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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
Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


 
 
 
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