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Mound Musings: NL West Spotlight

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.

This wraps up my six-part series on some key arms to watch in each of baseball's six divisions. As you know, these pitchers may be primed for a breakout, ready to take a significant step forward or they might be on the precipice, more likely to tumble into the abyss. In either case, you will want to be aware of these hurlers on draft day 2014. Let's get to it this week with:

Seven Arms to Watch in the NL West

Ian Kennedy (SD) -
Kennedy made a very positive impression on me when he was still in the Yankees system, and he produced very well just a couple of seasons ago. Unfortunately, he hasn't been as successful recently. That said, there are still many of the same indicators present that convinced me he could be a very good one early on, and now he gets a full season in San Diego's pitcher paradise. He is a finesse pitcher, but he always appears to have a plan in my eyes. Petco should help him avoid the long ball, and he needs to trust his location like he did when things were going well. While he certainly isn't there right now, think Greg Maddux. He didn't have overpowering stuff, but he possessed excellent command of the strike zone, and he was always 2-3 pitches ahead of the hitter with his plan of attack. Given his struggles over the past couple of season, he should be a little less popular at the table this spring, and if he is, I'm buying. Hopefully the owners in your league won't get too excited by the ballpark - always a possibility when a park like this one enters the equation - and he'll come at good price.

Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -
He makes the possible value list for just the opposite reason. Chacin has mastered pitching in the hitter's heaven that they call Coors Field. Having the Rockies logo on your jersey alone can be enough to scare potential buyers away. Add to that he is coming back from a minor shoulder injury that will put his availability in doubt when the regular season begins, and Chacin could be a very appealing pick on draft day. Being a groundball pitcher (a good thing to be in Coors) he pitches to contact and doesn't ring up big strikeout numbers. That will keep him from being a fantasy ace, but if he keeps the walks to a minimum like he did last season, he can provide you with a lot of quality innings and contribute a respectable WHIP and ERA. I hate shoulder woes, and they always make me nervous, but this is just supposed to be a strain and no serious damage was found when they did an MRI back in February. Barring any major setbacks, he should be ready to go in April, just not on Opening Day, and that's enough to get me interested in acquiring his services.

Tim Lincecum (SF) -
Lincecum has been a favorite tout of mine since before he ever threw a pitch in professional baseball. Back in the day I reaped huge rewards as he outperformed what I had paid for him in every keeper league I was in. Lately, not so much. But you know me - you gotta believe, and I still do. It's a consistency thing. His delivery made it obvious that a mechanical flaw could really create problems, and it has over the past couple of seasons. His numbers in 2012 were abysmal. Last year, there was some improvement, but nothing close to his Cy Young seasons. Lincecum has lost a couple miles per hour off of his fastball, and I can live with that, but he has to locate his pitches far better than he has. When he misses, he often misses out over the plate and big league hitters know exactly what to do with those offerings, especially when they are sitting on a pitch knowing he can't always rely on his entire repertoire. I see positive signs, and I think his star may have fallen enough to provide you with a very nice price on draft day. He may not be what he was, but I'll take a chance on him getting close.

Trevor Cahill (ARZ) -
It was a tale of two seasons for Cahill in 2013. He tried to pitch through a hip injury in June that decimated his overall season stats, and eventually cost him si weeks on the disabled list in July and early August. However, he was extremely effective the rest of the year, and I'm counting on prospective buyers shying away from the net line of a 3.99 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP combined with a poor strikeout rate. Cahill is a sinkerball specialist and he generates a high percentage of outs on the ground. The nice part is he has (up until last season) also enjoyed an improving strikeout rate. Chase Field is a dangerous park to pitch in, but if the vast majority of your outs come on the ground or via the strikeout, you can be very successful. Also, keep in mind that while it seems he has been in the show for a long time, he came up early with Oakland and is still just 25 years old. There is still some ceiling there. He's definitely not overpowering, and I would like to see the walk rate drop a bit, but he manages to induce a lot of weak contact and the groundballs help erase some of the base runners he does allow. In general, I avoid sinkerball pitchers - when a sinker doesn't sink, it flies a long way - but Cahill has proven to me he can stay down consistently.

Josh Beckett (LAD) -
Scratch off his 2013 season and consider giving him a shot to fill one of the spots at the back of your fantasy rotation. Beckett lasted just eight starts last year, and those weren't pretty, before going down with a finger injury and then having thoracic outlet surgery. He should be healthy heading into this season, and there have been signs he is capable of making the adjustment from a pure power pitcher to a more savvy mound master. His velocity is down from earlier years, but he showed at the end of 2012, after coming to Los Angeles from Boston, that he can adjust. And, of course, being with an organization that is known for improving the stock of their arms doesn't hurt his case. Technically he is in a competition with Paul Maholm for the fifth spot in the Dodgers rotation, and with their depth, it's an all or none scenario, but I wouldn't worry too much about him besting Maholm in the race for that slot. I've never been a huge fan of his approach to the game, but he's in position to help his current team, and potential fantasy owners. I'm willing to take a leap of faith with him.

Brett Anderson (COL) -
If you have a lot of talent, there has to be a good reason for you to show up on a potential value list fairly often. I mean, if you were performing to that talent level, fantasy owners would pay a premium for your services. Anderson has one of the most common reasons to be on the list. Yes, he is loaded with talent, but his injury history reads like an unabridged edition of the Physician's Desk Reference manual. He hasn't pitched 175 innings in a season since 2009, and he hasn't totaled 175 innings in the past three seasons combined. He's had Tommy John surgery, he looked great (again) at the end of the 2012 season, despite an oblique injury, and last year it was an ankle problem. Can he shake the injury bug? That's probably tinged with a lot of hope. However he has something not many pitchers have in abundance when they toil in Coors Field - upside, and lots of it. He is good enough, if he can stay healthy, to be successful in that environment, and his price tag should be quite attractive. You'll want to have a Plan B in mind, but he is worth a flyer.

Casey Kelly (SD) -
You knew I was going to sneak in a young arm with impact potential and Kelly gets the nod. He caught my eye when he was just breaking into pro ball back in 2009 because he threw quality pitches and he hit his spots. Kids rarely do that with consistency. Kelly missed half of 2012, and all of last season following Tommy John surgery so he probably won't have a rotation spot in April. His rehab is moving along however, and the Padres will likely make room for him when they think he's ready. That could come as soon as May if everything continues to go so smoothly. He has a solid fastball, a very good breaking ball, and a decent change-up, and again, he can throw them all where he wants them to be in the strike zone. He keeps everything down so he's not likely to be a huge strikeout producer, but when he gets a regular turn in Petco, he is more than capable of producing helpful fantasy numbers. He has excellent WHIP and solid ERA upside so he makes a very good "depth" (we'll talk more about that next week) draft day selection.

The Endgame Odyssey:

Here we'll cover some notes and observations on the closer scenarios across baseball. For the last six weeks, the focus has been on the division featured in arms to watch.

The Dodgers have Kenley Jansen and that's as good as it gets. Brandon League? Seriously? If Jansen needs a breather, Brian Wilson is on board but Jansen is finally the guy without question. ... There's a little more intrigue in Colorado where the role is supposed to go to LaTroy Hawkins. He might last a bit longer than League did closing in Los Angeles, but Rex Brothers is the guy to own here. ... The Padres have one of the most effective closers in recent history in Huston Street when he's been healthy. However, that hasn't been often, and his skills may be deteriorating a bit so they brought in a very capable insurance policy in Joaquin Benoit. ... The Diamondbacks haven't officially named a closer at this date, but it's unlikely they paid the price they did to get Addison Reed from the White Sox without planning to use him as their endgamer. Of course, J.J. Putz is still in town if they feel at all unsure (and Putz happens to be healthy), and Brad Ziegler filled in reasonably well last season but is far better suited to a set-up role long term. ... Sergio Romo is the man in San Francisco and much as they would have liked to get him back into the eighth inning, it may be too late for that given his success. A sleeper to consider should the job ever come open is Heath Hembree. He's got closer stuff and he could sneak into the job somewhere along the line.