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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals may have finished in last place for the sixth time in seven seasons, but that didn't stop them from entering "Phase 2," as general manager Mike Rizzo put it, with the signing of Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal.

Which is great as long as Phase 2 means overpaying for second-tier players on the wrong side of 30.

As misguided as Rizzo's optimism may be, the Nationals do seem to be on the verge of improving. They'll miss Adam Dunn -- who got a paltry $56 million from the White Sox -- but with the signing of Adam LaRoche and the continued development of Ryan Zimmerman, their one perennial All-Star, they have a legitimate middle of the order. Their supporting cast leaves much to be desired, with two of their three outfield spots more or less up for grabs, but at least youngsters Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and either of Wilson Ramos or Derek Norris have them secured up the middle for years to come.

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Pitching remains a problem that new acquisition Tom Gorzelanny isn't going to solve. Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan both look like long-term pieces, but neither is an established frontliner, and Chien-Ming Wang likely won't be the same after losing two years to shoulder surgery. The bullpen should help make up for some of those deficiencies, though, with each of Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Henry Rodriguez doing their best to steal saves from each other.

Of course, the Nationals don't honestly expect to compete until Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick from last year, reaches the majors, and Stephen Strasburg, the same from 2009, returns from Tommy John surgery. When both get up to speed, potentially sometime in 2012, they'll give the Nationals a franchise hitter and pitcher much like the Marlins have with Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson ... or the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright ... or the Tigers with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. Yes, really.

Breakout ... Jordan Zimmermann, SP

Well before Stephen Strasburg was affiliated with a major-league organization, the future of the Nationals rotation was Zimmermann, and that future appeared on the horizon when he struck out a batter per inning with a 3.18 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over the final eight starts of his rookie season. But then came Tommy John surgery and the months of recovery that follow. By the end of it all, Zimmermann was old news in Washington, which made him practically a ghost in Fantasy. All that potential didn't go anywhere, though, and considering he had the same walk rate in his return last year that he had during his rookie season, he's ready to pick up where he left off. Zimmermann has one of the highest ceilings of all the pitchers you could draft in the late rounds, and with Strasburg recovering from his own Tommy John surgery, the door is open for him to regain his ace standing -- and not just by Washington standards.

Bust ... Ian Desmond, SS

Desmond is yet another example of wishful thinking overtaking physical evidence. Everybody wants to have a high-end shortstop, so when they find one with even the slightest hint of potential, they convince themselves he can fit the bill. Desmond can't. It's not that he's a bad player. He may even be an above-average shortstop by major-league standards. But in Fantasy, where only 12 shortstops matter, he doesn't do enough to set himself apart. Yes, he offers some power and some speed, but he'd need to take a big step forward to become more than average in either category. And based on his 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie, he's limited to baby steps. He's still working to catch up to Miguel Tejada and Juan Uribe, much less legitimate middle-rounders, so if you miss out on high-upside players like Stephen Drew and Elvis Andrus, don't reach for Desmond just because he's the next-best thing. You'd be getting a late-round shortstop for a middle-round price.

Sleeper ... Michael Morse, OF

Morse won't get a lot of attention on Draft Day, and rightfully so. He has never been a full-time starter and doesn't project as one now. But after his exile to the minors for the better part of four years, the 28-year-old finally got a second chance in the majors last year and exceeded all expectations in the process. This wasn't a case of a reserve putting up unsustainable percentages in limited exposure. Morse got everyday at-bats from about the time Josh Willingham hurt his knee Aug. 15 and was at his best then, hitting .303 with seven homers and a .930 OPS in 132 at-bats. Considering the guy never had a 100-strikeout season in the minors, you can trust he knows how to hit. The Nationals still have their doubts, favoring Roger Bernadina in left field, but neither he nor center fielder Nyjer Morgan has an especially long leash. If Morse winds up getting regular at-bats again, he'll matter in mixed leagues.

Washington Nationals Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Nyjer Morgan CF 1 Livan Hernandez RH
2 Ian Desmond SS 2 Jordan Zimmermann RH
3 Ryan Zimmerman 3B 3 John Lannan LH
4 Jayson Werth RF 4 Jason Marquis RH
5 Adam LaRoche 1B 5 Tom Gorzelanny LH
6 Danny Espinosa 2B Alt Chien-Ming Wang RH
7 Ivan Rodriguez C
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Roger Bernadina LF CL Drew Storen RH
Top bench options SU Tyler Clippard RH
R Michael Morse OF RP Sean Burnett LH
R Jerry Hairston UTL RP Henry Rodriguez RH
R Jesus Flores C RP Todd Coffey RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2010 high Destination
1 Bryce Harper 18 OF DNP -- unsigned Class A
Much-hyped hitting prospect no mystery to Fantasy owners. Talented enough to reach majors as teenager.
2 Danny Espinosa 23 2B Majors Majors
Projected starter made splash last year. Might not hit for average, but clearly a power-speed threat.
3 Derek Norris 22 C Class A Double-A
Rare combination of power and patience for catcher. Year or two behind Ramos, but has higher ceiling.
4 Wilson Ramos 23 C Majors Triple-A
Defensive gem could start now, but Flores might force him to minors. Offense still a work in progress.
5 Yunesky Maya 29 SP Majors Triple-A
Nats gave Cuban defector $7.4 million, but didn't get big return last year. Probably needs fine-tuning.
Best of the rest: Chris Marrero, 1B; Sammy Solis, SP; A.J. Cole, SP; Cole Kimball, RP; Eury Perez, OF; Brad Peacock, SP; Stephen Lombardozzi, 2B; Tyler Moore, 1B; Destin Hood, OF; Josh Smoker, RP; William Rhinehart, 1B; and Stephen King, SS.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Team outlooks in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Garrett Richards leaves Wednesday's game with leg injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:04 pm ET) Angels pitcher Garrett Richards left Wednesday's game with a leg injury.

Richards injured himself running to cover first on a ground ball. His leg seemed to buckle before he reached the base, causing him to fall to the ground. A team trainer came out to look at Richards for a while, and determined he would need to be taken off the field on a stretcher. It's unclear how long the injury will keep him out.

Richards had given up two runs on five hits over 1 2/3 innings before leaving the game. 


Salvador Perez scratched with knee soreness
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:00 pm ET) Royals catcher Salvador Perez has been scratched due to knee soreness, according to the Kansas City Star.

Perez complained of tightness Monday, but said he would be fine. He was able to start Tuesday's game and was slated to play Wednesday until he was scratched. Resting Perez is considered precautionary at this time. 


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:27 pm ET) Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon will return to the team to make Sunday's scheduled start before returning to the Dominican Republic to attend his mother's funeral, the New York Daily News reports.

Colon missed Monday's start in order to travel to the Dominican Republic to be with his ailing mother. The Mets will have to activate him from the bereavement list before he can make Sunday's start.


Jeurys Familia picks up fourth save Wednesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia earned his fourth save Wednesday, giving up one hit and one walk while striking out two in 1 2/3 scoreless innings to finish off his team's 8-5 win over the A's.

With closer Jenrry Mejia unavailable due to a back issue, Familia entered with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, walked the first batter he faced then escaped the inning without further damage. He surrendered a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth but was able to strand the runner. Familia owns a 1.97 ERA and 56:28 K:BB ratio in 64 innings.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:20 pm ET) Mets closer Jenrry Mejia was unavailable to pitch Wednesday due to a back issue, the New York Daily News reports.

The Mets won the game 8-5 but let Jeurys Familia record the final five outs of the outing. Mejia revealed earlier in August that he has been pitching through a sports hernia, but it appears Wednesday's issue was unrelated.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:17 pm ET) The Dodgers announced Wednesday that pitcher Zack Greinke has had his start pushed back from Thursday to Saturday as he deals with a minor elbow issue.

Clayton Kershaw will take the mound Thursday in Greinke's place and pitch on regular rest, while Dan Haren will pitch Friday. Manager Don Mattingly indicated Wednesday that he doesn't expect Greinke's elbow issue to earn him a trip to the disabled list, MLB.com reports.


Rockies confirm Christian Bergman will start Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:12 pm ET) The Rockies confirmed Wednesday that pitcher Christian Bergman will return from the disabled list and start Sunday's game against the Marlins, the Denver Post reports.

Bergman has been on the disabled list for the past two months while recovering from a fractured hand. He has posted a 7.20 ERA in 15 innings over three starts.


C.J. Cron likely to be called up soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:10 pm ET) Angels designated hitter C.J. Cron is likely to be called up soon, according to the Orange County Register

Cron has performed well in a nine-game stint in the minors, and could be on his way back up with the team facing two lefties during the weekend series. Cron has hit .266/.295/.462 over 199 at-bats this season.


Steven Souza could begin rehab assignment Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:08 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Steven Souza said Wednesday that he could begin a rehab assignment as soon as Thursday, MLB.com reports.

"It's a matter of just how I feel," Souza said. "Kind of build of slowly and see how I feel from there."

Souza suffered a sprained AC joint after crashing into the outfield wall on Aug. 8 and was placed on the disabled list two days later. He went through a full hitting workout Wednesday and will hope to progress to a rehab assignment Thursday or soon after.


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(7:06 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Jeff Samardzija was knocked around Wednesday against the Mets.

Samardzija allowed seven runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings during the start. He struck out three and walked two. Samardzija melted down in the third inning. Eric Campbell hit a solo shot to lead things off, and it only went downhill from there. With two outs, Samardzija gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases. A wild pitch brought one run home. The next batter then proceeded to smash a three-run homer to center off Samardzija. The fourth inning didn’t go much better. With a man on and two outs, Samardzija gave up three straight singles, bringing in two more runs. He was replaced by Jesse Chavez at that point.

With the loss, Samardzija fell to 5-10. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start.


 
 
 
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