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Friday, February 27, 2015

2015 FANTASY BASEBALL AROUND THE CAMPS: WASHINGTON NATIONALS

By Eric C. Wright

Lakeland, Fla.—The Washington Nationals’ mantra for 2015 should be “World Series or Bust.”  It really is that simple for the team after the inked prized power ace starting pitcher Max Scherzer in the offseason to join a stellar quarter in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Jordan Zimmerman.  The Nationals have one of the best rotations 1-5 in the game’s history which means the pressure is one a lineup that has sometimes run hold and cold in the past.  Adam LaRoche is now in Chicago with the White Sox which means some home runs need to be replaced by Anthony Rendon is already a start infielder coming off his first full MLB campaign.  This is a team that is on the short list of 2015 World Series Champions.

LINEUP

1.  Denard Span

2.  Anthony Rendon

3.  Bryce Harper

4.  Jayson Werth

5.  Ryan Zimmerman

6.  Ian Desmond

7.  Danny Espinosa

8.  Wilson Ramos

9.  Pitcher

ROTATION

1.  Stephen Strasburg

2.  Max Scherzer

3.  Jordan Zimmerman

4.  Gio Gonzalez

5.  Doug Fister

CLOSER

Drew Storen

 

5-STAR PLAYERS

Anthony Rendon:  Yup already.  The multi-talented Washington Nationals infielder was already well-regarded coming up the farm system as a guy who could hit .300 in his sleep.  What was a nice surprise in 2014 however was the power that finally showed up in the form of 21 home runs and the speed that showed in the form of 17 stolen bases. The result was that at the age of 24, Rendon became that rare five-tool talent that can be plugged in at either second or third base.  The kid is completely legit and well worth an early second round pick.

Max Scherzer:  When you consider that Scherzer was already a Cy Young winner and 250-K monster in the American League, one can only imagine how impossible he will be to deal with in the National League.  Scherzer should lead baseball in strikeouts this season and he has an outside shot at clearing the 275 mark now that he can feast on pitchers and weak number 8 hitters.  Already one of the toughest pitchers to get a hit off of, the fact Scherzer has curbed his walks makes it unfair.  Should be the number 2 starter off the board in all setups.

Stephen Strasburg:  I have been critical of Starsburg in the past but that was only due to his rough delivery and penchant for injury.  That was not an issue in 2014 as Strasburg tossed 215 innings as the kid gloves were taken off.  242 strikeouts in those 215 innings is a reminder that few are better when it comes to picking up whiffs and everything else checks out as excellent.  We will continue to worry a bit about injuries though as Strasburg had a decent workload jump last season.

Ian Desmond:  There are only a few who realize that Desmond has gone 20/20 in each of the last three years which no other infielder can claim.  While his very high K rate results in sometimes shaky batting averages, Desmond is entrenched in his prime and aiming for a new contract which means another 20/20 campaign is a certainly.  Throw in the fact he has durability that Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes don’t have and one can understand if you have Desmond rated as the most valuable shortstop.

Jordan Zimmerman:  We did a big piece on Zimmerman the other day so we won’t go into it too much in order to not be repetitive.  However a 5-star player Zimmerman is as his ERA has been below 3.25 in each of the last four seasons to go with an improving K rate that passes the 180 mark in 2014.  This guy is tremendous and needs to get his due. 

4-STAR PLAYERS

Gio Gonzalez:  Getting snared in the Biogenesis mess was a bit disconcerting but Gonzalez was cleared of any wrongdoing.  Once that was off his plate, Gonzalez resumed his strong SP 2 status in 2014 as he struck out more than a batter per inning, while posting a mid-3.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1.20.  Gonzalez still walks way too many batters but his hits per nine is very low.  Terrific SP 2 for any staff.

Bryce Harper:  One name value alone, Harper would be a clear 5-STAR guy.  The hype machine has been out of control since Harper came up at 19 and hasn’t abated much despite two disappointing seasons in a row.  Still very young at 23, Harper is changing right before our eyes already in that he seemed totally disinterested in stealing bases in 2014 and his penchant for injuries are undermining his overall development.  The power is immense and natural and could still results in that monster campaign we have always expected.  However we have to start seeing results soon because so far Harper has performed like an outfielder 3.

Doug Fister:  Fister’s first season in Washington didn’t go as smoothly as one expected as he missed April with injury and returned with not much of the K increase that you had to think would materialize going from the AL to the NL.  Still Fister has been criminally underrated for years and he always posts very tidy ratios and enough K’s to be worthy of even SP 2 status.

Ryan Zimmerman:  I thought of pushing Zimmerman down to 3-STAR status due to all the missed games from injury but when on the field the guy is still a very good power hitter.  Zimmerman will move to first base full-time in 2015 which means his third base eligibility will expire after this season.  Still if he can scratch out 450 at-bats, Zimmerman could supply 25 home runs and a .280 average.

3-STAR PLAYERS

Denard Span:  Span is a nice player and one who really carries more value in real-life baseball than in fantasy baseball.  He has historically been a guy who can help a bit in all five standard ROTO categories but not excel in any of them.  2014 was his career season though as he hit .302 with 94 runs scored and 31 stolen bases which is certainly nothing to sniff at.  If Span can repeat those numbers, he works again as a nice outfielder 3.

Drew Storen:  The Nats will turn to former first round pick Drew Storen to close games after saying goodbye to both Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard.  Storen imploded in the playoffs while working the ninth inning in 2014 which calls into questions if he has the mentality to close games but for now the hard-throwing reliever should get a ton of chances on a great Nationals team. 

Jayson Werth:  Talk about a rough offseason.  Werth spent five days in jail on a reckless driving charge which followed shoulder surgery.  He is expected to be ready at or shortly after the start of the season however and Werth has quietly posted very solid outfielder 2 numbers at a nice price the last three seasons.  While he is aging, Werth still can squeak out another useful campaign. 

Wilson Ramos:  I have been apologizing about Ramos the last few seasons and will do so again in 2015 as I still believe in his 20-home run power and decent average potential.  Injuries continue to dog Ramos and his eighth place in the order is a drag however.  You should take chances at catcher more than any other position though and Ramos could yield some terrific value if he can just log enough at-bats to do so.

2-STAR PLAYERS

Tanner Roark:  After an excellent rookie season, Roark finds himself out of the rotation due to the arrival of Scherzer.  The K rate is nothing to write home about but Roark proved very tough to hit last season when given the chance to be a member of the rotation.  He will be the first guy on-call if anyone gets injured.

1-STAR PLAYERS

Danny Espinosa

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