One of the hardest tasks in fantasy baseball is uncovering players about to produce a career year. These players can make or break a fantasy squad.
With that in mind, here's a team-by-team look at the best candidates in the NL with the ability to transform your team with a career season. The list is a mix of some of the game's best young players and some overlooked players who are ready to make the leap to stardom.
Atlanta Braves: SP Julio Teheran
2013 Numbers: 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 170 K, 45 BB (185.2 IP)
Teheran shouldn't come as a surprise here -- he did, after all, finish fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in a stacked field last year -- but he's worth mentioning as a player whose peripherals suggest even better ahead. His 8.24 strikeout-per-nine ratio last season was better than the likes of Adam Wainwright, Mat Latos and C.J. Wilson, and he balanced that with a miniscule 2.18 walk ratio. Teheran has shown tons of swing-and-miss ability in the minors, and he got whiffs on a whopping 10 percent of his pitches in 2013. The biggest reason for that stellar season? A slider with which he dominated opposing hitters all season. Despite being just 23 years old, he's capable of ace-level performance over a full year.
Miami Marlins: OF Christian Yelich
2013 Numbers: .288/.370/.396, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB (273 PA)
Miami's propensity to rush prospects to the majors can pay big dividends for fantasy owners -- see Jose Fernandez for proof. It's no different for Yelich, who came up to Miami straight from Double-A and still put up an excellent .370 OBP. That mark should come as no surprise given Yelich's history of patience in the minors. There will be some bumps in the road, given Yelich's propensity to hit groundballs. But the patience is for real, as is the speed, and he'll get all the playing time he can handle for the Marlins. Don't sleep on Yelich's potential.
New York Mets: RP Bobby Parnell
2013 Numbers: 50 IP, 22 saves, 44 K, 12 BB (50 IP)
Matt Harvey or no, the Mets have a good collection of young pitchers, led by prospects like Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. But don't forget Parnell, who lost a good chunk of 2012 to injury but still maintains good, pure stuff. Parnell has solid control and a great strikeout ratio, and he gets swings-and-misses at an above-average rate. What's more, the Mets lack veteran alternatives in the closer's role, meaning his job should be safe so long as he can stay healthy. This season, 40 saves isn't out of the question for Parnell, and that would make him a top-10 option at the closer role in fantasy.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Domonic Brown
2013 Numbers: .272/.324/.494, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 8 SB (540 PA)
Long a top prospect, Brown finally began to deliver on his pedigree in a power-filled 2013 season. But as good as Brown's numbers were, that season could have been even better. He managed only a .724 OPS against lefties all year; he slid from an .856 OPS and 23 homers in the first half to just four dingers and a .723 OPS after the All-Star break; and his home OPS was almost a hundred points better than his OPS away from Philly. There's a ton of room for improvement when it comes to Brown, and at 26, this is the perfect time for him to capitalize on his ability.
Washington Nationals: OF Bryce Harper
2013 Numbers: .274/.368/.486, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB (497 PA)
Injuries prevented Harper from delivering the kind of production owners expected after using a first- or second-round pick on him, but keep in mind: He put up an .854 OPS at the tender age of 20. Injuries or no, that can only make you dream of what he could do with a full, healthy season. And there was a lot to love about Harper's 2013 season by the numbers: His walk rate went up, his strikeout rate went down and his power improved slightly from his rookie year. If he stays healthy -- and that's admittedly a big if, given his playing style -- Harper will provide MVP-caliber production in both real life and fantasy.
Cincinnati Reds: OF Billy Hamilton
2013 Numbers: .368/.429/.474, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 13 SB (22 PA)
Hamilton is on every fantasy radar thanks to his game-changing speed. The centerfielder who set a minor-league record with 165 steals in 2012 was caught just once in 14 tries as a major-league callup in September. Hamilton was primarily a pinch-runner with the Reds in 2013, but Shin Soo-Choo's departure opens up a full-time starting gig in center field. Hamilton's speed alone will make him a top-flight fantasy commodity, and he's got the plate discipline and contact ability to get on base enough to make that happen.
Chicago Cubs: SP Jeff Samardzija
2013 Numbers: 8-13, 4.34 ERA, 214 K, 78 BB (213.2 IP)
Samardzija had a bit of a rough 2013, despite peripherals that all but matched his much better 2012 season. For that, he can blame some bad luck on balls in play; his season mark in that category was .313, almost 20 points higher than 2012. That was also 20 points higher than the league-average mark and some 30 points higher than the Cubs' season mark. Samardzija's reliance on his sinker makes him susceptible to some BABIP unpleasantness, but he also gets strikeouts at a very good clip and doesn't walk a lot of hitters. Last season was ruined by a two-month stretch in which his BABIP against was nearly .350. If that normalizes back down to league-average, an ERA below 3.50 is easily doable.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Khris Davis
2013 Numbers: .279/.353/.596, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 3 SB (153 PA)
The biggest beneficiary of Ryan Braun's suspension last season? Davis, who came up from Triple-A in Braun's stead and swatted 11 homers in just 136 at-bats. That kind of power isn't a fluke for Davis; he routinely posted isolated power marks well above .200 throughout four minor-league seasons. Even though Braun has returned from his suspension, Davis will still get a shot at a starting outfield gig with Norichika Aoki now in Kansas City. A full season for Davis means a shot at some big power numbers, and he's got enough plate patience to make a starting role stick.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Gerrit Cole
2013 Numbers: 10-7, 3.22 ERA, 100 K, 28 BB (117.1 IP)
Just like the Cardinals, the Pirates have their own young starter with top-starter-caliber stuff. Cole struck out just about everyone he faced through 215 minor-league innings, and he kept up the whiffs in his first major-league stint. What's more, Cole limits walks and induces plenty of groundballs. That can go against him with some bad luck on balls in play, but Cole misses enough bats that a full-season of sub-3.50 ERA performance is more than possible.
St. Louis Cardinals: SP Michael Wacha
2013 Numbers: 4-1, 2.78 ERA, 65 K, 19 BB (64.2 IP)
The Cardinals offer an embarrassing number of options for breakout players, but Wacha is your best bet for an ace performance. Even beyond his excellent regular-season numbers, Wacha sliced through opposing offenses in the playoffs with frightening ease. Wacha gets swinging strikes like few other pitchers in baseball, racks up strikeouts, avoids walks and home runs and allows almost nothing in the way of hard contact. At 149.2 innings between Triple-A and the majors last season, Wacha should be good to go for at least 185 innings in his first full MLB season. He's an excellent bet to be a top-30 starter overall with his dazzling peripherals.
Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Patrick Corbin
2013 Numbers: 14-8, 3.41 ERA, 178 K, 54 BB (208.1 IP)
Corbin came out of nowhere to post a stellar season for the Diamondbacks as a 24-year-old, but the results were no fluke. Corbin's strikeout rate, low walk rate and almost nonexistent home-run rate all bode well for future success and improvement. He misses bats at an above-average clip and limits hard contact well, and despite being a lefty, held right-handers to an acceptable .703 OPS thanks to a potent fastball-slider combo. Corbin faded in the second half, posting a 5.19 ERA in 78 innings after the All-Star break, but that's to be expected from a young starter whose previous career-high in innings was 160.1. If he can stay consistent through the season, he'll turn in an even better season than his revelatory 2012.
Colorado Rockies: SP Jhoulys Chacin
2013 Numbers: 14-10, 3.47 ERA, 126 K, 61 BB (197.1 IP)
Ordinarily, a pitcher with a strikeout rate as low as Chacin's (5.7 per nine innings) wouldn't be a great breakout candidate. But Chacin gets the nod here for a 2013 that saw him improve two important peripherals: His walk rate and his home-run rate. Both were cut just about in half, representing a big step forward for Colorado's former top prospect. Even without the strikeouts, Chacin still gets lots of groundballs and has turned his slider into a consistent out pitch. With a few more swings-and-misses, he could make the jump to fantasy ace status.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Yasiel Puig
2013 Numbers: .319/.391/.534, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 11 SB (432 PA)
Like Bryce Harper, Puig's inclusion on this list owes to his truncated 2013 and what could've been if he'd had a full season of playing time. The Cuban sensation didn't debut until the first week of June, and yet he still managed a line that would've easily made him a first-round pick. The worry is that Puig will be overvalued come draft time because of his immense debut, but if anyone's worth the price, it's him. Puig showed good strike-zone awareness, an incredible ability to cover the plate, elite power and good speed on the basepaths. Plus, he managed a comfortable .897 OPS against right-handed pitching, destroyed left-handers, and kept his production relatively level all season. Puig needs refinement -- he doesn't make as much contact as you'd like to see for how much he swings, and his stolen-base success rate was a poor 58 percent -- but the tools are there, and the numbers will follow.
San Diego Padres: 1B Yonder Alonso
2013 Numbers: .281/.341/.368, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 6 SB (375 PA)
Alonso turned in a mediocre 2013, but a lot of that likely had to do with two separate hand injuries that sapped his power; in the last two months of his season, Alonso didn't hit a single homer and saw his slugging percentage crater before he was finally shelved in September. Alonso was never a huge power threat in the Reds' system, but he's more than capable of a 20-homer season if he can stay healthy. Couple that with his above-average on-base and line-drive skills, and you have the makings for a highly productive first-base option.
San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt
2013 Numbers: .289/.360/.481, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 5 SB (571 PA)
Like Jed Lowrie across the bay, Belt doesn't get nearly the attention or praise he should. He was sixth among all first basemen in offensive WAR in 2013, ninth in weighted on-base average, and put up an .841 OPS despite having to play his home games in a park that murders offense. A slow start (.640 OPS in April) nearly sunk him, but he rebounded to post a scorching .915 OPS in the second half. Belt is a patient, line-drive hitter who will turn just 26 at season's start. And best of all, frequent first-base caddy Brett Pill was ditched in the offseason, leaving Belt as the undisputed starter.
FANTASY BASEBALL NL TEAM PREVIEWS