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NL West: Buster Posey ready for next step

10/26/2010

With the fantasy baseball season over, let's continue to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly for each major league team. We've covered the two National League divisions that failed to supply a World Series contestant already, leaving us with the NL West.

San Francisco Giants

What happened: While Tim Lincecum, the top fantasy pitcher on draft day, took a few steps backward because of a poor August (0-5, 7.82), Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson certainly stepped up. The Giants didn't score a ton of runs, but Aubrey Huff resurrected his career, and catcher Buster Posey is just getting started. Finally, a 32-year-old journeyman named Andres Torres hit 16 home runs and stole 26 bases. Don't expect that again.

What will happen: Posey ended up as the team's third-best hitter on the Player Rater, but he's bound for the top in 2011. Consider that Posey played in only 108 games but was only 19 RBIs off the team lead. Fantasy owners have a clear top-five catcher here, someone capable of 25 home runs, 100 RBIs. Other Giants can and will hit -- Pablo Sandoval, for example, should bounce back -- but Posey is going to be special.

Who to watch: Pitching should again carry the Giants in 2011, and don't discount Sanchez based on his performances in the NLCS. He led the rotation in ERA, if you don't include rookie Madison Bumgarner. While Bumgarner, 21, doesn't have a ton of strikeout potential, he'll come at a nice discount compared to the others, but still could easily win 15-plus games.

San Diego Padres

What happened: A first-place team for much of the season, the Padres ultimately didn't have enough offense or pitching to sustain the lead and hold off the Giants. Mat Latos was a revelation until seemingly tiring in the final month (1-4, 6.21 ERA in September), and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the only Padres hitter in the top 150, had a quiet September with only 11 RBIs. Still, in retrospect, looking at the individuals on the team, it's hard to believe the Padres won 90 games.

What will happen: There's not a ton of depth on this team from a fantasy perspective. Gonzalez was the No. 6 first baseman in average ESPN live drafts, earned his value and should be this team's lone top-50 player heading into 2011 drafts. Latos likely will be overrated a bit; remember, he threw a ton of pitches for a young arm this season. Watch if closer Heath Bell gets moved, because this is a deep bullpen with numerous options, led by Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson. Jon Garland, who tied for the team lead with 14 wins, would be a nice sleeper pick if he comes back to San Diego. If he leaves, ignore him.

Who to watch: Will Venable was second on the Padres with 13 home runs and led the team with 29 stolen bases. He can't do much against left-handed pitchers, but seeing as he's in his power prime, if he makes any strides, there's a 20-homer, 30-steal season looming. That's very valuable, even with a .250 batting average.

Colorado Rockies

What happened: Carlos Gonzalez, the No. 37 outfielder in 2010 ESPN average live drafts and a 14th-round pick, finished the season as fantasy's top player. In fact, one could argue he was fantasy's MVP. He was the team's second-best player in September, though, as shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit 15 home runs and knocked in 40 over a three-week span. And finally, Ubaldo Jimenez had the best pitching season in franchise history and finished fifth among hurlers on the Player Rater. What a season! Of course, few other Rockies contributed much for fantasy owners.

What will happen: One could make the case Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, not necessarily in that order due to position scarcity, are first-round picks in 2011. Jimenez is a top-five starter. This team will be keyed on others that emerge, notably strikeout-capable right-hander Jhoulys Chacin and left-hander Jorge De La Rosa. Chacin had a 2.24 ERA after the All-Star break, while De La Rosa won 16 games in 2009. Watch these guys emerge further.

Who to watch: There's little question about the speed Eric Young Jr. brings to the table. The Rockies gave Young, a prolific minor league base stealer, two months in the leadoff spot and he hit .244 with no power. He's also a liability at second base. But if he hits in the spring and wins a starting job, all that will be forgotten because he has the potential to steal 50 bases.

Los Angeles Dodgers

What happened: Led by the disappointing Matt Kemp, the No. 2 outfielder off the draft board in many leagues, the Dodgers lost more games than they won. Off-the-field distractions involving team ownership didn't help, but that couldn't have been why Kemp's batting average dropped 48 points and he was caught stealing 15 times. There were other players underachieving, such as Chad Billingsley, Manny Ramirez and closer Jonathan Broxton, but Kemp was the team's poster boy.

What will happen: The Dodgers hit 18 points lower as a team than in 2009, with 25 fewer home runs, and there aren't likely to be major changes on offense. Look for Kemp to bounce back in batting average; he was miscast as a first-round fantasy pick, but should be a third-round bargain. Andre Ethier, James Loney and Rafael Furcal will likely go later than in 2010 drafts, but let's not assume health and power are ahead for them.

Who to watch: After Kemp, the most coveted player here likely will be ace Clayton Kershaw. He struck out 212 hitters and didn't rely on his pitcher-friendly home ballpark (2.43 road ERA) to do so. Put simply, Kershaw could soon pass Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and others to become fantasy's top left-handed starting pitcher.

Arizona Diamondbacks

What happened: The team's top five finishers on the Player Rater were all hitters, and the first pitcher was a guy acquired at the trade deadline. Daniel Hudson came over from the Chicago White Sox in the Edwin Jackson trade and thrived; other than Hudson, fantasy owners didn't get much from Arizona pitching, other than bouts of greatness from Ian Kennedy. Kelly Johnson had a huge April and Chris Young flirted with a 30-30 season, but the lasting theme from the offense was how Justin Upton didn't hit those projected 35 home runs and Mark Reynolds didn't even hit .200.

What will happen: With Kelly Johnson unlikely to hit another 26 home runs, Upton will be the first Diamondback off the draft board, and deservedly so. Shoulder problems kept Upton's power in check, but let's remember he's still just 23. Keeper leaguers shouldn't shy away from a future MVP type like this. Catcher Miguel Montero should also bounce back after missing months from a knee tear. Hudson will probably be a tad overrated, but he and Kennedy could be 15-game winners. And no, don't expect Brandon Webb to be back.

Who to watch: Lefty-hitting power bat Brandon Allen has 149 major league at-bats over two seasons, but he seems ready for full-time duty, either at first base or in the outfield. Allen features plate discipline and a 30-homer bat, and should be a nice NL-only sleeper in 2011.