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NL Central fantasy division preview

We're spinning around every division in baseball for their biggest fantasy baseball stories and players.

AL East  | Central | West ... NL East | Central | West

Arrivals

RP Wade Davis, Cubs: Health woes last year notwithstanding, Davis heads into 2017 replacing Aroldis Chapman and as a top-10 closer. The former Royal will again enjoy a ridiculous talented bridge to the ninth with Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Koji Uehara.

1B Eric Thames, Brewers: Following three straight years with minimums of 37 home runs, 118 RBI, a .317 BA and a 1.101 OPS in the Korean Baseball Organization – including a 2015 MVP win – he heads back to the States in a hitter-friendly ballpark. Overseas, he improved his plate discipline while facing ample breaking balls, though his line-drive swing won't readily produce such monstrous numbers. The risk is much greater in NL-only than in mixed, where he could wind up a huge bargain.

OF Dexter Fowler, Cardinals: Another fundamentally sound NL Central offense, another year of four- or five-category stability for fantasy owners.

RP Neftali Feliz, Brewers: Milwaukee also landed a new closer. He dazzled in spots for the Pirates last year with renewed skills, but control concerns allow Corey Knebel to remain on standby.

3B Travis Shaw, Brewers: He'll probably platoon, but at least he's the top side. More of a playing-time filler than an impact player, though power is his best chance at fantasy value.

OF Jon Jay, Cubs: The Cubs decided to go with sabermetrics in center field instead of dynamic fantasy value. Does defense count in your league? Chicago has several prospects who could push him into backup duty.

X-factors

2B Jonathan Villar, Brewers: Speed demon puts the ball in play frequently, but he strikes out too much to expect more growth in batting average. He still could wind up a value pick (Round 3 mixed?) in a suddenly stacked shortstop group.

SP Kyle Hendricks, Cubs: He sustained tantalizing skills from two years ago while churning out Cy Young numbers. His 2017 ERA will wind up around an average of the previous two but will still yield something close to top-20 starting pitcher numbers.

SP Gerrit Cole, Pirates: A preseason ribcage injury, a June triceps strain, and August elbow inflammation all but ruined his season. The dings wrecked his delivery, which Bucs guru Ray Searage attempted to fix.  Coming into 2017 healthy could help him revisit his dynamite 2015, but his skills may take a bit to come back, making him a risk-reward name.

OF Kyle Schwarber, Cubs: Power for days, but likely platoon duty means much less as an outfield-only fantasy piece than a catcher. Still, he could stand out in his new position's thinning middle and bottom tiers.

SS Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals: His rapid 2016 pace will subside, but he'll still hover around 20 home runs and a .290 batting average with an everyday role. Not bad for a middle-rounds shortstop.

Breakouts

OF Gregory Polanco, Pirates: Polanco lost a chunk of stolen bases but finally took the long-expected step forward in power, mainly because he finally learned how to hit lefties and turned up his hard contact. He'll again do enough in some form across the board to meet middle-rounds expectations.

C Willson Contreras, Cubs: Expecting exponential growth will burn overaggressive bidders, but a potential 20-homer, .290-hitting catcher will do just fine as a top-five position option.

OF Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals: Weak plate discipline and moderate speed will continue to cap his upside, but he remains in a sound spot for run production in a great offense. The 26-year-old should remain at enough of a discount to include room for upside.

SP Alex Reyes, Cardinals: The 22-year-old has already locked in a rotation spot. His control needs work, but if it clicks, his nasty stuff will become even deadlier.

SS/OF Jose Peraza, Reds: Playing time will finally catch up to his elite speed – 50 steals this year?

SS Orlando Arcia, Brewers: Expect his defense to keep him in the lineup, which in turn will help him pile up stolen bases. Everything else is a bit cloudy, but that's a good fantasy baseline to test.

SP Ivan Nova, Pirates: Smart move to re-sign with team who revitalized your career. He's one of fantasy's best bargain pitchers.

Sleepers

SP Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, Pirates: Both have attractive strikeout upside, but Taillon has the better control. Speculate as you will on either one in an organization that can cultivate pitching.

SP Brandon Finnegan, Reds: Second-half ERAs rarely guarantee improvement the next year, but Finnegan's 2.93 ERA, 9.17 K/9 and 3.95 BB/9 after last break are too big steps not to notice. Walks will continue plaguing him, but late-round K chasers can put his name in bold.

SP Zach Davies and Wily Peralta, Brewers: Davies works with tepid velocity by mixing up his arsenal effectively to give him a high floor. Regaining his 2015 grounder rate lead to bigger things. Peralta, who turns 28 in May, has more velocity and a more stable GB%. Irksome control gives him a lower floor, but he has a much higher ceiling.

C Jett Bandy, Brewers: He carries plenty of hidden power in two-catcher mixed leagues.

Overvalued

SP Junior Guerra, Brewers: If you believe that 2.81 ERA with his 7.40 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9, and think he can sustain a .250 BABIP, let this be your warning to run away.

SP Anthony DeSclafani, Reds: He has the control to succeed, but he should be striking out more batters. Without more K's, he's in a poor spot to succeed, between his home park and his inability to force a lot of grounders.

On the rebound

OF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: More physical risk now, but a measured bargain buy could pay off.

OF Jason Heyward, Cubs: New swing, new hope? The polarizing five-tool talent is cheaper than ever.

SP Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn, Cardinals: Waino will be the "veteran guile" pick. Wacha, extreme positive regression. Lynn, cheapo Tommy John rehabber, but with more potential for the second half.

OF Domingo Santana, Brewers: Was too hyped last year. Buy resurgent power while no one's looking.

C Devin Mesoraco, Reds: Ditto, with more health risks.

Position battles to watch

Reds closer: Raisel Iglesias is the logical choice, but if Cincinnati wants him to start, Drew Storen could step in. Tony Cingrani, even after leading the club in saves last year, looks like he's on his way out.

Brewers CF: Keon Broxton, Hernan Perze and even Lewis Brinson should fight for time here throughout the year.

Cubs No. 5 SP: Mike Montgomery and Pierce Johnson square off to see who could benefit from Chris Bosio's work as pitching coach.

Reds rotation: DeSclafani and Finnegan are locks. Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Tim Adleman and Amir Garrett headline the battle to fill out the rest.

Closer chronicles

With two new closers coming to the division, and the Reds' bullpen a point of contention, the other two bullpens are somewhat stable.

The Cardinals' Seung Hwan Oh will become fantasy's top stoppers and has little competition in the 'pen, even if Trevor Rosenthal's rotation experiment fails.

Tony Watson did a serviceable job after the Pirates traded Mark Melancon and should continue in the role. Watch out for Daniel Hudson, Felipe Rivero and even Juan Nicasio should he falter.

Prospects for 2017

Early in season

1B Josh Bell, Pirates

2B/OF Adam Frazier, Pirates

OF Jesse Winker, Reds

SP Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson, Reds

SP Josh Hader and Luis Ortiz, Brewers

Midseason or later

OF Eloy Jimenez, Cubs
2B/OF Ian Happ, Cubs
OF Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray, Brewers

For more minor league coverage, check out our Prospects page.

Injury watch

Ready for spring training/start of season

SP Gerrit Cole, Pirates (elbow)

OF Keon Broxton, Brewers (wrist)

SP Lance Lynn (elbow)

2B/OF Kolten Wong (shoulder)

C Francisco Cervelli (hand)

Watch

SP Homer Bailey (biceps)