Fantasy Baseball Spotlight: Washington Nationals

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Let's pontificate on what might be the most interesting best case scenario in baseball:

If the Nationals can get full seasons from Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Brad Lidge and Jordan Zimmermann. If Bryce Harper breaks camp with the team and is an above average player out of the gate (Read: For a 19 year old.) If Edwin Jackson pitches like a #3 starter. If Jayson Werth moves over to centerfield and bounces back to have a good season. If Gio Gonzalez improves now that he's in the National League and cuts his walks per nine under 4.00. What if Anthony Rendon moves to 2nd base, is healthy all year, and comes up during the year and produces?

That's a lot of "Ifs" but is it enough to give the Nationals playoff hopes in 2012?

I can't say for sure, but damn I got excited just thinking about it.

I'm not a Nationals fan, but with my favorite team in the American League, it doesn't hurt to look over there and see one really exciting roster full of possibilities. It could be the best collection of young talent that I have seen since Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson. Griffey and A-Rod are two of the three best #1 picks in the history of baseball (along with Chipper Jones) but Harper and Strasburg have the potential to give them a run for their money.

Will they? Do the Nationals have a ton of rising fantasy stardom on the roster? Let's take a look:

Best Hitter: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

This is kinda tough, but even with 61 games missed in 2011 Ryan Zimmerman is the best hitter on the team as I write this. His positional eligibility at the very scarce position of third is just the icing on the cake.

At this time next year I may very well be writing Harper's name here (as I should) but I'm not going to put much fantasy stock for the 2012 season into a guy who has a year and a half to go until he can legally drink in this country. Meanwhile, Zimmerman can not only drink, but he's one of the best all-around players in the game when healthy.

He's more known for his defense, but Zimmerman can swing it too. He's missed significant time with injury in two of his six seasons, but his 162 game average in his career is: .287/.353/.478, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 95 R, 182 H, 40 2B. That's almost as good as it's going to get for a player from the hot corner. At times it seems like he might break out for a batting title or 35-40 HR, but even if he hits his career average, that's plenty good.

Best Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg

Well, this is pretty much a "no doy!" submission, but the Nats have improved their starting rotation quite a bit by adding Gio, getting Zimmermann back healthy, and even John Lannan makes a good back-end starter. (Rumor had it that Lannan could be dealt to LA for Peter Bourjos. A great defensive move for the Nats if they did it, without hurting their rotation much.)

But none of those guys will ever be Stras, and he might already be the best pitcher ever taken at #1. (Mike Moore, Seattle, has the most career victories for a pitcher taken first overall. Along names of stars like Andy Benes, Floyd Bannister, and Tim Belcher.)

He recovered from Tommy John to make 5 starts for the Nats last year. How'd he recover? 24 IP, 24 K/2 BB, 15 hits allowed, 4 ER. So basically, he still might be the best pitcher in the game not named Halladay. Hell, Strasburg might flat out be the best pitcher in the game... he just needs to make 30 starts before people will believe me. He made 12 rehab starts last year and he had a 58:6 K:BB ratio in 40.2 innings.

Of course, he could go the way of Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, but why even think about that? Let's pray for good health because he's one of the best talents we've ever seen.

Possible Breakout: Wilson Ramos, C

When there were rumors of the Mariners trading Cliff Lee to Minnesota for a package based around Wilson Ramos, I balked at the idea and laughed that any team would trade even two months of Lee for something that unsubstantial. Now I'm going to say why Ramos could be in line to become a good major league catcher, which is rare in fantasy.

He hit .267/.334/.445 with 22 2B and 15 HR over 435 PA's for the Nats in 2011. Now that he's alive and well and able to return to the major leagues after his abduction in Venezuela, he'll have an opportunity to build off of a solid rookie season.

Ramos will never be a star with the bat, but there may be enough power in there to find 75 RBI and 75 R over a full season if he could maintain a .270 average. His 8.7% walks last year were more than double the number he had put up in his previous three minor league seasons, but improved patience will go a long way towards making him a viable big leaguer.

I'm not going to go out on a limb and flat out say that Ramos will definitely hit .270 with 75 RBI, but I think the possibility exists and that would make him a regular starting catcher in fantasy.

Disappointment: Michael Morse, 1B

As a Mariners fan, I followed Mike Morse for some time and I never really expected this. He was acquired in the Freddy Garcia trade from Chicago, and while he wasn't the star prospect of the deal (Jeremy Reed!) he was still an interesting prospect, having hit .287/.336/.536 in AA Birmingham that year. He never regained that same trajectory and in his minors career with Seattle, he never slugged .500 or better again.

The M's dealt him to Washington in 2009 for Ryan Langerhans, and while Langerhans became a fan favorite we certainly would have never dealt this version of Morse for him. There must be something in the water in Tacoma because as soon as he hit the Nats AAA team he hit .339/.404/.558 in 44 games. In the majors in 2010, Morse hit .289/.352/.519 in 98 games and then followed that up last year with .303/.360/.519, 31 HR, 95 RBI. lolwut?

He doesn't draw enough walks (6.3% last year) and he could very well see a drop in his .344 BABIP from last year. If you're expecting Morse to continue to get better at age 30, you could be waiting awhile. I expect him to fall back to earth a bit and find himself in the .280/.340/.500 range with 25 HR, 85 RBI, 65 R and 0 stolen bases. His bad defense at first base and his terrible defense in the OF has "AL DH" written all over him.

Rookie Watch: Bryce Harper, Duh

So the question is "When will Harper reach the majors?" That's our biggest concern for standard one-year leagues, right? If he tears it up in spring training, then the Nats may be "forced" to give him a job in the majors to start the year. Will he be that ready?

I think Harper is one of the best hitting prospects... well, ever. So lets take a little look at history at other amazing phenoms.

Is he as ready as Alex Rodriguez was? A-Rod reached AAA as an 18-year-old and hit .311/.359/.588 with 6 HR and 7 2B in 32 games. He spent more time there the next year and hit .360/.411/.654 in 54 games. Pretty ridiculous.

Consider that Harper reached AA last year at 18 and hit .256/.329/.395 in 37 games. Not quite comparable. If Harper hit the majors out of spring training, I would expect more of a Ken Griffey Jr rookie season out of him than a Rodriguez 1996 season (when he was 20 and hit .358 with 54 doubles and 36 HR and should have won MVP.)

Griffey played in 127 games at the age of 19 and hit .264/.329/.420 with 16 HR, 61 RBI, 23 2B and 16 SB. If Harper matches that at 19, he should be proud. It's not just a huge fantasy season to expect from an outfielder.

Other Players I Like: Zimmermann, Gio, Drew Storen, Lidge, Tyler Clippard

Ones I Don't: Werth, John Lannan, Ian Desmond, Rick Ankiel

Indifferent: Danny Espinosa, Edwin.

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