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03/23/10 8:00 AM ET

Fantasy draft tiers: Starters

Top arms can hold otherwise mediocre staff together

More positions: Hitters | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | RP

Conventional fantasy wisdom says pitching is always available and it's not wise to waste time focusing on the selection of starters early in drafts.

For the most part that's true, though it certainly helps if you can snag one legitimate ace before the middle rounds.

After all, it's easier to compete with a mix-and-match staff featuring the likes of Gil Meche and Kenshin Kawakami when you've got Roy Halladay or Felix Hernandez ringing up dominant starts every five days.

Tier 1: Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez

With their combination of power and control, these four are the best of the best. Lincecum already has two Cy Young Awards, Halladay and Greinke have one apiece and Hernandez may not be far off from collecting his first.

Tier 2: CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren

These three are big, hard-throwing innings eaters who rack up loads of strikeouts. While not quite in the class of the tip-top tier, all are capable of firing their way to Cy Young honors this year.

Tier 3: Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Yovani Gallardo, Cole Hamels, Josh Johnson, Jon Lester, Cliff Lee, Chris Carpenter

The caliber of talent in this pool is nearly as that in Tier 2. All eight are established top-of-the-rotation guys fully capable of anchoring any staff. There are some question marks surrounding Santana (velocity), Gallardo (command), Hamels (consistency), Lee (abdominal strain) and Carpenter (injuries), but all are worth big bucks at on draft day because they're among the best at their craft. Owners looking for a no-nonsense ace with minimal baggage should target Wainwright or Lester.

Tier 4: Matt Cain, Clayton Kershaw, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hanson, Wandy Rodriguez, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy

Tier 4 is headlined by a handful of the brightest up-and-coming young stars in the game, complemented by some veteran studs. It's tough to argue against selecting a Beckett or Peavy as your frontline starter, as both have been mowing down the opposition for years. But the upside of the other guys on this list -- particularly Kershaw and Hanson -- is significant enough to justify making an early move for one of them, especially in keeper leagues. Owners who can find a way to pair a Kershaw with an arm from one of the previous tiers will be staring at the foundation of what could be a dominant staff.

Tier 5: Chad Billingsley, John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, Matt Garza, Jered Weaver, Javier Vazquez, Rich Harden, Roy Oswalt

All of the hurlers in this group are upper-echelon starters with ace-like stuff. Webb, Vazquez and Oswalt are the elder statesmen who come with some risk: Webb is returning from shoulder surgery, Vazquez is back in the AL, where he's struggled, and Oswalt is coming off his worst season in years. Garza may be the best under-the-radar option. He's young, throws hard and is fearless on the hill, all trademarks of a rising star.

Tier 6: James Shields, Jair Jurrjens, Scott Baker, Chris Young, Max Scherzer, Brett Anderson, Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Price

Owners in search of a No. 3 starter will find some quality arms to work with in Tier 6. Jurrjens and Baker don't create a lot of fanfare, but both steadily and quietly got the job done in 2009. The two fireballers of the group, Scherzer and Price, probably will come with the heftiest price tag on draft day, whereas a guy like Dice-K will likely be available on the cheap after an underwhelming '09. The sleeper of the crew is Anderson.

Tier 7: Jorge De La Rosa, Jonathan Sanchez, Scott Kazmir, John Maine, Clay Buchholz, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Andy Pettitte, Ryan Dempster, Hiroki Kuroda, Mark Buehrle

By the time it comes to considering one of these arms, most owners will have already put together the core of their rotation. A quick assessment of any identifiable weaknesses will help narrow the process of selecting a fourth or fifth starter. Owners who are lacking Ks should make a move for De La Rosa or Sanchez, while those needing wins will want to target Pettitte, an annual lock for 13-15 victories. If it's an innings-eater you desire, look no further than Buehrle.

Tier 8: Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Ted Lilly, Joel Pineiro, Rick Porcello, Joe Saunders, Aaron Harang, Randy Wolf, Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Niemann

There's not much difference between these starters and those from the previous tier. Of the bunch, Santana might be the best deal on draft day because he's been much better than what he showed in 2009. Lilly is one of the unheralded studs in the game -- he's tough to hit, racks up a good chunk of strikeouts and is typically durable, ideal traits of a complementary starter. Owners who are trying to snag a young gun with upside should keep Gonzalez and Niemann on their radar.

Tier 9: Scott Feldman, Carlos Zambrano, Barry Zito, Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Slowey, Tim Hudson, Erik Bedard, Francisco Liriano, Wade Davis, Homer Bailey

Elder statesmen and a few up-and-comers headline this group. With the exception of Zambrano and Zito, the vets on this list have all spent significant chunks of time on the DL in recent seasons, which should always serve as a red flag come draft day. Davis and Bailey are both former top-rated prospects who offer the potential for a breakout campaign.

Tier 10: Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Millwood, Gil Meche, Justin Duchscherer, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Kevin Correia, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Randy Wells, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe, Brett Myers, Brad Bergesen, Justin Masterson

Owners who prefer building a deep stable of starters will have their pick from among this group of established veterans and promising youngsters in the final rounds of typical drafts. Don't be surprised to see some of them begin the season on the waiver wire in standard mixed leagues.

Matt Chaprales is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.