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Sept. 19: 2007: Year of the Sophomore Slump?

As has been mentioned on a few occasions here in "The Roundtable," 2006 has been one of the greatest seasons for rookies in recent memory. From the widely heralded Matt Cain (5-0, 0.21 ERA since Aug. 12), Dan Uggla (26 homers a rookie record for second basemen) and Anibal Sanchez (first rookie no-hitter since 2001) to the less-publicized Scott Olsen (1.27 WHIP), Nick Markakis (.982 second-half OPS) and Ronny Paulino (.321 batting average), the cast of fresh faces is as talented as it is vast.

But as history has repeatedly shown us, not all of these rookies will experience the same degree of success in their second seasons. Think Eric Hinske in 2003, Pat Listach in 1993 and Rick Sutcliffe in 1980. For this reason, many fantasy managers could very well end up overpaying for the members of the Class of '06 in '07.

Which begs the question:

Who among this year's breakout rookie class is most likely to fall into the dreaded sophomore slump next season?

Cory Schwartz Director of Stats and Fantasy 411 co-host

Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
I haven't been any more wrong about any player this year than I was about Dan Uggla, but I'll keep on betting against him right into 2007.

How 'bout this for a cautionary tale: In 2002, Junior Spivey was a 27-year-old rookie second baseman who hit .301 with 16 homers, 78 RBIs, 103 runs and an .865 OPS. He never topped an .800 OPS again and now is out of baseball. While Uggla is having an even better year than Spivey did in '02, my skepticism is based on four big reasons:

1. While Uggla put up some good numbers in the Minor Leagues, he never put up any numbers THIS good. His track record suggests that he's playing over his head.

2. He played most of his Minor League career in excellent offensive environments like the California and Texas Leagues, but now he plays the majority of his games in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of the NL East, which are sure to eventually drag down his production.

3. His strikeout-to-walk rate is more than 2-to-1, making me think that his average isn't sustainable and that his run production will drop off as well.

4. He's already 26 years old but had never played above Double-A before last year. If he were this good, wouldn't he have reached as high as Triple-A at some earlier point, if not the Majors?

In my view, Dan Uggla : 2006 :: Junior Spivey : 2002.

Mike Siano Fantasy 411 co-host

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
If His Papelness does indeed become a starting pitcher in 2007, I could see him having some problems. He's no longer an unknown entity to opposing hitters and will now have to get them out multiple times a game as opposed to once. Even though this is the "year of the rookie pitcher," all of these guys except for Jered Weaver had their issues. Some hit a wall, some dealt with injuries and others experienced the usual growing pains of pitching to big-league hitters every fifth day. Papelbon is not immune to this because he was a great closer this year and could come out of the gate slowly, which would test the patience of those who invested heavily in him. If he does remain a closer, I love him in '07 and would say that one of the Marlins pitchers not named Anibal could be a disappointment.

Alex Cushing Fantasy Writer

Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
As 2006 has shown, there are several ways to enter the Majors. Some advanced prospects such as Matt Cain break onto the scene at an early age. Others, like Conor Jackson, are brought along slowly. And then there are the "Uggla" rookies.

A Rule 5 draftee last December, the 26-year-old Uggla entered the season with zero experience above Double-A and earned the Marlins second base job by chance when Pokey Reese left Spring Training without explanation. Uggla was a true surprise story, the sort of player whom fantasy novices -- knowing little of his past -- acquired by a stroke of luck.

Do I sound bitter? Probably.

I suppose Uggla is an exception to the rule, one who reminds us of baseball's unpredictability.

But there's a reason why fairy tales don't have sequels: Because they aren't believable. Because an over-aged prospect who breaks the rookie record for homers by a second baseman despite striking out more than twice as often as he walks is unlikely to repeat such success. Because a .292 batting average is equally unlikely to be duplicated in the face of an ominous 20 percent strikeout rate.

Call me a numbers-crunching cynic. But Uggla will come overpriced on draft day in spite of his unspectacular talent and skill. Such is the recipe for a sophomore slump.

Dean Chiungos Fantasy Writer

Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
If Rule No. 4 of fantasy baseball is "big-name pitchers sell for big-time bucks," Rule No. 5 is "Rule 5 draftees typically falter in the long run -- especially when they're 26-year-old middle infielders." Or something like that ...

Which brings us to Dan Uggla.

Pardon the double negative, but it's not that Uggla won't have a good year in 2007. It's just that he's a good bet to put up numbers relatively inferior to those he's posted during his breakout rookie season.

It'd hard to ignore the fact that Uggla came out of left field ... well, not exactly. He's actually a second baseman who came from Double-A Tennessee, where in 2005 he batted .297 with 21 homers, 87 RBIs and a .502 slugging mark -- numbers eerily similar to those he's put up in his first big-league season (.297-26-89-.503).

Leaps like that don't happen often. And when they do, a fall from grace almost surely awaits.

Cara Pitterman Fantasy Writer

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Owners pretty much hit the jackpot with Jonathan Papelbon at the beginning of this season, as the rookie reliever was getting save opportunities by April 5 (thanks, Keith Foulke!) and went on to post a 0.92 ERA and 35 saves. But Papelbon is supposed to switch to starter in a division where he's constantly facing the heavy-hitting Yankees and Blue Jays. Sure, he saw those teams this year, but only for an inning or two at a time. Let's just say his ERA will not be less than 1.00. And while I don't necessarily think Papelbon's numbers will scream "sophomore slump" (he did show promise in 2005, as evidenced by his 2.25 ERA in 16 innings over three starts), I do think his amazing '06 will cause owners to jump the gun and draft him way too early in '07.

Ben Heller Fantasy Writer

Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Since the All-Star break, few pitchers have been better than Cole Hamels. In 12 starts, the 22-year-old southpaw is 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, holding opponents to a .220 batting average. Throw in his 84 Ks in just 75 innings, and Hamels owners in keeper leagues have a lot to look forward to. Or do they?

Through Monday, Hamels had thrown 119 2/3 innings. Add in his early Minor League stint and the remainder of the season, and he's looking at more than 180 innings of wear and tear on his million-dollar arm this year. For a guy who's dealt with injuries to his shoulder, triceps, back and hand (to name a few) and thus thrown barely 150 innings over the previous THREE seasons, this is one phat Phillies red flag. Is Hamels the next Steve Carlton or the next Bud Smith? Time will tell. I'm just not sure I want to see it happen on my watch.

Gregg Schwartz Fantasy Writer

Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
I'm not going out on a limb with Dan Uggla, but the 26-year-old rookie second baseman is just too obvious of a choice to overlook.

Uggla, who for the most part was bypassed on draft day, basically came out of nowhere in posting 26 homers, 89 RBIs and a .292 average at a position that isn't known for power. As a result, someone will likely waste an early pick (see Jorge Cantu) on him next year during your draft, but don't let it be you.

Now, Uggla may be legit, as he did post some impressive numbers in the Minors last season at Double-A (.297-21-87), but you're better off letting someone else take him.

You should enjoy watching Uggla go between the third and fifth rounds while you wait to grab a potential 20-20 guy like Josh Barfield or Rickie Weeks or a bounce-back player like Jorge Cantu.

Tim Ott Fantasy Writer

Josh Barfield, San Diego Padres
It usually requires a leap of faith to predict which players will fall off after showing so much promise in their rookie seasons, but I think San Diego's Josh Barfield is a bit of a question mark heading into 2007. Part of the reason has to do with his mediocre plate discipline; Barfield has drawn only 30 walks this year, and free-swinging youngsters are often prime candidates to fall into slumps. But for me, an even bigger concern is Barfield's measly .617 home OPS. PETCO Park has caused all kinds of problems for hitters in its short history, and I can't help but wonder whether Barfield has already been discouraged by having to play half his games in such a huge stadium. The second baseman isn't going to be a total bust as a sophomore, as he'll rack up more than his share of steals, but owners shouldn't be surprised if his average takes a serious dive as he attempts to prove that his Minor League power numbers were no fluke.

Jamie O'Grady Fantasy Writer

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Not only does Papelbon have little chance of duplicating the lofty numbers he amassed during his stellar rookie campaign, but you'll also have to shell out more than market value in next year's draft to acquire the righty. Papelbon finished up 2006 with jaw-dropping stats: a 0.92 ERA, a 0.77 WHIP and 75 Ks over 68 1/3 innings pitched as a reliever. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Boston is believed to have the neophyte closer slotted in as a starter next season. If he's healthy, and there's no guarantee he will be, Papelbon should be good for 15 wins and about a strikeout per inning. That said, hitters will be seeing a lot more of him, and his stuff isn't all that mysterious, so his ERA and WHIP will likely rise significantly. Temper expectations and Boston's young hurler will impress, but if you bank on 2006 reincarnated, Papelbon is certain to disappoint.

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