Fantasy Baseball 2016 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2016

Fantasy Baseball 2016 Preview: Sleepers, Predictions and Position Rankings

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    Spring training is about to begin, and so too should your preparations for the upcoming fantasy baseball season.

    While most drafts are still a few weeks away, nobody wants to be caught unprepared by relying on the preset rankings supplied by whatever site you use and haphazardly scribbled names on a sticky note that you can barely make out.

    Consider this your go-to guide for the weeks ahead. We'll delve into the top 20 players at every position (top 40 for outfielders and starting pitchers, top 10 for designated hitters), identifying sleepers and players to avoid along the way. We'll also hit on a handful of prospects you'll want to stash for a midseason boost.

    These rankings are based on a standard, five-by-five mixed rotisserie league. While they're applicable in other types of leagues, you'll have to adjust the rankings based on the scoring system you'll be playing under.

    For example, one of the leagues I play in has no pitching and only one scoring category—RBI. Speedy leadoff hitters aren't going to be of much interest under such a format.

    You'll also want to keep in mind average draft position, which comes to us from Roster Resource, a site that crunches the numbers across five different fantasy sites to give us a broader view of where players are actually going. Those numbers are based on a 10-team, five-by-five mixed league.

    Let's get started.

Catcher

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    Travis d'Arnaud
    Travis d'ArnaudAssociated Press
    RankPlayer (Secondary Position)Team
    1.Buster Posey (1B)SF
    2.Kyle Schwarber (OF)CHC
    3.Brian McCannNYY
    4.Travis d'ArnaudNYM
    5.Jonathan LucroyMIL
    6.Devin MesoracoCIN
    7.Stephen Vogt (1B)OAK
    8.Salvador PerezKC
    9.Russell MartinTOR
    10.Matt WietersBAL
    11.Yasmani GrandalLAD
    12.Yan GomesCLE
    13.Blake SwihartBOS
    14.Francisco CervelliPIT
    15.Welington CastilloARI
    16.Nick HundleyCOL
    17.J.T. RealmutoMIA
    18.Miguel MonteroCHC
    19.Derek NorrisSD
    20.Wilson RamosWAS

    Overview

    Unless you absolutely must have Buster Posey or Kyle Schwarber behind the plate, wait to burn a pick on a catcher. While someone like Travis d'Arnaud has more upside than say, Nick Hundley, there ultimately may not be much of a difference in their year-end numbers.

    Case in point: See if you can figure out which 2015 statistics belong to which catcher:

    PlayerBAXBH (HR)RBIOPS
    Player X.30136 (10)43.807
    Player Y.26827 (12)41.825

    Player X is Hundley, with an average draft position of 269, which would push him into the free-agent pool for some leagues. Player Y, d'Arnaud, is going more than 100 picks earlier, the 134th player to come off the board. Granted, d'Arnaud missed time last year with injury, but the point remains valid.

    That's the other reason to be patient when picking a backstop: Catchers take more of a beating than anyone else on the field, and you can rest assured that whoever you draft is likely to miss time with an injury at some point.

    One To Avoid: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 250)

    Molina's OPS and power have declined for three consecutive seasons, and he's still recovering from a pair of offseason thumb surgeries, which makes it unlikely he'll be ready by Opening Day. St. Louis figures to give him added rest during the season in an attempt to keep him healthy, limiting his fantasy impact. 

    Sleeper: Curt Casali, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: Undrafted)

    This all depends on whether Tampa Bay decides to keep the 27-year-old around. With veterans Hank Conger and Rene Rivera on the roster, Casali could start the season at Triple-A. If he does emerge as the starter, he makes for an intriguing power source, having hit 10 home runs in 101 at-bats last year.

First Base

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    Paul Goldschmidt
    Paul GoldschmidtRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Paul GoldschmidtARZ
    2.Anthony RizzoCHC
    3.Miguel CabreraDET
    4.Joey VottoCIN
    5.Edwin EncarnacionTOR
    6.Jose AbreuCHW
    7.Chris Davis (OF)BAL
    8.Adrian GonzalezLAD
    9.Buster Posey (C)SF
    10.Freddie FreemanATL
    11.Eric HosmerKC
    12.Mark TeixeiraNYY
    13.Carlos SantanaCLE
    14.Albert PujolsLAA
    15.Brandon BeltSF
    16.Byung Ho ParkMIN
    17.Lucas DudaNYM
    18.Wil MyersSD
    19.Ryan ZimmermanWAS
    20.Justin BourMIA

    Overview

    There's a deep pool of quality first basemen to choose from this season. The top seven on our list are all capable of putting up first-round production, and the top 11 are a sure bet to come off the board within the first 10 rounds of your draft.

    If you happen to realize that you don't have a first baseman as you head into the 15th round, don't panic. From veterans such as Mark Teixeira and Ryan Zimmerman to a solid-but-unspectacular guy in his late 20s such as Justin Bour, there will be plenty of decent options still available.

    There's no reason for James Loney to be your Opening Day first baseman.

    One To Avoid: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (ADP: 330)

    While a full-time move to first base has helped to keep Mauer on the field, it's also robbed him of whatever fantasy value he still held.

    A first baseman with little power and declining skills at the plate—the three-time American League batting champion has hit .270 with 14 home runs and a .725 OPS since 2014—has no place on your fantasy squad when there are options with higher floors available.

    Sleeper: C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels (ADP: 297)

    Los Angeles' starter at first base while Albert Pujols recovers from offseason foot surgery, Cron will maintain first base eligibility even after he returns to being a full-time designated hitter.

    While he doesn't get on base consistently, the 26-year-old flashed his potential after an early-season demotion to the minors, hitting .289 with 28 extra-base hits (14 home runs) and 44 RBI over 263 at-bats from July to season's end. 

    You can do far worse on a late-round flier than Cron, who has a legitimate shot to hit 25-plus home runs over the course of a full season while not killing your batting average.

Second Base

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    Dee Gordon
    Dee GordonLynne Sladky/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Jose AltuveHOU
    2.Dee GordonMIA
    3.Robinson CanoSEA
    4.Anthony Rendon (3B)WAS
    5.Brian DozierMIN
    6.Rougned OdorTEX
    7.Ian KinslerDET
    8.Ben Zobrist (OF)CHC
    9.Logan ForsytheTB
    10.Jason KipnisCLE
    11.DJ LeMahieuCOL
    12.Dustin PedroiaBOS
    13.Daniel Murphy (3B)WAS
    14.Kolten WongSTL
    15.Josh Harrison (3B/OF)PIT
    16.Brett Lawrie (3B)CHW
    17.Joe PanikSF
    18.Neil WalkerNYM
    19.Brandon PhillipsCIN
    20.Starlin Castro (SS)NYY

    Overview

    Jose Altuve and Dee Gordon are on a level all their own at second base, but you really can't go wrong with anyone in our top 15 at the keystone. Whether it's power (Brian Dozier), speed (Altuve and Gordon) or an all-around game (Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia) that you're after, the options are plentiful.

    One To Avoid: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP: 248)

    The days of Kendrick serving as a safe pick at the keystone are over. While the 32-year-old remained a solid choice to boost your batting average, hitting .295 a year ago, he's become a one-category pony, offering little in the way of power or speed.

    While he remains the starter in Los Angeles, both Enrique Hernandez and Chase Utley could eat into his playing time. There are better options to be found.

    Sleeper: Logan Forsythe, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 264)

    If anyone had noticed Forsythe's breakout 2015, when he hit .281 with 52 extra-base hits (17 home runs), 68 RBI and a .804 OPS, he'd be coming off the board far earlier than he is. 

Third Base

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    Kris Bryant
    Kris BryantCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Josh DonaldsonTOR
    2.Nolan ArenadoCOL
    3.Manny MachadoBAL
    4.Kris BryantCHC
    5.Todd FrazierCHW
    6.Matt CarpenterSTL
    7.Kyle SeagerSEA
    8.Adrian BeltreTEX
    9.Evan LongoriaTB
    10.Maikel FrancoPHI
    11.Jung Ho Kang (2B)PIT
    12.Mike MoustakasKC
    13.Brett Lawrie (2B)CHW
    14.Daniel Murphy (2B)WAS
    15.Josh Harrison (3B/OF)PIT
    16.Anthony Rendon (2B)WAS
    17.Matt DuffySF
    18.David WrightNYM
    19.Justin TurnerLAD
    20.Trevor PlouffeMIN

    Overview

    While there are plenty of respectable options at third base, it's one position that you'd be wise to invest an early pick on. There's a case to be made for Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado to be taken in the first round, with the rest of the top 10 sure to be off the board by the time your draft hits double digits.

    One To Avoid: David Wright, New York Mets (ADP: 205)

    He may have cracked our top 20, but the spinal stenosis that limited Wright to only 38 games in 2015 remains an issue, and the Mets plan on limiting his workload, as general manager Sandy Alderson explained to the New York Post's Steve Serby:

    I think we’re hoping that he’ll play 130 games or so. We’re gonna make sure that he’s not overworked. So it’s important for us to find somebody who can play 30 games or so at third base when he’s not in there. But I think we have to be realistic, and not expect that he’s gonna be an absolute everyday out there playing 150 or 155 games, that’s not gonna happen.

    Wright should remain productive so long as he can stay healthy, but he represents a sizable risk. If you're going to draft Wright, make sure you have another reliable option to lean on when he's out of the lineup.

    Sleeper: Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers (ADP: 282)

    Castellanos has yet to live up to the hype that surrounded him as a consensus top-100 prospect, but he started to figure things out over the season's second half, hitting .269 with 31 extra-base hits (nine home runs) and a .800 OPS over 245 at-bats.

    Entering his age-24 season, Castellanos still has considerable upside. If he can build on that strong finish, he could finally deliver the breakout season we've been waiting for.

Shortstop

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    Troy Tulowitzki
    Troy TulowitzkiTony Gutierrez/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Carlos CorreaHOU
    2.Troy TulowitzkiTOR
    3.Xander BogaertsBOS
    4.Corey SeagerLAD
    5.Francisco LindorCLE
    6.Ian DesmondFA
    7.Brandon CrawfordSF
    8.Jung Ho Kang (2B/3B)PIT
    9.Elvis AndrusTEX
    10.Jose ReyesCOL
    11.Addison Russell (2B)CHC
    12.Jhonny PeraltaSTL
    13.Ketel MarteSEA
    14.Asdrubal CabreraNYM
    15.Starlin Castro (2B)NYY
    16.Alcides EscobarKC
    17.Zack CozartCIN
    18.Marcus SemienOAK
    19.Brad Miller (OF)TB
    20.Eduardo Escobar (OF)MIN

    Overview

    An impressive array of young talent leads the way at shortstop, with Troy Tulowitzki the only player over the age of 24 to crack our top five.

    While going with a relatively unproven talent is always a risk—of that group, only Tulo and Xander Bogaerts have a full season under their belts—there's a fairly large gap between their upside and the rest of the field, so you'll have to strike early if you want a potentially elite option at the position.

    One To Avoid: Alexei Ramirez, San Diego Padres (ADP: 284)

    Coming off the worse season of his eight-year career, there's little reason to believe a 34-year-old Ramirez is going to bounce back to become a worthy fantasy option. While he'll contribute some stolen bases, his power will be limited by his new home in Petco Park.

    Sleeper: Marcus Semien, Oakland A's (ADP: 278)

    He's not going to help your squad's batting average, but Semien's combination of power and speed should not be ignored. After all, he was one of only three shortstops, along with Carlos Correa and Ian Desmond, to hit at least 15 home runs and steal 10 bases last season.

Outfielders (1-20)

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    Giancarlo Stanton
    Giancarlo StantonKathy Willens/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Mike TroutLAA
    2.Bryce HarperWAS
    3.Giancarlo StantonMIA
    4.Andrew McCutchenPIT
    5.A.J. PollockARZ
    6.Jose BautistaTOR
    7.Chris Davis (1B)BAL
    8.Mookie BettsBOS
    9.George SpringerHOU
    10.J.D. MartinezDET
    11.Adam JonesBAL
    12.Charlie BlackmonCOL
    13.Nelson CruzSEA
    14.Starling MartePIT
    15.Yoenis CespedesNYM
    16.Carlos GomezHOU
    17.Carlos GonzalezCOL
    18.Lorenzo CainKC
    19.Justin UptonDET
    20.Kyle Schwarber (C)CHC

    Overview

    Any player who lands in our top 20 is a fine choice to serve as the anchor of your outfield; he's someone you can insert into your lineup on Opening Day and never have to remove (unless injury forces your hand).

    One To Avoid: Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 120)

    Dickerson is a career .249/.286/.410 hitter away from Colorado's Coors Field, a place he'll spend a total of three games at in 2016. Let someone else gamble that he'll buck that trend in Tampa Bay.

    Sleeper: Scott Schebler, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: Undrafted)

    He may not hit for average and isn't going to steal a ton of bases, but Schebler hits the ball hard and has the potential to be an extra-base hit machine in Cincinnati, where he figures to get the bulk of the playing time in left field.

Outfielders (21-40)

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    Hunter Pence
    Hunter PenceRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    21.Jason HeywardCHC
    22.Ryan BraunMIL
    23.Michael BrantleyCLE
    24.Hunter PenceSF
    25.David PeraltaARZ
    26.Matt KempSD
    27.Adam EatonCHW
    28.Curtis GrandersonNYM
    29.Yasiel PuigLAD
    30.Jacoby EllsburyNYY
    31.Gregory PolancoPIT
    32.Christian YelichMIA
    33.Ben RevereWAS
    34.Kole CalhounLAA
    35.Ben Zobrist (2B)CHC
    36.Michael ConfortoNYM
    37.Randal GrichukSTL
    38.Brett GardnerNYY
    39.Billy HamiltonCIN
    40.Hanley Ramirez (1B)BOS

    Overview

    Having one of these players anchor your outfield wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but ideally, someone from this second tier of outfielders is more of a complementary piece than a building block.

    One To Avoid: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds (ADP: 112)

    Remember Willie Mays Hayes from the Major League movies? That's Hamilton, a speedster who, for some reason, continues to swing for the fences. Until he proves that he's more interested in making consistent contact, his 50-plus steals don't cover the rest of the holes in his game.

    Sleeper: Nori Aoki, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 319)

    Seemingly ignored on an annual basis, Aoki's place atop Seattle's lineup all but guarantees he'll be a solid source of runs and stolen bases while helping to boost your team's batting average. Considering how late he's going in drafts, he's an absolute steal, even with a lack of power.

Designated Hitter

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    David Ortiz
    David OrtizChris O'Meara/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Edwin Encarnacion (1B)TOR
    2.Miguel Sano (OF)MIN
    3.David OrtizBOS
    4.Nelson Cruz (OF)SEA
    5.Prince FielderTEX
    6.Alex RodriguezNYY
    7.Carlos Santana (1B)CLE
    8.Evan GattisHOU
    9.Kendrys MoralesKC
    10.Victor MartinezDET

    Overview

    Unless you play in an AL-only league, chances are you're drafting a full-time designated hitter for one reason and one reason only—power. Every player on this list is capable of providing just that, although in some cases, that's all he'll provide.

     

    One To Avoid: Billy Butler, Oakland A's (ADP: Undrafted)

    Butler has largely gone undrafted and for good reason—a designated hitter who has no power and doesn't hit for average is useless when it comes to fantasy baseball. Even in the later rounds, when you're scrambling to find a player worth taking, pass on "Country Breakfast."

    Sleeper: Richie Shaffer, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: Undrafted)

    Shaffer seems destined to start the season back in Triple-A, but at some point, the Rays are going to grow tired of the lack of production from the James Loney/Logan Morrison combination at first base and designated hitter, respectively.

    Shaffer isn't going to hit for average and will strike out a ton, but his power is for real.

Starting Pitchers (1-20)

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    Clayton Kershaw
    Clayton KershawGregory Bull/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Clayton KershawLAD
    2.Max ScherzerWAS
    3.Chris SaleCHW
    4.Madison BumgarnerSF
    5.Jake ArrietaCHC
    6.David PriceBOS
    7.Matt HarveyNYM
    8.Jacob deGromNYM
    9.Gerrit ColePIT
    10.Corey KluberCLE
    11.Zack GreinkeARZ
    12.Dallas KeuchelHOU
    13.Chris ArcherTB
    14.Carlos CarrascoCLE
    15.Stephen StrasburgWAS
    16.Jose FernandezMIA
    17.Felix HernandezSEA
    18.Noah SyndergaardNYM
    19.Cole HamelsTEX
    20.Jon LesterCHC

    Overview

    If you're looking for a fantasy ace, look no further. Every player in our top 20 is a legitimate No. 1 starter for your squad, and depending on how your league values pitching, it's not a bad idea to snag two of these arms in the early part of your draft.

     

    One To Avoid: Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP: 190)

    While he outperformed his peripherals in 2015, Estrada's lack of whiffability and a penchant for giving up home runs make him a risky pick in fantasy. You can do better when it comes to filling out your rotation.

    Sleeper: Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 177)

    Corbin returned from Tommy John surgery last July, pitching to a 2.99 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over his first 14 starts and finishing the season with a still-respectable 3.60 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. A solid contributor across all categories, he should be going earlier in drafts than he is.

Starting Pitchers (21-40)

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    Jose Quintana
    Jose QuintanaAlex Gallardo/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    21.Sonny GrayOAK
    22.Johnny CuetoSF
    23.Carlos MartinezSTL
    24.Danny SalazarCLE
    25.Adam WainwrightSTL
    26.Michael WachaSTL
    27.Marcus StromanTOR
    28.Tyson RossSD
    29.Masahiro TanakaNYY
    30.Jordan ZimmermannDET
    31.Luis SeverinoNYY
    32.Justin VerlanderDET
    33.Jeff SamardzijaSF
    34.Taijuan WalkerSEA
    35.Garrett RichardsLAA
    36.Yu DarvishTEX
    37.Jose QuintanaCHW
    38.Francisco LirianoPIT
    39.Carlos RodonCHW
    40.Steven MatzNYM

    Overview

    You can still find a fantasy ace in this group, though ideally, you'll already have someone plugged into your rotation from our top 20, giving you a pair of reliable, quality arms to lean upon all season long.

    One To Avoid: Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals (ADP: 206)

    Garcia was stellar in 2015, pitching to a 2.43 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 20 starts, but it was also the first time since 2012 that he'd made more than 10 appearances in a season. With a history of shoulder issues, let someone else assume the risk. There are more reliable options out there.

    Sleeper: Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals (ADP: 297)

    Two years ago, Roark made 31 starts for the Nationals, pitching to a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. After a season spent primarily in relief, he's back in the rotation and going far too late in fantasy drafts. He's not a stud, but Roark will provide solid contributions across multiple categories.

Relief Pitchers

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    Wade Davis
    Wade DavisWinslow Townson/Associated Press
    RankPlayerTeam
    1.Wade DavisKC
    2.Kenley JansenLAD
    3.Craig KimbrelBOS
    4.Aroldis ChapmanNYY
    5.Jeurys FamiliaNYM
    6.Ken GilesHOU
    7.Trevor RosenthalSTL
    8.Zach BrittonBAL
    9.Mark MelanconPIT
    10.Cody AllenCLE
    11.David RobertsonCHW
    12.Francisco RodriguezDET
    13.Hector RondonCHC
    14.Huston StreetLAA
    15.Brad BoxbergerTB
    16.Shawn TollesonTEX
    17.Jonathan PapelbonWAS
    18.Roberto OsunaTOR
    19.Glen PerkinsMIN
    20.Dellin BetancesNYY

    Overview

    Everyone needs at least one closer, and with the exception of Dellin Betances, every pitcher in our top 20 can fill that role on your fantasy squad with little problem.

    One To Avoid: Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 218)

    Ziegler successfully converted 30 of 32 save opportunities last season, but he also struck out only 36 batters over 68 innings of work and posted an ERA (1.85) that was nearly two full runs lower than his FIP (3.44). The saves might remain, but the lack of strikeouts is a problem.

    Sleeper: Will Smith, Milwaukee Brewers (ADP: 305)

    Milwaukee's closer situation is anything but solid after trading away Francisco Rodriguez, and Smith figures to get a shot at working the ninth inning before too long. At the very least, he'll help in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, posting 10 strikeouts per nine innings over his four-year career.

Prospects to Know

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    Trea Turner
    Trea TurnerNick Wass/Associated Press

    These players aren't expected to break camp with their respective clubs but could become legitimate fantasy options at some point during the regular season. If you have an extra bench spot that you need to fill toward the end of your draft, stashing one of these players is a good idea.

    PlayerPositionTeam
    Orlando ArciaSSMIL
    Jose BerriosSPMIN
    Lewis BrinsonOFTEX
    Joey Gallo3B/OFTEX
    Lucas GiolitoSPWAS
    Tyler GlasnowSPPIT
    A.J. Reed1BHOU
    Blake SnellSPTB
    Trevor StorySSCOL
    Trea TurnerSSWAS

Predictions

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    Lance Lynn
    Lance LynnJohn Amis/Associated Press

    At Least One Top-40 Pitcher Will Be Lost to Tommy John Surgery

    One of the benefits of drafting as close to Opening Day as possible is that one of your draft picks is less likely to fall victim to a devastating injury in spring training. Granted, there's no way to predict when an injury will occur, but it's far less painful when you lose a high draft pick to a regular-season injury than one during exhibition games.

    It's likely that Yu Darvish came off the board in the first few rounds of everyone's draft last season, only to be lost for the year roughly two weeks before Opening Day. Heck, Lance Lynn didn't even wait for spring training this year, having the procedure performed in early November.

    A total of 13 pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, including six slated to be part of a major league pitching staff. Two years ago, seven pitchers set to open the season in the big leagues underwent the procedure before Opening Day.

    There's no reason to believe that trend is suddenly going to stop.

    Byron Buxton Will Outperform His ADP

    With an average draft position of 203 and a forgettable .209/.250/.326 slash line over 46 major league games, it's easy to overlook Byron Buxton as you piece together your fantasy outfield.

    But the tools that have made him one of baseball's most highly touted prospects remain, and he heads into the regular season as Minnesota's undisputed starter in center field. No longer does he have to look over his shoulder to see whether Aaron Hicks is about to take his job.

    That security will find Buxton, heading into his age-22 season, far more relaxed—and that will let his natural ability and athleticism begin to shine. We're not talking about a Mike Trout-like explosion, but finishing the season with a .270 batting average, 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases is realistic.

    Jurickson Profar Will Become Fantasy-Relevant

    He's nowhere to be found on our positional rankings, but after missing the past two seasons due to shoulder issues, Jurickson Profar is healthy and itching to show what he can do on the diamond.

    "I just want to play," he told the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant. "I know by playing, it's going to take care of itself. I know I can play baseball. Now that I'm healthy and everything is good, everybody is going to see me."

    Profar, who made his major league debut as a teenager, is only entering his age-23 season. While injuries have stunted his development, he still has significant upside, assuming he can stay healthy.

    While Texas is sure to be overly cautious with him, it's not hard to envision him becoming a super-utility player for the Rangers this season—the American League's version of Chicago's Javier Baez.

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

    Hit me up on Twitter with your fantasy questions and to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR.