Seven NL players to grab in fantasy baseball drafts

Jordan Zimmermann should be stronger than ever for the Washington Nationals in 2012. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

With football season officially over and spring training a few weeks away, it’s time we start looking toward the baseball season, more specifically, your baseball fantasy draft. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at each league individually, highlighting players to jump on and those to stay far away from. They’ll be players you’re very familiar with and others you haven’t heard of but should definitely get to know. Bear in mind, some players on the list may not have great value in 2012, however, in keeper leagues, they’ll have plenty of use. We begin by introducing seven NL ballplayers, all of whom I expect to have huge fantasy years in 2012, and/or beyond.

1. Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman enjoyed a solid breakout year in 2011, posting a 3.18 ERA and a sparkling 1.15 WHIP. This year, he’ll be another year removed from Tommy John surgery and he’ll make more than the 26 starts he did last year. Furthermore, the Nats should benefit from a full year from Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman and a bounce back year from Jayson Werth (see below), all of which will contribute to a better lineup and more opportunities to improve on his eight wins from last year.

2. Nathan Eovaldi. As currently constituted, Eovaldi – who pitched well late last year – is the sixth man in the Dodgers rotation. However, there is very little reason to have much confidence in four of the five starters ahead of him, excluding Kershaw, obviously. Lilly throws 83 mph and has really started to regress; Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano both are significant injury risks; and Chad Billingsley — who has always been a favorite of mine — took a giant step backward last year. Either by injury or ineffectiveness, Eovaldi will find a way to make 22 starts. He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on and stash on your roster, if you have flexibility. However, he may very well have more value in keeper leagues.

3. Jason Heyward. The talent hasn’t gone anywhere. It simply took a one year sabbatical. Injuries, which screwed up his swing and destroyed his confidence, resulted in a lost year for the one-time boy wonder. However, Heyward’s been working feverishly this winter and appears poised to exceed his rookie-year numbers. I’d be shocked if he didn’t end up hitting 290 with at least 25 home runs. The multi-talented Heyward can also run, so don’t be surprised to see 20-plus steals, as well. Although he’ll have tremendous value this season, if you can nab him for a keeper league, his value will only increase.

4. Logan Morrison. Morrison hasn’t completely broken out yet, but he’s right on the cusp. Last year, he put up solid power numbers, but his average was below par. However, he was distracted by meddling ownership which objected to his social media dalliances. This year, he’ll put that behind him, and with an improved lineup and a new ballpark, 30 and 100, while hitting .280 are reasonable projections.

5. Josh Johnson. His ability is without question, the concern here is his health. Assuming the price is right — something you have to determine in your specific league — JJ is someone I would absolutely bet on having another dominant year. It sounds like he could have pitched last year, however, the cautious Marlins held him back. He’ll be 100 percent when he takes the ball from Ozzie on opening day, and expect his 2012 season to resemble his 2010 and 2009.

6. Jay Bruce . On the whole, Bruce had an excellent year in 2011, eclipsing 30 home runs for the first time, and driving in 97. However, of Bruce’s 32 dingers, 19 of them came in May and August. Consistency is the usually the last aspect to an athlete becoming great, and expect Bruce to finally discover that this year. In a league starved for power, put down Bruce for 40 and if you happen to be in Vegas, I’d put money on him leading the league in home runs.

7. Jayson Werth. Is Werth ever going to be the fantasy beast he was in Philly? In all likelihood, no. However, like Johnson, it’s about value. Despite his putrid year in 2011, he was still one steal shy of being a 20-20 player. We’ve also seen plenty of players (Carlos Beltran) struggle in the first year of a lucrative, long-term contract, before rebounding in the second year. As for his unsightly .232 batting average, chew on this: His BABIP during his last three years in Philly were .324, .304 and .352. Last year it was .286. Some of those balls will fall this year, so expect something closer to his career line of 264. Unlike most of the others on this list, I’d view Werth as more of a one-year guy rather than a long-term keeper.

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