Fantasy Baseball: Predicting 10 Breakthrough Hitters for the 2013 Season
It's never too early to start planning for your next fantasy baseball draft—especially if the running backs on your fantasy football team are Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson.
Instead of dwelling on the past, it's time to turn to the future.
Sure, there's still a lot of time for players to change teams and for situations to shift, but there are plenty of young hitters who already jump out as guys who might find themselves in a position to deliver—not only as full-time players but as key figures on your fantasy squad.
Guys like who? And in no particular order? Glad you asked.
1. Starling Marte
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True, the Pirates did disappear during the final few months of the season but there's still hope in the Steel City thanks to top-notch talent in the minors. The team's prime offensive prospect—Starling Marte—has already demonstrated he can deliver in the majors.
Following a late-July promotion, Marte was serviceable and occasionally brilliant with five home runs and six triples in just 47 games. His discipline could use work (50 Ks to eight BB), but his blend of power and speed is unquestioned.
With the Bucs battling for relevancy again in the NL Central, Marte should be given every opportunity to land the left field spot in March. If he does and finds himself permanently paired with Andrew McCutchen, you'll definitely want to use a late-round flier on Marte and his promise.
2. Adam Eaton
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A lot of Adam Eaton's potential to breakthrough—in 2013, at least—is out of Adam Eaton's hands.
Between AA and AAA last season, he hit .375 with 44 steals and 130 runs before the Diamondbacks called his number in September. Filling in for an injured Chris Young, the 23-year-old Eaton led off for much of a month to mixed results (.259 with two homers and two steals) but did manage to get on base in 10 of his first 11 games.
His stint in the majors was cut short by a broken hand, and unless Arizona deals Young or Justin Upton in the off-season, Eaton will have to battle for a job next spring.
3. Norichika Aoki
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For seven seasons in Japan, Norchika Aoki was a legitimate stud. A seven-time All-Star and three-time Central League batting champ, Aoki signed with the Brewers before last season and quickly found a home at the top of the order.
He was incredibly consistent, batting between .260 and .306 each month of the season, but for a few weeks between September and October, Aoki was something else entirely. He hit four home runs with 18 RBI and nine steals in just 31 games while his OPS soared to .896.
Sure, Aoki will be 31 at the start of next season, but with his transitional year behind him, fantasy owners should be able to enjoy production more in line with what fans of the Yakult Swallows came to expect.
4. Matt Dominguez
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A first-round draft pick by the Marlins in 2007, Matt Domiguez had seen the luster fade from his former top-prospect status thanks to a slow progression through the minors and the perception that he wouldn't deliver on his power potential.
Considering the current state of flux the Astros are in, Dominguez should see at least another solid look at the hot corner thanks mostly due to strong glove. But if he manages to combine opportunity with his offensive potential, Dominguez could turn out mid-level numbers next year for a bargain basement price.
5. Jurickson Profar
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It might not be time yet, but if you're in a keeper league, it's likely already too late.
Casual fans probably recognize the name Jurickson Profar as a rookie who homered in his first MLB at-bat in September, then very nearly started a Rangers rally as a pinch hitter in the Wild Card game against the Orioles.
Diehard fans, however, know him as one of the most coveted prospects in all of baseball.
Although he bat just .176 for Texas down the stretch, Profar was hitting .281 with 14 homers and 16 steals for AA-Frisco before that. While Elvis Andrus currently blocks his path to a full-time shortstop job, an injury or trade elsewhere in the Rangers infield would instantly make Profar a must-own phenom with 20/20 potential.
6. Domonic Brown
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It seemed a little like Domonic Brown had been hanging on the peripheral of the Phillies lineup forever. Drafted out of high school in 2006, he's been among the most touted minor league players in Philadelphia's system almost that entire time.
But it wasn't until the Phillies fire sale over the summer that saw Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence leave town that Brown finally had a chance to settle in. He struggled with knee issues during the second half, but still managed five homers and 26 RBI in 187 at-bats.
Firmly entrenched in the Phillies' future plans, Brown should wind up with a starting position from day one next season. As long as all those scouts weren't entirely off base, Brown will be one of the more intriguing players to watch leading up to your fantasy draft.
7. Manny Machado
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Depending on how the rest of the Orioles postseason shakes out, Manny Machado could find himself much more on the fantasy radar than he is right now. Just 19 years old, he's been a vital cog in Baltimore's surprisingly efficient machine since his August call-up.
In only 51 games, the former No. 3 overall draft pick belted seven home runs and 26 RBI from the bottom of the order. Often compared to a young Alex Rodriguez, Machado is bound to eventually ascend to the top of the third base rankings.
And that inevitable ascent could begin as early as next year—if it hasn't already.
8. Travis D'Arnaud
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Things haven't gone great for Travis d'Arnaud. Not lately. A knee injury in July ended his season early.
Before that, however, things were going just fine. D'Arnaud was hitting .333 in the minors with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. And although the Blue Jays had said their top catching prospect wouldn't see the big league team in 2012, his performance could've changed things.
While J.P. Arencibia probably isn't going anywhere, d'Arnaud could find his way onto the Jays as backup or occasional DH. And once that happens, it might not be all that long before he's an everyday fixture.
9. Josh Rutledge
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Well, at least one person directly benefited from the absence of Troy Tulowitzki all year. Josh Rutledge, the Rockies' third-round pick in 2010 and a natural second baseman, filled in at shortstop for the injured Tulo and all but assured himself another crack at the infield next season.
Although his final line of .274 with eight homers and seven steals doesn't seem all that impressive on first glance, Rutledge had been hitting as high as .327 in early September.
And keep in mind that he'll move back to second base next season where numbers like that can be especially useful and he'll still be doing half his hitting a mile high.
10. Anthony Rizzo
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You could make the argument that Anthony Rizzo broke through in 2012. But that was just a sign of things to come.
While Bryan LaHair is getting an unexpected amount of playing time thanks to his slugging, Rizzo—the Cubs first baseman of the immediate future—still emerged with flashes of potential since his June promotion. Some weeks were good and others not so much, but in the end, Rizzo amassed 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 87 games.
It doesn't take a math major to extrapolate those numbers over a full season, and that will easily put Rizzo in the running to make one of the bigger stat jumps of the year.