Fantasy launch a sure sign spring is on the way

Fantasy launch a sure sign spring is on the way

Ticket sales are booming. Equipment trucks are on the highway. Players take conditioning routines to another level. Trading-card packs have been opened. Bermuda grass was just planted at Marlins Park. Baseballs are stitched, sealed, delivered and soon signed.

Slowly but surely, the signs of spring present themselves each year at this time, faithfully like green buds, and one of our favorite signs is now visible right here with Monday's launch of the 2012 MLB.com Player Preview and the MLB.com Fantasy Baseball 2012 game.

The 2012 MLB.com Player Preview features rankings, photos, videos, season outlooks, projected stats, fantasy analysis and fantasy auction dollar values for more than 800 players. It is for all Major League Baseball fans, whether or not you are planning to join the millions who will manage fantasy rosters. This is what so many people have waited for in the dead of winter, in the form of trading-card styles that bring back great memories.

Start any conversation with Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who will report to camp later this month in Glendale, Ari., and then make another run at joining baseball's exclusive 40/40 Club. Kemp is No. 1 in the player ranking ($42 value) after leading the NL in runs, homers and RBIs while batting .324 and swiping 40 bases last season.

Kemp is followed by Albert Pujols of the Angels, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Justin Upton of the D-backs, Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, Joey Votto of the Reds and Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox. That makes Boston the only club to place two players in the top 10.

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is the first pitcher listed, at No. 18 overall, followed by Justin Verlander of the Tigers (22) and Roy Halladay of the Phillies (23). Kershaw won the 2011 National League Cy Young Award with 21 wins, a big-league best 2.28 ERA and a strikeout rate of nearly 10 batters per nine innings, and at just 23 his dominance is just beginning. He projects to a 19-9 record, 2.55 ERA and 237 whiffs.

It is free to enter MLB.com Fantasy Baseball 2012, it is easy to play, and you could win the $10,000 grand prize when all league champions compete in October. The popular game features weekly head-to-head matchups, smaller rosters, real-time video highlights, and team pitching staffs to make the game more user-friendly. Drafts do not start until later this month, but you can start signing up right now. Create a league with your friends or join a public league.

MLB.com will have news and analysis all year round, featuring such staples as player notes, injury updates and closer report.

In addition to the MLB.com Player Preview and game rollout, there are fresh signs popping up all around the Majors signaling the imminent reporting of pitchers and catchers. For example, consider the Phillies Three-Game Ticket Packs that went on sale Monday. It is part of an overall fan rush right now to MLB.com/tickets.

"With 204 consecutive regular season sellouts, ticket inventory will be limited. We encourage our fans to purchase early," said John Weber, the Phillies' vice president of sales and ticket operations. "Baseball is just around the corner, and we look forward to welcoming our fans back to Citizens Bank Park for what is sure to be another exciting season."

Another example is the gradual procession of Truck Day, as 18-wheelers leave largely frosty climes packed with baseball equipment headed from regular season homes to spring venues. Consider the Indians' trucks that pulled away from Progressive Field on Friday and are now on a 2,075-mile journey to the team's Cactus League home in Goodyear, Ariz. They are due to arrive on Thursday.

"This is almost like the first day of spring for a lot of Northeast Ohioans," said Tony Amato, the Indians' home clubhouse and equipment manager. "We have everything going down there. We have all the uniforms. We have all the bats. The baseballs will meet us down there -- anything that you're going to need to basically move your whole operation for two months into Goodyear."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.