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Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
Sure, Jonathan Schoop isn’t the complete package for roto owners. He only has five career steals in 390 career games and he barely walks, somewhat limiting his ability to score runs and actively hurting his value in OBP leagues. He also hit a woeful .209 as recently as 2014, something which tends to stick in the minds of fantasy players, especially ones who owned him that year. I think that in a lot of leagues, that abysmal batting average from 2014 is still baked into his price despite the fact that he hit .279 in 2015 and .267 in 2016.

Roto players have long memories, sometimes to their own detriment. The underlying stats don’t show anything that suggests he won’t continue to hit between .260 and .280 for the foreseeable future. If anything, given his improving contact rate and how hard he hits the ball when he makes contact, that BABIP has a little room to tick upwards in 2017, dragging his average along with it.

Year

Age

BABIP

HR/FB

K%

Contact

Rate

2014

22

.249

13.1%

25.4%

0.7235

2015

23

.332

17.4%

24.6%

0.6897

2016

24

.307

14.9%

21.2%

0.7099

Schoop set a career high in homers in 2016 with 25, and he didn’t do it with a flukishly high HR/FB rate. He also struck out less and made more contact in 2016, showing real development as a hitter, even though he still hasn’t learned how to take a walk and might never learn. And while he already has several major league seasons under his belt, he will still be just 25 years old in 2017, giving him some additional room for growth as a player. —Scooter Hotz

Raul Mondesi, Kansas City Royals
There's already a lot of speed available at the keystone in fantasy this year. Whether it's Jose Altuve, Trea Turner, or Dee Gordon, there are multiple opportunities to grab a potential 40-steal threat. Yet, there are others who could give that plateau a run and won't cost you anything other than a late-round pick. Mondesi is one of those players.

Let's go through the ugly first, as it's most prominent on his stat sheet. In 149 plate appearances last year, he hit .185/.231/.281—a line generally reserved for good hitting pitchers. He also does not have a clear path to playing time, as he's going to be competing in Spring Training with Whit Merrifield and Christian Colon. So at this point you're probably asking why I'm recommending one of the worst hitters in baseball last year who might not even have a job this year.

Of course, there are positives as well. Mondesi has impact speed and he stole nine bases in those 147 plate appearances last season, which is more impressive than you might think. The #SORBOR only reached base via hit, walk, or HBP 33 times in 2016. That means he ran 27 percent of the time he got on base. Dee Gordon ran 28.5 percent of the time last year. Trea Turner ran 27.5 percent of the time. It's relatively crude, and Mondesi doesn't project to get on base as often as Gordon or Turner, but he's a runner through and through. On top of that, Mondesi has the prospect pedigree that makes a great late round gamble and he was 21-for-22 in stolen base opportunities in the minors last year while hitting nearly .270 as a 21-year-old across the three highest minor league levels, with even a touch of pop to boot (seven homers).

Considering Mondesi is going outside the top-350 players right now, it's a pittance to pay for someone who could hit .250 with 30-plus steals. Those thefts are pretty valuable in this fantasy environment, after all. —Bret Sayre

Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
Since breaking out as a fantasy star in 2013, the draft day perception of Kipnis never seemed to match the actual production. Nagging injuries and otherwise poor performance kept him from getting back to that peak level. However, that hype pendulum (sweet name, btw) now appears to have swung in the opposite direction. Kipnis was quietly really good in 2016, yet he is currently the 11th second baseman off the board according to NFBC ADP data.

Kipnis played 156 games last season and produced one of his best seasons as a pro, slashing .275/.343/.469. He traded a little contact for power, smacking a career high 23 homers to go with his career high .193 ISO. Unlike most power for contact swaps, Kipnis’s didn’t come with an unmanageable hike in strikeouts. His 21.2 percent strikeout rate last season still hovered around league average.

Another source of value for the Indians’ second baseman comes on the basepaths. He swiped 15 bags last season, with an 83 percent success rate. In a league where stolen bases are more scarce than a good, upstanding citizen in Westworld, players like Kipnis (who has never been below 12 steals in a season) should see huge bumps in value. On a basic level, he’s a non-zero in any category. As far as upside, Kipnis could definitely see improvements in his run and RBI totals, hitting atop a lineup that now includes Edwin Encarnacion and a healthy (knocks on wood) Michael Brantley. —Mark Barry

Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
I am probably one of the fantasy owners that is highesr on Daniel Murphy. Murph's late season 2015 adjustments are for real. Those adjustments have been well discussed, but for those unaware of the details, he crouched down in a more loaded stance to generate more power from his lower body, got his front foot down earlier in his swing to help with his timing, moved closer to the plate to cover the outside part better while remaining quick enough to hit inside pitches, and started hitting the ball with authority, especially pull side. Murphy always had plus raw power and great bat-to-ball skills, and those mechanical changes really unlocked the power in games. He is a fundamentally different hitter, and I think he is now legitimately one of the top pure hitters in the game based on skill level.

Now, not all of this perfectly translates to all fantasy leagues. Murphy is not a stolen base threat, and despite his gigantic overall production, he only hit 25 HR, fifth-most at 2B. That limits him somewhat in 5×5 standard, where he finished 13th overall in Yahoo 5×5 last year despite having the third highest OPS in baseball. But in OPS or points leagues, his value plays up more. Murphy had by far the highest OPS at second base last year at .985, which was tied with *Joey Votto* for third highest in baseball, and ahead of the next highest at second base by 57 points.

It's reasonable to expect some regression from that in 2017. He's going to be 32, and has had some lower body issues the last few years. But his contact quality was fantastic last year, and he's good at finding vacated areas that defenders aren't playing in. His minuscule strikeout rate also helps make it easier to maintain a high batting average. Murphy's 9.8% strikeout rate was tied for third lowest in baseball among qualified hitters last year. There wasn't a drop off after Murphy went around the league, either; his second half OPS of .985 was identical to his first half OPS. I really don't expect the regression to be massive. Murphy has a .334 AVG and .585 SLG in 803 at-bats dating back to August 1st of 2015, which includes the 2015 playoffs. That is pretty close to the stabilization point for batting average, and well past that for slugging. And if a healthy Bryce Harper can rebound from his neck/shoulder injury, Murphy's RBI and/or R totals might go up with a healthy Harper and a full season of Trea Turner hitting either in front of him or behind him.

His early ADP of 35, the fifth second baseman off the board, is too low for me. I am buying him as a second round pick in 12 team 5×5 standard leagues, with a bump up in 6×6 OPS. —Tim Finnegan

Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs
In a game often defined by variance, Zobrist has been remarkably consistent. In the past six seasons, he hasn’t batted lower than .269 or higher than .276, the product of a steady approach, unwavering contact ability, a batted ball mix light on fly balls, and a resulting BABIP that hasn’t strayed outside a 22 point range during that timeframe. Point is, you can feel more confident in the stability of Zobrist’s underlying skills that you can with most players. Doesn’t mean he’ll meet your expectation, but at least the middle of the curve is fatter. That bat-to-ball and on-base floor make the Cubs second sacker primed to cash in on a context as rich as any in the league.

If he stays in the middle of the lineup, I think Zobrist is a safe bet to match the 170 R+RBI he tallied last season. In the more likely scenario he bats at the front of the lineup – he almost certainly will against southpaws and I’m betting Maddon comes off the idea of Schwarber as the table-setter against righties – that total gets shifted heavily towards runs. Only four teams (Astros, Rockies, Tigers, Red Sox) scored more out of the leadoff spot in 2016. Dexter Fowler’s batting average and on-base outcomes aren’t altogether different than Zobrist’s and he paced for 101 runs per 150 games last season. That seems like an appropriate benchmark to me. Take a look at the guys who hit triple digits in runs scored last season (or 90 for that matter). You won’t find many kicking around as the draft approaches its midpoint. There is inordinate depth at second base these days. If I miss out on the upper class, I’m content to skip the three-star tier and grab Zobrist to man my keystone. —Greg Wellemeyer

Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins
It's easy to forget now, but Gordon was the no. 4 player in fantasy in 2015. Not the no. 4 second baseman; the no. 4 player overall. Fantasy players will be frustrated with him because of the missed time in 2016 and because of his seemingly one-dimensional game, but don't lose sight of everything Gordon can do. He stole 30 bases in 79 games last season, and while he hit a lowly .268, his .316 BABIP was a far cry from his career average of .342. I'm not expecting a .333 average like he posted in 2015 again, but if we split the difference, it's very easy to imagine Gordon hitting .290 with 50-plus steals and 90 runs in 2017. Don't forget how special he can be. —Ben Carsley

Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds
This pick won't shock those of you who've followed along with my views on prospects for a few years, but yeah, I'm not afraid to double down here. Peraza has hit well and run well at every stop in his professional career. He can capably play 2B and SS, got some time in the OF last season and should factor prominently into the plans for a Reds team that wants to trade Brandon Phillips, could trade Zack Cozart, and isn't overflowing with outfield talent. Maybe he only gets 400 PA this year instead of the full 550-600 I'd prefer, but that should be enough for him to serve as a top-20 second baseman. Per ESPN's player rater, Cesar Hernandez finished 19th last year for hitting .294 with 17 steals. If we set our sights a little lower, Chris Owings finished 23rd for hitting .277 with 21 steals. Peraza can do that and more, and while he's not a starter in 10-team leagues, he could be in 16-team formats. He's a potential useful bench bat (bench legs?) for those of you with daily roster changes, too. —Ben Carsley

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