With the regular season just over a week away, many of you will be doing your fantasy baseball draft if you have not already put together a championship caliber team. Here is a look at some NL East players you will want to have on your roster and some you will want to avoid in order to claim your 2014 fantasy trophy.
The Atlanta pitching staff has taken some hit from injury before the season has even started, but the one mainstay is closer Craig Kimbrell. He has been one of baseball’s best closers over the last few seasons and is a must-have to rack up saves, strikeouts, and low ERAs. Few closers are as efficient as Kimbrell, and with the offense that Atlanta can produce, he will surely have plenty of save opportunities again in 2014.
MVP finalist Freddie Freeman has become a top-5 first baseman in the Majors. He has had three straight seasons with 21+ home runs and broke 100 RBI for the first time last season. At 24 years of age, Freeman is not even in the prime of his career and is only going to improve as he gets older. He is a great power hitter while also hitting for average. He batted .319 last year. Grab Freeman in the early rounds to solidify your team as he has played in 147 games each of the last few seasons.
Dan Uggla had a dismal 2013 season in which he failed to make the playoff roster, but he looks much better so far this year during spring training. Second base is a position with few stars, and many will write off Uggla based on last year’s performance. He still hit 22 home runs though and will have the power numbers as uasual. Uggla won’t help your team’s batting average, but he a player you can grab later this season and still get the value of a top tier second baseman.
Giancarlo Stanton is by far the Marlins best fantasy prospect offensively. Despite playing only 116 games last season, he had 24 home runs and drew 74 walks. His RBI numbers could be higher with more help from his teammates getting on base, but Stanton is a no-brainer as he constantly is on the highlight reel of Marlins games.
The pitcher you will want to have on your fantasy team is Jose Fernandez. The 2013 NL ROY was 12-6 last season with a 2.19 ERA. Anyone who can put up those numbers while playing for the Marlins has talent. If Miami can give him a little more help offensively, his win total could be in the upper teens this season as he will surely be just as effective if not even better in 2014. He has the ability and the attitude of a number one.
Christian Yelich is a 22-year old outfielder who could make big strides in 2014. In 62 games last season, he hit .288 and drew 31 walks and scored 34 runs. He should open the season as a starter and could greatly help a fantasy team with his ability to get on base and score. Yelich had 10 stolen bases in 2013, a number that will increase dramatically with his first full season in the big leagues. Get Yelich in the middle to late rounds, but take him a round earlier than you have him slotted to make sure you add this young star to your roster.
New York Mets
New York has a superstar in David Wright, but the player you want to watch for this season is newcomer Curtis Granderson. He is 33 and coming off a season that was limited with injuries, but Granderson has shown that he is ready to pick up where he left off before getting hurt in 2013. He hit 41 and 43 home runs in 2011 and 2012. His power is still there and is run producing machine. He led the league with 119 RBI in 2011. Granderson is a 3-time all-star who can find himself back in the MVP talks now that he is healthy.
Despite Matt Harvey being out for the season, the Mets may have another young star ready for his breakout season. Zach Wheeler is only 23 and went 7-5 as a rookie in 2013. He has looked sharp in spring training and could be what Harvey was a year ago for New York. Wheeler has a 1.69 ERA so far in the spring and could become the team’s ace once the season starts. He could give up less walks (46 BB vs 84 SO in 2013), but Wheeler is a worth a draft pick this season in the middle rounds to bolster a fantasy rotation.
Bartolo Colon was an all-star in 2013 for the Oakland Athletics. He probably won’t have another 18-win season like he did a year ago, but Colon surprised baseball last year and could do it again this season. Despite being on the wrong side of 40, Colon has had a career resurgence. His ERA was 3.43 in 2012 and 2.65 in in 2013. Don’t hold your breath and waste an early pick on him, but pick up Colon late in the draft in the hopes that he has one more break-out year. His spring numbers haven’t been stellar, but there is a reason the games and numbers don’t count yet.
The Phillies have a problem – this isn’t the end of last decade when they were the best team in baseball. Despite the current times, Chase Utley has been one of their most consistent players. With the lack of stars at second base, Utley is still a highly valued player for his position. He hit .284 with 18 home runs last season in 131 games. Although he isn’t hitting 20 and 30 home runs like he used to, Utley is still one of the best options at second base. He doesn’t strikeout as much as Ryan Howard and is not on the hot seat like Jimmy Rollins. Pick up Utley as he still is the best player in the Phillies’ batting order.
Pitching is not as sure-fire as it once was in Philadelphia, but Jonathan Papelbon is still a legitimate closer. He recorded 29 saves in 2013 with a 2.92 ERA. Papelbon could have more saves except the Phillies haven’t been ahead in as many games to give him the opportunity. His strikeout numbers were low last season (57 vs 84 career average) but look for him to be dominant again in 2014. Papelbon has been impressive in spring training and looks to have the same fire he had in Boston and his first season in Philadelphia.
A.J. Burnett may not seem like a sleeper after having nine straight seasons with 10+ wins, but he is one of those pitchers who you reluctantly take because he is never really a star. He averages 199 strikeouts a season including 209 a year ago in Pittsburgh. He won 26 games the last two seasons as a Pirate and gave up much fewer walks than he is prone to (62/67 vs 87 career average). With that being said, Burnett’s worst years came as a Yankee. He will have a tougher schedule once again playing the NL East so take Burnett in the later rounds. Expect him to post numbers in the middle of his New York and Pittsburgh days.
Ian Desmond has had two quiet 20 home run seasons in a row (25 in 2012). This could be his best year yet as he is 28 and on a strong Washington team. Desmond hit .280 last year and scored 77 runs. He also had 21 stolen bases. Desmond may be a product of the talent around him, but that doesn’t matter. He has become a top-tier shortstop and is a great addition for a fantasy baseball team. He played in 158 games a year ago with 600 at-bats. Desmond is an everyday player who routinely produces.
The pitching staff is Washington’s strong point. Opening day starter Stephen Strasburg may be the headliner, but lefty Gio Gonzalez might be the team’s best pitcher and best fantasy pitcher. He was the second runner-up in Cy Young voting in 2012 and has a career 3.59 ERA. Gonzalez only went 11-8 in 2013 but still managed 192 strikeouts. He is a workhorse averaging 203 IP over his career. After Strasburg is picked in the first round or two, scoop up Gonzalez quickly to add a top-quality arm to your pitching rotation.
Much like Burnett in Philadelphia, first baseman Adam Laroche never really stands out but continues to produce. He only batted .237 last season but is a career .264 hitter. Laroche is a key part of Washington’s offensive success. His defense is outstanding as well, but that usually does not affect fantasy statistics. He hit 33 home runs in 2012 and 20 in 2013. Look for him to get back close to 30 this year. Laroche will be available later in most drafts, and you can pick him up if you don’t lock down an all-star first baseman earlier in the draft.