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March 20, 2012 posted by Paul Greco

2012 Fantasy Baseball – Position Battles: National League

2012 Fantasy Baseball – Position Battles: National League
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Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, OF

This week, we look at the National League’s more intriguing competitions. With Spring Training nearing the midway point, we are starting to see these positional battles heat up. Player trends have more meaning and injuries have secured starting spots within the clubs’ future stars. Let’s look at three teams trying to shape their starting line-up.

Philadelphia Phillies: Left Field

The plan intended that Domonic Brown be the future outfielder for the Phillies. Then a spring injury to his hamate bone in 2011 derailed the beginning of his season. Later, he was sent back to the minors for the in-season trade of Hunter Pence. His year ended with no fanfare, finishing with a mere five home runs and a .245 average. He begins this spring with yet another injury and will, once again, become an after-thought to fantasy owners.

Fast-forward to this spring and you see some new faces aiming for left field: John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix. Manager Charlie Manuel has shown his favoritism towards Mayberry, going as far as saying that he’s earned the right to play and try and keep the position. But Nix may have a chance to make some noise this season, though for not reasons the Phillies expected. The Achilles injury to Ryan Howard has developed an infection and will set back his rehab. Doctors are indicating a possible June or later return date.

This could give Mayberry an opportunity to cover first base while Howard is in rehab, opening the doors for Laynce Nix to play limited at-bats in left field while first baseman Ty Wigginton is rested.

Mayberry is the one you want to own. His 15 home runs and 8 stolen bases came with only 248 at-bats and he’s hit no less than 20 home runs in all but one year during his minor league career. His 22% strikeout rate lead to a mediocre .265 average and his 7.9% walk rate led to a .328 OBP. Both are hindrances that leave him susceptible to platoon duties if he performs poorly enough, especially since he smashes right-handed pitchers (.306 average last year) but has more difficulties with lefties (.250 average). But don’t let that scare you into drafting him late in your draft.  The stolen bases may not increase much, but don’t be shocked if you’re looking at a player with 25 home runs.

While all the stats show Laynce Nix would be an ideal platoon candidate with Mayberry (.253 average against righties, versus .181 against lefties), the injury to Howard and Charlie Manuel lean towards Mayberry gives an opportunity to Nix to become a great pick up in deep leagues with daily transactions. Despite his atrocious performance against left-handed pitchers, he can still hit. His 16 home runs last year came with only 324 at-bats, although that may be hard to repeat with a continued limited role.

What you can expect this spring and early summer is Mayberry to play left field when facing right-handed pitchers and to play first when facing left-handed pitchers. Lance Nix will get some play in left and Wigginton will get the rest he needs. Once Howard returns, we might return to a platoon in left field. If Mayberry plays well enough, though, he’ll win the every-day job.

 Atlanta Braves: Fifth Starting Pitcher

Tim Hudson deserves flowers, or a box of chocolates. Some gift from the trio of talented pitchers at the end of the Braves’ rotation should be given to him. Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado now vie for two spots in the rotation, thanks to Hudson’s November back surgery. Hudson will slide back into  the rotation when he returns in May, but now two of these three players will have an additional month to highlight their worth in meaningful games.

Minor is the shoo-in for that temporary fourth starter. Of the three, he has the most major league experience, making him a great late-round flyer since he has the upside to return plenty of value. He has terrific dominance, posting 8.38 K/9. His glaring weakness is his walk rate. The 3.27 BB/9 makes it tough to stomach his 1.49 WHIP, but he showed progress in his minor league career and control is the easiest thing for pitchers to improve.

To round out the rotation, Fredi Gonzalez will decide between Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado. Both players are extremely young, which means inconsistencies will be prevalent. Both are also highly-touted prospects, so expect some great performances as well.

Of the two, Teheran has the potential to be an ace. He’s shown great control in his minor league career while giving up few home runs, despite being a fly-ball pitcher. His breaking ball needs some polish, but his 97-mile per hour fast ball coupled with a wicked change-up means he will be formidable in the future. At 21 years old, he could use some additional practice in the minors, however expect him to join the club once Spring Training concludes.

Randall Delgado has flash and dominance and if you look at last year’s 35 innings, you would be completely fooled. His 18 strikeouts makes him look mediocre, but his 2.83 ERA makes him look great. Flip that and you have Delgado. His strikeout rate in the minors shows a pitcher capable of striking out a batter per inning, but his xFIP indicates that his ERA should be closer to 5.00. He could be a sneaky source of strikeouts if he breaks camp with the Braves, although Teheran seems to have the inside track.

Don’t discount any of these players though, even if one will start in the minors. With Hudson already out for a month, Jair Jurrjens proven inability to stay on the mound and Tommy Hanson trying to shake an injury prone label, there could be plenty of opportunity for all three players to get some innings this year. Just be ready to FAAB bid on the odd man out when the time comes.

Washington Nationals: Outfield

Nobody expected Bryce Harper to start this season with an outfield spot for the Nations. Then, in early February, Manager Davey Johnson made the seemingly innocuous comment that he’d like to see Harper break camp with the team. Now with Harper demoted, how will the outfield shake out?

For starters, current Jayson Werth is safe. Despite a disappointing season last year, he managed 20 home runs and 19 steals, and had a career-low BABIP, signifying a potential bounce-back year. Werth will shift over to right field when Harper comes up, as Harper will be learning CF in the minors. .

Another issue is the time share between Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina. Neither one figures to have much fantasy relevance in mixed leagues, but in NL-only they are both draftable.

Ankiel had a decent career in St. Louis where his power carried him, despite a low batting average. But since his departure in 2010, he has a total of 15 home runs.  With dwindling power and a career .246 average, the only reason he finds playing time is due to his above-average defense.

Between the two, Bernadina has a larger upside. He could offer double-digit steals and home runs this upcoming year. He already did it last year, posting an 11/16 season.  He has a true opportunity this spring to justify a spot in the lineup. So far, though, he’s pulling up short. His spring numbers boast an unimpressive .174 average and no steals or home runs. His increased spring walk rate can create some optimism compared to his .304 career average. Nonetheless, Bernadina is destined to split time with Ankiel at center. If Harper breaks camp, he’ll see even less of a role.

Paul finished the 2011-2012 Fantasy Football season as the #1 Weekly Rankings & Projections winner of the 411Fantasy Expert Challenge. He also finished 2nd in the FantasyPros.com Expert Draft Accuracy Challenge in 2011. Top 10 Finisher in the FSWA Fantasy Football Draft Projections. Paul is also apart of baseballs elite as a member of Tout Wars. You can follow me on Twitter @PaulGreco
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