The NL West is arguably baseball’s most balanced division, with each of its members having made at least one playoff appearance in the past seven years. No other division can claim that.
In addition to being balanced, the NL West is the source of some of fantasy baseball’s most coveted players.
On the offensive side, the NL West boasts some of the league’s best up-and-coming talents, like Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton.
The NL West’s collection of talented pitchers is even more impressive and is anchored by arguably fantasy baseball’s premier starter Tim Lincecum and Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren.
Despite all the talent, like every division, questions loom large over the NL West. As I did in both my report on the NL East and NL Central , I will focus on the BIG Question surrounding each team and offer my answer and analysis.
Furthermore, I will answer a Rapid Fire question about each team. The Rapid Fire question spotlights a lesser known commodity that will interest those who play in deeper leagues.
Ladies, gentleman, children of all ages...the National League West.
San Francisco Giants
The BIG Question: Will Kung-Fu Panda take the next step toward stardom?
How can you not like Pablo Sandoval, the Giants’ 5’11” corner infielder who is listed, generously, at 240 pounds? Sandoval’s 2009 breakout was not a surprise. What was a surprise was just how good he was in his first full big league season.
The rotund Sandoval hit .330, with 79 R, 25 HR, 90 RBI, and a career high five SB. Pretty impressive for a guy with 145 previous career big league at-bats. So will Sandoval take the next step?
One sign that points to yes is Operation Panda. Operation Panda grew out of a single question Giants trainer Dave Groeschner asked Sandoval this offseason: How much better do you think you could be if you were in shape?
After some careful consideration, and a lot of resistance from the food-loving slugger, Sandoval dedicated himself to eating healthier and participating in Groeschner’s intense workout regimen.
So, what is the answer to the question Groeschner asked Sandoval? How good could a slimmed-down Panda be? Pretty darn good.
However, there are some things to consider when predicting Sandoval’s 2010. For one, his 2009 numbers may have set the bar too high. To take another big step after the immense leap he took in 2009 may be asking too much, too soon for the 23-year-old.
Another thing to consider is that Sandoval seems like a perfect candidate for the sophomore slump. Just ask Geovany Soto about the pressures of replicating a huge rookie season.
Sandoval is going to be a good big league hitter for a long time. The additions of Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa will provide more support for Sandoval than he received from last year’s anemic Giants offense.
Draft or bid on Sandoval confidently, with the understanding that he may not surpass last season’s total, and in fact could fall short of it. I think Sandoval puts up a .315 AVG, 85 R, 25 HR, 95 RBI, and three SB. Very comparable to last season.
Rapid Fire: Who is the next young Giant I have to own?
There are two. Lefty Madison Bumgarner is arguably baseball’s best pitching prospect and very well could start the season in the rotation. He is likely to have an impact immediately, be it in April or midseason.
When the Giants recently re-signed Bengie Molina to be their catcher, they made the statement that elite prospect Buster Posey is not ready for an everyday big league job. That may be disappointing to Posey owners, but there is a reason why Molina’s deal was for just the 2010 season. Posey becomes the starter in 2011 and could be the best catcher in baseball one day.
For those of you looking way ahead, don’t forget Zack Wheeler. The right-handed starter is extremely talented, but only 19, and probably won’t reach the majors for at least three years.
San Diego Padres
The BIG Question: What can we expect from Adrian Gonzalez after his up and down 2009?
More ups and downs. Adrian Gonzalez has the talent to be one of the league’s finest power hitters. However, he is tremendously streaky. When hot, he wields one of the best bats in the game. However, he is prone to extended slumps that always seem to keep his numbers from being truly phenomenal.
In 2009 Gonzalez hit 20 home runs in April and May, but just 20 more over the final four-plus months of the season. He followed a poor June month at the plate, .235 AVG, with an even worse July, .198 AVG, but hit .362 in August! Gonzalez is the model of INconsistency.
Last season was Gonzalez’s 27-year-old season, a magic year for many players, as they are considered to be entering their prime. While he started the season off with the promise of a career year, his midseason struggles ultimately prevented the promise from becoming reality.
Ultimately, despite a career high in home runs, Gonzalez’s 2009 season fell short of his 2008 production and left many wondering if we had already seen the best of Adrian Gonzalez.
One thing Gonzalez had working against him was a downright dreadful supporting cast. His Padres teammates offered little support or protection in the lineup, which allowed teams to regularly pitch around him, and which explains the boost from 74 BB in 2008 to 119 last season, more than any change in Gonzalez’s approach at the plate.
The poor support Gonzalez received certainly drained his numbers some in 2009. After all, how many guys hit 40 HR but fail to accumulate 100 RBI? The bad news is that, while the Padres do have some intriguing young talent in the lineup, this year’s Padres may be a worse offensive club than last season’s.
What’s worse is that the Padres’ Petco Park ranks a 0.741 on MLB’s Park Factors for 2009, the lowest in the league. In laymen's terms, it’s the worst hitter’s park in baseball.
Gonzalez has been a constant source of trade rumors, with the Red Sox being the most mentioned destination. If Gonzalez is dealt, which seems inevitable, and lands in a city with an explosive offense, expect Gonzalez’s numbers to jump.
I am not saying you should avoid Gonzalez on draft day. He is a very reliable source in the power categories. What I am saying is that as long as he stays in San Diego, don’t expect him to get much better than he was last year. If he finds his way out of San Diego, especially early in the season, watch out, because he could be in for a huge season.
If you want to be safe, draft him as if he will spend the entire season in San Diego and hope he does get dealt. It’s hard to make projections on Gonzalez since a trade is likely. My projections reflect a full season in San Diego: .275 AVG, 95 R, 35 HR, 105 RBI.
Rapid Fire: Who are all these guys? Which of them are worth my time?
The 2010 Padres look like one of the worst teams on paper in recent memory. While they likely will be astonishingly bad, there are some intriguing players on the roster from a fantasy prospective.
Don’t ignore Kyle Blanks, Will Venable, or Mat Latos. Everth Cabrera will provide stolen bases, but not much else, and Chase Headley has great upside but probably doesn’t break out this season. Heath Bell will be effective but likely won’t see as many save opportunities as last season. Everyone else is not worth your time.
The BIG Question: Is Brandon Webb ready to return to elite starter status?
The Diamondbacks made a number of interesting moves this offseason. However, undeniably the biggest question surrounding the D-Backs is the health of stud starter Brandon Webb.
Last season Webb was limited to just one start before being shut down and eventually undergoing major shoulder surgery. Webb is projected to be ready for spring training, but a potential setback once he starts throwing is a strong possibility.
While shoulder surgery generally has a shorter recovery time than Tommy John elbow surgery, which is why Webb should be ready to start throwing when he arrives to camp in mid-February, it bring with it a much higher likelihood of setback and reinjury than Tommy John surgery.
Tommy John surgery has become so efficient and effective that nearly every player that undergoes the surgery recovers fully and reaches their pre-surgery level of performance. In some cases tightened tendons in the elbow allow pitchers to throw harder once they fully recover.
On the other hand, shoulder surgery is far more of a crapshoot. Some pitchers who have the surgery are able to quickly recapture their previous success, but others never fully regain their velocity. Also, significant setbacks are far more common following shoulder surgery than Tommy John surgery.
Last, some players never fully recover from major shoulder surgery, and the chance of a second surgery following reinjury is always a concern.
Prior to ruining a great number of owners' fantasy seasons in 2009, Webb was considered one of fantasy baseball’s best and most reliable starters. Unfortunately, he can no longer be seen as such. Until Webb proves to be fully recovered from his shoulder surgery, he cannot be relied on to anchor your fantasy staff.
Webb is a classic example of a high injury risk/high reward player for the 2010 season. You could end up with a completely lost season should Webb suffer a major setback, or you could end up with a top 10 starter if Webb proves healthy and bounces back to his previous form.
Be careful with Webb this season. Let someone else assume he will be back to his former self, but if the surgery scares off other owners in your league, grab him off the discount shelf. My projections on Webb are based on him staying relatively healthy, but with the assumption that he won’t be completely back to his old self: 3.85 ERA, 12 W, 140 K, and a 1.30 WHIP in about 175.0 IP.
Rapid Fire: Is Ian Kennedy going to finally make an impact?
Leaving the pressure and spotlight of New York for the desert certainly gives Kennedy a much-needed change of scenery. Sometimes what a talented young player needs is an opportunity to fail, and Kennedy was denied that opportunity in New York, where the pressure to win was too great to allow him to struggle.
With less pressure to win, Arizona will allow Kennedy to take his lumps, learn from them, and improve.
Kennedy was considered an elite prospect in the not so distant past, and there is no doubt that the talent is still there. With his newfound opportunity in Arizona, he qualifies as a huge sleeper for the 2010 season. I don’t expect him to break out this season, but he will make progress and very well may bust out in 2011. Kennedy is a great target in keeper leagues.
The BIG Question: How will Ian Stewart fare now that he has a stranglehold on an everyday job?
At 25, the age Ian Stewart turns the day of the Rockies' first game of 2010, Stewart should ready to contribute as an everyday major leaguer. The question is more specifically how much he will contribute.
Stewart’s power is not at all in question. His 25 big league home runs in just 425 at-bats in 2009 were by no means a fluke and are consistent with the power production he showed while on the fast track through the minors since being drafted in the first round out of La Quinta High School in 2003.
In addition to the 25 HR, Stewart also scored 74 R and collected 70 RBI. Again, these are impressive numbers for a young player. Stewart collecting more runs than RBI seems odd, but his previous production says otherwise.
In all of his seven professional seasons, Stewart’s RBI and runs totals have remained within shooting distance of one another. What’s better than a guy with huge power totals? A guy with huge power totals that has a tendency to score a lot of runs too.
While Stewart’s power numbers are no fluke, his .228 AVG in 2009 may not be a fluke too. Stewart’s 56 BB last season show that he does take his share of pitches, but his 138 K suggest that he also swings and misses at far too many as well.
I do expect Stewart’s average to rise in 2010, but he is far from ready to produce an average that will be an asset to your fantasy team instead of a hindrance.
In his time in the majors so far, Stewart has shown the tendency to swing for the fences every time the bat leaves his shoulder. While this surely has resulted in more homers, it has severely limited his ability to be a more all-around productive player. More hits, even at the expense of some of those home runs, would result in a better average, more runs scored, and at least the same number of RBI.
I expect Stewart to improve some as he learns what it takes to be a productive big league hitter. The talent is in place for a huge breakout, but I don’t think his approach at the plate or maturity are where they need to be in order for that to happen. I think he raises his average to about .255, with 85 R, 30 HR, 85 RBI, and eight SB.
Rapid Fire: How good can Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler be?
Extremely good. If you play in a keeper league, you should be salivating over both of these guys. Gonzalez hit 13 HR and stole 16 bases in about half of a season’s worth of at-bats in 2009. He has legit 30/30 potential. Last year was no fluke; the 24-year-old is an immense talent.
Fowler, who will also be 24 by Opening Day, is another young kid with an extremely bright future. He does not possess Gonzalez’s power, but he will steal more bases. He projects to be a 10 HR and 40 SB guy down the road. It may not happen for a while, but he also has the plate discipline and swing to be a .300 hitter.
Words cannot explain how big I am on both these guys. Watch out!
Los Angeles Dodgers
The BIG Question: Will Russell Martin turn it around in 2010?
After a fantastic 2007 season Russell Martin was anointed one of baseball’s premier catchers. In 2007, he fell a single home run short of a 20/20 season, which is especially exciting coming from a catcher.
At only 24 during that 2007 season, Russell seemed destined for greatness and a sure thing to join the 20/20 club in 2008. Unfortunately, Martin was regressed since then. In fact, his totals in 2008 dropped or stayed the same in nearly every major offensive category.
After a disappointing 2008, hopes were high for a rebound in 2009. However, it was not to be. Martin’s 2009 totals fell further, as he again saw a dip from his 2008 totals in nearly every major offensive category. Martin finished 2009 with the poor stat line of .250, 63 R, 7 HR, 53 RBI, and 11 SB—a far cry from his numbers in his breakout 2007 season: .289, 87 R, 19 HR, 87 RBI, and 21 SB.
So after two disappointing seasons, is Martin ready to turn around his fortunes? I think Martin will take a step forward, but a return to his 2007 totals is expecting too much. A season that mirrors his 2008 totals—.280, 87 R, 13 HR, 69 RBI, and 18 SB—is more in line.
Martin turns 27 before Opening Day, and that alone will put him on a lot of people’s breakout candidates list. While there is some validity to the age 27 breakout theory, not many 27-year-olds have already had a breakout season and followed it up with two consecutive disappointing campaigns.
Despite the drop in numbers, Martin still is a legitimate talent at a relatively weak position. That alone gives him value on draft day.
Furthermore, he plays for a team in the Dodgers that is easily one of the best offensive teams in the National League. It is unclear what position in the order manager Joe Torre will put him in, but the Dodgers' order is so balanced that where he bats is less significant than it would be for most teams.
The only trouble spot in the Dodgers' order is the eighth hole in front of the pitcher, so pay attention to where Torre has him during spring training.
Martin is an interesting draft day target. The round or price range that Martin could fall into is extremely wide. Don’t chase his 2007 season, but if he slips, pounce on him. Even if he doesn’t reach his 2008 totals, you could do a lot worse at the catcher position. I expect Martin to hit .275, with 75 R, 12 HR, 75 RBI, and 15 SB.
Rapid Fire: Which of the Dodgers' bottom of the rotation candidates is worth targeting?
James McDonald has a very good chance of starting the season in the rotation and could be successful in the role. McDonald was once considered a top prospect and had some excellent seasons in the minors. McDonald appeared mostly out of the pen last year for the Dodgers but pitched relatively well in the four starts Torre gave him.
McDonald has posted huge strikeout totals in the past, and spending last season primarily in the pen will help him transition to a role as a starter if that is the direction the Dodgers choose to go with him. If the Dodgers do give him the opportunity, pitching for one of the best teams in the National League, with one of the best offenses in the National League, and in a pitcher’s park will help McDonald as well.
That’s all for now. Next I plan to focus on Booms and Busts for the upcoming fantasy season. I will be happy to answer any questions you have about my article or fantasy sports in general if you leave a comment below.
Jon Schuman writes for Fantasy Sports ‘R’ Us, and you can find more articles like this at