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Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Washington Nationals

By Tim Heaney
Edited by Nicholas Minnix

KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Washington Nationals?

How will Bryce Harper follow 2012?

Washington Nationals SS Ian Desmond
Don't diss Desmond's dingers

The history books tell only part of that campaign's excellence. He faced several hurdles - losing playing time against some southpaws, along with the growing pains of a 19-year-old - before responding and adjusting with maturity. If not for some guy named Mike Trout, Harper would have even more hype heading into 2013.

As most already know, he's special enough to meet those expectations. The 13 homers he clubbed after July shouted "I get it!" He slugged at least .535 to all fields, including a ridiculous .766 to his favorite, in right. Impressive. Expect a similar HR-SB output over a full season. He's no Trout in terms of raw speed, but he's hardly miles behind him, and his aggressive play will keep him active on the base paths.

Harper's sophomore effort, of course, will come with some dips. He proved capable versus southpaws - a highlighted point coming into his debut year - but don't count on another big step there. Pitchers will try to exploit his pull favoritism, as well, and he may not be as fortunate when hitting to other sectors this time, despite his budding profile.

This threat combo will suppress his immediate BA ceiling, presenting his biggest weakness as you consider him within the first 30 mixed picks.

Where is the real Ian Desmond?

Surprisingly, closer to the 25 homers than his .292 clip. His contact rate straddles the league average; he doesn't take many walks; and his low rate of laces negates his BA-friendly grounder frequency.

Opposite-field power shows when a player takes a step forward. The righty stick's 13 homers, 38.2 HR/FB and .862 slugging percentage to left field stand out as inflated, but his figures to center (8, 16.0, .590) and right field (4, 7.5, .481) weren't outlandish in either direction. Desmond didn't clear the fences of the latter two regions at all in 2011.

He'll have some taters peeled off his pull total as some errant gusts of breeze switch course, but his fly-ball increase and a second year of pop-up decrease show he's not Brady Anderson.

It was an exaggerated but valid growth year. At age 27, he's primed to continue it, and as long as you can absorb a chunk of BA loss, take advantage of others' hesitation for what will widely result in a built-in discount.

What's the latest on Ryan Zimmerman?

His bothersome right shoulder periodically stripped him of his power and impeded his ability to throw from third base. October arthroscopic surgery repaired the nearly closed AC joint. Luckily, he had only minor fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff, along with a bone spur that needed some shaving. A flub-free rehab should put him on track for spring training.

Ramifications from shoulder surgery often linger, though. Zimmerman needed four cortisone shots to deal with the pain during the season. The injection he took in June, his first, led to a shot of studly performance. It was his elixir, and with such quick fixes, becoming addicted, so to speak, often follows.

The long-term effects of cortisone overload cast a shadow over his 25-homer, 90-RBI, .280-BA line. Third base is deep enough this year that if any warning signs pop up in February or March, you may want to avoid him altogether, or at least at his price in the top hot-corner tier. Even if he coasts through tune-ups, he may still start slow, as we've seen with numerous shoulder-marred sluggers over the years, including Adrian Gonzalez.

What's Rafael Soriano's outlook?

Sori's arrival pushes Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard into, in some fashion, seventh- and eighth-inning obligations.

The new Nat's campaign with the New York Yankees was money, and it helped him earn plenty more. He fanned 9.18 per nine as an American Leaguer in a dangerous home park. The introduction of a two-seam fastball expanded his arsenal, giving his opponents something else to think about.

His fly-ball tendencies were abated last year, but the droppings there fell into the liner category. He often induced dangerous fly balls - in fact, his HR/FB of 8.2 percent was only a smidge below his 2011 figure. He has a slightly Marmolian slider fetish that should punish him more often because his four-seam velocity rides a three-year downward trend, though in fairness the biggest drops have come in the last two years.

Losing strike-zone aggressiveness in such a way might open the door for one of the understudies, with Storen the likelier choice, to steal at least a few opportunities. Maybe because of their back-end depth they'll rest Soriano more often if he looks even a bit sluggish.

The questionable state of closers outside a handful will vault Soriano's market price toward the top of the heap. He's not Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Motte or, for the bold, Fernando Rodney, instead settling in the group that includes the injured former teammate Mariano Rivera, the aging J.J. Putz and the revived but old Joe Nathan.

Maybe Soriano's squad - now the presumptive Senior Circuit front-runners - dictates that he's better than the other risky Tier 2 options, but the holes in the righty's game should prevent you from assuming he's one of the league's best firemen.

Storen and Clippard remain fine deep-mixed staff cappers and plug-and-play RPs because of their high-level skills.


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