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Hitters to Watch – National League

Andre Ethier, fantasy baseball sleeperPredicting players who will out-distance their projections is what fantasy baseball is all about.  Here’s a list of National League hitters to watch for the 2009 fantasy baseball season.

Ryan Doumit, C, Pittsburgh Pirates  —  Doumit hit 15 homers and .316 last year in 116 games.  Not bad for a part-time catcher.  Doumit will get more plate appearances this season.

Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers — Nobody benefited more from the arrival of Manny Ramirez than Andre Ethier.  Ethier was the best hitter in baseball in September when he hit .462 batting in front of the dreadlocks.  Although he fizzled in the post-season, Ethier’s power is still developing and he should be able to top the 20 homers he swatted last year.

Carlos Lee, 1B, Houston Astros  — Lee ended up on the DL last season.  In just 115 games, he drove in 100+ for the fourth consecutive season.  Lee is normally a very durable player; prior to last year, he had played in 161 or 162 games each of the past three seasons.

Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves — McCann has averaged 22 homers and 90 RBI over the past three seasons.  He’s hit over .300 in two of the past three years.  And, he’s only 24-years-old; his best years are yet to come.

Daniel Murphy, New York Mets sleeperDaniel Murphy, OF, New York Mets —  Murphy is hitting .366 so far this season in the Spring.  An infielder in the minors, he will likely be the Mets’ starting left fielder, but will lose some time to Fernando Tatis.  He could hit .280 with the Mets this year with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases.

Willy Taveras, OF, Cincinnati RedsWilly Taveras, a lifetime .280 hitter, fell off to .251 last year after hitting .320 the year before.  Taveras also set a personal best with 66 stolen bases in Colorado last year.  He could top that this year in Cincinnati where we expect him to run more and improve his on base percentage from his off-year in ’08.  Taveras won’t do anything to help your power numbers, but stolen bases are over-rated in fantasy baseball and that’s why we like Taveras so much.

Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks — Upton was the Diamondbacks’ first round pick of the ’05 draft.  Upton’s problem last year in his first full season was his 121 strikeouts.  We expect Upton to cut back on that this season as he adjust to major league pitching and improve on his .250 average and 15 homers.  Remember, he’s only 21-years-old and will soon be a fantasy baseball star.

Jason Werth, OF, Philadelphia Phillies — It looks like the Phillies’ big acquisition from last year, Geoff Jenkins, is going to be limited to just pinch-hitting duties.  Therefore, right field belongs to Jayson Werth.  Fantasy baseball fans are keenly aware of Werth’s .273 average with 24 homers and 67 RBI last year, but few remember that Werth had 20 stolen bases in 21 attempts!

Ryan Zimmerman, fantasy baseball starRyan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals — Third base is a surprisingly weak position this year compared to previous seasons.  Ryan Zimmerman’s production fell off last year, but the ex-Virginia Cavalier has huge upside potential and will benefit from having  a legitimate cleanup hitter behind him in Adam Dunn.  Zimmerman played in just 106 games last year and his production fell off by 10 homers and 40 RBI.  Expect him to hit .290 – .300 this year with 25-30 homers and 100+ RBI.

A lot of fantasy baseball league managers like to target complete sleepers.  Rarely, however, do sleepers come out of nowhere to be stars.  In the case of most who are well known (Cameron Maybin for example), adept fantasy baseball managers already know about them anyway.  That’s why we like to concentrate on mid-range and near star players whose stats for this season will exceed those of last year.  That’s where you can score real consistent value in your fantasy baseball league draft.

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