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25 NL West Players You Must Have on Your Fantasy Team

Gil ImberAnalyst IIJanuary 3, 2012

25 NL West Players You Must Have on Your Fantasy Team

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    Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw.

    Be fortunate enough to draft these two NL West aces and your fantasy team will secure a firm position in just about any league you may play in.

    Now that the NL West has completed its 2011 postseason transactions, it is time to break down the top 25 fantasy baseball selections in the division.

    From starting pitchers to outfielders and first round picks to players likely to stick around for a while, these are the 25 NL West players you must have on your fantasy team, organized by position and rank.

Starter No. 1: Clayton Kershaw

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 21-5 Record, 2.28 ERA, 248 K

    A reigning NL pitching triple crown and Cy Young Award winner, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is almost guaranteed to be the No. 1 draft choice among all NL starting pitchers.

    If you are fortunate enough to have the No. 1 pick or Kershaw is available at any time when it is your turn to select, select him immediately.

Starter No. 2: Tim Lincecum

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 13-14 Record, 2.74 ERA, 220 K

    Looking at Tim Lincecum's 2011 win-loss record alone is misleading.

    Lincecum's San Francisco Giants possessed one of the worst offenses last season, a situation the club hopes to have rectified by signing Melky Cabrera and restructuring the lineup.

    Lincecum remains the best starter on one of the best rotations in the National League, making him a valuable fantasy pick, especially if his club's offense is able to pick him up this season.

Starter No. 3: Ian Kennedy

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 21-4 Record, 2.88 ERA, 198 K

    Despite having no undisputed A-lister on the lineup one year ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were able to produce a National League wins co-leader in Ian Kennedy.

    Kennedy, whose name was listed on many ballots for the NL Cy Young Award, stands to distribute the workload with a revamped pitching staff in 2012, while still holding promise to repeat a dominant performance in just his third MLB season as a regular starter.

    A potential second-tier draft choice (under Kershaw or Lincecum), Kennedy is just as valuable a commodity and deserves to be on any fantasy roster.

Starter No. 4: Matt Cain

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 12-11 Record, 2.88 ERA, 179 K

    With a WHIP of 1.08, Matt Cain is a dream selection after Kershaw, Lincecum and Kennedy are exhausted.

    His low ERA and significant strikeout figures suggest he will continue to dominate in 2012, proving himself a very solid choice, even in the No. 4 slot.

    His WHIP and BB-to-K ratios continue to decrease just as his ability and propensity to meet an increasingly difficult workload tend to increase.

    Even if Cain is your No. 1 starter, he will have a positive fantasy effect in 2012.

Starter No. 5: Madison Bumgarner

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 13-13 Record, 3.21 ERA, 191 K

    Just like teammate Tim Lincecum, Bumgarner is much better than his record indicates.

    Last season, he was in the top 10 in NL ERA and finished 2011 with a 9-4, 2.52 ERA performance.

    Bumgarner is poised to accomplish some great things in 2012 and like all Giants pitchers, will be a real asset to a starting staff behind Kershaw, Lincecum and Kennedy.

Catcher: Miguel Montero

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    Position: Catcher

    2011 Stats: .282 AVG, 18 HR, 86 RBI

    A 2011 All-Star who hits well for his position, Arizona's Miguel Montero should merit serious consideration for all fantasy league catching vacancies.

    Montero prevented 32-of-80 runners from stealing a base in 2011, a statistic that combines with his offensive capabilities to place him in an advantageous position heading into 2012.

First Baseman: James Loney

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    Position: First Baseman

    2011 Stats: .288 AVG, 12 HR, 65 RBI

    Depending on how greatly your league values them, a first baseman can make or break your infield squad.

    Dodgers first baseman James Loney is the best first baseman in the NL West, another player on this fantasy-25 squad whose second half was significantly better than his first few months of 2011, suggesting a continued heightened performance early in 2012.

    Loney's Aug. and Sept. 2011 batting averages were .367 and .360, respectively, suggesting he is looking forward to a relaxing early few months of 2012 before a resurgence come spring training.

Second Baseman: Orlando Hudson

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    Position: Second Baseman

    2011 Stats: .246 AVG, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 19 SB

    If one were to point out a weak spot in the NL West, it would be the second base position.

    For that reason, you can project a late-round second baseman selection, in which case San Diego Padres veteran Orlando Hudson is your best bet.

    His numbers may be trending far south of his career average, but he still has some speed and can still produce runs for a team where run production is all but non-existent.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki

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    Position: Shortstop

    2011 Stats: .302 AVG, 30 HR, 105 RBI

    If your lineup is deep or trade instincts are keen enough, Troy Tulowitzki just may be your best bet at the shortstop position—notably, when he plays at home, at Coors Field in Denver.

    He was a 2011 All-Star and has exhibited an increased affinity for hitting the ball in the air, an attribute especially valuable in the windy city.

    If nothing other than a home-only shortstop, Tulo is a valuable fantasy player.

Third Baseman: Pablo Sandoval

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    Position: Third Baseman

    2011 Stats: .315 AVG, 23 HR, 70 RBI

    Compared to NL West alternatives, Sandoval is the fantasy west's top third baseman.

    He should be drafted after your first baseman only because your first baseman traditionally has more fielding chances, if your fantasy league uses that statistic.

    If your league forgoes the fielding percentage, you can consider drafting Sandoval first.

Outfielder No. 1: Matt Kemp

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    Position: Outfielder

    2011 Stats: .324 AVG, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB

    If you are playing in a four-by-four league—and even if you're not—Matt Kemp is a no-brainer for your team's outfield.

    He can hit for average, for power and for productivity. He can run, he can field and he has already predicted, "I'm going to go 50-50 next year."

    Draft him.

Outfielder No. 2: Justin Upton

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    Position: Outfielder

    2011 Stats: .289 AVG, 31 HR, 88 RBI, 21 SB

    Like fellow outfielder and All-Star Matt Kemp, Diamondbacks center fielder Justin Upton could very well be a top choice in the 2012 fantasy draft and an outfielder that could provide very valuable numbers, especially if Kemp is already gone by the time it is your turn to select.

    Upton is buoyed greatly by his speed and power, which have allowed him to become a real five-tool threat in the Arizona outfield and on the fantasy league stats sheet.

    Him and Kemp together might as well comprise your team's entire offense, but don't let the 2012 draft slip away without keeping an eye out for Upton.

Outfielder No. 3: Carlos Gonzalez

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    Position: Outfielder

    2011 Stats: .295 AVG, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 20 SB

    Just like Kemp and Upton, Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a strong and fast outfielder.

    CarGo's wrist injury in 2011 prevented MLB.com's 2010 Breakout Player of the Year from matching his 2010 numbers, but a healthy Gonzalez in 2012 should bounce back and perform even better than he did during his breakout campaign.

    Gonzalez has the tools to lead the league in batting average again, just as he did in 2010, thanks to the fabled Coors Field effect.

    Gonzalez is very capable of returning to a 30+ HR and 100+ RBI season, thanks to that tremendous home-field advantage.

Relief Pitcher: Kenley Jansen

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    Position: Relief Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 2-1 Record, 2.85 ERA, 96 K (53.2 IP)

    One of the NL West's best kept secrets just might be Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen.

    In the wake of Jonathan Broxton's departure, Jansen may get the closer's role in 2012, but until then, he is the most dominant setup man in the division.

    With 1.8 strikeouts per inning in 2011, Jansen can throw the kind of numbers any fantasy owner would be proud of.

    He stands to play even more in 2012 and will very likely throw even better numbers this season than he did last time out.

Relief Pitcher: Brian Wilson

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    Position: Relief Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 36 Saves, 3.11 ERA, 54 K (55.0 IP)

    There is a good reason so many Giants pitchers are cracking the Top 10 that goes beyond the already-discussed issue of offense.

    These pitchers are so superior, they just might not be left if you don't draft them early on.

    Wilson is a dominant closer in a division that includes several teams without a clear last inning bullpen plan in 2012 (Dodgers, Padres) and a club whose home park has never been kind to those on the mound (Rockies).

    Between Wilson and Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz, the bearded one will be your league's top choice.

Relief Pitcher: J.J. Putz

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    Position: Relief Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 45 Saves, 2.17 ERA, 61 K (58.0 IP)

    If J.J. Putz wasn't such a well-known and dominant closer, he just might be confused for an ace starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Putz recorded a remarkable 0.91 WHIP in 2011 and is poised to repeat his performance with newcomers Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito joining him in Arizona's 2012 bullpen.

    At 6-foot-5, Putz vaguely—very vaguely—resembles a late inning, right handed version of former Snakes great Randy Johnson.

    When the Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world last season in their worst-to-first performance, Putz played a very important role, saving one out of every two games won in 2011.

Catcher (Alternate): Buster Posey

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    Position: Catcher

    2011 Stats: .284 AVG, 4 HR, 21 RBI (Partial Season)

    Yes, a young catcher named Buster Posey should be a sleeper pick in 2012.

    Before his season-ending injury last May, Posey was on track to have a breakout 2011 season, following up his 2010 Rookie of the Year campaign with a strong effort for the defending World Series champion Giants.

    Posey may not be as proven and may therefore be a risky choice, but the potential payoff from Posey as a fantasy catcher could be huge.

First Baseman (Alternate): Jesus Guzman

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    Position: First Baseman

    2011 Stats: .312 AVG, 5 HR, 44 RBI

    While he played less than half of the Padres' 2011 season, he was able to hit above .300 and record almost 50 RBI.

    Guzman is San Diego's first baseman of the future—he is the best choice there is to backup James Loney on any NL West fantasy squad, with the possible exception of Giants youngster Brandon Belt, who likely would already have been selected by the time the alternate first baseman's position is to be filled.

    For that reason, it is Guzman who should fill the final first base slot.

Middle Infield (Alternate): Dee Gordon

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    Position: Shortstop / Second Baseman

    Stats: .304 AVG, 0 HR, 11 RBI, 24 SB

    Dee Gordon can be described very simply as fast and thin.

    With Rafael Furcal bailing for the Cardinals, Gordon became somewhat of a regular on the diamond, playing in 56 games in 2011.

    If the Dodgers continue to play Gordon with infielder Adam Kennedy in 2012, he could prove to be worth at least twice his weight to fantasy owners this season.

Third Baseman (Alternate): Chase Headley

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    Position: Third Baseman

    Stats: .289 AVG, 4 HR, 44 RBI

    With Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart's own struggles in 2011, Padres 3B Chase Headley becomes the primary alternate on the all-NL West fantasy team.

    However, Headley was not without his own woes in 2011. He was sidelined due to an August injury (fractured fifth finger) for much of 2011, though he was able to increase his batting average 25 points since his full 2010 season.

    Headley is an average third baseman who just might be around during a late round when the idea of backup third baseman enters the mind of many fantasy team owners.

Outfielder (Alternate): Andre Ethier

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    Position: Outfielder

    2011 Stats: .292 AVG, 11 HR, 62 RBI

    For many outfielders, Ethier's 2011 numbers would be satisfactory.

    For Ethier, they were disappointing.

    When the Dodgers removed Ethier in mid-September due to an injured knee that the right fielder had been battling all season long, Los Angeles breathed a collective sigh of relief.

    Ethier should be back in 2012 as a healthy outfielder. He hit 31 HR with 106 RBI in 2009 and this upcoming season, free from injury, he may very well repeat his feat.

    The possibility of "what if" keeps him an alternate, but make no mistake—Ethier is a great outfielder and would augment any fantasy outfield.

Outfielder (Alternate): Melky Cabrera

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    Position: Outfielder

    2011 Stats: .305 AVG, 18 HR, 87 RBI

    The biggest question surrounding former Yankees and Royals outfielder Melky Cabrera is how he will fare playing for the San Francisco Giants in the National League.

    Last season, he finished in the top 10 in AL batting average, hits, runs and doubles, recording career highs in batting average, OPS, HR, RBI, 2B, hits and runs scored.

    Cabrera is far from washed up, though the question marks surrounding his impending NL West debut keep him an alternate.

Starting Pitcher: Daniel Hudson

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    Position: Starting Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 16-12 Record, 3.49 ERA, 169 K

    When the Diamondbacks added Trevor Cahill to their pitching staff, they added him as a third starter behind Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson.

    Hudson's first year in the NL (2010) resulted in a 7-1 record with a 1.69 ERA, demonstrating that Hudson is still capable of putting up great numbers and performing quite well in the NL West.

    Fantasy owners should keep him around. He is prone to the hot streak and will be a valuable asset when he catches fire.

Relief Pitcher: Sergio Romo

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    Position: Relief Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 1.50 ERA, 70 K, 0.71 WHIP (48.0 IP)

    Like Kenley Jansen, Giants reliever Sergio Romo has a high strikeouts-per-inning rate and like Brian Wilson, Romo has tried growing a beard.

    Both efforts proved successful in their own rights, with Romo recording one save in 2011 to accompany his 3-1 record.

    His WHIP during his 48 innings of work last year was phenomenal and his 23 holds were the hallmarks of consistency.

    If the Giants let him play more in 2012, Romo could show himself to be a very dominant bullpen man out of the NL West.

Relief Pitcher: Huston Street

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    Position: Relief Pitcher

    2011 Stats: 29 Saves, 3.86 ERA, 55 K (58.1 IP)

    The Padres acquired former Rockies closer Huston Street to fill the void of Heath Bell, a Miami-bound hurler that San Diego just couldn't persuade to stay.

    In Colorado, Street had a few dominant seasons before falling prey to his Denver surroundings—his 2011 Coors stats contributed to a season far above his career 3.11 ERA.

    Expect his numbers to improve once at Petco Park next season, accordingly rendering Street a better fantasy pitcher in 2012 than he was in 2011.

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