Breakout in the capital?
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's going to happen.

At some point, Washington Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg is going to win 20 games, strike out 220 batters and record an ERA south of 2.75, and right fielder Bryce Harper is going to put up a 35-homer, 120-RBI season.

The only question is, will it happen this season?

The ceiling of both Strasburg and Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 and 2010, respectively, is higher than 10 Washington Monuments stacked on top of each other, but neither has reached it yet mainly due to injuries both minor (knee bursitis, strained oblique) and major (torn UCL).

In fantasy drafts this season, owners will be paying more for what Strasburg and Harper can do than what they have done.

That's not to say both have been disappointments so far.

Strasburg has gone 29-19 with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 504 strikeouts in 434 1/3 innings in the big leagues, and Harper already had 42 home runs before turning 21 last Oct. 16.

But we'll need both players to take another step forward to justify their average draft position (ADP). Strasburg carries an ADP of 27.6 in leagues while Harper is going off draft boards within the top-10 picks (9.6 ADP).

Through the early portion of 2013, both Strasburg and Harper appeared to have taken that step and then some.

Strasburg had a 2.24 ERA through his first 100 1/3 innings, and Harper blasted 12 homers and had a .994 OPS in his first 41 games.

But Harper missed more than a month due to knee bursitis and hit just .266 with eight home runs and a .789 OPS in his final 74 games.

Strasburg's biggest hiccup came in July, as he gave up 19 earned runs across a 30-inning span during his last five starts of the month, but he followed that up with a 2.91 ERA the last two months of the season. In fact, if you remove that 30-inning slump, Strasburg's ERA lowers to 2.47.

Following the All-Star break, Strasburg lowered his BB/9 to 2.29 and raised his K/9 to 9.88. He had a 3.07 BB/9 and a 9.06 K/9 in the first half.

Harper isn't far off from joining the elite power hitter ranks. The first step is staying on the field.

Based on his rates through 497 plate appearances last season, Harper would have hit 26 homers if he saw 650 plate appearances.

But he also needs to hit more flyballs.

Of the 14 players who hit at least 30 home runs in 2013, just two -- Paul Goldschmidt and Adam Jones -- had flyball rates lower than 36.4 percent. Harper's was 33.4 percent.

If he doesn't, he'll need to improve his 18 percent HR/FB rate. Jones had a 32 percent flyball rate but still slammed 33 homers because he had a 19.9 percent HR/FB.

Through the first two months last season, Harper had a 36.9 percent flyball rate and a 29.3 percent HR/FB before slamming into the right field wall and suffering a knee injury that led to bursitis.

It's probable Harper's approach at the plate and power were affected by the knee injury and caused his power decline in the final three months of the season. The hip strain Harper developed in September was likely indicative of him overcompensating for the injured knee.

At age 21 Harper's power is still maturing, so fantasy owners should expect to see a higher percentage of flyballs and a HR/FB over 20 percent this season from the outfielder.

That will be especially true if Harper shows up to spring training "as big as a house," as he said he plans on doing.

As for Strasburg, he has established a 3.10 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 190 strikeouts as his floor over the last two seasons.

He's also due for some better luck in the win column after winning just eight games last season.

Washington's offense underachieved but still ranked 15th in runs scored, and it appears Strasburg simply drew the short straw among the Nationals' top- three starters. Gio Gonzalez saw 4.7 runs per start and Jordan Zimmermann was given 4.6, but the Nats scored just 3.4 runs per start for Strasburg, 12th worst in the majors.

Strasburg's ADP is more reasonable than Harper's based on what the righty has accomplished already.

Fantasy owners who draft Harper in the top 10 need the generational talent to join Mike Trout at the top of the game, but there's a chance he's still a season away from being worth a first-rounder.

Still, while taking Harper there is a gamble, it's hardly a foolhardy one.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at

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