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. The National League East was profiled last week. This week, let's take a look at the National League West.
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Matt Duffy 3B, Giants
Prior to the 2015 season, Duffy appeared to be nothing more than organizational depth. A 24-year-old former 18th round pick out of California State University Long Beach, Duffy rose through the minors with good-if-unspectacular numbers. A starter almost by default after Pablo Sandoval's departure, Duffy didn't make a blip on the fantasy radar.
Fast forward, and Duffy finished the season as a five-category fantasy contributor and a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Giants. The third baseman batted .295/.334/.428 with 12 homers, 77 RBI, 77 runs scored and 12 steals. The ceiling isn't much higher, but then again, we said that around this time last year. And even if it isn't, Duffy should be a safe, useful contributor once again next season.
A.J. Pollock OF, Diamondbacks
Pollock appeared on this list last season, but not even my esteemed colleague Ryan Boyer could have anticipated the season he had. Pollock was a bonafide stud in the middle of the Diamondbacks' lineup, batting .315/.367/.498 with 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 111 runs scored and 39 steals. In the past five years, only Mike Trout, Matt Kemp, Carlos Gomez and Jacoby Ellsbury have had seasons in which they've hit at least 20 homers while stealing 39 or more bases.
No longer a secret, the scary part is that his best season could still be ahead. An NL West doormat in recent years, the Diamondbacks now boast a potent offense with Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta (more on him in a bit) and company. Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomas should be better in their second seasons. And Chase Field, Pollock's home park, remains friendly to hitters. The question is no longer how late one can draft Pollock, but how early one needs to in order to secure his services. The answer continues to get higher.
Joe Panik 2B, Giants
Like Duffy, Panik was viewed as a passable regular with limited offensive upside coming into the season. Unlike Duffy, Panik had a pedigree that suggested he was capable of more. A first-round pick of the Giants in 2011, Panik debuted in 2014 but didn't show much besides an empty batting average, hitting just one homer without stealing a base in 73 games.
An unchallenged starter coming into 2015, Panik batted .308/.372/.448 with seven homers and three steals in the first half en route to his first All-Star appearance. A lower back injury limited him to just 15 games in the second half, but extrapolated over a 162-game schedule Panik was on pace for 12 home runs, 95 runs scored, 59 RBI and four steals. He'll likely never be a fantasy star, but like Duffy, Panik should be a solid contributor who's headed in the right direction.
Corey Seager SS, Dodgers
Seager had an interesting 2015 season. Prior to the season, he was widely viewed as a top-10 prospect in the game, one who could be summoned to the Dodgers at any moment. He then proceeded to hit .278/.332/.451 in 105 games at Triple-A, a modest line for his skills. Given his relative struggles with the level -- he played part of the season as a 20-year-old, so those struggles were understandable -- some tried to temper expectations when he was promoted for the September stretch run.
Instead, Seager hit .337/.425/.561 with four homers and two steals in 27 games, justifying the hype. Now, with Jimmy Rollins gone, Seager should enter 2016 as a starter at shortstop from day one. The Dodgers should continue to boast a strong lineup and Seager should hit closer to the middle than the bottom of it on most days, a good formula. Seager's best days may still be a year or two away, but that shouldn't keep him from enjoying a productive season next year.
Chris Heston SP, Giants
Heston famously no-hit the Mets in early June, striking out 11 in a dominating performance. That put him on the map for many, but the right-hander's first half was sprinkled with brilliant moments for those paying attention. He entered the break with a 3.39 ERA and opponents slashing .249/.314/.362 against him.
The second half was less kind, but we're all about the upside here. Heston keeps the ball on the ground and had a strikeout rate only slightly lower than league average in his first full season. An ERA in the 3's on a Giants team that always seems to be on the right side of .500 is a good formula for fantasy relevancy.
DJ LeMahieu 2B, Rockies
Players with good batted-ball skills but no terribly loud tools tend to make for boring fantasy picks, and yet this list is littered with them. LeMahieu is another one that tended to get overlooked at the season's outset, but by the end of the year he was likely rostered in most leagues. Hitting .301 with six home runs, 85 runs scored, 61 RBI and 23 stolen bases will do that.
The biggest difference between 2015 LeMahieu and previous versions of himself -- besides a .362 BABIP that can't be dismissed as entirely fluky due to his home ballpark -- is his patience. LeMahieu walked in 8.1 percent of his plate appearances, the highest percentage of his career and nearly double what he did two years prior. Being on base more often will, generally, lead to more opportunities for stolen bases and runs scored, two of the numerous categories in which he set a career high in 2015. He still plays in Coors Field, the Rockies still have a dangerous lineup and he still rarely swings and misses. He should be a fantasy starter at the keystone next year.
Brandon Crawford SS, Giants
The most amazing thing about this list isn't that it includes three Giants infielders; it's that a fourth, Brandon Belt, could be viewed as a snub. Crawford makes the list after demolishing his previous career best in home runs, swatting 21 homers in 2015 after hitting 26 combined in his first 511 games. That led to career highs in almost every offensive category.
History and projection systems don't smile on 29-year-old players who find their power stroke so late, but Crawford doesn't need to be the next Jose Bautista to be a fantasy contributor. Crawford had the second-most home runs among shortstops last season, and even a step backward will put him in the middle of the pack. It's time to think of him as more than just a glove-first infielder.
Justin Turner 3B, Dodgers
Turner was on his fourth organization before finding traction with the Dodgers in 2014. Long displaying the ability to hit for average, Turner took his game to a new level last season by blasting 16 home runs to go with a .294/.370/.491 line. Injuries shortened what could have been an even bigger year, limiting Turner to just 126 games, and he continued mashing the ball in the postseason, batting .526/.550/.842 with six doubles in the Dodgers' loss to the Mets in the NLDS.
On the heels of that performance, Turner will enter the 2016 season with an everyday role. Assuming his surgically repaired left knee doesn't give him any problems, he's in for another season of a strong batting average, double-digit home runs and the counting stats that come with the Dodgers lineup.
David Peralta OF, Diamondbacks
A pitcher-turned-outfielder, Peralta is a bit late to the game. But after showing flashes of potential in 2014, the 28-year-old found his groove last season, hitting 17 homers with 78 RBI, 61 runs scored and nine steals to go with a .312/.371/.522 line in 149 games. The presence of Tomas could complicate things -- between Pollock, Peralta, Tomas, Lamb and Ender Inciarte, the Diamondbacks have one too many cooks in the kitchen currently -- but Peralta may force manager Chip Hale's hand if he can sustain last season's success.
Ben Paulsen 1B, Rockies
His name was Ben Paulsen. The owner of a terrible mustache on team photo day, Paulsen also owned a .277/.326/.462 line with 11 home runs in 116 games with the Rockies. With Justin Morneau now gone and Wilin Rosario unhappy, Paulsen has a shot at entering next season as the Rockies' primary first baseman. Coors Field plus opportunity usually equals production, and Paulsen isn't likely to command too steep a pick in March.
Robbie Ray SP, Diamondbacks
Ray's won-loss record didn't agree, but the rookie enjoyed a lot of success in 2015. The 24-year-old made 23 starts for the Snakes, owning a 3.52 ERA while striking out 21.8 percent of the batters he faced on the year. A hard-throwing lefty who has already been traded twice in his young career -- a sign that teams are interested in him, not that teams are giving him away -- Ray should take another step forward in 2016.
Rymer Liriano OF, Padres
The honorary Padres representative for a team remarkably devoid of promising young talent, Liriano is a speculative play for fantasy owners. Two years removed from appearing on multiple top-100 prospect lists, Liriano hit .292/.383/.460 with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases with Triple-A El Paso this past season. Justin Upton is likely gone, opening an immediate path to playing time for the 24-year-old. If he finds regular at-bats, Liriano could be a repeat offender on this list next year.
Ender Inciarte OF, Diamondbacks
The aforementioned Inciarte scored 64 of his 73 runs while serving as the Diamondbacks' leadoff hitter, a role he played 101 times last year. Projected out over a full season, the 24-year-old would have scored 102 runs atop the sneaky good lineup. Factor in that he batted .303/.338/.408 overall and has stolen 40 bases in his first two MLB seasons and Inciarte has a lot to like as a fantasy asset.