The Washington Nationals received a much larger contribution from uber-prospect Bryce Harper than expected last season. That was highly beneficial, not only because Harper’s performance was exceptional, but also because both Jayson Werth and Michael Morse missed significant chunks of the year with injuries. As a result, Harper has seen his draft stock rise dramatically, while Werth is being selected as mostly an afterthought. Add Denard Span to an already strong lineup, and there’s a good chance all three Nationals outfielders will have value in most fantasy leagues.
After last season, Bryce Harper is already being counted on as an elite fantasy performance. Given his rookie numbers, and the type of player he’s supposed to become, it’s not all that crazy to think Harper finishes the year as a
top-10 top-5 outfielder (top-10 just doesn’t seem bold enough with Harper). Players who come up this early and play well tend to see an increase in their numbers the following season, so you don’t have to fall prey to the “sophomore slump” nuttiness bandied about by people trying to force story lines. You likely already know about Harper’s power, but he’s also an incredibly aggressive base-runner. That led to, perhaps surprisingly, 18 steals last year. He could definitely become a 30-20 player as soon as this year.
Tyler Moore will likely receive some time at first base, but he’s also a candidate to play out in left. Moore was never thought of as a strong prospect likely due to the fact that he was old for his leagues, but he raked in both 2010 and 2011. He might add some nice power totals, but his average could fall due to an abundance of strikeouts. Steve Lombardozzi may see some time out in left, but he’s the primary backup infielder, so it’s become his third option. He’s a slap-hitter who makes a lot of contact. He doesn’t have a ton of power, and probably isn’t an elite stolen-base threat. He will have more value if he ends up in a full-time role at an infield spot.
If there was a glaring weakness on last year’s team, it was the need for a traditional center fielder and a leadoff hitter. Denard Span should fill both of those roles. He’s not a power guy, but he has shown the ability to hit for a relatively high average, take a fair share of walks and steal about 25 bases. He’s also joining a much better lineup, so there’s at least a reason to believe he could turn into a run-scoring machine this year. At worst, he’s a speedy bench outfielder that you put in your lineup when you need more steals. At best, he gets lucky on ball in play, hits over .300 and becomes a pretty good third outfielder.
Once upon a time, Roger Bernadina could have played his way into a full-time job with the Nationals. Those times have passed as the team has ascended into contention. Bernadina is much better suited as a part-time player. Bernadina gets the green light a ton, as evidenced by his 15 steals in 261 plate appearances last year. He’s not a candidate to hit for a decent average again. He strikes out too much, and his .359 BABIP is bound to see some regression.
After an awful 2011, it looked like Jayson Werth was going to redeem himself last year. He got off to a decent start, but his season was cut short by a broken wrist, suffered while diving for a ball. Werth managed to return, and played admirably, so the wrist didn’t seem to be a huge problem during the last few months of the season. Werth has generally destroyed lefties over his career, but struggled mightily against them during 2011, contributing to the slump. He didn’t receive enough plate appearances against them last season to draw any conclusions, though. If he can regain his form against lefties, he’s actually a good candidate to improve substantially. He is getting older, and has disappointed owners the past two seasons. There are some risks, but he’s a solid choice considering he’s being selected as a number-three outfielder.
All three starting outfielders should be fantasy-relevant this year. While Harper is a stud, Werth could be a nice sleeper based on what he’s done in past seasons. Span doesn’t have any elite skills, but makes for a speedy backup outfielder in most formats. The team should have one of the stronger lineups in the game, which should lead to plenty of opportunities for all three players to pad their stats. After an injury-riddled 2012, the team’s outfield should be in for some improvement.