Over the next few weeks, the Rotoworld staff will take a look at some players whose value is on the rise headed into the 2016 season. We'll break them down by division, starting with the National League East.
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Noah Syndergaard SP, Mets
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is basically a sure thing for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, but don't take that as a slight on Syndergaard. The 23-year-old showed immediate poise upon his major league debut in May, posting a 3.24 ERA over 24 starts. Among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched, only six (Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer, Carrasco, Archer, Kluber) bested his 27.5 percent strikeout rate and only 18 pitchers had a lower walk rate. Sure, Syndergaard got a lot of attention for leading MLB starters in average fastball velocity this season, but his efficiency has been overlooked.
Syndergaard logged 198 2/3 innings this season between the majors and minors this season. This includes 19 innings during the postseason. He had never thrown more than 133 innings in a season before. It's a big jump, but it's exciting to think what Syndergaard could do during his first full season in the majors. He's capable of emerging as a fantasy ace as soon as 2016.
Ken Giles RP, Phillies
After putting up a 1.18 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings in 2014, we knew that Giles had the talent and ability to be an excellent fantasy closer. We were just waiting for the opportunity to come along. Well, the Phillies finally found a taker for Jonathan Papelbon in July's trade with the Nationals, and Giles went 15-for-17 in save chances the rest of the way.
Giles didn't have his normal eye-popping velocity at the start of 2015 and he struggled with his control in the first half, but he got back on track on both fronts by posting a ridiculous 1.72 ERA and 38/8 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings after the All-Star break. While it's not entirely predictive, the 25-year-old has only allowed three home runs over his first 115 2/3 innings in the majors. Closing for a bad team holds him back a bit from a fantasy perspective, but his stock is rising quickly.
Jeurys Familia RP, Mets
The closer who made arguably the biggest jump this season from a fantasy perspective, Familia began April in a set-up role in front of incumbent Jenrry Mejia. Things quickly changed when Mejia went down with an elbow injury before being handed his first of two PED suspensions. Familia ran away with the closer's job from there, posting a 1.85 ERA and 86/19 K/BB ratio over 78 innings while tying the franchise record with 43 saves.
Things didn't go as smoothly for Familia and the Mets during the World Series, but that shouldn't have an impact on his status going into 2016. His stuff is elite, including the addition of a mid-90s splitter which is often unhittable. Familia logged 92 2/3 innings between the regular season and the playoffs this year, so how he bounces back from that workload will be something to watch, but he has top-five closer potential with this excellent young rotation.
J.T. Realmuto C, Marlins
The Marlins began the 2015 season with a catching tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeff Mathis, but it didn't take long for Realmuto to emerge as the regular backstop. While the 24-year-old started slow with the bat, he rode a big second half to a .259/.290/.406 batting line with 10 home runs, 47 RBI, and eight stolen bases over 126 games. The Marlins have found their long-term solution behind the plate.
Handling a pitching staff as a rookie is hard enough on its own, so it's not surprising that it took Realmuto some time to adjust offensively. If his second half production is a sign of things to come, there's some nice upside here in fantasy leagues. His breakout season in the minors in 2014 (where he stole 18 bases) provides some reason for optimism. It's not often that you get speed out of the catcher position, so he could sneak up on some folks in 2016. Just a bonus, the fences are Marlins Park are expected to be moved in over the winter.
Maikel Franco 3B, Phillies
After getting a brief cup of coffee in September of 2014, Franco found himself back in Triple-A to begin this season. Most believed that it was just a matter of time before he'd be up in the majors for good, with the delay mostly being about service time implications. Sure enough, he was called up in May and quickly found himself on the fantasy radar, batting .280 with 14 home runs, 50 RBI, and an .840 OPS over 80 games. His rookie season would have looked even better if he didn't miss most of August and September due to a wrist injury. Fortunately, he returned for the final weekend of the season, which should provide some peace of mind going into 2016.
There was a lot to like about what Franco did. While it was a small sample, he walked in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances, which is very encouraging when you consider his minor league numbers. Perhaps most impressively, he struck out just 15.5 percent of the time. Just to put things in perspective, the league struck out 20.4 percent of the time on average this season. There's reason to believe he can maintain a useful batting average while smacking 20-30 home runs in 2016. Hopefully there's a better supporting cast around him soon.
Michael Conforto OF, Mets
Desperate for offense, the Mets called up Conforto in late July after he played just 133 games in the minors. There were questions about how he would respond to the aggressive promotion, but he showed why he was considered one of the most major league-ready bats in the 2014 draft class, batting .270 with nine home runs and an .841 OPS over 56 games. He also homered off Zack Greinke during the NLDS and had a two-homer game in the World Series. Not bad for someone who doesn't turn 23 until next March.
The Mets mostly sat Conforto against left-handed pitching this season, but he's expected to be a regular in the lineup in 2016. With Yoenis Cespedes likely to depart via free agency, there will be some pressure on him to make the next step. Some growing pains are possible as the league adjusts to him and vice versa, but he has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order force for a long time, hitting for average, power, and patience.
Aaron Nola SP, Phillies
Nola became the best pitcher in the Phillies' rotation after just two starts in the majors. That was about the state of the ballclub after the Cole Hamels trade more than anything else, but it's also credit to Nola, who was on the fast track coming out of LSU and impressed at every level in the minors. The 22-year-old made his major league debut in July and proved worthy of the hype by posting a 3.59 ERA with 7.88 K/9 and 2.20 BB/9 over 13 starts.
The only real warning sign about Nola's rookie season was that he gave up 11 home runs in 77 2/3 innings. But it's a small sample, so we need to see more before saying whether it will be a trouble spot for him moving forward. Nola isn't going to blow hitters away and many scouts have projected him more as a steady No. 3 starter than an ace-type, but there's still value in that. Projecting him for 2016 is admittedly tricky, as the league will get a chance to adjust to him and run support could be a challenge. Still, I like him. Jerad Eickhoff, who came over in the Hamels trade, and Odubel Herrera also deserve a mention here.
Travis d'Arnaud C, Mets
I included d'Arnaud among my "Fantasy Risers" last winter based off his strong finish to 2014, but I think he's worth mentioning again after what he did this year. Sure, injuries limited him to just 67 games, but he batted .268 with 12 home runs and an .825 OPS. Only Buster Posey and Kyle Schwarber had a higher OPS among catcher-eligible players with at least 250 plate appearances. We'd almost certainly be talking about a 20-homer, 80-RBI campaign if he managed to play a full season.
Of course, that's the thing with d'Arnaud. Despite his immense talent and potential, he hasn't been able to shake the injury-prone tag. Playing a demanding position only makes the equation more difficult. Interestingly, Marc Carig of Newsday writes that there's a "growing thought" with the Mets that d'Arnaud should add to his versatility by learning another position. Regardless, I see him as having top-five upside at the catcher position in 2016.
Steven Matz SP, Mets
With what he did in the minors and his limited starts in the majors, it's obvious that Matz has all the skills to break out in 2016. The young southpaw throws a mid-90s fastball to go along with an excellent changeup and an improving curveball. He's also working on a slider, which is a scary thought when you have Dan Warthen as your pitching coach. I like his stuff better than Nola's, but I'm not as confident on the health front. There's reason to be excited, but I'm still curious to see how he holds up over a full season.
A.J. Ramos RP, Marlins
Ramos did just fine as the Marlins' closer after Steve Cishek was demoted from the job in May, finishing with 2.30 ERA and 87/26 K/BB ratio in 70 1/3 innings while going 32-for-38 in save chances. There was recently a report that the Marlins could consider an upgrade at closer this winter, but Ramos will be a fine second-tier option in most mixed leagues assuming they stand pat going into 2016. Justin Bour (23 home runs and an .800 OPS in 129 games this season) was another player I considered while putting together this list.
Michael Taylor OF, Nationals
Taylor's rookie season wasn't perfect, as he batted just .229 with a .282 on-base percentage while striking out in 31 percent of his plate appearances. Still, he managed 14 home runs and 16 steals in 138 games. Denard Span is a free agent this winter, so assuming he doesn't return, Taylor should take over as the starting center fielder. Strikeouts were a big issue for Taylor in the minors too, but even some minor progress would be helpful. His power-speed combo is enticing.
Joe Ross SP, Nationals
Ross faded a bit down the stretch, but he was still mighty impressive during his rookie season, posting a 3.64 ERA and 69/21 K/BB ratio in 76 2/3 innings to go along with a ground ball rate of 50 percent. With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister hitting free agency, he should be in Washington's rotation from the start in 2016. Trea Turner, who was another part of the Wil Myers trade, is worth watching assuming he takes over for free agent Ian Desmond at shortstop.
Arodys Vizcaino RP, Braves
It looks like the Braves may have found their closer of the future in Vizcaino. The hard-throwing 24-year-old went 9-for-10 in save chances after the Jim Johnson trade and posted a 1.60 ERA and 37/13 K/BB ratio over 33 2/3 innings on the year. I'd suspect him to be among the final handful of closers on the board in drafts next spring, but he has the potential to be a great value. Hector Olivera didn't do much in a small sample down the stretch, but he's another name to keep an eye on with the Braves.