D.J. Short

Draft Strategy

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National League Prospects

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Last week I went over some of my favorite American League prospects, so now it's the National League's turn.

I'm really going out on a limb here, but I don't think this rookie class will be able to match what the National League offered fantasy owners last season. Crazy statement, I know. That being said, I like this group more than their American League counterparts.

Want more prospects? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide. You'll find our top 100 list, as well as each organization's top 10. Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg. You'll also get over 1,000 player projections, updated depth charts, our constantly updating ADP report and much, much more.

You won't find Brandon Belt among the six players detailed below and that's only because he's not a lock to make the Giants' Opening Day roster. Belt should still make a major impact if he's called up around Memorial Day, but I'm mostly trying to focus on players who will be an asset in fantasy leagues for the entire season.

Freddie Freeman (1B, Braves)

Some teams actually liked Freeman as a pitcher in high school, but the Braves knew what they were doing when they selected him in the second round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Similar to his good buddy Jason Heyward, Freeman has quickly rocketed up the organizational ladder. The 21-year-batted .319/.378/.521 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI and an .898 OPS with Triple-A Gwinnett last season, despite being one of the youngest players in the International League. There has been some debate about where his ceiling lies in the power department, but the left-handed hitting Freeman has a short stroke and makes good contact. While Freeman is listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he has evolved into an above average defender at first base.

Why you should care: With veterans Derrek Lee and Troy Glaus out of the way, Freeman is set to take over the first base position in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. He should be able to maintain a palatable batting average for fantasy owners, but expecting 20 homers in his rookie season is a bit of a stretch. Another thing to consider is that it's very possible he'll begin the season batting eighth for the Braves, putting a serious dent in his RBI and run-scoring opportunities. Freeman isn't going to have the immediate fantasy impact that Heyward had last season, but go ahead and pick him up in NL-only and keeper leagues.

Domonic Brown (OF, Phillies)

Brown might have the most upside of anyone in this year's rookie class. The 23-year-old outfielder batted .327 with 20 homers, 68 RBI, 17 stolen bases and a .980 OPS between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, so it's pretty clear that he has nothing left to prove against minor league hurlers. Granted, he didn't have much success in his first taste of the majors last season, but it's hard to take those numbers too seriously since he was used so infrequently by Charlie Manuel down the stretch. The 23-year-old outfielder is lean in appearance, but uses his 6-foot-5 frame and swift upper cut swing to generate plus-power. Hello, Citizens Bank Park. While most scouts agree that he's not a finished product defensively, he has good speed and a very strong arm from right field.

Why you should care: Jayson Werth bolted for a ridiculous contract with the Nationals this offseason, opening the door for Brown to take over as the regular right fielder in 2011. The Phillies aren't guaranteeing Brown anything going into spring training, but it seems unlikely they will actually go into Opening Day with a platoon of Ben Francisco and Ross Gload. The most likely scenario is that Brown begins the year on the strong side of a platoon with the right-handed hitting Francisco. Brown might not hit for a high batting average initially, but he should top double digits in homers and steals relatively easily. You probably don't need to worry about him in mixed leagues right away, but he's obviously worth monitoring.

Mike Minor (LHP, Braves)

It looked like Minor was going to lose his rookie status when the Braves called him up last August, but he quickly wore down in September and was eventually pulled from the starting rotation. The 23-year-old left-hander threw a total of 163 innings between Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett and the majors last season, so the fatigue was understandable given that it was his first full professional season. Remember, the Braves took Minor seventh overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, so he has been on the fast track. Minor isn't a power pitcher, but he has generated 206 strikeouts over 175 innings between the minors and majors. He features three quality pitches, including fastball that sits in the low-90s, a curveball and a plus-changeup. He averaged 3.1 BB/9 over 134 1/3 minor league innings, so while not elite, his command is more than passable. The Braves have plenty of quality arms in the pipeline, but if healthy, Minor should be a rotation mainstay for a long time.

Why you should care: Minor appears to have the inside track on the final spot in the starting rotation over Brandon Beachy, Rodrigo Lopez and possibly Kenshin Kawakami. Toss out Minor's bloated 5.98 ERA with the Braves last season and you'll find that he had an impressive 43/11 K/BB ratio over 40 2/3 innings. He even set a Braves' rookie record with 12 strikeouts against the Cubs in August, breaking the previous mark held by teammate Tommy Hanson. Minor figures to have some trouble keeping the ball in the yard, but he should do enough to keep his spot in the rotation this season. He might not stick in your rotation all year in mixed leagues, but he's an obvious must-own in NL-only and keeper formats.

Aroldis Chapman (LHP, Reds)

This guy doesn't really need an introduction. After all, aside from Stephen Strasburg, Chapman has been the most-hyped pitcher on the planet over the past year. The Cuban fireballer began last season as a starting pitcher with Triple-A Louisville, but really took off once the Reds moved him to the bullpen with an eye on the stretch run. While he was sitting in the mid-90s as a starting pitcher, the southpaw was reaching 100 mph with relative ease as a reliever. Chapman even set the MLB record by throwing a 105.1 mph fastball in a game against the Padres last September. While his fastball gets most of the attention -- and rightfully so -- Chapman also has a biting slider that baffles hitters with regularity. His shaky command is his biggest weakness, but it's far less of a liability out of the bullpen.

Why you should care: The Reds don't plan to move Chapman to their starting rotation in the short-term, but he still has plenty of fantasy value. At the very least, he has the electric stuff to challenge Carlos Marmol for the strikeout lead among relief pitchers this season. That should come in handy for any fantasy owner. And don't discount the possibility that he could inherit the closer role from an increasingly vulnerable Francisco Cordero, as well. With top-tier reliever upside, Chapman is well worth owning in mixed formats.

Craig Kimbrel (RHP, Braves)

It didn't take long for Kimbrel to make major league history. The 22-year-old right-hander fanned 40 batters over his first 20 2/3 major league innings last season, giving him the highest strikeout rate (17.4 K/9) in a season among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. Granted, that is a very, very small sample size, but keep in mind that he averaged 14.4 K/9 over 121 appearances in the minor leagues. In short, he's legit. Kimbrel touches the mid 90s on his heater and has a plus complimentary pitch (often called a slider, a curveball or a slurve, depending upon who you talk to) to keep batters honest. Kimbrel averaged 5.7 BB/9 in the minor leagues and walked 16 batters over 20 2/3 innings with the Braves last season, so he isn't without some warts, but he projects to be a dominant late-game option for years to come.

Why you should care: Billy Wagner has went back to the old aplaca farm, leaving Kimbrel and Jonny Venters as the favorites to replace him for ninth-inning duties. Kimbrel has been considered the "closer of the future" for a while now, but new Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez indicated this week that the young right-hander may share the closer role with Venters this season. It's possible that he's just trying to create a little competition for the inexperienced rookie, but if not, Kimbrel should still strike out enough batters to justify a roster spot in all formats.

Danny Espinosa (2B, Nationals)

We saw a little bit of what Espinosa could do down the stretch last season, but because he only had 103 at-bats as a September call-up, he'll keep his rookie status for 2011. Espinosa, who turns 24 in April, has flashed an intriguing power-speed combo in the minor leagues, including 22 homers and 25 stolen bases between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last season. The young switch-hitter is overly-agressive at the plate, as evidenced by his 262/132 K/BB ratio in the minor leagues and his 30/9 K/BB ratio during his brief stay with the Nats, so he's unlikely to hit for a high batting average, at least initially. He was originally selected as a shortstop in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, but his future likely lies at second base due to the presence of Ian Desmond. The Nats like his defense, but he has relatively little experience at the position.

Why you should care: The Nationals brought in Jerry Hairston Jr. as some insurance for their middle infield, but Espinosa should be given every chance to be the regular second baseman this season. It's fair to expect some prolonged slumps due to his contact rate, but Espinosa should contribute enough in the power and speed categories to remain relevant in most mixed leagues. He could be even more valuable depending on where he hits in Jim Riggleman's lineup. Espinosa underwent offseason surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone from his right hand, but he is expected to be ready to go for spring training.

Others to watch in 2011:

Brandon Belt (1B, Giants), Kenley Jansen (RHP, Dodgers), Jordan Lyles (RHP, Astros), Brett Jackson (OF, Cubs), Brad Emaus (2B, Mets), Wilson Ramos (C, Nationals), Brandon Allen (OF/1B, Diamondbacks), Brandon Beachy (RHP, Braves), Cory Luebke (LHP, Padres)


D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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