The Washington Nationals offer talent all over the field and the players who roam the outfield is no different. There are options for speed, power or rate stats, though be cautious of the injury potential. Of what should shake out to be the normal starting three, Jayson Werth has a history of injuries, Denard Span underwent off-season hernia surgery and Bryce Harper was limited to 100 games last season due to a torn ligament in his thumb. Despite the injury concern the upside here is excellent.
Denard Span’s hernia surgery shouldn’t deter fantasy owners as the procedure was routine and without complications. Span’s strong, albeit empty, average combined with his running game and prime position as lead-off hitter make him a great pick in the late-middle rounds in standard leagues. With a 172 ADP, even if Span fails to hit .300 again — something fueled by his highest BABIP since 2009 — he can still be an asset to your team without sinking your budget or breaking your arm reaching. The 31 steals last season was also a pleasant surprise give his 20 and 17 steal totals from 2013 and 2012 respectively and he’s more likely to finish in the 20’s again this year.
Both Nate McLouth and Tyler Moore figure to get time in the corners, particularly in the first half of the season as Jayson Werth is recovering from shoulder surgery. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo believes Werth will be ready by Opening Day, if not Rizzo said it is possible they’ll go with a platoon of McLouth and Moore, thus ensuring McLouth would be getting more plate appearances. Rizzo also mentioned the possibility of giving the left field job to Michael Taylor outright. Given Taylor’s youth as well as his power and speed combination, he is the most interesting fantasy option should Werth need more time. McLouth did nab 30 steals in 2013, but that seems like more and more of an anomaly given his four steals last year and 12 bags in 2012. For now McLouth and Moore figure to be waiver-wire candidates, but watch Werth’s recovery carefully as both could have some value.
Assuming Werth is ready to go, he should once again be a steady source of offensive numbers across the board. He’s a five category player, though the steals aren’t what they once were. Even without double-digit steal totals, Werth posts great rate stats and strong counting numbers. He’s hit at least 27% above league average for three straight seasons and while he’s playing his age-36 season this year, Werth is yet to show signs of slowing down in the batters box. His swinging strike rate is dipping and his walk rate is on the rise. Cue the “old-man skills” jokes, but with Werth, his old man skills still make him a valuable piece.
As mentioned above, if in fact Werth is to miss time early in the year, Taylor is possibly the next in line for the LF gig. Taylor flashed a 20-20 season in Double-A in 2014 and his speed on the base paths is impressive in his steal totals. Kiley McDaniel worries about Taylor’s contact rate as he climbs the minor league ladder, something that can be seen in his strikeout rate. Still, after the normal starting three outfielders, Taylor is the most intriguing option.
Kevin Frandsen and his near invisible walk rate — career 4.7% BB% — will also get some playing time in the corner outfield, though as a hitter he is 20% worse than league average for his career. If Frandsen is on your fantasy team, a lot of things went wrong.
To say Bryce Harper is a stud might be underselling him. This year represents his age-22 season and he already has almost 1500 major league PA’s under his belt. He’s hit 25% better than league average for his career, though last season it was only 15% above. A fresh season where he is unhampered by injuries is what fantasy owners are looking for, though there is cause for concern. Splitting seasons into halves is a dangerous and often incorrect evaluation method, though in Harper’s case, that is exactly what I’ll be doing. He hit for an 85 wRC+ in the first half as me missed all of May and most of June following thumb surgery. After the All-Star break a healthy Harper posted a 131 wRC+ with slight improvements in both his walk and strikeout rate compared to the first half. Harper’s second half 26% K% is still above his 21% career rate and a .362 post-ASB BABIP helped hide it. His increased swinging strike rate and decreased contact rate aren’t great signs, but with in-season splits, sample size is often the issue. For my money, Harper is a justifiable second round pick, but I feel more comfortable taking him in the third.
In the Minors
Brian Goodwin struggled in 329 PA’s in Triple-A last season, but was limited to 81 games. Kiley McDaniel sees Goodwin flashing potential as lead-off type and notes his plus running. Mike Carp signed a minor league deal with the Nats, and while his roster spot isn’t a given, he does own 107 career wRC+ in 1,000 PA’s. If a league average bat can be tucked away on a minor league deal, the Nats would have a very deep outfield in real life, if not particularly exciting fantasy options after the top three.
Both Harper and Werth are very valuable pieces and Span is no slough himself. Add in Taylor and there is four outfielders ranging from excellent to interesting. Even their role-player types in McLouth and Moore have potential should Werth miss significant time. Be it power with Harper, speed in Span or rate stats in Werth, the Nationals outfield have talent across the board.
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