Washington finished the 2011 season just a game below .500 for the first time since the Nationals came into existence just before the 2005 season. While it was a big step in the right direction for the organization as a whole, outside of Michael Morse (31 HR, 95 RBI) and Danny Espinosa (21 HR, 66 RBI) there remained few legitimate fantasy options worth pursuing on the active roster.
The team underwent some major changes over the winter months, particularly in the starting rotation. With a promising young outfielder you may have heard of – Bryce Harper – slated to join the team in Washington sometime this season, the Nationals’ fantasy landscape may be vastly different from just one year ago.
- DO consider strongly when to draft Harper, particularly in keeper leagues. It seems evident that the hyped prospect and “once in a generation” talent will be joining the Nationals in Washington at some point early on this season. Most expectations are that he’ll remain in the minor leagues at least for the season’s first month (to prevent free agency by a year) but there are no guarantees when he’ll make his MLB Debut. He’s going to have to hit while in the minors and continue the new-found maturity he’s exhibited thus far during Spring Training in order to force the organization to get him in the lineup. You don’t want to draft him too early but you don’t want to wait too long either.
- If your league counts holds in addition to saves, DON’T forget to keep Tyler Clippard in mind. His 38 led the National League in 2011 and he’s in position to put up similar numbers in 2012. Plus, don’t forget he was good for 11 bullpen wins in 2010.
- DO take a flyer on second baseman Danny Espinosa. Considering the lack of quality second baseman across the Major Leagues, Espinosa has the potential to jump into that next tier of quality options at the position. He showed glimpses of a strong power potential (21, 66 – as mentioned above) but otherwise struggled at the plate with a poor batting average (.236) and on base percentage (.323). He could be poised to breakout this season as he continues to improve with more experience.
- Meanwhile, Espinosa’s double play partner Ian Desmond is someone you DON’T want to rely upon as your starting shortstop option. Beyond an ability to swipe 25-30 bases he doesn’t provide much offensive value, at least not consistently.
- Veteran Mark DeRosa is a potential bench option that I think you DO keep an eye on. After missing most of the past two seasons he finally appears to be healthy and has been swinging the bat well so far this Spring. He seems likely to get a high number of at bats between first base and right field. The added positional versatility could also be a plus.
- DON’T count on much from Chien-Ming Wang and Adam LaRoche until they can prove their health first. Wang has missed far too much time to expect big things from him out of the gate, but he still holds too much potential to simply ignore. Keep him in mind on a late April waiver claim if your roster isn’t deep enough to stash him on the bench somewhere.
- Both Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson are pitchers primed for big seasons, so DO consider them when drafting your pitching staff. Zimmermann is another year removed from Tommy John surgery and seems to be on the verge of a major breakout season which could place him among the NL’s best. Meanwhile, with Jackson joining his 9th organization in his 10th MLB season he’s likely to be extra motivated to prove to teams that he’s worth offering a multi-year contract to next winter.
- If you’re hoping for strikeouts from your bullpen options, DON’T count on much from Brad Lidge. Sure, he holds a strong K/9 rate but his inability to pitch significant innings negates that value. He’ll likely find himself in middle relief situations with Washington, serving mainly as a veteran mentor in the bullpen rather than one of the team’s main options.
- DO consider Jayson Werth as one of your outfielders. He can’t possibly hit any worse that he did last year, right?
- DON’T forget that once he pitches 160-170 innings, Stephen Strasburg is going to be shut down for the season – regardless of where the Nationals are in the standings. The team is focused on Strasburg’s ability to help them win games long term and they aren’t going to risk anything by having him throw too much this season. Likely sometime in early to mid August Strasburg’s season will likely be done.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting season to watch in Washington as this team could surprise a lot of people after the strong offseason they just had. Which of these players will you be targeting in your upcoming fantasy baseball draft?
Be sure to check out the remainder of our series on DOs and DON’Ts to see how our staff evaluated your favorite team. Let us know whether you agree or disagree.