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The great (first base) divide

Reasonable people could disagree about who's No. 2 – Derrek Lee, who figures to fall back from his spectacular 2005 season, or Mark Teixeira, who just keeps getting better. But the most important thing to realize about this year's crop of first basemen, as Childs points out in his rankings for the position, is that there's a definite divide.

Albert Pujols is obviously in a class by himself, maybe the best player in all of fantasy baseball, with Lee and Teixeira close behind. You can throw Richie Sexson, Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Carlos Delgado in a bag and shake 'em up as far as I'm concerned. Any of the four can give you 40 homers, but is also a batting average risk. Dunn is a career .248 hitter, but he also has the greatest power potential of the bunch.

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The tweener here is Ryan Howard. Let them move the fences back at Citizens Bank Ballpark – Howard will still make a run at 40 homers in his first full big-league season. But his strikeout rate (nearly one every three at-bats) and a .148 average against lefties suggest his batting average will fall below the .288 mark he achieved in 2005.

Outside the top 10 is where it really gets murky. There are 10, maybe 15 players here who could give you a .280-25-85 stat line. Justin Morneau is a nice sleeper pick if healthy, though Childs has sort of blown the lid off of that one by ranking him No. 12. But if you end up with a second-tier player as your starting first baseman, you're going to have a lot of ground to make up at the position. Not saying it can't be done, but it's not an ideal situation. Focus on the top 10 and save yourself the daily aggravation of wondering what Mike Sweeney could do if the Royals surrounded him with more talent.

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A few other thoughts: Don't be scared off by Helton's awful first half '05, attributable to a sore back. His totals after July 1 (.383, 13 HRs, 48 RBIs) were vintage Helton. Look for him to bounce back this season, and perhaps come at a slight discount on draft day. ... Konerko made it back-to-back seasons with 40 or more HRs, but you have to wonder how he'll respond to his big pay raise. My guess – his numbers will come down a bit and the Orioles will be glad he turned down their more lucrative offer to return to the White Sox. ... Draft Sean Casey for his.305 career average, but don't expect any help in other categories. A sore shoulder sapped his power last season, and a move to Pittsburgh won't help. Those 24 homers and 99 RBIs in 2004 were his high-water mark. ... If you're looking for a value pick later in the draft, check Chris Shelton, whose low strikeout rate and ability to hit for average bode well for a mild breakout in 2006. ... Baltimore's Jay Gibbons played 22 games at first base last season, which qualifies him for the position in most leagues.

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