Spring is nearly upon us, which means baseball is around the corner. It's never too early to start preparing for your fantasy baseball draft.
There's no doubt that Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen are some of the most coveted stars. Selecting them in the first round is a no-brainer.
The players who win their league are able to identify the bargains in the later rounds. Maybe it's a younger player poised to break out. Or possibly it's a player who struggled in the previous season and should return to the norm heading into the next year.
This is a case of the latter. The five players below had problems in 2013, for whatever reason. In 2014, they should recover.
Jurickson Profar, 2B, Texas Rangers
It's clear that the Texas Rangers have big plans for Jurickson Profar; otherwise they wouldn't have dealt Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. With Kinsler out of the way, the path is clear for Profar to take over at second base full time.
You can chalk a lot of the 21-year-old's problems last year to growing pains. Not everybody can be Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. By playing every day, Profar will build more confidence and get more used to major league pitching.
Profar won't hit for a high average. He should, however, have impressive power numbers, and with second base always being a tough position to draft, waiting on Profar might pay major dividends.
Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Starlin Castro is one of the biggest bounce-back candidates this season, considering how disappointing he was in 2013. His batting average dropped almost 40 points, while his slugging percentage decreased 83 points.
Last year, pitchers learned that they didn't have to get the ball into the strike zone in order for Castro to swing. Not everybody can be Vladimir Guerrero. Castro swung at way too many pitches, and that resulted in a precipitous offensive drop-off.
Sports Illustrated's Michael Beller thinks that it's a problem the 23-year-old can work on:
Castro may be young in life, but he's no longer a young baseball player. While it's alarming that a player with four full seasons under his belt could still struggle this deeply with pitch selection, it's a problem that can be fixed, especially since he showed an understanding last year of how to work a pitcher early in the count.
Castro's environment in Chicago may not be much better than it was last year, but he can organically improve his counting stats just by getting on base more often than 28.4 percent of the time. If he can successfully tweak his plate discipline in hitters' counts, there is little doubt that will happen. In redraft leagues, he's the No. 7 shortstop on my board.
With a little bit of confidence and the right coaching, things should be back to normal for the Chicago Cubs shortstop this year.
B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton can't possibly be any worse in 2014. How was it possible for the Atlanta Braves outfielder to hit .184 last season? You'd think he would've accidentally made more contact than that.
You know that the jump in average for Upton won't be huge this year. He's a career .248 hitter. What should see marked improvements are his home runs, runs batted in and stolen bases. All three were the lowest of his career since 2006, in which he played 50 games.
The biggest concern is that he struck out 151 times in 446 plate appearances last season (33 percent). That's up percentage-wise from 2012, when he whiffed 169 times but in 633 plate appearances (26 percent).
Upton is still worth the risk, as long as you're not expecting him to hit for average or have a high on-base percentage.
Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
At least Tim Lincecum made an improvement from that disastrous 2012 season. His problems seem to stem from his drop in velocity. That can wreck some pitchers' careers. Others adjust and recover.
Lincecum should fall in the latter category.
You could see last year that he's begun changing his style to be more in line with where his fastball is. Lincecum admitted that this offseason he's "working smarter and harder," per the San Francisco Giants' Twitter account:
It's not unheard of for a pitcher to completely make over himself into his late 20s. Cliff Lee was 29 when he won a Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians. While that's the exception rather than the rule, Lincecum should take another step forward in 2014.
John Axford, RP, Cleveland Indians
Ever since that 46-save season in 2011, it's been downhill for John Axford. He saved 35 games in 2012 but posted an ERA of 4.67. Then last year, he didn't record a single save, finishing the game in only 16 of his 75 appearances, per Baseball-Reference, between the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.
There's something about the Cleveland Indians, though, when it comes to reclamation projects in the bullpen. Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski both led the league in saves, all the while fraying the nerves of the entire Indians fanbase.
Axford has the coaching staff on his side, per Indians.com's Jordan Bastian:
Although he won't be lights-out next year, Axford should record 30-plus saves, making him a solid No. 2 closer option.
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