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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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