Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Washington Nationals. Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Nationals players. Our series will continue tomorrow with the .
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Nationals finished 2011 at just under .500 (80-81), good enough for third place in the division. The season was characterized by games lost to injuries. Adam LaRoche was lost just weeks into the season, Ryan Zimmerman missed 60 games, and Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery after the team's fortunes were already decided.
In 2012, the Nationals will try to be the team that shakes up the established divisional pecking order. General Manager Mike Rizzo improved the rotation by making an impact trade for Gio Gonzalez and signing Edwin Jackson, and just this month, Baseball America ranked the Nats #1 in their organizational rankings. The team appears to have a bright future, but when will it start?
Beautiful Nationals Park has played almost completely neutral since its inception in 2008. As I searched for information on the ballpark, I found several articles written prior to that inaugural season that predicted the new ballpark would be a hitter's haven because of its dimensions. Score another point for the "We don't know what a ballpark will do until games are played there" crowd.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Davey Johnson took over as manager for Jim Riggleman after he resigned in the middle of the season. A former Manager of the Year and manager of Team USA, Johnson is well-respected throughout the game and also happens to be one of the most statistically-friendly managers in the game. His experience managing at the amateur level would seem to make him an ideal candidate to run a team that is so strong at the lower levels.
Expected Position Battles
Non-roster invites Mike Cameron and Rick Ankiel (who actually spent time on the Washington 25-man last year) will make Roger Bernadina sweat for his center field position, and there are rumblings that a platoon situation could be in the cards. In the rotation, John Lannan will attempt to head off the advances of Chien-Ming Wang and Tom Gorzelanny.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Ian Desmond - SS
Roger Bernadina/Rick Ankiel/Mike Cameron - CF
Ryan Zimmerman - 3B
Michael Morse - LF
Jayson Werth - RF
Adam LaRoche - 1B
Danny Espinosa - 2B
Wilson Ramos - C
All of the positions aside from center field are pretty much locked in. Michael Morse's positional flexibility and LaRoche's expected health means Morse will patrol left field. LaRoche hit fourth a bunch under Riggleman, but he hasn't had the pleasure of playing under Johnson, and I'm guessing he'll make way for Morse. Desmond was Davey's preferred lead-off hitter, so expect him to play that role for the entire season this time around.
Stephen Strasburg | Gio Gonzalez | Jordan Zimmermann | Edwin Jackson | John Lannan/Chien-Ming Wang/Tom Gorzelanny
I imagine that lefty Gio Gonzalez will pitch between the two young righties, which is why I have him second. None of the candidates for the final spot, will get the blood flowing as far as fantasy stats are concerned, but at least Gorzelanny can strike some guys out and has the potential crack the top 50 in NL-only leagues were he to secure the spot.
Drew Storen saved 43 games in his age 23 season, so he will continue to take care of closing duties despite the addition of Brad Lidge. Lidge joins Tyler Clippard in the set-up role, giving the Nationals two players in that position with a K/9 greater than 10. 27 year-old Craig Stammen is something of a long-shot to make the roster, but he has excelled since making the switch to the bullpen. I like him as a guy who can help your non-save relief stats if he can crack the 25.
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Adam LaRoche is a forgotten commodity. He only played 43 games and sported a .172/.288/.258 in the process. We can explain this disappearing act quite easily: First, he was working with a shoulder problem, which affected his swing before it shut him down. Secondly, his BABIP was horrifically low (.205 vs. an xBABIP of .297). Before last season, LaRoche was good for .260/20/80, which has value, even at first base. There's no good reason he should be selected behind first basemen like Mitch Moreland, Daniel Murphy, and Derrek Lee, who doesn't even have a team and might even retire.
Spring Training Storylines to Watch
When a team is given the honor of being named #1 organization by Baseball America, it's a good idea to pay attention to the back fields. No prospect will have more attention focused on him than Bryce Harper. Rizzo has already publicly suggested that Harper could play his way onto the major league team with a strong spring, but there are concerns that the team could be stunting his development if they call him up too early. Since center field is a wide open position, it will be very tempting for the team to "bring the best 25 North," as fans like to say, if Harper can indeed make people forget about his momentary struggles at the AA level.
Follow the Team
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.