NL All-Stars mostly aligned right

The Baltimore Sun

I've always endorsed cold rationality in voting for baseball's All-Star Game, and on that score I have to applaud the fans this season.

As I put together my National League fantasy All-Stars, I realized that I agreed with the people at six of nine spots. Even their desire to see Ken Griffey Jr. jibed with logic this time around. The whole thing horrified my contrarian soul, but what can you do?

Anyway, here are my picks:

Catcher Russell Martin: I thought I was entering the season with the NL's primo young catcher in Brian McCann, but he can't hang with the previously less-heralded Martin. The Dodgers' backstop brings a new dimension to the position with 30-steal speed. But I'm more surprised by his nine homers and 55 RBIs. Martin, quite affordable in many leagues this spring, ranks among the most valuable and unusual commodities in the game.

First baseman Prince Fielder: I touted Fielder this spring as a still-affordable option who could yield excellent long-term results in the power categories. I did not think he would challenge 50 home runs this season. Sometimes, great young talent accelerates more quickly than expected. Fielder's only 23, and I'm not sure anyone else will hit more homers over the next 10 years.

Second baseman Chase Utley: What's not to like about a sensational all-around player in his absolute prime? That's Utley, who's headed for career highs in batting average and RBIs, and near-highs in every other category. He's the Tiger Woods of NL second basemen, so far ahead that there's no debate. I doubted those who picked him in the first round of fantasy drafts this spring. I was wrong.

Third baseman Miguel Cabrera: This is one where the fans missed the boat. David Wright is a terrific player and a big star in the world's largest media market. He also never gets ripped on Baseball Tonight for being fat and lazy. Those shining attributes aside, he can't hit like Cabrera. Few can. If I had to tag one player younger than 25 as a Hall of Fame batter, it'd be the hefty Marlin. If he's such a listless prima donna, why does he rank among the most consistent stars in the game? I'd invest in him any day.

Shortstop Jose Reyes: This is a loaded field, with veterans Jimmy Rollins and Edgar Renteria posting excellent seasons and J.J. Hardy staging a breakout. But it comes down to a faceoff between youngsters with similar skills. Hanley Ramirez, 23, hits for more power than Reyes does. But the Mets shortstop has drastically improved his on-base skills and, in a game where stolen bases have become more scarce, runs as if it were 1982. He gives you a shot to win steals by himself, and that gives him the slight edge. We should all be thrilled to watch both for the next 10-15 years.

Outfielder Matt Holliday: You would think .350 with power would earn him a spot in the fan voting. But he's certainly a known and cherished quantity among fantasy players, who drafted him higher than ever this spring and have been rewarded.

Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr.: Don't be surprised if his run of good health ends sometime this summer. That said, enjoy the reminder of what an awesome power hitter Griffey was. It's not easy at age 37 to recapture the excellence you displayed at 29. But then, Griffey never was an ordinary talent. As long as he stays on the field, the homers should fly.

Outfielder Adam Dunn: Talk often centers on his strikeouts or his trading-chip status. But Dunn is quietly on pace to hit for a decent average and approach career highs in homers, RBIs and runs. He has also stolen seven bases, which seems remarkable for a 6-foot-6, 275-pound man. His power puts him a tick ahead of Eric Byrnes, who's posting a career year in Arizona. I wouldn't bet on Dunn's average holding up, especially if he's traded.

Starting pitchers Jake Peavy, Brad Penny, Chris Young, John Maine, Ian Snell: Peavy ranks a hair behind Dan Haren as the best pitcher in baseball for the first half, and his higher strikeout rate makes him a better bet to sustain the dominance. Penny can't match Peavy's strikeouts but equals him everywhere else and was picked a lot lower in drafts. He always had the stuff to succeed when healthy, so we shouldn't be too shocked. As good as he's been, I think his ERA will jump at least .50 points in the second half.

Young, Peavy's teammate, hasn't received much Cy Young buzz, but his ERA says he should. His recent one-hit, 11-strikeout outing against the Red Sox was especially impressive. He's convincing me that he's a fantasy ace. I remain a little less convinced about Maine after hearing all those mediocre scouting reports during his Orioles years. You can't quibble with his consistency, however, and the Mets' defense and home park help. This seems like the last year he'll slip through as a draft bargain. Snell was snubbed for the actual All-Star team (in favor of Freddy Sanchez and his empty .296 average.) His power and command made him a sleeper this spring, and he might remain one next year if Pittsburgh's futility keeps his record near .500.

Relief pitcher Takashi Saito: I bought Jonathan Broxton hoping he'd muscle Saito out of the Dodgers' closer job. It's hard to muscle a 1.30 ERA, 43 strikeouts and three walks, however. I never thought a Dodgers reliever would match Eric Gagne's ridiculous peak seasons, but this hidden gem is making a push.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

To read Sheil Kapadia's blog on fantasy sports, go to That Fantasy Guy at baltimoresun.com/fantasy.

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