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NL SP Risers: Young Gun Edition

As we done with all the other positions so far, let’s take a look at some NL starters poised to climb up the rankings this season. In this case, you’re getting a pair of youngsters…

Mat Latos

Just six pitchers struck out more than a batter per inning while getting a ground ball on at least 44% of his balls in play last year, with Latos joining the likes of Francisco Liriano, Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson, and Cole Hamels. Pretty good group right there. The Padres’ tattooed ace tossed up a three-flat FIP in his first full season as a big league starter, providing elite fantasy totals in ERA (2.92) and WHIP (1.08), which is impressive for a kid that didn’t turn 23 until December. Latos did benefit from some luck in 2010, namely in his 77.4% strand rate and .273 BABIP, but those totals aren’t outrageous. He also performed better away from Petco Park (2.93 FIP, 9.67 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9) than he did at home (3.12 FIP, 8.51 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9), so the performance wasn’t a Petco-fueled mirage.

The Cactus League hasn’t been kind to Latos so far (6 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 2 K in three starts) but don’t let that scare you. The projection systems call for a low-3.00’s FIP and ERA with a stellar strikeout rate, and San Diego’s shutdown bullpen should preserve whatever leads he hands over. Latos is going in the sixth round of most drafts.

Tommy Hanson

Hanson seems to fall into that criminally under-rated camp, at least to non-FanGraphsers. The guy just doesn’t get much love in the mainstream media for being a bonafide ace. In 55 career big league starts (330.1 IP), he owns a 3.38 FIP (3.16 ERA) with 7.87 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, and just a 0.65 HR/9. That’s frontline production right there, though he is benefiting from the same kind of luck as Latos: 74.8% strand rate, .282 BABIP. But again, those numbers aren’t absurd and don’t portend a drastic regression. The only thing keeping Hanson from jumping into the category of elite fantasy starters is his strikeout rate, but he’s young enough and his stuff is plenty good enough that it should start to climb. Another crop of low-3.00 FIP and ERA projections round out his case, and like Latos he’s going in the sixth-ish round of most drafts.