- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

The world of fantasy sports has ballooned to nearly 30million participants, and players will spend this month tuning up for one of the originals: Fantasy Baseball.
The Washington Times will publish two columns to help you prepare for your draft. This week we'll focus on different types of hitters to keep in mind, and in two weeks we'll look at pitchers.
Most experts expect the Yankees' newest import, Hideki Matsui, to have the biggest first-year impact.
Baseball America ranked the Japanese slugger as the eighth-best prospect in baseball, and he's off to a fast start in spring training; Matsui has struck out only once while socking two home runs with seven RBI. His biggest struggle could be finding playing time in the Yankees' perennially crowded outfield, though he's slated to start in left field.
Cleveland allowed Jim Thome to walk via free agency and will entrust Travis Hafner with first base. His numbers in the minor leagues are spectacular: a .342 average with 21 home runs last season in Class AAA. And he's topped 20 homers in each of the last four seasons. Like Matsui, Hafner is off to a hot spring start with two homers and a .438 average.
Grab Vladimir Guerrero. The Expos star should be the first outfielder selected and the second position player (behind, of course, Texas' Alex Rodriguez) in any draft. His numbers are hard to beat, especially when you consider that 40-40-type outfielders are generally becoming straight sluggers (whither Andruw Jones and Barry Bonds?). Guerrero batted .336 with 39 home runs, 40 stolen bases, 106 runs and 111 RBI a true five-category player. Keep in mind that Guerrero will miss the first four games of the regular season serving a suspension for his role in a spring training beanball brawl but he's still the top fantasy outfielder.
If you can't get Guerrero, try to snag the White Sox's Magglio Ordonez or the Royals' Carlos Beltran, the two players who come closest to that across-the-board production.
Beltran fell one home run short of a 30-30 season in 2002 while batting .273 and driving in more than 100 runs. Ordonez will bat in the middle of one of the American League's best lineups. He knocked in 135 runs last year to go with 38 homers, but his stolen bases dropped from 25 in 2001 to seven; if he improves that number, he'll make a solid first-round pick.
Changing leagues
Jim Thome is the top name learning a new set of pitchers and parks. After a career with the Cleveland Indians, he's expected to anchor the offense for the potentially upstart Phillies in the National League East. But even if he starts slowly, he's worthy of a high pick; just don't take him before Todd Helton or Jeff Bagwell. Another thing to remember: Thome had his career year in the final year of his contract rarely a coincidence.
Other prominent players switching leagues, also from the American to the National: catcher Ivan Rodriguez (from Texas to Florida) and second baseman Ray Durham (from Oakland to San Francisco).
Durham likely will spend some time in the outfield with the Giants. Pudge, meanwhile, must learn a new pitching staff in addition to battling his biggest problem over the past few seasons: the injury bug.
Don't forget
Major League Baseball gets an early start this year, with Seattle and Oakland playing a pair in Japan on March25 and 26. After that, the next regular-season game is Sunday, March30, when Texas and Anaheim meet, with everyone else starting the following day.
Most fantasy leagues will count those three early games, though, so adjust your lineups accordingly especially if you're in a head-to-head league. And if you're drafting after those games, you can get an early read on position battles such as what's going on at catcher for the Mariners or designated hitter for the Angels.

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