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Baseball preview: Texas Rangers

After a fourth-place finish in manager Ron Washington's first season, the Texas Rangers made a couple of moves in the offseason that could lead to an improvement in their record.

The Rangers were very active in signing free agents and trading for potential impact players. First, they signed outfielder Milton Bradley to a one-year contract. Next, the Rangers acquired first baseman Ben Broussard from the Seattle Mariners for a minor leaguer. The team also signed Japanese reliever Kazuo Fukumori to a two-year contract.

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However, their most significant move came a few weeks later when they traded pitching prospect Edinson Volquez to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Josh Hamilton. After hitting .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBIs in 90 games last season, Hamilton will likely improve those numbers in a full-time role in Texas.

While they aren't likely to challenge the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners for the division title this season, the Rangers have a good chance of surpassing the Oakland Athletics and escaping the AL West basement.

Texas Rangers

2007 record: 75-87 (4th in AL West)

Key additions: CF Josh Hamilton, RF Milton Bradley, 1B Ben Broussard, RHP Kazuo Fukumori, LHP Eddie Guardado

Key losses: 1B/OF Brad Wilkerson, DH Sammy Sosa, RHP Akinori Otsuka

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B – Last season, Kinsler hit .263 with 20 home runs, 61 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He's got the potential to hit 25 home runs this season and will also likely have 20-25 stolen bases. Hopefully Kinsler will get his batting average back around .280. He is one of the top second basemen available, so get him in the seventh or eighth round.

2. Michael Young, SS – After only hitting nine home runs last season, Young seems to have lost his power. He's still valuable as a shortstop because he'll hit around .320 with 90-100 RBIs, but Young is no longer worthy of being one of your top selections. He still hits a lot of doubles and scores a lot of runs, so draft him in the ninth or 10th round.

3. Josh Hamilton, CF – Hamilton finally received a chance to play in the majors for the Reds last season and he didn't disappoint fantasy owners. He'll look to improve on that performance for the Rangers in 2008. If he plays in 140-150 games, he'll likely hit around .290 with 25-30 home runs and 100-110 RBIs. Draft him in the 10th or 11th round, but he'll be much more valuable if he lives up to those lofty predictions.

Hidden gems:

1. Hank Blalock, 3B – Blalock has steadily declined since he hit .276 with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs in 2004. He only had 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 58 games last season, but Blalock seems to be fully healthy again. While he shouldn't be considered your top third baseman, Blalock has the potential to be a late-round sleeper. Take him with one of your final picks and he could hit .285 with 20-25 home runs and 90-100 RBIs.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C/DH – The Rangers have to decide whether Saltalamacchia is ready to have a full-time role in his second season in the major leagues. It's looking more likely that Gerald Laird will be the starting catcher, so Saltalamacchia will either see time as the team's designated hitter or he could be headed back to the minors to begin the season. He'll be a fantasy stud in the future, but it doesn't look like it'll happen this year. Keep an eye on his progress in 2008 and remember him for future drafts.

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