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The All-2007 Preseason Fantasy Team

Even if you're vying for your league's 2006 championship, it's never too early to think about next year. Two of's fantasy writers, Jamie O'Grady and Ben Heller, take a look at the best options at each position in preparation for the coming year.

Jamie's Picks

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Already the top-rated fantasy catcher in 2006 at the ripe age of 23, Mauer has led the American League in batting average for most of the season. A patient hitter, his 77/47 BB/K ratio tells you that his prowess with the bat is no fluke (his Minor League ratio was 132/107), and he's likely to reach a double-digit total in steals, a nice bonus from the position. He has ample protection with Justin Morneau hitting behind him and a favorable home ballpark in which to hit. Though not as powerful as Cleveland's Victor Martinez, Mauer is as much of a pure hitter as Mike Piazza was in his youth, and he'll likely develop more power as he ages.

First base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Pujols has a .332 career batting average and is on pace to establish a new career high with a 1.110 OPS. The reigning National League MVP has averaged 43 home runs over his six big-league seasons, topped 40 jacks in each of his last four campaigns and totaled an unreal 741 runs scored and 749 RBIs in only 921 career games. At a mere 26 years of age, Albert the Great is the best hitter in the game and deserves to be drafted numero uno.

Second base: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

Taking the reins from Jeff Kent (Alfonso Soriano plays outfield for now) as the most prolific and reliable second baseman in the land, Utley has averaged 98 runs scored, 27 homers and 102 RBIs per 162 games played over his four-year big-league career. He's taken a slight step back in 2006 with respect to BB/K ratio and OPS, but there's no reason to think the 28-year-old power/speed threat isn't going to get even better as he enters his prime. And it doesn't hurt that he has the second coming of David Ortiz, Mr. Ryan Howard, hitting behind him.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, New York Mets

It's been quite a ride for Mr. Reyes, who had to "re-learn" how to run in 2004. Now he stands as the uncontested leading man at his position in all formats after obliterating expectations with an MVP-caliber 2006 season. No other shortstop can match Reyes' combination of speed and power, and given the Mets' projected lineup for 2007, there's no reason to expect a drop-off in production.

Third base: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

The most-scorned "best player in the game" has endured a disappointing 2006 campaign relative to his career standards, but nine straight seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBIs is nothing to scoff at. Once a consensus No. 1 overall pick in most formats, A-Rod will be viewed in a negative light by some owners on Draft Day, 2007. Take advantage of their lunacy and do whatever it takes to land him. Over the past 10 years, A-Rod has averaged 126 runs scored, 43 homers, 125 RBIs and 22 steals. His perceived inability to hit in the clutch has no bearing on fantasy stats, so the career .305 hitter remains the top-ranked third baseman by a long shot.

Ben's Retort/Picks

Pujols and Reyes I agree with, 110 percent. But behind the plate, I might still prefer the (in theory) the more powerful Victor Martinez to Mauer, and Soriano is the obvious choice at second if he finds himself back in the infield next year. As far as A-Rod goes, he'll still be a top 10 pick, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's once again outplayed by David Wright, Garrett Atkins, Aramis Ramirez or my choice for fantasy's best hot-corner dude, Miguel Cabrera.

Outfield: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Vlad's been the top outfielder taken in most formats for a while now, and there's no good reason for that to stop in 2007. Aside from an injury-plagued 2003 campaign, Vlad has hit better than .300 with at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs, 95 runs scored and 10 steals in every season since 1998. With his Angels committed to improving their offense in the offseason, there's no reason to expect less from the top fantasy outfielder in the game.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets

The Carlos Beltran we knew and anything but loved in 2005 is history, an aberration in an otherwise stat-filled career. The Carlos Beltran of 2006 is an absolute monster and figures to be wreaking havoc on National League pitching for the foreseeable future. His .277 average this year is a tad low, but if you can grab a guy who'll get you 40 homers, 20 steals and upward of 120 RBIs and 120 runs, by all means do so.

Outfield: Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves

There are about 10-15 outfielders having better seasons than Jones, and that's fine with me. He'll be undervalued next year and is a good bet to put up ridiculous numbers. Why? Two words: Alfonso Soriano. Two more words: Carlos Lee. And another two: contract year. It's no coincidence that Soriano and Lee are enjoying their best seasons as they prepare to hit the open market. Jones will be in the position to get paid after next season, so look for his numbers to skyrocket in preparation.

Starting pitcher: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins

With two weeks left in the season, Santana has 40 more Ks than anyone else in the Majors. He's on pace to become the only AL pitcher ever with a sub-1.00 WHIP for THREE consecutive seasons (might as well mention his three straight years with a sub-3.00 ERA and 16-plus wins, too). But all you really need to know is this: In points-based formats, Santana has almost 100 more points than the next best pitcher, Chris Carpenter. Take any arm ahead of Johan, and you better have a really good excuse.

Reliever: Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim & Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins

You might as well flip a coin next year, because the numbers that Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez are putting up this year are scarily similar. Nathan has six wins, 33 saves, 86 Ks and a 1.73 ERA in 62 innings. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has two wins, 43 saves, 87 Ks and a 1.76 ERA in 66 innings. Of course, the 10-save differential is worth noting, but considering the Twins have eight more wins than the Angels, it's a pretty inexplicable stat, and the numbers could very well shift in Nathan's favor next season. Either way, you're in good hands with either arm.

Jamie's Retort

Your breadth of your baseball knowledge is impressive, Ben ... so impressive, in fact, that I have but one contention with your recommendations. Sure, it might be a little questionable to hedge bets at the closer slot, but I'm not sure how you can leave Carl Crawford off this list in favor of Andruw Jones. Only 25 and improving by the minute, Crawford has right combination of power and speed to be a much more dependable option than Jones.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.