2016 Outlook: Harper needed 218 games between 2013-14 to amass 33 home runs, 112 runs, and 90 RBI. In 2015, he needed just 152 games to eclipse all three marks: 42 homers, 118 runs, and 99 RBI. What an indictment on the rest of his team that he had only 99 RBI, too! What does he do for an encore after leading baseball in both OBP and SLG? It's not crazy to suggest a repeat, but a more tempered approach says he will simply be in contention. The key to his fantasy season could be the arrival of Davey Lopes -- noted base-stealing guru -- as Washington's first base coach. Harper swiped 18 bags in his rookie season, but has just 19 in the three years since, with injuries no doubt playing a major role in 2013-14. If the Nationals commit to running more after ranking just 27th in total SB last year, Harper is likely to benefit. Even a return to double digits would be huge, but setting a new career high isn't out of the question if the 23-year-old superstar stays healthy and plays another 150-plus games.
2016 Outlook: Heading into the season, 2015 was going to be a huge year for Scherzer. He was moving to the National League again, and the Nationals looked very strong on paper. Some were picking him to win another Cy Young with an eye towards his domination of NL East hitters. Well, Scherzer posted the second-best K/9 of his career and set new career-bests in his BB/9 as well as his ERA, but he ended up going 14-12 thanks in part to the malaise around him on the roster. He had 11 games in which he struck out double-digit batters, had five games in which he allowed three or fewer hits including a perfect game and a no-hitter that came just a chicken wing HBP away from another perfecto. The one flaw of his own doing was he struggled preventing the long ball as he allowed home runs in 16 of his 33 outings with multiple home runs in 8 starts. All in all, he's still a fantasy stud for 2016.
2016 Outlook: Injuries plagued Strasburg throughout 2015, as an ankle issue in spring training was linked to a shoulder ailment he suffered in May. From there, neck tightness and an oblique strain also caused him to miss time, but there was a noticeable difference in his performance before and after his first stint on the disabled list. Strasburg had a 6.55 ERA through 10 starts, while opposing hitters posted an .874 OPS against him. Additionally, he failed to go four innings in four of his last five starts before getting shut down by the ankle problem. Upon returning to the mound on June 23 in Atlanta, Strasburg was one of the most dominant starters in the game the rest of the way, compiling a 110:12 K:BB, 1.76 ERA and allowing opposing batters to post a mere .500 OPS against him over his final 13 starts. Strasburg is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after having a non-cancerous growth removed from his back during the offseason. With a full season of health, he still has the skills necessary to finish as a top-three pitcher, and he should come at a slightly discounted price on draft day with just one 200-inning season under his belt since 2012.
2016 Outlook: It's rare that leaving a team that led the league in runs scored the previous season benefits a leadoff hitter, but that's exactly the case for Revere. Most of the Blue Jays' lineup is in scoring position when they step in the batter's box, mitigating the need for Revere to run. Now back in the Senior Circuit as a member of the Nationals, the veteran speedster will be asked to replace the spark Denard Span gave them at the top of the order. Revere sports one of the best contact rates in the league, taking full advantage of his speed by hitting mostly groundballs and line drives. The Nationals let Span run, so there's no doubt Revere will have the green light more often than not. If the meat of the order can stay healthy, Revere has a chance to set a career high in runs for the second straight year.
2016 Outlook: After an early-season drop in velocity on his cutter, Melancon found his footing in May and gradually regained most of the zip on his arsenal as the season progressed. In his first two seasons with the Pirates, Melancon carried a strikeout rate of at least 25.0 percent, but that mark fell to 21.2 percent in 2015. Fortunately, he avoided beating himself with walks (4.8 BB%) while continuing to do a good job keeping the ball in the park thanks to his ability to induce grounders at an excellent clip. With that combination of skills and the benefit of pitching half of his games at PNC Park, Melancon offers a steady floor, but he does not possess the dominant shutdown potential of a top-tier closer. Among the 19 relievers with at least 30 saves last season (Melancon led the league with 51), only Brad Ziegler had a lower strikeout rate than Melancon. While he will likely be priced as a top-10 closer on draft day, he may fall just shy of returning ample value at that price point even if he retains the job all year.
2016 Outlook: Had Murphy gone on his power binge a little later in the playoffs and had it propelled the Mets to the title, the message would be not to pay for a well-publicized hot streak. There's still some residual optimism and the National League Championship Series hero can carry some of it over to 2016, but now it's a little easier to remind everyone that Citi Field boosts left-handed power while Nationals Park depresses it. Thus, on paper, Murphy's home run output should actually drop in his new digs. Murphy changed his approach last summer leading to a second-half featuring nine homers. If the change subsists, a total in the high teens is plausible. Perhaps a result of some nagging leg injuries, Murphy barely ran last season. That could change under Dusty Baker as the Nationals skipper is on record as saying he'd like the club to be aggressive on the basepaths.
2016 Outlook: Rendon checks many of the boxes that seasoned owners look for when pinpointing bounce-back candidates. He was a borderline first-round pick in drafts last year and didn't come remotely close to returning that value. Injuries limited his playing time and sapped his production when he was on the field. However, at just 25 years old, all of the skills that made him a top-20 pick last year remain, and this year he should enter camp fully healthy. Rendon should hit in front of Bryce Harper in the two hole all year, which offers hope that he can return to scoring 100-plus runs like he did in 2014. He also qualifies at second base and third base in most formats, which provides lineup flexibility. His power and speed contributions are difficult to project, as 2014 represents his lone full MLB season, but evaluators have thrown plus grades on his hit tool since back when he was the sixth pick out of Rice in 2011, so he should at least offer a solid batting average.
2016 Outlook: Thankfully, Papelbon's fantasy owners don't have to worry about him choking any of his fantasy teammates, because the fiery reliever continues to produce statistically, despite his consistent blowups and bridge-burning. Papelbon's 24 saves in 2015 marked his lowest total since becoming Boston's closer in 2006, but he still recorded a 2.13 ERA and showcased his typically impeccable control, as he walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings. However, there is room for concern with Papelbon's declining stuff -- he struck out a career-low 7.9 batters per nine innings, and now has a fastball averaging under 92.0 mph. Between his experience and his control, there's no reason to believe he can't be sharp with that arsenal, but his margin for error continues to shrink.
2016 Outlook: The strikeouts remained intact, and the home run rate tied a career-low at 1.1 percent (the same as his MLB-leading rate from 2012), but Gio's magical ability to squelch base hits went completely out the window in 2015. Gonzalez hadn't allowed more than 7.8 H/9 since 2009, but that rate ballooned to 9.3 H/9 last season, which combined with his typically high walk rate to inflate his ERA and his WHIP to levels not seen in six years. He has been losing velocity for the past few seasons, and has lost 1.4 mph on average since his 2012 peak, but the lost pitch speed is no enough to explain the depths of his plunge in value last season. His FIP, which ignores hit rates, was virtually the same in 2015 (FIP of 3.05) as it was in 2014 (FIP of 3.02), but his BABIP spiked 44 points to a .343 mark last season. The BABIP was completely out of line with career norms for Gonzalez, an outlier so large as to suggest that there was likely some skill degradation in addition to some misfortune on balls in play. Regardless of the source, expect Gonzalez to put up better fantasy numbers in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Limited throughout most of 2015 by a bout of plantar fasciitis, Zimmerman posted a career-worst .773 OPS in 95 games last season with his on-base percentage falling off a cliff to .308. He also missed time late due to an oblique injury, but between stints on the shelf, Zimmerman showed that he can still produce at a high level when his body is right. From July 28 to Sept. 7, over a span of 40 games, Zimmerman hit .311 (42-for-135) with 11 homers and 39 RBI. Of course, that kind of per-game production cannot be extrapolated over a full season, especially with a player like Zimmerman who has averaged 110 games over the last five seasons. But at 31, Zimmerman still has the plate skills -- despite the dip in OBP, he maintained a respectable walk rate last season -- and power to be a valuable contributor at first base.
2016 Outlook: With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister gone, the door is open for the 22-year-old Ross to secure a spot in the Nationals' starting rotation, and his 2015 stint with the club provided plenty of reason to believe the young righty can flourish in the role. Ross' most encouraging metrics were his 8.1 K/9 rate and stingy 0.82 HR/9 figure. Both numbers were in proximity of Ross' marks in those categories over four-plus minor-league campaigns, lending credence to the idea that they can carry over into a full season with the big club. He brings a near-94 mph fastball to the table, and demonstrated solid command of the strike zone in 76 2/3 innings last season. While his work against left-handed hitters (.279 average surrendered) and on the road (1-3, 5.29 ERA) need improvement, Ross' ability to mow down hitters could render him as one of the most effective back-of-the-rotation starters in 2016, and provide terrific value for those savvy enough to nab him in drafts this spring.
2016 Outlook: Due to the league's (since changed) rules prohibiting drafted players from being traded in their first year under contact, Turner did not join the Nats' organization until mid-June, seven months after being dealt. After hitting well over .300 in consecutive stops at three different minor league levels, he received a rude welcome to the majors in 44 plate appearances. His 27.3 percent strikeout rate was the highest he'd posted at any level, while his batting average (.225), OBP (.295) and slugging percentage (.325) were his worst numbers in those categories. Last season's admittedly small -- and therefore potentially misleading -- sample size notwithstanding, Turner could see a return to numbers much closer to his solid minor league metrics with a full season of playing time in 2016. Ian Desmond's departure in the offseason put Turner one step closer to the top shortstop job, with veteran Danny Espinosa slated to head into training camp as the starter. While expecting him to wrest that spot in the exhibition season might be a bit ambitious, the talented Turner could conceivably accomplish the feat at some point during the first half.
2016 Outlook: Although his numbers in 2015 were fairly good, they may not even do Giolito justice for just how good he pitched. The right-hander split time between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, posting a 2.71 ERA and 3.80 ERA at those levels respectively. However, he may have been the victim of some bad luck, as his FIP was actually 1.90 and 3.12 at those levels, showing he was even better than those stats would show. Pair the strong FIP with a combined 10.1 K/9 and you've got the makings of a future big-league ace. Giolito will likely start off with Triple-A to develop a bit more against advanced hitters, but don't be surprised if the 21-year-old makes his major-league debut sometime this season.
2016 Outlook: Werth hasn't played 150 games since 2011, playing in just 88 last year as he was felled by shoulder and back woes. Prior to the 2015 campaign, despite battling injuries for the previous three seasons, Werth maintained a steady skill set. However, last summer things took a turn for the worse as his contact rate dropped along with a precipitous decline in hard contact, resulting in a BABIP nearly .100 points lower than his mark from the previous three seasons. Because Werth was so consistent from 2011 through 2014, it's fair to blame injuries for much of last year's skid. Still, Werth will be 37 a few weeks into the season so a full bounce back is optimistic. If healthy, Werth will play and be an asset for power and run production. Just beware of a falling batting average and limited, if any, swipes.
2016 Outlook: Health eluded Ramos for three years from 2012 to 2014 with just 191 total games played and a single-season high of 88, but he avoided the disabled list in 2015 en route to a career-best 128 games played. He did hit 15 home runs and set a new high in RBI with 68, but his putrid triple slash line of .229/.258/.358 made it tough to stick around to collect those counting stats. The batting average evaporated as he crumbled against lefties to the tune of a .233 average after coming into the season with a .310 average against southpaws. His batted-ball profile doesn't fit the .256 BABIP, which points to some bad luck. If his hits fall again and he pushes back toward the .269 career batting average he had coming into the season, then he can definitely be a top-10 catcher again. The mid-teens home run totals are probably the peak, but it's not impossible to envision Ramos emulating Stephen Vogt's 2015 season.