Washington NationalsOur expert from ScoutPRO.com,Shawn Childs, helps you prepare for your big fantasy baseball draft.
Washington Nationals Team Projection
A year after finishing with the best record in franchise history, the Nationals finished 4 games behind in the Wild Card hunt. They struggled through the first 5 months of the season (68-67), but their bats came alive in September, winning 15 of their first 19 games to keep a miracle finish within reach. The Nationals comeback hopes ended when they were swept in a 3-game series in St. Louis to start the last week of the season. Washington couldn't beat the best teams in the National League last season (7-24 against Atlanta, St. Louis, and Los Angeles). Additionally, they finished 6th in the NL in ERA (3.59) and had one of the worst fielding teams in the league. The Nationals scored 75 less runs than 2012 (656 - 6th in the NL). Washington was tied for 3rd in HR's (161). In terms of offseason moves, they lost P Dan Haren to free agency and signed OF Nate McLouth. Their only other additions were P Doug Fister and P Jerry Blevins, who were acquired in a pair of trades. The front part of starting rotation looks strong, especially if P Stephen Strasburg can pitch like a true ace. Furthermore, the bullpen has enough talent to be an asset. Their offense has power and some upside if Bryce Harper makes a step forward. Washington is a playoff contending team with enough front end pitching to compete for a World Series title if this team comes together in 2014.
1. OF Denard Span
I still don't think Span has the ideal skill set to be the leadoff hitter for the Nationals. His walk (6.3%) was a career low, while his K rate (11.6%) has been low during his whole career. His AVH (1.365) remains low, which gives him no upside in power. Span has no value against lefties (.223 with a .261 SLG %). He played his best ball over the last 3 month of the year (.295 with 42 runs, 4 HR's, 27 RBI, and 12 SB's). Denard didn't hit a HR in his first 389 at bats. He continues to be a high GB hitter (54.2%), and had a career low FB rate (22.8%) for a full season. Pitchers can get him out by throwing 65+ % fastballs. Overall, Span is probably a better real baseball player than a fantasy option. The best you can hope for is 3 neutral categories (BA, R, and SB's), but he will hurt you badly in HR's and RBI's.
2. 3B Ryan Zimmerman
When looking at Zimmerman's career stats, I was wondering if he is on a path to be a Hall of Fame player. He hasn't been dominant, but his longevity gives him an outside chance at 3,000 hits if he can stay healthy. He has hit 20 or more HR's 6 times during his career. His two short seasons were due to injuries. Last year, his K rate (21.0%) was a career high and it has declined in each of the last 3 seasons. His walk rate (9.5%) is just above league average. In September, he found his HR stroke (11 HR's). Ryan hit well at home (.310), but most of his power happened on the road (19 HR's - .239). During his career, he has been a plus hitter against LH pitching (.310 with a .503 SLG %). His HR/FB rate (17.6%) was a career high last year and he had his 2nd highest rate (16.0%) in 2012. Additionally, his GB rate (44.7%) has been higher than his career average in each of the last 3 seasons. Zimmerman is a professional major league bat that could be an asset in 4 categories, plus he could chip in with a handful of steals. His best season in the majors was 2004 (.292 with 110 R, 33 HR's and 106 RBI). If Harper stays healthy, Ryan could back draft him to have one of the better seasons of his career. His HR swing is trending upward.
3. OF Bryce Harper
Harper went to war in the outfield for the Nationals last season. His season started with a swollen left thumb late in spring training. The injury appeared to be a non-factor as he was hitting .400 with 5 HR's and 10 RBI just ten games into the season. On May 1st, he suffered bruised ribs when he crashed into the outfield wall. Bryce had a minor toe issue on May 10th after having surgery to correct an ingrown toenail. He then ran into another wall face first, suffering a bruised knee and shoulder (plus a cut on his chin that required 11 stitches). Harper then suffered concussion like symptoms and his knee started to swell up, which led to a DL stint in early June. He returned to the lineup on July 1st, but the knee issue lingered all season. Bryce had a minor hip issue in late July and a bruised triceps in mid August. Furthermore, his hip issue flared back up in early September. In the offseason, Harper had surgery to remove a bursa sac in his left knee. Each knee has 11 bursa sacs, which are filled with fluid to work as a cushion between your bones, tendons, and muscles. His recovery time table was about 4 to 6 weeks. In between all of his drama, Bryce had reasonable success. He was electric in April (.344 with 9 HR's and 18 RBI). However, his wall banging issues crushed his value in May (.193 with 3 HR's and 5 RBI in 57 at bats). When he returned to the lineup in July, Harper was the same player (.266 with 8 HR's, 35 RBI, and 9 SB's in 274 at bats). Overall, his skill set did improve as his K rate (18.9%) and walk rate (12.3%) showed growth. Bryce bashed RH pitching (.300 with .560 SLG %), but he struggled against lefties (.214). His FB rate (33.4%) has been low during his 2 seasons in the majors, but he has a plus HR/FB rate (18.0%). There is a lot of information to digest from Harper in 2013. First, he showed elite upside before taking on a couple of major league outfield walls. Second, his skill set for the season still showed growth. Third, he is a complete beast against RH pitching. Harper needs to play a lot smarter going forward. He has to let that one great play go in the outfield in order to protect his career. His next step is solving lefties. His approach did improve against them, although it didn't show in his batting average results. Harper is going to be a perennial top 5 pick in baseball. He has .300 batting average upside with 30 HR power and 20 SB ability. I'm sure he'll hit his way up the draft board in spring training. The only thing that can derail this runaway train is the dare devil behind the wheel.
4. OF Jayson Werth
Werth was a very good backend outfielder in 2013 despite missing 33 games (mostly due to a hamstring injury in May). His K rate (19.0%) was his 2nd lowest of his career and it has shown growth over the last 2 years. His walk rate (11.3%) has been solid during his career, but it was below his career average (12.0%). Jayson had success against RH pitching (.309 with a .501 SLG %), but he was even better against lefties (.350 with a .641 SLG %). Werth played like an elite player over the last 3 months of the year (.349 with 17 HR's, 61 RBI, and 8 SB's in 278 at bats). He even had a lower K rate (15.4%) with a higher walk rate (13.3%). If he played a full season, he may have delivered a 100/30/100 season. Washington paid him a ton of money in 2011, and Jayson showed he was WERTH every penny last year. He'll start the year at age 34. His skill set showed growth, but I'm not sure he'll ever play at that level again. If his K rate stays intact, he will have solid upside across the board. His lack of steals last year was due to his early hamstring issue.
5. 1B Adam LaRoche
LaRoche delivered 60 cents on the dollar last season. His breakout in power in 2012 wasn't repeatable. However, his K rate (22.2%) was in line with his career average and his walk rate (12.2%) was in a good area. His skill set against LH pitching (.198 with a .313 SLG %) dropped off the table after having success against lefties in 2012 (.268 with 11 HR's and .506 SLG %). Adam had a respectable 1st half (.13 HR and 43 RBI), but he failed to make solid contact after the All Star break (.217 with .369 SLG %). LaRoche lost 20 lbs. last season due to a side effect with ADD medication. In the offseason, he had surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. Adam isn't an impact player, but he is a steady backend option with power. He could lose some playing time with Zimmerman shifting to first base against some lefties. I expected him to get his weight back under control, which will help his overall approach at the plate. Solid 20/80 player with a slight negative in batting average.
6. SS Ian Desmond
Desmond has delivered back to back 20/20 seasons with a nice batting average. He continues to be a free swinger with a high K rate (22.1% - career high) and low walk rate (6.6% - career best). He is almost the same hitter against both RH (.280) and LH (.281) pitching. Ian did most of his damage over the first 3 months of the season (.276 with 12 HR's, 48 RBI, and 8 SB's). His HR/FB rate (12.9%) was a step back from 2012 (18.2%). Overall, Ian is a nice option at SS. His power is developing, but his final numbers last year were achieved by a higher volume of at bats. His AVH (1.619) did regress. Desmond was a career .259 hitter in the minors with a lower K rate (19. 4%). His 20/20 skill set is for real, but his batting average appears to be higher than it should be. He hit the ball hard when he makes contact and his K rate could even improve. 2 Positive (HR's and SB's) + 2 neutrals (R and RBI) + 1 slight negative (BA) = an asset in 2014.
7. C Wilson Ramos
Ramos had a tough first half of the year due to two hamstring injuries, which led to only 48 at bats over the first 3 months of the year. When he returned in July, Wilson played at a high level (.276 with 14 HR's and 53 RBI). He hit well against lefties (.282), but all of his power came against RH pitching (15 HR's in 216 at bats - .500 SLG %). As intriguing as his power looks, Ramos had a high GB rate (56.9%) with a short FB rate (23.6%). His HR/FB rate (27.6%) was off the charts in 2013. Wilson was tough to strikeout (13.9% K rate - career low), but he barely took any walks (5.0%). Overall, Ramos looks like an interesting catcher in 2014. His 2013 results were supported by his 2011 success with growth in HR/FB rate and K rate. Even with regression in his HR rate, he still has enough upside to reach 20+ HR's with 450 at bats. His hamstrings have been a problem during his entire career and he had a bad knee injury in 2012. His high GB rate and slow feet hurt his upside in batting average, even with a low K rate. However, his RBI rate (24%) was top shelf last year. Upside player with some injury risk.
8. 2B Anthony Rendon
Rendon was able to make the push from AA to the majors with just 11 AAA at bats. His results with the Nationals won't blow you away, but his scouting report suggests he has 20 HR power with a plus approach at the plate. His K rate (17.5%) came in just above the major league average and it was almost identical to his short minor league career. His walk rate (7.4%) was shorter than expected, but his minor league career (16.9%) suggests upside in this area. Last year, he saw 64.4% fastballs, so major league pitchers didn't fear his power. He struggled with both breaking pitches (.226) and off speed pitches (.191). In essence, Rendon has a third baseman skill set playing second base. If his power develops, he could be an edge at the position. Anthony offers no upside in speed. He may have the skill set to bat leadoff and could be this year's version of Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals with more upside in power. With his short resume, I would tread carefully. Possible 15 HR's with a solid batting average, but his runs and RBI's will be short due to his slot in the batting order.
9. 2B Danny Espinosa
Espinosa whiffed his way out of the league, which led to Rendon getting a chance at second base. His K rate (28.1%) was slightly lower than 2012, but his walk rate (2.4%) was a disaster. When he was shipped to AAA, Danny didn't make any progress (.216 with only 2 HR's in 283 at bats). He even had a higher K rate (32.3%) with a short walk rate (6.0%). Espinosa showed a 20/20 skill set with batting average risk, but his lack of approach has led to less contact. Last year, he played through a torn rotator cuff injury, which wasn't corrected with surgery. Danny also dealt with a wrist issue. This year, he will compete for a back role with the Nationals. I don't like that his shoulder hasn't been corrected, but he probably isn't as bad as he was last year. If LaRoche struggles, Zimmerman may be shifted to 1st and Rendon to 3rd, which will create an opportunity for Espinosa.
10. OF Nate Mclouth
McLouth may offer the Nationals a higher skill set as a leadoff hitter than Denard Span. Nate has double digit power with two 20 HR seasons on his resume, plus he may have more speed. His K rate (14.5%) was much better than his previous 4 seasons, but his walk rate (8.9%) was lower than his career average. McLouth had no value against LH pitching (.209). This year, he is expected to be the Nationals 4th outfielder with upside if Span had an injury.
11. C Jhonathan Solano
If Ramos goes down with an injury, Washington doesn't have much behind him on the depth chart. Solano is a career .247 hitter in the minors with 22 HR's and 201 RBI's in 1,791 at bats. He looks like the favorite for the back up job.
12. IF Jeff Kobernus
He is a career .288 hitter in the minors with 10 HR's, 151 RBI's, and 162 SB's in 1,543 at bats. He will compete for a utility job with Espinosa. Jeff has plus speed and will have value as a pinch runner.
13. 1B Tyler Moore
He is a free swing with upside in power if he makes contact. Moore will compete to be the backup first baseman and provide depth in the outfield.
14. OF Scott Hairston
Hairston will be the right handed power hitter off the bench. Last year, he really struggled with Washington and Chicago (.191), but he had 10 HR's in 157 at bats.