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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
A.J. Pollock begins rehab assignment
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock began his minor-league rehab assignment for the team's rookie-league affiliate in Arizona Thursday, as he works his way back from a broken right hand.

Pollock went hitless in two trips to the plate, though he was able to shake off a hit-by-pitch after popping up in his first at-bat. Pollock has not played since May 31 due to the injury, and could need a fairly extensive rehab assignment before he can return to the majors.


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by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:06 pm ET) Padres pitcher Robbie Erlin began his minor-league rehab assignment last Sunday by throwing two scoreless innings with the team's Arizona League affiliate.

Erlin, who is working his way back from an elbow injury, struck out five batters over his two innings, while allowing one hit. It is not clear what his next step is as he recovers from the injury that has kept him out since May 22. 


Braves set to DFA Jordan Schafer
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Though the team has not officially announced it, the Braves are expected to clear two spots on the active roster by optioning pitcher Chasen Shreve to Triple-A Gwinnett and designating outfielder Jordan Schafer for assignment, MLB.com reports.

Schafer has appeared in 63 games for the Braves this season, almost exclusively as a reserve. He is hitting just .163/.256/.213 in 80 at-bats overall.  


Giants release Jose De Paula
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:58 pm ET) The Giants released pitcher Jose De Paula Friday, a week after he was designated for assignment.

De Paula had a 4.21 ERA as a 26-year-old with the team's Triple-A Fresno affiliate this season.  


Jarred Cosart making Marlins debut Friday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) Newly acquired pitcher Jarred Cosart will make his debut with the Marlins Friday, with his first start coming against the Reds. 

Cosart had a 4.41 ERA in 116 1/3 innings with the Astros before the Marlins acquired him Thursday.  


Asdrubal Cabrera not destined to help Nationals appreciably
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:55 pm ET) The two years that have passed since Asdrubal Cabrera was a premier offensive force as a middle infielder and the five years that have gone by since he played second base all but precludes him from making a major positive impact with the Nationals.

Cabrera slipped into mediocrity at the plate after earning his second All-Star Game appearance in 2012 and has stayed there. His plate discipline disappeared in a spate of overaggressiveness, causing his strikeouts to rise to alarming levels. He frustrated the Indians in recent years with his inability to hit in the clutch - he's batting .188 with runners in scoring position and is hitless in 13 at-bats with a runner on third and two outs this season.

More disturbing has been his defensive collapse. Cabrera wowed the Indians early in his career with acrobatic, dependable work at shortstop that overshadowed mediocre range. He is now among the worst middle infielders in the sport with 14 errors that was until recently the most at his position in the American League and arguably the worst range in the league. That problem will not be any less pronounced with a move to second base, where he is expected to spend most of his time in Washington.

Cabrera will be seeking to maximize his value in free agency in the offseason. He will command $10 million a year or more if he somehow reverts to the form that made him an all-star. Too much time has passed for that to be a realistic possibility.


Brad Peacock returning to rotation after trade
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) The Astros will add pitcher Brad Peacock back to the rotation during the next turn according to the Houston Chronicle, after the trade of Jarred Cosart Thursday opened a spot.

Peacock was sent down last week following Collin McHugh's return from the disabled list. He could slot into the rotation Wednesday against the Phillies, though that has not been confirmed yet. 


Value hard to find among Red Sox rotation candidates
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) The Red Sox have decided to go all-in on next season, turning the rotation over to a slew of young guys after the trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey prior to the deadline. With so many innings up for grabs, Fantasy owners will want to keep a close eye on how things shake out, especially given the team's abundance of seemingly capable young starters.

Among the group of pitchers expected to get a shot at some point down the stretch are Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Joe Kelly. The latter four all have at least some major-league experience, though Ranaudo will get at least a taste of the majors when he debuts Friday against the Yankees. Of these five pitchers, who, if anyone, should Fantasy owners have their eyes on?

For now, it looks like De La Rosa, Ranaudo, Webster, Workman and Clay Buchholz have the next five spots in the rotation locked up, though a spot might open up for Kelly at some point once he reports to the team. De La Rosa, Buchholz and Kelly all have some measure of major-league success under their belts, though none profiles as a high-upside Fantasy option, given their middling track records so far. If upside is to be found, it is likely to come in the form of one of the other options. 

Webster has the best prospect pedigree among the group, and he and Ranaudo probably have the highest ceilings for now. Of course, the obvious caveats about young pitching apply. Though their upside is tantalizing, we simply don't have any record of success at the major-league level to depend on.

The Red Sox don't have a lot of sure things for their long-term rotation, and they will need to use these last few months get an idea of who they can count on next season. The question for Fantasy owners is whether they want their roster to be the team's laboratory during the most important months of the season. 

The young guys in Boston will all get their turns, but there isn't anyone in the rotation right now that screams "must-add," either due to a lack of upside or proven track record. AL-only owners might be smart to take a flier on anyone currently in the team's rotation, but it doesn't look like anyone here is worth consideration in mixed-leagues at this time. 


Jon Lester set to start Saturday against Royals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:31 pm ET) What was speculated has been confirmed - newly acquired left-hander Jon Lester will make his Athletics debut Saturday against Kansas City.

Lester will seek to maintain the momentum gained with Boston. He has surrendered two or fewer runs in each of his last eight starts and will now pitch his home games in a far more friendly park for hurlers.


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Wilson had been claimed off waivers from Toronto last month.


 
 
 
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