Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/12/12

Our 2012 MLB preview places the eyeball on the best players by position in each division. Find out how the NL Central shakes out and don’t forget to check out our MLB Preview Center.

Infield

C – Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals: He is the premiere defensive catcher in baseball. Molina has appeared in the last 3 All-Star games and has won 4 straight Gold Gloves. He can also hit, a career .274 hitter, Molina posted a personal best .305 average and swatted 14 homers last year.

1B – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds: In his 4 full seasons, Votto has collected a Rookie of the Year Award, a Gold Glove, was named the 2010 NL MVP, and has been twice named an All-Star. He is the face of the franchise and a perennial MVP candidate.

2B – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds: Last year, Phillips earned his third career Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger Award. In his 6 seasons with the Reds, Phillips has been Mr. Reliable – he’s never hit less than 17 homers and has only had one season with an average below .275

SS – Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs: The 21-year old is entering his third season with the Cubs. Last year he hit .307 with 10 homers, 66 RBI, 91 runs, and 22 steals. He also made the first of what should be many All-Star game appearances.

3B – Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers: Through 15 seasons, Ramirez has been a career .284 hitter with good power – topping out at 38 homers in 2006. Last year he was his usual steady self with a .306 average, 26 homers and 93 RBI. He also claimed his first Silver Slugger Award. The transition to Milwaukee merits watching as he was a tremendous hitter at Wrigley Field.

Outfield

Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: The reigning NL MVP, Braun had a tumultuous offseason that saw him barely escape a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test. Whether or not his 33 homer, 33 steal, .332 average season was powered by PEDs we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is he will miss the protection that Prince Fielder had provided for him. Braun is a 4-time All-Star and has 4 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case.

Matt Holliday, St Louis Cardinals: Holliday is a 5-time All-Star and has earned 4 Silver Slugger awards for his prodigious batting efforts. Last year he hit .296 with 22 homers and 75 RBI with an OPS of .912. He did miss several weeks scattered throughout the season for various ailments.

Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have smartly locked up their spark plug to a long term contract. After batting .286 in his first two seasons, his average did drop off to .259 last year. He also clubbed a career-high 23 homers to go with a career-high 89 RBI and 23 stolen bases.

Pitchers

Starters

Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers: Gallardo won a career-high 17 games last year and posted his 3rd straight season with 200 Ks. He is entering his 6th season and his ERA has never been higher than 3.84 (2010). His walks have been trending downward at a steady pace from 94 in 2009, to 75 in 2010, and just 59 last year. As a result he had a career-best WHIP of 1.21 in 2011 and is poised for a huge 2012.

Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers: His first season with the Brewers was slowed by a rib injury that cost him the month of April. That didn’t stop him from fanning 201 batters in just 171.2 innings, which is quite remarkable. He finished the season 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Greinke will have a tremendous 2012 campaign.

Chris Carpenter, St Louis Cardinals: The 36-year old Carpenter is entering his 15th season. He logged 237.1 innings pitched last season and racked up 191 Ks. He was just 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA, which was his highest since 2004 (3.46). He is still an outstanding pitcher who doesn’t walk many batters and will be a workhorse in 2012.

Adam Wainwright, St Louis Cardinals: Wainwright missed all of 2011 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Before his injury, he was as good as it got in the NL. In 2010 he was 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA and 213 Ks. In 2009 he was 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and 212 Ks. His return gives the Cardinals a Cy Young caliber pitcher.

Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs: Despite a 10-10 record last year, Garza had a strong season establishing new career-highs in strike outs (197) and ERA(3.32).  He is an underrated pitcher that will toil for another season with the struggling Cubs.

Closer

John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers: Axford was lights out last year with an NL best 46 saves and a razor thin ERA of 1.95. He punched out 86 batters in 73.2 innings and yielded just 25 walks. He begins the season as one of the premiere closers in the NL.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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