Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baseball Top 50: Why A-Rod is No. 1

TAMPA - I've put together my preseason top 30, and here's a shock: Alex Rodriguez is No. 1.

A-Rod is a lightning rod for criticism and often equally despised in all five boroughs, but here's an often-overlooked fact: The guy is great. Not good, not really good, great.

We all know he won the the third MVP of his already-Hall-of-Fame-worthy career, but do you realize how great he was in 2007? He reached career highs in RBIs (156!) runs (143!) on-base percentage (.422!) and slugging percentage (.645!). He had his second-fewest strikeouts (120) since 1999, his second-most walks (95) since 2000 and his most steals (24) since 2004. And now he returns to the heart of a virtually unchanged lineup at age 32 for what should be another year of his prime. He doesn't really have any weaknesses, and while he believes teammate and best bud Derek Jeter will be this year's MVP, the smart money is on A-Rod to take home that trophy again with another monster season.

It's easy to jump to conclusions just from watching players sleepwalk through spring training, but seeing A-Rod toss the ball around at Legends Field on Tuesday (above), one got the sense he's more comfortable in his pinstripes than he used to be. Of course, if you put together the kind of 2007 campaign he just did, you'd be at ease, too. The pressure will never be lifted until he brings a World Series title to the Bronx, but Rodriguez realizes that from March to October, all he can do is focus on his own game. And with game like this, he's the safest fantasy pick you can make.

Here are the rest of my 2008 rankings:

1. 3B Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
2. 3B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
3. 3B David Wright, Mets
4. SS Jose Reyes, Mets
5. SS Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
6. SP Johan Santana, Mets
7. 1B Albert Pujols, Cardinals
8. 2B Chase Utley, Phillies
9. OF Matt Holliday, Rockies
10. 1B Ryan Howard, Phillies
11. OF Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
12. SS Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
13. 1B Prince Fielder, Brewers
14. OF Carl Crawford, Rays
15. SP Jake Peavy, Padres
16. 3B Ryan Braun, Brewers
17. OF Grady Sizemore, Indians
18. OF Carlos Beltran, Mets
19. OF Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
20. DH David Ortiz, Red Sox
21. 2B/OF B.J. Upton, Rays
22. OF Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
23. 2B Brandon Phillips, Reds
24. 1B Justin Morneau, Twins
25. 1B Mark Teixeira, Braves
26. OF Carlos Lee, Astros
27. OF Magglio Ordonez, Tigers
28. 1B/OF Lance Berkman, Astros
29. OF Curtis Granderson, Tigers
30. C Victor Martinez, Indians
31. 3B Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
32. SP Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
33. SP Erik Bedard, Orioles
34. OF Adam Dunn, Reds
35. 1B Derrek Lee, Cubs
36. SP Josh Beckett, Red Sox
37. 2B Robinson Cano, Yankees
38. OF Alex Rios, Blue Jays
39. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
40. OF Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
41. C Russell Martin, Dodgers
42. 3B/2B/OF Chone Figgins, Angels
43. RP Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
44. RP Francisco Rodriguez, Angels
45. SS Derek Jeter, Yankees
46. 2B Brian Roberts, Orioles
47. SP Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
48. DH Travis Hafner, Indians
49. OF Eric Byrnes, Diamondbacks
50. 3B Garrett Atkins, Rockies

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