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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

2019 FANTASY BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING REPORT: WASHINGTON NATIONALS

By Michael Wong

West Palm Beach, Fla.--For the first time in nearly a decade, the Washington Nationals headed to spring training without Bryce Harper.  While the rumors persisted the Nats would jump in at the last minute and re-sign their former MVP, Harper officially departed last week and to the team's divisional rival the Philadelphia Phillies.  Despite the monster-sized loss, the Nats didn't sit idly by this past winter as they inked the top free agent pitcher on the market in Patrick Corbin and are now rumored to be in on closer Craig Kimbrel.  With that said, let's take a look, at some of the more notable fantasy baseball issues surrounding the team.

1.  With Harper and his thump now in the City of Brotherly Love, the Nats are going to turn to more of a smaller-ball approach and this could work very well given the presence of potential superstar Trea Turner and perennially intriguing but always injured Adam Eaton at the top of the order.  Right now the plan is for Eaton to lead off and Turner to bat second (which will continue to frustrate Turner's owners) but there figure to be a ton of runs and steals to be had from this duo.  Turner of course is the headliner as the fantasy baseball first round pick hit 19 homers, stole 43 bags, and batted .271 a year ago but those numbers seem like the floor for him going forward.  Still just 25, Turner can easily be a 60 steal guy if he avoids the injury misfortune that has hit him at times and the average should come up as well since he draws walks (9.3 BB/9) and doesn't strike out a ton (17.8 K/9).  Yes you want to see Turner leading off which will only help pad the steals but Eaton is certainly capable there as a .300 hitting/15-homer/100-run potential OF 2.  Eaton has been incredibly fragile with his health though so be sure not to go overboard with the investment here.

2.  When Kansas City Royals annual All-Star catcher Salvador Perez went down with a torn UCL in his elbow that will require surgery and keep him out for all of 2019, my thoughts became even more cemented about the wisdom to once again wait on drafting the position and instead double down on both Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki this season. Both guys had quietly very good years in 2018 (Gomez at .266 with 16 homers and Suzuki at .271 with 12 homers).  If you draft both, you get an above-average catcher to use DAILY and not have to deal with missed games.  Combine the power together and you get 28 homers and a solid average.  Works for me.

3.  The Kimbrel rumors are interesting and also potentially bad news for current closer Sean Doolittle in terms of the latter losing save chances. Kimbrel would certainly be the closer if brought aboard as he is on a potential Hall of Famer track but that is not to take away what a tremendous and sometimes dominant pitcher Doolittle has also been.  The problem with Doolittle is that he is always hurt and when he does get injured, the stint on the DL is a long one.  Also with Doolittle being a lefty, he can work more ideally in setup for matchup purposes while Kimbrel finishes things off.  As a result, be careful what you spend on Doolittle until this situation works itself out.

4.  My colleagues in New York already wrote about Nats ace Stephen Strasburg and why he rightfully is once again a bust candidate this season and maybe that is why the team shelled out so much for Corbin over the winter.  Coming off a career-year in 2018 when he logged a 3.15 ERA and struck out 246 batters, Corbin seems set to win a bunch of games with possibly similar numbers in 2019.  The problem with Corbin is that he has nowhere to go but down and you ideally should avoid paying top fare for a career campaign.  In addition, there is a decent injury risk here as Corbin throws with a bit of a rough delivery and already has a Tommy John in the bag.  If you can, try and procure Corbin as an SP 2.

5.  Look out opposing pitchers as Juan Soto is ready to put a hurting on you.  Then 19-year-old defied all expectations by coming up and slamming 22 home runs in 494 at-bats and hitting .292.  While you should always worry about a sophomore slump, Soto is about as advanced a hitter as you can get for his young age and the power should only grow from here.  We could be seeing the next J.D. Martinez here so get ready to pay through the nose.


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