Fantasy Fare: AL fearsome at first

JOEL COLOMBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:53 PM ET

TORONTO - As has been our tradition in this space since 1998, we’re going to use the NHL all-star break and a slow, two-day hockey week to cut away for a few random thoughts on another head-shaking off-season in baseball.

— Think the first base position in AL-only pools will be loaded in 2012? With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder — two of the top three home run hitters in the NL last year — along with Carlos Pena, switching sides, it will probably be wise more than ever to wait a few rounds to fill that slot. The big name bats at first are plentiful. Fielder, Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera (who will switch over to 3B for the Tigers) will be the first to go in straight drafts and bring the money down in a hurry in auctions. But, if you can avoid the temptation, there should be plenty of solid value in later rounds from the likes of Pena, Paul Konerko, Adam Lind, Mark Reynolds, Michael Young and even catcher Mike Napoli. And it will allow you to get that stud shortstop or starting pitcher early.

— Given a choice — and many fantasy owners will on draft day — I’d take Pujols over Fielder. Asking Fielder to match his 38 HRs of 2011 is a little steep. The ex-Brewer feasted on weak NL Central pitching last year and did so in a ball park tailor-made for his pull-heavy, left-handed swing. And though the Tigers moved in the left-field fence at Comerica Park, right field remains a vast expanse that will gobble up a lot of his deep fly balls.

— Without Pujols and Fielder, the NL cache of quality 1Bs has thinned out significantly, The few 30-homer sluggers still around — Ryan Howard, Joey Votto and, if you don’t believe last year was a fluke, Mike Morse — have become all the more valuable on draft day and must be grabbed early. Otherwise, you’ll crossing your fingers on the next wave of youngsters, including Freddie Freeman, Brandon Belt or Paul Goldschmidt to fill the void.

— Now that Yu Darvish and closer Neftali Feliz are joining the Texas rotation, Alexi Ogando — an all-star last season before fading in the second half — gets bumped back into relief. But I wouldn’t dump him because of that. They say to draft skills, not roles, and chances are he’ll get another crack at the rotation once the inevitable injuries occur.

— Will Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw go 1-2 (or 2-1) in NL-only pools? Kemp was baseball’s top fantasy hitter last season and, without Fielder and Pujols, becomes all the more valuable in NL-only pools. But without much protection in the lineup around him and that $160-million contact extension hanging around his neck, you wonder if he’ll be able to match his near 40-40 season. Kershaw blossomed into a Cy Young winner and, while at 23 there is room to get even better, might a Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee be a safer selection with that valuable first-round pick?

— Going from New York to Seattle, rookie slugger Jesus Montero loses a little to the ball park factor, but has been assured he will be given “every opportunity” to establish himself as a major-league catcher. Because of his suspect defence, Montero was slated to DH most of the season with the Yankees.

BACK TO HOCKEY

LONG ROAD FOR BLACKHAWKS

The Blackhawks must have the worst schedule in the NHL. After playing 13 of 16 at home before the break, they now head on the road for nine in a row and 14 of their next 18. Fantasy impact? Well, Patrick Kane is only 3-12-15 on the road this season while Dave Bolland has just three of his 15 goals away from home. Marian Hossa, has more goals (12-8) on the road, but fewer points (22-31).

GAMES THIS WEEK

4 — BOS, MONT, NJ, PHIL, PITT, WASH, WPG

2 — CGY, PHX, STL

All other teams play 3 games

HOT AND NOT

(Forwards the past three weeks)

P.A. Parenteau NYI

8 GP, 3-6-9, plus-4

Erik Cole MONT

7 GP, 2-7-9, plus-8

Mike Fisher NASH

8 GP, 5-3-8, plus-3

- - - - - - - -

Drew Stafford BUF

7 GP, 1-0-1, —3

Mike Cammalleri CGY

6 GP, 1-0-1, —4

INJURY UPDATES

The Sabres admit they are “worried” about the future of Jochen Hecht, who last Saturday absorbed his second concussion this season and third in a year. “He’s in a tough place right now,” said coach Lindy Ruff … Jonathan Toews (hand) is expected back for Tuesday’s game. Patrick Sharp (wrist) is about a week behind his teammate … Brian Gionta (biceps surgery) believes he can make it back before the season is over … Jordan Staal (knee) remains on target for a mid-February return … Though Adam Henrique pulled out of the skills event after aggravating a sore groin, he likely will be back for this week’s action … Victor Hedman (concussion) hopes to be back by Wednesday … Joni Pitkanen’s concussion could keep him out for another month ...

WAIVER WATCH

With fantasy rating out of 5

Gilbert Brule, RW, Coyotes

* * *

A mid-January waiver claim of Phoenix, former sixth overall pick (in 2005) has been a pleasant surprise with goals in three of his five games before the break, playing on a line with Langkow and Boedker and getting second-unit power-play time. Showed only glimpses of his skill level with Columbus and Edmonton, including a 17-goal Oilers season in 2008-09.

Paul Martin, D, Penguins

* * *

Known more for his defence, the veteran entered the all-star break with an assist in five of his final six games. He handles the puck well and logs a lot of ice time with the high-scoring Malkin-Neal line — including the power-play — so the chance of him keeping this up is pretty good.

Devan Dubnyk, G, Oilers

* * *

While the Edmonton nets are to be approached with caution in fantasy circles, the youngster has outplayed and outperformed Khabibulin all of January. He backstopped the Oilers’ only three wins in the month, posting a 2.52 GAA and .920 SPCT in 10 appearances.

Mathieu Perreault, C, Capitals

* *

After starting the season well, he had managed just two assists in 21 games before breaking out with 4-2-6 totals in his four pre-break outings, including a hat trick against the Boston Bruins last Tuesday. Don’t bite yet, but do keep an eye on him.

joel.colomby@sunmedia.ca


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