xml:space="preserve">

For at least one night in the 2008 season, the Washington Nationals will be on top of the baseball world. They'll play the first game at Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves on March 30 in front of a national television audience on ESPN.

Much of the preseason attention for this season's NL East title is focused on the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets. However, the Nationals made some moves during the offseason that could help them compete in the near future.

Advertisement

They traded outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider to the New York Mets for outfield prospect Lastings Milledge. The Nationals also acquired outfielder Elijah Dukes from the Tampa Bay Rays. Although these moves likely won't help the Nationals find immediate success, both players could soon become fantasy superstars.

Washington Nationals

2007 record: 73-89 (4th in NL East)

Key additions: CF Lastings Milledge, C Paul Lo Duca

Key losses: OF Ryan Church, C Brian Schneider

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B – Zimmerman's batting average dropped to .266 last season, but he still had 24 home runs and 91 RBIs. Look for him to set career highs in batting average, home runs and RBIs in 2008. He'll likely hit around .290 with 25-30 home runs and 120-130 RBIs. Zimmerman should be one of the only Washington players to be drafted. Grab him in the seventh or eighth round.

2. Chad Cordero, RHP – Last season, Cordero collected 37 saves and a 3.36 ERA in 75 innings. While it wasn't as dominant as his 2005 performance (47 saves, 1.82 ERA), Cordero should still be considered a solid closer. He'll likely have 40-45 saves this season. Cordero will be a steal in the middle rounds if he's able to get his ERA back below 3.00. Draft him in the 12th round or later.

Hidden gems:

1. Shawn Hill, RHP – Although he's had some injury concerns during spring training, Hill will likely be one of Washington's best pitchers in 2008. He only has six wins in 25 career starts, but Hill could win 10-15 games this season. He'll be their best starting pitcher if he's healthy, so consider picking him up as a free agent after the season starts. Don't pick him up if it looks like the injuries will continue into the regular season.

2. John Patterson, RHP –Two years ago, it looked like Patterson was going to be one of the best fantasy prospects in Washington. However, he's only 2-7 with a 5.75 ERA in 15 starts over the last two seasons. Patterson shouldn't even be considered for fantasy play until he shows he's able to stay healthy. Keep him in mind as an option later in the year. Patterson could help your team down the stretch if he's not hurt.

3. Austin Kearns, RF – Kearns hit .266 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs in 2007. He had 24 home runs and 86 RBIs two years ago. Kearns shouldn't be a starting outfielder on your fantasy team, but he could contribute nicely as a backup. Draft him with one of your final picks if you think he's worth it. Be aware that Washington's outfield is very crowded, so none of the players are worth significant fantasy roles.

4. Lastings Milledge, CF – Despite the fact that Milledge showed flashes of brilliance in two seasons with the New York Mets, he's not ready for a major fantasy role yet. Take a gamble on him with your last pick and he could wind up paying big rewards by the end of the season. It's more likely that it'll happen next season, so Milledge is more valuable in keeper leagues. There's still hope that he'll be a fantasy superstar in the near future.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement