It’s true that fantasy baseball leagues can be won or lost in the later rounds of the draft. In some cases, the waiver wire ends up being the difference-maker.
This is a roundabout way of saying that if you land a superstar or two early on Draft Day, be happy, but don’t rest on your laurels. Fantasy sports often are about discovering breakout stars before they become household names.
As such, these eight young studs deserve your attention going into the 2017 season even they’re not highly sought-after fantasy commodities leading up to Opening Day. Each could provide excellent value at a reasonable cost — whether through the draft, trade, etc. — and each could be a more well-known fantasy superstar by the time next season rolls around.
*Average draft position and preseason rank courtesy of Yahoo! Sports
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Buxton was considered the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in baseball before each of the last three seasons. For context, in 2014, he was ranked just ahead of Xander Bogaerts, now an All-Star entering his fourth full major league campaign. It’s finally time for Buxton to start making some noise in The Show, though. And while he’s gone through rough patches in his brief big league action to this point, the 23-year-old showed down the stretch in 2016 why he’s considered a unique talent. Buxton could become a consistent 20-20 contributor with the potential for even more home runs or stolen bases if everything comes together.
Average pick: 203.3. Preseason rank: 172.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox
Benintendi’s sweet stroke will be on full display in 2017, as the former seventh overall pick is slotted in as Boston’s starting left fielder. Don’t be surprised if he hits the ground running, as he impressed last season in 34 games with Boston and will be hitting near the top of a stacked lineup. A relatively high average, 15-25 home runs and 20-30 steals seem attainable for this good-looking rookie.
Average pick: 127.8. Preseason rank: 117.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
Bregman made a good first impression in 2016, slugging eight home runs and compiling 34 RBIs in 49 games for the Astros despite some initial struggles. He’ll join shortstop Carlos Correa and second baseman Jose Altuve in Houston’s ultra-talented infield to begin the 2017 season, and he should score plenty of runs while posting respectable totals across the board.
Average pick: 93.2. Preseason rank: 92.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves
The first overall pick in 2015, Swanson isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, especially since he’s already been traded once and sticks out as a key piece for the rebuilding Braves. That said, the 23-year-old could add his name to the growing list of stud shortstops across the league as soon as this season. Swanson slashed .302/.361/.442 in 38 games with the Braves in 2016, and while he might not have premium power just yet, his excellent bat speed should allow him to rack up hits in 2017, providing fantasy owners with a good late-round alternative to the already established fantasy building blocks.
Average pick: 178.4. Preseason rank: 214.
Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Patience could be rewarded with Urias in 2017. After making 18 appearances (15 starts) for Los Angeles in 2016, Urias definitely is a breakout candidate this season, although fantasy owners might not reap the benefits right away if the 20-year-old starts the year in extended spring training or the minors. He posted a 3.39 ERA and struck out 84 in 77 big league innings last season, and the sky is the limit once he becomes a fixture in the Dodgers’ rotation, which should happen sooner rather than later.
Average pick: 170.8. Preseason rank: 153.
Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays just keep churning out good, young arms, and Snell’s fantasy owners figure to become the beneficiaries of Tampa Bay’s excellent pitching development in 2017. Sure, his 1.62 WHIP and 5.2 walks per nine innings over 19 major league starts last season raised some red flags, but keep in mind he’s just 24 and his best days lie ahead. He struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings, which is a nice mark for an up-and-coming southpaw who’s considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
Average pick: 252.7. Preseason rank: 231.
Daniel Norris, SP, Detroit Tigers
Norris, who turns 24 in April, has pitched sporadically at the major league level over the last three seasons. Now, it’s time for the training wheels to come off. Once traded for David Price at the 2015 deadline, Norris will join the likes of Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer in Detroit’s rotation right away this season. With solid strikeout potential on a team that figures to be competitive in the American League Central, Norris could evolve into a No. 2 or No. 3-type starter, meaning you’d be wise to jump on him before other fantasy owners snatch him up.
Average pick: 247.6. Preseason rank: 455.
Edwin Diaz, RP, Seattle Mariners
Fantasy pundits will tell you not to pay for saves. But while that’s good advice, you’re getting a whole lot more with Diaz, who became Seattle’s closer late last season. Diaz, who just turned 23, struck out 88 batters in just 51 2/3 innings for the Mariners last season, giving him a remarkable strikeout rate (15.3 strikeouts per nine innings) that’s Aroldis Chapman-esque. The Mariners also could be sneaky good, which would mean plenty of save opportunities for the hard-throwing right-hander.
Average pick: 95.2. Preseason rank: 95.
Thumbnail photo via Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports Images