Washington has won 90-plus games in three of the past five seasons and hasn’t finished below .500 since 2011. This team boasts the 2016 N.L. Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer), the 2015 MVP (Bryce Harper) and last season’s OPS leader (Daniel Murphy). The Nationals added a reliable lead-off hitter via trade in the offseason (Adam Eaton), a move that allows them to shift phenom Trea Turner back to his natural position. So it’s safe to say that there are many reasons for Nats fans to be giddy this spring.
But we should note that this team, for all its obvious strengths, is not without deficiencies. The bottom of the lineup is shaky, the back end of the rotation is nothin’ to brag about, and, as of this writing, we have no idea who will handle the ninth inning. From a fantasy perspective, however, the Nats are plenty appealing. Several Washington players are going to be selected in the opening minutes of your draft. Let’s review…
Q: What’s the early market for Trea Turner? Is he gonna be taken inside the top-20 picks? Is that a thing?
Yup, it sure looks that way. He went No. 20 overall in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft a few weeks ago, and he went tenth in the mixed LABR draft. Turner, of course, is terrific young player (23) who carries eligibility at a premium roster spot (2B), and he was an absolute monster in his 73 games with Washington last year: 53 R, 13 HR, 40 RBIs, 33 SB, .342/.370/.567. He’s great. Fantasy touts everywhere spent the first three months of the season pining away for Turner, and we spent the final three months patting ourselves on the back. Trea will do his hitting near the top of the Nats’ batting order in 2017, just ahead of Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, and the kid clearly has the green light to run. He’s a near-lock to be a strong contributor in at least three fantasy categories.
Q: You sound pretty bullish for a guy who ranked Turner much lower than industry consensus.
It’s true, I’ve ranked him in a spot that basically guarantees I won’t own him in mixed leagues (No. 29 overall). But I don’t really feel as if I’m a doubter; when I rate a player in the top 30, it’s not intended as an insult. There’s little doubt in my mind that Turner can score 90 runs in 2017, assuming a healthy season, and he’s likely to swipe 40 bags, too. Last year, if you combine his MLB and Triple-A numbers, he stole 58 bases. Again, just so we’re clear: He’s a very useful player for fantasy purposes.
If I’m at all skeptical about Turner, it’s because his July-to-September performance in Washington last season exceeded anything he’d ever done at any pro level. Power certainly wasn’t part of his profile. Turner hadn’t hit more than eight homers in any minor league season, but he cleared the fence 13 times for the Nats last year in 307 at-bats. His HR/FB rate (16.7%) placed him in the company of maulers like Rizzo (16.2), Bautista (16.3) and Arenado (16.8). In the minors, even at his best, Turner was a guy with doubles/triples pop. Thus, I’m not yet willing to project him for 20-25 home runs in the bigs.
It’s also unreasonable to expect Turner to repeat last season’s .388 BABIP, which means the batting average is likely to slip. He’s a speedy base-runner, though, with plenty of line-drives in his bat, so I think we can safely forecast an average in the .290 to .310 range.
For me, the bottom line with Turner is that I’m willing to pay for a 90-10-70-40-.290 fantasy line on draft day. But there’s always someone in the room — or several someones — expecting 100-20-80-40-.320.
Q: How confident are you that Bryce Harper will bounce back? Is he a no-doubt first-rounder?
It says a lot about Harper’s rare talent that he can go 20/20 with a .373 on-base percentage, and his season is considered a massive disappointment So it goes when you challenge for the triple crown and win the MVP at age 22.
I’m drafting Harper in the first without hesitation. If you can snag him outside the top-10 picks in any draft, you should consider it an absolute heist. He’s only 24 and just a year removed from a season in which he slashed .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers. His issue last season, according to various reports, was a first-half shoulder/neck injury that sapped his power, altered his approach and generally undermined his fantasy value. His ceiling remains as high as any player’s. I’m still surprised Harper slipped to Pick No. 12 in the FSTA draft linked above. I’ll happily take him at 7 or 8. Now that he’s stealing bases, he’s a clear threat to go 100-30-100-20-.300.
Q: Are we worried about the health of Max Scherzer and/or Stephen Strasburg?
Look, at this point you should worry about Strasburg the way you worry about your elderly neighbors. He carries maximum injury risk. Strasburg pitched brilliantly for four-and-a-half months last year (11.2 K/9, 1.10 WHIP) before an elbow malfunction torpedoed his season. He expects to be ready for spring training, and he apparently plans to scrap his slider — a reasonable decision that isn’t likely to crush his value. Still, Strasburg has only reached 185.0 innings once in his pro career, so we can’t guarantee 30-plus starts (or even 25). He’s a safer play in rotisserie leagues, where you don’t necessarily need him to be available in the final weeks.
Scherzer is dealing with a stress fracture in the ring finger of his throwing hand, though we’ve been given no reason to believe he’ll be limited this spring. He won’t pitch in the WBC, but that’s hardly a cause for alarm. Draft him early, not long after Kershaw is off the board. Scherzer struck out 284 batters in 228.1 innings last season, winning 20 games and delivering a sub-1.00 WHIP. You want him.
Q: OK, if you had to pick a closer from the Nationals current options, who would it be?
Yikes. I’ll take Shawn Kelley, I suppose. And keep an eye on flame-throwing 23-year-old Koda Glover. But really, it’s hard to believe this team won’t deal for a battle-tested ninth inning option — possibly David Robertson, or perhaps Alex Colome. The Nats chased the brand-name free agent closers back in December, but they missed on all targets. It’s an obvious area of need, and not particularly difficult to address via trade.
Nationals Projected Rotation
SP Max Scherzer
SP Stephen Strasburg
SP Tanner Roark
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Joe Ross
RP Shawn Kelley
RP Blake Treinen
RP Koda Glover
RP Joe Nathan