Forget how bad they were as a team last year, the Nats have some guys who can help your fantasy team. Only Milledge, Dunn and Zimmerman are sure things, but there is a lot of potential in the lower tiers.
The Best of the Bunch:
The Nationals have no Top Tier talent.
The Second Tier:
Lastings Milledge (OF): The potential for 20-20, maybe even 25-25 is there, but the question is if the talent can overcome the personal issues that have dogged him his whole career.
Adam Dunn (OF): Dunn still hits home runs and still hits for an atrocious average with too many strikeouts. Of course if your league doesn’t penalize you for batter Ks or rewards you for BBs, Dunn is a valuable property. He’s hit 40 home runs each of the last three seasons and while some slippage may come with age, penciling him in for 35 and a .240 average seems a safe bet.
Ryan Zimmerman (3B): Zimmerman will probably be underrated coming into this season but don’t expect too heavy a discount on the Nationals’ best player. He’ll contribute everywhere but speed and he should benefit from having protection in the lineup this season. He’s likely to finish somewhere between .285-20-90 and .275-17-80 but that isn’t bad if you are looking for a mid-priced option at third who could be poised for a breakout season.
The Third Tier:
Christian Guzman (SS): At this point in his career he’s no longer a stolen base threat, but he’ll hit in the neighborhood of .300 and score at least 80 runs at the top of Washington’s lineup. That alone makes him worth keeping on the fantasy radar.
John Lannan (SP): John Lannan is a pretty good pitcher on a pretty lousy team so he’s probably flying well under the radar in most leagues. He’s not going to get you a lot of wins or strikeouts, but he’s an excellent choice for quality starts and could manage 10-11 wins if the offense can give him some leads. If you take a look at his lines, including his minor league stats he’s shown improvement almost every year and as he’s just 25 the best may still be coming down the road. He’s a late round flyer in most leagues.
Joel Hanrahan (CL): The converted starter will make an adequate, but hardly spectacular closer. Still if he can keep the job he’ll get at least the 25 saves that every closer seems to get.
Elijah Dukes (OF): Don’t be one of the many folks who overlook that the 24-year-old Dukes only managed 276 AB last season. His numbers in that span were an impressive .264-13-44 and included 13 steals. That’s just scary potential good, but his downside will scare a lot of folks who aren’t sure he can stay focused on the game and avoid injury.
Josh Willingham (OF): So long as he stays healthy AND he gets enough playing time Willingham is a lock for 20 home runs and an average in the .260 range. He’s hit for higher average before so don’t be surprised if he can do that. The real question is if they’ll be playing time for him in Washington.
Nick Johnson (1B): Johnson has been healthy enough to play 140 games only once in his career so to call him injury prone is an understatement. Still when he’s healthy, he’s capable of being a very productive hitter (think .285 with 20 home runs if he could ever stay healthy). That’s the reason he’ll be a factor on the fantasy scene yet again. He’s supposed to be healthy this spring after losing most of last season to right wrist surgery, but how long he’ll stay that way is a big question. Expect the Nats to rest him often to protect him from injury and to make sure Adam Dunn’s bat is in the lineup.
Question Marks, Cheap Buys and sleepers:
Anderson Hernandez (2B): Anderson hit well over the last month of the season after being acquired by the Mets and then had a great season in the Dominican leagues, coming in second in the MVP voting there. This probably won’t translate to the Majors and since he has no power, and little speed, the only reason to consider him is if he is red hot in Spring Training, in which case he could be a very deep sleeper.
Scott Olsen (SP): Like many of the Nationals, Olsen’s history is colorful: a fight with cops, several DWIs. But at just 24 this kid still has tremendous upside. Unless you are in a very deep league he’s probably not a guy you’d want to draft, but he’s someone to keep an eye on just in case he turns it on this season.
Daniel Cabrera (SP): If the Nationals can salvage Cabrera they could have an outstanding talent on the hill, but the years in Baltimore, combined with control issues and dwindling strikeout to walk ratios should scare the heck out of you. He’s another guy to avoid in the draft, but who has the potential to be a real 2008 Cliff Lee type sleeper if he could ever put it together.
Shawn Hill (SP): Another guy to watch while he’s on the waiver wire rather than draft (except of course in the deepest of leagues). Hill has always teased us with the potential of his stuff, but has never stayed healthy enough for us to realize how good he really is. His 97.3 innings in 2007 (the longest he’s ever been healthy in a season at this level) tease us - 16 starts, 4-5, 3.42, 65Ks and 1.14 WHIP. His ceiling is higher than that - but he’s 28 and is once again coming off surgery. Watch him in the spring and act accordingly.
Austin Kearns (OF): Kearns is only going to be 29 this season but his slow decline reminds us more of someone who is going on 39. He’s the most likely National to lose significant playing time with the acquisition of Dunn and Willingham. Still, it was just two years ago he went .264-24-86, but health issues and the decline in 2007-8 scares us. Injuries may have been the cause, but unless he shows himself greatly improved in the spring I’d probably only buy him on the cheap.
Wily Mo Pena (OF): Pena’s name is barely being bandied about in the newspapers this year but his potential is still there. It’s hard to know what he’ll bring to the table or how much playing time he’ll get, but don’t forget this guy was once considered to have 30 home run potential. He’s a free agent pickup if he has a good spring training.
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