With Opening Day just weeks away, baseball fans everywhere are preparing themselves for the sweet smell of freshly cut grass, and mouthwatering Ball Park hot dogs. Year after year, it continues to amaze me how long the grueling offseason seems. While studs like Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen celebrated their well-deserved MVP awards, the players below didn’t have quite as warm of a winter. Here is our list of potential bounce-back players for the 2014 season.

Albert Pujols, 1B, LAA

Coming off of the worst season of his Hall of Fame career, Pujols must be excited to put the 2013 campaign completely behind him. In 99 games last year, the three-time Most Valuable Player hit .258 with 17 homers and drove in 64 runs in just 391 plate appearances.

Angels’ fans can’t be happy with his performance since joining the club back in 2012, but it’s tough to beat the guy up knowing that he spent the majority of 2013 with one healthy foot. Is it even possible for a player his age to live up to a 10-year, $256 million contract? Sadly, his triple slash line is on a five-year downtrend.

With all of that being said, I don’t think a 30 homer and 100 RBIs season totally is out of the question. If the nine-time All-Star can stay healthy if/when Josh Hamilton returns to form, then fantasy owners should reap the benefits of drafting Pujols with the expected drop in his ADP (average draft pick) this season. Just eight homeruns shy of the historic 500 club, it’s hard to deny a player with such talent the ability to have a much needed bounce-back year.

Prince Fielder, 1B Tex

As an owner of Prince last year, many times I asked myself, “why me?” I can’t complain too much because the guy knocked in a respectable 106 RBIs, but I did expect a little bit better production from him considering how high he was being drafted. His 25 homeruns were a career-low and that .279 average wasn’t anything to write home about.

With his unexpected offseason trade to the Texas Rangers, Prince will go from protecting Miguel Cabrera in Detroit to being protected by fellow veteran slugger, Adrian Beltre. With the way that the ball flies through that Texas jetstream in right field, I think that Mr. Fielder will enjoy calling The Ballpark in Arlington his new home.

The mountain is set so high for Prince this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to hit close to 40 dingers. Another thing that fantasy owners tend to love about the first baseman is his incredible ability to be the most durable player in Major League Baseball, missing just one game in the past five years.

Giancarlo Stanton, RF Mia

Coming into his fourth year as a big leaguer, the mighty slugger is looking to rebound after an injury plagued 2013. Before last season began, I mentioned Stanton in my 2013 Busts article, and surely enough, he hit a career low .249 with just 24 homeruns in 116 games.

Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins

The Southern California native hasn’t had much protection batting behind him since the blockbuster trade that sent half of the Miami squad to Toronto a few years ago. I think that Stanton has a lot to prove this season and that he will re-solidify himself as one of the top producing outfielders in the game. I expect 30-35 homers out of the 24-year-old, that is, if he can stay on the field for the entire season. Look for him to be drafted in the late second round/early third of your fantasy draft, but I wouldn’t stretch much further than that to get him.

Billy Butler, DH/1B KC

There was an unexpected power outage in Kansas City last year, and all fingers pointed straight to Butler. The bulky designated hitter hit just 15 bombs after tallying 29 in 2012. I expect him to drop immensely on the majority of draft boards, which makes him an interesting player for fantasy owners to target if seeking a hefty value pick.

The Royals made a smart move this winter by hiring Hall of Famer George Brett as their hitting coach. With a little bit of guidance from Brett and a thriving Alex Gordon batting behind him, Butler should be able to elevate his numbers back to where they need to be this season. I don’t see him reaching the 30-homer plateau, but 20-25 homers, 90+ RBIs and a .300 batting average would be a solid step forward for the Kansas City Bad Boy.

Derek Jeter, SS NYY

It only makes sense that one of the classiest players in baseball history will have a storybook, bounce-back season to end his brilliant career. Jeter has meant so much to the game of baseball that even Yankee haters have learned to respect and admire the great captain.

Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees

An ugly ankle injury limited Jeter to just 17 games last season. He stepped up to the plate a measly 63 times while collecting only 12 hits for a batting average of .190. Jeter, who is approaching 40 years of age, claims that his surgically repaired ankle has had plenty of time to heal and that it feels “good” this spring.

The Yankees’ all-time hits leader (3,316) is looking to make his 20th and final season a memorable one, not just for himself, but for the sake of winning. With shortstop being such a thin position in the fantasy sports world, No. 2 may just end up working out for his loyal owners after all.

Brian McCann, C NYY

The Yankees haven’t had a solid hitter playing behind the plate since Jorge Posada retired, so out of all of their big money offseason moves, bringing McCann over from Atlanta for $89 million probably made the most sense. At times, he can be one of the better catchers in all of baseball, but staying on the field has been his main issue.

The 30-year-old backstop hit just .256 with 20 bombs in 102 games last year, and will look to make his presence a little more reliable as a member of the Bronx Bombers. With that short porch in right 314 feet away, McCann’s homerun total should approach 30 and that would be incredible fantasy production out of a catcher. Playing in the American League for the first time will keep McCann in the lineup more often being used as the designated hitter at times.

Matt Cain, SP SF

The Giants are going to need Matt “The Horse” Cain to return to his normal self this season if they want to compete with Clayton Kershaw and the heavily stacked Dodgers. Like the majority of the players on this list, Cain is coming off of arguably the worst season of his big league career.

The right-handed hurler went just 8-11 and failed to reach double digits in wins for the first time in five years. It was also the first time in seven seasons that he didn’t reach at least 200 innings pitched.

Cain posted a 2.36 earned run average in the second half of 2013, proving that he is headed back in the right direction. I would look for Cain to have anywhere from 13-15 wins, an ERA a little over three and over 200 innings pitched in 14’. Fantasy owners should expect him to be ranked outside the Top-20 pitchers being drafted, but he will probably finish the year having Top-10 numbers like we are used to seeing.

Justin Verlander, SP Det

Very few expected Max Scherzer to become the ace of the Tigers in 2013, but he definitely earned that title. Now that it’s a fresh season, Verlander will look to step back into the spotlight and become skipper Brad Ausmus’s go-to-guy.

The 31-year-old flamethrower got roughed up a year ago going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA, while giving up the second most hits (212) in his nine-year career. Thankfully, Verlander did pitch extremely well in the Post Season, allowing just one run in 23 innings.

Last season is a just a blip on the radar and I expect 15+ wins and at least 225 strikeouts out of the lengthy right-hander. He is being selected in either the third or fourth round in the majority of fantasy drafts, so make your move if you want to make pitching a priority.

R.A Dickey, SP Tor

After going 20-6 and winning the National League Cy Young award in 2012, Dickey sure didn’t seem to have his magic with him in Toronto. The veteran knuckleballer went 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA, as the Blue Jays quickly fell out of playoff contention due to nagging injuries and poor team chemistry.

Now heading into his 12th season, Dickey recently came out of nowhere with such success late in his career. Although he isn’t the most consistent pitcher, I feel that he will fall low enough to consider adding him to the middle of any fantasy rotation.

If the 39-year-old gets the run support that the Jays are capable of supplying him with, then 14-16 wins shouldn’t be a problem. Dickey’s strikeout numbers are also a big draw for those playing in category leagues.

Cole Hamels, SP Phi

Without a doubt, the veteran left-hander is coming off of the worst season of his Big League career. After posting an 8-14 record with a 3.60 ERA in 2013, the Phils would love to get their old ace back. It was the first year since his rookie season in 2006 that he failed to reach double-digit wins, which was a head scratcher after going 17-6 in 2012.

Playing on an irrelevant team stricken by old age and injury prone starters seems to have taken its toll on Hamels and some have wondered if he still has passion for baseball. On Opening Day, Cole is scheduled to make an attempt at his 100th career win. The 30-year-old has been one of the best lefties in the game over the past eight years and with how far he is expected to fall in drafts, some lucky owners are going to be patting themselves on the back come playoff time.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Heyward, RF, Atl
  • Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Oak
  • Yovanni Gallardo, SP, Mil
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