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NL West MLB Fantasy Preview

The NL West might not be the first division that comes to mind in fantasy -- not unless you're one of the guys drafting Troy Tulowitzki early because of his shortstop dominance and position scarcity.

But pitching always tends to get underrated for its impact in fantasy. As much as pitching wins in baseball, it only makes a true dent in fantasy when it comes out of nowhere.

This division is loaded with stud arms and some pitchers on the cusp of being great. And despite the rare air of Denver, it is a division of huge parks and pitcher's duels. If you want pitching, look to the NL West. Some of it might even come at a bargain.

The D'backs added Trevor Cahill to their elite, young combo of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, while the Giants boast one of the toughest trios in baseball in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the emerging Madison Bumgarner. This is the pitching division, which might help make some of the better bats here decent values as sleepers, too.

We break down the NL West lineups, rotations, bullpens, quotes, questions, sleepers, busts and breakouts in our final edition of SI.com's division capsules.

The skipper said it this winter:

"Aaron [Hill] did a great job," Kirk Gibson said. "I love his work ethic. He struggled in Toronto, I understand that. I struggled with a different team, so I understand him. We expect him to be better than last year."

Key question:Will Drew be ready for Opening Day?

It figures to be close and Spring Training should give us a good idea, particularly if Drew is able to get into baseball activities by mid-March. If you draft before then, Drew is going to go later than he should.

Sleeper: Aaron Hill, 2B

Hill's awful season will keep him off the radar in many leagues. But he showed a lot of improvement with the change of scenery, hitting .301 in September. Hill is a late-round pick with early round potential at the still-thin second-base position. Few fantasy picks have that wide a range of potential value.

Bust: Ian Kennedy, RHP

No one could have seen Kennedy's dominance last season, particularly his remarkable 12-1 record with a 2.11 ERA after the All-Star break. He was roughly in the third-year starting pitcher category, though, and was built up to toss over 200 innings. Now the draft value lists him as an ace. The reality is he is probably more of a very good starter than an elite fantasy one. He also is coming off a career-high innings, so might be a Verducci Effect breakdown candidate.

Breakout: Daniel Hudson, RHP

If you had been told there was going to be a Cy Young candidate coming out of the D'backs' surprising 2011, the pick would have been Hudson unanimously going in. Hudson had a very good year in his first full season in the major leagues, even if he fell a bit short of the exorbitant expectations. Now, with everyone looking at Kennedy as the fantasy ace of the staff, Hudson can take a huge step forward. His 3.15 ERA in the second half wasn't on the Kennedy level, but it shows he can be a stud in his own right and Hudson is squarely in the third-year starting pitcher breakout category Kennedy was in a year ago.

The skipper said it this winter:

"With [Buster Posey] coming off his injury, there's a little question how much we can catch him back there, and we'll know more in Spring Training," Bruce Bochy said. "But playing first occasionally will help him and help us, then we'd like to have that available. I'll talk to Buster again in Spring Training. He wants to catch, but he's open-minded about playing some first, too, to help us out there, particularly against a left-handed pitcher, getting another right-handed bat in there.

"And I'll add on with Buster, he's doing very well. Before he left Arizona, he was running well, taking batting practice, catching bullpens.

... "[Aubrey Huff] knows that leftfield is a place where he could be getting a lot of playing time. So this would help our situation, having the flexibility that we could have Buster going to first, Aubrey playing left, and with Belt, we're able to mix and match the way we'd like to."

Key question:How far is Brandon Belt from taking off?

Belt might not be a blip on the radar entering the spring, but he could be a big-time contributor once the season starts, particularly if he has a big spring and earns the starting first base job out of camp. Huff would move to left nearly full time and the Giants would be a much better offense all-around.

Sleeper: Brandon Belt, 1B

Belt's development is a big key to the Giants and might be for fantasy owners out of the bargain bin as well. Watch him closely in spring and how many starts Huff gets in left. Belt has the kind of pop that can help even in mixed formats when is going well. Young sluggers are famously streaky, and Belt can put some huge weeks together.

Bust: Ryan Vogelsong, RHP

A decade ago, Vogelsong was a highly-sought pitching prospect. It took him years to finally break out at age 33. His numbers in the second half, though, are much more indicative of what he is: a back-end starter. If you draft him as anything more than such, you are easily setting yourself up for disappointment.

Breakout: Madison Bumgarner, LHP

Bumgarner did not set the world on fire with his 13-13 record in his first full season, but he proved capable of reaching 200 innings and 200 strikeouts quickly. He should pass those numbers this year and represents the best fantasy value relative to draft position of any of the Giants' five starters.

The skipper said it this winter:

"We don't really feel like [Chad Billingsley's] a .500 guy," Don Mattingly said. "We feel he's better than that. The stuff says he's better than that. I think we're looking for more consistency and a little steady improvement from Chad.

"We need him to step up and be that No. 2-type guy behind Kersh that when you go into the series and these guys are hooked up back to back that you're going to have trouble with us."

Key question:Is Dee Gordon the real deal?

Gordon looks like he can be a Jose Reyes-like game-changer for the Dodgers at shortstop. He could be the 50- to 70-steal candidate the game really doesn't have many of today.

Sleeper: Chad Billingsley, RHP

We agree with Mattingley. Billingsley is a lot closer to the '11 version of Kershaw than the '11 version of Billingsley himself. This is still an ace in the making. Sometimes power arms just take a little while longer to develop the command and those secondary pitches. This is the year Billingsley blows fantasy away with his production relative to draft position.

Bust: Ted Lilly, LHP

Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp are coming off career years and are candidates to disappoint based on their career-high draft positions. Still, they are just too good to predict that. Lilly is one Dodger that had a better than expected year and might be a bit over-drafted. Lilly's WHIP portends a 15-plus game winner. Instead, he is a .500 pitcher and you should wait until the late rounds or your last dollar.

Breakout: Dee Gordon, SS

At 23, Gordon stole 24 bases and hit over .300 in what amounts to a third of a season. You cannot project .300 and 70-plus steals in his first full season, but something a bit short of that will still make Gordon one of the top five options at the position going forward for many years.

The skipper said it this winter:

"Drew Pomeranz, I was very impressed with what I saw," Jim Tracy said. "But what can he become? He has a chance to become pretty special. It's going to be pretty interesting to watch it evolve."

Key question:How quickly can the young pitching contribute?

The addition of Guthrie gives the Rockies some measure of luxury in not having to rush the likes of Pomeranz and Alex White, two former first-round picks that still might need some minor league seasoning. If those two arms arrive and pitch like future aces, this team's rebuilding plan can be accelerated in a hurry like the D'backs' was a year ago.

Sleeper: Rafael Betancourt, RHP

Betancourt assumes the closer's role and might be able to hold off 23-year-old closer of the future, Rex Brothers, for longer than many might anticipate. Betancourt is going to represent a good value at the closer position in fantasy, particularly if those young starters prove capable early.

Bust: Todd Helton, 1B

This is an obvious pick, almost a cop-out, but Helton has hovered around the fantasy periphery at first base for years. He will be turning 39 this season and might completely fall off the map. Helton is best off avoided altogether at first base this draft season. He will wind up being available off waivers in mixed leagues anyway. Go with a younger slugger with upside, like the Giants' Belt over him.

Breakout: Dexter Fowler, CF

If you didn't follow fantasy deep into the August and September, you might have missed Fowler's arrival as a viable mixed-league fantasy outfielder. He hit .288 with five homers, 51 runs and 10 steals in the second half. His best month was September (. 287-3-15-3). He turns 26 in Spring Training and might be capable of the .290-15-60-100-25 season we have longed for when he was once an elite outfield prospect.

The skipper said it this winter:

"Any time a player gains another year of experience and gets more reps like [Cameron Maybin] got, you're going to get better," Bud Black said. "He's a talented player. You know, we set out to give him an opportunity to play everyday, and he played most every day with the exception of he was banged up a little bit with the knee and we gave him some days off. But he got a lot of at-bats, he showed a lot of improvement. We think that he's going to continue to show improvement.

" ... He's a talent we think a lot of, and moving forward we hope that he's in San Diego for a long time. He's a big part of club. He plays a premium position and does a lot of great things on the baseball field."

Key question:How will the new pieces fit together?

The Padres dealt Mat Latos well before his prime, which is an odd thing to do for a rebuilding club. Young aces just don't get dealt, but the Padres actually might have dramatically improved their club both in the short and long term with their deals this winter. Quentin and Alonso can be the thumpers they sorely need and Volquez could really be dominant in that pitcher's park.

Sleeper: Edinson Volquez, RHP

He looked like a burgeoning fantasy ace and made it back from Tommy John surgery, but he wore out his welcome in Cincinnati and now has to remake himself in San Diego. That pitcher's park is a great place to do it, even if the Padres still won't score that many runs. Volquez can win a Cy Young, he can be that good, so consider him a great value in the Low Investment Mound Ace category this spring.

Bust: Tim Stauffer, RHP

He is a dangerous pitcher for fantasy owners this spring, because so many will remember his great first half (2.97 ERA) and forget his second-half return to reality (5.05 ERA). Stauffer is a back-end starter who is aided greatly by his home pitcher's park. He was a 6-5, 2.57 ERA pitcher at home compared to 3-7, 4.95 on the road. His home-road and pre-post-break splits are worrisome. Consider him nothing more than a late-round flier, not a potential ace.

Breakout: Cameron Maybin, OF

Maybin quietly became a fantasy stud in the second half, stealing 28 bases after the break. He also managed to be a better than average hitter. If you get Maybin at a reasonable rate in rotisserie leagues, you might have a .275-15-70-100-50 breakout on your hands.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there and takes them very personally.

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