Baseball's traditional second half kicks off on Thursday, so let's take a look at some of the fantasy developments we could see the remainder of the year. I've broken down several of the more interesting topics in groups of five players, listed in alphabetical order.
I'd love to have them on my squad:
John Lackey, SP, Angels: When the second half kicks off, he'll be entering with a streak of 27 consecutive batters retired, best in the majors among active starters. He's every bit that talented at his peak, with a real shot at top-10 starter status from today forward.
Joe Nathan, RP, Twins: The 15 saves he had in the first half don't do justice to how well he pitched; he threw every bit as effectively as any closer in the game. Minnesota has played much better baseball of late, so a 20-plus-save second half could be within his grasp.
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: Look at his track record; every time he has a bona fide slugger hitting behind him in the lineup, Wells is a statistical monster. He's 27 years old and on track for .311-40-125-19 numbers, and I think he's going to get there.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B, Red Sox: While I don't see him becoming a fantasy superstar, Youkilis is one of the smartest hitters I've ever seen play. He's arrived as a .300/.400/.500 (AVG/OBP/SLG) kind of annual force, and is an ideal man for your corner spot.
Chris Young, SP, Padres: That he hasn't been that great at Petco Park -- 4-4 record, 3.92 ERA in 10 starts -- serves to make Young underappreciated. I think the Padres' division rivals will begin to fade in the second half, giving Young a chance to dominate.
I won't touch these guys:
Barry Bonds, OF, Giants: It's not that he can't return to being a .300 hitter with solid power; it's more that he hasn't even come close this year. Bonds is so much more of an injury risk than you think, and he's now looking every one of his 41 years of age.
Tim Hudson, SP, Braves: His walk rate is up and he's more hittable than ever, and with Atlanta falling further from the postseason hunt, his win total will continue to suffer. Hudson has pitched so poorly, I can't help but wonder whether an injury is bothering him.
Paul Lo Duca, C, Mets: His career batting average after the All-Star break is 50 points lower than before it, and he's already on pace for 141 games and 583 at-bats. He's bound to wear down, and once he does, the Mets won't be able to keep hitting him second.
John Patterson, SP, Nationals: Doesn't it seem like he complains about his forearm injury after every start? Pitchers don't usually go through problems for this long unless there's some underlying issue, so I worry Patterson might get shut down before long.
Bob Wickman, RP, Indians: Most of the contenders who might deal for him have better relievers already closing, meaning he'd wind up a setup man. Even if he's not dealt, the Indians might as well get a look at some of their other candidates to close in 2007.