The MLB lockout has ended, spring training has started and the march to a fantasy baseball championship has begun.

The early rounds in a fantasy baseball draft are about building a strong foundation for your team and having those players perform up to expectations. However, we need to hit on players later in drafts who exceed the level we were hoping for on draft day. Last year, we accurately predicted Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias to break out and he did in a big way as he finished with 20 wins. There will be missed predictions along the way, but the hope is to get a few of these correct.

Colorado Rockies Infielder Brendan Rodgers — The 25-year-old has been on the radar for a couple of years, but enters 2022 in prime position to finally become a strong fantasy option. Rodgers was going to make this list last year, but he was injured in spring training, a theme throughout his young career. In 102 games last season, the infielder hit .284 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs. We always love targeting hitters who play their home games in Colorado, but Rodgers actually hit 12 of his home runs on the road in 2021. That’s an encouraging sign, as I don’t see him struggling in Coors Field again. Rodgers is currently being drafted as the 22nd shortstop, according to FantasyPros.com, and has eligibility at second base as well. The infielder won’t help in the stolen base category, but he should provide a strong batting average and hit more than 20 home runs. He should also score a ton of runs, as he is slated to bat near the top of the lineup for Colorado.

Toronto Blue Jays Starting Pitcher Alek Manoah — A strong spring will probably jump Manoah’s average draft position, but as of now, he is the 25th starting pitcher being drafted. The philosophy we preach is to not invest in starting pitching early. Manoah’s seventh-round average draft position is the perfect target for a pitcher this talented. In 20 starts in 2021, Manoah finished with a 3.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The 24-year-old right-hander has been a strikeout machine dating back to his days in the minors, so I believe that will continue. Pitching in a tough division like the American League East may cause his ERA to rise from last year’s impressive finish, but we’re targeting the strikeout ability and Manoah will provide plenty of that.

Tampa Bay Rays Starting Pitcher Shane McClanahan — The lefty was impressive during his rookie campaign, finishing with a 3.43 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in a very tough American League East. Like Manoah, the strikeouts are legit and will be there for fantasy owners in 2022. The 24-year-old has an elite fastball and breaking pitches that generate a ton of swings and misses. The only concern with McClanahan is how often he will be allowed to pitch deep into games. The lefty averaged less than five innings per start last year. The Rays could continue to be cautious with their young starter, especially early in the season. Since McClanahan is currently the 31st starting pitcher being drafted, I’m willing to take that risk. He has true No. 2 starter upside in 2022.

Seattle Mariners Outfielder Jarred Kelenic — It’s amazing what happens when a prized prospect doesn’t make an immediate impact. The fantasy community was buzzing last year when the 22-year-old was promoted, as Kelenic was a top 10 prospect heading into last season, according to MLB Pipeline. Kelenic disappointed, finishing his rookie season hitting .181 with 14 home runs and striking out 106 times in only 93 games. I will look at the positives. The outfielder had his best month of the season in September, when he hit .248 with seven home runs. Kelenic has the potential to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, and it could happen in 2022. The strikeouts may continue and the batting average may hover around .240 this season, but he should help in all categories. Kelenic is currently being drafted as the 40th outfielder, but he has more upside than most in his range. I’m willing to bet on the talent and believe in the strong September as a sign of things to come during his second season.

Phil Backert

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