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At long last, the end to this year's extended spring training is in close range, just days away. It's time to take one last prognosticative glance around the fantasy baseball diamond. In this final preseason edition of High Fives, our experts, Andy Behrens, Brad Evans and Scott Pianowski, reveal their favorite post-hype sleepers, the players that are currently over-hyped, the cream of the '09 rookie crop and the roto properties they've doubled-down on.
|Top five post-hype sleepers (hitters) – This year's Ryan Ludwick
- Jeremy Hermida – The price has finally come down, and his spring (four homers, .600 slugging) has me interested
- Jeff Francoeur – He's finally showing a willingness to change his approach at the plate, something he stubbornly refused to do even in the middle of the '08 train wreck. Just 25, he's a multi-talented, high-ceiling player
- Kendry Morales – All he ever did in the minors was hit, but he was always blocked. Now he has a spot, and don't be surprised if he equals Casey Kotchman
- Asdrubal Cabrera – He was a different player after last year's mid-summer demotion, and there's sneaky power and speed to go with his line-drive bat
- Alexi Casilla – He's got a realistic shot at a .290 season with 30 steals, and you won't have to pay much anywhere to land him
- Nelson Cruz – He's been hyped and dismissed twice already, but this time he should stick. Don't count on last year's average (.330), but the power is real. Cruz has double-digit SB potential, too
- Howie Kendrick – You're all wrong, Kendrick bashers. All of you. Don't hate. This guy's a hitter
- Alex Gordon – Look, we know he let you down in '07. He let a lot of us down. But he's still just 25 and he finished strong last year (.888 second half OPS).
- Brandon Wood – Everyone's post-hype list should be full of Angels. Wood has had a terrific spring (1.084 OPS, 4 HR, 2 SB) and he just turned 24. Eventually, a full-time role will find him
- Adam Lind – The oft-hyped Lind finally became an OF worth starting in the second half of '08, and there won't be any shortage of at-bats in '09.
- Nelson Cruz – Slated to bat cleanup behind Josh Hamilton in arguably the league's best lineup – it's make, not break, time for the former Brewers top prospect
- Billy Butler – Chub of Club has driven the rawhide with authority this spring, totaling five doubles and three homers in 55 at-bats
- Ian Stewart – Clint Barmes' marginal spring has opened door for Stewart to become the second coming of Dan Uggla – totaled 29 bombs between two levels last season
- Alex Gordon – Annual 20/20 returns have yet to materialize but he's still only 25; .280-20-80-85-15 season is imminent
- Jeremy Hermida – Almost Drew-esque in terms of initial hype/injury setbacks, but .340-4-12 spring shows promise; .275-25-85 season reachable
|Top five post-hype sleepers (pitchers) – This year's Cliff Lee/Gavin Floyd
- Ian Snell – New pitching coach, fresh start, less pressure (Paul Maholm – go get him – is the team's ace now). Not that many pitchers offer a legitimate 200-strikeout upside, but Snell does
- Fausto Carmona – At times he suffers from Darren Dreifort Disease – too much stuff, not enough command – but some early success and confidence could go a long way
- Clay Buchholz – Just one run allowed over his first 19.2 spring innings, with 15 strikeouts. Okay, so Tampa Bay hit him this week, so what; go re-read what everyone said about Buchholz a year ago
- Phil Hughes – He'll start in the minors but don't be surprised if he's firmly in the rotation by July
- Nick Adenhart – Ready to handle a rotation spot and he's needed on this nicked-up staff. He's been on the radar for a while but still is just 23
- Clay Buchholz – We ranked him alongside Joba for a reason last year: Because we're idio… Um, wait, no. Because his ceiling is extremely high. He's had an outstanding spring
- Ian Snell – Fits the Cliff Lee model – great year ('07) followed by a miserable year ('08). His K-rate remains high and he hasn't lost velocity. Needs his luck to turn around on BABIP (.358 '08)
- Jonathan Sanchez – Finished with poor ratios in '08, but two rough outings at the end of September tacked half a run onto his ERA. There are lots of Ks here
- Anthony Reyes – He's already been through the hype machine, and labeled a disappointment. But he won a spot in Cleveland's rotation after a strong showing in '08 and this spring (0.75 ERA)
- Edwin Jackson – Another case where it feels like the guy has been around forever, yet he's still just 25. He still has the raw tools to be great; his average fastball in '08 was 93.9 mph
- Kevin Slowey – Control freak's jedi-like tendencies have stat nerds panting heavily; spring numbers: 14.1 IP, 3 ER, 8 HA, 15:1 K:BB
- Josh Johnson – Potential flashed pre-Tommy John was rekindled late last year – 7 W, 3.61 ERA, 77 K in 87.1 IP; expect significant step forward
- Clayton Kershaw – Wicked bender captivated owners' attention last spring, but rocky regular season effort has made the 21-year-old strangely undesirable to some; 20:4 K:BB in 20.2 spring IP
- Mike Pelfrey – Number of grounders induced by the towering righty has Citibank ground vermin fearful; 15-plus wins, mid-3s ERA potentially on the horizon
- Ian Snell – Mechanically flawed last year, he's tweaked his delivery this spring; 11 Ks in 12.1 IP encouraging sign
|Top five most overrated players based on '09 ADP values
- Joe Mauer – Modest power and speed, injury cloud, but the stat-heads worship him. None for me, thanks
- Magglio Ordonez – Forever a professional hitter but I worry about his age, health, declining power
- Michael Young – OPS has taken healthy drop for three straight years, but sticker price hasn't adjusted
- Scott Kazmir – Hard to win a lot of games when you pile up the pitches and routinely leave in the middle of the sixth inning. Nasty stuff, but command eludes him
- Carlos Marmol – Hey, I love him too, but a non-closing reliever should never be a big-ticket item
- Russell Martin – There won't be a catcher in any team's opening day lineup (please note the Matt Wieters loophole) who's capable of delivering stats that justify a fourth-round pick
- Jonathan Papelbon – Honestly, this list should be all catchers and closers … Papelbon is great, but not at pick No. 42 – and that's where he's going in Yahoo! leagues. You're paying for 65 innings of low ratios; you can get saves much later in a draft
- Cole Hamels – He might turn in another great year despite the elbow issues this spring … but I wouldn't bet a third-round pick on it
- Justin Morneau – There's no doubt that Morneau is useful, but his power ceiling doesn't justify his ADP (31.2).
- Chone Figgins – You have to view the 31-year-old Figgins as a one-category player at this point. The steals give him value, but he'll be a significant liability in the power categories.
- Johan Santana – Shrinking K/9, rising BB/9 and battling elbow tendonitis this spring; too much risk for the supposed No. 1 pitcher in Y! leagues
- Jimmy Rollins – Shortstop is a fairly shallow position this year, but J-Roll's return to 25-30 homers highly unlikely; the difference between him and Rafael Furcal could be negligible
- Robinson Cano – Captain Marginal's price tag once again inflated like property overlooking Central Park; Felipe Lopez, Jose Lopez and Mike Fontenot are cheaper and possibly more productive alternatives
- B.J. Upton – Limitless upside has ADP toeing the top 20, but dinged shoulder is a reminder of fragility; enhanced risk in Round 2
- Joe Mauer – Back inflammation is a flashing danger sign and part of the reason why he lands on the list; the other: he's essentially a pricier version of Ryan Doumit
|Top five most commonly found players on your fantasy rosters
- Adam Jones – He was a different hitter in the second half and he's been unstoppable on the bases this spring. Seattle is going to regret that Erik Bedard trade for an awfully long time
- CoCo Crisp – A poor man's Shane Victorino at a steal of a price. Kansas City will slot him at leadoff and leave him alone, something the Red Sox never really did
- Daniel Murphy – Fast friends with David Wright, and slotted to hit No. 2 between Wright and Jose Reyes. This is a natural-born hitter, a frozen-rope machine
- Ricky Nolasco – He was dynamic down the stretch in 2008 and it's carried over to the spring (two walks, 17 strikeouts, 2.00 ERA). He's got a puncher's chance in the Cy Young race
- Felipe Lopez – Qualifies almost everywhere, batting leadoff in a great park, was a legitimate difference-maker down the stretch in 2008 (leaving Washington very much agreed with him)
- Dan Uggla – I've got him a notch ahead of Alexei Ramirez in my second base ranks, and that appears to make all the difference in drafts. He's averaged 105 runs, 30 homers and 90 RBIs over the past three years.
- Kendry Morales – He's become an end-of-draft favorite. Morales is a .332/.373/.528 career minor league hitter, he's had a spectacular spring, and he'll be the Angels' every-day first baseman in '09.
- Matt Wieters – Since his reassignment to Triple-A, he's become a bargain (OK, except in Tout Wars, where I paid full price). He has a higher fantasy ceiling than any catcher, right now. And I'm only willing to listen to arguments for McCann and Mauer
- Matt Capps – Round 11 or 12 is typically when I'll start considering a closer, and Capps is usually near the top of the pile at that point.
- Matt Lindstrom – Here's another option for inexpensive saves. The Marlins' closer appears to be on track for opening day, and his ADP is just 176.3
- Nelson Cruz – Pina coladas, bronzed babes and 30-20 potential – the Caribbean Cruz is the Noise's ticket for a relaxing summer
- Ryan Howard – Bone-headed fanalysts want you to believe his .250 BA downside makes him avoidable, but the expected 45-50 HRs, 140 RBIs and 100-plus runs say they're clueless
- Kevin Slowey – Mound maestro's rich ERA/WHIP prospects and growing K/9 are signs of enormous breakout potential – I'll gladly continue to reach for him a round or two early
- Randy Winn – Perpetually overlooked because of advanced age and environment, but Winn produces sound across-the-board totals every season
- Frank Francisco – Firm grip on Rangers' closing gig, superb K/9 track record and 200-plus ADP are reasons why you shouldn't invest in a Papelbon or Rivera
|Top five rookies for fantasy baseball ‘09
- Matt Wieters – There's nothing new to say on him, and I won't even try. Arrival guess: last week of May
- David Price – Ignore the sound bytes, he won't be down very long
- Jason Motte – If he ever develops a second pitch, he's going to be dominant
- Cameron Maybin – Okay, so he'll strike out a lot, so what? I would not be shocked by 100 runs and 40 steals
- Ryan Perry – He's got a very realistic chance to be Detroit's closer at some point this summer
- Cameron Maybin – Unlike Wieters and Price, the speedy Maybin will open the season in the big leagues.
- Jason Motte – Tony La Russa might not publicly call Motte his closer, but the hard-throwing 26-year-old is clearly the most talented pitcher in the Cards' bullpen, and by orders of magnitude.
- Matt Wieters – He's the best hitting prospect in baseball, easily. His spring was outstanding, and his 2008 minor league numbers were silly (.365/.460/.625 in Double-A).
- David Price – Like Wieters, he'll begin the season in the minors, but finish it in the big leagues. And like Wieters, he has the skills to be an outstanding fantasy commodity immediately
- Travis Snider – This final spot was a tough call between Snider and Elvis Andrus, who should at least give you steals. Snider has had a terrific spring (3 HR, .362/.375/.660), and should deliver respectable numbers in '09, at least against RHPs
- David Price – Demotion to Triple-A will only motivate the brightest pitching star more. Even if he doesn't crack the rotation until June 1 anticipate, 10-13 W, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 130 Ks
- Matt Wieters – The O's can only keep Wieters' mammoth bat caged for so long; .333 BA, HR, 5 RBI, 4:4 K:BB in 39 spring at-bats
- Tommy Hanson – Positively filthy arsenal and Tom Glavine's wrinkles should vault the Tommy Knocker into the rotation by midseason; 10.47 K/9 at Double-A last year
- Jordan Schafer – Sensational spring has the lefty on the precipice of making the 25-man roster. Could be a quality steals and double-digit power source with 350 at-bats
- Elvis Andrus – Leather wizardry not fantasy relevant, but 54 steals in the minors last year is. BA will likely hover around .260, but 30-plus steals with 65-75 runs very attainable
|In honor of April Fool's Day, top five fools
- "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who) – One of the best closers of all time; "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"
- "Henry Fool" – Underrated 1997 film from Hal Hartley is worth a shot; we miss you, Adrienne Shelley
- "Lovefool" (The Cardigans) – Unfortunately, it unraveled from here. The Cardigans never found a second good song
- Sidd Finch – The timeless George Plimpton fooled me with this 1985 gem
- "Fool on the Hill" (The Beatles) – That's a nod to The Beatles, not a snarky comment about Charlie Brown, beleaguered hurler for the Peanuts gang.
- Dudes who post "first" in blog posts – Just stop it
- Dudes who post "first" in blog posts, but aren't actually first – I'm lookin' at you, "Lets Go Red Sox"
- GMs who keep giving millions of dollars to Livan Hernandez – You really can't find a cheaper way to get 200 bad innings? No?
- Roger Clemens – Let's just say that Rocket/TCM has not been getting the best advice from his handlers
- Brad Evans – I mean …well, c'mon. Brad is the best kind of fool, but still. Watch the videos. The sportcoat ain't helpin', buddy
- Brad Evans – Dude, we understand you want Billy Butler to make you an octomom. Please, choke on a donut
- Testicle Festival patrons – It might be for a good cause, but I would rather just donate the cash instead of grinding a bull's bravado between my teeth. Then again, if drenched in Frank's red-hot sauce …
- Fashion designers – Any model who wears bacon and eggs, whether faux or not, amplifies her beauty. But, seriously, what woman would strut down Fifth Avenue dressed as a Grand Slam Breakfast?
- Future Kentucky men's basketball coaches – Unless sensual Ashley Judd massages are written into the contract, no established coach should take the job
- Fifth-third burger consumers – The Chernobyl disaster recreated in your stomach would cause the body to expel a toxic radioactive cloud, the likes humanity has never inhaled before