Sure the Nationals’ roster may not seem so different, but they’ll definitely have a new look. At long last, they’ve gotten away from the cavernous RFK Stadium, and will be moving into the state-of-the-art Nationals Park. This should spell marginal changes in offensive production for many players on the roster. I would expect power numbers to be up, and pitching to be even worse than usual. As a team, the Nationals will continue to struggle mightily. They have a few solid pieces who could be worth owning in fantasy, but as a whole, they’re one of the more futile teams in the league.
None. Perhaps Ryan Zimmerman could move into the top tier with a bounce back year in ‘08.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B): Zimmerman suffered through a sophomore slump of sorts in 2007. He was unable to capitalize on a fantastic rookie season, and he declined in most offensive categories. One category he did improve in was homeruns. Zimmerman hit 24 in ‘07 (4 more than the previous season) and should continue to improve his power due to the move out of RFK. Zimmerman also hit .266 with 91 RBI and 4 stolen bases. Many people could be down on Zimmerman after a disappointing sophomore campaign which could lead to good value in your draft. Ryan Zimmerman has limitless potential, and I expect him to surpass his ‘07 numbers easily, and most likely his ‘06 numbers too.
Chad Cordero (RP): In 2005 it looked like Chad Cordero was on the brink of becoming an elite closer. He finished that season with an astounding 47 saves and 1.82 ERA. While that season seems like it may have been a fluke, Cordero remains a very serviceable closer. Last season he posted a 3.36 ERA with 37 saves. While the ERA isn’t great, you can handle it if it comes with 37 saves. The Nats may not be great, but they do play a lot of close games. Cordero should get his fair share of save opportunities. He certainly isn’t a top option, but he won’t be highly sought after on draft day, and should provide solid value.
Paul Lo Duca ( C ): It was a tumultuous off-season for Paul Lo Duca. First he was moved from the Mets to the Nationals, and then he was named in the Mitchell Report. Lo Duca has since apologized, but people won’t easily forget his mistake. It was hard for many to believe that Lo Duca was caught up in performance enhancing drugs, mostly because he’s never been anything that closely resembles a power hitter. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with Lo Duca. 2007 was a standard year for Lo Duca. He put up a .272-9-54 line last season. By no means will owners be jumping at this guy, but if your league utilizes two catchers, he could be a decent late round selection. I would expect production similar to that of his last few seasons. A decent depth guy, nothing more.
Dmitri Young (1B): I think it’s safe to say that Dmitri Young was one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball last season. Young had basically been kicked to the curb by the Tigers and had to persevere through numerous off field issues, including a bout with diabetes. Young battled to make the team as a non-roster invitee and won the starting job at first base. He even earned a spot on the National League All-Star team. Even after his magical 2007 season, there are no guarantees for Young in ‘08. Nick Johnson is set to return from injury, and Young could have trouble finding at bats. Even if he does win a starting job, Young isn’t exactly a spectacular fantasy player though. He put up a .320-13-74 line last season. He lacks the type of power you want out of a first baseman. The move to Nationals Park could inflate those numbers though. Monitor the situation closely because he could be worth a late round pick with consistent playing time.
Ronnie Belliard (2B): Belliard has been a rock solid producer at second base for the past four or five seasons. He isn’t exactly spectacular, but he can be a very useful fantasy producer. Belliard hit .290 with 11 HR’s and 58 RBI in 2007, his first as a National. Belliard will almost certainly be unheralded on draft day, but you could get great value out of him as a late round pick. While it’s true that you could do much better, you definitely could do much worse as well. As with all Nationals’ positional players, Belliard should get a power boost from his move out of RFK. Expect around 15 HR’s and 70 RBI, which is nice production at second base.
Nick Johnson (1B): Well, Nick Johnson is supposedly back and ready to go, but for how long? Johnson missed the entire 2007 season due to a severely broken leg. In his absence, Dmitri Young took full advantage, piecing together an All-Star campaign. Prior to his injury, Johnson seemed to be on the fast track to semi-stardom. Johnson had started to find a power stroke and smacked 23 HR’s in 2006. It will surely take Johnson some time to get his timing back, but he certainly has the talent. He may win the starting job at first base on his talent alone. If he is able to definitively beat out Dmitri Young, Johnson could be a super sleeper in your fantasy draft. Approach with caution, and hope he can stay healthy.
Austin Kearns (OF): Fantasy owners have been waiting for Austin Kearns to breakout for about five seasons now. It still hasn’t happened. It’s always been pretty apparent that he has great power potential, but he has yet to hit more than 24 HR’s in a season. Kearns seemed to be turning the corner a bit in ‘06 as he put up the best power numbers of his career, (24 HR’s and 86 RBI) but he regressed in 2007. Kearns hit just .266 with 16 HR’s and 74 RBI in ‘07. I may sound like a broken record, but Kearns should improve upon his underwhelming power numbers due to the change in ballpark. It doesn’t look like Kearns will ever reach his 30 homerun potential, but 25 HR’s and 100 RBI shouldn’t be out of the question. The Nationals are an improving squad, and Austin Kearns could be a huge component to the offense.
Odalis Perez (SP): Perez wasn’t heavily courted in free agency this off-season, but he has found a home in Washington. It even looks like Perez will start the season as the Nationals’ number one starter. While it’s true that he hasn’t been a truly effective starter since 2004, Perez is the best that the Nats have to offer. It seems like he’s made a habit of being the de-facto ace of mediocre teams in recent seasons. Last season with the Royals, Perez went 8-11 with a 5.57 ERA and 64 K’s in 137.1 innings. His play has regressed over the last few seasons, but he was once an All-Star. I can’t imagine he’ll regain that form in Washington, but he could really sneak up on people this year. By no means would I waste a mixed league pick on him, but he could be a nice find late in an NL-only draft. When you really think about it, somebody has to win games for this team, why not Odalis Perez?
Wily Mo Pena (OF): Pena reminds me a lot of Austin Kearns in that he’s continually failed to live up to his promise. When you watch Pena in batting practice, you can’t help but think that he could easily be a 40 homerun hitter. Once he gets into game action however, he’s far too inconsistent. While he may crank some gargantuan shots into the stands, he’ll meekly strikeout far more often. Injuries and a lack of consistent playing time have also contributed to Pena’s struggles. I myself have fallen into the Wily Mo Pena trap a couple of times. During his time with the Reds, Pena found his way onto my fantasy team for short stints in two consecutive seasons. I’ve learned my lesson, and don’t intend on conducting that experiment again. Others may still be dazzled by his raw power though. I have one word of advice for anybody who is thinking about giving him another shot. By no means should you even think about grabbing him in a mixed league, but he MAY be worth a look in NL-only formats.
Shawn Hill (SP): I think that it’s pretty obvious that Shawn Hill displays the most promise out of any Nationals’ starter. While his sample size is small, he’s been fairly effective over the last couple seasons. 2007 marked the first extensive action Hill saw at the major league level. In 16 starts, Hill went 4-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 65 K’s in 97.1 innings. Those may seem like some solid numbers, but Hill has really struggled to stay healthy. As a matter of fact, Hill will have to start the ‘08 season on the disabled list. Hill has great potential, and it seems as though he could be a bona fide top of the rotation guy if he could last an entire season. Hill isn’t expected to miss a great deal of time, so he should get another chance to solidify his place in the rotation. If your league utilizes a DL feature, he could a nice snag in the late rounds since you can stash him until he’s healthy.
Lastings Milledge (OF): It looks like Milledge has landed in a pretty nice situation in Washington. Milledge was blocked by Carlos Beltran in New York, but it appears as though he’ll get to start immediately for the Nationals. Milledge has five category potential, and will get every chance to shine this season. Milledge put up some solid numbers in 59 games last season with the Mets. He hit .272 with 7 HR’s and 29 RBI. It seems as though Milledge will get to lead off, and could be a sparkplug for the National offense. He’s definitely worth a look in the latter rounds of any league format, especially a keeper or dynasty league. While it may not happen this season, Milledge has 30 HR and 20 SB potential. 2008 could be a stepping stone for big things in the future for Lastings Milledge.
Elijah Dukes (OF): 2007 was a difficult season for Elijah Dukes. He trashed the Tampa Bay Devil Ray organization numerous times over the course of the season, played very erratically when given a shot at the major league level, and had to leave the team after numerous domestic altercations with his girlfriend. This guy obviously has some baggage, but he has loads of talent. Dukes played in 52 games for the Rays last season and while he batted just .190, he did hit 10 HR’s. If Dukes is able to find enough at bats and stay out of trouble, he could really surprise this season. All accounts are that veterans Dmitri Young and Willie Harris have really taken Dukes under their wings, and been great influences to the youngsters. I’m rooting for this guy to turn his career around and realize his potential. Will he do it? I don’t know, but have a feeling you could do worse late in an NL-only draft.
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