We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2014 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2014 Nationals Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Patrick Reddington from Federal Baseball.
1) Bryce Harper is still very young and incredibly talented, but should his recent injuries and struggles against left-handed pitching be a concern for fantasy owners who plan to draft him highly in 2014?
Davey Johnson seemed fairly sure that Harper would figure left-handed pitchers out when he talked about Harp’s struggles against lefties last season. It’s probably important to note that as young as Harper is and as quickly as he’s risen, it’s probably especially tough for him to be all-of-a-sudden facing MLB-caliber left-handers. Harper’s a smart hitter though and with all the information out there he has to know how lefties are attacking him/where they’re pitching him, so we’ll see how he adjusts going forward. Also, based on his recent comments about his knee being an issue before the 2013 campaign even began, I’m wondering how to view everything he did this past season.
That being said, more than a few people I talk baseball with said at some point last season that if Harper wasn’t Bryce Harper, he might be a candidate for a platoon as bad as he was against lefties early last season. It was also a tough season for the other lefties in the Nats’ lineup (Denard Span and Adam LaRoche), however, so were the left-handed pitchers the Nats faced just particularly tough?
It’s a concern, no doubt, but as talented a hitter as he is, I think he’ll figure out lefties soon enough.
The knee injury has me a little more worried. They’re going to take their time getting him back into action this Spring, but he’s said that he probably should have stopped playing before he actually did last season because the knee was a real issue. Hopefully the 2013 campaign was a good learning experience for him to also figure out what he can and can’t play through so he doesn’t exacerbate injury issues again in the future.
If he can stay healthy, Ramos is going to be a great pickup because as it stands right now, he’s going to get the bulk of the innings and ABs for the Nationals in 2014. When he came back off the DL last season, the Nationals rode Ramos hard and they didn’t have much use for a backup catcher. Judging by their actions this winter, they intend to do the same this season. While everyone has been waiting for the Nationals to add another catcher to the mix, they (so far) have seemed perfectly willing to go with Ramos and the best of their backups who will fill in when necessary but aren’t expected to get a whole lot of ABs.
During the run Ramos put together down the stretch last year (.276/.307/.477, six doubles, 14 HRs in 251 PAs after July 4th), Davey Johnson was asked if he ever wondered what Ramos could do over a full season if he could stay healthy. He said, “It’s 100 RBIs and 28 bombs… Ramos is really a strong no.1, one of the best catchers in the league.” Take it for what it’s worth from Johnson, but he’s known as a pretty good judge of talent and if Ramos can stay in the lineup I think the Nats are expecting that sort of big season from him soon.
I think he really wants to prove something this year too. He came back determined to show he was durable last year and showed that he was capable of playing every day. He seems to have the Nationals convinced he’s got a big year coming up.
3) On paper, the Nationals have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, especially with the acquisition of Doug Fister. What do you predict will be the biggest story of the 2014 season among their starters?
Big story: Doug Fister finally being the right starter who pushes the Nationals over the top? I’m betting that’s what the Nationals are hoping after spending significantly more for fourth starters like Edwin Jackson in 2012 and Dan Haren last season and not getting the results they were hoping to from either. All the signs are there of Fister being the right fit for the Nationals’ rotation and the National League. Gio Gonzalez talked this weekend about adding Fister to the rotation being like, “…knowing that you just got the brand new car you wanted for Christmas.”
I’m really interested to see how he improves with what should be a better infield defense than he had in Detroit. I love the upward trend of his ground ball percentage (41.3, 47.1, 47.5, 51.0, 54.3% from ’09-’13) over the last five years and think he is the kind of pitcher Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo loves, a 6’8”, ground ball/fastball pitcher with good command. The last big starter Rizzo acquired, Gio Gonzalez, did just about exactly what the Nationals expected in his first season in D.C. With Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann another year older and wiser and now Fister added to the mix, I think anyone who follows the Nats and enjoys good pitching is really excited about the upcoming season and if Fister puts them over the top he’s going to be the big story.
4) Anthony Rendon got the call in 2013 for the Nationals. Which prospects in the Nats’ farm system should fantasy owners be excited about for 2014 and beyond?
I’m not too sure there are going to be any big prospects coming up this year like Harper and Rendon in the past two seasons. I think Taylor Jordan and Nathan Karns might work their way back up again after debuting last season and Sammy Solis has a good shot at seeing some time in the majors if the lefties the Nationals have struggle at all. I think A.J. Cole has just about the right mix of stuff and innings on his arm that he might get a look at some point this season depending on the health of the pitchers in the majors. Blake Treinen‘s another pitcher whose name keeps coming up when I’m talking to people who follow the Nationals’ organization. I think it’s going to be mostly pitching prospects impacting the Nationals this season though, unless a Matt Skole or Steven Souza, Jr. go on a tear and there’s a need at the major league level.
As for the future, there’s no bigger prospect in the Nats’ system than Lucas Giolito and this will be his first full year back following Tommy John so it will be interesting to see what he does when gets a chance to put together a full season’s worth of innings. I’m really excited to see if Matt Purke can take the next step now that his shoulder issues seem to be behind him. He was a first round talent who fell to the third because of injury concerns the Nationals were willing to deal with and I’m interested to see if that investment pays off. This will be a big season for his development and with his age and contract (major league deal so he’s on the 40-Man) he’s someone I think could move quickly if he’s anything like the talent that scouts thought he was. But I think all eyes in the organization are going to be on Giolito this year.
5) Which Bryce Harper related scenario is most likely to occur in 2014?
A) He hits 30 homers and steals 15 bases
B) He has less than 500 PA for the second year in a row
C) The Nats fail miserably at an attempt to impress their star player with a “Book of Mormon Giveaway Day”
I’m going to go with A. I think Harper’s going to have another level of breakout season this year. I think he was frustrated last year that his body wouldn’t let him do what he thinks he’s capable of doing and I think he’s going to start the year ITBSOHL and really put together a big season. I don’t think 30 HRs and 15 SB are a stretch for Harper at all if he’s healthy for the whole season.