Fantasy baseball 1st-half boomers

There's no question that through half of the Major League Baseball season, this has been the year of the pitcher.

There's no question that through half of the Major League Baseball season, this has been the year of the pitcher.

Already we've seen two perfect games and, technically, three no-hitters if you include Armando Galarraga's "one-hitter" on June 2.

Of those five pitchers — Edwin Jackson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay and Gallaraga — only Halladay was a household baseball name heading into this season. And with so many superb new tacticians on the mound in 2010, it has certainly caused some havoc in many fantasy baseball pools.

That's not to say there haven't been a good number of infielders and outfielders who have turned some heads this season. A pair of young guns in Atlanta and a duo of veterans in Toronto, plus one hard-hitting Canadian, might have a different opinion about this year's pitching.

Nevertheless, examining the surprises of baseball's first half just wouldn't be right if we didn't start off with some young aces.

Ubaldo Jimenez (COL — SP)

At the top of the list is the National League's starting pitcher at the 81st All-Star Game, Ubaldo Jimenez.

It's remarkable how much Jimenez has improved since last year, when he posted a 15-12 record. He went from being an excellent pitcher to being an unhittable pitcher.

At 15-1, there's no one better pitcher in the game. Jimenez hasn't lost since giving up one measly run to the Dodgers on May 9 (his only loss), which has translated into nine wins in his past 11 starts.

He's pitched three complete games, including two shutouts, to go along with the no-hitter against Atlanta on April 17. He's also racked up 113 strikeouts and is third in the majors, trailing only Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson, with a sparkling 2.20 ERA.

Jimenez epitomizes the term "steal" in fantasy league drafts.

David Price (TB — SP)

Despite coming off his worst start of the year against the Yankees last week (seven runs over five innings for the loss), David Price was the right choice to be the AL's starter in this year's all-star game in Anaheim.

Price has been impressive. He is tied for first in the AL in wins with 12 and is also fourth with a 2.84 ERA. The Rays' ace has also struck out a career-high 103 batters.

Phil Hughes (NYY — SP/RP)

Last season, Phil Hughes platooned between the Yankees' starting rotation and the bullpen, tallying an 8-3 record with three saves (in six opportunities) and 18 holds. This season, Hughes has erased any doubt about whether he should be a starter.

The former first-round pick's 11 wins have him tied for fifth in the majors and second in the American League. Hughes is 11-2 with just 29 walks, 91 strikeouts and a 3.65 ERA.

Josh Johnson (FLA — SP)

Even though Josh Johnson had a superb 2009 season with a 15-5 record and was expected to impress in 2010, he's been even better than anticipated.

Johnson is first in the majors by a mile in ERA (1.62), tied for sixth in strikeouts (130) and is tied for third in the NL in wins (10) on a mediocre Marlins team. He also has given up just 28 walks in 128 innings pitched through July 18.

Joey Votto (CIN — 1B)

Not only is Joey Votto one of the best hitters in baseball, but he's also a realistic threat for baseball's Triple Crown. Through July 18, the Toronto native is hitting .310 (tied for fifth in the NL) with 22 home runs (tied for first in the National League ) and 60 RBI (tied for ninth in the NL).

He's also third in the league in walks with 57 and 11th in runs scored with 60. Throw in two triples and seven steals to those stellar stats and you have yourself a mainstay at first base in all fantasy baseball leagues. It's hard to believe this guy was selected in just the second round back in 2002.

John Buck (TOR — C)

Last year, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were as deserving as anyone to be on this list. Not only were they leading the Blue Jays, but they were at the top of the league in most offensive categories. This year, it's two different Jays.

In six seasons with Kansas City, catcher John Buck never hit more than 18 homers, tallied more than 50 RBI or hit for an average above .247. But the change of scenery has done wonders for Buck's career. The first-time all-star is currently hitting .279 and already has 13 HRs and 43 RBI.

Jose Bautista (TOR — 3B/OF)

Arguably, the biggest surprise of the year has been Jose Bautista. Not many observers, if any, would have predicted Bautista would be leading the majors in home runs this late into the season.

His 25 HRs are a career-high and he's approaching career-highs in several other offensive categories (58 RBIs, 55 walks, 57 runs scored). Suffice it to say, Bautista is having the best season of his 11-year career and those fantasy baseball managers who were quick enough to pick him up off the waiver wire after he went undrafted are surely as happy as he is.

Martin Prado (ATL — 1B/2B/3B)

It wouldn't necessarily be shocking that Martin Prado has 126 hits, 11 home runs, 40 runs batted in and a .323 average if the season were almost over. But we're just past the halfway point and already those numbers either match or are about to surpass his previous career-highs.

In fact, his .323 average is best in the NL and he's also second in runs scored with 65. Add in the fact Prado can play any base on the infield and you have yourself an all-star in MLB and fantasy baseball. Not bad for a guy who was drafted 214th overall on average in Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

Jason Heyward (ATL — OF)

In his first season in the big leagues, Jason Heyward has been impressive. Through July 19, Heyward has 11 homers and 45 RBIs for the Braves and is within striking distance of the top players in the majors in walks (43) and runs scored (44).

Like teammate Martin Prado, Heyward is a player who flew relatively under the radar in most fantasy leagues, but has been an excellent addition to those managers paying close attention to free agents in their pools.

Billy Wagner (ATL — RP)

After pitching in just 17 combined games last season with the Mets and Red Sox, most fantasy owners and baseball aficionados pegged Billy Wagner as a reliever at the end of the road.

A year later, not only has Wagner proved them all wrong, but he's also shown that he's still one of the best closers in the game. He's 5-0 and is currently tied for seventh in the NL in saves with 21 (in 24 opportunities). Turning 39 this week, Wagner has an ERA of just 1.15 in Atlanta this season.

Corey Hart (MIL — OF)

In 2007, his most productive all-around season in the big leagues, Corey Hart hit .295 with 24 home runs, 81 RBIs and 36 walks. This season, Hart is also batting .295 but already has 22 home runs, 70 RBIs and 29 walks heading into action on July 19 for the Brewers.