Fantasy baseball preview: 2013 breakout players

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Fantasy baseball preview: 2013 breakout players
March 5, 2014, 2:45 pm
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Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez (left) and Jean Segura had breakouts seasons in 2013. (USA Today Images)

FANTASY BASEBALL PREVIEW

A look at the first round

Over the coming days we'll preview the fantasy baseball season by looking at ascending and descending players, guys to pluck late and to avoid, and unconventional strategies for building a winning team.

Today, we look at where to draft 2013's breakout stars.

Chris Davis was a late, late pick in fantasy leagues last spring. Carlos Gomez went after the 15th round, if he was drafted at all. His Brewers teammate, Jean Segura, was an afterthought.

Nobody knew much about Jose Fernandez. Why draft Koji Uehara unless your league counted holds? Same for Kenley Jansen. Was Hisashi Iwakuma even drafted in your league?

All of these players provided great value a season ago. But a one-season sample shouldn't be overvalued, even if it's the most recent season. These were no-risk, high-reward players last season. This year, they could be high-risk, high-reward guys.

OF Carlos Gomez, SS Jean Segura (Mil)
Gomez last season was the only player in baseball with at least 60 extra-base hits and 40 steals. He displayed a rare combination of power and speed -- over the last five seasons, that feat has been achieved just six times, league-wide.

Those numbers alone should make him a second-round fantasy pick, but there is some legit cause for concern with Gomez. He hit .284 in 2013, which was 24 points higher than any prior season. His .338 on-base percentage was 33 points higher than ever before.

He was as consistent a stolen base threat as there was, but his power production dipped after the All-Star break. Gomez slugged .533 in the first half and .460 in the second. Still solid, just not second-round solid.

Of course, Gomez was always a top prospect who had yet to put everything together. Maybe he finally did in 2013, at age 27. He is right in his prime.

I just don't know that Gomez is safe enough to draft ahead of Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Bautista, fellow outfielders with much more power and much less speed, but who were hurt for a good chunk of 2013.

Segura, the Brewers' shortstop acquired from the Angels in the 2012 Zack Greinke trade, had a similar season to Gomez. He started out red-hot, struggled in the second half, but still made an All-Star team and finished with impressive season numbers.

Segura hit .294 with 12 homers, 49 RBIs, 20 doubles, 10 triples and 44 steals.

His second-half swoon was much more pronounced, though. Segura hit .325 with an .849 OPS in the first half, and .241 with a .583 OPS in the second half. He had 11 homers, 11 doubles and eight triples in the first half, but just one homer, nine doubles and two triples after the All-Star Game.

Still, Segura is a top shortstop heading into 2014. At 23, he has enormous potential, and his best quality last season was his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. He's a 5-foot-10, 200-pound shortstop who you wouldn't expect such opposite field power from.

Segura shouldn't go ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez, but I'd snag him ahead of Ian Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Asdrubal Cabrera and Andrelton Simmons.

Gomez draft range: 20th-25th overall
Segura draft range: 40th-45th overall

SP Jose Fernandez (Mia)
Fernandez was supposed to start 2013 in Double A, but found himself in the Marlins' season-opening rotation because of injuries.

He proceeded to go 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, and in 172 2/3 innings he struck out 187 batters while allowing just 111 hits.

In the history of baseball, only two other pitchers have matched Fernandez in innings, ERA, strikeout and hit rates: Pedro Martinez in 2000 and Sandy Koufax in 1965.

Pretty good company.

Fernandez has remarkable stuff -- a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a curveball nobody hit last year, and an above-average changeup. He's going to be a weapon for many, many years, and a huge dropoff shouldn't be expected.

Just don't draft Fernandez in the first round, or even the first half of the second round. To me, he's more of an early third-round pick, only because at the top of the draft you want everyday talent, not players who will contribute two days a week at most.

We'd take Fernandez ahead of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Greinke, but not before Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale or David Price.

Fernandez draft range: 25th-35th overall

RP Koji Uehara (Bos), RP Kenley Jansen (LAD)
Neither was his team's closer when the 2013 season began, and both proved that the role should go to the best reliever on the team, not the reliever with the most career saves or the highest salary.

Uehara was one of baseball's underrated gems from 2010-12, posting a 2.36 ERA and eye-popping 0.77 WHIP across 145 appearances. In those 145 innings he had 183 strikeouts and 17 walks. Let that sink in -- 183 strikeouts and 17 walks.

And yet he went largely unnoticed around the league because he was a setup man for an Orioles team that didn't start winning until 2012, when he was already gone.

Uehara only seized the closer's job with the Red Sox when Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both went down with serious injuries. And he finished the year with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA, 12.2 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He allowed 43 baserunners in 74 1/3 innings.

Uehara is behind only Craig Kimbrel in our closer rankings. We even have him ahead of Aroldis Chapman, who will give you more strikeouts but also many more walks. Chapman has had only one season with a sub-2.00 ERA; Uehara has a 1.31 ERA since 2012.

Jansen, the Dodgers' strikeout artist who greatly improved his control in 2013, is our fourth-ranked closer, but he has No. 1 or No. 2 upside since he plays for a team that should win 95-plus games.

Uehara draft range: 60th-65th overall
Jansen draft range: 70th-75th overall

Remaining 2013 breakout draft ranges

1B Chris Davis (Bal): 9th-14th overall

OF Yasiel Puig (LAD): 30th-35th overall

SP Hisashi Iwakuma (Sea): 10th-12 round (finger injury, still weeks away from throwing)

SP Michael Wacha (StL): 8th-10th round

SP Gerrit Cole (Pit): 8th-10th round