Fall Classic hopefuls were stacked with young stars ready to impact your 2017 fantasy squad
By Fred Zinkie
As we settle in to watch the World Series, the minutiae of the 2016 regular season have already faded into the background. Before this year's heated postseason races consumed the final weeks of September, the regular season provided excitement for fans and fantasy owners alike.
The 2016 postseason contenders kept their eyes on the prize as they navigated through the rigors of Spring Training, the ups and downs of a 162-game regular season and the nail-biting drama of the postseason. But while the players focused on the task at-hand, MLB executives have had one eye on this season and the other gazing toward the future. Even though teams must sometimes choose between winning now and winning later, the best organizations are constantly balancing their immediate needs with long-term goals. And good fantasy baseball owners do the same.
To prepare for 2017 fantasy drafts, let's assess 17 players age 25 and younger who could take a major step forward next season.
By increasing his line drive rate in '16, Ramirez dramatically boosted his production in every standard fantasy category. Set to be eligible at third base and outfield in all leagues on Opening Day, the 24-year-old could hit over .300 with more than 15 homers and 30 steals next season after showing his true colors in his first full MLB campaign.
2B (Blue Jays)
Despite dealing with a shoulder injury that wiped him out for the final two months of '15 and the outset of this season, Travis has emerged as a high-average hitter with plus power and useful speed. The 25-year-old could rank among American League leaders in runs scored in '17 if he maintains a spot atop a Blue Jays lineup that has been productive in recent seasons.
Fulmer recovered from four inconsistent starts at the outset of his Big League career to generate some of the best ratios in the American League from late May onward. The 23-year-old may be ready to produce ace-like statistics in 200 innings of work next season by using an improved change-up that complements a mid-90s fastball and effective slider.
3B (Red Sox)
Having exceeded the 40-steal mark in each of his two Minor League seasons, Moncada has the wheels to make a major fantasy impact as soon as he secures a regular role in the high-scoring Red Sox lineup. Baseball's No. 1 prospect -- who was called up in September and collected an RBI double for his first Big League hit -- could dent mixed-league lineups by Opening Day on the strength of his patient plate approach, fleet feet and versatile defensive skills.
Even those who viewed Mazara as an elite prospect were surprised to see him become a Big League regular at age 20. Now 21, the outfielder heads into his sophomore season having proven that he can hit for average and rip his share of round-trippers. Mazara may use his premium spot in a productive Rangers lineup to hit .300 with 25-plus homers and 80 RBI next year.
The No. 2 overall pick in 2015, Bregman needed just 146 Minor League games to prove that he was ready for the Bigs. Provided his hamstring heals without issue, fantasy owners should be ready to select the 22-year-old on the early end of 2017 drafts, knowing that he could duplicate his impressive Minor League numbers (.300 average, 24 homers, 20 steals) in his first full Big League season.
After excelling in the Triple-A ranks at the outset of '16, Turner used his plus speed and penchant for producing hard contact to become a premier table-setter for the Nats in the second half. The 23-year-old has the plate skills to hit .300 with a double-digit home run total and the wheels to swipe 35 bases and score 100 runs in his first full season.
On the strength of a devastating fastball-slider mix, Diaz posted one of the highest strikeout rates in the Majors (around 15.0 K/9) during a rookie season that included a second-half ascension to the closer's role. The right-hander is poised to begin '17 as one of the few relievers with the potential to compile at least 40 saves and 120 K's.
Expected to be one of the Mets' top hitters this season, Conforto struggled to hit for average after a scorching April and endured multiple trips to and from the Minors. Wise owners will look past this year's inconsistency and project the talented 23-year-old to have a bounceback campaign that includes a respectable batting average, 20 homers and 75 RBI.
Yelich used a ground ball-heavy approach to post impressive numbers in batting average, runs and RBI this season. At the same time, though, Yelich -- who turns 25 in December -- also showed improved power by posting his first double-digit home run total. He could top the 25 mark if he lofts a few more balls into the air next year.
Despite some initial struggles in the Majors, Judge has the potential to post a sizable round-tripper total when he unleashes his imposing 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame upon opposing pitchers at homer-happy Yankee Stadium for a full season. Fantasy owners can capitalize upon the 24-year-old's unimpressive 2016 stretch-run statistics, combined with a strained oblique, to add a high-ceiling slugger in the later rounds of '17 drafts.
To put it mildly, the bar for mixed-league relevance at the catcher position is not especially high. Contreras could be a top five backstop next season if he uses his patient, powerful approach within a potent Cubs lineup to compile more than 20 homers and 70 RBI. Prescient '17 drafters will opt for the upside of youngsters such as Contreras or Yankees backstop Gary Sanchez over the predictability of veterans such as Stephen Vogt or Russell Martin.
After missing two full seasons due to Tommy John surgery, Taillon dominated Triple-A hitters at the outset of '16 before using elite control to excel in the Majors during the summer. The soon-to-be 25-year-old, who has studied under the tutelage of pitching guru Ray Searage, has the potential to become a front-line mixed-league starter with an ERA near 3.00 and a strong whiff rate in his first full season.
Once a top-tier prospect, Bundy posted a 3.08 ERA out of the bullpen in the first half of '16 before making a successful transition to the rotation at the All-Star break. The righty could be a solid No. 3 starter in mixed leagues if he can log 30 starts in Baltimore's rotation in 2017.
Reyes started his Big League career as a stretch-run swingman after working exclusively as a starter in the Minors. Still just 22, he'll need to demonstrate improved control in order to secure a rotation spot coming out of Spring Training, but his lifetime 12.1 K/9 rate in the Minors proves that he has the potential to make a major fantasy impact.
In a veteran-laden organization, Beede stands out as a future rotation asset. Twice selected in the first round of the draft -- 21st overall by the Blue Jays in '11 and 14th overall by the Giants in '14 -- the right-hander out of Vanderbilt will likely benefit from developing alongside an outstanding defensive catcher in Buster Posey and within a pitcher-friendly home park.
At an age when most prospects are still toiling in the low Minors, Urias held his own against multiple postseason contenders when inserted into an injury-plagued Dodgers rotation at just 19 years old. Next season, the southpaw should be able to work around an expected innings limit to provide a high strikeout total and solid ratios across more than 150 innings. Like the rest of the promising youngsters on this list, Urias will look to help his team contend in 2017 while giving fantasy squads a winning edge.
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Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.