The National League Central division is loaded with offensive firepower – from elite players who deserve first-round attention to plenty of young players with breakout potential. The only thing really lacking in this division from a fantasy standpoint is solid starting pitching depth.
Here is our NL-Central preview from a fantasy perspective:
Milwaukee Brewers: Offensively one of the most exciting fantasy rosters in baseball. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are legitimate first-round talents. Alcides Escobar projects to be one of the best shortstop values in 2010 fantasy drafts at any position if he can tap his immense talent in a loaded lineup. The starting pitching is questionable, however, Yovani Gallardo fared well last season, but I’d prefer another year of consistency before crowning him a fantasy must-add. Randy Wolf was imported from the Dodgers after an impressive showing last season, but again, it is hard to bank on him for consistent production throughout the entire season.
St. Louis Cardinals: With an offense anchored by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday and a rotation highlighted by Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, it would be hard not to consider the Cardinals a decent source of fantasy production. The only problem is that personally, I’m not targeting anyone else on their roster for my fantasy squad. And I’m also not paying for Chris Carpenter at his current average draft position.
Chicago Cubs: The window to contend for this aging and typically injured squad is quickly passing. It is hard for me to sink much money into many of the older fantasy commodities on this squad, although certain players such as Alfonso Soriano could fall far enough to be worth a late-round bench spot just in case he somehow finds the magic (or performance enhancers) and plays a swan song-esque season. The value player here, for me, is catcher Geovany Soto. Sure he was horrific last season, but he’s also going for peanuts in most drafting circles and has the potential to rebound at least somewhat to his 2008 numbers.
Cincinnati Reds: Another chinstrap ninja draft darling plays for Cincy. Joey Votto could and should take the next step in his major league progression, making him a second-round talent at a fourth or fifth-round draft spot. I’m also high on Jay Bruce, who will – mark my words – fly up the outfielder rankings in 2010. The Reds pitching staff is loaded with real-life potential but not much to hang a fantasy team’s hat on.
Houston Astros: When you think of the Astros, only four names seem to carry any fantasy weight: Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Of those, both Lee and Berkman are being drafted on previous fantasy prowess in most cases, and are a little too salty for my stingy drafting purposes. Bourn is one of many speed-driven outfielders that can be hard in the later rounds of most drafts. If you miss out on him, you can simply change your focus to Rajai Davis, Julio Borbon or one of many other stolen base options. The guy I’m looking at a little closer this year after playing below his talent level the past couple years is Hunter Pence. He seems to be a decent value in many of the drafts/mock drafts that I’ve participated in, and has the potential to outplay his average draft position in most cases.
Pittsburgh Pirates: For those who write off the Pittsburgh Pirates in terms of fantasy value, you’re being premature. Andrew McCutchen is as likely as anyone to take the next step in his career and become a multi-category fantasy threat. Ryan Doumit has been falling low enough in many drafts to be considered a catching value player. Garrett Jones is another potential value player, although it is premature to tell if his 2009 was a fluke or a sign of things to come. Prospect Pedro Alvarez could make some noise when he makes his major league debut.
The NL Central’s best:
Fantasy hitter: Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
Fantasy pitcher: Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals
Fantasy hitting MVP: Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati
Fantasy pitching MVP: Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati
Prospect: Alcides Escobar, ss, Brewers
Sleeper: Geovany Soto, c, Chicago
Bust: Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis