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: When it comes to Strasburg, are you an optimist or pessimist? The optimist could point to his seventh-ranked 26.1 percent strikeout rate or eighth-ranked 1.05 WHIP and claim the right-hander again showed he's one of the best in the game at his craft at the mere age of 25. The pessimist could state that Strasburg's No. 17 Player Rater ranking among pure starters represented a disappointing season comparative to draft-day expectations; he was the No. 17 player (and No. 3 pitcher) off the board going by preseason ADP. Optimists should win this one. Strasburg still averaged 95.3 mph with his fastball, only a small decline in velocity, and it was revealed after the season that he had pitched some of the season in pain, resulting in October surgery to remove bone chips. We might see a better Strasburg in 2014, and any innings limitation should be out the window after he threw 183 frames in 2013. He could mount a challenge at the No. 1 pitching spot in any fantasy league, but, at worst, he looks like a top-10 option in any format.
Stephania Bell: Strasburg underwent arthroscopic surgery in October to remove debris from his elbow, which may have been responsible for his forearm tightness during the season. He is expected to participate in a normal spring training.
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: After a breakthrough 2012 campaign that saw him finish third in the National League Cy Young balloting, Gonzalez took a step backward statistically in 2013; not merely his 10-win drop, but also in most all of his ratio departments. Some of that was natural regression, but in his defense, some was merely the product of a poor April (5.34 ERA), as he managed 19 quality starts, a 2.97 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 26 starts from May 1 onward. On a playoff-hopeful Nationals team, Gonzalez has a legitimate chance at again approaching 20 wins with a sub-3.00 ERA, but fantasy owners must understand that his elevated walk rate, resulting in a WHIP higher than most elite starters, keeps him out of that class. There's bounce-back potential in the left-hander, but he's more second or third option on a mixed-league staff than a true "ace."
2014 Outlook: Zimmermann continues to outperform his peripherals thanks to his polished control and ability to pitch effectively deep into games: Over the past three seasons, his 4.9 percent walk rate ranked 11th (minimum 300 innings) and his 67.8 quality-start percentage 13th (minimum 50 starts), and this despite his 3.35 FIP during that time, placing only 20th. Zimmermann faces one significant fantasy obstacle: He doesn't miss bats at an elite rate, failing to strike out 20 percent of the hitters he has faced in any of those three seasons. He is therefore reliant upon his defense, as well as good fortune on balls in play. It's those traits that keep him just outside the upper tiers of fantasy starters, though he's as reliable as they come beyond that group.
2014 Outlook: The Washington Nationals might have scored themselves a coup with their December trade for Fister; they picked up arguably baseball's second-best control artist (behind Cliff Lee) at the price of two prospects and a bench bat. Since the date of Fister's first major league start (Aug. 11, 2009), he has the majors' fourth-best walk rate (4.8 percent) and walks-per-nine ratio (1.81), as well as the highest swing rate on non-strikes (38.4 percent) and the second-best called-strike rate (38.4 percent), behind only Lee. Fister has an arsenal that consists of both precision and deception, things that should play nicely in the more pitching-oriented National League. He might enjoy improved ratios on his new team at no expense to his win total, and he'll have a better defense behind him than the one that backed him in Detroit. There aren't many more stable investments in the SP3 class.
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: The good news is Soriano's walk rate is trending in the right direction. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is fewer strikeouts. Of course, the most important aspect of a closer is saves, and Soriano has topped 40 for two straight seasons. Soriano's track record and job security put him in the top 20. His low strikeout total and volatile ratios push him toward the back end.
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: An innings-eating, late-in-the-game relief dynamo, Clippard is one the rare pitchers with both the track record and volume to drive your ERA, WHIP and strikeout categories. Consider that from 2011-13, he has the third-most saves plus holds in baseball (116), making him a prime choice in holds leagues and a wise handcuff to Rafael Soriano if your team is afforded an extensive bench.
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.