Baseball fans were lucky to witness an incredible 2017 World Series this October, where bounce back players like Dallas Keuchel and Yasiel Puig were significant contributors. It is officially time to look ahead to the 2018 MLB season, where a new group of bounce back performers are sure to emerge.
The following players are not the only bounce back candidates, but are the ones who I believe are most likely to return to their previous form. Keep an eye out for these players heading into the 2018 season, as their price on draft day may be discounted due to their struggles in 2017.
Honorable mentions: Jose Bautista (FA), Jonathan Villar (MIL), Kyle Schwarber (ChC), Addison Russell (ChC), Ben Zobrist (ChC), Odubel Herrera (Phi), Maikel Franco (Phi), Carlos Gonzalez (FA), Kole Calhoun (LAA), Joc Pederson (LAD), Greg Bird (NYY), and Gregory Polanco (PIT).
Players who EVERYONE anticipates to bounce back, whose cases I do not feel are worth explaining: Noah Syndergaard (NYM), Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Mookie Betts (BOS), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Josh Donaldson (TOR), A.J. Pollock (ARI), Kyle Seager (SEA), and Jason Kipnis (CLE).
Hanley Ramirez, Designated Hitter/First Baseman, Boston Red Sox
At this stage in Hanley’s career, we obviously aren’t expecting a 20/20 MVP candidate season, but his 2017 campaign was a clear disappointment. His .242 batting average was a career low, while his 21 percent strikeout rate was at a career high.
Ramirez dealt with soreness and inflammation in his left bicep and shoulder throughout the year. According to rotoworld.com, he underwent a “relatively minor” surgery on his left shoulder on Tuesday, Oct. 17, which should allow Ramirez to return healthy for 2018 season.
The Red Sox, who finished 27th in home runs in 2017, will rely heavily on Ramirez to provide power in the heart of their order. If the Sox have any chance of returning to the playoffs next year, Ramirez will have to be a major piece to their puzzle.
Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher, Colorado Rockies
Lucroy’s 2017 campaign made people forget that he is only one year removed from being the top ranked catcher in fantasy baseball. Aside from his rookie year where he played only 75 games, he managed to set career lows in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored.
The 31-year-old was traded for a second time in as many years, this time heading from the Texas Rangers, whose stadium ranks second in terms of runs created by park factors, to the Colorado Rockies, whose stadium ranks first. The difference in scenery may not seem like a significant change, but Lucroy’s slash line in Colorado, .310/.429/.437, was substantially better than in Texas, .242/.297/.338.
Lucroy is currently a free agent, but according to purplerow.com, “there has been a lot of mutual interest expressed by the Rockies and Lucroy in reuniting.”
In Colorado, Lucroy spent the majority of the year batting eighth, which clearly isn’t ideal for your fantasy team. However, any spot in the Rockies’ lineup is fine, as they ranked third in runs scored, fourth in RBIs and second in batting average in 2017.
Whether Lucroy were to re-sign with Colorado or not, he still promises to be a major bounce back candidate in 2018.
Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays
Tulowitzki’s production has been on a steep decline since being traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015. The two-time top-five National League MVP candidate slashed .299/.371/.513 in his 10 years in Colorado, while he has slashed just .250/.313/.414 in his three seasons with Toronto.
Now 33 years old, Tulowitzki was placed on the 60-day disabled list after suffering ligament damage in his right ankle in July. According to Rotoworld.com, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons expect “Tulowitzki (to) be healthy come spring training in 2018.”
According to Alec Gentry of Sportingnews.com, Gibbons also stated that “Tulo is our shortstop,” showing that despite his struggles, the team will continue to deploy him at shortstop for the foreseeable future.
The only real case for Tulowitzki bouncing back is his track record and opportunity. He is signed through 2020 and must be desperate to prove his worth to the city of Toronto.
Adam Eaton, Outfielder, Washington Nationals
There were high expectations for Eaton in 2017, as it would be his first season batting leadoff for his new club, the Washington Nationals, whose star-studded lineup ranked eighth in runs scored, 11th in home runs and seventh in RBIs just a year prior. With Eaton atop their lineup, the Nationals became that much better, as the 28-year-old was coming off of back-to-back seasons with at least a .280 batting average, 175 hits, 90 runs and 14 stolen bases.
Sadly, Eaton’s 2017 campaign was cut short after suffering a torn ACL on April 28. According to Jamal Collier of MLB.com, Eaton stated, “I’m going to work my butt off and give myself the best-case scenario to play. This year would be great, and if that is the case, that means we are playing in October, that is for sure.”
Unfortunately for Eaton, the Nationals failed to make the World Series, which was the earliest Eaton was expected to return. His clear hunger to play and prove doubters wrong inspires me to draft him in 2018. The Nationals lineup improved in 2017, ranking fifth in runs scored, third in RBIs and fourth in batting average.
If Eaton were to bat atop their lineup next season, he would likely return to his top-30 outfielder status.
Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
Tanaka’s 2017 regular season was an absolute disaster. The 29-year-old once had a reputation for limiting walks, hits and home runs, but that status has officially been revoked. His 1.8 HR/9 ranked third worst among qualified pitchers, while his ERA ranked ninth worst.
One interesting stat for Tanaka is the decline in the frequency of his fastball, as it has been in decline every season since 2014, where he was throwing it about 40 percent of the time, down to 28 percent in 2017.
In turn, the frequency of his off-speed pitches has continuously risen, which may have contributed to the rise of his strikeout rate, as his 2016 strikeout rate of 7.4 increased dramatically to 9.8 this season.
A positive sign for Tanaka moving forward was his 2017 playoff performances. In his 20 innings pitched, Tanaka allowed just two earned runs, 10 hits and three walks. This was the Tanaka baseball fans expected heading into 2017.
Looking ahead to 2018, Tanaka will once again be expected to play a key role atop the Yankees rotation. If he is able to continue his postseason success into 2018, there is no reason he cannot bounce back to his top-20 fantasy starter status that he earned just a year ago.
Felix Hernandez, Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners
Hernandez has been in a downward spiral over the course of his last two seasons. After four straight Cy Young caliber seasons from 2012-15, the 31-year-old has thrown a total of 240 innings while posting a 4.01 ERA. Many factors could be contributing to Hernandez’s struggles, although fatigue and injuries seem to be the main causes.
King Felix has had one of the heaviest workloads among starting pitchers in the last decade, as he has recorded over 190 innings pitched over ten different seasons, most notably in 2010 where he pitched a league high 249.2 innings.
I personally refuse to believe that Hernandez, one of the best pitchers of his generation, is out of gas. Shoulder bursitis and bicep tendinitis cut his 2017 campaign short.
If a healthy Hernandez returns next season, his 2018 campaign will be a very different story.
Aaron Sanchez, Starting Pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Sanchez was considered a blossoming star in 2016, as he finished the year seventh in American League Cy Young voting after tossing 192 innings that resulted in a 15-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts. In 2017, his story was quite different.
Lingering blisters on his right middle finger resulted in four separate stints on the disabled list for Sanchez. Although it may seem like this season was a lost cause for the 25-year-old, he thinks otherwise.
According to Sportsnet.com, Sanchez stated that missing the majority of the year was “a benefit for (himself) honestly… (as) it gave (him) a full year to… rest,” as he had thrown over 200 innings in the regular and postseasons combined in 2016.
Sanchez won’t begin throwing until December, so we won’t know the status of his finger until then. What we do know is that Sanchez is one of the top young talents in the game and is sure to be overlooked in fantasy circles due to his “wasted” 2017 season.
Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
Although Cole started a career high 33 games in 2017, he had career worsts in ERA at 4.26, hits allowed with 199 and HR/9 at 1.4. Cole ranked 10th worst in home runs allowed with 31, which is nerve-racking, although in 2015, Cole ranked fourth best in HR/9 at .48, and home runs allowed at 11.
At only 27-years-old, it is more than realistic for Cole to bounce back to his Cy Young caliber form we saw just two years ago. The former first overall pick in 2011 needs to be on your draft radar next season, as his price is sure to be discounted due to his mediocre 2017 campaign.
Featured image by 710 ESPN Seattle
“From Our Haus to Yours”