Fantasy Baseball 2014 Team Preview: Washington Nationals
It’s a word thrown around the Washington Nationals organization a lot lately. In the beginning of last season, many picked the Nationals to not only contend for the World Series, but win it. However, they won just 86 games, finishing behind the Braves in their division. Still, many are high on the team out of the nation’s capital again, and it’s no secret who headlines this ball club.
Fantasy and reality.
The Bryce is right is an incredibly corny fantasy baseball team name … which makes it great.
Bryce Harper is a budding star in this league, if he isn’t one already. The guy has massive power, can steal bases, can go up and get any baseball. He’s the face of the Nationals franchise, and, of course, fantasy owners are drooling over him. The start of the 2013 saw Harper as the top player in all of fantasy, as he batted .300 with 10 home runs in the first 35 games of the season. However, after crashing into a wall at Dodger Stadium, he was never the same, playing just 83 of the Nationals next 124 games, batting .262 with just 10 more dingers during that span. Harper will breakout into a top-12 fantasy player one of these days, but don’t fall in love with the upside and draft him in the first round. He certainly doesn’t warrant that draft position, at least not yet.
My favorite player by far on this Nationals club is shortstop Ian Desmond, also known as one of the must overlooked players in fantasy. People are aware that he is good, but they aren’t 100 percent aware of how awesome and safe he has been. The guy has posted 20 home runs and 20 steals in each of the last two seasons, a rare accomplishment for a shortstop. I mean, only three shortstops in the history of baseball have more such seasons in their entire careers, and in 2013, only four shortstops hit at least 20 home runs. At 28-years old, Desmond is still in his prime, and is showing some growth. His walk rate has improved in two of the last three seasons, while dropping his chase percentage at pitches outside of the strike zone about two percent from 2012. If you miss on Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki, there is no problem with Desmond, who could make the case as the top shortstop in fantasy based off safety.
And with outfield being such a deep position, Jayson Werth doesn’t generate a ton of buzz. Still, towards the middle rounds, he’s an interesting guy to target. Werth is coming off a career-high .318 batting average, a number that certainly won’t be duplicated in 2014. Still, despite the doubts of him deserving his lucrative deal, Werth is averaging a solid .277 average, 23 home runs, 77 RBI and 17 stolen bases per 162 games played during his first three seasons with Washington (via ESPN).
Of course, similar to the lineup, the rotation is headlined by another burgeoning star in this league.
Many have been waiting for young Stephen Strasburg to post those Cy Young numbers that he has been capable of, but it hasn’t been quite smooth sailing so far for the former top prospect. Injuries have forced the Nationals to keep him on an innings limit, but as long as he’s healthy, it appears that will be lifted this season. However, are you a believer? Those that are point towards his ability to make batters whiff, as his 26.1 strikeout-rate is the seventh-highest in baseball. However, he disappointed last season, finishing as the number 17 starting pitcher in fantasy, despite coming off the board as a top-three arm, according to ESPN data. Still, he should be ranked as at least a top-12 pitcher (and that is probably too low) because he truly does have the stuff to finish the year as an NL Cy Young candidate. I mean, just look at the teams in his division. Last year, the Mets, Marlins and Phillies all ranked inside the bottom-right in runs. He’ll face them plenty this season.
Meanwhile, the Nationals rotation is very deep, consisting of Gio Gonzalez, a guy who will strikeout plenty of batters, but will also walk his fair share. Also Jordan Zimmermann, who has better control and will pitch deeper into games than Gonzalez. Finally, the Nationals brought in Doug Fister, who has the best control out of all, possessing a walk rate of just 4.8 percent, the fourth-fewest in baseball, to go along with an impressive 1.81 walk per nine.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.
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