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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
Nationals sign Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:57 pm ET) The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal, the team announced. 

Gwynn will be invited to major-league camp with the deal. The 32-year-old hit .152 over 105 at-bats with the Phillies last season. 


Nationals' Matt Purke hoping to get on a mound soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:31 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Matt Purke is hoping to throw off a mound in a few weeks, according to MLB.com.

Purke had Tommy John surgery last May, and has struggled with injuries since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Purke was actually released by the club during the offseason, but came back on a minor-league deal. 

Purke said he was frustrated by the injuries, but understands he has to take it all in stride. "It's just something you have to take in stride, keep moving forward," he explained. "I'm ready to keep progressing the best I can and really get myself out there and pitch and perform. When my number is called, I'll be able to help when I can."

Purke is currently in the middle of a throwing program. He's been able to long toss, and hopes to throw off a mound in a few weeks. The team is still unsure when Purke will be ready for game action.


Twins' Danny Santana learning to play multiple positions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Danny Santana came to the Twins in 2007 playing primarily shortstop. Now, Santana is playing in the outfield and learning how to transition to a new position on the field.

"I didn't know how to play the outfield and I needed a lot of work," he said to MLB.com. "It wasn't hard, because I have the ability to play many positions. But the hard part was being in center field and throwing to the bases. At shortstop, you throw from different angles. In the outfield, you need to be on top to throw."

Santana hit .319 with 40 RBI and 70 runs scored in 405 plate appearances in 2014.

"There's a lot of people here who believed in Danny Santana's future for a long time. We were able to get a glimpse of that last year," manager Paul Molitor said. "I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He's going about his business very professionally. He's really a good listener and applier. Some guys listen well and have trouble taking it out there. He's pretty good at taking information and putting it into play."


Padres' Cameron Maybin to hit leadoff in first spring game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:07 pm ET) Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin will hit leadoff in the team's first spring game, according to MLB.com.

Manager Bud Black basically confirmed the news, though he wouldn't make it official as he prefers to let the player know before the media. Maybin is the forgotten man in the team's outfield heading into camp. While he's proven he can play center field, the club is expected to go with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton when the regular season starts. 

Maybin, 27, hit .235/.290/.331 over 251 at-bats last season. 


Giants experimenting with Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) The Giants are experimenting with using outfielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Aoki will hit leadoff on Tuesday with Angel Pagan sidelined. While Pagan is expected to claim the role once the regular season begins, manager Bruce Bochy said he would consider using Aoki in the leadoff role occasionally. When that happens, Pagan would hit in the third spot in the order. 

Aoki, 33, hit .285/.349/.360 over 491 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Glen Perkins feeling healthy heading into games
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Twins reliever Glen Perkins is feeling healthy heading into spring games, according to the Pioneer Press.

Perkins was shut down at the end of last season due to forearm and elbow issues. He hasn't experienced any of those issues this spring. "Really the barometer on how my arm feels is the bite on my slider," Perkins said. "If my slider is loopy, then my arm is probably tired, especially my forearm."

Perkins added that he threw a few sliders during a recent bullpen session, and was happy with how they looked. "I told them it was coming and they swung and missed at a few," he said. "It's got good movement right now. That means obviously I'm fresh, but also I'm strong and healthy."

Perkins is expected to pitch during an exhibition game on Wednesday. He posted a 3.65 ERA over 61 2/3 innings last season. 


Red Sox OFs Betts, Castillo to share time in CF this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday that outfielders Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will get equal playing time in center field this spring, MLB.com reports.

"Like we said at the outset of camp, we'll take all of camp to determine that," said Farrell. "They're going to get equal playing time. But I think it's important they both get comfortable with the combination of the guys on the flank because of communication, the responsibilities for balls in the gap, fly ball communication and those priorities."

While Betts had ample time to make an impression on the team during his rookie season, the Red Sox are still getting to know Castillo and his capabilities.

"With Rusney, I think it's a matter of frequent at-bats, more games played," Farrell said. "Particularly after our season concluded, he went to the [Arizona] Fall League and Puerto Rico, and through repetition, I think he's just gotten better timing and consistent routes in the outfield and he's looked very good here in camp so far."

Castillo went 12 for 36 in his short time with the Red Sox last season.


Report: Red Sox, Phillies haven't made progress on Hamels' deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) The Red Sox and Phillies have not made progress on a deal for pitcher Cole Hamels, according to the Boston Herald. 

The Red Sox have been mentioned as a contender for Hamels in the past, but the club is hesitant to give up their top prospects for the pitcher. Though Phillies' special assistant to the general manager Charley Kerfeld was spotted at Red Sox facilities on Monday, two sources told the Herald that no progress has been made on a deal. 

The Phillies are said to covet either Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, but Boston has refused to include either player in a deal.

Hamels, 31, posted a 2.46 ERA over 204 2/3 innings last year.


Cardinals' Carpenter seeks to balance aggressiveness, patience
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:04 pm ET) Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter hopes to combine the aggressiveness he displayed in 2013 with the patience he showed in 2014, MLB.com reports.

"I've had both extremes of it," Carpenter said. "I've had it where I've led the leagues in walks [2014], and I've had where I've led the league in hits [2013]. I'm trying to search for that perfect balance where you're aggressive, but you're still patient.

"In the postseason, I felt that I was more aggressive than I had been at any point in my career, but at the same time, I wasn't flailing at balls. I didn't lose anything. Now, it's finding the perfect balance to where I'm swinging the bat, I'm being aggressive, I'm trying to do damage, but at the same time, I'm a guy who can walk a lot, get on base and set the tone as a leadoff hitter. I think that's part of growing up as a baseball player. You learn and you adapt and you continue to try to figure out who you are as a hitter."

Carpenter homered four times during last year's postseason after hitting just eight home runs during the regular season, with his first two postseason blasts coming on the first pitch of his at-bats. He's looking to capture that approach more often this season.

"I think he's a smart enough guy to do it because he knows what he does really well," hitting coach John Mabry said. "That's what you take pride in -- those guys who put in all the work to get to where they are and then say, 'I'm not happy.' They want to put in the extra work to get to that next step, the next level."

Carpenter is looking to build off a 2014 season in which he hit .272/.375/.375 with eight home runs and 59 RBI in 595 at-bats.


Mariners' Dustin Ackley to get a lot of playing time this spring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:01 pm ET) Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley will get a ton of playing time this spring, according to MLB.com.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said he wants Ackley to get off to a strong start, and will give the outfielder a lot of at-bats in March. Ackley seemed happy with the arrangement. "I think that's good," Ackley said. "The more at-bats you get, the better your timing gets and the more comfortable you feel. I think everybody wants to get at-bats and get ready."

Ackley had a tough first half of the season in 2014, but seemed to come on strong late. He stressed that being strong mentally should help in 2015. "I just need to stay consistent and don't start pressing if I don't get a hit for a couple games or don't do this or that," he said. "It's not being result-oriented and just going out there and playing and trusting in my swing and my mental standpoint."

The 27-year-old hit .245/.293/.398 over 502 at-bats last year. He's expected to open the season in a platoon role with Rickie Weeks. 


 
 
 
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