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The NFL postseason could barely hold my interest this year. Maybe I've finally been trained by fantasy football to believe the season is really supposed to end around late December. Since Christmas, I could do nothing but think about baseball.
So, if it seems like I've overthought my fantasy baseball draft guide this year, it is probably because I have. The result will either be an unbelievably prescient spot-on forecast, or an extremely thoughtful miss.
Since pitchers and catchers are due to report to most teams' spring training facilities in about 10 days, let's start there with our 2014 Fantasy Fix Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide.
1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD: Two Cy Youngs in the bag and he's still getting better, to the point that he's the clear No. 1 in a year where several guys could make an argument for the No. 2 and 3 spots. If the Dodgers had been better last year, he could have won 20 games rather than 16. The good news is the Dodgers are still getting better, too. My forecast: 21 wins, 2.20 ERA, 240 strikeouts.
2. Yu Darvish, TEX: A few souls out there already have him booked for a Cy Young this year. After his 2013 dominance of the strike zone to the tune of 277 strikeouts, he makes a great case for No. 1 in a world where Kershaw chose to become an accountant rather than a ballplayer. As it is, that strikeout total could fall. My forecast: 17 wins, 3.00 ERA, 250 strikeouts.
3. Adam Wainwright, STL: Returned to pre-injury form last year after a shaky 2012. The Cardinals should have their annoyingly typical playoff-caliber squad. My forecast: 19 wins, 2.80 ERA, 230 strikeouts - almost a carbon copy of his 2013 stat sheet.
4. Jordan Zimmermann. WAS: My first gamble - I have him way higher than you will see him anywhere else, but he finally fulfilled considerable hype last year by winning 19 games, with four complete games and two shutouts. I think he is a dark horse for NL CY this year if Kershaw somehow stumbles (he won't, but still). My forecast: 21 wins, 3.00 ERA, 180 strikeouts.
5. Felix Hernandez. SEA: Yes, he's King Felix, and yes, Seattle will finally be all-around great this year, but he was not his usual self last year, pitching the fewest number of innings (204), and striking out fewer hitters (216), than he has since 2008. His ERA also has finished above 3.00 three years running. He could finally win more than 14 games for the first time since 2009 because the Mariners really could make a run, but there is too much talent on this list for me to rank him any higher. My forecast: 16 wins, 3.00 ERA, 215 strikeouts.
6. Zack Greinke, LAD: Poor guy - on any other team he would be the No. 1 starter. His 2.63 ERA last year was his best since 2009, and though he has shown historically that he tops out around 15-16 wins, he should get a win or two extra from a great offense - if he stays healthy and starts 30+ games, unlike last year's 28. My forecast: 17 wins, 2.80 ERA, 200 strikeouts.
7. Jose Fernandez. MIA: Flashed truly dominant stuff last year for an awful doormat squad. Marlins won't be much better, but enough to give him another win or two. If you're in a keeper league, I think his big year will be 2015. My forecast: 15 wins, 2.30 ERA, 210 strikeouts.
8. Cliff Lee, PHI: Partly gambling here on the idea he gets traded around July, but his 14 wins and 2.87 ERA for a bad team last year felt like a comeback. My forecast: 15 wins, 2.75 ERA, 220 strikeouts.
9. Max Scherzer, DET: How the mighty have fallen, at least on my list. The 2013 AL CY flamed out toward the end of last season, which makes me think we've seen his best. The Tigers sill may be plenty good enough to win the AL Central, but I think Scherzer labors more for wins this year. My forecast: 15 wins, 3.00 ERA, 220 strikeouts.
10. Chris Sale, WHITE SOX: Sale worked his butt off last year, and would have won 20 games for half the teams in the league, but was stuck with the Pale Hose. This year looks moderately better if the Sox score a few more runs and commit fewer errors. My forecast: 15 wins, 3.10 ERA, 220 strikeouts.
11. Stephen Strasburg, WAS: Offseason surgery and the hint that he's a tad injury-prone aren't scaring many other fantasy prognosticators, but I can't reasonably rank him in front of workhorses like Sale, Scherzer and Lee. My forecast: 15 wins, 2.85 ERA, 190 strikeouts.
12. Justin Verlander, DET: No one seems to know where to rank Verlander, who likely will miss the start of the season - though not by much - after off-season surgery. He dropped to 13 wins last year, his fewest since 2008, despite the Tigers' dominance. My forecast: 14 wins, 3.25 ERA, 200 strikeouts.
13. Anibal Sanchez, DET: The third Tiger on this list could end up being the best. He had a career-low 2.57 ERA and career-high 14 wins last year, and then pitched six no-hit innings in the ALCS before being pulled. His more modest strikeout tendencies push him outside the top 10. My forecast: 16 wins, 2.70 ERA, 160 strikeouts.
14. Matt Moore, TAM: Missing an entire month of the season and still ending up with 17 wins is a neat trick, and Moore is probably getting underrated by everybody. I would not at all be surprised to see him end up in the top five fantasy ranks this year, but I need another year of proof before I move him higher. My forecast: 17 wins, 3.50 ERA, 170 strikeouts.
15. Madison Bumgarner, SF: Opposing hitters batted just .203 against him last year, so there's promise for much more, but the Giants' offense doesn't help him. Experts tend to rank him higher than he actually gets drafted. My forecast: 14 wins, 2.90 ERA, 180 strikeouts.
16. Cole Hamels, PHI: Another Philly trade candidate who took a step back last year after a great 2012 season. I'm taking a chance at No. 15, but think he'll be closer to his career averages. My forecast: 14 wins, 3.50 ERA, 200 strikeouts.
17. Mat Latos, CIN: Highly regarded, but also consistently tops out around 14 wins and 187 strikeouts (no fewer than 185, no more than 189 in the last four seasons). Always the potential to break out for a career year. My forecast: 13 wins, 3.10 ERA, 185 strikeouts.
18. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA: Started out in dominant fashion last year, but faded before rallying at the end for 14 wins. Right now, that feels like his ceiling. My forecast: 13 wins, 3.00 ERA, 170 strikeouts.
19. David Price, TAM: Huge drop off from 2012 from 20 wins to 10, and as the Rays' highest paid player in years, he's under big pressure this year. He'll start to rebuild his stat line, but have modest expectations. My forecast: 13 wins, 3.15 ERA, 180 strikeouts.
20. Michael Wacha, STL: Just a got a taste of this budding star last year, so it's a little hard to extrapolate on his 4-1 record, but he's on the right team to be an overachiever. My very loose forecast: 14 wins, 2.90 ERA, 160 strikeouts.
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY: Huge hype, but predicting numbers is almost a blind guess. Some people are already saying that playing for the Yankees will make him a 20-game winner. I think somewhere from 13-16 is a safe bet.
Tony Cingrani, CIN: 120 strikeouts in 104 innings last season, and opposing batting average of just .196 set him up well to succeed. The Reds moved him between the majors and minors a lot last year, but with a full season he could finish somewhere in the middle of the above list.
Sleeper who's not really a sleeper:
CC Sabathia, NYY: Much is being made of his apparent weight loss, after a shaky 2012 season. So many experts have him ranked around No. 45 among SPs, I've got to think he'll be a steal and perhaps one of this year's big surprises.
1. Buster Posey, SF: Tough call to pick a No. 1 among the first four or five guys on this list, and he fell off in a major way last year. However, he's a bona fide .300+ hitter, and more ably fills just about every other fantasy stat line than any other catcher. My forecast: .330 BA, 20 HRs, 90 RBI.
2. Carlos Santana, CLE: Hitting for a little bit better average every year, and slowly fulfilling his promise. My forecast: .275 BA, 22 HRs, 90 RBI.
3. Wilin Rosario, COL: Surprised everyone by turning in a sophomore season almost as productive as his rookie 2012 year. My forecast: .290 BA, 23 HRs, 75 RBI.
4. Yadier Molina, STL: I get beat underrating him every year, though I do wonder if he's due to settle down a bit. My forecast: .320 BA, 14 HRs, 90 RBI.
5. Joe Mauer, MIN: Switching to first base, but should still have catcher eligibility. He's become extremely reliable in the last two seasons, though RBIs took a hit last year from lack of opportunity. My forecast: .330 BA 12 HRs, 75 RBI.
6. Brian McCann, NYY: Will he be the latest fading star to look 10 years younger playing for the Yankees? My forecast: .265 BA, 20 HRs, 70 RBI.
7. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL: He's my favorite on this list to finish somewhere above my forecast, but hard to rank him above the first five guys. My forecast: .280 BA, 18 HRs, 65 RBI.
8. Jason Castro, HOU: His 2013 tally of 18 HRs screams career year, but even if it was, this is where we get into the lower-certainty options at catcher. My forecast: .280 BA, 16 HRs, 55 RBI.
9. Salvador Perez, KC: Sharp hitter could have a breakout year, but hasn't shown much power. My forecast: .300 BA, 10 HRs, 70 RBI.
10. A.J. Pierzynski, BOS: Hard to guess how many starts he'll get with the Red Sox liking David Ross so much, but as we well know, he's a gamer. My forecast: .270 BA, 16 HRs, 60 RBI.
11. Travis d'Arnaud, NYM: He's been hyoed long enough that he needs to show up this year. My forecast: .260 BA, 15 HRs, 60 RBI.
12. Matt Wieters, BAL: Still a 20-HR threat, but his average has been sliding every year. My forecast: .235 BA, 20 HRs, 55 RBI.
13. Evan Gattis, ATL: Great story last year gets him a full-time job this year, but I just don't see the sequel matching the first one. My forecast: .240 BA, 15 HRs, 60 RBI.
14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, MIA: I don't see Miami being a great match for him after his best season in Boston. My forecast: .260 BA, 14 HRs, 50 RBI.
15. Welington Castillo, CUBS: Had his moments last year, and believe it or not might have a few more RBI opportunities this year. My forecast: .260 BA, 12 HRs, 50 RBI.
16. Russell Martin, PIT: Can always surprise, but he faded badly late last year. My forecast: .240 BA, 12 HRs, 50 RBI.
17. Yan Gomes, CLE: Showed some promise last year in limited chances, and could get a few more games this year. My forecast: .260 BA, 12 HRs, 40 RBI.
18. Wilson Ramos, WAS: Hit 16 HRs in just 78 games last year, so he could project as the leader at this position, but he's yet to survive a full season. My forecast: .225, 19 HRs, 40 RBI.
19. Geovany Soto, TEX: Short season last year, so if he sees more action, he could move up this list. My forecast: .250 BA, 12 HRs, 40 RBI.
20. Devin Mesoraco, CIN: Thought by some to be a sleeper last year, he still hasn't developed much value, but some promise remains. My forecast: .250, 10 HRs, 45 RBI.
J.P Arencibia, TOR: Amazing power becomes less valuable every year as his average dips. Wondering if he hits a little better this year with fewer HRs. My forecast: .220 BA, 15 HRs, 45 RBI.
Yasmani Grandal, SD: A drug suspension tainted 2012, and ACL surgery ended 2013 early. He may miss some games early, but has potential to be in the top five at this position some day.
Sleeper who's not really a sleeper:
Miguel Montero, ARI: Usually reliable producer, his average dropped 56 points from 2012 to 2013.It might be worth betting he makes some of that back.
Next week: The Fantasy Fix Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit, Part 2: 1B and 2B.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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