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2011 Draft Prep: Rankings debate by position

by | Fantasy Writer
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Great minds think alike, right? Wrong!

My colleague Al Melchior and I can prove it. Sure, we have the same general concept of what makes a player good or bad, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty ranking of players, we can't help but have differences of opinion.

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So instead of hiding those differences, let's embrace them by unveiling our own personal rankings right here, side by side, for the whole world to see.

Think of it more as a friendly exercise than a competition. After all, disagreement can only be a good thing when dealing with uncertainties. It fosters discussion that leads to better, more-developed ideas. It raises awareness on players some people might have never considered. Plus, it just makes the game more fun.

We'll each state our cases, and all you have to do is sit back and absorb them, taking a little bit from here, a little bit from there and maybe even a little bit from yourself to come up with your ideal set of rankings. By the end of it all, you'll wonder whether or not thinking alike is all it's cracked up to be.

Or maybe just whether or not we have great minds.

Catchers
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Joe Mauer, Twins 1. Joe Mauer, Twins
2. Victor Martinez, Tigers 2. Victor Martinez, Tigers
3. Buster Posey, Giants 3. Buster Posey, Giants
4. Brian McCann, Braves 4. Brian McCann, Braves
5. Carlos Santana, Indians 5. Carlos Santana, Indians
6. Geovany Soto, Cubs 6. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics
7. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics 7. Geovany Soto, Cubs
8. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks 8. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
9. Mike Napoli, Rangers 9. Mike Napoli, Rangers
10. Matt Wieters, Orioles 10. Matt Wieters, Orioles
11. Jorge Posada, Yankees 11. Jorge Posada, Yankees
12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals 12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
13. Russell Martin, Yankees 13. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox 14. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
15. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays 15. Russell Martin, Yankees
Scott White No disagreements in the top five here. Any of Mauer, Martinez, Posey, McCann or Santana could conceivably finish No. 1 at the position, and neither of us wants to miss out on that kind of potential.

The difference is I include Soto with that group and Al doesn't, preferring to rank the ultra-safe but less-than-explosive Suzuki ahead of him. Soto led all catchers with an .890 OPS last year but got only 322 at-bats. No reason to think he can't take a big step forward now that he has a manager who trusts him to play full time.

The next four catchers are the same for us both, which is notable if for no other reason than because Al and I both go against the default rankings to list Napoli ahead of Wieters. Apparently, a sure 20 homers mean more to us than the possibility of a breakout.

Al includes Pierzynski and Ruiz in the bottom third of his top 15, and both obviously have their place in Fantasy. But at a position with so few standout Fantasy options, I'd rather bank on the unknown than settle for mediocrity. Best-case scenario, Saltlamacchia and Arencibia each hit 20-plus homers for me. Worst- case scenario, I'm grabbing a Pierzynski or Ruiz-type player off the waiver wire.
Al Melchior Given how little separates the expected production of one midrange catcher from another, it's pretty astounding that Scott and I barely differ on our rankings here, from top pick Mauer down to Yadier Molina at number 12. We both have Martin near the bottom of our top 15, but I opted for the steady veteran presence of Pierzynski and Ruiz near the bottom of my list, while Scott is more enticed by the upside of Salty and Arencibia. There is no question that both should offer much more power than either of the two veterans, but both will have to split time with veteran backups (Jason Varitek and Jose Molina, respectively). Not only will Pierzynski's and Ruiz's experience keep them in the lineup, but so will their sharp contact skills, as neither should get bogged down with a sub-.260 average like their younger counterparts.
First Basemen
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. Joey Votto, Reds 3. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
4. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 4. Joey Votto, Reds
5. Prince Fielder, Brewers 5. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
6. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox 6. Prince Fielder, Brewers
7. Buster Posey, Giants 7. Ryan Howard, Phillies
8. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox 8. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
9. Ryan Howard, Phillies 9. Buster Posey, Giants
10. Justin Morneau, Twins 10. Justin Morneau, Twins
11. Adam Dunn, White Sox 11. Adam Dunn, White Sox
12. Billy Butler, Royals 12. Kendry Morales, Angels
13. Kendry Morales, Angels 13. Billy Butler, Royals
14. Paul Konerko, White Sox 14. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
15. Aubrey Huff, Giants 15. Paul Konerko, White Sox
Scott White I'll admit I still view Teixeira as a borderline first-rounder, but I don't understand why anyone would rank him ahead of Votto. Track record, I guess, but it's not like Votto wasn't performing at a first-round level in 2009. He just had some off-the-field issues that kept him off the diamond. To me, Votto is closer to Pujols than Teixeira is to Votto. The percentages speak for themselves.

Al is clearly of the mindset Gonzalez will take a big step forward now that he's out of PETCO Park, and I don't disagree. But I'd feel a lot better if Gonzalez wasn't coming off shoulder surgery, however minor it may be. A couple bombs the final week of spring training could change my mind, but for now, I prefer Fielder.

Versatility isn't the only reason I rank Posey and Youkilis ahead of Howard. The bulky slugger declined across the board last year and, given his size, could have trouble staying healthy in his 30s. Health -- or lack thereof -- caused both Al and I to downgrade Morales, though I went a step further and placed him behind Butler, whose plate discipline should help close the gap in power.

First base gives us our first glimpse at Al's curious fascination with Cuddyer. I realize the Twins slugger hit over 30 homers two years ago, but Huff has been similarly hit-or-miss over his career and was clearly better last year. Plus, he's having a killer spring.
Al Melchior Scott and I mostly agree at this position as well, though I see Teixeira as the best option after Pujols and Cabrera, whereas he prefers Votto. It's a close call between the two, but Teixeira's history suggests that he won't pop out on 12 percent of his balls in play again this year, so he's due for a big rebound in batting average and on-base percentage. Votto is strong in those categories as well, but it wouldn't surprise me to see his power go down a notch after last year's explosion.

I'm also more optimistic about Howard's chances for a comeback. Take away a sluggish May in which he produced only five extra-base hits, and his down 2010 season doesn't look quite so down. While his power numbers should turn back upward, his strikeout rate could continue its steady three- year trend of shrinking.

Cuddyer is another promising rebound candidate, one that belongs in the top 15. While his power numbers have been all over the place throughout his career, last season's slump was notable, even by Cuddyer's standards. For the first time since he became a full-time player, half of his of balls in play were grounders, and when he did get under one, he knocked them out of the park at a much lower rate than usual. Cuddyer may get off to a slow start as he continues to recover from the wart removal procedure on his foot, but he has been a better power hitter and run producer than what he showed last year.
Second Basemen
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Robinson Cano, Yankees 1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
3. Ian Kinsler, Rangers 3. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
4. Dan Uggla, Braves 4. Dan Uggla, Braves
5. Chase Utley, Phillies 5. Martin Prado, Braves
6. Rickie Weeks, Brewers 6. Chase Utley, Phillies
7. Brandon Phillips, Reds 7. Brandon Phillips, Reds
8. Martin Prado, Braves 8. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
9. Ben Zobrist, Rays 9. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
10. Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks 10. Ben Zobrist, Rays
11. Gordon Beckham, White Sox 11. Gordon Beckham, White Sox
12. Brian Roberts, Orioles 12. Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks
13. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays 13. Brian Roberts, Orioles
14. Chone Figgins, Mariners 14. Neil Walker, Pirates
15. Neil Walker, Pirates 15. Chone Figgins, Mariners
Scott White The injury to Utley helped clarify the elite trio at second base, and even Uggla seems to be a lock at No. 4. But after that, the picture gets kind of fuzzy. Way fuzzy, actually. It's not so much the names that create confusion -- Utley, Weeks, Phillips and Prado are clearly the next-best four -- but the order is enough of a head-scratcher that I'm not so sure I wouldn't take Al's over mine.

It depends on your particular format. I prefer to gamble on the elite potential of Utley more than Al does, but mostly in shallower leagues, where fallback options are plentiful. I've more than once taken Prado first of that foursome out of need for a third baseman. In an ideal world, he'd rank behind both Weeks and Phillips. He just doesn't offer the power or speed potential of either.

The discrepancies become a little easier to define at the back end of the top 15. Al has a preference for Hill, who strikes me as a player who performed over his head in 2009 and will have to lay off the homers to get his batting average back where it belongs, and I clearly prefer Johnson, who I consider the safest bet for homers other than Uggla. I'll also take Figgins and his eventual eligibility at third base over the unproven Walker. Not like a 33-year-old is incapable of a rebound.
Al Melchior 40 doubles. That stat from 2010 should impress anyone thinking about drafting Prado as their second baseman. Scott has Prado ranked just ahead of Zobrist, and while both should bang out around 15 homers this year, Prado is a much better doubles hitter and a better hitter for average in general. Prado should also rank ahead of Phillips, who after failing on 12 of 28 steal attempts last year can no longer be considered as a legitimate speed/power threat. Even with an optimistic projection, Weeks' productivity won't match Prado's either, so with health-risk Utley free-falling in drafts, only Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler and Uggla should come off the board before Prado.

I was surprised to see that I'm more bullish on Hill than Scott is. In thinking that Hill will not come anywhere near his career batting average of .270, I thought I was one of the bigger pessimists regarding Hill, but I have him ranked four spots higher than Scott does. His astronomical flyball rate -- and the .205 batting average that resulted from it -- are partly a product of a team philosophy of swinging for the fences, but a hamstring injury also left him, well, hamstrung. Even a partial rebound should place him higher in the rankings among a weak second base pool than the mid-teens.
Shortstops
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins 1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies 2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
3. Jose Reyes, Mets 3. Jose Reyes, Mets
4. Derek Jeter, Yankees 4. Derek Jeter, Yankees
5. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies 5. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
6. Elvis Andrus, Rangers 6. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
7. Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks 7. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers
8. Rafael Furcal, Dodgers 8. Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks
9. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox 9. Marco Scutaro, Red Sox
10. Starlin Castro, Cubs 10. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
11. Ian Desmond, Nationals 11. Miguel Tejada, Giants
12. Jed Lowrie, Red Sox 12. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
13. Cliff Pennington, Athletics 13. Ian Desmond, Nationals
14. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays 14. Starlin Castro, Cubs
15. Juan Uribe, Dodgers 15. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
Scott White Can't really argue with Ramirez and Tulowitzki at the top, and even Reyes is too obvious at No. 3 to spark any debate. Al and I both go against the mainstream by ranking Jeter ahead of Rollins, but that's more of a safety precaution than an endorsement of Jeter.

The position doesn't get interesting until after those familiar five go off the board, when Fantasy owners begin scrambling for someone, anyone, with any measure of upside.

Al's preference for Furcal is understandable considering the 33- year-old averaged more Fantasy points per game at the position last year than anyone other than Tulowitzki or Ramirez, but Furcal is an inconsistent performer in the same injury-prone category as Rollins. I'd rather draft Drew, who's already more productive than most shortstops and still has a chance to improve at age 28.

Most of our disagreements are similar matters of preference. I buy into Castro's big spring more than Al does. Al believes more in an Escobar rebound than I do. Stuff like that. More revealing are our different choices to round out the top 15, which show our different approaches to the position in the later rounds.

If Al misses out on the few players with high-end potential at the position, he's shooting for vanilla types like Scutaro and Tejada -- something safe. I'm still looking for some way to set my team apart, either by gambling on Lowrie getting consistent at-bats or rolling with a one-category threat like Pennington or Uribe.
Al Melchior Scott and I are in near-total agreement on how the upper ranks play out, but in sorting out among the hordes of midrange options, we have little in common. Scott has let it be known in columns, podcasts, videos and even in graffiti on city buses that he is very high on Lowrie. I have excluded Lowrie from my top 15, but have the player he has yet to replace, Scutaro, ranked ninth. There is no dispute that Scutaro doesn't have Lowrie's power, but he still has decent power for a shortstop, and he is a better contact hitter. If Lowrie wrests the job from Scutaro, I don't see him giving it back, but the Red Sox's incumbent shortstop can hit well enough to keep the job in the first place, especially if the team needs the versatile Lowrie to fill in at other positions.

The difference between our end-of-list choices like Cabrera, Pennington and Uribe are not great enough to make a strong case for one over any of the other of them. I do think Tejada, who I have ranked 11th, deserves to at least crack the top 15. His 15 homers tied for seventh among shortstops last year, and his batting average is bound to bounce back from a disappointing .269.
Third Basemen
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Evan Longoria, Rays 1. Evan Longoria, Rays
2. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 2. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays 3. David Wright, Mets
4. David Wright, Mets 4. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
5. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees 5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
6. Adrian Beltre, Rangers 6. Martin Prado, Braves
7. Martin Prado, Braves 7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
8. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs 8. Michael Young, Rangers
9. Pablo Sandoval, Giants 9. Casey McGehee, Brewers
10. Mark Reynolds, Orioles 10. Mark Reynolds, Orioles
11. Casey McGehee, Brewers 11. Pablo Sandoval, Giants
12. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates 12. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
13. Michael Young, Rangers 13. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
14. Chris Johnson, Astros 14. Miguel Tejada, Giants
15. Chipper Jones, Braves 15. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
Scott White Funny we both rank Zimmerman second even though I'm more fearful of Wright's rising strikeout rate and declining batting average than Al is. I'm even willing to rank Bautista ahead of Wright. I realize Bautista has had only one good season, but his power breakthrough actually began late in 2009 and directly coincided with an adjustment to his swing. Besides, he looks as good as ever this spring.

Of course, if I'm going to cite spring statistics, I have to bump A-Rod up a notch or two, right? You'd think, but I just can't get over how old he is and how much time he's missed over the last three seasons. I need safety in the early rounds, and he's not it.

Al again shows his taste for Prado here, which is fine, but I think Beltre's new hitting environment should help him continue his numbers from last year. I recognize the safety Young and McGehee offer in the middle rounds, but if I miss out on the elite options early, I'd prefer players with the potential to make up for it, such as Ramirez, Sandoval and Reynolds.

Tejada? Encarnacion? You can have your waiver fodder, Al. Johnson hasn't stopped hitting since last spring, so I have no reason to think he will now, and given the way Chipper Jones has rebounded from knee surgery, you have to think he's going to put up starter-caliber numbers when healthy enough to play.
Al Melchior If Bautista hits even 40 home runs, an argument can be made for ranking him right behind Longoria and Zimmerman. Compared to his 54 bombs from last year, that sounds like no big feat, but it's hardly a given that Bautista will eclipse the 40-homer threshold. I'd rather go for the proven track record of one of the Big Apple third basemen, even in spite of Wright's escalating strikeouts and Rodriguez's various health woes.

The Rangers may not be eager to hang onto Young, but the reports of his demise are very premature. He is just one season removed from a .322 batting average (and the 24 percent line drive rate that supported it) and he has put up back-to-back years of above-average home run per flyball rates. He hasn't been passed up by McGehee and Alvarez -- not yet, anyway.

If we were ranking players on the basis of their per-game productivity, I would certainly list Ramirez higher, as Scott has. However, Ramirez's 118 missed games over the last two years makes me look to draft almost anybody else in the middle rounds of mixed league drafts.
Outfielders
Scott White's Top 30 Al Melchior's Top 30
1. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies 1. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
2. Carl Crawford, Red Sox 2. Ryan Braun, Brewers
3. Ryan Braun, Brewers 3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
4. Josh Hamilton, Rangers 4. Carl Crawford, Red Sox
5. Matt Holliday, Cardinals 5. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
6. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays 6. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
7. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians 7. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
8. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates 8. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
9. Shane Victorino, Phillies 9. Jason Heyward, Braves
10. Jayson Werth, Nationals 10. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
11. Jason Heyward, Braves 11. Shane Victorino, Phillies
12. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks 12. Chris Young, Diamondbacks
13. Andre Ethier, Dodgers 13. Nick Markakis, Orioles
14. Nelson Cruz, Rangers 14. Jayson Werth, Nationals
15. Matt Kemp, Dodgers 15. Brett Gardner, Yankees
16. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners 16. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
17. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox 17. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
18. Alex Rios, White Sox 18. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
19. Chris Young, Diamondbacks 19. Alex Rios, White Sox
20. Hunter Pence, Astros 20. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
21. Ben Zobrist, Rays 21. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
22. B.J. Upton, Rays 22. Corey Hart, Brewers
23. Jay Bruce, Reds 23. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
24. Nick Markakis, Orioles 24. B.J. Upton, Rays
25. Brett Gardner, Yankees 25. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
26. Corey Hart, Brewers 26. Ben Zobrist, Rays
27. Drew Stubbs, Reds 27. Vernon Wells, Angels
28. Nick Swisher, Yankees 28. Hunter Pence, Astros
29. Mike Stanton, Marlins 29. Nick Swisher, Yankees
30. Aubrey Huff, Giants 30. Drew Stubbs, Reds
Scott White Al and I disagree on the exact order of the top four outfielders, but I'll admit my preference varies slightly depending on the format. The one certainty is Hamilton would rank fourth for me. He's the one most likely to get hurt, which is about the only way you could go wrong with this group.

On two lists of 30, you'll find more subtle differences than we could possibly discuss, but a few names stand out more than most. Al sees Ethier as nearly an elite option when his numbers so far have fallen short. He's a pretty good player and all, but five-category threats McCutchen and Victorino have a better chance of performing at an early-round level, as do high-upside types like Heyward and Justin Upton. Markakis is kind of in the same category. He's steady and productive, but he lacks the ceiling of a borderline No. 1. Al and I both like Gardner, but Al is already willing to rank him ahead of Ellsbury -- and by a healthy margin. To me, that's more of a leap than necessary considering where you could draft the two.

I have some confidence in Werth repeating his high-end numbers outside of Philadelphia. Al not as much. Al sees Chris Young as a No. 1 outfielder again. I'm just as inclined to wait for Stubbs. I continue to overlook Granderson, considering he's not a reliable enough source of steals to justify the low batting average. Al ranks him between known power-speed threats Justin Upton and Rios. Al continues to favor Cuddyer over higher upside types like Bruce. I ...

Wait a second ... Jay Bruce? Come on, man. He has 40 homers written all over him.
Al Melchior Scott likes Gonzalez and Crawford up at the top; I prefer Hamilton and Braun. Actually, I think any of the four is a defensible choice for first outfielder off the board, but if I'm taking an outfielder in the first round, I'll go for Hamilton or Braun every time. CarGo is almost a lock to regress. It's very unusual for an impatient hitter to be a top-notch line drive hitter, but Gonzalez (3.57 pitches per plate appearance) somehow managed to lead the majors in line drive rate in 2010. Crawford is coming off a career year, and he is more likely to plateau rather than take a step forward. Meanwhile, both Hamilton and Braun have a chance to improve if the former can stay in the lineup more often and the latter can reverse his trend of increased ground ball hitting. Hamilton and Braun won't necessarily finish the year as the two most productive Fantasy outfielders, but among a crowded top tier, they have the greatest upside.

Our biggest differences come just beneath the top 10. Frustrated by the scarcity of players who can provide power and steals, I made sure Chris Young ranked ahead of less powerful hitters like Ichiro and Ellsbury. I'm also a lot higher on Markakis despite his disappointing power trends. Rotisserie owners have to like the consistency with which he churns out high batting averages, while Head-to-Head owners can enjoy the steady doubles production. Gardner is deserving of a high ranking as well; even with cautious projections, he would rank among the top 20 outfielders in projected Fantasy points.
Starting Pitchers
Scott White's Top 30 Al Melchior's Top 30
1. Roy Halladay, Phillies 1. Roy Halladay, Phillies
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners 2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants 3. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. CC Sabathia, Yankees 4. Cliff Lee, Phillies
5. Justin Verlander, Tigers 5. Josh Johnson, Marlins
6. Cliff Lee, Phillies 6. Jon Lester, Red Sox
7. Jon Lester, Red Sox 7. CC Sabathia, Yankees
8. Josh Johnson, Marlins 8. Dan Haren, Angels
9. Jered Weaver, Angels 9. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies 10. Cole Hamels, Phillies
11. David Price, Rays 11. Justin Verlander, Tigers
12. Cole Hamels, Phillies 12. Matt Cain, Giants
13. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 13. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
14. Dan Haren, Angels 14. Francisco Liriano, Twins
15. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals 15. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
16. Tommy Hanson, Braves 16. Jered Weaver, Angels
17. Francisco Liriano, Twins 17. Tommy Hanson, Braves
18. Roy Oswalt, Phillies 18. Mat Latos, Padres
19. Mat Latos, Padres 19. David Price, Rays
20. Matt Cain, Giants 20. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
21. Zack Greinke, Brewers 21. Roy Oswalt, Phillies
22. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox 22. Colby Lewis, Rangers
23. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers 23. John Danks, White Sox
24. Max Scherzer, Tigers 24. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
25. Josh Beckett, Red Sox 25. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
26. Colby Lewis, Rangers 26. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
27. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks 27. Max Scherzer, Tigers
28. Brett Anderson, Athletics 28. Shaun Marcum, Brewers
29. Brett Myers, Astros 29. Brett Myers, Astros
30. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros 30. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks
Scott White The dispute here begins with Sabathia. I can understand Al's preference for strikeout-per-inning guys like Johnson and Lester, but Lee doesn't have any clear advantage over the Yankee ace. He gets hurt more, has a lesser lineup backing him, and doesn't have nearly the same track record. I don't get it.

I also don't get the relative disregard for Verlander, but at least Al isn't alone there. Verlander is, on average, the 10th pitcher selected in Fantasy even though he's coming off a better year than five of the nine pitchers drafted ahead of him. He's as underrated as aces get. Weaver kind of fits into the same category. His steady improvement culminated in a strikeout title and top-five Cy Young finish last year, and what does that make him? Worse than second-tier pitcher Cain, apparently.

Al approaches Haren as if his rocky first half last year didn't even happen, and I would too in some years, but not with all the depth available at starting pitcher now. I'll admit I'm a little skeptical of Liriano as well. I recognize his upside and appreciate the strides he made last year, but he's just a little too all-over-the- place for me to trust him over clear up-and-comers Kershaw and Hanson.

Yeah, Buchholz won't post a 2.33 ERA again, but considering his pedigree, I'm willing to bet his breakthrough last year was more legitimate than not. Al doesn't even want him in the top 30. Same goes for Greinke, which is understandable given his injury situation, but it's not like he'll miss half the season. Perhaps you could argue pitchers like Danks and Marcum, who I didn't even include in my top 30, are safer, but I feel like they've plateaued statistically.

But hey, at least we agree on Myers.
Al Melchior Scott has two pitchers in his top 10 -- Verlander and Weaver -- who were not among my top 10. In the case of Verlander, there is not as much disagreement as it might appear. Verlander is just outside my top 10 at number 11, and there is not much to distinguish any of the pitchers between Sabathia (ranked seventh) and the Tigers' ace. However, in the case of Weaver, I am much more skeptical that he can rank among the very best pitchers. It's true that he led the American League in strikeouts as well as boasting the circuit's lowest line drive rate last year. Even assuming he can repeat those honors (which I am not at all sure he will), he is still unlikely to maintain his near-3.00 ERA unless he can replicate his high strand rate (76 percent) from a year ago. At this point, that high rate looks like an outlier, so expect Weaver to give up more runs in 2011.

I am even more skeptical of Price (80 percent strand rate) matching his 2010 production, even though I think he could improve his strikeout and walk rates.

As squeamish as I am about taking Weaver and Price too early, I have no problems with taking either Haren or Cain as my Fantasy staff ace. Aside from his slow start last season, Haren has been as good and as consistent over the long term as anyone not named Halladay or Sabathia. Cain gets underrated because of his middling strikeout rates, but his control has steadily improved, and few pitchers have been better at avoiding hard contact, as Cain has posted low line drive and high popup rates.
Relief Pitchers
Scott White's Top 15 Al Melchior's Top 15
1. Brian Wilson, Giants 1. Heath Bell, Padres
2. Heath Bell, Padres 2. Brian Wilson, Giants
3. Joakim Soria, Royals 3. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
4. Neftali Feliz, Rangers 4. Carlos Marmol, Cubs
5. Mariano Rivera, Yankees 5. Joakim Soria, Royals
6. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox 6. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
7. Carlos Marmol, Cubs 7. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks
8. Matt Thornton, White Sox 8. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
9. John Axford, Brewers 9. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
10. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays 10. Brad Lidge, Phillies
11. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets 11. Huston Street, Rockies
12. Jose Valverde, Tigers 12. John Axford, Brewers
13. Chris Perez, Indians 13. Matt Thornton, White Sox
14. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks 14. Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers
15. Joe Nathan, Twins 15. Chris Perez, Indians
Scott White Al doesn't like Soria as much as I do, presumably because he pitches for such a bad team. But every year, people avoid him for that same reason, and every year, he puts up elite numbers. By now, I'm willing to trust in the stuff and rank him ahead of Feliz, who still doesn't have a role, and Marmol, who still struggles with walks.

But the conflict doesn't really begin until the bottom half of the list, where Al and I hardly agree on the same players, much less the order. K-Rod, Valverde and Nathan all make the cut in my rankings, replaced by Lidge, Street and Broxton in Al's. Granted, all six have question marks, but K-Rod's and Nathan's are the result of isolated, one-time incidents. Lidge and Street are perpetual injury risks. Meanwhile, Broxton seems more likely to repeat his midseason collapse than Valverde does. That guy is too big for his own good.

One clear source of contention is Putz, who has obvious sleeper appeal in his return to closing but has been away from the role too long for me trust him over 2010 breakouts Axford and Perez, not to mention perennial All-Star Papelbon. Perhaps Al is playing favorites here, but you could argue I'm doing the same with Thornton.

Of course, the White Sox had the same choice last year. They went with Thornton. I'm just sayin'.
Al Melchior A few days ago, I would have agreed with Scott and ranked Wilson as the top closer. He and Bell clearly belong at the top, and it's so hard to distinguish between them, that I'm tempted to rank them as 1a and 1b. However, Wilson's strained ribcage muscle is enough of a tiebreaker for me, even if he does turn out to be ready for opening day.

He may fall far in some drafts, but at the very least, Putz deserves to be among the top 10 Fantasy relievers. He proved in his time with the Mariners that he could handle the closer's role, and last season with the White Sox, Putz showed that his skills were fully intact once he was recovered from his 2009 elbow surgery.

Lidge and Street are injury risks to be sure, but both showed last season that they are still effective when they are healthy enough to pitch. Because both are decent bets to miss at least some part of the season, neither belongs among the top closers, but they have strong enough skill sets that they could be among the best if only they were more reliable. The same could be said about Rodriguez, but given the Mets' incentive to use him sparingly (lest his $17.5 million contract option for 2012 kick in if he finishes 55 games for them), I would prefer to draft a safer option like Perez.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Rankings in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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