2014 Outlook: Few players possess a wider range of potential 2014 outcomes than Harper: He is a 21-year-old, budding MVP candidate, but one who absorbed a slew of injury questions in 2013. To put it simply, he batted .300/.400/.622 with 10 home runs in his first 35 games of 2013 before crashing into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13; he played only 83 of the Washington Nationals' next 124 games and batted .262/.356/.433 with 10 home runs thereafter. Harper's all-out style has spawned inquiries about whether the label "risk/reward" player need be applied in fantasy circles, but at the same time, he's a No. 1 overall draftee (2010), a two-time No. 2 prospect in baseball (Keith Law's 2011 and 2012 lists), and a player who had the fourth-most Wins Above Replacement through his age-20 season (9.0) of anyone in baseball history, behind only Mike Trout, Mel Ott and Ty Cobb. At some point Harper the stud will emerge and you'll want to already be on board, but we'd understand if you do so covering your eyes every time he attempts a play with reckless abandon.
Stephania Bell: Harper dealt with chronic bursitis in his left knee last year and had October surgery to address the issue. He should be ready to start the season if he doesn't overdo it this spring.
2014 Outlook: Desmond is riding back-to-back 20/20 seasons, a rare feat for a shortstop, illustrated best by the fact that only three shortstops in history -- Hanley Ramirez (4), Jimmy Rollins (4) and Alex Rodriguez (3) -- have had more in their careers. Always a capable base stealer, Desmond picked up the power pace in 2012, utilizing a more aggressive approach in which he improved by leaps and bounds covering the inner third of the plate. He's a bit more strikeout-prone than a points-league owner might prefer, but preferences should be cast aside for a player aged 28 with his recent track record of success. This is an early-round pick, well worth building around in any format.
2014 Outlook: Though Zimmerman's 2012-13 shows a much more consistent .280/25/85 performer than fantasy owners tend to give him credit for, his critics do raise important points. Injuries have long been an issue -- he averaged 133 games during the past six seasons -- his eroding defense at third base lends legitimacy to chatter that the Washington Nationals might eventually shift him across the diamond to first base and both his strikeout and swing-and-miss rates have risen in back-to-back seasons. For 2014, however, Zimmerman retains his third-base eligibility -- and he'll probably keep it at least through 2015, too -- meaning that, once again, he should settle in as a top-10 mixed-league third baseman and top-75 overall player. At this stage of his career, however, any upside from that status might be gone.
2014 Outlook: Don't let the constant criticism of his bloated contract dissuade you from drafting Werth, as, despite an up-and-down three seasons with the Washington Nationals, he has averaged .277/23/77 numbers with 17 stolen bases per 162 games played. His 2013 was particularly productive: He set a career high with his .318 batting average and finished the season with .339/.432/.600 second-half numbers, including 15 home runs in 65 games. Werth's speed has been in decline for a couple of years, and he has missed enough time in his Nationals career to be of concern in the injury department -- there's a reason they signed Nate McLouth as their fourth outfielder -- but he's also a solid early-to-mid round pick with upside in leagues that use on-base percentage.
2014 Outlook: Now there we go. Long considered a future top-10 fantasy catcher, Ramos' career had, entering 2013, been marred by injuries. But after returning from a lengthy absence due to a hamstring issue, he started 55 of the Washington Nationals' final 67 games last season, batting .261 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs, with seven of those homers and 26 of the RBIs coming in 24 September contests. Ramos' durability was the greater surprise, but he had always been praised for his underrated pop. If he can extend his good health into 2014, he'll be one of the more-utilized full-time catchers in the game, with the potential to lead his position in homers and RBIs, albeit at the expense of a mediocre on-base percentage (take note of that if your league counts it). There's risk here, but the reward is awfully good considering his likely mid-round status.
2014 Outlook: A career-worst strikeout rate in tandem with his lowest-ever batting average on balls in play harpooned Cabrera's usually consistent batting average downward 30 points, though it should be noted he hit into some bad luck, as his line drive rate was identical to 2012. His home runs per fly ball dropped for a second straight season, though an influx of fly balls helped maintain a teens home run total. It seems like he's older, but at just 28 years of age, chances are 2013 was just a down year for Cabrera, especially since he had to fight through assorted back, wrist and leg woes. The 25 bombs Cabrera smacked in 2011 are a distant memory, but a total in the mid-to-high teens is plausible, as are double-digit steals. If you don't chase scarcity, Cabrera is a nice consolation prize.
2014 Outlook: Rendon was recalled for good in early June, and he held his own after transitioning to second base. His strong suit is smacking line drives all over the yard, which should help support a useful batting average. The problem from both a fantasy and real-life perspective is that Rendon possesses below-average power and almost no speed while former second baseman Danny Espinosa has some pop and can run, and would love to get his old gig back. Espinosa is going to have to beat out Rendon, just be aware that Rendon's job as the regular second baseman is not set in stone.
2014 Outlook: After he spent years as a reserve/occasional starter, the Cubs handed Schierholtz the strong side of a platoon and he expressed his appreciation by topping 20 homers, and in general being one of the few bright spots in a dim offense. Back for a second stint in Wrigley Field, Schierholtz should again have a productive campaign, especially if you play in a format with daily changes. Last season, Schierholtz's OPS versus right-handers was .799 as opposed to .553 versus southpaws, albeit in limited chances.
2014 Outlook: Since arriving in Washington, LaRoche has had a career year sandwiched between a pair of clunkers. Offseason surgery to clean loose bodies from his left elbow may be at least in part related to LaRoche having his home run per fly ball rate drop to one of its lowest levels of his career. LaRoche's contact rate didn't suffer, so assuming his power drop was induced by his elbow woes, there's a good chance of a bounce-back. The best part is it won't cost very much on draft day to test this theory.
2014 Outlook: A contact hitter with decent speed, Span is a player with a limited downside yet one also lacking in any real upside. From 2011-13 combined, his 11.4 percent strikeout rate ranked 23rd, his 9.1 percent miss rate on swings fifth; he also paced the majors with a .273 batting average on non-competitive pitches (those considerably outside the strike zone) in 2013. Those result in healthy enough ratios to make him a consistent 20-steal candidate, the primary threat to that entering 2014 the presence of a talented fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth fighting for his at-bats. Span should be an NL-only asset, but he's only a fringe bet in mixed.
2014 Outlook: After a magical year and a half in Baltimore, McLouth this winter accepted a job with the Washington Nationals that is more suitable to his skill set: Fourth outfielder, pinch hitter and pinch runner. Here's why: His career-high 30 stolen bases were fueled by a bloated attempt rate, and his righty/lefty split widened to the point where he's more platoon man than regular (.263 average against right-handers, .196 against left-handers). McLouth can be of service to NL-only teams filling roster spots with cheap speed, but he'd need several injuries to Nationals regulars to be more.
2014 Outlook: A miserable 2013 cost Espinosa his job; the Washington Nationals shifted top prospect Anthony Rendon to second base as Espinosa's replacement, and as spring training opened, the team intended to have Rendon start there with Espinosa battling for a reserve role. It's conceivable Espinosa could make the team, and his power/speed combination makes him worth final-round NL-only consideration. Still, he's a free swinger who strikes out a lot -- 27.1 percent of the time in his career to date -- so be prepared to absorb a low batting average and some painful slumps, even if he somehow recaptures a regular role somewhere.
2014 Outlook: Florimon backed into full-time run with the Twins, as they had no else that could field the position. He's got some power and speed, but a terrible contact rate means he's a batting average liability. If you can buffer, or perhaps don't care about, his average, Florimon is a viable fallback if you don't want to pay the scarcity tax for the better middle infielders.
2014 Outlook: Lobaton's role as Jose Molina's platoon partner came to an end after Tampa acquired Ryan Hanigan. But Lobaton's improved 2013 campaign impressed Washington enough to trade for Lobaton to be the backup to Wilson Ramos. Barring an injury to Ramos, Lobaton won't get the same playing time as last season, yielding him waiver-wire fodder even in deep leagues using two catchers.