies here. But it makes way more sense to play him at second base. You’ll see numbers resembling Ensberg’s, but with more ribbies and fewer runs scored. I don’t see any reason to expect a dropoff from Cantu; in fact, he might get 50 more at-bats in 2006. Cantu’s solid contact rate may indicate maintenance of a .290 average.
9. Scott Rolen: Everything I’ve heard indicates that Rolen’s shoulder is healthy and ready to go. I have him down for .290-27-105 with over 90 runs scored. If he hits my projection, it’d be a $19 value in a 5×5 mixed keeper league. Depending on how much his injury lingers in the minds of bidders, Rolen may be had for a significant discount. I’d expect Chavez, Blalock, and Glaus to go before him in a draft but Rolen could easily match their earnings.
10. Eric Chavez: It’s about time forecasters stop predicting that MVP season from Chavez. He always seemed right on the verge of stardom, didn’t he? I’m pretty much resigned that he’s a .275-30-100 guy at this point, which isn’t anything to complain about. He may be drafted before Ensberg and Jones, so I’m not sure if you’ll get good value here. At the least, Chavez provides consistency after five similar seasons. His shoulder should be OK, though not much better than it was in 2005.
11. Hank Blalock: It seems that Blalock is staying put for now, but he’ll lose a lot of his luster if he’s traded. He’s a 20 home run guy in any park, but the .243/.300/.407 line away from Texas over the last three seasons is worrisome. As it was with Alfonso Soriano, Blalock is a solid choice if nothing changes.
12. Troy Glaus: The only problem with Glaus is that he’s a .250 hitter. The 40 home runs and 100 RBIs will be nice, but that batting average can hurt. Most lineups can tolerate a couple of these guys, and Glaus is still worth a double digit bid. Balance him out with Placido Polanco or someone else who’s a good bet to hit over .300.
13. Garrett Atkins: Atkins can be had cheaply in most leagues despite coming off an 89 RBI rookie campaign. 2006 should bring more playing time, increased power numbers, and an average near .300. He’s likely to be worth at least $10 in a 5×5 mixed keeper league and presents a nice value pick.
14. Melvin Mora: Mora went from a .340 average to .283 last season. Which one seems like the anomaly to you? He’s still got value at a .280 hitter with 25 home run pop, but isn’t anyone to get excited about.
15. Nomar Garciaparra: You’re best off applying the new Dodger first baseman at shortstop, where his projected totals rank slightly higher. But I think he’ll be good for 20 home runs and an average near .290. A less demanding position should mean 500 at-bats for Nomar.
16. Adrian Beltre: Beltre looks like a .260 hitter with maybe 25 home run pop. He killed a lot of fantasy teams last year—many owners couldn’t shake the thought that his .334-48-121 season was a breakout. It looks like more a fluke with great timing. If you can stomach the batting average Beltre could be a value pick, though he’s likely to earn less than $8.
17. Brandon Inge: Inge needs to regain his catcher eligibility to become a fantasy baseball factor. .270-15-70 is possible, but that’s pretty weak from the hot corner.
18. Shea Hillenbrand: Hillenbrand was been quoted this offseason predicting a 30 home run season for himself. These predictions never end well, and the safe bet is still less than 20 home runs. But Hillenbrand can probably approach Garrett Atkins territory, and he’s not on anyone’s radar.
19. Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion should continue to improve as he enters his age-23 season. Over 500 at-bats, he looks good for more than 20 home runs with an average around .260. He might throw in 10 steals as well. A solid keeper choice with a few bucks worth of value in 2006.
20. Tony Batista: The new Twins third baseman found his way onto the bottom of this list. He could easily hit 30 bombs and drive in 95; it’s just that he’ll hit .240 doing it. It’s still worth a couple of bucks if you’ve got some high-average guys to counteract Batista.
By the way, Zimmerman should qualify at third in most leagues; it was a mistake for me to include him in the SS rankings.