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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals just missed out on their first winning season in 2011, going 80-81 after finishing with a 9-2 flourish. Building on the momentum of that late push, the Nats had one of the more active hot stove seasons in the majors. They failed in their pursuit of Prince Fielder but made a pair of head-turning additions to their pitching staff. Bolstering a rotation that already featured a pair of phenoms in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, the team acquired power lefty Gio Gonzalez from Oakland and nabbed Edwin Jackson off the free agent market.

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The Nationals have assembled a set of hurlers that could rival that of the Braves and Marlins, if not the Phillies, but they made few moves to improve an offense that ranked 24th in the majors in runs scored. Even by standing still, the lineup could improve this season. Recovered from a series of injuries (including a surgically repaired abdominal muscle) that squelched his playing time and production last year, a healthier Ryan Zimmerman should provide the offense with some additional thump. The same goes for Adam LaRoche, who lost nearly three-fourths of his season to shoulder surgery. Along with Michael Morse, they should provide a formidable presence in the middle of the lineup, while youngsters Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond will each try to take the next steps in their development at the plate.

Meanwhile, one of the strongest parts of last year's squad -- the bullpen -- got a little more help this offseason. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard will return to pitch the final two innings, but the Nationals beefed up their middle relief unit by signing free agent Brad Lidge and trading for former Tiger Ryan Perry.

Though the biggest stories of the winter were the team's veteran acquisitions, the Nationals' future is tied first and foremost to its youth movement. Just two years ago, Washington was overtaken by Strasmania, but Strasburg himself will probably be overshadowed by outfield prospect Bryce Harper this year. While Harper could make the major league roster as soon as opening day, even more young reinforcements could be on the way as 2011 draftees Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke project to make quick work of the minors.

The Phillies have their rotation of aces, the Braves have their own surplus of young arms and the Marlins shored up their weaknesses, but the Nationals' recent moves will help them keep pace in an increasingly competitive National League East. It would be an upset if their pitching staff doesn't rank among the league's best but unless Zimmerman, LaRoche and last season's big addition -- Jayson Werth -- can all have bounce-back years, the Nats may not have quite enough to get them into the playoff picture this year.

Breakout...Jordan Zimmermann, SP

One could argue that in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery Zimmermann had already broken out. Last year the 25-year-old posted a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and only an innings limit kept him from being a top 40 starting pitcher. This season, Zimmermann won't be curtailed in terms of his workload, and better yet, there is room for him to perform better even on a per-inning basis. He averaged slightly less than seven strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, not meeting the standard he set prior to his surgery but he started to miss a lot more bats over his final 10 starts. Over that span, Zimmermann got to strike three 53 times in 58 2/3 innings. With more innings and a higher K-rate likely this season, look for Zimmermann to emerge as a No. 3 starting pitcher in mixed leagues.

Bust...Jayson Werth, OF

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Leaving a homer-friendly ballpark in Philadelphia behind, many expected Werth to have a down year in 2011, but the worst may be yet to come. Park factors may have worked against Werth with his move to Washington but even before he signed with the Nationals he was facing a steady decline in his home run per flyball ratio. While Werth's home run power seems to be evaporating the 46 doubles he hit in 2010 was merely an outlier as he has never hit more than 26 in a season barring that one year. He can still provide 20-plus steals with a decent on-base percentage but at this point in his career Werth is no more than a low-end No. 3 Fantasy outfielder.

Impact 2012 prospect...Bryce Harper, OF

As the top hitting prospect in all of the minors it's no secret Harper has a chance to be one of this year's highest-impact rookies in Fantasy. Manager Davey Johnson wants Harper to be on the opening day roster but even if he starts the year in the minor leagues it shouldn't be long before he is patrolling right field in Nationals Park. The bigger question is how well he can perform against big league pitching at the tender age of 19. While he could struggle, Harper has made quick adjustments at every level so far, most recently in the Arizona Fall League. He may not be drafted in many standard mixed leagues but Harper will be difficult to get off waivers once the season begins. It's worthwhile to draft him as a late-round flier now, provided you can stash him on reserves to start the season.

2012 Washington Nationals Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Ian Desmond SS 1 Stephen Strasburg RH
2 Rick Ankiel CF 2 Gio Gonzalez LH
3 Ryan Zimmerman 3B 3 Jordan Zimmermann RH
4 Adam LaRoche 1B 4 Edwin Jackson RH
5 Michael Morse LF 5 Chien-Ming Wang RH
6 Jayson Werth RF Alt John Lannan LH
7 Danny Espinosa 2B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Wilson Ramos C CL Drew Storen RH
Top bench options SU Tyler Clippard RH
R Roger Bernadina OF RP Brad Lidge RH
R Mark DeRosa 3B RP Sean Burnett LH
R Jesus Flores C RP Ryan Perry RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Bryce Harper 19 OF Double-A Triple-A
Even if Davey Johnson doesn't get his wish to have Harper on the opening day roster he is likely to make a Fantasy impact in 2012.
2 Anthony Rendon 21 3B DNP Class A
Rendon had shoulder issues at the college level last year but he's healthier now. A shift to second base is likely, allowing for a faster arrival.
3 Stephen Lombardozzi 23 2B Majors Triple-A
Lombardozzi, an aggressive contact hitter, could fill a utility role this year. If so, he could be a source of steals in deeper leagues.
4 Matt Purke 21 SP DNP Class A
Purke has to overcome shoulder issues but he could be major-league ready within the next year or two, making him a solid keeper league target.
5 Brian Goodwin 21 OF DNP Class A
The Nationals chose the speedy center fielder with the sandwich pick gained from losing Adam Dunn to free agency. Could quickly become a long-term keeper league sensation.
Best of the rest: Alex Meyer, SP; Sammy Solis, SP; Destin Hood, OF; Robbie Ray, SP; Chris Marrero, 1B; Tyler Moore, 1B; Dan Rosenbaum, SP; Michael Taylor, OF; Eury Perez, OF; Dave Freitas, C; Rick Hague, SS; Matt Skole, 3B; Jason Martinson, SS; Jeff Kobernus, 2B; Cole Kimball, RP; Josh Smoker, RP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Russell Martin having impressive season
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(7:12 pm ET) So you're the lucky owner who invested in Wilin Rosario and have driven yourself crazy trying to find an adequate replacement?

Let me ask you: Have you given a second thought to Russell Martin? Probably not. He's pretty much established his mediocrity over the last few years and is a not-so-impressive 68 percent owned.

Well, here's a revelation for you: Martin has averaged more Head-to-Head points per game this season than Buster Posey. Yes, really.

The reason I use average points per game is because he missed a month earlier this season with a strained hamstring. Since returning May 23, he's batting .305 with an incredible .431 on-base percentage and .860 OPS.

The plate discipline isn't so new to him. The batting average is. Plagued by inconsistency since his early days with the Dodgers, when he was shaping up to be an elite Fantasy catcher, he typically finishes with a batting average south of .250, but in three of the four months since his return, he has hit over .300.

Kind of makes 2008 seem not so long ago, doesn't it?


Don't freak out about Adam Wainwright
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(6:58 pm ET) If you weren't already annoyed by Adam Wainwright's struggles -- his latest loss Wednesday makes him 3-5 with a 4.68 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break -- his explanation for those struggles might be enough to put you over the top. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he's going through a "dead arm phase," adding "one of these days it's going to click in, and its going to be real nice."

"Dead arm" is a fun little catch-all pitchers use to explain their struggles to the media. That's a cynical way of putting it, but you get the idea: It means almost nothing to you as a Fantasy owner. Occasionally, it's a precursor to injury, but more often, as Wainwright suggests, the pitcher eventually gets over it and we all live happily ever after.

Since the All-Star break, Wainwright's velocity and strikeout rate are slightly down, but hey, he has dead arm. All things considered, he's not doing so bad -- four of his last five starts have been quality starts -- so I wouldn't even move to bench him unless something more specific comes up.

He gave no indication he wouldn't pitch through the dead arm, so it must not be that bad.


Hector Sanchez to be re-evaluated in three weeks
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Giants catcher Hector Sanchez said Wednesday that he'll be re-evaluated by a doctor in three weeks, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Sanchez will join the team for home games and continue exercising as he continues to recover from multiple concussions. With a re-evaluation unlikely until mid-September, it's becoming less and less likely he'll be back before the end of the regular season.


Rougned Odor pops grand slam Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Rangers infielder Rougned Odor popped a grand slam Wednesday against the Mariners.

Odor stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the top of the third. He clobbered the first pitch of the at-bat, an 87 mph fastball, out to right center for the grand slam. He finished 1 for 4, with one run scored and four RBI. 


Hyun-Jin Ryu feels no pain in simulated game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu said he felt no pain in a two-inning simulated game Wednesday, MLB.com reports.

Ryu could return to the starting rotation Sunday or Monday. He's been sidelined since Aug. 13 while dealing with a strained right glute muscle.


Colby Lewis goes the distance Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis tossed a complete game Wednesday against the Mariners.

Lewis allowed four runs on seven hits over nine innings. He struck out seven and walked one during the outing. Two home runs accounted for half the damage against Lewis. Mike Zunino went yard in the second inning, and Kyle Seager popped a solo shot in the ninth. In between that, Lewis allowed a two-run double to Kendrys Morales in the sixth.

The Rangers got to Seattle pitcher Erasmo Ramirez early, scoring 10 runs through four innings. That allowed Lewis to stay in the game despite allowing four runs. He threw 112 pitches during the start.

With the win, Lewis improved to 9-11. He'll take on the Royals in his next start.


Erasmo Ramirez pounded for 10 runs
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:31 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez was pounded for 10 runs Wednesday against the Rangers.

Ramirez gave up 10 runs on nine hits over three innings of work. He struck out one and walked one during the outing. Ramirez got through the first inning without giving up a run, but fell apart moving forward. Ramirez loaded the bases in the second inning on a walk, single and hit by pitch. With the bases loaded, Ramirez allowed a bases-clearing double and a run-scoring single against the next two hitters.

The third inning wasn't any better. Ramirez loaded the bases on three singles, and then allowed Rougned Odor to smash a grand slam. Ramirez came out to start the fourth, but was pulled after giving up a single and run-scoring double to start the inning. One additional run would cross the plate during the inning. It was charged to Ramirez.

With the loss, Ramirez dropped to 1-6. He'll take on the Athletics if the team gives him another start. 


David Wright could return to lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:29 pm ET) Mets third baseman David Wright may be able to return to the starting lineup Thursday, ESPNNewYork.com reports.

Wright has been sidelined since Sunday due to a neck injury, but he underwent extensive treatment Tuesday and was able to take batting practice Wednesday. He has hit .266/.324/.368 with eight home runs, 56 RBI and six stolen bases in 489 at-bats.


Nick Punto not running at full speed
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:24 pm ET) Athletics infielder Nick Punto is not running at full speed yet, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Punto has been out since August 2 due to a hamstring injury. He's hit .207/.300/.279 over 179 at-bats. 


Jed Lowrie could begin rehab assignment Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:20 pm ET) Athletics shortstop Jed Lowrie could start a rehab assignment Wednesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Lowrie has been sidelined since August 13 due to a finger injury. He's been able to make progress recently, and could be close to a return. Lowrie hit .238/.317/.354 over 407 at-bats. 


 
 
 
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