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Jamie Zadow looks at the best batters in the N.L. Central.
While the National League Central division is primarily thought of as being dominated by the pitching staffs, there are plenty of big bats that make this division a powerhouse in the National League.
By Jamie Zadow
- 1.Joey Votto, Cin – He is the best product that has come out of Canadian baseball in a long while, and Joey Votto has certainly earned every penny of that contract extension he signed a couple of years ago. Since 2008, the 30-year-old has been the Cincinnati Reds MVP so to say in the lineup, hitting 153 home runs in that span and batting at least .305 in five of the six seasons. After an injury-plagued 2012, Votto bounced back to form in 2013 with 24 home runs and 73 RBIs – the RBI totals were down, but this was a result of Votto's career-high 135 walks and he also led the entire NL with a .435 OBP.
- 2.Andrew McCutchen, Pit – This guy has all the tools and is a first ballot all-star. At 27, Andrew McCutchen is slowly approaching his prime, and he is arguably the best centre fielder in all of baseball (Mike Trout might have something to say about that). 2012 was a career year for the Bucs centre fielder – .327 average, 31 home runs, 96 RBIs – and he followed that up with a pretty solid 2013 campaign that saw him finish with a .317 average, 21 home runs and 84 RBIs. If your league values base runners, then look no further than McCutchen who stole 27 bases last season and also scored 97 runs.
- 3.Matt Holliday, Stl – Plain and simple, Matt Holliday is a hitting machine. Since his days with the Colorado Rockies and now a power threat in the St. Louis Cardinals line-up, Holliday is definitely a guy that opposing pitchers try to pitch around. He hit .300 last year for the seventh time in his career and finished with 22 home runs and 94 RBIs. The more impressive number for Holliday in 2013 was his drop in strikeouts, 86 down from 132 in 2012, and now that Carlos Beltran has left for New York there is the potential that Holliday gets walked a little more often and the 69 free passes he had last season could even reach the 80-90 mark.
- 4.Matt Carpenter, Stl – Some of you may think Matt Carpenter might be a little high up on this list, but the facts are the facts, the St. Louis Cardinals utility man led the entire National League in fantasy points last season for most standard leagues. While his .318 average is stellar and 78 RBIs are solid for a lead-off hitter, don't get scared away by Carpenter's 11 home runs. What he lacks at the plate in terms of power, he makes up for with his glove, finishing 2013 with 429 infield assists. The Cardinals are pleasantly surprised by Carpenter's production and you should consider him a mainstay in your fantasy lineup.
- 5.Jay Bruce, Cin – Jay Bruce has been a consistent power threat the past three seasons in Cincinnati, he's hit 96 home runs since 2011 and had a career-high 109 RBIs in 2013. His average isn't flashy, just .262 last season and .257 for his career, but Bruce certainly makes up for it with his power numbers. He did have a career-high 43 doubles with the Reds last season, however, one thing fantasy owners would like to see is less free-swinging from the Reds outfielder – 185 strikeouts in 2013... ouch!
- 6.Allen Craig, Stl – I think Allen Craig could be the breakout player of 2014, not just for the Cardinals, but in the entire National League. Craig has the ability to drive in a lot of Cardinal runs having 97 RBIs in just 134 games last season, and 92 RBIs in just 119 games in 2012. Not to mention he can hit to every field, finishing with an average of at least .307 in each of the past three seasons. He is also a power threat, and if he can stay healthy long enough, there is a chance he sees even more RBI opportunities in 2014 now that Beltran is no longer in the lineup.
- 7.Pedro Alvarez, Pit – At 26, Pedro Alvarez is a rising star in the Pittsburgh Pirates line-up, and their main power threat too. Alvarez won his first Silver Slugger award in 2013 after finishing with 36 home runs and 100 RBIs. He also notched career highs in total bases (264) and slugging percentage (.473), but the one downfall to Alvarez's numbers, like most long ball hitters, is the lackluster .233 average to end 2013. But, in leagues that factor in defensive play, Alvarez had 359 infield assists and the Pirates brass don't plan on moving him from third base anytime soon.
- 8.Brandon Phillips, Cin – There have been rumours heating up about a deal that would send Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees this offseason, but that remains to be seen. Phillips has been consistent in a Reds uniform, so consistent that he hit 18 home runs for the fourth consecutive season in 2013 and he also managed a career-high 103 RBIs. Phillips' .261 average was his lowest total since 2008, but in leagues that recognize defensive play, Phillips is as good as they come finishing with 428 assists and picking up his fourth Gold Glove in 2013. However, now at 32, it seems that Phillips' age may be becoming a factor on the base paths as he finished with just five steals in 2013, the first time he hasn't finished a year with double-digit steals since 2005.
- 9.Anthony Rizzo, ChC – In his first full season with the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo put up some solid power numbers finishing with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs. The young Cubs slugger has a very high ceiling and his offensive output should only increase with time. The 24-year-old first baseman led all Chicago Cubs in fantasy points last season in most standard leagues, but in order to continue this trend in 2014, he has to cut down on the 127 strikeouts from last season and improve on his .233 batting average.
- 10.Starlin Castro, ChC – Starlin Castro is the Cubs' franchise player for years to come and like Rizzo, his ceiling is extremely high. At 23, Castro has already played four seasons in the MLB and although his numbers dipped in 2013 (.245/10/44) there's no reason to think he can't get back to his 2012 numbers (.283/14/78). The one surprising stat from 2013 is that Castro had just nine stolen bases for the lowest total of his career – he had 22 in 2011 and 25 in 2012. Another upside to Castro's fantasy value is the fact that he had 419 infield assists in 2013.
Previously on The 7th Inning Stretch by Jamie Zadow: