Fantasy Baseball Team Previews – Washington Nationals

Nationals

A popular World Series pick in 2015, the Washington Nationals were never able to reach those expectations and ultimately missed the playoffs altogether. The team struggled with injuries to key players, including Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span and Steven Strasburg, but that was not enough to save Matt Williams’ job. The organization brought in Dusty Baker to be the new skipper and the club will once again go into the season as contenders for both the divisional and league titles.

While the Nationals did not have a huge off-season, they did make a few notable changes. The team traded reliever Drew Storen to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere, who will now replace Denard Span in center field. Additionally, they signed Daniel Murphy to offset the loss of Ian Desmond and Yunel Escobar in the infield. On the pitching side, Jordan Zimmerman left as a free agent while Tanner Roark and Joe Ross were given more prominent roles in the rotation.

Key Additions: 2B Daniel Murphy, OF Ben Revere

Key Losses: SS Ian Desmond, OF Denard Span, 3B Yunel Escobar, SP Jordan Zimmerman, SP Doug Fister, RP Drew Storen

2016 Prediction: 88-74 (2nd in NL East, wild card berth)

Projected Lineup (per MLB RosterResource)

CF – Ben Revere

3B – Anthony Rendon

RF – Bryce Harper

1B – Ryan Zimmerman

2B – Daniel Murphy

LF – Jayson Werth

SS – Danny Espinosa

C – Wilson Ramos

Ben Revere – Revere’s new role as the Nationals leadoff hitter makes him an interesting fantasy commodity. He’s a good average hitter and could easily steal 35-plus bases while also scoring around 90 runs. The cons are that Revere isn’t a great on base guy and offers virtually zero power. I have him ranked as my 31st outfielder, but I most likely wouldn’t take him that high since there are decent speed options still available several rounds later.

Anthony Rendon – Rendon has fallen significantly since last season when many had him as a top 20 player overall. The injuries are a concern, but he’s only 25 and can easily bounce back. I still see him as a guy who should hit .280 with 15-18 home runs, but I don’t have much confidence that the steals from 2014 will return. That speed was a big part of his value and thus I now see him more as a back end top 10 option at both second and third base.

Will Rendon rebound from an injury plagued season and be the player he was in 2014? (Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Will Rendon rebound from an injury plagued season and be the player he was in 2014? (Photo: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Bryce Harper – There’s really not much analysis to provide on Harper. He’s a fantasy stud who’s locked in as a top three overall pick in any draft. I will mention, however that Washington’s revamped lineup has me even more bullish on Harper’s 2016 prospects. A healthy Zimmerman and the addition of Murphy should give Bryce more protection then he had last season. Similarly, the return of Rendon and signing of Revere will likely lead to increased RBI opportunities.

Ryan Zimmerman – Hitting cleanup in this lineup is a terrific fantasy situation so that alone makes Zimmerman worthy of discussing. Even more so, this is a player who actually has the talent to make a real impact. Though he was limited to only 95 games last season, Zimmerman still managed to hit 16 home runs and drive in 73 runs. And while the .249 average was a career low, it was the first time he’s hit below .275 since 2007. Yet while all that is very encouraging, we’re talking about a player who’s now missed significant time due to injury in three of the past five seasons. I don’t mind drafting Zimmerman because he certainly has the potential to be a top 10 first baseman, but the aforementioned health risk is something that has to be factored into his price.

Daniel Murphy – Last year’s postseason hero now finds himself on a new team and in a different role. That said I believe that both of those changes will have a positive impact on Murphy’s fantasy value. Hitting in the fifth spot will result in many more run producing opportunities and while I don’t totally buy the playoff power surge, 15-18 home runs is a reasonable projection. Murphy is also virtually a lock to hit at least .280 and is eligible at three different infield positions. I fully expect him to finish in the top 15 at both 2B and 3B so he’s at worst a high end CI/MI option in most leagues.

How will Murphy fit in with his new team? (Photo: nypost.com)

How will Murphy fit in with his new team? (Photo: nypost.com)

Any Other Business?

  • Jayson Werth – Werth regressed across the board last season and continues to be a major injury risk. He didn’t steal a single base in 2015 and hit for by far his worst average in three years. If he plays 140 games I could see him getting to 15 homers and some decent totals in runs and RBI, but I’m not betting on a bounce back in his age 37 season. At best he will be a fifth outfielder in roto leagues.
  • Danny Espinosa – Aside from being eligible at every infield spot, there’s not much to like about Espinosa. He’s a career .230 hitter and no longer runs as much as he did in previous years. That along with the fact that Trea Turner is expected to replace him in the lineup as early as May make him undraftable in mixed leagues.
  • Wilson Ramos – He doesn’t have much upside, but Ramos is one of the few backstops that can be counted on for 15 homers and 60 RBI. Poor plate discipline led to an ugly .229 average last season, though prior to that he had never hit below .267. If he can get that average back up to around .250, there’s a good chance he will be a top 12 option at the position in 2016.

Projected Rotation

  1. Max Scherzer
  2. Stephen Strasburg
  3. Gio Gonzalez
  4. Tanner Roark
  5. Joe Ross

The Nationals rotation is certainly top-heavy, but it has the potential to be a solid all-around unit. Scherzer is the consensus number two pitcher behind Kershaw and with better luck in the wins department, could even improve upon last year’s stats. Strasburg clearly has the talent to be a top five pitcher, but inconsistency and injury risk will bump him down some in the rankings. I currently have him in the 10-15 range, though if he picks up where he left off at the end of last season he will finish much higher than that.

Will Strasburg's dominant second half performance last season carry over into 2016?

Will Strasburg’s dominant second half performance last season carry over into 2016?

Gonzalez is frustrating to own because it always feels like he should be better than he is. He’s in a great situation (weak division, good team, favorable park) and has a solid strikeout rate yet there’s always something lacking. That something is usually control, which leads to high walk totals, an inflated WHIP and a difficulty pitching deep into games. I currently have him ranked in the mid 40’s and while I can see top 30 upside, he’s not a guy I’m going out of my way to draft.

The back-end of this staff is serviceable, though unspectacular. Roark had a great year in 2014, but really took a step backwards last season. I don’t think he has the peripherals to make a fantasy impact and is mostly just a short-term solution until Giolito is ready. Ross is a bit more appealing based on his age and overall skill set. He’s got a solid strikeout and isn’t a bad option as a late round flier. That said, there are some concerns about an innings limit so make sure to monitor that situation as we get later into the season.

Bullpen

  • Closer: Jonathan Papelbon – It seems like over the past couple seasons Papelbon has been in the news for everything except his play. Despite these issues however, he’s still managed to remain an elite reliever. His contract gives him incredible job security and he will likely finish as a top 12 closer. I’d project a 35 save season with an ERA in the mid 2’s and around a strikeout per inning.
  • Next up: Shawn Kelley – Kelley was terrific for the Padres last season and has an elite strikeout rate. He’s not going to get many saves as it currently stands, but he would become a top 15 closer if Papelbon were to get injured. Kelley should also be a strong holds option if he remains in the setup role.

Prospect Watch

Lucas Giolito (SP) – Giolito is perhaps the best pitching prospect in all of baseball and should certainly make an impact in 2016. He’s slated to start the year in AAA, but I fully expect him to replace Roark in the rotation by mid-season at the latest. He’s got ace upside and there’s a case to be made for drafting him in 12-team leagues, especially those that utilize “NA” or minor league roster spots.

Trea Turner (SS/2B) – It seems obvious to everyone outside the Nationals organization that Turner should be in the opening day lineup. He’s a good contact hitter who should bat at least .280 and could easily steal 30 bases if given regular playing time. Turner isn’t a big power threat, but he’s a major upgrade over Danny Espinosa both offensively and defensively. While it may take until May for the team to figure this out, I’m confident that he will be a fantasy relevant player sooner than later.

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