Which Second-Round Fantasy Baseball Draft Pick Is Most Likely to Provide First-Round Value?

There isn't a huge degree of separation between the end of the first round and the middle of the second in fantasy baseball this year. Which guys from the lower end of that scale can leap into first-round value?

I have a fantasy baseball snake draft next week in which my dad and I (it's hard to pay dues, homie!) are picking sixth. Welp. Considering there are five guys I legitimately crave for this year, that's not exactly ideal.

Because of this, I know we're going to have to nail our second-round pick. Thankfully, there are some pretty intriguing guys in that range that have the potential to provide some serious value this year. And it's not just one guy, either. There are options.

I wanted to find the guy that has the best chance to provide first-round production this year despite being picked largely in the second round. I'll be basing this off of which players currently reside in the 13th to 24th pick range in ESPN leagues.

All of the numbers beneath the players are based on numberFire's season-long projections. The rankings aren't completely dictated by the projections, but I'll be referencing them throughout. Let's get to it.

1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

AVG: .279 | HR: 30 | RBI: 84 | R: 83 | SB: 8

Of all of the players within this group, Anthony Rizzo is projected to have the highest OPS. His breakout last year showed that he could be great individually. Now, if Chicago's offense is even remotely better, he should be primed to be even Gucci-er in fantasy.

Last year, there were 10 qualified batters who had a wOBA greater than .380. Of those 10, Rizzo was the only one with fewer than 80 RBI with his 78. Rizzo was only the fifth player since the start of the 2005 season to have a wOBA at .395 or higher and record fewer than 80 RBI among players with at least 600 plate appearances.

This was largely because the the Cubs collectively received a .303 and .301 on-base percentage from their number-one and number-two hitters, respectively. If they can get that number up even a bit, Rizzo's outside-dependent stats should increase.

Dexter Fowler has his share of faults. Getting on base is not one of them. Since 2011, he has posted on-base percentages of .363, .389, .369 and .375 respectively. His presence alone would be enough to get me to pull the trigger on Rizzo. But when you add in Rizzo's new-found mashing abilities against lefties, he's a no-doubt-abouter.

2. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

AVG: .298 | HR: 7 | RBI: 52 | R: 81 | SB: 41

Do I think Jose Altuve is going to duplicate his 2014 individual stats? Uh, no. That would be beyond tough. But that doesn't preclude him from being nearly equally fantasy relevant.

Altuve, like Rizzo, figures to be part of a much-improve offense this year. The additions of guys like Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie, Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena provide offensive upgrades at each position and should more than make up for the loss of Fowler. The Astros ranked 21st in wOBA from their number-three batters and 29th in both the four and five hole. It can't get much worse than that.

numberFire's projections (a .298/.339/.406 slash) are more pessimistic than both Steamer and ZiPS. Even with this, those same projections, with Altuve's stolen-base and run-scoring abilities, land him 12th on the overall rankings. If he were to perform at the level of his other projections as opposed to numberFire's, Altuve would be a solid bet to provide first-round value in the second.

3. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

Innings: 212.8 | Strikeouts: 212 | ERA: 2.96 | Wins: 15

I should mention that all of this is contingent upon Chris Sale's foot injury not keeping him out too long after opening day. It looks like he should be ready by mid-April, so we'll operate under that assumption.

The thing about Sale is that fantasy owners could knock him down their draft board if they're worried about the injury. This hasn't been the case yet as his average draft position has risen 1.2 picks over the past seven days. Sad face. But it's still a possibility.

Right now, Sale is being picked as the fifth starter off the board behind Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The big hindrance Sale has is that he is in the American League pitching in a ballpark that isn't one giant abyss. But I still think he can outperform at least a few of those guys.

It would be borderline impossible for Sale to duplicate his 2.17 ERA this year. However, his 2.57 FIP indicates that this wasn't totally out of nowhere.

His .280 BABIP against is the area where we should see some regression as pitchers tend to hover around .300 without much influence one way or another. But will that regression be enough to take Sale behind a guy like Strasburg? I would say no. I love Strasburg, just not more than Sale.

Outside of injuries, the other thing that held Sale down last year was his 12 wins. numberFire sees that jumping to 15 this year, but I could see him exceeding that. I picked the White Sox to earn a wild card berth because of their improved lineup and bullpen. Both of those factors assist Sale as well. 17 wins is far from being out of the question, and those five additional wins over last year can make a huge impact in some leagues.

The big bugaboo with Sale is durability. In three major league seasons, he has never thrown more than 214.1 innings. Scherzer has either equaled or exceeded that total each of the past two years, and Hernandez has done so five times. The foot injury amplifies these concerns, but if Sale is able to make 30 starts, he will provide solid return on your investment.