Over the next couple weeks, the Rotoworld staff will look at some players whose arrows are pointing up for 2013. Fantasy risers, if you will. We’ll break them down by division. The American League East, Central and West have already been covered. Now it’s time to focus on the National League East.
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
The first overall pick in 2010, Harper didn’t make his major league debut until April 28, but he still wound up taking home National League Rookie of the Year honors after a season that was historic for a teenager.
Harper went through a rough patch from mid-July to mid-August that resulted in his average dipping down to .245 on August 15. He came on like gangbusters down the stretch, though, hitting a blistering .327/.384/.660 with 12 home runs over his final 44 contests. The young phenom finished the season with a .270 average, 22 homers, 59 RBI, 18 steals and 98 runs scored, numbers good enough to make him a top-25 fantasy outfielder. The scary thing is that this is just only the beginning. Harper has all the tools to be an elite fantasy performer, perhaps as soon as 2013.
Kris Medlen, SP, Braves
Medlen made just two appearances in 2011 after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and he didn’t make his first start with the Braves in 2012 until July 31. So, naturally, he put up the best numbers of any starter in baseball over the final eight weeks of the season.
In 12 starts down the stretch, Medlen was simply immaculate. The 27-year-old went 9-0 while putting up a 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and absurd 84/10 K/BB ratio over 83 2/3 frames. Overall, Medlen posted a 1.57 ERA for the season, which was nearly a full run lower than MLB ERA leader Clayton Kershaw’s 2.53 mark. Now, given his 3.85 ERA over 177 2/3 career innings coming into 2012, Medlen certainly pitched a bit over his head. That said, this is a guy that boasts a 2.55 ERA and 275/57 K/BB ratio over 240 1/3 minor league innings. The talent is obvious, and so is the ability to be a fantasy ace in 2013.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
It might seem a little too easy to put Stanton on this list. After all, this is a guy that’s belted 93 home runs over his first 373 major league games despite the fact that he just turned 23 earlier this month. However, he’s yet to hit his peak, which is a frightening proposition.
Even though he played in 27 fewer games and had exactly 100 fewer plate appearances in 2012 than he had in 2011, Stanton still launched three more homers (37 to 34) while also hitting the same number of doubles (30). He also greatly improved his average (.290) and fell just one plate appearance shy of qualifying to lead all of baseball with a .608 slugging percentage. Even with a diminished lineup around him, Stanton is a virtual lock for 40+ longballs if he can stay healthy, and 50+ bombs shouldn’t be dismissed.
Jon Niese, SP, Mets
The Mets surprised some when they inked Niese to a five-year contract extension last offseason. After all, the left-hander had put up a pretty modest 4.39 ERA in his career to that point, and the Mets already had control of him for four more years. Flash forward a year later, and general manager Sandy Alderson’s move is looking pretty wise.
Niese lowered his ERA by a full run from 2011 (4.40 to 3.40) while also cutting his walk rate to a career-low 2.3 BB/9. It was something Alderson clearly saw coming, as Niese’s underlying statistics in ’11 showed a pitcher poised for a breakout. The southpaw doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, but his 155 punchouts were also a career high and certainly allow Niese to hold his own, particularly if he continues to improve his control. Niese turned just 26 last month and could conceivably take another step forward in 2013.
Matt Harvey, SP, Mets
A first-round pick in 2010, Harvey breezed through the Mets’ minor league system, putting up a 3.48 ERA while striking out well over a batter per inning over 46 starts. The domination didn’t stop upon the 23-year-old’s promotion to the big leagues.
After getting the call in late July, Harvey punched out 11 batters over 5 1/3 innings in his major league debut, and he went on to whiff 70 over 59 1/3 frames while posting a 2.73 ERA over 10 starts. Harvey allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of 10 outings, and he struck out at least seven in six starts even though the Mets did their best to limit his innings. With a fastball that hums in the mid-90s to go along with a wipeout slider, Harvey has the stuff to be a top of the rotation talent for many years. He showed in his second-half audition that’s he’s fully capable of being a fantasy stalwart immediately.
Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
Desmond’s 2011 season was disappointing enough that his name began to pop up in trade rumors. Luckily for the Nationals’ sake, general manager Mike Rizzo never succumbed to temptation.
Desmond had a breakout showing in 2012, easily setting a career high with 25 home runs while also swiping 21 bases and hitting .292. He was one of only 10 players overall and two shortstops to post a 20/20 campaign. If not for an oblique injury that cost him nearly a month of action, it’s possible he could have made a run at 30/30. Desmond has plate discipline issues and was only a .259 hitter during his minor league career, so the average will probably come back down a bit, but there’s no doubting his power/speed upside.
Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals
The Nationals limited Zimmermann’s innings in 2011 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, but they unleashed him in 2012, and the results were mighty impressive again.
The 26-year-old right-hander finished the season with a 2.94 ERA, which was good for 10th in all of baseball. He also again did a tremendous job of limiting the free passes, walking just 43 batters over 195 2/3 innings, which was the 13th-best mark in the league among those that qualified for the ERA title. His 24 quality starts tied him for sixth in the league. The exciting thing about Zimmermann is that he might have even more to offer. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his slider can be nasty when he’s on, which allowed him to post a nice 9.4 K/9 rate in the minors. He sports a relatively modest 7.4 K/9 rate during his big league career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that mark jump up, vaulting him into elite status.
Jacob Turner, SP, Marlins
Turner found his groove down the stretch with the Marlins (3.38 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) and already has a rotation spot locked up for 2013.
Mike Minor, SP, Braves
Minor started slow last year but finished strong, posting a 2.16 ERA after the All-Star break.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves
Simmons has no power, but he’ll be a good bet for 20+ steals from the shortstop positions next season.
Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins
The Marlins’ best reliever the last two years, Cishek grabbed hold of the closer job in 2012 and will have a firm grip on it heading into 2013.
Rob Brantly, C, Marlins
Brantly batted .290 with three homers down the stretch for the Fish in 2012 and is locked in as the everyday catcher next season.
Darin Ruf, OF/1B, Phillies
Ruf launched 41 homers between the minors and majors this past season and could provide fantasy owners with some pop if he wins an everyday role in 2013.