Spring training can be a great or awful gauge for success in the upcoming MLB season. But sometimes a player has such a stellar spring it's impossible to ignore his chances for success.
That's no different for fantasy baseball.
With plenty of leagues starting their fantasy drafts, now is the time to start paying attention to spring ball. It's a great way to scout players and prospects, while getting an idea of who's hot and who's not.
Here's a list of some players having such great springs, it will be impossible to ignore them in the upcoming fantasy baseball season.
After a long rise to fantasy relevance, the Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon reached the apex of his potential in 2011, hitting 23 home runs in what has been his best MLB season to date.
Gordon went early off the boards last year, as many owners hoped he would continue his five-tool ways.
2012 wasn't a complete disappointment for Gordon, but he took major steps back. His OPS dropped by .57 points and he only hit 14 home runs.
But the good still outweighed the bad, and it seems this spring Gordon is determined to make himself stick in fantasy owners' minds.
The outfielder currently leads all players with a .522 average this spring, while putting up four extra-base hits, five RBI and seven runs scored in just nine games.
While 2012 wasn't as great as 2011 for Gordon, he's proving he's still a great talent for any fantasy team.
You couldn't get much worse than Jon Lester last season, as the usually consistent lefty went 9-14 while posting a career-worst 4.82 ERA.
So far this spring, Lester looks like he may be turning a corner. The Red Sox's ace has a 1.00 ERA and six strikeouts in nine innings pitched. Opponents are currently hitting .103 off of him.
That's impressive for Lester, who is constantly a slow starter.
In seven spring trainings, Lester has compiled a 4.05 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. In the regular season, he owns a 4.17 ERA spanning from March to May.
Owners looking for a mid- to late-round steal to solidify their pitching staffs should definitely give Lester a look. And if he pitches like this throughout the rest of spring, he'll be hard to ignore.
Aaron Hicks isn't the biggest-named prospect out there, but the outfielder has great five-tool potential.
Last season, Hicks put himself on the map, putting up 45 extra-base hits while stealing 32 stolen bases for the Minnesota Twins' Double-A affiliate.
The 23-year-old is making the best of his third spring training, smacking four home runs with 12 RBI. He's currently hitting .407.
Outside of Josh Willingham, the Twins outfield is paper thin. Hicks may not make the team out of spring training—he's never played above the Double-A level—but it might not be long until he's at the major league level.
Even if Hicks doesn't break with the Twins, he's got plenty of potential for this season, not to mention keeper leagues. With his power looking for real, Hicks has great long-term potential.
One of the oddest fantasy setbacks of last season, who'd have thought Roy Halladay would have had the season that he did?
By Doc's standards, 2012 was horrid. The ace managed 11 wins, but they came with a 4.49 ERA and 1.222 WHIP, not to mention a 3.67 K/BB that was down from 6.29 the year prior.
The 35-year-old's woes started early last season, as Halladay put up a career worst 5.73 ERA in spring training.
But the dominant right-hander's on the right track this spring. In his two starts, Halladay has a 2.16 ERA and seven strikeouts.
With a great spring, owners are free to put their trust back in Halladay, which will make him a huge midround steal this season.
Will Brandon Belt ever stop teasing fantasy owners?
Belt had owners salivating after a tremendous spring training in 2011, but ultimately disappointed owners with a .718 OPS in 63 games with the San Francisco Giants.
Last season, Belt once again blew everyone away in spring, and while 2012 wasn't a breakout season, he looked a lot better.
Belt continues to take steps toward a breakout season, and 2013 could be the year. The 24-year-old is currently hitting .464 with six extra-base hits and eight RBI.
With the best spring stats of his career and improvements over the last two seasons, this could be the year for Belt. He may not warrant an early round pick, but taking a flier in a late round could pay big dividends.
Despite his status as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Julio Teheran's MLB debut has been less than stellar.
Over the last two seasons, Teheran has made just seven appearances (four starts), which have resulted in a 5.19 ERA and 1.346 WHIP.
The Atlanta Braves remolded their rotation in the offseason and appear ready to give their prospects a shot at the major league roster.
Teheran tops that list, and the 22-year-old is proving himself this spring. In nine innings, Teheran has a 2.00 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and just two walks.
The electric-armed Teheran isn't only someone to watch for keeper leagues. At this point in his career, he could be on the verge of a huge breakout season.
With Teheran's arm looking as good as it does this spring, this is the season to pull the trigger on the young prospect.
Ryan Howard didn't enjoy the most triumphant return to the big leagues last season, but he held his own for fantasy owners.
Coming back from an Achilles tendon injury, Howard hit .219 with 14 home runs in 71 games last season for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Howard has been tearing things up this spring, posting a 1.116 OPS with six extra-base hits and 11 RBI. More importantly, he looks healthy and ready to roll.
As always, first base is a deep position, and Howard may not be your first choice for a starter. But he can certainly be a sleeper late in your draft, as either your starting first baseman or a utility player.
Outside of the top three pitchers, Tampa Bay's rotation is wide open. Good news for Alex Cobb, who is looking to start his second season in the Rays rotation.
Cobb wasn't an ace in 2012, but he had flashes. In 23 starts, the 25-year-old went 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA and 7.0 K/9.
The right-hander is looking to continue that success this season, and he's getting an early start this spring.
In nine innings, Cobb has pitched to the tune of a 2.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts and just one walk.
Starting for the pitcher-friendly Rays, Cobb will have plenty of chances for wins in 2013. That Tampa Bay defense should help pad his stats as well.
As long as he continues to pitch well this spring, Cobb will be a great anchor in the back end of any fantasy rotation.
Philadelphia has long touted Domonic Brown as the next big thing in its outfield.
But the 24-year-old has had an incredibly disappointing start to his career. In 147 games with the Phillies, Brown has just 12 home runs and a .703 OPS.
The Phillies outfield is wide open this year, and there's a great chance that Brown earns a starting spot this season.
Brown's enjoying a great spring, hitting .400 with three home runs, 12 runs scored and six walks.
Philadelphia's lineup will bring plenty of power this year, and Brown should be sandwiched right in the middle of it.
Brown could be on the verge of his breakout season, and—if the potential is for real—that should have fantasy owners salivating.
For his first couple of seasons, Gardner looked like a speeding fantasy stud bound to break out.
But while the 27-year-old posted a career best 49 stolen bases in 2011, it was accompanied by a putrid .713 OPS.
A bum elbow kept Gardner on the DL for most of last season. He finished 2012 with just 16 games, but had a solid .804 OPS.
This spring, Gardner has yet to flash his wheels, but he could be saving that for the regular season. What he has done is post 11 hits and a 1.303 OPS in seven games.
Gardner looks healthy and able this spring, and his bat looks to be in full tilt. If you're looking for a four-tool—Gardner still isn't a force in the power department—speedster, look no further.