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N.L. Central Fantasy Preview

The largest division in baseball is brimming with fantasy talent from top to bottom. This division contains the single most dominant player of the past decade, who you will be drafting first overall in any draft. Even though he may overshadow other players, the N.L. Central has a lot of early round talent worth spending big bucks on.

Cincinnati Reds

The Red made a surprising surge in the rankings with their potent offense and steady starting pitching. One player on this team is a first rounder while other supporting cast members will be gone within the first five rounds.

Joey Votto (1B)

The reigning NL MVP had his breakout season backed up by legitimate skills that he has flashed in years past. Votto showed well rounded skills posting .324/37/114 with 16 SB, but I can’t guarantee another season of 15+ swipes. What I will tell you is that Votto’s power and hitting are getting better every season and 2011 will be at least more of the same. Lock in the same numbers, it’s almost “Vottomatic”.

Jay Bruce (CF, RF)

Here is another young hitter who is on the cusp of a breakout season. In 2010, Bruce finally solved left handers with a .277 BA against southpaws and he had a fantastic 2nd half by hitting .306/15/34 after the break. I must say though, if it doesn’t happen this season, then when will it happen?

Other Hitters

  • Brandon Phillips (2B) – Speed and power in decline; 20-20 is now a reach instead of a guarantee.
  • Drew Stubbs (CF) –I don’t forsee a power surge and BA improvement won’t happen given frequent strikeout totals (168 in ’10). I still like 20-30 possibility.
  • Scott Rolen (3B) – I know the 20 HR and 83 RBI look like a decent option, but HUGE first half (.290/17/57) makes whole season look good.

Johnny Cueto (SP)

It wasn’t long ago when Cueto was Cincinnati’s next big thing. It looks like he turned a corner in 2010 by lowering his ERA to 3.64. He isn’t flashy with the strikeouts, but he also doesn’t surrender too many free passes and he up’d his GB rate in the 2nd half to 45%. Remember, not flashy, but dependable.

Bronson Arroyo (SP)

First and foremost, Arroyo is not a strikeout pitcher. His K/9 fell to 5.05, but his GB rate stays over 40% and his K/BB in the 2nd half of last season was a stellar 3.7. Last season marked the 6th consecutive year of 200+ IP, so the guy is a workhorse with good control.

Other Pitchers

  • Mike Leake (SP) – Imploded in 2nd half, but not bad for a guy with no minor league experience.
  • Travis Wood (SP) –Put up decent strikeouts (7.54 K/9) and decent ERA (3.51), but gives up too many fly balls for a guy pitching at Great American Ball Park.
  • Francisco Cordero (RP) –He’s still their closer and recorded 40 saves in ’10, but K/9 is in free fall and 1.6 K/BB makes me sick. If he falls apart, then look out for Aroldis Chapman to sneak into the role.

St. Louis Cardinals

All of the focus in the fantasy community is on one man. It is the man who should be taken 1st overall in any draft, but he has a supporting cast worth considering. The biggest news in the offseason was the injury to fantasy ace pitcher Adam Wainright who will miss 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Albert Pujols (1B)

THE player to have in drafts. If you have the first overall pick, you shouldn’t even be considering anyone else. Last season, Pujols set a career low in BA…hitting .312. He also failed to reach .600 SLG for only the 2nd time in his career…so he hit .596. All I have to tell you is that over his 10 seasons, Pujols is averaging 118 R/40 HR/123 RBI and is a career .331 hitter. Enough said.

Matt Holliday (LF)

For all those who though Holliday needed Coors Field to be successful, I will tell you that you are wrong. He obviously just needs any N.L. park, but that’s not the point. What we see from Holliday’s season and a half in St. Louis is great hitting and RBI opportunities (thanks Pujols). In 221 games, he’s hit .324 with 41 HR and 158 RBI, so there’s no reason why he would decline anytime soon.

Other Hitters

  • Colby Rasmus (CF, RF) – Had a great 1st half with 16 HR and 42 RBI before break, but has fallen apart in 2nd half for 2nd straight season. Also has high strikeout totals that will hold him back from taking next big step.
  • Lance Berkman (1B, LF) – Don’t pay for the name, he’s on his way out.

Chris Carpenter (SP)

Who else though he was finished after Tommy John surgery? 2010 marked the 2nd straight season of 190+ IP including 235 last season, so injuries don’t look to be a nagging issue. Carpenter has put up ace numbers in the past two years, so he has clearly regained the form that won him the Cy Young in ’05. Get past the injury concerns and draft with confidence.

Jaime Garcia (SP)

The rookie impressed in his first full season by posting superb 2.70 ERA in 28 starts and racking up 13 wins. His walks are a tad high (3.5/9 IP), but he’s a sinker ball pitcher who will keep the ball on the ground, so even if the ERA rises, it won’t spike through the roof.

Other Pitchers

  • Kyle McClellan (SP) – With Wainwright out, McClellan was pulled from his relief role to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. He looks good this spring and combines GB% and strong K totals.
  • Ryan Franklin (RP) – He isn’t dominating at the plate, but his control is spot on. As long as he maintains, then a run at 30 saves is in his future.

Milwaukee Brewers

Talk about loaded with talent. Oh, not just talent, but young talent…on both sides. The Brewers give us hard-hitting offense and some borderline elite starting pitching. The Brew Crew could make a run at an N.L. Central title, which means fantasy talent is abundant no matter where you look.

Ryan Braun (LF)

Braun’s days as a first rounder will end in 2011 if he can’t stop this freefall in the HR department. Sporting just 25 longballs in 2010, Braun reached .500 SLG thanks to 45 doubles, but that doesn’t mean he is useless. He still hit .304 and put in his 3rd straight year of 100+ RBI and 2nd straight year of 100+ runs. While huge September was encouraging (.323/6/23), the Hebrewer may be kissing his 30 HR days goodbye.

Prince Fielder (1B)

Fielder’s power is not in question, he even put up 32 HR in what is considered a bad year for him. His big hurdle is left-handed pitching. Last season, his RH/LH splits were very much black and white as he only hit .226/336/.332 against southpaws. He’s shown he can hit lefties in the past, so if he corrects that in 2011, then he will have another huge year.

Other Hitters

  • Casey McGehee (2B, 3B) – Proved the haters wrong with .285/23/104 and plays some of fantasy’s shallowest positions.
  • Corey Hart (RF) –Traded contact for power and it led to career high 31 HR. Hitting in front of Braun/Fielder will ensure good pitches.
  • Rickie Weeks (2B) – It only took six years, but he finally played a full season, and it led to 112 R, 29 HR, and 83 RBI. Clearly he is among the best 2B, but do you really want to take the health risk?

Zack Greinke (SP)

While not as jaw-dropping as his Cy Young season in ’09, Greinke was a serviceable start last year. His ERA jumped to over 4.00 and he struck out less batters, but his skills from ’09 remained relatively the same (except for K’s). You could just call it a fluke season, but keep an eye on him. Then again, moving to the N.L. increases odds of great rebound season.

Yovani Gallardo (SP)

Gallardo is a stud pitcher even if nobody knows it. He reached 200 K’s for the first time in his career and put up 14 wins and a 3.84 ERA. Only a truly terrible August (7.75 ERA in 33.2 IP) watered down his season. My only complaint are the 75 BB. If he can get those under control, the he can join the elite.

Other Pitchers

  • Shaun Marcum (SP) –Returned from Tommy John surgery and it was more of the same…but a little better. Posted best IP total and strikeouts of career to go with 3.64 ERA. Now he moves to National League, which will only help.
  • Randy Wolf (SP) – Much improved 2nd half is encouraging. However, high walks (87) and declining K/9 are warning signs.
  • John Axford (RP) – Combined high K’s (11.79 K/9) with 48% GB rate to produce 8-2, 2.48 ERA. Walks are still a tad bit high (4.1 BB/9 ), but he should easily be a 30 save closer this season.

Houston Astros

Houston is not the team of fantasy studs it once was as the most noteworthy name on offense is now Carlos Lee, but there are other decent options sprinkled about in both the lineup and the rotation.

Carlos Lee (LF)

Lately, Lee has been trying to eat his weight in Twinkees. Add that to his unfortunate .238 BABIP last season, and no wonder he hit .246 last year. He is still making a lot of contact and he is still hitting plenty if flyballs. A nice rebound is a sure thing, but the BA will top out around .270.

Hunter Pence (CF, RF)

Pence’s consistency is borderline scary. He’s hit exactly 25 HR for three straight seasons and has hit exactly .282 for the past two years. Pence up’d his SB total to 18, and he flashed phenomenal power numbers in the 2nd half with his FB rate spiking to 40%. If nothing else, another 25 HR are on the way, but if last year’s 2nd half is a sign of things to come, then we may see 30.

Other Hitters

  • Michael Bourn (CF) – He’ll hit .260 and steal close to 50 bases. Nothing much more to say.
  • Chris Johnson (3B) – .308/11/52 in 94 games, I believe in 20+ HR, but the hitting will regress once .387 BABIP goes down.

Wandy Rodriguez (SP)

A tale of two seasons as we saw Wandy post 6-11 record and 4.97 ERA before break and 5-1, 2.11 ERA in 2nd half. He did everything right after the All Star Break by increasing K total while simultaneously cutting down on walks. We know he has the stuff, so buy into 2nd half rather than first.

Brett Myers (SP)

Myers returned to glory with his 2010 season as he went at least 6.0 IP in all but one start and increased his strikeout totals and induced a ton of groundballs. If he stays healthy for another season, then we will see an encore in 2011.

Other Pitchers

  • J.A. Happ (SP) – Sure he is young and has good strikeout numbers, but he walks close to 5.o batters per 9 IP. He’s close, but still not there.
  • Brandon Lyon (RP) – Blew only two saves last season, but poor 1.7 K/BB is warning us to stay away.

Chicago Cubs

These aren’t your daddy’s Cubs. The biggest news in the offseason was the acquisition of former Rays Matt Garza and Carlos Pena. Other than that, this is the same team we’ve seen for the past several seasons.

Aramis Ramirez (3B)

Most people will see the overall numbers and stay away, so that is why you can get Ramirez on the cheap. Let’s not forget that he was hampered by a thumb injury for the first part of the season. The numbers don’t lie; he hit 19 HR in the 2nd half with a .293 BA. No worries here.

Carlos Pena (1B)

2010 marked the first time since ’07 that Pena failed to break 30 HR and 100 RBI. In grand fashion, he hit .196 for the season. I’ve never been a Pena fan, but call me crazy, but I think a slight (SLIGHT) resurgence in his move to the N.L. is in order. His power could even fly off the charts at Wrigley. The hitting will still be atrocious, but not sub .200.

Geovany Soto (C)

After a terrible sophomore slump, Soto didn’t return to his rookie form, but he came back with more than respectable numbers (for a catcher) by hitting .280/17/53. Shoulder problems limited playing time, but if he’s healthy, then 25 HR is on the horizon.

Other Hitters

  • Alfonso Soriano (LF) – Slightly underrated. Showed good skills last season and could easily reach .275/25/90.
  • Starlin Castro (SS) – Not quite there yet. Will hit .285 with 20 SB, so don’t jump the gun.

Ryan Dempster (SP)

Dempster put in his 3rd straight season of 200+ IP and delivered with his first 200+ K season since 2000. In the second half, he slightly fell off by issuing more walks, but the K-rate never faltered. Fatigue as the season goes on is still a small concern, but there’s no reason he can’t have another solid season.

Matt Garza (SP)

Garza has two straight seasons of sub-4.00 ERA, but it is an illusion. Garza’s BB/9 is near 3.0, his K/9 is eroding, his FB% is over 45, and he allowed 28 HR last season. A lot of luck has gone into his double-digit wins and decent ERA. An implosion is imminent.

Other Pitchers

  • Carlos Zambrano (SP) –So many issues over the past few seasons. No way he’ll repeat last season’s 2nd half (1.58 ERA in 74.0 IP). Expect high 3.00 ERA at best.
  • Carlos Marmol (RP) –The 38 saves and 2.55 ERA were great. We like the 16.0 K/9, but we don’t like the 6.0 BB/9. It’s your call.

Pittsburgh Pirates

*Sigh*, let’s get this over with. Ok, so things are looking bleek in Pittsburgh, but reasonable players are to be found. Just stay away from the rotation. If your team has Paul Maholm or Ross Ohlendorf anywhere on your staff, then I revoke your rights to play fantasy baseball.

Andrew McCutchen (CF)

The first Pirate off any draft board, McCutchen is a budding speed/power combo. While he won’t reach superstardom this season, he will have a good shot at hitting .300 with 20 HR and 30 SB.

Pedro Alvarez (3B)

Another young star in the making, Alvarez made a decent splash in his rookie season with 16 HR and 64 RBI in 95 games. While he failed to hit lefties (.228), he is still developing. Plus, strong September (.311/5/26) are a sign of good things to come.

Other Hitters

  • Jose Tabata (LF, CF) –Speedy leadoff hitter will hit in the .280 range and steal 30-40 bases.
  • Neil Walker (2B) – Well-rounded hitter at shallow position with chance at 25 HR.

Joel Hanrahan (RP)

The Pirates closer finished with 100 K’s in 69.2 IP and showed great improvement in his GB% and K/9. He’s never been a full time closer, which some could see as a red flag, but I think he’ll be able to lock down 30 saves.

Other Pitchers

I will not fully endorse any Pittsburgh starting pitcher. When Paul Maholm is your anchor, the you have problems.

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