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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
Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward to return to the lineup Tuesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:15 pm ET) Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward is expected to be back in the starting lineup Tuesday after being held out of Monday's game, manager Mike Matheny said per MLB Network Radio.

Matheny wanted to protect Heyward a bit and give him some extra rest as a precaution. Heyward suffered a minor hamstring injury in Sunday's game and was forced to exit with the injury. He is hitting .205 with two home runs in 73 at-bats this season.


Cubs' Junior Lake to make season debut Tuesday vs. Pirates
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:14 pm ET) Cubs outfielder Junior Lake is making his season debut Tuesday, batting sixth and manning left field in his team's matchup with the Pirates.

Lake was called up Monday but didn't see any action in his team's 4-0 win over the Pirates. He hit .289/.340/.333 with two stolen bases in 45 at-bats with Triple-A Iowa before being called up. With Lake in the lineup against lefty Jeff Locke, Chris Coghlan is on the bench Tuesday.

The Cubs are favorites (-117) against the Pirates Tuesday.


Red Sox call up OF Jackie Bradley, option pitcher Steven Wright
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:10 pm ET) The Red Sox have called up outfielder Jackie Bradley from the minors and optioned pitcher Steven Wright back to Triple-A, according to the Boston Globe.

Bradley started the season with Triple-A Pawtucket and is hitting .315 with seven doubles and six RBI in 73 at-bats. Wright was called up Tuesday by Boston as an emergency option if the bullpen needed extra help. He threw five innings this season with a 3.60 ERA and three walks.


Brewers' Ryan Braun returns to lineup, Khris Davis out Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:04 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun is back in the starting lineup for Tuesday's game against the Reds.

Braun wasn't in the starting lineup in either of his team's previous two games but served as a pinch-hitter Monday. He has hit just .226/.273/.274 with one home run and four RBI in 62 at-bats.

Left fielder Khris Davis is out of the lineup Tuesday for the first time since April 15. Gerardo Parra is moving from right field to left for Tuesday's game, with Logan Schafer continuing to man center field but dropping to the No. 6 spot in the lineup after batting second in each of the last two games.

The Brewers are heavy underdogs (+170) in Cincinnati Tuesday.


Josh Hamilton on return to Rangers: 'Brings back good memories'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton (shoulder) was participating in baseball activities at the team's spring complex in Arizona on Tuesday, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Hamilton spent an hour running. He also went through throwing drills and took about 50 swings off a tee in a batting cage.

“It was good to get out there and see other guys in uniform and be on the field and in the cage,” Hamilton said. “It brings back good memories of being here.

“Today is the first day of the beginning of something good. I’m excited about it.”


Mets' Michael Cuddyer out of lineup, Eric Campbell batting cleanup
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:54 pm ET) Mets left fielder Michael Cuddyer is not in the lineup for Tuesday's game against the Marlins.

Cuddyer has started 19 of the Mets' 20 games, serving as the cleanup hitter every time. Third baseman Eric Campbell, who found himself in the No. 4 spot during Cuddyer's prior off-day, will serve in the same capacity Tuesday.

The Mets are underdogs (+102) in Miami Tuesday.


Jays' Ryan Goins draws the start at shortstop, Dalton Pompey out
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:54 pm ET) Blue Jays infielder Ryan Goins will start at shortstop Tuesday for the injured Jose Reyes, the team announced. Goins fills in for Reyes, who was placed on the 15-day DL Monday with a rib injury. Goins is hitting .238 in 21 at-bats this season.

Outfielder Dalton Pompey is out of the lineup, with Danny Valencia taking over in left field and Kevin Pillar playing center. 


Yankees recall Chase Whitley, option Gregorio Petit to Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:50 pm ET) The Yankees recalled pitcher Chase Whitley from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. To clear a roster spot, infielder Gregorio Petit was optioned to Triple-A.

Indians' Kipnis, Chisenhall, Santana have good history vs. Guthrie
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:47 pm ET) Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, first baseman Carlos Santana and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall all have a pretty good track record against Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who is on the hill Tuesday for Kansas City.

Kipins is batting .550 (11 for 20) with two home runs, three doubles and nine RBI in his career against Guthrie. While Santana is batting .476 (10 for 21) with two home runs, three doubles and four RBI, and Chisenhall is batting .533 (8 for 15) with one double, one home run and five RBI against the veteran right-hander.


Marlins' Marcell Ozuna batting cleanup in fourth straight game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:44 pm ET) Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna is serving as the cleanup hitter Tuesday for the fourth straight game.

Ozuna opened the season in the No. 6 spot before moving to the fifth slot a week ago. He then shifted to the cleanup role Saturday and has remained there since. The center fielder has hit has hit .270/.342/.317 with four RBI in 63 at-bats.

The Marlins are favorites (-112) against the Mets Tuesday, per VegasInsider.com.


 
 
 
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