Pujols leads way in fantasy rankings

Pujols leads way in fantasy rankings

Many fantasy fans prefer to stock their rosters full of players from their favorite team, as opposed to players who make a living playing for a feared rival. Wouldn't you rather go through the season checking Albert Pujols' stats every night, instead of a player from another National League Central team?

If competing for a title feels empty without having a bunch of Cardinals on your team, here are 10 guys to focus on come draft day:

1. Albert Pujols | 1B | $38
There's Albert Pujols ... and then there's everyone else. Before last season, there was a debate about who should be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy leagues: Pujols or Alex Rodriguez? The main difference? Those who drafted Pujols probably won their league. Despite missing time with a strained oblique, Pujols hit .331 while posting career highs in homers and RBIs and adding seven steals -- and his first World Series title. Could the best hitter in baseball be even better in 2007? After missing out on the NL MVP Award, Pujols will be extra motivated. If you have the first pick in your draft, there should be no debate.

2. Chris Carpenter | SP | $26
Simply put, the Cardinals ace is everything you want in a pitcher: Not only is he capable of delivering a heater in the mid-90s and a curveball that suddenly drops five feet while approaching home plate, he also possesses outstanding control that resulted in a miniscule 1.7 BB/9 IP in 2006. Yes, Carpenter has an injury history that can't be entirely overlooked, but he's erased most of the doubts about his durability by averaging a workmanlike 231 2/3 innings over the last two years, and he should once again be among the NL Cy Young favorites for 2007.

3. Scott Rolen | 3B | $18
After a left shoulder injury ruined his 2005 season, Rolen rebounded with solid numbers in 2006: a .296 average with 22 homers, 95 RBIs, 94 runs and seven steals. However, fatigue in the shoulder caused a brutal second-half fade that continued into the postseason, culminating in an ignominious one-game benching in the NL Championship Series. Rolen turns 32 this season, and his skills haven't deteriorated; in fact, his 48 doubles were only one short of his career high, and he struck out only once in every 8.6 plate appearances, a career best. With that in mind, and health permitting after a winter of rest, Rolen should produce a strong season in 2007.

4. Jason Isringhausen | RP | $15
It's unclear just how much longer Isringhausen can hold off World Series hero Adam Wainwright from the Cardinals' closer role. Isringhausen's health and stat trends are moving in the wrong direction, as he finished with a career-worst 10 blown saves and a ratio of 5.86 BB/9 IP in 2006. The veteran right-hander elected to undergo season-ending arthroscopic left hip surgery in September, and he isn't a lock to be ready by Opening Day. With his control dwindling and Wainwright surging, it's probably just a matter of time before Isringhausen cedes the fireman's job in St. Louis.

5. Adam Wainwright | RP | $13
Not only was Wainwright one of the top rookies of 2006, his performance as a reliever ranked among the best in the National League. Displaying excellent command of his devastating curveball, Wainwright boasted a 72/22 K/BB ratio and induced 1.5 grounders for every fly ball, a rare combination for a power pitcher. Of course, it wasn't until the postseason that the 25-year-old right-hander truly flourished, tossing 9 2/3 scoreless innings and converting all four save chances in the Cardinals' World Series championship run. The team plans to convert him back into a starter during Spring Training, but given the shaky health of current closer Jason Isringhausen, not to mention his diminishing command, Wainwright's return to fireman duty seems inevitable.

6. Chris Duncan | OF, 1B | $11
Duncan's power surge came out of left field last season -- literally. Following his solid, yet unspectacular performance at Triple-A Memphis, the 25-year-old rookie took full advantage of his callup, cranking out an amazing 22 long balls in 280 at-bats. It's very likely that Duncan was playing over his head, though, considering how his fly-ball rate dropped as the taters began to fly in the second half. About 25 homers over a full season seems like a reasonable estimate for Duncan, a natural first baseman who'll once again play out of position in left field.

7. Jim Edmonds | OF | $9
Edmonds' 2006 campaign was probably one he'd like to forget, as several nagging injuries and post-concussion syndrome limited the 36-year-old throughout the season. With regressing bat speed and a two-year dip across the board, Edmonds is clearly a player on the decline. Injuries remain the biggest risk, as those highlight-reel catches won't keep coming without a cost. Operating with more caution defensively would probably lead to a mild rebound year from the aging Edmonds, who still bats in a lineup that includes Albert Pujols.

8. Adam Kennedy | 2B | $6
Moving from the Angels to the Cardinals will give Kennedy a better lineup in which to hit, but it likely won't revive his fading bat. Despite being an everyday player since 2000, Kennedy has never reached 500 at-bats due to his immense struggles against left-handed pitching (.193 average in 2006). That's not likely to change in St. Louis, as Aaron Miles is a good bet to regularly spell Kennedy against southpaws. Still, with at least 12 stolen bases in each of his seven full big-league campaigns, Kennedy figures to be good for a handful of swipes in NL-only play as a 31-year-old in 2007.

9. David Eckstein | SS | $4
Nothing against World Series heroes, but Eckstein remains a last resort in mixed-league action. He's shown steadily diminishing speed on the basepaths over the years, most recently posting a career-low seven stolen bases in 2006, and is a liability in the power department. What the quick-wristed 32-year-old will give you is a solid batting average in the .290 range, and his potential for 90 runs scored atop the Cardinals lineup at least makes him a decent two-category contributor.

10. Anthony Reyes | SP | $4
There are plenty of things to like about Reyes, from his impressive stuff to the 2.57 ERA he posted over 13 Triple-A starts last year. What's not to like is the history of injury that has trailed him since his college days. It's easy to overlook health problems when they occur out of the public eye, but owners will probably want to take that -- along with Reyes' uneven performance in 2006 -- into consideration when it comes time to figuring out what to do with him on draft day. Reyes may eventually develop into a fantasy star, but it's too soon to give him anything more than mid- to late-round consideration in mixed formats.