Many Major Leaguers silenced their skeptics by reversing course and having superb 2016 seasons. Some players rebounded from one down year and others flipped the switch after struggling through multiple unproductive campaigns. But while all of these players are feel-good stories at the moment, some are better suited than others
Many Major Leaguers silenced their skeptics by reversing course and having superb 2016 seasons. Some players rebounded from one down year and others flipped the switch after struggling through multiple unproductive campaigns. But while all of these players are feel-good stories at the moment, some are better suited than others to extend their '16 results into next season.
Note: Players' position(s) below based on their eligibility in most 2016 fantasy leagues
Jonathan Lucroy, C/1B: After hitting .264 with seven homers during an injury-plagued '15 season, Lucroy rebounded to post a career-best 24 homers this past year. Combining a .292 average with his improved power production, the 30-year-old was the most valuable fantasy catcher in '16. Lucroy should compete with Giants superstar Buster Posey and Yankees phenom Gary Sánchez to be the first backstop on '17 draft lists.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF: Even optimistic Trumbo owners had to be surprised to see an offseason relocation to Baltimore result in a Major League-leading home run total. After all, his 47 round-trippers far surpassed a combined total of 36 from the previous two seasons. Trumbo's willingness to find a free-agent destination that includes a hitter-friendly home venue will have a major impact on his '17 draft value.
Jean Segura, 2B/SS: Segura hit .325 with 11 homers and 27 steals in the first half of '13 before recording a total of 12 long balls and 62 swipes to go with a .250 average across the subsequent 2 1/2 seasons. But in '16, he emerged from an infield logjam during Spring Training to post career-best totals in batting average, home runs, RBIs and runs scored. Segura should remain productive from his perch atop the D-backs' lineup despite a likely regression from the career-high 13.5 HR/FB rate he produced this past season.
Evan Longoria, third baseman: Longoria was considered to be a safe-but-unremarkable mid-round pick when he entered his age-30 season having produced a total of 43 home runs across the previous two campaigns. But the veteran slugger recorded a career-best 36 homers and nearly cracked the century mark in RBIs despite hitting in a lineup that ranked 14th among American League teams in runs scored.
Ian Desmond, SS/OF: A perennial 20-20 asset from '12-14, Desmond was sent to waivers in many leagues when he hit .233 with unremarkable counting-stat totals in '15. But a move to a productive Rangers lineup sparked a return to fantasy glory for the veteran, who rode a sizzling start to the season to compile 22 homers, 21 steals, 86 RBIs and 107 runs scored.
Hanley Ramirez, OF/1B: Ramirez was seemingly rejuvenated by a position switch to first base in '16 after a lackluster initial season in Boston, as he recorded his first 30-homer campaign since '08. The 32-year-old also used his spot in the heart of the highest scoring lineup in baseball to produce a career best 111 RBIs. Looking ahead, the retirement of David Ortiz could allow Ramirez to move up in the order after he batted fifth for much of '16.
Rajai Davis, outfielder: With the knowledge that stealing bases tends to be a young man's skill, fantasy owners were quick to dismiss Davis after his steals total took a sharp drop in '15. But the 35-year-old found the fountain of youth in Cleveland this year, leading the American League with 43 stolen bases and adding a career-high 12 homers to boot. Davis will be a fine late-round option for '17 owners who have neglected to add a speedster or two in the earlier rounds.
Melvin Upton Jr., outfielder: Upton had gone three seasons without making a meaningful mixed-league impact before compiling 16 homers and 20 steals across 374 plate appearances with the Padres in '16. However, the outfielder struggled following a trade to the Blue Jays and will enter '17 with an uncertain role. As a result, he is an unlikely candidate to repeat his bounceback campaign.
Justin Verlander, starter: Verlander was not among the initial 30 starters selected in many '16 drafts after posting a 3.84 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP from '13-15. But the 33-year-old rediscovered his swing-and-miss stuff and recorded top-two marks among American Leaguers in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. By increasing his slider usage and regaining some of his previously reduced fastball velocity, Verlander seems to have found the recipe for sustained late-career success.
Julio Teheran, starter: Despite winning just seven games across 30 starts, Teheran was an outstanding mixed-league asset in '16. Coming off a 4.04 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in '15, the righty lowered those marks by 83 and 26 points, respectively, this past season. Wise owners will use some level of caution when projecting Teheran's '17 ratios, however, given the Braves righty posted a 4.17 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP from July 1 through the end of the campaign.
Jeremy Hellickson, starter: Owners had few reasons to be optimistic about Hellickson after he posted a 4.86 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP from '13-15. However, the right-hander proved to be very consistent in '16 as he regained the form that led to a 3.06 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP across his initial three seasons from '10-12. A free agent this winter, Hellickson would greatly help his '17 value by choosing a Senior Circuit team with an offense-suppressing home venue.
Tanner Roark, starter: Expectations were low for Roark after he posted a 4.38 ERA across 12 starts and 28 relief appearances in '15. But owners who added the right-hander after he tossed seven scoreless innings in three of his initial five starts wound up with a waiver-wire gem who produced the sixth-lowest ERA (2.83) in the Majors. Roark appears to have found the right mix to keep hitters off balance by increasing the use of his curveball and changeup.
Rick Porcello, starter: Porcello was not highly regarded by most fantasy owners after he posted a 4.92 ERA a year ago. But the right-hander rediscovered the form that led to a 3.43 ERA in '14, outperforming heralded teammate David Price to become the ace of Boston's rotation. Even though his .269 BABIP from '16 offers reason to expect some regression during the season ahead, Porcello should win plenty of games, as long as he can produce an ERA in the mid-3.00s.
Jim Johnson, reliever: As of June 1, Johnson was struggling to provide fantasy value in NL-only leagues. After all, the right-hander was working in middle relief on a rebuilding Braves squad and had produced a 4.85 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP since the outset of '13. But something clicked with Johnson after a May disabled-list stint and he produced a 1.76 ERA with 20 saves from the start of June through the end of '16. The veteran has re-signed with the Braves and should battle Arodys Vizcaíno for closer duties during Spring Training.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.