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YOUNG GUNS POSSESS PLENTY OF FIREPOWER TO PRODUCE BIG NUMBERS

They are short on experience but long on talent and potential.

This season offers a bumper crop of hitters with one season of big-league experience or less who carry big sticks. Seldom have so many young hitters entered a season seemingly assured of major playing time with the chance to produce big numbers right away.

Expansion, payroll cuts and trading away big names have all contributed to opening the door for some young guns.

Keep an eye on these nine nifty hitters because they all have the potential to become steals for any fantasy owner:

1 -- Jose Cruz Jr., of, Toronto: What the 23-year-old Cruz did last season was nothing short of remarkable. Cruz was traded from a contender (Seattle) to a pretender (Blue Jays) but still kept his focus, finishing with 26 homers and 68 RBIs in 104 games. Projected over 162 games, that pace would have produced 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

2 -- Todd Helton, 1b/of, Colorado: When Andres Galarraga was sent to the Atlanta Braves, it gave the former University of Tennessee punter the chance to be the next Coors Cloutman. Helton, 24, got a taste of The Show last summer when Galarraga was injured and batted .280 in 35 games with five homers and 11 RBIs.

3 -- Ben Grieve, of, Oakland: The son of former Buffalo Bison Tom Grieve doesn't have much support in the Athletics' lineup, but he proved last season that he doesn't need much. The 21-year-old produced 24 RBIs in 24 games. With a bat in his hands he'll never be confused with his dad, who hit .245 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 99 games for the Herd as a Washington Senators farmhand back in '69 and compiled a .249 lifetime average in nine years in the bigs.

4 -- Fernando Tatis, 3b, Texas: Ever wonder why the Rangers dealt Dean Palmer last season? It was to open a spot for the 23-year-old Tatis, who hit .256 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games last summer.

5 -- Travis Lee, 1b, Arizona: The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Lee, 22, will get on-the-job training with the expansion Diamondbacks. The X-factor is that Bank One Ballpark, the team's new home, may be a Coors Field in waiting. The ball carries well in Cactus League games and there's little humidity.

6 -- Mark Kotsay, of, Florida: The world champion Marlins have purged themselves of a lot of high-priced talent, allowing guys like Kotsay, 22, a chance to play. He hit .192 in 14 games when Devon White was injured.

7 -- Brad Fullmer, 1b, Montreal: After losing David Segui, the Expos bring in the 23-year-old Fullmer to play first. He had three homers in 19 games with Montreal after belting 22 in the minors.

8 -- Derrek Lee, 1b, Florida: A San Diego castoff, the 22-year-old Lee got a taste of the bigs last year subbing for an injured Wally Joyner. He hit a respectable .259 in 22 games but had just one homer and four RBIs.

9 -- Eli Marrero, c, St. Louis: The 24-year-old Marrero drops to the bottom of this list only because of the cancer surgery he underwent in spring training. The 6-1, 180-pounder has strong potential at an extremely weak position.

Here are some position-by-position hints for fantasy owners:

First base

Overview: Perhaps the strongest position, quality talent is abundant.

Elite: Jeff Bagwell, Houston; Mark McGwire, St. Louis; Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox; Mo Vaughn, Boston; Tino Martinez, New York Yankees; Jim Thome, Cleveland.

Sleepers: David Segui, Seattle; Jeff King, Royals.

Undervalued: Darin Erstad, Anaheim; Tony Clark, Detroit.

Overvalued: Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore; Andres Galarraga, Atlanta; Fred McGriff, Tampa Bay.

Second base

Overview: The stronger of the two middle-infield positions by far.

Elite: Chuck Knoblauch, New York Yankees; Craig Biggio, Houston; Mike Lansing, Colorado; Delino DeShields, St. Louis; Roberto Alomar, Baltimore.

Sleepers: Craig Counsell, Florida; Shawon Dunston, Cleveland.

Undervalued: Fernando Vina, Milwaukee; Eric Young, Los Angles.

Overvalued: Carlos Baerga, New York Mets; Bret Boone, Cincinnati.

Third base

Overview: Not as strong as in recent years.

Elite: Scott Rolen, Philadelphia; Vinny Castilla, Colorado; Chipper Jones, Atlanta; Ken Caminiti, San Diego; Travis Fryman, Cleveland; Matt Williams, Arizona.

Sleepers: Kevin Orie, Chicago Cubs; Scott Brosius, New York Yankees.

Undervalued: Joe Randa, Detroit; Jeff Cirillo, Milwaukee.

Overvalued: Cal Ripken, Baltimore; Bobby Bonilla, Florida.

Shortstop

Overview: Very weak. After the first wave, wait it out.

Elite: Alex Rodriguez, Seattle; Nomar Garciaparra, Boston; Derek Jeter, New York Yankees.

Sleepers: Miguel Tejada, Oakland; Neifi Perez, Colorado.

Undervalued: Edgar Renteria, Florida; Mark Grudzielanek, Montreal.

Overvalued: Royce Clayton, St. Louis; Omar Vizquel, Cleveland.

Catcher

Overview: Pathetic, perhaps even weaker than shortstop.

Elite: Mike Piazza, Los Angeles; Ivan Rodriguez, Texas.

Sleepers: Todd Greene, Anaheim; Chris Widger, Montreal.

Undervalued: Jason Kendall, Pittsburgh; Charles Johnson, Florida.

Overvalued: Benito Santiago, Toronto; Chris Hoiles, Baltimore.

Outfield

Overview: Bountiful talent, no need to front load in early rounds.

Elite: Ken Griffey, Seattle; Barry Bonds, San Francisco; Larry Walker, Colorado; Manny Ramirez, Cleveland; Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs; Juan Gonzalez, Texas; Albert Belle, Chicago White Sox; Raul Mondesi, Los Angeles; Tim Salmon, Anaheim; Bernie Williams, New York Yankees.

Sleepers: Magglio Ordonez, Chicago White Sox; Shannon Stewart, Toronto; Quinton McCracken, Tampa Bay; Yamil Benitez, Arizona; Glenallen Hill, Seattle; Johnny Damon, Kansas City.

Undervalued: Kenny Lofton, Cleveland; Rondell White, Montreal; Andruw Jones, Atlanta; Jim Edmonds, Anaheim; Rusty Greer, Texas; Matt Stairs, Oakland; Jon Nunnally, Cincinnati; Al Martin, Pittsburgh.

Overvalued: Dante Bichette, Colorado; David Justice, Cleveland; Gary Sheffield, Florida; Moises Alou, Houston; Marquis Grissom, Milwaukee; Butch Huskey, New York Mets.

Designated hitter

Overview: Never an impact position.

Elite: Edgar Martinez, Seattle.

Undervalued: Reggie Jefferson, Boston.

Overvalued: Jose Canseco, Toronto.

Starting pitchers

Overview: With expansion, a lot more clunkers than Cadillacs.

Elite: Greg Maddux, Atlanta; Randy Johnson, Seattle; Roger Clemens, Toronto; Kevin Brown, Padres; Ismael Valdes, Los Angeles; Mike Mussina, Baltimore; Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees; Pedro Martinez, Boston; Shawn Estes, San Francisco; Justin Thompson, Detroit.

Sleepers: Brett Tomko, Cincinnati; John Halama, Houston; Kevin Millwood, Atlanta; Dustin Hermanson, Montreal.

Undervalued: Chan Ho Park, Los Angeles; Mike Hampton, Houston; Jaret Wright, Cleveland; Jamie Moyer, Seattle; Matt Morris, St. Louis.

Overvalued: Brad Radke, Minnesota; Denny Neagle, Atlanta; David Wells, New York Yankees; Livan Hernandez, Florida; Hideki Irabu, New York Yankees; Hideo Nomo, Los Angeles.

Relief pitchers

Overview: Don't overlook the quality set-up man, who can be just as valuable as the big-name closer. Thirteen relievers had 20 or more "holds" last season.

Elite: Trevor Hoffman, San Diego; Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees; Troy Percival, Anaheim; John Wetteland, Texas; Robb Nen, San Francisco; Mark Wohlers, Atlanta; Jeff Shaw, Cincinnati.

Sleepers: Darren Dreifort, Los Angeles; Jerry DiPoto, Colorado; Marc Pisciotta, Chicago Cubs.

Undervalued: Billy Wagner, Houston; Jeff Nelson, New York Yankees; Armando Benitez, Baltimore; Ugueth Urbina, Montreal.

Overvalued: Todd Jones, Detroit; Heathcliff Slocumb, Seattle; John Franco, New York Mets.

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