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Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: WASHINGTON NATIONALS

By Michael Wong

West Palm Beach, Fla.--The Washington Nationals are up next as we continue our tour of the 30 MLB spring training outposts.

1.  So just who is closing games for the Nats to begin 2017?  After whiffing on Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and failing to bring back Mark Melancon, the Nationals currently plan on turning to power lefty Shawn Kelly as their stopper to begin the season.  That is far from an ideal situation for the Nats given the fact Kelly has a grand total of just 11 converted saves in his career.  Be that as it may, Kelly has pitched very well the last two seasons in compiling ERA's of 2.45 and 2.64.  Better yet, Kelly has reigned in the control woes that really hurt him earlier in his career which is reflected in his stellar 1.09 and 0.90 WHIP's the last two years as well.  Still the Nats as recently as this past week were engaged in trade talks with the Chicago White Sox for their closer David Roberston which suggests they are far from comfortable having Kelly in the ninth inning.  The Nats could be looking for a stopper up to the summer trade deadline so Kelly shouldn't be drafted as anything more than a mid-level closer.

2. Can Daniel Murphy come anywhere close to repeating his insane 2016 numbers?  No matter where you looked, Murphy blew the doors off his 2016 expected numbers.  Whether it was the 25 home runs, the .347 average, or the 104 RBI, Murphy was a first round fantasy baseball superstar worthy hitter last season.  Now the question is what he can do for an encore in 2017.  Well in situations such as this, always scale back the numbers just a bit across the board.  In Murphy's defense though, moving a foot back from the plate midway through the 2015 season under the guidance of Kevin Long has more than unleashed the power that was lying in his bat and so 20-25 home runs seems very certain again.  Also don't discount the fact that Murphy saw a ton of fastballs hitting in front of Bryce Harper last season which added to the offensive bonanza.  As long as you push the average back to the .320 range which is still excellent, Murphy should be a clear top tier fantasy baseball second baseman yet again in 2017.

3.  Speaking of Harper, what went wrong last season?  A whole lot actually as Harper hit just .243 (down from .330 in 2015) and saw his home run totals go from 42 to 24.  While Harper doesn't ever admit it publicly, he was dealing with a nagging shoulder problem for a large chunk of last season which inhibited his power output.  With a fully healthy Harper in 2017, expect him to go back to video-game numbers along the lines of 110 RBI and 30-plus home runs.  The average is a bit more volatile as Harper still strikes out too much but he also had a horrendously unlucky BABIP last season (.264) which did a ton of damage there.  Finally, Harper stole 21 bases last season which was a nice development after he seemed to lose interest there in 2015,  Don't let him get out of Round 1.

4.  Can Stephen Strasburg ever stay healthy?  The answer is a resounding "NO" and the best advice is to avoid him completely unless the he slides way down in your draft.  The fact of the matter is that Strasburg is extremely overrated as he has logged ERA's of 3.46 and 3.60 the last two seasons and he has come down with serious injuries to his shoulder, forearm, and elbow.  On the plus side, Strasburg remains one of the best strikeouts artists in the game (11.15 K/9 in 2016) but it would not be a shock if he had to go through a second Tommy John surgery given his violent delivery.  Not worth the trouble.

5.  Trea Turner is the real deal right?  Boy is this kid the object of every fantasy baseball players' affection.  There is not a hitter outside of maybe Gary Sanchez who is coveted by all then the Nationals speedy shortstop who took our fake game and real Major League Baseball by storm in his magnificent 2016 debut.  After hitting .342 with 13 homers and 33 steals in only 73 games, one can only wonder where the numbers will go with a full season under Turner's belt in 2017.  We have seen Turner go as high as a late first round pick which is a big too high but anywhere from the mid-second sounds right for a strike.


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