That was Then...
Asking "What could have been?" of a team that won 98 games and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since they relocated to the American Capital seems harsh yet appropriate.
After the off-season acquisition of ace starter Gio Gonzalez to pitch alongside Jordan Zimmermann and young phenom Stephen Strasburg, there was no question the Nationals were at the very least going to be contenders.
Bryce Harper was called up to bolster the offence in late April when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was injured and the 19-year-old slugged his way to a full season job and eventually a well-deserved Rookie of the Year Award.
As the team rolled towards the playoffs and eventually the division crown, a pre-season innings limit placed on Strasburg hung over them until he was eventually shut down, making him unavailable to pitch in the playoffs.
The season came to a heartbreaking end in their first playoff series when, only three outs away from advancing into the National League Championship Series, the Nationals surrendered four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth and were eliminated in five games.
...This is Now
Can't Miss Kid
Shackled last year by an innings limit, Stephen Strasburg is ready to make a major impact at the top of the Nationals rotation in 2013.
A team that was going to improve simply due to the year of experience gained by a strong, young lineup also bolstered itself with some great additions.
Dan Haren will take over the position of number five starter after Edwin Jackson was allowed to leave via free agency, while Rafael Soriano has been added to the back end of perhaps the best bullpen in the league, that was without its closer Drew Storen for most of the season. Zach Duke will be the long man and emergency starter.
They should get a full season of Strasburg and Gonzalez pitching out of the top two spots in the rotation and have depth around the diamond and up and down the batting order.
The full potential of Harper is still also something left to be learned but the early indications are that he is going to develop into the special player that made him an easy choice as the first-overall pick in the 2010 draft.
The Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East and could very well once again be the best team in the entire league.
They will be measured this season on playoff success as much as regular season proficiency but make no mistake; they are good enough to achieve both.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Bryce Harper, 2011 - Jordan Zimmerman, 2010 - Stephen Strasburg, 2009 - Elijah Dukes, 2008 - Ross Detwiler, 2007 - Felipe Lopez, 2006 - Ryan Zimmerman, 2005 - Nick Johnson, 2004 - Chad Cordero, 2003 - Endy Chavez
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are still developing on a 98 win team from last year.
OF Bryce Harper just misses out on the top 15, landing at 16th overall.
Phenom LF Bryce Harper is hard to gauge because he was good as a rookie, but was also 19-years-old, so improvement should be coming, we just don't know how quickly. As a 20-20, or even 30-30 threat already, Harper fits in the first couple rounds because who knows just how quickly he'll hit greatness?
Same goes for RHP Stephen Strasburg, who was awesome last year, but shut down before he reached 160 innings. It could be exciting to see what he delivers in a 200-inning season.
The entire infield -- SS Ian Desmond, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, 2B Danny Espinosa and 1B Adam LaRoche -- are all above average; not superstars, but very good and productive players.
RF Jayson Werth and CF Denard Span have been productive in the past, but they've also battled injuries lately, so they are more worthy of late-round consideration.
LHP Gio Gonzalez and RHP Jordan Zimmermann were both impressive last season, so they warrant relatively early picks and veteran RHP Dan Haren was an intriguing addition. Haren's performance seems to have slipped some but, with a strong team, maybe he shows that he's still got it.
Closer Rafael Soriano saved 42 games for the Yankees after Mariano Rivera was injured last year, so he knows the drill. As the established closer on a World Series contender, he should put up good numbers.