“First in war, first in peace and first in the NL East” looks to be the motto of Washington going into the 2013 season. The Nats, who managed to win 98 games last season, come into the new season having addressed needs and with a Stephen Strasburg who probably won’t be on an inning limit this time around.
This is a good team, a playoff favorite loaded with top fantasy talent. You won’t find write ups below for Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman or Rafael Soriano all of whom have already established their bonafides. Instead we’ll focus on the questionable, the upside, downside and interesting.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013.
Bryce Harper (OF): The NL ROY came within a steal of a 20-20 during his 20 year old campaign. There were very few moments last season that he seemed overmatched, and he seemed to only get better as the season went on. That’s a trend that seems likely to continue, though like all young players he’s likely to have some ups and downs. His upside is amazing and the baseline is probably about the same as last year's numbers.
Stephen Strasburg (SP): Strasburg has the potential to be one of the elite pitchers in the game today, maybe even the elite pitcher. He struck out 197 in just 159 innings last year, a rate of 11.2 Ks per 9 IP, better than pretty much any other starter in the game. He’s young, has a ton of upside and is the co-ace of the Washington staff. A small step forward and he’ll have undisputed rights to that title, no matter how well Gio Gonzalez pitches.
Adam LaRoche (1B): LaRoche is coming off a career year, but one that isn’t likely to be repeated. That said the 33 year old should still be a 25 HR-100 RBI machine and could be a lot cheaper than many of his younger counterparts. There is some health risk, but it’s minor compared to the the solid counting stats LaRoche is capable of putting up.
Dan Haren (SP): It’s hard to like what we’ve seen from Haren thus far in spring training. While he used to be an elite pitcher while healthy, the back injury last season seems to have sapped miles off his fastball making him a lot easier to hit. If he can regain that speed there is a lot of upside here, but if not, things could go south really fast. Moving to the NL will help, but at this point he’s a high risk, middling reward kind of guy. Denard Span (OF): Despite the heraldry that the acquisition of Span made in East Coast newspapers, Span is going to be one of those players who is a lot better in real life than in fantasy. He’ll steal in the neighborhood of 20 bases, hit 270 and maybe score 80 runs. He’s not a $20 player, but there is some profit if the price is right.
Danny Espinosa (2B/SS): On the surface Espinosa seems a candidate ready to take it to the next level and reach 20-20 or even better, but he’s such a free swinger that the batting average could collapse almost overnight. He’s a risky pick, but the Nationals know what they have, and the backup choice is Steve Lombardozzi, so they’d probably live with Espinosa even if he hit .210.
Ian Desmond (SS): Desmond took a huge step forward in 2012, but repeating it might not be anywhere near as easy. A huge spike in his home run/fly ball rate drove a lot of the power gains, but it was eerily similar to his 2009 spike, so he’s done that before. Still I’d expect a degree at least of regression even though he’s entering his age 27 season.
Jayson Werth (OF): Werth managed just 300 ABs last season and while he hit .300 that is pretty much all he contributed. Injuries were the main culprit, including a broken wrist that clearly sapped his power. The skills are probably in decline too, but with health he still has the chops to hit 20 home runs, but the speed at age 34 probably isn’t quite at that level.
Wilson Ramos (C): Unfortunately for Ramos, he’s far more likely to end up as the backup catcher than the regular catcher since the Nats are picking up somewhere in between $3-5 million of Kurt Suzuki’s $6.4 million salary. Unfortunately for fantasy players, Ramos is the fantasy catcher we want to see play. He’s recovering from an ACL surgery last June and isn’t ready yet. When he comes back though he could be an interesting play for power with decent average, provided of course he gets to play.
Jordan Zimmermann (SP): Zimmermann isn’t an ace, but he’s not too far from it. In his first two full seasons as a starter he’s posted ERAs of 3.18 and 2.94 respectively. He’s only 27 and there is still upside, especially now that he’s added a changeup. His excellent command and low walk rate factor into his success, but we’d like to see him take his strikeouts per nine innings up a notch from the seven he posted last season. Not a lot of risk here, and probably a bit more profit is possible from a guy many people will write off as a ordinary type pick.