For the first time in almost a decade and a half, Alex Rodriguez is not being taken in the first round of fantasy drafts.

Think about that for a second. A-Rod has been a star Major League player for almost as long as he hasn’t. His breakthrough season came in 1996, when he hit .358 with 36 homers and 123 RBIs … as a 20-year-old.

He led the league in total bases at a time in his life when he couldn’t even legally drink. He finished sixth in the league in RBIs that season; everyone else in the top 10 is retired.

Even through the admittedly dumb prism of rotisserie baseball, the sustained excellence of Rodriguez’s career has been incredible.

Age and injury concerns have finally dimmed A-Rod’s impeccable fantasy reputation, as the Yankees third baseman is going early in the third round of most drafts.

He missed significant time for the third consecutive season in 2010 and hasn’t put together a truly great year since his magnificent 2007 MVP campaign. Meanwhile, his ability to steal bases — the skill that separates good fantasy players from great ones — is history. He’s dropped from 18 to 14 to four in that category since 2008.

Despite that, Rodriguez is giving hints down south that he may have one more big year in him, the type of season that will have people remembering how they “stole” one of the greatest players of all-time while others were taking the likes of Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.

He’s played in 13 games this spring, and he has a hit in every one. And he’s not just slapping singles to right, either. Cameron Diaz’s love pillow has six doubles, five home runs, and leads the Yankees with 11 RBIs.

And since I brought it up, we can’t discount the Diaz Effect in play here. A-Rod resurrected his postseason reputation back in 2009 with the foxy Kate Hudson dutifully cheering him on from the front row. Penny Lane has gone the way of Stillwater, but Diaz could prove to be a worthy replacement. She’s even attending some games in Tampa, which is pretty good GF work when you consider how excruciating spring training games can be.

If A-Rod can stay healthy — and admittedly big “if” — the 35-year-old might have a huge “Nobody believed in me!” season in store. It’s hard to expect him to deliver the type of 50-homer, 150-RBI seasons he produced during his pre-hip surgery, pre-PED admission days, but it wouldn’t be wise to completely rule it out.

Remember this, fantasy friends: When it comes to Alex Rodriguez, we’re talking about a man who thrives on infuriating the army of people who detest him. And what could anger the A-Rod haters more than a MVP-type season when most thought it was impossible?

Dan Hanzus writes three columns a week on his New York Yankees site, River & Sunset. He can be reached at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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