Table: Do not bench list
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Analysis: Kendrick opens at home, a borderline pitchers' park, with series versus the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. Last year he hit .245 in 49 at-bats against Texas and .389 in 36 at-bats against the A's. The Rangers aren't known for their pitching, while Oakland's staff is usually pretty solid. The mixed signals aren't enough to sit what is probably your starting second baseman, especially because he hit .295 129 at-bats at Angel Stadium last year.
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds
Analysis: Phillips will have the comfort of the Great American Ball
Park for the opening week, facing the Chicago Cubs
and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit .256 with three
homers and seven RBI in 43 at-bats against Chicago while batting .263-2-6 in
38 at-bats against the Pirates. Last year, Phillips got off to a slow start,
compiling only two hits in five games without a home run or RBI. The Pirates'
pitching is just as horrid as last season, but Phillips will be facing Carlos
Zambrano among others. Phillips did hit .301 at home last season, so he
enjoys his backyard, and should be started.
Josh Barfield, Cleveland Indians
Analysis: The Indians head to U.S. Cellular Field to face the Chicago White Sox for three games in four days before hosting the Seattle Mariners over the weekend. This is Barfield's first season in the American League, and he is now in a hitter's boon in Jacobs Field. Unsurprisingly, Barfield hit better away from PETCO Park last year, and he will be glad to play his first games in two hitter-friendly parks. Barfield didn't face the Sox last year, and had decent numbers in 19 at-bats versus Seattle (.263, 3 RBI, 3 runs). Barfield's combination of power and speed should prevent you from even thinking about sitting him in two hitters' ballparks.
Jeff Kent, Los Angeles Dodgers
Analysis: The Dodgers open up on the road at the Milwaukee Brewers and the blood rival San Francisco Giants. Kent's stats dropped off on the road last year (.258 compared to .333 at Chavez Ravine). He went 2-for-11 at Miller Park, and hit .286 with two home runs at AT&T Park. He will most likely face Ben Sheets and David Bush in Milwaukee, two pitchers who allow very few baserunners. Kent will catch Matt Cain on the final game of the weekend San Fran swing. Kent is still a viable second-base option, and shouldn't be benched because of his place in the heart of the Dodgers lineup.
Ray Durham, San Francisco Giants
Analysis: After surprising fantasy owners last season with a 26-homer, 93-RBI explosion, Durham starts out with home series against the San Diego Padres and the blood rival Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit 10 of his homers in AT&T last year, so he's got that power knack down. Durham will hit the Padres' top three starters in Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux, so he might be fooled a bit. But Durham still has some speed, so he's worth a play for this week, even with facing defensive whiz Russell Martin behind the plate for Los Angeles.
Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
Analysis: Uggla will need to get off to a hot start to convince fantasy owners he isn't a one-year wonder. He'll have to do that on the road: at one of the most prominent pitchers' parks in baseball, Washington's RFK Stadium, and against the stellar pitching of the Philadelphia Phillies. Uggla, however, hit .351 with 2 home runs and 10 RBI at RFK, tying for his second-highest total at any single ballpark. At Citizens Bank Park, he didn't fare so well (.190, 1 HR, 4 RBI). Uggla is still an above-average option, and should still receive playing time.
Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
Analysis: Kinsler got off to a torrid start last year (10-for-21, one homer and two RBI) before going on the DL after eight games. The Rangers open up at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and host the Red Sox. Both series will be a challenge. Kinsler will have to deal with a revamped Sox rotation, although he might miss Daisuke Matsuzaka on his go-around. Kinsler hit well against the Angels last year, especially at Angel Stadium (.379, 4 RBI, 4 steals). He did have problems against Boston's staff, hitting just .217 against them in 23 at-bats in 2006. But Kinsler's potential for stolen bases is where you must cash in, because Jason Varitek will certainly have some trouble with baserunners.
Tadahito Iguchi, Chicago White Sox
Analysis: Iguchi might be a tough sell in the first week of 2007 because White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has toyed with the idea of batting the second baseman lower in the lineup. If Iguchi bats seventh instead of in his accustomed two-spot, his value will simultaneously dip. A steady performance in the two home opening series (against the Indians and the Twins) could up his stock. He fared relatively well against both teams: .297, 1 homer, 6 RBI, 2 steals in 64 at-bats vs. Cleveland; and .262, 1 home run, 5 RBI, 2 steals in 65 at-bats vs. Minnesota). Iguchi was significantly better at home last year (12 homers, twice as many as on the road). Although he's not a guaranteed success for the opening week, he could contribute against a young Cleveland rotation and a depleted Twins staff. Play him if you have no other options.
Jorge Cantu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Analysis: Cantu has fallen out of favor in the Devil Rays lineup since his hot run in 2005, and the Rays' experiments with B.J. Upton at second base this spring are not exactly tickling those owners unlucky enough to be relying on Cantu. Cantu still might get some time at designated hitter and pinch-hit appearances if he loses the job. Nonetheless, if he plays, he will face what could be a weakened New York Yankees staff in the opening series on the road before heading back home for the Toronto Blue Jays. Cantu hit .219 against the Yanks and a puny .083 against the Jays in 2006. Given his already questionable playing time, he might not be worth starting right away.
Luis Castillo, Minnesota Twins
Analysis: Castillo has never been a source of power, but his role as Twins leadoff hitter serves as an attention-grabbing proposition. What cripples any excitement is that back stiffness kept him out for five games this spring. As the Twins opens up against the Orioles and White Sox, he will have a chance to swipe some bags, especially against Chicago's defensively inept A.J. Pierzynski. Despite his lineup position, Castillo's a mediocre option, at best.
Jose Castillo, Pittsburgh Pirates
Analysis: Castillo will slide in for the injured Freddy Sanchez, whose knee is keeping him from starting the season. Replacing the defending NL batting champion might be considered a serious downgrade. Despite his meager .253 average last season, Castillo had 14 homers and 65 RBI, so as long as he's plugged in, he has a chance to put up some numbers, especially at Houston and Cincinnati, two of the league's best hitters' parks.
Marcus Giles, San Diego Padres
Analysis: Giles got some good news for his fantasy stock, as it was hinted that he will start the season at the leadoff spot. Still, hitting leadoff for the 2007 Padres pretty much equates to getting that long-awaited promotion to manager at Burger King. The Padres open up at the Giants, then host the Rockies. Giles got off to a slow start last season, and he might have some trouble with the Giants' staff. The Rockies, however, could provide him with a chance to bounce back. Giles still isn't a highly recommended pick for the opening week.
OTHERS FOR CONSIDERATION
Orlando Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Analysis: If only defensive stats counted in basic 5x5 leagues. The light-hitting Hudson goes through both spectrums of the hitting scale. The D-Backs open at the Rockies before heading to Washington for a quartet at RFK Stadium. Hudson is already just a desperation option or injury replacement. No need to keep tabs on him in the opening week.
Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners
Analysis: Mariners manager Mike Hargrove doesn't think Lopez will have a repeat of his monster 2006 season, as he has currently slated for Lopez to hit eighth in the order. The Mariners host Oakland and travel to face the Cleveland Indians. Regardless, Lopez is not worth a flyer this early in the season, as there will surely be better midrange options floating around the wire.
Craig Biggio, Houston Astros
Analysis: Biggio, on the other hand, should not be entirely ignored. They host the Pirates and the Cardinals, and Biggio thrived at home last season. Biggio hit 15 homers at Minute Maid Park, and could come out to the hometown fans with a blitz this year. Biggio is only 70 hits shy of 3,000, and will want to give Houston a nice welcome early. He certainly has a chance to do so against the Pirates; Biggio ate up Bucs pitching last year with four homers (his high for facing a single team in 2006) and nine RBI, along with a .333 BA and 1.005 OPS in 57 at-bats. Though Biggio was undoubtedly a late-rounds selection - if at all - he should provide some good numbers in his first week in 2007.
Kazuo Matsui, Colorado Rockies
Analysis: Matsui, at any point this season, will be a reach for fantasy consideration. He will be at the bottom of the Rockies' lineup, and won't have many chances to drive in runs. The Rockies will host Arizona for the first three contests, then they will go to San Diego to face the Padres. Matsui's not worth considering beyond his steals potential.
Mark DeRosa, Chicago Cubs
Analysis: DeRosa is being ignored in fantasy leagues as a one-year wonder that happened to benefit from playing time in hitter-friendly Texas. DeRosa travels with the Cubs for three games at both the Great American Ball Park and Miller Park to open up 2007. DeRosa faced neither team in 2006, so his recent sample size is basically nonexistent. If you have DeRosa as your starting second baseman, then you're jumping the gun. He might be worth a try, but tread with caution.
Adam Kennedy, St. Louis Cardinals
Analysis: Kennedy will bat seventh in the Cardinals order as they open the season in the first regular season game in a three-game series against the New York Mets, and three at Minute Maid Park against the Astros. For that second series, he could get a steal or run per game, but not much else. Only if desperate should you consider Kennedy.
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