As the 2013 Major League Baseball season nears, here is a look at some value players to target for fantasy purposes. Consider them the Breakthrough/Bounceback Brigade. These are some of the players that I'm ranking higher than others going into the season:
Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado - This isn't so much to suggest that Rosario is going to soar past last season's 28 home runs as much as it is to say that I think his power is legit (he hit 40 HR in 675 AA at-bats with Tulsa before getting called up to stay last season), at least legit enough to reap the rewards of playing in Colorado. If he's good for 30 home runs in a full season behind the plate, a position lacking serious offensive production, then Rosario will be a huge value.
Bryce Harper, LF, Washington - Going out on the shortest of limbs here, because Harper and Angels LF Mike Trout (who I have ranked at No. 1) are going to be the best players in baseball for the better part of the next decade, most likely, but I'm inclined to believe that Harper, who is just 20-years-old, is going to be even better than expected this season and it's why I have him ranked as a second-round pick, which is higher than most.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland - Dropped off dramatically in the second half last season (.795 OPS to .651 after All-Star break), yet still finished with 14 HR, 76 RBI, 31 SB, 86 R and a .257 AVG. With better luck (his .291 batting average on balls in play was low for a player with his speed), Kipnis should be even better this year.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City - Everyone's favourite breakthrough player, and why not? Perez has hit .311, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 58 R and an .810 OPS in 437 at-bats over the last two seasons, but hasn't had the chance to play a full season. Project those numbers out over 500 at-bats and suddenly he's high-end option behind the plate.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco - The Giants have been slow to give Belt a full-time role, and he only hit seven home runs in 411 at-bats last season, but he has the pedigree (and the swing) to be a bona fide power hitter. Spring numbers aren't important, so take it with a grain of salt, but Belt has been mashing in Arizona, hitting eight homers, driving in 19, with a .448 average and 1.397 OPS in 67 Cactus League at-bats. Maybe this year the year for the 25-year-old to bust out and hit 25-plus for the Giants.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City - While Hosmer was unlucky (.255 BABIP) last season, he was also downright bad, putting up numbers (14 HR, 60 RBI, .232 AVG, 65 R) not befitting a player of his pedigree, the third overall pick in 2008 who was much better (19 HR, 78 RBI, .293 AVG, 66 R) the year before when he was a rookie. Bank on talent bouncing back.
Matt Harvey, RHP, N.Y. Mets - What's not to like after Harvey delivered 90 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings over his first 10 major league starts last season, posting a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and, because it was with the Mets, a 3-5 record. He's not likely to get any more support this year, but his overpowering stuff, which includes a 94.7 MPH average fastball (www.fangraphs.com) and a punchout slider is enough to carry strong numbers over 30 starts this season.
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay - Perhaps overhyped in 2012 after his stellar debut late in 2011, Moore ran into command issues (4.1 BB/9) last year and that undermined his otherwise impressive arsenal. There's still the risk that he's not going to own the strike zone this year, but the upside if he does makes Moore worth the investment.
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Seattle - Split his first major league season between the bullpen and the rotation, and fared much better as a starter, going 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, with 78 strikeouts in 95 innings, over 16 starts, earning a regular turn in the Mariners' rotation this year. As long as his splitter keeps working, Iwakuma can be an effective mid-rotation starter.
Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee - Impressed in a handful of starts last September (2-1, 2.48 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 23 K in 29 IP last season) and should snag a spot in this year's rotation, though the late signing of Kyle Lohse does cast some doubt on how solid Peralta's position is among the starting five. He's all about power, throwing a fastball that averages 95.5 MPH (www.fangraphs.com) and a hard slider the vast majority of the time.
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay - Solid (11-9, 4.03 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 106 K in 136 1/3 IP) in 23 starts last season, Cobb isn't as overpowering as some of his rotation-mates in Tampa Bay, but he knows how to pitch, liberally using his change-up (33.8% -- nealry 5% more than James Shields, who was second-most among pitchers with at least 100 innings last year) to keep hitters off-balance.
Alexi Ogando, RHP, Texas - Used primarily as a starter in 2011, Ogando was 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, striking out 126 in 169 innings, then he got moved back to the bullpen last year. Injuries have created an opportunity for Ogando as a starter again this year and he can be overpowering when he dials his fastball up to the high-90s or down a few ticks when he's a starter.
Rob Brantly, C, Miami - Hit .290 (3 HR, 8 RBI, 14 R) in 100 at-bats for the Marlins late last season, as he seemed to find himself offensively last year, hitting .298 with a .752 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A. By no means does that assure success at the big league level, but a 23-year-old who is going to play regularly has a chance to provide value at a position that has some terrible options at the low end.