Ben Zobrist, Hellickson ready to lead Rays 

March, 30, 2011
Perhaps some of you were a bit concerned about my mental health when I talked about how much I like the Tampa Bay Rays this season on a recent Baseball Today podcast. I even went so far as to name them my pick for the American League wild card, over a certain team that plays its home games in New York. Blasphemy! Hey, the Rays have won the division two of the past three seasons, and despite key defections to the team's core -- Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, the bullpen -- I'm expecting big things. And in general, when a team thrives, it also does so statistically, which helps fantasy owners.

Here are just a few reasons I like the Rays this season, and why fantasy owners can gain an advantage through their success:

Jeremy Hellickson is the real deal: I have the 23-year-old right-hander pegged as the top rookie in the AL, and after watching Matt Garza sputter through a few nasty spring outings, I actually think Hellickson can outperform the pitcher whose spot he takes. Hellickson is an elite prospect and no, I don't have concerns about him facing the offensive-minded AL East squads, including the mighty New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Like the ESPN Fantasy projections, I view Hellickson as the Rays' second-best starter, a potential ace with strikeouts, and I see him posting a better ERA and WHIP than Garza. And in my mind, he's still underrated in fantasy.