KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions for each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Washington Nationals?
How great is the risk involved with Stephen Strasburg?
Certainly no greater than it is with other pitchers who have returned from returned from Tommy John surgery. He's put about six more months between himself and his operation date than Adam Wainwright has, and he already tossed a few innings at the tail end of last season. So far, no issues.
Returnees from this procedure usually experience problems with their command and control. Toward the end of last season, Strasburg walked three in his three outings (6 1/3 frames) with the Nats' advanced Class A affiliate, Hagerstown, and then walked only two more batters in his final 38 innings of the season, minors and majors combined.
He may struggle with location, but he was such a sharp talent prior to surgery that the effects would seem unlikely to be gravely poor. The right-hander's velocity also appeared to have been nearly restored, although a complete recovery wouldn't be necessary for him to be a quality pitcher.
Morse code: Not a fluke
Like his teammate Jordan Zimmermann did in 2011, Strasburg, 23, will see his innings capped, probably at about 160. Assuming no setbacks, a rotisserie baseball player would receive 160 stanzas from Strasburg plus, say, another 45 to 60 from a replacement (preferably, if you manage it properly, a middle reliever). That pitcher's spot could end up being the equivalent of a No. 2 mixed-league starter (or better).
What owners must keep in mind is that a good bit has to go right for those things to happen, so it's not advisable to buy in at the price of such a commodity. Some kind of complication is possible, and he's made no discernible alterations to his delivery, which many believe is responsible for his difficulties in the health department, now and future.
Still, the reward seems likely to be good. If your competition doesn't try to squeeze money from you, Strasburg seems like a worthwhile investment. If the room is interested in seeing who's willing to go the furthest for him, perhaps it's time to reconsider.
How much can we buy into Mike Morse, 2011?
You should probably approach him with less skepticism than you would your average late bloomer. In a smaller - but still reliable - sample (293 plate appearances), Morse demonstrated the same kind of skills in 2010 that he did in his 575 plate appearances last year.
In fact, he did it even better. His platoon splits in 2011 weren't drastically different from each other, just as they weren't in the season prior. He hit the ball hard, and he hit it quite a distance. The right-handed hitter harnessed the power in his 6-foot-5, 230-pound body and unleashed it.
Morse, 30 in March, may not be a .300 hitter regularly and may not swat 30 bombs in a season again, but he certainly has the ability to come close, and the power is legit. As long as fantasy baseball players scale back their expectations a bit from what he ended up with this past season, their hopes are realistic. Because the track record is short, they probably shouldn't be willing to pay for more than that, either.
When will roto managers get to throw Bryce Harper into their lineups?
Every fantasy baseball player must know that the Nats are open to the idea of Harper being in the opening day lineup. Some, like Davey Johnson, are chanting "Oh please, oh please, oh please." Doesn't hurt to have the skipper in your corner.
He may have to have a spring training that borders on spectacular, although the statistical results won't matter entirely. The staff will likely be more concerned with his approach, his ability to bounce back from bad at-bats, his recognition of situations and processing of information, his comfort and play in the field, and how he gets along with his teammates. If he doesn't meet their requirements for whatever they evaluate, it's highly unlikely that they'll take him north.
Washington could have his eligibility for Super Two status in mind - it was a factor with Strasburg - and the safe cut-off date, thanks to the new CBA, is pushed back. D.C. has added to its payroll, but don't mistake their spending habits for their ignorance RE: the bottom line. The Nats have planned for players like Strasburg and Harper to be cornerstones, so if the teenager isn't pretty much for certain ready, they probably won't start his clock.
Perhaps the lure of an OD lineup that features both Harper and Strasburg is tempting to put in a program for its potential impact on ticket sales. So far, however, the club seems to have been more focused on making what it deems the best baseball choices - not the decisions that give them the best chance to profit financially in the short term.
Harper, in his first full season as a pro, struggled to adjust at high A ball, initially, and for most of his stretch at Double-A ball (.256/.329/.395). He tore up the AFL for two straight sessions, but that's a very hitter-friendly league, with most players being from levels he's already seen. He has first-rate baseball acumen, but this fact doesn't mean that Harper, entering his age-19 season, has nothing to learn.
They won't promote the left-handed batter just so that he can be an adequate big leaguer. When he has little else to learn on the farm and the club believes that he can hold his own against major leaguers, we'll see him. That time might not be far off, but it's far from certain that it's extremely close.
And it's definitely fair to wonder how good he'll be, particularly in mixed leagues, given his resume, once he's up. News in spring training could influence his draft stock a lot, but until the cycle is spinning something of value, it's hard to envision Harper being worthy of much more than a mixed-league flier or a low to modest bid in NL-only setups.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.