This will be the final fantasy column of the season.
By BILL KONIGSBERG
AP Sports Writer
Nothing's better for a fantasy baseball owner than a September swoon.
I refer to a team's collapse, such as that of the Seattle Mariners. It's not that fantasy owners enjoy the suffering of others. Much, anyway. A swoon is nice for fantasy owners, because it leads to extended playing time for talented youngsters.
If the Mariners continue to drop out of playoff contention, that means September auditions for future stars.
And some of those guys can make a huge difference during the fantasy baseball playoffs.
Last year, the Cubs' Ryan Theriot (.338-3-11, five stolen bases), the Diamondbacks' Carlos Quentin (.273-5-13), the Brewers' Cory Hart (.287-5-20) the Rockies' Jeff Baker (.375-5-21) and the Marlins' Anibal Sanchez (5-1, 1.88 ERA) were young players who made major fantasy impacts during extended September auditions.
If you can guess right on who will do it this year, you'll have a big leg up on your playoff competition.
AUDITIONING
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
The 23-year-old first baseman homered for his first major league hit Wednesday, and that's a sign of things to come. He is the Reds' top hitting prospect, winning the Southern League's MVP last year when he hit .319 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs for Double-A Chattanooga. He was just as good this year at Triple-A Louisville, where he hit .295 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs. You know the Reds want to see if he's ready for 2008, so expect him to play regularly this month. Remember what Joey Hamilton did in April for the Reds? Votto has the skills to do the same.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox
The Red Sox most certainly are not out of the playoff race. Still, Ellsbury's playing because he's really good and Manny Ramirez is hurt. After Ellsbury hit his first major league home run Sept. 2, general manager Theo Epstein said he expects his talented young players to be a part of Boston's pennant push. Ellsbury was called up Sept. 1 and was 9-for-16 with two homers and six RBIs in the first five games. Don't expect this kind of power production from Ellsbury, who is more of a gap hitter. But he has great speed and should hit for average.
Ian Kennedy, RHP, Yankees
Here's another guy who's getting a shot even though his team is in playoff mode. He's getting it because the Yankees need another pitcher with Mike Mussina struggling and Roger Clemens hurt. The 22-year-old Kennedy showed excellent command in his debut, allowing one earned run in seven innings and beating the Devil Rays on Sept. 1. He'll get more chances, and any pitcher starting for the Yankees has a chance for a few wins in a month. Kennedy, if he continues to locate his changeup nicely, could be a nice fantasy playoff pickup.
ADMIRE FROM AFAR
Edinson Volquez, RHP, Rangers
Volquez pitches for the Rangers. The Texas Rangers. That, alone, is plenty reason to allow some other fantasy owner to experiment with this 24-year-old fireballer. Volquez has good stuff and could be a good starter in the future, but at this point he's still 2-10 with an ERA near 9 in 15 major league games, including 12 starts. He was completely unhittable this year at Triple-A Oklahoma, going 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA and allowing a mere 25 hits in 51 innings. I'm thrilled for Volquez. It's nice when people succeed. I'm just not willing to wager my fantasy ERA and WHIP on him being able to continue that in the majors.
Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies
Stewart is so talented that he could well be the third baseman of the future in Colorado, which might lead the Rockies to trade Garrett Atkins. Stewart hits the ball hard in the same way Atkins does. But he's already a better fielder, he's younger, and some think he'll develop more power than Atkins will. For now, the Rockies remain on the cusp of the wild-card chase, and even if they fall out of it, Atkins will play every day. Keep your eye on Stewart for next season.
Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals
Seeing the name of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft on the Kansas City Royals expanded roster could make some fantasy owners excited. It's understandable, but unnecessary. The 23-year-old will pitch out of the bullpen for now, and so far his minor league numbers have been less than stellar. Hochevar went 4-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 27 games split between Double-A Wichita and Triple-A Omaha. Although he did strike out 138 in 152 innings, he needs some more seasoning before he's worthy of fantasy hype.

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