Our fantasy baseball analysts reveal their favorite draft target on each of the five National League Central teams. This could be a perceived draft value, an emerging star they're picking everywhere, or anything in between.
St. Louis Cardinals
Andy: This team is annoyingly good on paper, thanks in part to the generosity of the Rockies. Sigh. There are plenty of interesting Cardinals for fantasy purposes, so choosing one is kinda tricky. Jordan Hicks might be my favorite value at the moment. It sounds like he’s fully recovered from elbow surgery, he throws a zillion miles an hour, and he has closing credentials. Giovanny Gallegos is typically drafted ahead of Hicks, but he’s not actually the clear favorite for saves.
Dalton: Jordan Hicks was just clocked at 102 mph, and Giovanny Gallegos is another terrific option at the end of St. Louis’ bullpen, but part of the reason Alex Reyes’ ADP remains so low is his undefined role. Well, that and a long history of injury and underperformance. Still, Reyes is a former top prospect with elite stuff, and if he’s finally truly healthy, he’s capable of being dominant as a starter or in relief. You’ll want Reyes on your fantasy team the year he finally figures it out.
Scott: Carlos Martinez was a fantasy rock for four straight seasons and all was groovy. Then came an injury-ripped 2019, and last year’s COVID mess. This is an excused absence. I’ll scout him closely all spring, and be ready to pounce if I like what I see. He’s still just 29.
Andy: I’m all-in on the changes Corbin Burnes made to his pitch mix in 2020. Good luck with his cutter, everyone. Milwaukee offers run-support and a lights-out bullpen, too. Burnes has a clear shot at a top-10 pitching finish.
Dalton: Freddy Peralta isn’t even a lock to open the year in the starting rotation, but he’s being stretched out as we speak. His K-BB% (28.0) would’ve ranked top-five had he qualified last year when he had a better expected ERA than Gerrit Cole and Clayton Kershaw. Peralta is introducing a slider to combat lefties, and the addition of Kolten Wong’s glove up the middle should be a big help as well. There isn’t a pitcher going later in drafts with more upside than Peralta.
Scott: I’ve been chasing a career breakout for Kolten Wong, and it hasn’t happened yet. But we’re just a season removed from a .285 average, 11 homers, 24 steals, and when you imagine those numbers in the 2021 context at second base (it’s messy) — sounds pretty good to me. Wong’s outstanding defense marks a spot in the lineup.
Andy: This team has behaved recently like a small-market club that lacks revenue streams, which, of course, is precisely what it’s not. But still, the Cubs have some interesting pieces. Over the past two years, Ian Happ has homered 23 times in just 115 games (387 PAs), so it’s easy to imagine him delivering 30-plus homers in the season ahead. He carries 2B-3B-OF eligibility, too.
Dalton: I’m mostly tossing Javier Baez’s ugly 2020 out the window, happily scooping him up in drafts at a discounted ADP. He’s still just 28 years old and was a truly elite fantasy option not long ago. Wrigley Field oddly played as MLB’s toughest place to hit by a wide margin during last year’s weird and shortened season, something unlikely to occur again. Baez should also benefit from the return of in-game video, so he’s someone to target.
Scott: I like my pitchers smart and I like them with good control; Kyle Hendricks checks those boxes. He’s also more useful than you might imagine for strikeouts because he can work deep into games — a rare thing in the shape of today’s game. I know we all want those fire-breathing dragons on the mound, but there will always be a place for the thinking-man’s ace who can put a pitch anywhere he wants to.
Andy: Tyler Mahle scrapped his slider completely in 2019, then reintroduced it as a devastating finishing pitch in 2020. Just look at this thing. He produced a career-best K/9 (11.3) and swinging-strike rate (13.8%) and I see no reason the good times can’t continue.
Dalton: Eugenio Suarez is one season removed from hitting 49 homers and is currently in the “best shape of his life” after a down 2020 following shoulder surgery. Great American Ballpark has increased homers for righties an MLB-high 30% over the last three seasons, and I have Suarez ranked ahead of Nolan Arenado, whose Yahoo ADP is 60 spots higher.
Scott: I feel like the Jesse Winker breakout has mostly happened already, but some bad luck and poor timing have held him back from completely exploding. But look at the career slash: .280/.380/.479, an OPS+ 23 percent better than league average. On the right team, he’d be accepted as a star. I just hope the Reds leave him alone, not to mention the injury gods. It’s an age-27 season — giddy-up.
Andy: Yeah, um … I’m stumped. Can’t say I see a must-draft player on the Pirates right at this moment. It should go without saying that Ke’Bryan Hayes won’t sustain last season’s torrid pace (.376/.442/.682 in 95 PAs), but I don’t think he’ll regress to anything dreadful. I like him to hit 15-20 homers with double-digit base-stealing potential.
Dalton: Gregory Polanco is a nice bounce-back candidate still in his prime with legit 25/25 potential. After erroneous reports of him suffering a broken wrist in Winter League, he reported to spring training fully healthy and could quickly find himself hitting in the middle of Pirates’ lineup during a contract year.
Scott: Richard Rodriguez was great last year in the Pittsburgh bullpen, but given this is the one lousy team in the NL Central, few noticed. Relievers can be highly volatile from season to season, but we have to assume R-Rod will be given the first chance at Pittsburgh's ninth inning. Save projections must be tempered, but he still has a shot at 20 or more handshakes.