I’m going to assume that whoever is still reading fantasy baseball articles at this point in the year is a dedicated fantasy baseball player. That’s fair, right? So I wanted to use this article to get your thoughts on some of the best breakout players for 2014 while I still have your attention. On some level, I’m looking for who might be the next Chris Davis. This is kind of ironic because, before Mr. Davis, you would have called this the next Jose Bautista. And so on. So who are some of the players you’re expecting to take the next step in 2014?

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Avisail Garcia has been great the past few weeks, hasn’t he? At this point in the season, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to throw projections out the window (defenestration, yo!). This isn’t to say that you should expect something completely unrealistic from a player, but it is ok to minimize any worry about regression. For example, can Avisail maintain the .800 OPS he’s produced over the past month? Why not? And, am I allowed to answer a question with another question? This is my long way of saying that if a player is on a hot streak, it could absolutely continue for the rest of the season and doesn’t “have to” regress. With that out of the way, I’ll admit that I’m still deciding how I’ll feel about Garcia for next year, but I believe he can be productive for the rest of 2013. Anyway, here are some players who can be better than expected in OPS leagues going forward:

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I never know what to expect from Jay Bruce on a weekly basis. He’s been killing me softly the past month (or really, season), but it always feels like he might turn things around instantly. Is there a term for when a fantasy baseball owner is afraid to bench a great player out of fear of retribution? Or is that simply good old fashioned passive-aggressiveness? I’m not sure if it’s better to have “streaky” players in a head-to-head league or not. Theoretically, they could kill your team in a given week, but they could also save it. Maybe it’s just about having a good balance. What are your thoughts on “streaky” players? Anyway, Bruce has been alright, but is fairly underwhelming in an OPS league, considering his likely price on draft day. I’m thinking about jumping off the ship next year and letting somebody else grab him, but then he would probably make me regret it. There he goes again with that passive-aggressive behavior! Here are some other players on my mind who may or may not stab you in the back:

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Fancy meeting you here, and look at you: all dressed up with no place to go. As the season winds down, some are focused on last-minute playoff help (I try to appease you below), while others are reflecting on the past season. Let’s try to focus on the positives and learn a little something. I’m curious to hear which player you think is most deserving of the “OPS League MVP Award”. Let’s stay away from Miguel Cabrera, who was obviously great, but cost you a high draft pick. I’m looking for guys who provided value that far exceeded what they cost you on draft day and were truly a gift from the fantasy baseball gods. This will ideally help to provide us with a list of potential targets for next season (don’t worry; nobody else besides us will see this). Anyway, for those of you fortunate enough to still be in contention, here are some potential targets:

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Can I assume that you’re still competitive in your league if you’re reading this article at this point in the year? Or are you simply looking to find solace from a lost fantasy baseball season? Well, I can’t promise that this article will save your team or your spirits but, then again, I can’t promise that it won’t either. After all, Juan Francisco should give you plenty to smile about, and not just for Brewers fans after a rough season. Following his mediocre .685 OPS across limited playing time in Atlanta, he’s thrived with consistent playing time in Milwaukee, posting a .245/.325/.511 line. I’ve always been one big Juan fan and am confident that he will be much closer to his Milwaukee line going forward. He doesn’t have a fantastic OBP, but his slugging will definitely help you, especially if you’re hurting at third base. That he’s largely available means that he can help you in your playoff push. Anyway, here are some other guys who might be able to save your team:

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I’ll admit that I rarely write about pitchers, which may not come as a surprise if you knew my long and troubled past. Many years ago, I had a strong affinity for many pitchers on my favorite team (rhymes with Drew Stubbs). Unfortunately the coach – let’s call him either “D. Baker” or “Dusty B.” – was bent on crushing my hopes. But for you, my favorite readers, I will temporarily set aside my shattered dreams to review how 2013 “OPS against” views different pitching staffs. I’ll also include WHIP and BB/9 because I’m just that generous (don’t forget humble!). Anyway, here is the list of the worst pitching staffs:

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Manny Ramirez is no stranger to controversy removing him from the field, which makes it even stranger that controversy may end up putting him back on the field. The Rangers, who have Manny playing in their minor leagues, have been insistent that they have no need for Ramirez on their major league squad. However, that could change with Nelson Cruz accepting his 50 game suspension. I want to address a larger point in that over-the-hill sluggers are sometimes worth the gamble, even when they seem unlikely to produce. Yes, I’d take the same approach with Alex Rodriguez (Steamer projects a decent .258/.340/.438 line for him). I know it tends to be unpopular because they aren’t as exciting as younger players, but, depending on the size of your league, they still have value. If you have any doubts about a player being productive at an unlikely age, I’ll give you my Exhibit A: David Ortiz, who is likely well into his seventies. If Manny gets another chance in the majors, I wouldn’t expect Ortiz-like production, but something similar to Steamer’s A-Rod projection seems reasonable. That would be helpful at removing some of the weight from losing any fantasy baseball players to a suspension. Anyway here are some less controversial players I’m following in OPS leagues:

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Drafting Michael Bourn? That’s a paddlin’. Focusing on steals in an OPS league? That’s a paddlin’. Drafting a SAGNOF who hurts your OPS and doesn’t steal bases? Oh, you better believe that’s a paddlin’! In all honesty (which implies that I’m rarely honest with you?), I feel sorry for fantasy owners who were counting on him for stolen bases. Don’t you feel that way too, Matt Kemp? They had their fantasy teams left cold and ashamed, lying naked on the floor. No, let’s not get into Rihanna right now. But I really don’t know where to start with Michael, so I’ll begin at the beginning and go on till I come to the end, then stop. His current .288/.341/.381 line is fine in OBP leagues, but hurts in leagues that use slugging. The fact that he only has 13 steals is puzzling, considering that he’s a guy you would pencil in for 50 a year. Perry Farrell told me to note that Bourn’s been caught stealing seven times, a potential indicator of less speed. To make a not-so-long story short, I wouldn’t count on Bourn turning his season around. Anyway, here are some other guys I’m watching in OPS leagues:

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No worries, fantasy owners: Alejandro De Aza may not speak Swahili*, but this past month his numbers have been music to fantasy owners’ ears. With a .350/.418/.567 line in July, a strikeout rate that has decreased every month of this season, and already reaching a career high in home runs, there are many reasons for optimism. Yes, he struggled early on this season, but he seems to be rounding into form with an approach that attempts to hit for more power. And why not? After all, he plays in a park where Adam Dunn bunted for a home run** last year. I, for one (unless I can speak for more than one?), am embracing the slightly more homer-friendly De Aza. If he continues to steal bases, then he will add to the scarcity of players who steal bases, but don’t destroy your OPS (you know who you are). For the rest of the season, I believe that he will be able to maintain his current .278/.336/.444 line, which represents a slight dip in OBP with a nice bump in slugging. Anyway, here are some other guys I’m dreaming about in OPS leagues:

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Maybe I’m paranoid, but we have to be masters of reality and understand that he won’t be able to continue this wizard-like production. I’m not exactly trying to declare war on Yasiel Puig, but, like any new found glory, it’s all downhill from here. Don’t make me choose my friends over you, Yasiel! He’s truly been a fantasy baseball catalyst, but he has a very low walk rate and his strikeout rate is rising to worrisome levels. He will continue to be hit or miss, although I unfortunately see him missing much more often. Let’s address the giant Sandoval in the room: his .472 BABIP is preparing him for a head on collision. Another factor is that his hip injury has shown that he’s no iron man. I’ll temper expectations a bit by saying that a certain player had a comparable 1.105 OPS last June, only to fall to mediocrity afterwards. Shout out to whoever names that player first. I think Puig will be closer to Mark Trumbo going forward, which isn’t bad, but isn’t anywhere near what he’s been this year. On a different note, Terse and I will be doing a Reddit AMA tonight at 7pm EST. Y’all should stop by. Anyway, here are some other guys who are putting up somewhat surprising seasons:

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