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Rebound or Repeat: 2014 Batters’ Edition

In the fantasy baseball gospel, it is written that one may not win their league with their first-round pick, but can certainly lose it. If managers follow the average draft position (ADP) rankings, then what’s the key to creating positive separation from other owners and winning your league? Pull down the rebound! Many players have suffered down years whether due to injury, lineup potency, personal reasons, depreciating skill sets and more. Although players may begin to decline with age, this does not always signify decreasing skill sets as they still may have a few “bounceback” seasons left in the tank.

For example, Paul Konerko posted one of the best seasons of his career with 39 home runs, 111 runs batted in, and a .312 batting average at age 34. The “hay day” of Hanley Ramirez seemed to be a distant memory for most owners until last season when he regained fantasy stardom with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite only playing in 86 games due to injury, Ramirez still hit .345 with 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases. Again, Ramirez has rejoined the elite names that will be drafted in the first round this season.

Which hitters will return to prominence in 2014? I have listed a few names that may be valid rebound candidates.

B.J. Upton

Uniting with his younger brother Justin in Atlanta may have been a happy story, but certainly did not translate offensively. In fact, the elder Upton will have to compete for a starting gig in the preseason after hitting a horrid .184 last season with a strikeout rate nearing 40 percent! Fantasy owners should not expect Upton to hit .300 suddenly, but an average near his career mark of .248 would be reasonable. His power and speed combo still make him elite with 20 home run, 20 stolen base potential.

Albert Pujols

For most of his career, Pujols’ name couldn’t be found lower on draft boards than top 5. Today, Pujols is falling to second and third rounds in most leagues, and even farther in some leagues. Pujols has a lot to prove after missing almost half of the 2013 season while putting up career lows in all offensive categories. In November, he stated that his left foot was 99.9 percent healthy; therefore the plantar fasciitis injury “should be” in the rear view mirror. With that being said, Pujols is only one year removed from a 30 home run season, and has produced at least 30 home runs, 99 runs batted in and a .285 average every season of his career. He will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove naysayers wrong and help the Los Angeles Angels compete for the pennant after a disappointing 2013 campaign.

Josh Hamilton

What do they put in Anaheim’s water? Are both Pujols and Hamilton spending too much time at Disneyland? Hamilton is the second example of a proven top slugger signing with the Angels, then suffering a major decline in numbers. Questions have always existed with Hamilton’s health, but he managed to play 151 games in 2013, yet only yielded 21 home runs along with sharp declines in most other offensive categories. With 20 pounds added during the offseason through his workout routine, Hamilton’s power outage should be short-lived. Although he looked better in August and September, it will remain to be seen whether Hamilton will live up to the potential of his large contract.

Jason Heyward

Heyward was expected to reach the next level of stardom last season, but rather fell monumentally short of expectations. He only hit seven home runs with a .227 batting average before the All-Star Break. Once he began to find his rhythm after the All-Star Break, he was hit by a pitch and missed a month of the season. With a strong lineup behind him, Heyward is expected to bat leadoff according to Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez. Look for Heyward to post career highs in runs and succesfully return to the 20 home run, 20 stolen base club.

Matt Kemp

Despite the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the division and having a hugely successful season, it was difficult for Kemp to stay on the field. Kemp’s recurring hamstring and ankle injuries resulted in the center fielder missing over half of the season. In 73 games, he was only able to manage six home runs, 35 runs scored and 33 runs batted in. After an injury-plagued 2012 season, questions regarding Kemp’s durability are becoming a major concern for fantasy owners. Kemp has the ability to go for 40 home runs and 40 stolen base, but also missing half the season again would be far from shocking. Grab Kemp in the middle rounds, as he may be a lottery ticket this season.

Michael Bourn

It was believed in previous years that drafting Bourn would nearly meet your stolen base needs for a season. Bourn stole at least 41 bases for five straight seasons, but only swiped a little more than half (23) this mark in 2013. He was also caught stealing in more than a third of his attempts, which raises questions regarding his speed decline. If Juan Pierre at 36 and Rajai Davis at 33 can still be major stolen base threats without regular starting jobs, Bourn should be able to rebound for another 40 steal season at age 31. Look for Cleveland manager Terry Francona to find more ways for his leadoff hitter to add stress to opposing catchers and pitchers, which should result in an increase in steals for 2014.

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