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2013 Fantasy outlooks: Washington Nationals

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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Fans in the nation's capital are feeling a sentiment they haven't experienced in a while -- being spoiled.

The Nationals and Redskins both clinched playoff berths during the 2012 season, which is the first time that's happened in the same season.

2013 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

For the Nationals, it was the second time in franchise history (formerly the Montreal Expos) -- and first time since they moved to Washington, D.C. -- that they made the playoffs. The Nationals also took the NL East crown for just the second time in franchise history before losing to St. Louis in five games in the NLDS.

Nationals' fans and baseball pundits everywhere will forever be playing out the "what if" scenario had general manager Mike Rizzo chosen not to shutdown ace hurler Stephen Strasburg after throwing 159 1/3 innings to protect his arm following Tommy John surgery in 2010.

Washington's offense shouldn't be discredited for its 2012 surge. The Nationals ranked 10th in runs per game (4.51), eighth in homers (194), sixth in slugging percentage (.428) and eighth in OPS (.750). But last season's breakout from middle-of-the-pack team in 2011 to World Series contender was because of the development of the pitching staff.

According to Baseball Reference, the Nationals had the youngest average age of pitchers -- including relievers -- in the majors at 27. The youthful pitching staff tied for second in ERA (3.34), tied for fourth in saves (51), tied for second in hits per nine innings (7.9), third in runs per game allowed (3.67), second in WHIP (1.22) and sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.1).

2013 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Denard Span CF
2. Bryce Harper LF
3. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
4. Adam LaRoche 1B
5. Jayson Werth RF
6. Ian Desmond SS
7. Danny Espinosa 2B
8. Kurt Suzuki C
Bench Wilson Ramos C
Bench Tyler Moore INF/OF
Bench Stephen Lombardozzi INF/OF

The Nationals were set to return a very good core of pitchers in 2013, which included Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Gio Gonzalez -- who finished third in the NL Cy Young race after winning a major-league best 21 games -- but that didn't stop Rizzo from bolstering the pitching staff in the offseason.

Rizzo brought back Dan Haren to the Senior Circuit, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race in 2009, and shockingly signed closer Rafael Soriano in January, despite having Storen and Clippard under contract. While Soriano is technically the closer and recommended target for Fantasy owners on Draft Day, manager Davey Johnson has said he will use his relievers in the ninth inning the way he feels best suits the team.

The Nationals parted ways with slugger Michael Morse, who had a .296 average, .345 on-base percentage, .516 slugging percentage and .861 OPS since the start of the 2010 season, but added center fielder Denard Span, who is expected to be a stabilizing presence atop the lineup.

The culture in Washington is developing into a winning one, which not only has Nationals' fans excited about the team's outlook, but Fantasy owners too, who will be picking over the Nationals' roster this spring looking to add integral pieces in their own quest for a championship.

Breakout ... Bryce Harper, outfield

Harper was supposed to be baseball's next great phenom, but the Angels' Mike Trout stole Harper's thunder in 2012. While Trout posted insane numbers and made highlight reel plays seemingly every day, Harper's accomplishments were nothing to scoff at. He took home NL rookie of the year honors while hitting .270 with a .340 on-base percentage, .477 slugging percentage and .817 OPS. Harper was particularly productive down the stretch, posting a .327/.384/.660/1.045 line in his final 44 games, which was accompanied by 26 extra-base hits (12 homers), 27 RBI and 37 runs. If you lose out on drafting Trout in the first round, Harper will turn into a nice consolation prize to be drafted in the rounds to follow.

2013 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Stephen Strasburg RHP
2. Gio Gonzalez LHP
3. Jordan Zimmermann RHP
4. Dan Haren RHP
5. Ross Detwiler LHP
ALT Yunesky Maya RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Rafael Soriano RHP
2. Drew Storen RHP
3. Tyler Clippard RHP
4. Henry Rodriguez RHP
5. Zach Duke LHP

Bust ... Gio Gonzalez, starting pitcher

The Nationals gave up a ton of high-end prospects in December 2011 to acquire Gonzalez from the A's, and the left-handed hurler didn't disappoint in his first year with Washington. He is coming off a career campaign, and it's going to be tough for Gonzalez to meet the lofty expectations he set forth last season. Granted, Gonzalez's numbers weren't too far off from what he accomplished the previous two seasons in Oakland, but Gonzalez benefited last season from low home run and hit rates, which we feel will rise in 2013. Fantasy owners should refrain from viewing Gonzalez as your ace hurler and draft him more as your second-best pitcher.

Injury-Risk Sleeper ... Dan Haren, starting pitcher

Haren had an off year last season, finishing with a losing record for the first time since his rookie year in 2003 and had his ERA jump more than a point. The biggest reason for Haren's quick demise was his balky back, which will remain a cause for concern heading into 2013. Another concern for Fantasy owners is Haren's drop in velocity. According to TexasLeaguers.com, Haren's fastball velocity ranged from 84-88 mph last season after ranging from 85-90 in 2011. Still, there's value here for Fantasy owners at the right price. In case you missed it, Haren finished last season with a 4-3 record, 2.81 ERA and 41 strikeouts in his final eight starts. If Haren's healthy and pitches like he did down the stretch in 2012, this season could be a bounce-back year.

Prospects Report

The Nationals are set at third base for years to come after signing Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term deal, but Washington still has great organizational depth at third base, led by prospects Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole. Rendon, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Skole, who belted 27 homers last season, will likely have to learn new positions if they want to make it to the majors with the Nationals. But worse comes to worse the Nationals have some pretty good trade chips ... A.J. Cole's head must be spinning trying to figure out what the Nationals think of him. Cole was dealt to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade in December 2011, but he's now back with Washington as part of the three-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle and is once again considered one of Washington's top pitching prospects ... The Nationals obviously don't need rotation help, so Cole will get time to develop, but two other names to keep tabs on in long-term keeper leagues are Nathan Karns and Sammy Solis, who both could star in the rotation at Double-A Harrisburg this season. Solis is a name you might have heard of because of his prospect pedigree (second-round pick in 2010), but Karns is the underdog story here. A 12th-round pick in 2009, Karns missed the 2010 season after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder, which is usually a devastating injury for a pitcher. But since making his pro debut in 2011, Karns is 14-6 with a 2.21 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Fantasy owners will also love Karns' strikeout rate of 10.9 batters per nine innings ... Outfielder Brian Goodwin, who was a 2011 supplemental first-round pick, is considered a five-tool player, but he had some struggles at Double-A last season, so it might be a few years until he makes a Fantasy impact.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Michael Hurcomb at @cbshurc . You can also send us an e- mail us 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.


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(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
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(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
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(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.


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(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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"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. 


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(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
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(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
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(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."

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(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

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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
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(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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