2015 Outlook: Scherzer followed his 2013 Cy Young year with another solid campaign in 2014, falling just short of some of his peers in the elite tier of starters. He did this despite seeing contract negotiations with the Tigers break down in a very public manner at the start of the season, with the Tigers disclosing the offer that his camp turned down. Much of Scherzer's improvement the past two seasons can be owed to keeping the ball in the park better despite not being a significant ground ball pitcher. Now that he has signed a big contract with the Nationals, he could realistically rack up 275 strikeouts thanks to all the times he will face the light-hitting NL East.
2015 Outlook: Desmond -- not Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gomez -- is the only player in baseball to hit at least 20 homers and steal at least 20 bases in each of the past three seasons. His BABIP has remained consistently above league average during this run, but his ability to make contact has not. Desmond's strikeout rate has increased for three consecutive seasons from a near-league-average 21 percent to a much poorer rate of 28 percent in 2014. He does help in all four counting categories, as he was one of just five players in 2014 to go 20/20 while also scoring and driving in at least 70 runs. Desmond is entering the final year of his current deal, and he's looking to cash in his all-around game for a big payday on the free-agent market. There are flashier names at the shortstop position, but this guy has the health to match the production. Invest.
2015 Outlook: In 2014, the gloves finally truly came off for Strasburg, as he topped 200 innings for the first time. In a way, he's a victim of his own hype, as a 3.14 ERA and 1.12 WHIP to go along with 242 strikeouts are elite numbers. But given the way he came up and then made his major league debut, we tend to expect video-game numbers. Those still might come, by the way; he turns 27 this season and still has a mid-90s fastball and snappy curve. One of these years, everything is going to come together for a monster season, and you'll want to be there when it happens.
2015 Outlook: Less than a month into the 2014 campaign, Harper suffered a torn UCL in his left thumb that required surgery and kept him out for more than nine weeks. Predictably, Harper struggled immediately upon his return, slashing just .228/.330/.342 with five extra-base hits (two homers) in July, but he eased lingering concerns about the thumb by batting .283 with 11 homers over the final two months of the season. Manager Matt Williams, who infamously benched Harper early in the year for a "lack of hustle," primarily batted him sixth in the order, which proved far less fruitful in terms of RBIs. However, Harper should see more opportunities this year following Adam LaRoche's departure in the offseason. There were some concerning signs in regard to Harper's plate discipline last year, as his strikeout rate ballooned to 26.3 percent (from 18.9 percent) and his walk rate fell by nearly three percent. Those issues were masked to a certain extent by a .352 BABIP (career .319), so it wouldn't be a surprise if his average dipped a bit, but it's paramount to realize Harper is just 22 years old, and if he can stay healthy and refine his approach, he could finally turn in the type of season people have been waiting for. His upside remains as high as anyone's.
2015 Outlook: Zimmermann emerged as more than just an extreme strike-thrower in 2014, raising his strikeout rate from 18.6 percent to 22.8 percent en route to the finest ratios of his career. While he's throwing a changeup here and there, he mostly relies on pounding opposing hitters with his fastball (93.8 mph on average) and excellent slider. Zimmermann is in the final year of his contract, and the Nats reportedly dabbled in trade talks with the Cubs over the offseason, but nothing materialized. Given that Washington expects to contend in 2015, a midseason trade seems unlikely.
2015 Outlook: Even the savvy owners who targeted Rendon as a source of late-round value in 2014 had to be surprised by the return on their investment last season, as he became a five-category monster in his breakout campaign. The most unexpected part of his coming-out party may have been his work on the basepaths, as Rendon finished 17-for-20 on stolen-base attempts after swiping just eight on 10 attempts in his previous two seasons as a professional across all levels. After opening the season as the Nationals' primary second baseman, Rendon shifted over to third base when Ryan Zimmerman hit the disabled list, and he'll remain at the hot corner in 2015 as Zimmerman transitions to first base following the departure of Adam LaRoche. In addition to carrying similar lines against lefties and righties, Rendon showed no signs of slowing down over the course of the second half. He'll reprise his role as the Nationals' No. 2 hitter this season in what figures to be an excellent lineup.
2015 Outlook: Gonzalez missed six starts in 2014 due to shoulder inflammation, which has to be frightening for fantasy owners considering him at the draft table. But when he was on the mound, his results were similar to his career numbers, if not better in some instances. His 24.8 percent strikeout rate was better than his career average, and his 8.6 percent walk rate, while not elite, was still the best of his career. He also was a little bit unlucky, as his strand rate was a tick below average at 70.6 percent. Gonzalez did lose half an MPH off his fastball, however, and that's probably not coming back at age 29. Look for him to receive somewhat improved run and bullpen support, and if he stays healthy, his peripherals suggest he'll improve on last year's 3.57 ERA.
2015 Outlook: Now that Adam LaRoche has departed via free agency to the White Sox, the Nats have opened up first base for Zimmerman to move across the diamond -- a move that was desperately needed, given his shoulder woes. Zimmerman has welcomed the move, saying it allows him to focus on his hitting. But it wasn't Zimmerman's shoulder that limited him to just 61 games in 2014 -- rather, he suffered a broken thumb and then a hamstring injury that limited him even once he returned in September. He appears to be fully healed now and will enjoy eligibility at third base and outfield for one more season. The risks with Zimmerman are obvious, but they're also going to be priced in on draft day. Your reward for taking a chance on him could be a 25-homer season.
2015 Outlook: Some will look at Werth's dip in home runs last season and automatically assume that at 35, his power production is bound to decline again in 2015. Not so fast. His HR/FB rate was all the way down at 9.4 percent, nearly half of his 2013 mark (18.2 percent) and almost five percent lower than his career average of 14.2 percent. Granted, his ISO fell by more than 50 points, but Werth improved his contact rate to a career-best 83 percent and his average fly ball distance decreased by less than six feet. Power aside, Werth is still an on-base machine, having finished third in the NL in OBP behind only Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton last season, and he remains a steady contributor in average, RBI and runs. He also has enough speed to approach double-digit steals, and the move to left field -- a slightly less demanding position than right -- may help him avoid the types of nagging injuries he fought through last season.
2015 Outlook: Fister enjoyed a huge 2014 season despite a sharp strikeout rate dip and a strained lat that pushed his season debut to May 9. After getting roughed up by Oakland in that initial start, he reeled off a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 24 outings, going at least five innings in every one and failing to finish six innings just four times. The 14.8 percent strikeout rate, however, was a throwback to his Seattle days after an impressive 19.3 percent with the Tigers. He survived by walking virtually nobody, as his 3.6 percent walk rate was fifth-best among qualified starters; those who did reach were routinely left on base, as his 83.1 percent strand rate paced the league. The indicators can't see a repeat with these same skills, but the real surprise would be a repeat of these skills. The strikeout rate will almost certainly head upward and help negate the dip in strand rate, though you still shouldn't plan on an ERA among the league leaders. Buy the innings and WHIP while hoping that his continued presence on a great team yields another strong win total.
2015 Outlook: Storen had a superb 2014 that saw him ultimately wrest the closer's job from Rafael Soriano at the end of the season, a role that he'll have to begin 2015. But Storen is hardly a stable commodity, as both his performance and his role have fluctuated wildly as a major leaguer. In a way, his experience with the Nats is a microcosm of max-effort relievers as a whole. He burst onto the scene after being a blue-chip prospect, held his own but didn't quite dominate as a rookie, took over the closer's job in his second year in the majors, suffered his first elbow injury, lost his job to a veteran alternative, then finally had the redemption story to get his role back. Storen has changed his approach on the mound, using his changeup more often in the hope of inducing weak groundballs rather than turning to a slider to strike batters out. However, he had a whopping 90.6 percent strand rate and a .271 BABIP against last year, suggesting that some regression might be in order for 2015. Washington signed a former closer, Casey Janssen, this offseason to provide insurance for Storen, but he still figures to have the ninth-inning role to himself to start the season.
2015 Outlook: Ramos has overcome a multitude of injuries and obstacles during his big-league career, and 2014 was hardly an exception. After he was surprisingly removed prematurely on Opening Day, it was revealed that Ramos had previously suffered a broken left hand. He had surgery on his hamate bone in April, and was sidelined until early May by the recovery process. In June, Ramos returned to the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and by the All-Star break, he had appeared in just 37 games. The second half was much better in terms of health, as he played 51 games and hit eight of his 11 home runs. While his overall offensive production slipped last season, Ramos has the raw power necessary to push the 20-homer plateau, and he could parlay his steady contact skills (career 16.1 percent strikeout rate) and starting role in the deep Washington lineup into top-tier production as a catcher. It's just a matter of health at this point, and he should report to spring training with a clean bill to begin his age-27 campaign.
2015 Outlook: Span is coming off his best year since 2009, having finished 12th in runs (94), seventh in steals (31) and 13th in batting average (.302) among qualified hitters in 2014. He was the only player in the big leagues to finish in the top 15 in all three categories. It's unreasonable to expect a repeat performance in 2015, specifically in steals and batting average, as Spans is a career .286 hitter and had never topped 26 steals prior to last year. However, Span should have an excellent shot at finishing in the top 15 in runs again, as he will bat leadoff for a potent Nationals lineup. Even with some regression cooked into his pricing, his excellence in rotisserie leagues will not be truly understood by a good segment of owners. Leadoff hitters who score a lot of runs and don't hit for much power tend to be undervalued on draft day, and that could be the case for Span as he enters his age-32 season, which also happens to be a contract year.
2015 Outlook: If you stare at Roark's numbers long enough, you start to see a lot of a young Jeremy Hellickson. Like an early Hellickson, Roark has excelled at stranding runners, relying upon command and BABIP fortunes to win 22 games with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over the past two seasons. To date, Roark has stranded 79 percent of his baserunners and has enjoyed a .265 BABIP. These are hard rates to maintain from year to year for any starting pitcher, which puts Roark's ratios at risk for some inflation in 2015 as those rates normalize a bit. However, the extra hits that fall in will be somewhat offset by Roark's stinginess with walks and the fact he does a good job of keeping the ball in the yard. Following the Nationals' signing of Max Scherzer, Roark appears to be the odd-man out of the starting rotation, though it seems likely the team will make another move to free a spot back up for the 28-year-old.
2015 Outlook: Janssen's 2014 season got off to a rough start, as a shoulder injury sidelined him in spring training, resulting in temporarily losing the closer's job. When Janssen returned, it wasn't clear that he had fully recovered from the injury, as his average fastball velocity dropped another mph from 2013, down to 89.3. There have been plenty of successful non-flamethrower closers, but even accounting for that drop in velocity, Janssen fails to miss an adequate number of bats, with a strikeout rate dropping to 14.6 percent last year. Now set to start the season in a setup role in Washington, Janssen will need Drew Storen to struggle or get injured in order to get a shot at closing games in 2015.