2013 was a huge bust in D.C. Not only did the Nats under-perform, but the supremely talented team didn’t even make the playoffs. This season will be different. The major questions for 2014 are: How great will Stephen Strasburg actually be? Is this the season Bryce Harper jumps to elite status? Can Jayson Werth continue to prove his worth as he did last year? Is Washington’s pitching staff the best in MLB? Harper, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman disappear from most fantasy draft boards by the fifth or sixth round. Werth is typically drafted a few rounds later. And perhaps the greatest value pick of all, Wilson Ramos, is being nabbed for next to nothing at the end of most drafts. Denard Span’s OBP in the lead-off spot is a concern. Youngster Anthony Rendon will have to prove his potential in his first full MLB season. Adam LaRoche isn’t a sexy fantasy pick this year, but he’ll be owned in most leagues by the end of the season. Pick up on the positive vibe coming out of the Capitol and hang on for what promises to be a fun ride. Here’s a projected batting order and positional breakdown.
2014 Washington Nationals Lineup Analysis
1. Denard Span, CF: Span’s job is to get on base and use his wheels to score runs. Last season, his OBP was the worst of his career. But there were a lot of worsts in D.C. last year. Span still has the ability to steal 20 bases. If he takes more walks and pushes his OBP to .350 or higher, look for the bats behind him to knock him across home plate around 100 times this season.
2. Jayson Werth, RF: Werth was one of the few bright spots for the Nats in ’13, putting up his best numbers in a Nationals uniform and a 4.8 WAR. This guy can hit successfully anywhere in the lineup. He’ll turn 35 in May, but count on him to put up 20 HR and double-digit steals. He won’t get as many RBI opportunities in the 2-hole, but just like Span, he has some whackers behind him who will push his runs scored near the century mark.
3. Bryce Harper, LF: Most experts expect Harper to begin leaping tall buildings in a single bound. And everything points to that actually happening. Look for 30 HR/20 SB, a solid BA, and a ton of RBI from the 21-year-old future superhero. Next season, he’ll be gone midway through the first round in most fantasy drafts. If you want him on your roster, especially in keeper leagues, now is the time to negotiate with his owner.
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B: This guy doesn’t get the love he deserves, mostly because he tends to struggle out of the gate. But when he catches fire, he scorches the box scores. Pencil Zimmerman in for 25-30 HR, a .285 AVG., nearly 100 RBI… and a handful of steals, if he can stay healthy. He has three good sticks in front of him, and three (possibly four) behind him, so the runs scored will also approach triple digits.
5. Ian Desmond, SS: A 20/20 threat in the 5-hole? Yep. That’s how talented this lineup is. Desmond, one of the top shortstops in fantasy baseball, will help in every category. Hitting behind Harper and Zimmerman and in front of LaRoche and Ramos will pad RBI and runs scored, making you a very happy owner.
6. Adam LaRoche, 1B: Last year was a disaster for LaRoche, which makes him a sleeper in 2014. Despite batting a paltry .237, he still managed 20 HR. Don’t forget, he hit .271 with 33 HR and 100 RBI in 2012. This guy has the highest upside in Nationals lineup this season compared to his draft position. If his sizzling spring is any indication, LaRoche will be back with a vengeance. Look for the BA, HR and RBI to be much closer to 2012 than 2013.
7. Wilson Ramos, C: Injuries have slowed Ramos in the past, so there’s always a health concern with him. But when he’s on, he’s really on. Last year, he hit 16 HR in 287 AB. And some of those HR were real moon shots. He’s healthy and raking so far in Spring Training. If he can play the entire season, Ramos will be among the top catchers in baseball.
8. Anthony Rendon, 2B: Ideally, the Nats would hit Rendon second in the order. That’s probably where he will land in the future. But for now, there are too many solid bats in the lineup. It’s probably best for his growth to bat eighth as he matures, especially until his power develops beyond line-drive strength. Danny Espinosa is challenging Rendon this spring. Espinosa has better offensive tools, but so far hasn’t been able to put them all together. Rendon appears to have the edge at 2B, but keep an eye on this battle throughout the spring.
Injuries are part of the game. If one of the Nats outfielders suffers a lengthy ailment, keep an eye on Nate McLouth. He won’t hit for much of an average, but his power/speed potential could make him relevant if he gets the chance to play every day.