Fantasy Baseball Spotlight: Los Angeles Dodgers

Slowly, the Dodgers are doing exactly what they should be doing in an effort to contend again. By signing Matt Kemp long term and closing in on new ownership, Los Angeles can begin the healing process and do it around two of the best players in the game. Now it's just time to surround them with other good players.

I was recently looking at the Seattle Mariners 1995 season and noticed that Randy Johnson had more more strikeouts than the next four Mariners starters had combined.

Compare that to Kemp and the 2011 Dodgers. His .262 ISO was more than double the combined ISO of Andre Ethier and James Loney. His 8.7 fWAR was more than Loney, Ethier, and Jamie Carroll combined. (Those were the next three highest fWARs for LA hitters.)

Clayton Kershaw posted a 6.8 fWAR, which is more than triple what Chad Billngsley posted.

It's those two "and the rest" for now, but the good news is that L.A. should have no problem bringing in free agents and making deals once they get their ownership situation figured out. Without any major moves this past off-season, I'm not sure how much they can improve in 2012, but they've got at least two stars.

Best Hitter: Matt Kemp

I bring surprises.

I was down on Kemp coming into 2011 after he hit .249 with terribly rated defense (-25.7 UZR) and he decided to respond with a .324/.399/.586 season with 39 HR, 126 RBI, 115 R, 40 SB and a career high 10.7% walk rate. On top of all that, his -4.6 UZR of 2011 combined with his 2.9 UZR of 2009, gives him a more respectable 3-year average.

The Dodgers gave him an 8-year, $160 million contract, meaning that Dodgers fans won't have to sweat out the trade deadline or 2013 free agency. He's here to stay.

It's hard to argue against him as the #1 pick in fantasy, but more importantly, what should you expect?

There have been 19 35/35 seasons in the history of baseball, including Kemp last year. Just 19. Names on that list include Bobby Bonds, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Willie Mays, Shawn Green, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and others.

If you believe that Kemp is a Hall of Famer (and it's fine if you do. I'm looking at one of you specifically!) then sky's the limit. He's only 27! I like to keep my expectations tempered, and I'd still expect a top 5 year:

.290/.395/.570, 33 HR, 35 SB, 115 RBI, 105 R

I expect that the respect will garner him more walks, reduce HR and RBI slightly, with a good amount of runs with relatively weak protection.

Best Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw

Like I said, I bring shocking analysis!

At only 23, Kershaw won his first Cy Young in 2011 and arguably has been the best pitcher in fantasy since he was 21. Over the last 3 seasons combined, he's posted 15.7 fWAR (11th in MLB) with a 2.63 ERA (2nd behind Roy Halladay if you don't count the 2009-10 seasons of Adam Wainwright) and 9.54 K/9 (2nd behind Tim Lincecum, minimum 400 innings.) T-12 in Wins with 42.

His ability to reduce walks from 4.8 in 2009 to 2.1 in 2011 is also a huge caveat that is rarely seen among pitchers so young. If there were a cautionary tale (sorry!) it's that pitchers do tend to peak in fastball velocity early on in their careers, and that's another adjustment that they have to make. The great ones have no problem doing this and Kershaw definitely appears to be one of the great ones.

Like Kemp, I expect Kershaw to be one of the best in the game in 2012, but not quite as good as they were in their amazing 2011 seasons.

18-5, 2.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 240 innings, 270/60 K/BB ratio and that still makes him a #1 pitcher no matter how you slice it.

Potential Breakout: Jerry Sands

He became a hot name around prospecting circles in 2010 when he hit .333/.432/.646 with 18 HR and 14 SB in single-A Great Lakes for 69 games and then .270/.360/.529 with 17 HR in 68 AA games. He didn't crack the BA top 100 list for 2011, but many people expected the run to continue.

He hit .278/.344/.586 with 29 HR, 88 RBI, 21 2B in 94 AAA games and played in 61 games for the Dodgers, hitting .253/.338/.389 with 4 HR, 26 RBI, 15 2B and 3 SB in 227 PAs.

He was sent down in early June after hitting .200/.294/.328 but returned to the big club in September and hit .342/.415/.493 with 2 HR and 5 2B in 83 PAs.

Right now the starting RF is slated to be Juan Rivera and the starting 1B is still Loney. Rivera had an OPS+ of 91 last year and 99 in 2010, while Loney was had a sub-.800 OPS in each of the last four seasons. I just don't see a lot standing in the way of Sands if he continues to hit and the Dodgers need to add some young talent to this lineup. It's not that Sands is some super-prospect, but he might be a lot better than most give him credit for, especially if he continues his hot September.

Potential Disappointment: Dee Gordon

Over a full season, Gordon has 75 SB potential. Whether or not he's going to get on base enough or play enough to get there is another question, as is whether or not it's worth it. It was never easy playing guys like Scott Podsednik and Juan Pierre on a regular basis in fantasy leagues. Eventually, they always wound up back in free agency.

Over 56 games last year, Gordon hit .304/.325/.362 on a .345 BABIP with 24 SB. Stealing a base every other game is good, but walking only 3% of the time is very bad. Gordon drew 7 walks in 233 PAs.

If Gordon were a 10% walker or better, he could reasonably hit get on base at a .350 clip, steal more bases and score 100 runs. If he walks <5% of the time, it's a lower BA/OBP/R/SB line, which also means that if he has an unlucky season and BABIP's .300, he'll have a scary low triple slash and little to no value.

Gordon has time to improve, but that's exactly what he'll have to do in order to maintain fantasy value. Even at SS.

Prospect Watch, list per Baseball America:

1. Zach Lee, rhp
2. Allen Webster, rhp
3. Nate Eovaldi, rhp
4. Alfredo Silverio, of
5. Chris Reed, lhp
6. Garrett Gould, rhp
7. Chris Withrow, rhp
8. Josh Lindblom, rhp
9. Joc Pederson, of
10. Tim Federowicz, c

Lee is the consensus number one prospect in the system, an unexpected signing out of high school in 2010. John Sickels had this to say: "His statistical performance in the Midwest League was solid rather than spectacular, but I like the combination of present stuff and projection. Future number two starter if all goes well." He's not a fast-tracker like Kershaw was and his ceiling is probably AA this season.

Webster is a mid-rotation prospect that will need to learn how to handle AA this season before advancing. He gave up 101 hits in 91 innings there last season, but he was only 21.

Eovaldi will try to make the big league club out of Spring Training and had mixed results during his major league trial in 2011, posting a 3.63 ERA in 34.2 innings, but with a 23/20 K/BB ratio. He's the most likely rookie to contribute significantly this season, but he was also only 21 last season. He could also be a bullpen candidate.

If Sands can't win an OF job, Silverio might. He's turning 25 this year, but Sickels calls him the best position prospect in the system. He hit .306/.340/.542 with 16 HR, 42 2B, 18 3B and 11 SB last season, though he was caught 12 times and this was all as an older player in AA.

Long term, Ray likes Joc Pederson.

Follow me on Twitter and check out my website.

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