With the power of projection, it all adds up to a full season

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

June 29, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

Ever since I was little, I've felt a compulsion to take the to-date numbers of a given baseball season and project them out to full-season totals. This exercise always produces some interesting oddities in April. Remember when Albert Pujols was on pace to hit 137 homers or whatever?

Well, anyway, the exercise becomes semi-legitimate around this time of year. Most teams will reach the halfway point of their schedules in the next four or five days. And if you double most players' numbers, you won't get outlandish projections for the full season. That was a long-winded way of saying this seems as good a time as any to pick some first-half fantasy All-Stars. Serendipitously, I'm writing this at the very moment I would have been covering an Orioles game that was postponed by rain. And what better fodder for rain delay chatter than All-Stars? So here they are.

Catcher, Joe Mauer: Mauer would have to be one of the first five guys you'd pick to start a franchise right now. He just turned 23 but leads all major leaguers in hitting, leads the American League in on-base percentage and runs at a decent clip for a catcher (seven steals.) Combine that with the fact that many catchers develop power later in their careers and you have the breakout AL star of this season.

First baseman, Albert Pujols: I know he missed three weeks, but the best player in baseball still leads the majors in homers, ranks second in the National League in RBIs and is 10th in runs scored. There's not a lot left to say about a man who can outproduce his colleagues at a loaded position while playing three-fourths as many games.

Second baseman, Alfonso Soriano: He's not a second baseman in real life, of course, but aren't fantasy eligibility rules grand? I and many other pundits were down on Soriano before the season. I thought RFK Stadium would sap his power and drop his average below .250. Guess not.

Shortstop, Jose Reyes: Speed is golden in fantasy and Reyes has five more steals than any other player in baseball. He's also batting .297 and slugging close to .500, which is pretty impressive for a 23-year-old shortstop. Here's his projected line for the year: .302 average, 18 homers, 75 RBIs, 147 runs and 75 steals. That's phenomenal.

Third baseman, David Wright: Reyes' twin prodigy on the Mets would be my National League Most Valuable Player right now. I've expounded on my affection for Wright before, but suffice to say it's only deepened. His projected numbers? Try .336 with 39 homers, 137 RBIs, 107 runs and 24 steals from a 23-year-old third baseman. A season like that for a player his age at his position might be without historical precedent.

Outfielder, Vernon Wells: I almost didn't keep old Vernon in one league where he has been on my team for a while. He had been quasi-disappointing for two seasons, and I thought maybe his big 2003 was a fluke. I'm glad I thought better of it. He projects to hit .322 with 44 homers, 137 RBIs and 22 steals.

Outfielder, Carlos Beltran: Another rebound ace. Beltran broke the hearts of many fantasy owners, including yours truly, last season. Sixteen homers and 17 steals just aren't what you expect from a top-five pick. But a projected 46 homers, 136 RBIs, 129 runs and 28 steals? That makes up for a lot.

Outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki: With apologies to the Carlos Lees, Jason Bays and Carl Crawfords of the fantasy universe, Ichiro is quietly back to peak form. He has never rediscovered the pop he had in Japan, but a .359 average over a huge number of at-bats and a projected 50 steals make him unique.

Starting pitcher, Johan Santana: He quietly has climbed back to his fantasy throne after another rotten April. Santana leads the AL in ERA and has nine wins. But his 124 strikeouts account for his real edge over the Brandon Webbs and Bronson Arroyos of the world. He has put up 20 strikeouts against four walks in his past three starts to foreshadow what could be another epic stretch run.

Relief pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon: The would-be starter has earned every ounce of that crazy love from Red Sox fans. You can hardly beat a 0.46 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning). I don't think that will continue, but a 41-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio says he's awfully, awfully good.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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