We get criticized quite a bit about an overreliance of general Fantasy Baseball draft theories like breakout 27-year-olds. Other Mickey Mouse organizations even take the time to pull stats to try to debunk it. Billy Beane also told us he sees the beginning of a player's prime a year earlier at age 26.
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With that in mind, we present the Top 27 players under the age of 27 before opening day. Why 27? We like the number. It also happens to be the number of outs you are from a perfect game.
This is just one piece in our pre-draft series on sleepers and breakouts, the top players who haven't yet reached their prime. We have already dealt with the 27-year-olds, third-year starting pitchers, injury-risk sleepers, top 25 rookies, top 100 prospects and overlooked sophomores. Still to come are the players in a contract year and the top names you might not know but should.
The Top 27 under 27 debuted a year ago and it was a who's who of sound Fantasy picks. Save for those who graduated to 27 years of age, the lone "dropoffs" on this year's list are: SP Justin Verlander, OF Hunter Pence, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, 2B Robinson Cano and 2B Rickie Weeks.
We still like those players as sleepers, but some fresher talent had to have room made for them. They include: the reigning AL MVP, NL Cy Young and both rookies of the year. They are marked below with asterisks.
So, clearly our 27 under 27 doesn't go deep enough. Players who haven't yet reached their prime are very, very likely to outperform their draft position. That makes them great picks on all tiers of your draft boards.
We might have not gone deep enough for those award winners, but last season my editor (he's a genius) placed an Ian Kinsler photo in the draft prep feature on our website. The cutline: "Ian Kinsler could very well fly under the radar on Draft Day."
Now you're going to be hard-pressed to get Kinsler on your Fantasy team this season, because so many recognize him as one of the game's burgeoning superstars. Here are the other 26:
|1||Hanley Ramirez||25||SS||FLA||.308 avg., 31 HRs, 110 RBI, 100 runs, 38 steals (.399 OBP, .553 SLUG)|
|He has become our No. 1 overall player in all formats, especially with the move to the No. 3 spot in the order.|
|2||Jose B. Reyes||25||SS||NYM||.287-16-65-120-60 (.354-.454)|
|Another leadoff man who might move to third, but we don't buy it. He is the modern-day Ricky Henderson ... at SS!|
|3||David Wright||26||3B||NYM||.309-31-118-110-19 (.400-.534)|
|After this season, he will have a great case to be considered a better Fantasy 3B than A-Rod; he might be already.|
|4||Grady Sizemore||26||OF||CLE||.279-30-80-115-35 (.378-.491)|
|Our projections don't reflect it, but midseason 27-year-old could become a .300-40-100-100-40 monster this season.|
|5||Ryan Braun||25||3B||MIL||.301-38-110-95-14 (.350-.587)|
|Big swing has been nothing but spectacular since he was called up, so you have to expect he will get better and better.|
|6||Miguel Cabrera||25||3B||DET||.309-39-121-100-2 (.381-.574)|
|Year 2 in a new home tends to lead to higher comfort level, so Miggy could break through with a huge, huge year for you.|
|7||Evan Longoria*||23||3B||TB||.292-35-111-95-14 (.358-.552)|
|Reigning AL ROY trails A-Rod and Wright for now, but unlike Braun and Miggy, he will stay at 3B long term.|
|8||Tim Lincecum*||24||SP||SF||17-9, 2.89 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, 248 strikeouts, 77 walks, 218 innings|
|Reigning NL Cy Young was superb as a sophomore and already has a case to be the No. 1 pitcher in Fantasy.|
|9||B.J. Upton||24||OF||TB||.277-20-80-90-40 (.383-.463)|
|Postseason power surge was good to see, so if shoulder holds up after surgery, he could rise to the Fantasy elite.|
|10||Prince Fielder||24||1B||MIL||.292-40-114-100-5 (.381-.553)|
|Notoriously turned vegetarian last year and his power slumped early. Hey, Year 2 on a new diet theory anyone?|
|11||Ian Kinsler||26||2B||TEX||.290-22-80-96-27 (.362-.473)|
|We love his talent, calling him the next Chase Utley, but it appears so many might be overrating him now, perhaps.|
|12||Dustin Pedroia*||25||2B||BOS||.313-17-82-110-18 (.369-.472)|
|We are guilty, too, but so many people place Kinsler over the reigning AL MVP. Pedroia should feel robbed.|
|13||Carlos Quentin*||26||OF||CHW||.286-37-111-100-11 (.365-.569)|
|He would have won the AL MVP if not for his self-inflicted injury; he seems to be a bit underrated in drafts right now.|
|Few players had a better year, personally, as Hamels earned his Fantasy ace stripes and won the World Series.|
|15||Carlos Marmol*||RP||CHC||2-2, 3.09 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 30 saves, 81 strikeouts, 39 walks, 70 IP|
|He still needs to win, and hold, the Cubs' closer role to earn this lofty status, but we obviously think the world of him.|
|16||Nick Markakis||25||OF||BAL||.300-22-95-95-10 (.400-.477)|
|Our projections are modest, considering his talent and quietly productive supporting cast. He is even better than we say.|
|17||Jacoby Ellsbury*||OF||BOS||.276-8-50-100-40 (.325-.413)|
|Looking back, we probably should upgrade his steals; he stole 50 in a time-share, but now he is a full-time starter.|
|18||Adrian Gonzalez||26||1B||SD||.282-30-110-100-0 (.349-.511)|
|If his home ballpark wasn't so pitcher-friendly and his supporting cast so mediocre, he would be higher on this list.|
|19||Matt Kemp*||24||OF||LAD||.268-19-90-90-25 (.313-.473)|
|Another one we could look back at and laugh how modest our projections are on him; he's capable of .290-30-100-100-30.|
|A dominant closer on a bad team can be a great sleeper, but Soria won't be getting consistent save opportunities.|
|21||Brian McCann||25||C||ATL||.297-24-96-70-4 (.359-.501)|
|As you can see on this list, there is a cluster of very good young catchers to choose from now; McCann is our pick.|
|22||Russell Martin||26||C||LAD||.285-15-75-88-17 (.374-.433)|
|Martin's steals might make you consider him in Rotisserie leagues, but we wary of how he wore down in the second half.|
|23||Geovany Soto*||26||C||CHC||.290-28-94-75-2 (.366-.512)|
|The reigning NL ROY has power that is unmatched at his position already; too bad he cannot play 150-plus games.|
|24||Joe Mauer||25||C||MIN||.317-10-85-99-2 (.407-.457)|
|Look into baseball history, very, very few catchers score 100 runs in a season; we project Mauer to score 99.|
|He settled his home-road splits and became a burgeoning Fantasy ace; Santana's strikeout potential keeps him there.|
|When everybody was buying the Johnny Cueto hype last spring, it was Volquez who put up the huge Fantasy numbers.|
|27||Jay Bruce*||OF||CIN||.269-30-85-83-8 (.334-.475)|
|Streaky slugger needs to find more consistency and he should in Year 2; that is a great hitter's park to grow up in.|
|The dropoffs: SP Justin Verlander, DET; OF Hunter Pence, HOU; 3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS; 2B Robinson Cano, NYY and 2B Rickie Weeks, MIL.|
That is quite an impressive list of Fantasy talent. If it is possible, you might even consider drafting no player older than 28. That would be a decent strategy, perhaps. Players beyond that age tend to be more experienced, but they also come with established résumés that make them expensive and less capable of outperforming their Draft Day value.
A Derek Jeter comes to mind. His best years are behind him, but he will be drafted highly as always on name recognition and on the promise of his supporting cast. Most significantly, as players age, their bodies become more and more fragile and they are slower to rebound from injury or are just unable to manage the daily grind. Reducing risk is a significant factor in how to make your picks count in Fantasy.
You will notice many of the projections for these players above are cautious or conservative and many of them have totals easily reachable. Some are even downgraded from the seasons they have already had, like Fielder and Ellsbury.
That is great news, especially if you pick in our live draft rooms, where our projections produce the rankings everyone gets to stare at. We can't guarantee improvement on great years by sub-27s, but you can certainly anticipate a player with less wear to outproduce what we projected for him.
There are many, many more players we could add to this list to stretch it past 27 -- some of which have yet to even appear in the big leagues. It would take a whole series of lists, like say our multifaceted draft prep sleepers and breakouts series. The main point is: be very, very aware of a player's age and mileage.
You can e-mail Emack your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com. Be sure to put 27 under 27 in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state. Be aware, due to the large volume of submissions received, we cannot guarantee personal responses to all questions.