Posted: Thu March 7, 2013 3:54PM; Updated: Thu March 14, 2013 4:50PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: 27-year-old breakthroughs

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Evan Longoria
Finally healthy, Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria is poised for the season of his career at 27 years old.
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI

Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more

A player's stat line from the previous season often determines his fantasy value -- but that's often where many owners make a mistake. Drafting based off of last year's statistics would give an owner the best team for the previous season, filled with players coming off of career years, but not the best team for the season ahead.

To help our readers avoid that problem, we present SI.com's annual series on finding the breakthrough players before they actually break through, and we start with this writer's favorite category of all: 27-year-old breakout candidates.

SLEEPERS: Age 27 | Year 3 starters | Prospects | Injury risks | Super sophs | Contract year

A baseball player's prime is widely considered to come from age 26-32, but history shows that something special seems to happen at age 27. That's when a player typically hits his physical peak, and often, drafting 27-year-olds can help fantasy owners score players who outperform their fantasy draft position.

Take last season: David Price, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Adam Jones, Max Scherzer and Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- all 27 years old -- were their best yet. It also happens in football: Just look at Adrian Peterson's monster rushing season, or Calvin Johnson's record-breaking receiving season from last fall. They're all proof of how magical the age can be for an athlete.

PRINTABLE DRAFT KIT: Top 300 Cheat Sheet | Position Rankings Cheat Sheet

Our age-27 theory focuses on picking players who are perhaps under-drafted and primed to put their best season together. We break our top picks into two categories: 1) Those who could wind up as fantasy MVPs and 2) those who are potential sleepers.

Five 27-year-old fantasy MVPs

1. 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

• Birthdate: Oct. 7, 1985
• Career bests: .294 AVG, 33 HR, 113 RBI, 100 R, 15 SB, .372 OBP, .531 SLUG
• Upside: .310/35/120/110/10/.400/.600

We're all well aware of what Longoria is capable of, but he's still carrying the stigma of injuries. However, there's no way that Longoria's best years are behind him; only now entering his prime years of production, one of the stars of the game is about to legitimately rise to the top. This third-round pick in mixed leagues could become a top-three player overall at age 27.

2. C Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

• Birthdate: April 8, 1986
• Career bests: .252/27/79/84/5/.365/.457
• Upside: .275/30/100/90/5/.400/.525

Santana has been drafted as an elite catcher for years, and he'll likely go in the top five at the position, but he has the potential to be the most productive catcher in fantasy. His strong walk rate besets his poor career batting average (.247), and the Indians often keep the DH spot open for him on the days he is not behind the plate. He is going to go many rounds after Buster Posey, but Santana is a better value relative to draft position. This might be the big year for Santana for which so many have waited.

3. 3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

• Birthdate: Aug. 11, 1986
• Career bests: .330/25/90/79/5/.387/.556
• Upside: .330/30/100/90/5/.400/.580

Kung Fu Panda is coming off a World Series MVP showing, but fantasy owners are still weary of the injury-prone stigma attached to him. He battles weight issues, but that allows him to slip in drafts. He also tends to be an every-other-year player statistically, and this is the odd year in which he should hit better than .300 with a .550-plus slugging percentage. This is the perfect time for him to put together a complete season.

4. SP Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals

• Birthdate: May 23, 1986
• Career bests: 12 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, 153 Ks in 195 2/3 innings
• Upside: 20/2.45/1.050/180 in 220 innings

Zimmermann is already coming off a career year, but he is lost a bit behind the likes of Stephen Strasburg, 27-year-old breakthrough Gio Gonzalez and even the offseason acquisition of former fantasy ace Dan Haren. Pitching for arguably the best team in baseball, Zimmermann has shown he can be as good as anyone, and will be a good value at his draft position, particularly since his career-high in victories is just 12. We wouldn't be surprised to see him finish second to Strasburg in the NL Cy Young race and a 20-game winner at age 27.

5. C Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

• Birthdate: May 21, 1986
• Career bests: .262/23/83/72/3/.329/.450
• Upside: .290/30/100/85/5/.375/.500

Wieters is already coming off a career year at age 26, but even more is possible. Like the Indians with Santana, the Orioles figure to keep the burgeoning backstop star in the lineup as a DH when he needs time off from behind the plate. Also, there is plenty of room to grow in the ratio categories of average, on-base percentage and slugging. The three consecutive years of growth and statistical improvement won't stop at age 27 -- this will be another career year.

Five 27-year-old fantasy sleepers

1. 2B Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox

• Birthdate: Sept. 16, 1986
• Career bests: .270/16/63/62/7/.347/.460
• Upside: .285/25/90/90/15/.365/.500

Beckham is our favorite late-round 27-year-old breakout in this year's class. He arrived with incredible hype as an early first-rounder out of Georgia and posted Dustin Pedroia-like numbers for two-thirds of 2009. It has been a struggle since; in fact, he has been consistently low end to mediocre in fantasy. Remember, it took Chase Utley until Beckham's current age to become a fantasy superstar, and Utley has been the gold standard for a run-producing fantasy second baseman since.

2. C J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays

• Birthdate: Jan. 5, 1986
• Career bests: .233/23/78/47/1/.288/.438
• Upside: .260/30/90/60/1/.320/.480

We are a bit uneasy about having a third catcher on this list, particularly on the grounds that we expect dramatic improvement in the batting average. Catchers tend to be drags in the category. Arencibia is coming off a year where he took a step back, but that bolstered Blue Jays lineup can ignite him at age 27. He will be a great source of power at arguably the thinnest position in fantasy. He's a steal at his draft position -- because of his career .222 average -- something than can be said for very few catchers.

3. 1B/OF Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

• Birthdate: March 17, 1986
• Career bests: .270/33/85/75/3/.326/.501
• Upside: .275/35/100/85/3/.333/.525

Davis turns 27 on St. Patrick's Day. It's easy to forget Davis is just now entering his prime. He has wallowed around in fantasy mediocrity for years -- until last season. The years of disappointment might make some think his 2012 totals of 33 homers and 85 RBI are a bit of a fluke. Nope. That was a coming of age. Davis is well worth his draft position and can grow into one of the game's feared sluggers.

4. 1B/3B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

• Birthdate: Nov. 26, 1985
• Career bests: .294/6/46/44/1/.365/.463
• Upside: .300/15/90/90/10/.400/.475

It isn't the offensive production he provides as a corner infielder that excites anyone. It is his potential transition to second base, where he can start for the Cardinals. Reports have him doing well there and it is possible he gets 500 at-bats for the first time. His bat is plenty good enough to slot as a starter at the thin position in all fantasy leagues when he becomes eligible there.

5. RP Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays

• Birthdate: Aug. 6, 1986
• Career bests: 5 W, 1.95 ERA, 0.800 WHIP, 73 Ks, 0 SV
• Upside: 5/1.50/0.750/80/30 SV

The 27-year-old axiom doesn't necessary apply to pitchers, especially relievers, but McGee has taken years to reach his full potential as a late-inning option for the Rays. He arrived as one of the best setup men in baseball and the next logical step is to close. With Fernando Rodney coming off a career year impossible to duplicate -- particularly when you consider Rodney's year-to-year inconsistency throughout his career -- we could see McGee morph into a top-five closer in fantasy if he inherits the role. He's worth a starting spot in rotisserie formats for that potential scenario alone, and even if he doesn't get that promotion, he'll still be a great middle reliever at age 27.

Top 27-year-olds by position

The potential 27-year-old breakthroughs won't end there. Here's a list of our favorites, ranked by position:

Catchers
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Matt WietersBaltimore OriolesMay 21, 1986
2Carlos SantanaCleveland IndiansApril 8, 1986
3Jarrod SaltalamacchiaBoston Red SoxMay 2, 1985
4J.P. ArencibiaToronto Blue JaysJan. 5, 1986
5Jonathan LucroyMilwaukee BrewersJune 13, 1986
6Tyler FlowersChicago White SoxJan. 24, 1986
7Lou MarsonCleveland IndiansJune 26, 1986
8Steve ClevengerChicago CubsApril 5, 1986
9Martin MaldonadoMilwaukee BrewersAug. 16, 1986
10Tony CruzSt. Louis CardinalsAug. 18, 1986
First Basemen
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Billy ButlerKansas City RoyalsApril 18, 1986
2Chris DavisBaltimore OriolesMarch 17, 1986
3Tyler ColvinColorado RockiesSept. 5, 1985
4Mitch MorelandTexas RangersSept. 6, 1985
5Brett WallaceHouston AstrosAug. 26, 1986
6Mike CarpBoston Red SoxJune 30, 1986
7Kyle BlanksSan Diego PadresSept. 11, 1986
8Daric BartonOakland AthleticsAug. 16, 1985
Second Basemen
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Neil WalkerPittsburgh PiratesSept. 10, 1985
2Emilio Bonifacio Toronto Blue JaysApril 23, 1985
3Gordon Beckham Chicago White SoxSept. 16, 1986
4Matt CarpenterSt. Louis CardinalsNov. 26, 1985
5Darwin Barney Chicago CubsNov. 8, 1985
6Ryan Flaherty Baltimore OriolesJuly 27, 1986
Third Basemen
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Evan LongoriaTampa Bay RaysOct. 7, 1985
2Pablo SandovalSan Francisco GiantsAug. 11, 1986
3Todd FrazierCincinnati RedsFeb. 12, 1986
4Trevor PlouffeMinnesota TwinsJune 15, 1986
5Josh DonaldsonOakland AthleticsDec. 8, 1985
6Chris NelsonColorado RockiesSept. 3, 1985
7Ian StewartChicago CubsApril 5, 1985
8Sean RodriguezTampa Bay RaysApril 26, 1985
9Jordan PachecoColorado RockiesJan. 30, 1986
10Pedro CiriacoBoston Red SoxSept. 27, 1985
Shortstops
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Ian DesmondWashington NationalsSept. 20, 1985
2Asdrubal CabreraCleveland IndiansNov. 13, 1985
3Zack CozartCincinnati RedsAug. 12, 1985
4Eric SogardOakland AthleticsMay 22, 1986
5Reid BrignacTampa Bay RaysJan. 16, 1986
Outfielders
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Carlos GonzalezColorado RockiesOct. 17, 1985
2Adam Jones Baltimore OriolesAug. 1, 1985
3Yoenis CespedesOakland AthleticsOct. 18, 1985
4Mark Trumbo Los Angeles Angels of AnaheimJan. 16, 1986
5Carlos GomezMilwaukee BrewersDec. 4, 1985
6Lorenzo Cain Kansas City RoyalsApril 13, 1986
7Dexter Fowler Colorado RockiesMarch 22, 1986
8Colby Rasmus Toronto Blue JaysAug. 11, 1986
9Andy Dirks Detroit TigersJan. 24, 1986
10Darin MastroianniMinnesota TwinsAug. 26, 1985
11Lucas Duda New York MetsFeb. 3, 1986
12Delmon Young Philadelphia PhilliesSept. 14, 1985
13Brennan BoeschDetroit TigersApril 12, 1985
14Darin Ruf Philadelphia PhilliesJuly 28, 1986
15Chris Coghlan Miami MarlinsJune 18, 1985
16Eric YoungColorado RockiesMay 25, 1985
17Michael TaylorOakland AthleticsDec. 19, 1985
18Collin CowgillNew York MetsMay 22, 1986
19Alex Presley Pittsburgh PiratesJuly 25, 1985
20Tony Campana Arizona DiamondbacksMay 30, 1986
21Jordan Schafer Atlanta BravesSept. 4, 1986
22Charlie Blackmon Colorado RockiesJuly 1, 1986
23Bryan Petersen Miami MarlinsApril 19, 1986
Starting Pitchers
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1David PriceTampa Bay RaysAug. 26, 1985
2Felix HernandezSeattle MarinersApril 8, 1986
3Yu Darvish Texas RangersAug. 16, 1986
4Gio Gonzalez Washington NationalsSept. 19, 1985
5Johnny CuetoCincinnati RedsFeb. 15, 1986
6Kris MedlenAtlanta BravesOct. 7, 1985
7Yovani Gallardo Milwaukee BrewersFeb. 27, 1986
8Jordan ZimmermannWashington NationalsMay 23, 1986
9Matt HarrisonTexas RangersSept. 16, 1985
10Phil HughesNew York YankeesJune 24, 1986
11Tommy HansonLos Angeles Angels of AnaheimAug. 28, 1986
12Homer BaileyCincinnati RedsMay 3, 1986
13Wade DavisKansas City RoyalsSept. 7, 1985
14Jaime GarciaSt. Louis CardinalsJuly 8, 1986
15Wei-Yin ChenBaltimore OriolesJuly 21, 1985
16Ross DetwilerWashington NationalsMarch 6, 1986
17Michael FiersMilwaukee BrewersJune 15, 1985
18Brandon BeachyAtlanta BravesSept. 3, 1986
19Andrew CashnerSan Diego PadresSept. 11, 1986
20Scott DiamondMinnesota TwinsJuly 30, 1986
21Lucas HarrellHouston AstrosJune 3, 1985
22John DanksChicago White SoxApril 15, 1985
23Dillon GeeNew York MetsApril 28, 1986
24Franklin MoralesBoston Red SoxJan. 24, 1986
25Mark RogersMilwaukee BrewersJan. 30, 1986
26Juan Nicasio Colorado RockiesAug. 31, 1986
27Corey Kluber Cleveland IndiansApril 10, 1986
28Jake Arrieta Baltimore OriolesMarch 6, 1986
Relief Pitchers
RankPlayerTeamBirthdate
1Greg Holland Kansas City RoyalsNov. 20, 1985
2Chris PerezCleveland IndiansJuly 1, 1985
3Ernesto FrieriLos Angeles Angels of AnaheimJuly 19, 1985
4Steve CishekMiami MarlinsJune 18, 1986
5David RobertsonNew York YankeesApril 19, 1985
6Al AlburquerqueDetroit TigersJune 10, 1986
7Jake McGee Tampa Bay RaysAug. 6, 1986
8David Hernandez Arizona DiamondbacksMay 13, 1985
9Brad Lincoln Toronto Blue JaysMay 25, 1985
10Daniel Bard Boston Red SoxJune 25, 1985)
11Jared Hughes Pittsburgh PiratesJuly 4, 1985
12Ryan Webb Miami MarlinsFeb. 5, 1986
13Charlie FurbushSeattle MarinersApril 11, 1986
14Michael Dunn Miami MarlinsMay 23, 1985
15Junichi TazawaBoston Red SoxJune 6, 1986
16 Daniel SchlerethBaltimore OriolesMay 9, 1986
17Tommy HunterBaltimore OriolesJuly 3, 1986
18Pedro StropBaltimore OriolesJune 13, 1985
19Brad BergesenArizona DiamondbacksSept. 25, 1985
20Troy PattonBaltimore OriolesSept. 3, 1985
21Andrew MillerBoston Red SoxMay 21, 1985
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