Over the next few weeks, the Rotoworld staff will take a look at some players whose value is on the rise headed into the 2015 season. We'll break them down by division, starting with the National League East.
Anthony Rendon 2B/3B, Nationals
Rendon made my list of honorable mentions in the NL East "Fantasy Risers" column last winter, but his stock is through the roof going into 2015. After batting .265/.329/.396 with seven homers in 98 games as a rookie in 2013, the 24-year-old grew up before our eyes this season, finishing with a .287/.351/.473 batting line to go along with 21 home runs, 83 RBI, 17 stolen bases, and 111 runs scored (which led the NL) over 153 games. Now that's a five-category stud. Only Miguel Cabrera ranked higher than Rendon among third basemen in Yahoo leagues and only Jose Altuve ranked higher than him at second base.
I don't see many flaws with Rendon's game. He has patience, makes contact, and hits the ball to all fields. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, 12 of his 21 home runs fell under the "just enough" category, but I still think he's capable of 15-20 home runs, 80 RBI, 15-20 stolen bases, and 100 runs scored again in 2015. With his bat control, there might even be some batting average upside remaining. Injury concerns have followed him dating back to college, but he's an easy second-round pick for me in 2015.
Lucas Duda 1B, Mets
Remember the debate about whether the Mets should go with Duda or Ike Davis as their starting first baseman? I actually preferred Davis coming into this season, but Duda proved me wrong in a big way. With the Davis trade in late-April clearing the way, Duda put up a .253/.349/.481 batting line across 152 games while finishing 11th in the majors with 30 home runs, 19th (tied) with 92 RBI, and 26th with an .830 OPS. Not bad for someone who wasn't drafted in most mixed fantasy leagues.
The big elephant in the room with Duda is his struggles against left-handed pitching. He hit just .180 with two home runs and a .516 OPS in 125 plate appearances against southpaws this season and owns a measly .610 OPS against them for his career. This caps his upside a bit, but I'm optimistic that the power will remain, especially with friendlier dimensions in right-center field at Citi Field in 2015.
Alex Wood SP, Braves
Wood made last year's list of "Fantasy Risers," but I'm including him again because I still think there's another level for him in 2015. After compiling a 3.13 ERA over 11 starts and 20 relief appearances as a rookie in 2013, the 23-year-old southpaw finished with a 2.78 ERA and 170/45 K/BB ratio over 171 2/3 innings this season. The Braves moved him to the bullpen from early-May to late-June with an eye on protecting his workload, so he ended up making 24 starts and nine relief appearances.
If you focus strictly on Wood's starts, he had a 2.59 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Only 10 starters had a lower ERA this season and only 14 finished with a lower WHIP. Given Wood's strikeout rate, you would likely expect him to throw hard, but he really doesn't. Featuring an unorthodox delivery, he mostly sits in the high-80s/lower-90s with his fastball and gets most of his strikeouts with his secondary stuff, including his excellent knuckle-curve. Assuming the Braves allow to him to reach 200 innings for the first time in 2015, there's top-25 starter potential here. I think he'll be undervalued on draft day.
Christian Yelich OF, Marlins
Another honorable mention from last year, Yelich took a nice leap forward this season by batting .284/.362/.402 with nine home runs, 54 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and 94 runs scored across 144 games. With patience beyond his years, the 22-year-old ranked 10th in the National League with 70 walks. The Marlins' leadoff man finished as the 27th-most valuable fantasy outfielder in Yahoo leagues.
Yelich's strikeout rate is just above the league average and he needed a .356 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) to hit .284 this year, so he'll need to make some progress to see an uptick in the batting average department. Still, .284 is plenty respectable these days and he handled lefties quite well this season. With a ground ball rate of 61 percent (fourth-highest in MLB this season), he'll need to hit more fly balls in order to add some power to his game. The sweet-swinging Yelich is already a top-100 player to me at this point, but I can't help but think that there's a bigger breakout coming at some point. I plan to be aggressive with him in drafts next spring.
Travis d'Arnaud C, Mets
2014 was a tale of two seasons for d'Arnaud. After struggling in his first taste of the majors in 2013, he batted just .180 with three home runs and a .544 OPS over 39 games this season prior to a demotion in early June. After clearing his head and making some mechanical adjustments during his time with Triple-A -- most notably, he moved closer to the plate -- he was a very different hitter. The 25-year-old went deep in his first game back on June 24 and he batted .272 with 10 home runs, 32 RBI, and an .805 OPS in 69 games the rest of the way. That's more like it.
While d'Arnaud's production at the plate was vastly improved, he had some real issues defensively, especially with throws to second base. We got some more context on the situation when it was revealed in late-September that he was playing through an elbow issue. He eventually underwent surgery to remove bone chips from the elbow, but the expectation is that he'll be fine for spring training. Where he'll hit in the lineup depends on what the Mets do this offseason, but I see top-10 catcher upside for him in 2015.
Jacob deGrom SP, Mets
This time last year, most Mets fans were salivating at the thought of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero pitching with the big club in 2014, but it was the unheralded deGrom who ended up making the biggest impact. Called up in May after Dillon Gee landed on the disabled list with a lat injury, deGrom ended up with a 2.69 ERA over 22 starts to go along with a 144/43 K/BB ratio over 140 1/3 innings. Most consider him the favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
So the big question is, where the heck did this come from? Well, deGrom was a late convert to pitching and didn't pitch at all in the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery. Sometimes players simply sneak up on us. Nothing about his numbers this year indicate a fluke, as he had solid peripherals to go along with one of the highest swinging-strike rates in the game. The fastball velocity is there and he gets plenty of swings and misses on his changeup and curveball. He's already a top-30 starting pitcher for me -- higher than teammate Zack Wheeler -- and there could be upside for more with an innings increase in 2015.
Marcell Ozuna OF, Marlins
That Marlins' outfield is pretty decent, huh? Ozuna had his moments as a rookie last season, but he was pushed to the majors a bit earlier than originally anticipated and it showed in his overall numbers. Still, perhaps that experience was good for him. His obvious raw skills translated to results for fantasy owners this year, as the 22-year-old put up a .269/.317/.455 batting line to go along with 23 home runs, 85 RBI, and 72 runs scored over 153 games.
While there's a lot to like with Ozuna, there are some rough edges to his game. His strikeout rate (26.8 percent) was 10th-highest in the majors and his contact rate was eighth-lowest (70.6 percent), so it's hard to count on much batting average upside right now. Still, his patience was improved from his rookie year and there's still time for improvement. His power plays everywhere and he actually had a higher OPS at the spacious Marlins Ballpark (.847) than he did on the road (.700) this season. I like his teammate Christian Yelich slightly better going into 2015, but he's also a top-100 player in mixed leagues.
Ken Giles RP, Phillies
The lone Phillies representative on my list, Giles dominated out of the bullpen after his major league debut in early June. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a power slider, the 24-year-old right-hander posted a 1.18 ERA and 64/11 K/BB ratio in 45 2/3 innings over 44 appearances. Giles has future closer written all over him, but unfortunately the Phillies still have Papelbon under contract for 2015. He could be a monster if Papelbon is somehow moved in a trade.
Andrew Heaney SP, Marlins
Heaney had a rough introduction to the majors, putting up a 5.83 ERA with six home runs allowed in 29 1/3 innings over five starts and two relief appearances, but it's tough to draw any big conclusion from such a small sample of results. The 23-year-old southpaw averaged 9.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in the minors last year and features three solid pitches along with excellent control and command. I still have very high hopes for him going into 2015 and beyond.
Tanner Roark SP, Nationals
It's easy to get overshadowed on a staff which also includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister, but Roark was one of the bigger fantasy surprises of 2014, winning 15 games to go along with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 31 starts. You have to love the plus-control, but his strikeout rate is below league-average and will likely cap his upside in mixed leagues.
Juan Lagares OF, Mets
Lagares still isn't much of a hitter, but he was better than expected this year and continues to be one of the game's best defenders in center field. For what it's worth, his OPS+ sat at 102 this year, so he was better than average. He served as the Mets' regular leadoff man down the stretch and stole nine bases over his final 18 games. If he can remain active on the basepaths, he should be relevant in deeper mixed leagues.
Drew Storen RP, Nationals
Storen left Nationals fans with a sour taste in their mouths during the playoffs, but he was fantastic during the regular season, posting a microscopic 1.12 ERA and 46/11 K/BB ratio over 56 1/3 innings. He also ended up with 11 saves after Nationals manager Matt Williams pulled Rafael Soriano from the closer role down the stretch. The Nationals could sign a closer in free agency, but Storen has a chance to be a really solid option in 2015 if he gets the opportunity.