The lockout is finally over, with Washington Nationals Opening Day on April 7. This also means that fantasy baseball drafts have started. Outside of Juan Soto who is a projected top-five pick in most fantasy drafts, the Nationals don’t have any other players who will go in the first few rounds. That’s not to say of their players don’t have any fantasy relevance because they do.
Here are three Washington Nationals fantasy sleepers to keep an eye on for the 2022 season.
With Buster Posey retiring, there aren’t many top-tier fantasy catchers this season. Instead of rushing to take J.T Realmuto, Salvador Pérez, or Will Smith, wait for the later rounds to take the Nationals’ top prospect Keibert Ruiz.
Known for his eye at the plate, Ruiz impressed once he was called up by the Nationals last year. In 23 games, he hit .284, with two homers, 14 RBIs, and an OPS of .743. He walked more (6) than he struck out (4) and projects to average 20 homers a season once he reaches his prime.
With Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Bell hitting in front of him, Ruiz will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. For leagues that are defensive-focused, Ruiz posted 1 DRS and has a solid arm.
Need starting rotation depth? The Nationals Josiah Gray is a perfect player to wait on for the end of the draft. Despite posting a 5.31 ERA in 62 2/3 innings last season with the Nationals, Gray is the biggest fantasy sleeper on Washington. The 23-year-old posted a 9.00 K/9 and consistently hammers the strike zone.
He is prone to the longball and tends to give up hard contact, but has an intriguing arsenal. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and mixes well with his curve and slider. Both have impressive movement and sit in the mid-80s. With the Nationals in the middle of a rebuild, Gray will have an increasingly long leash. As long as he can limit the homers, he should be able to rack up the strikeouts. Target Gray as a quality depth option.
Now that the Universal DH is being implemented this season, their will be plenty of extra candidates to target in the draft. In years past Nelson Cruz is usually one of the first DHs targeted. But the veteran slugger is entering his age 42 season and started to show signs of regression last year with the Rays.
Since 2014 and not counting the shortened 2020 season, Cruz has hit at least 32 homers peaking with 44 in 2015. However, the started to look his age last year, especially after he was traded to the Rays. After slashing .294/.370/.537 with 19 homers in 85 games with the Twins, he slashed .226/.283/.442 with 13 homers in 55 games in Tampa.
Yet his 2021 OPS+ and wRC+ of 130 and 120 respectively were both above league average, indicating he still have something left in the tank. With Juan Soto and Josh Bell hitting in front and behind him, Cruz is set up to put up monster numbers.
Last year the Nationals offense excelled at getting on base, even after their firesale. Over the last two months of the year, the Nats offense led the NL in OBP (.348), and walk percentage (BB%) (11.1%), were third in batting average (.257), and were fourth in wRC+ (104).
Expect Cruz to look more like he did with the Twins.