Carlos Santana

5 guys to target to win your Fantasy Baseball league in 2017

5 guys to target to win your Fantasy Baseball league in 2017

Fantasy sports are all about trying to predict the future and while that can be impossible, there are usually bread crumbs to follow.

These five guys have shown flashes of greatness with the potential for more and you won't need to break the bank to draft them. 

It's not fair to call them breakout candidates as they've all broken out in some form or another. But their value is lower than it should be and it's entirely possible each player posts their best statistical season in 2017.

[RELATED — 5 guys to avoid in Fantasy Baseball in 2017]

Addison Russell, SS, Cubs

Russell's placement on this list shouldn't surprise Chicagoans, namely Cubs fans.

He enjoyed a breakout season in 2016 with 21 homers and 95 RBI from the shortstop position, but it's also easy to point to that and say things like, "Well, homers were up across the board in 2016," or "Even with those numbers, Russell still posted only a .238 AVG, .738 OPS and 97 OPS+."

Those are correct assessments, but the power is for real. Spring stats may not matter much, but Russell is tied for second in the league with five homers this spring. 

The spring performance could be a harbinger of more power in 2017, as MLB.com's Mike Petriello takes an in-depth look at how the 23-year-old Russell can take another step forward.

Let everybody else overpay for guys like Trevor Story and Jean Segura — who are currently going in the 4th-6th rounds — and nab Russell in the 10th or 11th and watch him easily finish as a Top 10 fantasy shortstop. In leagues where on-base and slugging percentage are weighted more than average, Russell should see even more of a boost compared to where he's being drafted.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins

This isn't a list trying to "call" breakout seasons for fantasy players. It's more of a list to pinpoint areas of value and moves/draft picks that will help you win it all.

Yelich is the latter. He enjoyed a breakout 2016 as he finally stayed healthy (155 games, 659 plate appearances), showed off the power he had always teased (38 doubles, 21 homers, 98 RBI), and boasted a stellar slash line (.298/.376/.483).

Now 25, Yelich's power should be here to stay and his batting eye and patience haven't gone anywhere, either. If only he can get back to the guy who stole 37 bases from 2014-15.

But even if Yelich doesn't top 20 steals in 2017, he can still be a gigantic fantasy asset as a guy who can hit over .300, provide a boost to OBP and SLG, drive in runs, score runs and hit for power without hurting you in any area.

His best seasons are ahead still and yet he's ranked as only the No. 13 outfielder and being drafted toward the end of the fourth round. Target him early and don't feel crazy if you select Yelich with your third pick.

[Complete CSN Fantasy Sports coverage]

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates

Polanco is in a different boat than Yelich in that we've seen flashes, but are still waiting on that big breakout.

Polanco looked well on his way to putting it all together when he posted a .287 AVG with an .862 OPS and 38 extra-base hits in 82 first-half games last year. But a shoulder injury and other maladies slowed him down and he hit just .220 the rest of the way with only a .682 OPS and 22 extra-base hits after the All-Star Game.

If you extrapolate his first-half stats throughout a whole season, you're looking at a guy who could score and drive in 100, approach 30 homers with 40 doubles and a near-.300 average while stealing 20-30 bases. Pretty incredible for a guy currently going in the fifth and sixth rounds, right?

That stat line probably represents Polanco's ceiling in his age 25 season, but it could just be the tip of the iceberg long-term for a guy who was ranked the No. 10 prospect in the game by Baseball America just three years ago.

The first-half performance also looks to be the real deal as even with the late-season issues, Polanco posted nearly indentical marks against righties (.786 OPS) and lefties (.781) after struggling against southpaws (.593 OPS) for his career prior to 2016.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants

First base isn't the power house it used to be in fantasy circles. Beyond the big dogs (Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo) there are legit question marks starting to arise at the position whether because of age (Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion), lineup support (Joey Votto), declining trends (Jose Abreu) or lack of track record after 2016 breakouts (Freddie Freeman, Wil Myers).

Let somebody else deal with those questions and instead target a first baseman in the middle rounds with guys like Carlos Santana and Belt.

When we look back at the 2017 fantasy baseball drafts, Belt may very well be one of the guys we see pop up most on championship teams. Currently going in the 12th round or later, Belt is as good or better than Santana in every area but home runs and potential lineup boost. Santana appears headed for the leadoff role in a surprisingly-adept Indians lineup while Belt hits all over the place on a Giants squad that finished 28th in MLB in homers last season.

But Belt has added a Santana-esque patience to his game (104 walks last season) plus a higher batting average. In leagues where extra-base hits of any variety are valued, Belt would have no problem rising to Santana's level of value and is being drafted 5-6 rounds later.

Regardless of league format, Belt represents one of the best deals at a surprisingly-shallow position and waiting to draft him late will help you shore up on other positions of need early in the draft (think second or third base).

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Jake Odorizzi, SP, Rays

Odorizzi is exactly the kind of guy you find on championship fantasy teams. 

For starters, he doesn't cost much, currently coming in as the 40th pitcher off the boards in ESPN drafts, around 159th overall. That makes him almost a 16th round pick in 10-team leagues and an early 13th-rounder in 12-team leagues.

That's a steal for a guy who has been remarkably consistent the last few seasons. From 2014-16, Odorizzi has tallied a 3.72 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 8.4 K/9 while making at least 28 starts every season. 

He's not a stud, but in fantasy, you need guys you can count on to take the ball every fifth day and put up consistently solid numbers and he is that guy.

In 2016, Odorizzi actually ranked higher on ESPN's Player Rater than Chris Archer and Jacob deGrom — two guys that will be off the board by the end of the fifth round in all league formats.

Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

Why Cubs will face Cleveland's non-traditional leadoff man Carlos Santana in Game 2

CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana is far from a prototypical leadoff hitter, standing a stout 5-foot-11, 210 pounds with only five stolen bases to his name in 2016. But while he doesn’t fit the traditional mold, the Cleveland Indians catcher/first baseman/designated hitter has been an effective weapon hitting first in Terry Francona’s lineup this year. 

Santana started 85 games as a leadoff hitter in 2016 and posted a .385 on-base percentage with 19 home runs and more walks (67) than strikeouts (60) in those games. Specifically when he was the first batter of the game, Santana hit .260/.365/.521 with five home runs and four doubles, consistently setting the table for an Indians lineup that scored the second most runs in the American League in the regular season. 

So it’s no surprise that Santana, a switch hitter, is leading off as the Indians’ designated hitter for Game 2 of the World Series against the Cubs. 

“He doesn’t try to force anything, waits on his pitch and when he gets it he knocks it out of the park,” Indians outfielder Coco Crisp, who himself has led off 853 games in his 15-year career, said. “I think a few teams have gone from the typical leadoff hitter, just straight base-stealer, small-ball guy and have moved their big guys to the front of the lineup. It’s a good move but you also have to have somebody like ‘Los with his ability to not only hit the long ball but be a leadoff hitter. Sometimes it’s hard to find guys who can do both and he does a great job.”

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What Crisp was most impressed with has been Santana not striking out much while retaining the power that led him to slam 34 home runs in the regular season. Only four players with at least 30 home runs had lower strikeout rates than Santana (14.4 percent), and he averaged seeing 4.1 pitches per plate appearance when leading off, so at the least he regularly worked counts and allowed the rest of the Indians’ order to see some pitches in the first inning. 

“For Tito to throw him in the leadoff spot, I’m glad he did that because it makes perfect sense,” Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, who led off Game 1 of the World Series, said. “When he’s getting on base and Kip’s hitting well and Lindor, and what really gets you is when the lineup turns over, now you gotta face Santana, who had what, 34 home runs this year and a number of RBIs. He’s not an easy out and that just makes it that much tougher when the lineup is turned over.”

Santana never hit leadoff before 2016, and Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said the 30-year-old was a bit surprised when Francona told him during spring training he could wind up hitting first during the season. But Santana has embraced the role, which was partly made possible by the presence of having Mike Napoli and his 34 home runs hitting in the middle of the order. 

“I think it was a great idea,” Van Burkleo said. “I told him, you’re leading off, you’re getting more at-bats throughout the season then you normally would, so there’s more opportunities to do some things. He’s had a great year.

So when Jake Arrieta delivers his first pitch of Game 2, he won’t be dealing with a guy who relies mostly on speed to get on base and make things happen. He’ll be dealing with a premier power hitter who’s able to get on base quite a bit — and who’s had plenty of success hitting first in 2016. 

“I think this team is well-balanced, which makes that an option,” Crisp said. “You don’t necessarily have to have him and Nap hitting behind each other all the team with 30 and 30 (home runs, you can kind of spread it out.”