The Nationals have intriguing pieces entering 2010, but it is very easy to overlook the team as a whole. It will be very interesting to see how prospect of the century Stephen Strasburg changes the public perception.
Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick last June, isn't certain to make the rotation out of spring training -- skipping the minors altogether -- but he will increase national awareness of the organization regardless of where he starts the year. If you want to go from rags to riches, pitching is the best way to do it and the Nationals could surprise in Fantasy circles if they can piece together a young rotation.
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The offense will still be led by early rounders Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, but there is a land of opportunity for some young talent to work their way out of the woodwork there, too. The fact the organization gets so overlooked on Draft Day could make for some sleepers in deeper leagues.
Breakout: Stephen Strasburg, SP
Strasburg got a record bonus as a draft pick and then wound up being a bit of an injury-prone pro in the Arizona Fall League, missing starts to a strained neck muscle and a dislocated knee. He will be healthy for spring training, but his inexperience, the injury questions and importance to the organization long term make him far less of a sure thing to start the year in the majors out of spring training. Working in his favor, though, are a slew of mediocre mid-level young arms that won't be all that difficult to beat out, if the Nationals want to make a box office smash out of the gate. Strasburg will vary widely in his draft position and auction cost from league to league, but until it is clear he will be starting in the majors, you have to consider him outside of the top 60 Fantasy starting pitchers to target on Draft Day. We cautiously project 10 victories and a mid-3.00 ERA. It wouldn't take a great year for this talent to outperform that, even with the bottom-feeding Nationals.
Bust: Nyjer Morgan, OF
Yes, we know Morgan celebrated a huge Fantasy breakthrough as a 28-year-old last year, becoming one of the best slap-hitting, base-stealing, leadoff men in baseball. The point here, though, is a breakout only happens once. The next time around you're left for disappointment. Remember how in love the Fantasy public was with Nate McLouth last spring? Morgan isn't even as good of an overall talent as McLouth in our book. In Rotisserie leagues, Morgan will go well before the player he replaced in center for the Pirates because of all that steals potential. But if you look past the steals -- like so many Head-to-Head points league scoring systems do -- we tend to dislike players that rely on hitting .300 to hold Fantasy value in mixed formats. Morgan still does have some potential to get better, but the fact so many are expecting that now, we see a player that will be hard-pressed to duplicate his 2009 progress.
Sleeper: Elijah Dukes, OF
Dukes is the anti-Morgan -- an underachiever. So many were hoping for a 25-homer campaign last year, only to see the potential slugger have his homer and walk rate fall precipitously from his first season with the Nationals. That is the good news for Fantasy bargain hunters. The hype is no longer raising his Draft Day value to an unreasonable level. Dukes turns 26 this June, which means he will just now be entering his prime physical years. He heads to spring training as the Nationals' unquestioned starter in right for the first time, too. He will go undrafted in many mixed leagues and might wind up being owned in all of them before the end of the season.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Nyjer Morgan||CF||1||John Lannan||LH|
|2||Cristian Guzman||SS||2||Jason Marquis||RH|
|3||Ryan Zimmerman||3B||3||Scott Olsen||LH|
|4||Adam Dunn||1B||4||J.D. Martin||RH|
|5||Josh Willingham||LF||5||Shairon Martis||RH|
|6||Elijah Dukes||RF||Alt||Stephen Strasburg||RH|
|7||Jesus Flores||C||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Adam Kennedy||2B||CL||Matt Capps||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Brian Bruney||RH|
|R||Ivan Rodriguez||C||RP||Sean Burnett||LH|
|R||Justin Maxwell||OF||RP||Jason Bergmann||RH|
|R||Ian Desmond||SS||RP||Eddie Guardado||LH|
|1||Stephen Strasburg||21||RHP||DNP -- unsigned||Double-A|
|The most hyped pitching prospect in baseball history will still have a chance to open in majors this spring.|
|2||Derek Norris||21||C||Low Class A||High Class A|
|The Nationals will bring him along slowly, but you have to like him learning from a Hall of Famer in Pudge.|
|He will be given a look for the bullpen out of spring training and we say he finishes the season as the closer.|
|He progressed nicely last season and could be an impact in-season call-up with more improvement.|
|After the Kennedy signing, Desmond will have to compete for a job this spring, perhaps as a UTL man.|
|Best of the rest: Michael Burgess, OF; Justin Maxwell, OF; Destin Hood, OF; Danny Espinosa, SS; Jeff Kobernus, 2B; Josh Smoker, SP; Jack McGeary, SP; Adrian Nieto, C; J.P. Ramirez, OF; Graham Hicks, SP; Trevor Holder, SP; A.J. Morris, SP; Eury Perez, OF; Leonard Davis, OF; Bill Rhinehart, 1B; Stephen King, 3B; Jorge Padilla, OF; Brad Meyers, SP; Luis Garcia, RP; Roger Bernadina, OF; Marco Estrada, RP; Will Atwood, SP; Colton Willems, SP; Cory Van Allen, SP; and Victor M. Garate, RP.|
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