Baseball

Who should go with the first pick in your fantasy baseball draft? Mike Trout, of course

The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout hits a three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning on Aug. 6, 2016, in Seattle.
The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout hits a three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning on Aug. 6, 2016, in Seattle. Associated Press file

The NFL playoffs are more than a month away, there’s a good chance that Thanksgiving leftovers are still gobbling up space in your fridge, and if you’re like me, your Christmas ornaments are probably still collecting dust in the darkest recesses of the garage.

What better time to start talking about fantasy baseball options in 2017!

With the majority of fantasy baseball magazines weeks, perhaps months, from hitting store shelves and most websites knee-deep in football and basketball coverage, here’s a holiday gift in the form of our top 20 players to target on draft day come spring:

1. Mike Trout, OF, Angels

It’s not important how many of us “earned” the No. 1 pick in our drafts, it’s that we have the top pick, which I’ll be using to grab Trout, the game’s preeminent five-tool threat. Trout has averaged 35 homers, 100 RBIs, 114 runs scored, 19 steals and a .301 average over the past three seasons. He’s durable, 40-40 waiting to happen, and did we mention he’s only 25? Check, please.

2. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros

Altuve is coming off a season in which he established career highs in HRs (24), RBIs (96) and runs (108) while batting .338 and stealing 30 bases. If you can’t get Trout, Altuve will make a lovely consolation prize.

3. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Cubs

The 24-year-old Bryant is a fantasy behemoth, one whose first two seasons in the big leagues have seen him produce an average of 32 HRs, 100 RBIs, 104 runs and 10 steals to go along with a .284 average. Any team with Bryant as its centerpiece will be a force to be reckoned with.

4. Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox

Betts ascended to superstardom in 2016 with 31 HRs, 113 RBIs, 122 runs and 26 steals while batting .319. Betts underwent offseason surgery on his right knee, but is expected to be at full strength by the start of spring training.

5. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies

There’s so much to like here, nobody would be laughed at for taking Arenado with the No. 1 overall pick. He’s topped the 40-HR and 130-RBI marks each of the past two seasons, he would rather wrestle a great white than take a day off, and he spends his summers hitting at Coors Field. He doesn’t run, but, and I can’t stress this enough, who cares?

6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks

Goldie does it all and he does it all well. There are few guarantees in life, but count Goldschmidt delivering in the neighborhood of 20 HRs, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 20 steals and a .300 average among them.

7. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles

Machado set career highs in 2016 in HRs (37), RBIs (96), runs (105) and average (.294). Take another look at those numbers, folks, because they’re likely to happen again. And again. And again. And ...

8. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs

He won’t steal many bags (those 17 he swiped in 2015 look pretty flukey at this point) and he’s not a threat to win a batting title, but Rizzo is a lock to provide 30-plus HRs, 100-plus RBIs and push the 100-run mark.

9. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays

Billy Beane, what were you thinking? Donaldson has averaged 36 HRs, 107 RBIs and 112 runs over the past three seasons – numbers he very easily could reach and possibly surpass in 2017.

10. Charlie Blackmon, OF, Rockies

Too high, you say? I give you Blackmon’s 2015 stat line: 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 93 runs, 43 steals, .287 average. And now his 2016 numbers: 29 HRs, 82 RBIs, 111 runs, 17 steals, .324 average. Still need convincing?

11. Clayton Kershaw, P, Dodgers

When healthy, Kershaw is untouchable and the undisputed No. 1 pitcher in the game. With a return to health (and he’s due), the lefty could easily regain the form that saw him win 21 games in both 2014 and 2011 while posting microscopic WHIPs and ERAs. In case a reminder is needed, Kershaw’s ERA the last four years: 1.69, 2.13, 1.77, 1.83. Kershaw’s WHIP the last four years: 0.72, 0.88, 0.85, 0.92. Not too shabby.

12. Max Scherzer, P, Nationals

Scherzer hasn’t passed Kershaw in the pitching pecking order, but the veteran right-hander isn’t far behind. Coming off a 2016 campaign in which he went 20-7 with 1 2.96 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 284 strikeouts, Scherzer has averaged 17 wins, 271 strikeouts, a 2.95 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over the past three seasons, and his numbers should fall in line in 2017.

13. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers

If 38 HRs, 108 RBIs, 92 runs and a .316 average in 2016 are Miggy on the decline, sign me up! The future Hall of Famer can, and will, hit. A ton. Again. Write it down.

14. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros

Correa’s sophomore season in the majors didn’t see him make the jump to light-speed stardom, but the 20 HRs, 96 RBIs, 13 steals and .274 average he produced were nothing to sneeze at, and could easily be topped in his third year. At 22, the potential for the mother of all breakout campaigns is there.

15. Trea Turner, 2B/OF, Nationals

The sample size is small, but wow. Turner didn’t become a regular in Washington’s lineup until July last season, but once inserted he took off, batting .342 with 13 HRs, 40 RBIs and 53 runs in 307 at-bats while stealing 33 bases. At 23, Turner is primed to become one of baseball’s biggest stars for the next decade, so don’t sleep on him.

16. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays

If all Cris Carter did was catch touchdowns, all Encarnacion does is hit home runs, long ones, and drive in runs. He’s averaged 38 HRs and 112 RBIs over the past three seasons, and he’s mortal lock to flirt with those digits again in 2017.

17. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox

Everyone and their mother hit for Boston in 2016, and Bogaerts was no exception. The 24-year-old shortstop set career highs in HRs (21), RBIs (89), runs (115) and steals (13) while batting .294. A 20-20, 100-100, .300 season in 2017 is not beyond the realm of possibility.

18. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals

Harper went from fantasy god in 2015 to fantasy fraud in 2016 as his HR total dipped from 42 to 24, his RBIs from 99 to 86, his runs from 118 to 84 and his average from .330 to .243. Injuries played a role in his fall from fantasy grace, and Harper should rebound in a big way.

19. Madison Bumgarner, P, Giants

Bumgarner, baseball’s best money pitcher, just gets better with age. As durable as they come, the 27-year-old is one of the few “sure things” when it comes to pitching and will again push 20 wins and 250 strikeouts with a sub-3.00 ERA and a WHIP just north of 1.00.

20. Corey Kluber, P, Indians

Kluber, who misses bats as well (and as frequently) as any starter in the game, has been an 18-game winner in two of the past three seasons, while his strikeout totals over the past three seasons read 269, 245 and 227. A 20-win season with 250 strikeouts, an ERA in the low 3.00s and a WHIP barely over 1.00 could be in the cards for Kluber.

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