2013 MLB Season Preview – NL East

Florida Marlins Introduce Ozzie Guillen as New Manager

NL East 2013 Preview

Miami Marlins

2012 Record: 69 – 93 (5th in NL East)

Burning Questions: Are there any Marlins fans left? Why is Jeffrey Loria still allowed to own a baseball team? Will MLB free agents ever take their talents to South Beach again? Could the Marlins be bad enough to lose 100 games? Is this the last season we see Gio Stanton in a Marlins uniform?

Offseason Additions: SP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 3B Placido Polanco, LF Juan Pierre, RP Jon Rauch, RP Chad Qualls, UT Chone Figgins, C Jeff Mathis, OF Jake Marisnick (P), SP Justin Nicolino (P), IF Derek Dietrich (P), SP Anthony DeSclafani (P)

Offseason Subtractions: SS Jose Reyes, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, SS Yunel Escobar, RP Heath Bell, 1B Carlos Lee

Prospect Outlook: One of the few reasons to be optimistic in South Florida is the surplus of young talent obtained by the Marlins thanks in large part to their 2012 fire sale. Technically the fire sale started with the trades of Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell before the trade deadline, but it would be the 12 player trade between Miami and Toronto that would define Miami’s offseason. The Marlins sent SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to the Blue Jays. In exchange the Marlins received a package of 7 players including Jays top prospects Jake Marisnick (OF) and Justin Nicolino (SP) along with the slick fielding, light hitting Adeiny Hechavarria; who is poised to become the everyday SS.

Miami is loaded with high ceiling, big potential prospects. The only issue is that these prospects are a year or two away from contributing at the major league level. Two prime examples are SP Jose Fernandez and OF Christian Yelich. Both players are former 1st round picks in the MLB Amateur Draft, and both very well could make an impact late in 2013. Yelich, who was drafted in 2010, is the more experienced of the two and the more likely to make an appearance this season; his bat alone should get him some AB’s as a late season call-up. Fernandez, drafted in 2011, has the higher upside of the two and projects to be a front line starter at the major league level. In his first full pro season Fernandez went 14 – 1 with a 1.71 ERA in 25 starts split across two levels of A ball.

If Fernandez can keep up his rapid ascension of minor league levels and dominance of minor league hitters, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question to see him help pitch the Marlins to a potential 100 loss season. If you’re in a deep keeper league with a minor league system, it’s definitely worth drafting or bidding on Fernandez or Yelich for the future. It will pay off.

Best Fantasy Option: If it wasn’t for Giancarlo Stanton the answer would be nobody. Seriously. Outside of the Astros, this may be the most desolate looking fantasy roster in a long time. Thankfully they have the man they call Gio. In 2011, the world was introduced to Gio when he put up a season line of .262/34/87. Following a busy offseason that saw the Marlins acquire leadoff man Jose Reyes to pair with Hanley Ramirez in order to get runners on base for when Gio stepped up to bat. Well we know how that ended. Reyes and Stanton had superb seasons, and Hanley struggled offensively before being shipped to the Dodgers. Gio put up a line of .290/37/86 in 2012 and looked poised to become the face of the Marlins franchise for a long time. Cue Jeffrey Loria’s music.

Following the sale of most of their valuable commodities to Toronto and Los Angeles, the Marlin’s front office has successfully not only alienated their fan base (again), but also alienated their only marketable player left. So what does 2013 have in store with the man formerly known as Mike? With the Marlins not to keen on trading their young star, and no one to protect him in the lineup, it looks like Gio is stuck in baseball purgatory aka South Florida. Poor Gio, I can’t imagine how many fastballs he sees with the likes of Justin Ruggiano or Rob Brantley protecting him in the lineup. Stanton should still be good for 30+ bombs this season, but his RBI numbers will most likely suffer if no one is capable of getting on base.

Worst Case Scenario: The team has a decaying internal infrastructure that is led by a callous owner whose sole interest is to pad his own pocket opposed to worrying about his fan base. As a fan you can’t grow attached to home grown talent because it’s only a matter of time before they are sold for .70 cents on the dollar. Even home games are hard to attend, not just because of the lack of talent, but because of the sheer gaudiness of a stadium that features a 25 foot party favour in centerfield. Does this sound familiar? It’s hard to predict a worst case scenario for the Marlins when they’re living one.

Best Case Scenario: The front office decides not to shop Giancarlo Stanton (for the time being) and he continues to smash 450 foot bombs off the Latino Seussical statue in center. Other than that, pickings are slim for a potential upside to this season. Marlins fans should be optimistic about their bright young future in the minors, and the possibility of Stephen Strasburg coming to town to pitch.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 5th

wright

New York Mets

2012 Record: 74 – 88 (4th in NL East)

Burning Questions: Could the Mets be bad enough to finish below the Marlins? Is this the worst assembled outfield in the majors? Which Ike Davis shows up; the .227 hitter, or the 32 HR/90 RBI producer? Is it possible for Johan Santana to fill the void left by R.A Dickey? How will sophomore pitcher Matt Harvey perform in his first full season? Are top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler ready to contribute?

Offseason Additions: SP Shaun Marcum, OF Collin Cowgill, C John Buck, OF Marlon Byrd, RP Brandon Lyon, RP Aaron Laffey, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Pedro Feliciano, RP Scott Atchison, C Travis d’Arnaud (P), SP Noah Syndergaard (P)

Offseason Subtractions: SP R.A. Dickey, LF Jason Bay, CF Andres Torres, SP Mike Pelfrey, OF Scott Hairston, SP Chris Young, RP Jon Rauch, RP Ramon Ramirez, IF Ronny Cedeno, C Kelly Shoppach, C Josh Thole, C Mike Nickeas, 3B Jefry Marte (P)

Prospect Outlook: In the past two seasons the Mets have traded two “franchise” players, and in return received a fantastic haul of prospects. At the 2011 trade deadline, the Mets flipped 7x All Star Carlos Beltran to the SF Giants in exchange for their top pitching prospect; Zack Wheeler. The Giants were looking to add a middle of the order bat and the Mets just happened to have one that they were willing to part with. Sure the price was steep, but the Giants didn’t flinch; that’s just the cost of making it to the playoffs. Fast forward to the 2012 offseason, this time it’s the Blue Jays who are looking to improve their roster and make a push for playoff contention. They’re after 2012 Cy Young winner R.A Dickey. The price: Two top prospects (Travis d’Arnaud & Noah Syndergaard) and John Buck. Giving up Beltran and Dickey has made the Mets a better team for the future.

Both Wheeler and d’Arnaud are projected to make an impact in 2013, and Syndergaard isn’t that far behind. In Wheeler, the Mets have a power arm that can touch 98mph and projects as a potential future ace. Last season in the minors, Wheeler compiled a 12 – 8 record with a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts over AA and AAA; he also struck out 148 batters in 149 innings. Wheeler, who was drafted in the 1st round (9th) out of high school by the Giants in 2009, is only 22 and could team up with 2012 break out Matt Harvey to give the Mets a fantastic 1-2 for years to come. He will most likely begin 2013 at AAA, but similar to Matt Harvey last season, don’t be surprised to see him called up before the All Star break.

If it wasn’t for a torn PCL ligament in his left knee, Travis d’Arnaud could very well be the starting catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. d’Arnaud tore up his knee sliding into 2nd base on July 14th, a bad break on a hustle type of play. Less than two weeks later JP Arencibia had a foul ball break his right hand sidelining him for six weeks. If it wasn’t for that torn ligament, d’Arnaud would have substituted for JP instead of Jeff Mathis. Instead d’Arnaud gets traded for an ace for the second time in his young career. The one knock on Travis has been his durability. When healthy he has the tools and make up to be a franchise catcher at the Major League level. d’Arnaud has the ability to hit for both power and average and is extremely athletic and agile catcher, who has a plus throwing arm and good game calling ability. If he can stay healthy, you can DEFINITELY count on seeing d’Arnaud at Citi Field in 2013

Best Fantasy Option: The Mets really have only one sure fire fantasy option, and that is team captain David Wright. Going into his 30th year and 10th season, Wright is looking to have a follow up to a successful 2012 campaign. In 2012, Wright went: .306/21/93 and put his dismal, injury plagued 2011 behind him. Despite his lack of a supporting cast, when healthy David Wright is a top 5 fantasy third basemen in the game. The main knock in the last few seasons has been his lack of power at home, and his durability. Team officials helped solve the home field power outage by moving the outfield walls at Citi Field in last season, and Wright responded by knocking 12 out while playing at home. The durability issue is not something that can easily be fixed. Wright plays a very demanding position (3B) and does so at a very high energy level. Injuries unfortunately are the cost that that type of player pays. Seeing as how he missed the end of the WBC with a muscle strain in his chest (intercostals) it’s tough to foresee David Wright playing in more than 135+ games. If injuries are of no concern, pencil Wright in for a .300/20/85 season.

If you’ve missed out on the Eric Hosmer’s and Freddie Freeman’s of the world, Ike Davis might be an attractive late round selection. Sure Davis won’t necessarily be a batting title candidate, but another 30+ home run season is definitely in the cards. However, with a dearth of offensively gifted players on the roster, another 90+ RBI season seems very unlikely. Matt Harvey is another player who could help your team out if you’re looking for a 3rd starter or bench starter.

Worst Case Scenario: The front office of your team could be tied to a white collar criminal that pulled off the single biggest ponzi scheme in US history resulting in a $162 million cash settlement and causing the team to have to sell shares in order to generate internal revenue. Oh that was last March? My bad. With a snowballs chance in hell of making the playoffs the only thing that could be worse would be any kind of significant injury to Wright or Davis, or any regression from Matt Harvey and their top prospect. Either way, it will be a long season in Queens.

Best Case Scenario: 22 year old Dwight Gooden and 24 year old Darryl Strawberry stumble through a wormhole and slip into the Mets everyday lineup thanks to the Mets return to their vintage look. Ageless wonder Jesse Orosco notices his former teammates and bails Lenny Dykstra out of jail just in time for the all star break. Keith Hernandez is noticeably absent as he is stuck filming a Just For Men commercial with Clyde Frazier. Sorry Mets fans. This actually has higher odds of happening than the 2013 Mets actually finishing ahead of the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals. Best case scenario… the Mets don’t lose more games than the Marlins. Come right out and MEET the Mets…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 4th

hamels

Philadelphia Phillies

2012 Record: 81 – 81 (3rd in NL East)

Burning Questions: Could the Phillies have an older roster than the Yankees? Do they have the oldest everyday infield (Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Young)? Was last year the beginning of the end of the Doc? How many more days does Ryan Howard have as an everyday 1B? Does Chase Utley play more than 100 games? Does Michael Young have anything left in the tank? Will Cliff Lee win more than 6 games this season (yes)? Will Cole Hamels prove to be worth his extension? Which Delmon Young shows up? Is Domonic Brown ready to finally break out? Could another so/so season mean the end for Charlie Manual in Philadelphia?

Offseason Additions: CF Ben Revere, 3B Michael Young, SP John Lannan, RP Mike Adams, RF Delmon Young, RP Chad Durbin, RP Juan Cruz, SP Aaron Cook, C Humberto Quintero, UT Joe Mather, IF Yuniesky Betancourt

Offseason Subtractions: SP Vance Worley, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Juan Pierre, OF Nate Schierholtz, IF Ty Wigginton, RP Josh Lindblom, C Brian Schneider, RP Jose Contreras, SP Trevor May (P)

Prospect Outlook: After years of pillaging their minor league system in order to acquire big name players, the Phillies are just now beginning to restock their depleted farm system. Past trades for Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee (to name a few) saw plenty of major league calibre prospects move onto new futures with new teams. Some of these players are now looking to help impact their new clubs. In 2012, the Phillies front office realized that they were not going to win with their current roster, so they begin to sell off parts in order to obtain salary relief and prospects. Now most of these prospects are not looking to be making an impact until at least 2014-15, but we may see some young talent strut though Citizens Bank Ballpark this season.

With Carlos Ruiz looking to miss the first 25 games of the 2013 season due to suspension for a banned substance, the Phillies are slated to start Eric Kratz (who?) as their starting catcher. That could change though if catching prospect Tommy Joseph has an impressive showing in spring training. Joseph, who was acquired from the Giants in exchange for Hunter Pence, is offensively gifted with very good raw power, and the ability to drive the ball to all fields. There were questions about his defence and ability to remain behind the plate, but he has shown vast improvement in positioning, blocking and throwing out base stealers. Even if he doesn’t start with the Phillies in 2013, there is a VERY good possibility that we see him up in the majors, especially with Carlos Ruiz being a free agent at the end of the season.

Impact arms like Ethan Martin (acquired in Victorino trade to LA) and Jesse Biddle (2010 1st rounder) are both honing their craft in the minors and the days of them throwing from a big league mound are not far away. Of the two, Martin (drafted 1st round in 2008) is the more polished and therefore more likely to earn a call up at some point this season. Martin, is currently a 3 pitch pitcher with a hard fastball that touches 97 mph, he compliments that with a hard breaking slider, and a change-up that is currently being worked on.

Best Fantasy Option: For the past 5 seasons, the Phillies have had the luxury of having one of the most potent fantasy rosters in the game. Ryan Howard was always a 40 HR/ 120 RBI possibility, Jimmy Rollins was a premier SS in the game, when healthy Chase Utley was a top 3 (maybe the top) 2B in the MLB, not to mention starters like Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz; hell even Raul Ibanez was a fantasy gem in Philly… and we haven’t even got to their pitchers. The Phillies actually had the audacity to field 3 ACES in their starting rotation (Halladay, Hamels, and Lee)!! Not to mention the likes of Vance Worley, and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies had an embarrassment of riches to say the least.

So what happened? Age and injuries were the main culprit. Howard missed the first 3 months recovering from a torn Achilles tendon; Utley (34) has only averaged 100 games played in the past 3 seasons because of reoccurring knee injuries. Rollins, is also 34, and plays a physically demanding position in SS. Throw in the fact that he is projected as the lead-off hitter in 2013 and would you really be surprised if he breaks down? Even the good doctor, Roy Halladay, wasn’t immune to the injury bug. Doc, had his worst statistical season in the majors, and missed 7 weeks over the course of the 2012 season with shoulder issues. His line in 2012:

11 – 8 • 4.49 ERA • 156.1 IP • 1.22 WHIP

Those shoulder issues are most likely the baggage from his 2700 major league innings pitched. With the Doc not getting any younger, and his workload finally looking to catch up to him, I would definitely recommend staying away from the Doc this season; especially with his fastball sitting in the 86-89 mph range all spring.

In 2013, your best fantasy option on the Phillies comes down to their two left handed starters: Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee. Both lefties started over 30 games, tossed 200+ innings, and struck out 200+ batters in 2013. However, only one of them would have a record that reflected those numbers. Here are their lines:

Hamels: 17 – 6 • 3.05 ERA • 215.1 IP • 260 K’s • 1.12 WHIP

Lee: 6 – 9 • 3.16 ERA • 211 IP • 207 K’s • 1.11 WHIP

Little bit of a win difference to say the least.

Lee missed some time in 2012 with an oblique injury but that wasn’t that the cause of the low win total. The main reason was bad luck and untimely hitting. Lee had a streak of 13 starts where he went winless. His bullpen blew a few leads, and his team’s bats fell silent in close games. It happens. It’s part of the game. Hence, Hamels Cy Young calibre numbers. Although, perhaps some of Hamels dominance was attributed to him playing in a contract year; his 2012 season did
see him get rewarded with 7yr/$153 million contract extension.

If you can only have one of the two go with Hamels, especially if you are in a keeper league. That being said, don’t be disappointed if you end up with Lee, and definitely don’t overlook him based on his 2012 numbers.

Worst Case Scenario: For a team as talent loaded as the Phillies, anything but postseason ball will be considered a failure. Philly fans are not the most understanding of people, and a second straight ho hum season could end up leading to a dismantling of the team. Long term injuries to any of their stars would be the making of a disaster in Philly. Long term injuries to the big 3 in the pitching staff will stifle any chance of contending in the NL East. The right shoulder of Roy Halladay should definitely be the focal point and a main cause for concern this season, but an injury to Hamels would be absolutely devastating.

Best Case Scenario: The good doctor shrugs off his injured right shoulder, and puts up a throwback Roy Halladay season (19-7/3.30 ERA/220 IP). Lefties Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels follow suit and end up carving up the NL like its 2009. The Phillies aging stars turn back the hands of time and give Charlie Manual one of the most feared lineups in the game. Domonic Brown finally realized his immense potential and has a breakout season at the age of 26. The “good” Delmon Young shows up in Philadelphia and turns out to be the wild card that the Phillies were missing. Not quite good enough to top the Nationals for the NL East crown, the Phillies manage to surpass the Braves and land a wild card spot.

Trust me… looking at this lineup… anything is possible…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 3rd

uptons

Atlanta Braves

2012 Record: 94 – 68 (2nd in NL East)

Burning Questions: How much will the Braves miss Chipper Jones? Do the Braves have what it takes to reclaim the NL East crown? Is this the best outfield in baseball? Will a change in scenery be beneficial to both Upton brothers? Can Brian McCann rebound from a subpar 2012? How has the name Freddie Freeman not been snapped up by an upcoming ATL MC? Could this be the best bullpen in the majors? Is Julio Teheran ready to contribute to the rotation? What does Andrelton Simmons do in a full MLB season?

Offseason Additions: LF Justin Upton, CF B.J. Upton, RP Jordan Walden, 3B Chris Johnson, C Gerald Laird, UT Blake DeWitt, IF Ramiro Pena, C Matt Pagnozzi

Offseason Subtractions: 3B Chipper Jones, CF Michael Bourn, 3B Martin Prado, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Jair Jurrjens, SP Randall Delgado, IF/OF Eric Hinske, C David Ross, UT Jeff Baker, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Lyle Overbay, SP Ben Sheets, RP Chad Durbin, RP Miguel Batista, RP Peter Moylan, SS Nick Ahmed (P), SP Zeke Spruill (P), 3B Brandon Drury (P).

Prospect Outlook: The Braves have always had a managed to have good luck when it comes to developing and grooming young pitchers; especially those with “high ceilings.” In 2007, the Braves signed a lanky, unimposing 16 year old pitching prospect out of Colombia as an Amateur Free Agent. In 2011, that same prospect was named the 4th best in all of the MLB (behind Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Matt Moore); his name was Julio Teheran. Teheran burst onto the Braves radar after a good showing in rookie ball in 2009 before moving up to low A ball. In 2010, Julio went 9 – 8 with a 2.59 ERA in 24 starts across three minor league level (low A to AA). In that same year where he was heralded as the 4th best prospect in the majors (2011), Teheran made a lasting impression on the baseball world. To say that he tore up AAA is a bit of an understatement. Look for yourself:

24 Starts • 15 – 3 • 2.55 ERA • 144.2 IP • 122 K’s • 1.18 WHIP

Those are filthy numbers for anyone, let alone a 20 year old kid pitching at AAA for the first time.

That performance would earn him a late season call up where he got roughed up in his 19 innings in the Majors. So why is he not already on the roster? Well after his dominant 2011, the Braves decided that they were in no real rush to rush Teheran to the majors, especially with a full rotation, and other pitchers slightly more major league ready than Julio. Besides, what would the harm be in allowing him to dominate AAA again, right? Unfortunately they would be wrong as 2012 would prove to be an absolute nightmare for Teheran. It’s hard to say that he regressed; I would say it was more of a stall. One year removed from being proverbially “lights-out,” Teheran looked anything but. Here are his numbers from 2012:

26 Starts • 7 – 9 • 5.08 ERA • 131 IP • 97 K’s • 1.44 WHIP

Just a little bit of a difference between 2011 and 2012 to say the least. Although concerned, the Braves still brought up Teheran as a September call up. His performance with Atlanta was nothing to write home about.

So what do we expect in 2013? Which Teheran shows up for the Braves? So far the answer is the GOOD Julio Teheran. Throughout spring training Teheran has looked dominant, and showed no signs of his 2012 performance. Teheran has made 6 starts this spring and has pitched 26 innings, he has 3 wins to go along with his 35 strikeouts and 1.04 ERA; he has also one-hit three teams to boot. Teheran looks to be a lock for the 5th spot in the Braves rotation and may even surpass left Paul Maholm if he continues to look sharp. *Fantast Alert* Teheran is definitely worth taking a flier on with a late draft pick… you’ll be kicking yourself if he slips by you…

Best Fantasy Option: Need an outfielder? Look no further than the Braves trio of young, fantasy studs. The Braves made a big splash in the free agent market by signing the 28 year old B.J Upton to a 5 year/$75million deal. They weren’t done adding Upton’s though, as they traded for B.J’s younger brother Justin after he fell out of favour with the Diamondbacks organization. Now pair those two up with incumbent RF Jason Heyward, and the Braves could potentially have the best outfield in baseball. Take a look at their 162 game averages:

Heyward: .261 • 22 HR • 74 RBI • 16 SB

Upton, B.J: .255 • 20 HR • 75 RBI • 39 SB

Upton, J: .278 • 24 HR • 80 RBI • 18 SB

They’re not jaw dropping by any means, but they’re still impressive. Factor in that they’re all under 29, and surrounded by hitters like Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla; those stat lines could definitely take an upward swing. Justin Upton has the most potential and upside of the trio, followed by Heyward and B.J, but owning any one of the three greatly improves any fantasy roster.

No Braves fantasy talk would be complete without mentioning a pitcher; or in this case two. The Braves have a potential Greg Maddux 2.0 in Kris Medlan, and perhaps the best and most dominant closer in the game today in Craig Kimbrel. Last season the Washington Nationals made headlines by shutting down staff ace Stephen Strasburg in the middle of a pennant race, once he had reached his predetermined 160 innings pitched limit. Strasburg was in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, and the Nat’s didn’t want to ruin their future for a shot at today; completely understandable. The Braves were in a similar situation with Kris Medlan, who was also in his first full season back from Tommy John. Instead of having him pitch every 5th day as a starter, the Braves had Medlan start out of the bullpen as a reliever, that way they could limit his use until they needed him as a starter. Medlan made his first start on July 31st and was an absolute stud for the Braves down the stretch. In 12 starts, Medlan went 9 – 0 with a 0.97 ERA! He would finish the season with a 10 – 1 record and a 1.57 ERA.

So why didn’t the Nat’s take that option? Well probably because Strasberg was more valuable at the beginning of the year in order to pitch them into playoff contention. The Braves didnt have that pressure, so they didn’t need to rush Medlan; plus they have the luxury of being STACKED with young impact arms who can fill in when needed.

If you’re the kind of owner who likes to draft your closers early, the first name on your list should be Craig Kimbrel. Armed with 100 MPH heat, and filthy breaking ball, the soon to be 25 year old is arguably the best closing pitcher currently in the game today; and leads a bullpen that is one of the best in the game. Kimbrel has only been the closer for two full seasons, but he has been a dominant force in the majors since his debut in May 2010.

2010: 21 G • 7 GF • 4 – 0 • 0.44 ERA • 20 IP • 40 K’s • 1 SV • 1.21 WHIP

2011: 79 G • 64 GF • 4 – 3 • 2.10 ERA • 77 IP • 127 K’s • 46 SV • 1.04 WHIP

2012: 63 G • 56 GF • 3 – 1 • 1.01 ERA • 62.2 IP •116 K’s • 42 SV • 0.65 WHIP

Barring some unforeseen injury or case of Rick Ankiel-itis (inability to hit strike zone) look for Kimbrel to continue his late inning dominance and keep piling up the save and strikeouts

Worst Case Scenario: The Braves were one of the more active teams in the offseason as they realized that the Washington Nationals were for real last year, and definitely not going away anytime soon. The Braves made the playoffs in 2012, but fell short of advancing to the NLDS after losing out to the Cardinals in the Wild Card game. Missing out on the Wild Card and playoffs altogether in 2013 would be unacceptable. The Braves on paper are definitely in contention for a Wild Card spot, maybe even the NL East crown. If injuries pile up early on, or any of their offseason acquisitions have a dismal season, you could see the Braves fall behind both the Nationals and Phillies by season’s end. The one man who realy needs to turn things around is Brian McCann. Going into 2012, McCann had been arguably the best producing catcher in the majors, and the Braves MVP. After playing through injuries for most of the season, McCann’s season hit a low when he was left out of the starting lineup for the Wild Card game. Atlanta cannot afford for McCann to have another subpar year.

Best Case Scenario: The Upton’s and Heyward team up with Freddie Freeman to give the Braves one feared 2-3-4-5. Brian McCann proves that he is both healthy, and that last year was an anomaly and returns to his usual .280/25/98 production. Freddie Freeman has another successful season, and Andrelton Simmons builds on his rookie season to have a very productive sophomore campaign. New ace Kris Medlan and savvy vet Tim Hudson confound hitters with pinpoint control and guile. Rookie Julio Teheran is the biggest surprise of all as he shows us why he was the Braves top prospect by throwing his name into Rookie of the Year mention. The Braves starters have no qualms in handing over leads to the flame throwing Craig Kimbrel who puts his mark on the season with a 3rd consecutive 40+ saves. Braves narrowly edge the Nats for the NL East crown, and the two meet in the NLCS with a shot at the World Series on the line.

2013 AL West Final Standing: 2nd

Jayson Werth

Washington Nationals

2012 Record: 98 – 64 (1st in NL East)

Burning Questions: Will the Nats win 100 games?! Is this the best starting rotation in baseball? What is Stephen Strasburg capable of with no innings limit? How does rookie-phenom Bryce Harper perform in his sophomore season? Will Gio Gonzalez be visiting any more Miami aging clinics? How much better does Dan Haren make this team? Can Ian Desmond repeat last season? Who is the closer, Soriano or Storen? Is Jim Riggleman sure he doesn’t regret his decision to resign as manager? How sad will Expos fans be if the Nationals win the World Series? When did Jayson Werth join Duck Dynasty? Is this a clown question?

Offseason Additions: CF Denard Span, SP Dan Haren, RP Rafael Soriano, RP Jeremy Accardo, SP Ross Ohlendorf, C Chris Snyder, 1B Micah Owings, SP A.J. Cole (P), SP Blake Treinen (P)

Offseason Subtractions: 1B/OF Michael Morse, SP Edwin Jackson, RP Sean Burnett, RP Mike Gonzalez, SP John Lannan, RP Tom Gorzelanny, SP Chien-Ming Wang, IF Mark DeRosa, C Jesus Flores, SP Alex Meyer (P)

Prospect Outlook: Seeing as he’ll still be 20 come the end of the regular season, it’s hard not to consider Bryce Harper the Nationals best prospect. Harper has been a household name ever since he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. He even dropped out of high school in order to his GED just so he could enter the MLB Amateur Draft a year earlier. There is no denying that he is a special player. On the field he is a highlight reel player, blessed with speed, power, grit, a high baseball IQ, and a cannon for a right arm. Off the field he is a pure student of the game; he lives and breathes baseball. When he isn’t trending on twitter, you can usually find him in the cage or the film room, honing his skills; perfecting his craft. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year was partially overshadowed by another young phenom (Mike Trout), but he still had a very impressive rookie season.

.270 • 22 HR • 59 RBI • 18 SB • 56/120 BB/SO

It’ll be very exciting to see what Harper does in his second year.

The Nationals current top prospect is their 2011 1st round pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, Anthony Rendon. Rendon definitely had the toolset to be a #1 overall pick, but his history of injuries deterred some teams, so the Nationals gladly took him with their 6th overall pick when he was still on the board. The only issue for Rendon and the Nationals now is where will he play? Rendon is a 3B by trade and played it his entire college career at Rice, however he is road blocked at the MLB level by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals have considered moving him to 2B, but Danny Espinosa has changed their minds for the time being. Rendon, will be a player in the majors, his bat will make certain of that. The question is just where will he play?

Best Fantasy Option: For fantasy owners who are looking to build a pitching heavy roster, the Nationals rotation is where you should begin your pitcher search. The Nationals front four in the rotation is as good, if not better, than any other rotation in the majors; hell even Ross Detwiler is serviceable in a deep fantasy league.

The front four is led by ace Stephen Strasburg, and co-ace Gio Gonzalez; veteran Dan Haren, and 2012 breakout Jordan Zimmerman round out the 3 and 4 spots. Here’s a look at the four’s 2012 seasons:

Strasburg: 15 – 6 • 3.16 ERA • 159.1 IP • 197 K’s • 1.15 WHIP

Gonzalez: 21 – 8 • 2.89 ERA • 199.1 IP • 207 K’s • 1.13 WHIP

Haren: 12 – 13 • 4.33 ERA • 176.2 IP • 142 K’s • 1.29 WHIP

Zimmerman: 12 – 8 • 2.94 ERA • 195.2 IP • 153 K’s • 1.17 WHIP

Those are 4 pitchers who could definitely lead the Nationals to a 100 win campaign. Barring injuries or poor performance, this is a group that finished 2 wins short of 100 last year. Factor in a whole season from Stephen Strasburg, and Dan Haren apparently 100% healthy after an up and down 2012 and this could be a very scary rotation. Strasburg is definitely the one pitcher on this team that every fantasy owner wants. He most likely will be gone by the mid 2nd round, so don’t feel too bad when you have to settle for Gio Gonzalez. Dan Haren and Jordan Zimmerman should be available in the middle of the draft, and either one of them will help solidify your fantasy rotation. With a clean bill of health, and a loaded lineup and bullpen, expect Haren to return to his 14 – 11/3.66ERA/200+ IP career average; he could be a steal late in a draft. Jordan Zimmerman should only continue to get better with each passing year; look for him to build on an impressive 2012.

On the offensive front, the Nats are lead by youngster Bryce Harper, and franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman. Harper will be coveted early in most drafts mainly because of hype and potential; he should be snapped up before the end of most 3rd rounds. As mentioned earlier, I see a repeat type of season for Bryce, something in the .275/22/80 region.

With names like Cabrera, Longoria, Beltre, Wright, the 3B position is the most loaded it has been in a long time. Even up and coming players like Brett Lawrie, Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Alvarez, and Mike Moustakas make this a very stacked fantasy position. The Nationals have their own big name 3B in Ryan Zimmerman, who is definitely on the short list when discussing the Top 5 3B’s in the game. Zimmerman is a gold glove defender, maybe the best at the position, and a threat offensively at the plate. The only knock on Zimmerman has been his durability. Last season Zimmerman had an offensive line of .282/25/95 in 145 games played. Despite going into his 8th season, Zimmerman is still young (28) and should continue to produce for the Nationals; a return to his career year in 2009 (.292/33/106) isn’t completely out of the question.

Other late round notables:

Ian Desmond: SS • .292 • 25 HR • 73 RBI • 21 SB

Adam LaRoche: 1B • .271 • 33 HR • 100 RBI

Both are attractive options late; especially with bigger name at their position likely to be drafted before them.

Worst Case Scenario: Stephen Strasburg starts to experience tightness in his right shoulder, causing him to be considerable amounts of the season, before being shut down in late August. Images of Mark Prior start flashing through National’s fans heads. Gio Gonzalez is haunted by his link to a PED scandal in Miami and is rattled by it throughout the season. Haren is hampered by injuries, and Zimmerman is just so/so, causing the bullpen to be overworked all season. Bryce Harper is anything but dynamic in his 2nd year in the big leagues, and Ryan Zimmerman is forced on the DL for more than one stint during the season. The Nationals inconsistency all year allows the surging Braves to pass them in the standings and easily cruise to the NL East crown. The Nats are forced into a fight for a Wild Card spot that they win, but eventually lose in the play in game itself. High expectations are dashed, and the Nats enter the offseason searching for a new manager, and a new approach.

Best Case Scenario: Ladies and Gentlemen your 2013 World Series Champions…

2013 AL West Final Standing: 1st

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