The Washington Times - March 6, 2009, 12:02AM

Some of the game’s brightest stars are outfielders, and there are many outfielders worthy of early-round selections in fantasy drafts. On the other hand, it’s by far the deepest offensive position in baseball, and you could choose to concentrate on pitchers and the infield positions early if you trust your ability to find some diamonds in the rough to man your outfield positions later on. Your best bet is to take the best available player, regardless of position, in the early rounds and fill the remaining spots in your lineup in the middle and late rounds.

1. Grady Sizemore, CLE +


Sizemore joined the 30-30 club in 2008 and established new career highs in homers (33), steals (38) and RBI (90) in the process. His relatively low average (.268) masked a solid OBP (.375), and his only real drawback is the whiffs (130). Still just 26, he likely hasn’t reached his peak.

2. Josh Hamilton, TEX

Hamilton busted out last season, hitting for average (.305) and power (32 jacks, 130 RBI) while answering durability questions by accumulating 624 at bats playing half his games in the Texas heat. Nice story; time for the sequel.

3. Carlos Lee, HOU 

Only a broken pinkie in August kept Lee from reaching 30 homers for the sixth straight year (he finished with 28), and he still managed to knock in 100 runs for the fourth consecutive season. He’s a .290 career hitter and rarely strikes out.

4. Matt Holliday, OAK

Holliday enjoyed a third-straight monster fantasy season in 2008 (.321, 25 homers, 88 RBI, 28 steals), but will no longer be playing his home games at Coors Field after an offseason trade. Expect slight decreases across the board.

5. Ryan Braun, MIL

Braun followed up a a rookie year for the ages (.324, 34 homers, 97 RBI) with a .285/37/104 campaign last season. He quietly swiped 14 bases as well, and his only negative is the poor K-to-walk ratio (129 strikeouts, 42 walks).

6. Manny Ramirez, LA

Manny sulked his way out of Boston last summer and then caught fire with the Dodgers, hitting .396 with 17 jacks and 53 RBI in as many games with LA. Since he can opt out of his contract after this year, he’ll be motivated to produce.

7. Nick Markakis, BAL

Markakis hit three fewer homers (20) and knocked in 25 fewer runs (87) last year than he did in 2007, but still contributed across the board. A three-year vet at 25, the 2003 first-rounder oozes upside and is on the verge of fantasy superstardom.

8. Carlos Beltran, NYM

Beltran’s home run total fell for the third straight year in 2008, but he maintained his status as an elite fantasy outfielder by hitting .284 with 27 homers, 112 RBI and 25 steals. Hitting in the middle of a stacked Mets lineup can only help matters.

9. Carlos Quentin, CHW 

Quentin made the D-Backs look foolish for giving up on him so quickly by slugging 36 homers and knocking in 100 runs through August. He then made himself look foolish by fracturing his wrist in a fit of anger after fouling off a Cliff Lee offering.

10. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA

Ichiro is as close to a sure thing as you’ll get in fantasy baseball. Now 35, he’s accumulated at least 200 hits, 100 runs and 30 stolen bases in each of his nine seasons while never hitting less than .303. Expect more of the same in 2009.

11. Jason Bay, BOS

Bay disappointed in 2007 but returned to form with 31 jacks and 101 RBI last season. Hitting in the middle of the Sox’ stacked lineup and playing his home games at Fenway only increases his value. Beware the K’s, though (137 in 2008)

12. Nate McLouth, PIT

McLouth’s breakout 2008 season (.276, 26 homers, 94 RBI, 23 stolen bases) caught just about everyone by surprise. Keep in mind that he always swiped bags in the minors but never hit for power, and expect at least a slight drop-off in 2009.

13. Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS

Ellsbury didn’t set the world on fire like some expected him to after he hit .353 in 116 late-season at bats in 2007, but he did turn in a solid first full season (.280, 9 homers, 98 runs, 50 steals). He’s just 25 and will likely continue to improve.

14. Curtis Granderson, DET

Granderson became the third player ever to hit 20 doubles, triples and homers in the same season in 2007 and followed that up with a solid 2008 campaign. He contributes across the board but oddly doesn’t steal many bases (12 last year).

15. Alex Rios, TOR

Rios hit just 15 homers in 2008 after going deep 24 times in 2007, but he made up for it somewhat by stealing a career-high 32 bases. The 28-year-old has always had obvious 30-30 potential; maybe 2009 will be the year he gets it done.

16. Shane Victorino, PHI

Victorino topped the 500-at bat mark for the first time in 2008 and responded with a .293 average, 14 homers, 58 RBI, 102 runs scored and 36 steals. There’s no reason to believe the 28-year-old can’t match - or top - those numbers in 2009.

17. Bobby Abreu, LAA

At this point, you know what to expect from Abreu: an average between .280 and .300, 15 to 20 homers, 100 RBI and 20 or more steals. He’s durable and consistent, and though he’s now 35, he has yet to show any signs of slowing down.

18. Vladimir Guerrero, LAA +

Guerrero is still just 33, but it’s an old 33. Seven-plus years of patrolling Montreal’s rock-hard turf outfield took a toll on his knees, and it seems like he’s always banged up. He’s still a good bet for a .300 average, 25 jacks and 100 RBI, though.

19. Magglio Ordonez, DET

Ordonez enjoyed a career year in 2007 (.363, 28 homers, 139 RBI) and came back down to Earth in 2008. Fortunately for Ordonez and his owners, Earth is a .317 average, 21 jacks and 103 RBI. That’s about what you should expect in 2009.

20. Alfonso Soriano, CHC

A broken hand limited Soriano to 453 at bats in 2008, but he still managed 29 homers and 75 RBI. He also stole exactly 19 bases for the second straight year. The big negative with him is a poor K-to-walk ratio (103 whiffs, 43 walks in 2008).

21. Raul Ibanez, PHI

Ibanez is one of the most underrated fantasy players you’ll find, averaging .291 with 26 jacks and 113 RBI over the past three years. Those numbers only stand to improve now that he’s playing for the World Champs in their Little League park.

22. Andre Ethier, LA +

Ethier took the starting job after Andruw Jones bombed and ran with it, finishing with a .305 average, 20 jacks and 77 RBI in 525 at bats. He turns 27 in April and lacks upside, but his numbers should improve since he’s starting from Opening Day.

23. Matt Kemp, LA

Kemp has a world of potential and could join the 30-30 club as soon as this year. He hit .290 with 18 homers, 76 RBI and 35 steals in his first full season, and, at 25, should only continue to improve. The K’s (153 in 2008) are his only real drawback.

24. B.J. Upton, TB +

Upton’s 2008 campaign (.273, 9 homers, 67 RBI, 44 steals) was a disappointment, but he flashed his immense potential by hitting .288 with 7 jacks, 16 RBI and 6 steals in the playoffs. He may not be ready for Opening Day after shoulder surgery.

25. Johnny Damon, NYY

Damon is 35 now and flies under the radar on the star-studded Yankees, but he’s still a very productive fantasy player. He hit .303 with 17 homers, 71 RBI, 29 steals and 91 runs scored in 2008, and all those totals are within reach again in 2009.

26. Jermaine Dye, CHW

Dye was great in 2006 (.315, 44 homers, 120 RBI), put up a clunker in 2007 (.254, 28 jacks, 78 RBI) and split the difference last year (.292, 34 home runs, 96 RBI). He’s 35 now, but has yet to show any signs of impending decline.

27. Ryan Ludwick, STL

Ludwick would be ranked higher if his breakout 2008 season (.299, 37 jacks, 113 RBI) hadn’t come completely out of left field. He did hit 28 homers in triple-A in 2006 and 22 between triple-A and the bigs in 2007. The K’s (146 in 2008) hurt.

28. Corey Hart, MIL

Hart enjoyed a breakout 2007 season but took a step backward last year. He hit four fewer homers (20) and saw his OBP fall from .353 in 2007 to just .300. He’s a 30-30 candidate, but his K-to-walk ratio (109 whiffs, 27 walks) is painful.

29. Adam Dunn, WAS

Dunn has hit 40 or more home runs in five straight seasons and topped the 100-RBI mark four times during that stretch. His low averages (.236 in 2008; .247 career) mask an impressive OBP (.381 career). He’s a lock for 160-plus K’s, though.

30. Vernon Wells, TOR +

Wells missed two months due to injury in 2008 but otherwise had a very nice season, hitting .300 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI. He rarely strikes out (46 in 427 at bats in 2008). A strained left hamstring could limit him early in the year.

31. Carl Crawford, TB

Crawford was in the midst of his least productive full season in 2008 (.273, 8 home runs, 25 steals) when right hand surgery effectively ended his regular season in August. His stock has dropped, but he’s only 27 and is a good bet to rebound.

32. Torii Hunter, LAA

Hunter was solid if unspectacular in his first year with the Angels, hitting .277 with 21 homers, 78 RBI and 19 stolen bases. He fought through some nagging injuries and could slightly improve upon those totals if he’s completely healthy.

33. Pat Burrell, TB

Burrell has been consistent, hitting around .250 with about 30 homers and 90 RBI in each of the past three years. He fans a lot (136 in 2008) but offsets it with walks (102). He’ll miss Philly’s bandbox but likely won’t see too much of a drop-off.

34. Brad Hawpe, COL +

The fact that Hawpe occasionally sits against lefties limited him to 488 at bats, but he hit .282 with 6 homers against them last season and .283 with 25 homers overall. The strikeouts hurt (134 in 2008) but he can flat-out hit and could be a steal.

35. Xavier Nady, NYY

Nady enjoyed his best season as a big leaguer last year, establishing new career highs in average (.305), home runs (25) and RBI (97). Expect a slight drop-off, and beware the poor K-to-walk ratio (103 strikeouts, just 39 walks in 2008).

36. Randy Winn, SF

Nobody targets Winn, but fantasy owners who end up with him always grow to appreciate him. His stats won’t wow you, but he’s consistent and contributes across the board. If he falls far enough in your draft, don’t hesitate to scoop him up.

37. David DeJesus, KC

DeJesus overcame hip and back injuries last season to post career highs in average (.307), homers (12) and RBI (72). His lack of both power and speed (11 steals) means few owners will target him, making him a potential late-round bargain.

38. Brian Giles, SD

Giles’ days 30-homer, 100 RBI days are long behind him, but even at 38, he can still help fantasy teams. He’s gotten on base at a .403 clip over the course of his career, helping him to contribute across the board. He rarely strikes out.

39. Hunter Pence, HOU

Pence fell victim to the sophomore slump in 2008. He hit eight more homers (25) and knocked in 14 more runs (83) than he did in 2007, but in 139 more at bats, and his average fell 53 points. His K-to-walk ratio (124 to 40) is also poor.

40. Delmon Young, MIN

The 2003 No. 1 overall pick has yet to come close to living up to the hype. He’s only 23 and hit for power in the minors, so the home runs should come eventually. His complete lack of plate discipline (105 K’s, 35 walks in 2008) is an issue.

41. Milton Bradley, CHC

Bradley had his finest season in 2008, hitting .321 with 22 jacks and 77 RBI. Unfortunately, that came in just 414 at bats. Injuries and attitude issues have always held him back in real life and in fantasy, and that probably won’t change in 2009.

42. Chris Young, ARI

Young almost went 30-30 as a rookie (32 jacks, 27 steals) but regressed in 2008, hitting 10 fewer homers and swiping 13 fewer bags. He’s got plenty of potential, but the average (.248 last year) and K’s (165) will be tough to stomach.

43. Jay Bruce, CIN

Bruce entered 2008 as the top position prospect in baseball. He debuted in May and though he cooled after a scorching start, he finished with 21 homers in 451 at bats. He has star potential and could start to realize it as soon as this year.

44. Shin-Soo Choo, CLE

Choo has bounced between triple-A and the bigs since 2005 but never quite managed to secure a major league starting gig. He should have one this year after he hit .359 with 10 jacks the last two months of 2008. He’s a nice sleeper pick.

45. Jose Guillen, KC +

Guillen has gone deep at least 20 times in five of the past six seasons and came up just short of 100 RBI in each of the past two. If you can deal with his poor K-to-walk ratio (106 to 23 in 2008), he’s a good mid- to late-round value.

46. Denard Span, MIN

Span was summoned to the majors after hitting .340 with 15 steals in triple-A and had a fine rookie season, hitting .294 with 6 homers and 18 stolen bases the rest of the way. The former first-rounder could be a great late-round value.

47. J.D. Drew, BOS

Drew caught fire in June, hitting .337 with 12 homers, and appeared on his way to a career year until a herniated disc kept him out most of the second half. Talented but inconsistent and injury-prone, he always manages to disappoint.

48. Coco Crisp, KC

Jacoby Ellsbury’s emergence pushed Crisp out of a job in Boston, but he landed on his feet in Kansas City and should return to fantasy relevance in 2009. A .280 average, 10 homers, 80 runs and 25 steals are reasonable expectations.

49. Hideki Matsui, NYY +

Left knee inflammation limited Matsui to 337 at bats last season, and he had surgery in the offseason. The knee issues are troubling, but Matsui is still just 34 years old and probably still has some gas left in the tank. He could be a bargain.

50. Lastings Milledge, WAS

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