Harper will be an integral part of a strong Washington team in 2013.
Photo by Flickr user
Washington Nationals — Predicted Finish: First Place, NL East
For my money, the Nationals are not only the best team in the NL East (even with the Braves’ adding Justin Upton), but in all of baseball. This is not an East Coast Bias, as I live on the West Coast and am a fan of the defending World Series champs, but the Nationals are really good.
They had baseball’s best record in 2012 and have the tools to be right back in that spot in 2013. Now, a big strength of the Nationals is how deep they are so from a fantasy perspective, they lack the same “Wow factor” at the top that you see from teams like the Angels or Tigers. But top to bottom, this team has people who will contribute to your fantasy team. Let’s take a look.
Crackerjack Fantasy Options: Harper and Zimmerman are the two who I have the most confidence in, but everyone else (other than Suzuki) should be considered. This lineup could be shuffled in many different ways, which will really impact the player values. Let’s take a closer look at some of these guys.
- Span: A nice stolen base guy. He won’t do much in the power department but he won’t drain your average, either. If he does stay at the top of the order (which he should), he’ll score plenty of runs.
- LaRoche: See his section later.
- Werth: Injuries scare me here. I also don’t know what kind of average to expect, as Werth is as likely to hit .240 as he is .300. The Nats have a crowded outfield but with his contract, he should stay in the order.
- Desmond: He had a career year in 2012. That’s great, but it was almost too good. Granted, shortstop is a thin position, but looking for another 20/20 year while threatening .300 can’t be expected again.
- Espinosa: Good power and good steals from the second base position. Injuries haven’t been a concern here, which is why I am projecting as many at-bats from him as guys batting ahead of him in the order. But he’s not a good average guy, unless the lineup gets shuffled a little bit moving Desmond to the top, his numbers in RBI and runs scored will suffer, which hurts his fantasy value in a big way.
Crackerjack Fantasy Options: Everyone listed.
This pitching is seriously phenomenal. Every one of these pitchers has value that goes beyond a spot start against a bad team in a pitcher’s park. I will say that Strasburg scares me a little bit.
Don’t get me wrong, he has all the potential to be the best pitcher in baseball and I’m projecting great numbers for him. But the Nationals have really babied him throughout his career. Clave has pointed out that they had a similar count on Zimmermann, who’s had similar issues basically one year ahead of Strasburg’s. Following that logic, Strasburg would get around 200 innings in 2013. I can’t completely argue with that, but I’d like to make a few points.
One, while they had big plans for Zimmermann, nobody with the Nationals ever viewed him the way they view Strasburg. Two, in 2011, the Nationals did keep Zimmermann limited, but that team wasn’t a playoff contender. The 2012 Nationals were the best team in baseball (they dominated the World Series champs during the season), so shutting down your ace is a sign that you’re really scared of something happening. Mind you, I am not saying that you shouldn’t take Strasburg, but when the preseason rankings come out and you start to see where he’s falling, I’d wait on him for an extra round.
Before moving on, I should mention the closer situation. Soriano should be the closer, especially with the struggles that Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen had a season ago, especially in the playoffs. Soriano appears to be the best man for the job, but that will be something to monitor in Spring Training. The man who wins this job could well lead the league in saves next season.
Fantasy Star: Harper
This was a bit of a contest but no player on this team gives solid contributions in every category like Harper does. He simply doesn’t have a weakness. I normally am hesitant about second-year players, but the way that he finished last season gives me confidence that a sophomore slump isn’t a real concern. I expect good things from this guy, who can’t even buy a drink until next October, not that he would anyway.
Fantasy Bust: LaRoche
LaRoche is a typical masher. He can hit the ball out of the park, but will likely fall well short of even .275, which isn’t good enough at the first base position. I’m also not expecting another 33 homer, 100 RBI season from him. No doubt that LaRoche will get you some homers, but you can do much better at first base.
Fantasy Sleepers: Span
It’s hard to find a sleeper on a team with great expectations, but as I stated above, Span gives good stolen base totals with a decent average. When you consider that he’s a top of the order guy on a very good team, he’ll score a bunch of runs. So while I don’t like the power numbers, I do like a guy who can steal a lot of bases while remaining strong in two other categories.
He’s likely to be overlooked, being an outfielder. But late in drafts or even on the wire, Span can be a great addition to your team.
More National League East Previews