With just over three weeks to go until the 2014 MLB regular season kicks off, the season of baseball fantasy drafts is starting to heat up. As we do every year at CSNwashington.com, here is a look at the fantasy value of the Nationals’ most prevalent players and where you should target them in your respective leagues:
Get them if you can
Bryce Harper – OF
2013 stats: .274 BA, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 71 R, 11 SB
Yahoo! rank: 10
The days of Bryce Harper flying under the fantasy radar are officially over. Though he hasn’t put together a full season at an MVP-level, many expect him to take that step very soon if healthy. Yahoo! has him as the 10th best fantasy player heading into this season. Given he hasn’t proven to be worth that praise yet, I’d say it’s a bit of a risk. But given his name recognition, there is little chance he’ll be available in Round 2 no matter the league.
Stephen Strasburg – SP
2013 stats: 8-9, 3.00 ERA, 191 SO, 1.049 WHIP, 183.0 IP
Yahoo! rank: 26
Strasburg’s fantasy value took a hit last season due to his win-loss record. Despite legitimate qualms with the statistic, it does matter in fantasy terms. His other numbers, however, suggest he had the best season of his career. And if you believe the Nats will be better this year, Strasburg should get more opportunities to rack up wins. As far as ERA, strikeouts and WHIP, he’s a solid number one or two option for a fantasy rotation.
Ian Desmond – SS
2013 stats: .280 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 77 R, 21 SB
Yahoo! rank: 37
In fantasy baseball, it is sometimes wise to pick players early who are standouts in otherwise thin positions. By that I mean, there are very few elite offensive shortstops, so to secure a good one early could give you an advantage in your league. Year after year it seems less shortstops hit for power and average, and Desmond does both. He also steals bases, making him a very valuable commodity in any league.
Ryan Zimmerman – 3B
2013 stats: .275 BA, 26 HR, 79 RBI, 84 R
Yahoo! rank: 53
Zimmerman has dealt with injuries in recent years, but always seems to put up good numbers, especially for a third baseman. He is a bit streaky, which brings dramatic ups and downs. But when he gets hot - as we saw last September - he can have a month as good as anyone in the majors. He should also see time at first base this season as well, which increases his value a bit.
Gio Gonzalez – SP
2013 stats: 11-8, 3.36 ERA, 192 SO, 1.252 WHIP, 195.2 IP
Yahoo! rank: 67
Gonzalez is a solid fantasy option and has been for four straight years now. He’s reliable, he keeps a low ERA, and he strikes out a ton of guys. You’ll have to deal with some off days here and there, and his WHIP can soar, but there’s no question Gonzalez is worth a top three spot in any fantasy rotation.
Jordan Zimmermann – SP
2013 stats: 19-9, 3.25 ERA, 161 SO, 1.088 WHIP, 213.1 IP
Yahoo! rank: 69
Zimmermann has long been looked at as a much better pitcher in real life than the one reflected in fantasy baseball stat sheets. He doesn’t accrue a lot of strikeouts and has traditionally found trouble earning wins. Last year, however, his fortunes turned as he led the Nats with 19 victories. Given his low ERA and WHIP, he’s definitely worth a mid-round pick.
Wait a few rounds
Jayson Werth - OF
2013 stats: .318 BA, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 84 R
Yahoo! rank: 100
Just looking at Werth’s numbers, one could say it’s a no-brainer to draft him early. Last season he brought a combination of power and batting average that is rare in the majors. The veteran, however, is always a wild card in the health department, having played just 210 games over the last two seasons. And the year before he hit just .232. Werth could be a tremendous addition to your fantasy team, just don’t draft him too early.
Rafael Soriano – CL
2013 stats: 3-3, 3.11 ERA, 43 SV, 1.230 WHIP, 66.2 IP
Yahoo! rank: 117
Thankfully for Soriano, saves are saves, no matter how you get them. Last year he may have made it interesting at times, but only four pitchers posted more than the 43 saves he had. Assuming he is the primary closer for all of 2014, he should broach the 40-mark once again and that’s always a nice thing to have on your fantasy roster.
Doug Fister – SP
2013 stats: 14-9, 3.67 ERA, 159 SO, 1.308 WHIP, 208.2 IP
Yahoo! rank: 131
Fister is similar to Zimmermann in that he does not strike out a lot of batters, therefore hurting his fantasy value. He should, however, have plenty of chances for wins and is reliable in the sense he keeps a low ERA spread across a ton of innings. One thing to look out for, though, is his WHIP. Last year it ballooned to 1.308, which is a little high if your fantasy league accounts for it.
Wilson Ramos - C
2013 stats: .272 BA, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 29 R
Yahoo! rank: 197
If Ramos was a little more proven health-wise, he’d be much further up the list. His power potential is pretty special in the context of MLB catchers. He also plays a position that is scarce for offensive talent, at least in fantasy terms. Ramos is absolutely worth targeting, but make sure you have a capable backup in case he goes down.
Anthony Rendon – 2B
2013 stats: .265 BA, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 40 R
Yahoo! rank: 251
Rendon could go either way, as ‘buyer beware’ or as a sleeper. One could argue that his track record in college and the minors suggests he is due for a breakout year. But given he hasn’t proven it at the MLB level yet, and given he isn’t even assured the starting job at second base, you may want to draft him as a backup to start the year. The potential payoff could be great, but this may not be the year where he emerges as a fantasy threat.
Denard Span - OF
2013 stats: .279 BA, 4 HR, 75 R, 20 SB
Yahoo! rank: 282
Span is a tricky one because if all goes right he could be a very valuable outfielder. He has the potential to score a ton of runs in the Nats’ lineup and did steal 20 bases last season. But that is his ceiling, and his basement is a very poor fantasy player. Last season he hit just .263 in the first half of the season. If his average dips that low, it’s tough to justify a starting spot for him on a fantasy roster.
Adam LaRoche – 1B
2013 stats: .237, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 70 R
Yahoo! rank: 261
Most would call LaRoche a ‘buyer beware,’ but they said the same things two years ago before he had the best season of his career. He is 34 now, but LaRoche is likely going to go under the radar in most fantasy leagues. He may even go undrafted given the depth at first base. Taking him as one of your final picks, or even waiting to pick him up on the waiver wire, may be worth it. LaRoche’s potential is a top 10 first baseman and you’ll likely only have to spend a late round pick on him at the most.
Ross Detwiler - SP
2013 stats: 2-7, 4.04 ERA, 39 SO, 71.1 IP
Yahoo! rank: n/a
Detwiler isn’t even guaranteed a spot in the Nats’ rotation, so he may not even be worth a draft pick at this point. But if he does win the job, and returns to what he was in 2012, he could be a very valuable depth option in your fantasy rotation. Two years ago he held a 3.40 ERA across 164 1/3 innings, a very solid line. He doesn’t strike out many guys, but you’ll take those numbers if he can post them again.