Fantasy owners may be comforted by the idea of drafting a lineup full of players who excelled in 2016, but those who avoid having a recency bias will likely be better off.After all, 2017 is a new year with a different script. With that in mind, wise drafters should stick
Fantasy owners may be comforted by the idea of drafting a lineup full of players who excelled in 2016, but those who avoid having a recency bias will likely be better off.
After all, 2017 is a new year with a different script. With that in mind, wise drafters should stick their necks out at least once or twice during their selection process and consider someone who is coming off a disappointing or injury-plagued season. By targeting those who have previously excelled at the Major League level but disappointed last year, fantasy owners can find opportunities for significant profit. For example, owners received excellent production last year by buying low on the likes of Anthony Rendon, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Ian Desmond.
The following 17 players fit that bill and have the necessary skills to enjoy a major resurgence in the coming campaign.
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Travis d'Arnaud, catcher (Mets): After showing flashes of potential between injuries from 2014-15, d'Arnaud recorded just four homers with a .629 OPS over 276 plate appearances last season. But for the cost of a late-round pick, owners can stash d'Arnaud on the bench and hope he returns to the form that led to a .268 average and 12 homers across just 239 at-bats in '15.
Yan Gomes, catcher (Indians): After establishing himself as a mixed league asset by hitting .284 with 32 homers across 2013-14, Gomes has batted just .205 with 21 long balls over the past two injury-plagued seasons. Still just 29 years old, he could enjoy a bounceback year as a healthy member of a productive Indians lineup.
Devin Mesoraco, catcher (Reds): Mesoraco looked like a potential long-term fantasy star after hitting .273 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs in 2014. But after being limited to just 39 games in the past two seasons due to hip and shoulder injuries, the slugger could be a profitable waiver-wire target upon his return from a season-opening stint on the disabled list.
Bryce Harper, outfielder (Nationals): Though Harper had a disappointing 2016 campaign compared to his epic '15 season (42 homers, 118 runs, .330 average), he maintained significant fantasy value by tallying 24 homers, 86 RBIs and a career-high 21 steals. Optimistic owners can use a first-round pick on Harper in hopes that he can combine his '15 plate skills with the aggressive baserunning he displayed last year. Still just 24 years old, the Nats outfielder possesses one of the highest fantasy ceilings in the game.
Giancarlo Stanton, outfielder (Marlins): One of the game's most feared sluggers, Stanton continued to be hampered by injuries and inconsistency when he missed several weeks with a groin strain and posted a personal-low .815 OPS over 470 plate appearances last year. Still, his prodigious power puts him on the short list of candidates to lead the Majors in round-trippers this year.
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Jose Bautista, outfielder (Blue Jays): Bautista showed some signs of decline during an injury-plagued 2016 season, but he also posted an impressive 16.8 percent walk rate with strong average exit-velocity (92.6 mph) and fly-ball-distance (330 feet) marks, per Statcast™. Having compiled 75 homers, 217 RBIs and 209 runs during 2014-15, Bautista is not far removed from providing game-changing fantasy value.
A.J. Pollock, outfielder (D-backs): Pollock was unable to follow up on his breakout 2015 campaign (20 homers, 39 steals, .315 average), as he missed most of last season while recovering from elbow surgery. With improved health, the 29-year-old can be a premier table-setter in a productive lineup with a hitter-friendly home park.
Kyle Schwarber, outfielder (Cubs): Schwarber ranked among the biggest fantasy disappointments in 2016, playing in just two regular-season games due to a left knee injury. Now healthy, the youngster should use his patient approach and prodigious power to make a talented Chicago lineup even more productive this season -- potentially as the club's leadoff hitter.
Lorenzo Cain, outfielder (Royals): After emerging as an elite fantasy asset in 2015 (16 homers, 28 steals, .307 average), Cain dealt with multiple injuries and played in just 103 games a year ago. With the ability to provide a high average, excellent speed and solid power, the 30-year-old is worth the risk as a mid-round pick.
Jason Heyward, outfielder (Cubs): Heyward struggled mightily at the dish in 2016, posting a career-low homer total (seven) and his worst batting mark (.230) since '11. But after reworking his swing in the offseason, this power/speed threat could quickly return to shallow-league lineups as part of an outstanding Cubs lineup.
Shin-Soo Choo, outfielder (Rangers): Choo followed up a productive 2015 campaign by playing in just 48 games and enduring four disabled-list stints for separate injuries last season. With a lighter load as the club's designated hitter, the patient slugger could use his premium lineup spot to rejoin shallow league lineups.
Gerrit Cole, starter (Pirates): After a breakout 2015 season (2.60 ERA, 19 wins, 202 strikeouts), Cole produced unimpressive ratios (3.88 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) during an injury-shortened '16 campaign. But with a return to health and improved batted-ball luck (.345 BABIP in '16), the right-hander -- who is supported by a pitcher-friendly home park -- could quickly regain the status of mixed league ace.
Matt Harvey, starter (Mets): Like Cole, Harvey dealt with poor fortune (.353 BABIP) en route to disappointing results (4.86 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) in an injury-plagued '16 season. But if he can make a healthy return from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, the righty could rediscover the ace form he displayed prior to '16 (2.53 ERA, 1.00 WHIP from '12-15).
David Price, starter (Red Sox): Although Price produced healthy counting-stat totals last season (17 wins, 228 strikeouts), he failed to put up the necessary ratios (3.99 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) to justify his status as a fantasy ace. The left-hander then began dealing with elbow and forearm soreness during Spring Training, leading to an absence that is expected to extend throughout April. But for owners willing to walk on the wild side, a reasonable investment in the southpaw could result in five months of ace-level returns.
Drew Smyly, starter (Rays): Smyly struggled with the long ball last season, giving up 32 homers en route to posting a 4.88 ERA. With solid swing-and-miss skills, the southpaw could return to the form that resulted in a 3.20 ERA from 2014-15.
Taijuan Walker, starter (D-backs): Walker posted a 3.66 ERA in the first half of 2016 before persistent foot problems contributed to a 5.21 mark after the All-Star break. Now set to work in the National League, this high-upside righty could make major improvements if he can succeed at hitter-friendly Chase Field.
Carter Capps, reliever (Padres): A saves sleeper for the Marlins at the outset of 2016 Spring Training, Capps instead missed the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now a member of the Padres, the dominating righty (lifetime 11.8 K/9 rate) could assume ninth-inning duties during the first half of the season.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.