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Is DL-bound Zimmerman the next Rolen?

4/12/2011

When Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman burst onto the major league scene late in the 2005 season, only a few months after being the fourth pick of the amateur draft, people compared him to Scott Rolen because of his power potential, defensive prowess, leadership skills, the entire package.

Seven seasons later, Zimmerman has been a successful professional, hitting for average and power and winning a Gold Glove. However, he appears to have something else in common with Rolen, and this one isn't such a positive: Zimmerman has had some issues staying on the field. The Nationals intended to place their third baseman on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday because of an abdominal strain, one which was supposed to keep Zimmerman out just a few days, but now will take a few weeks.

Few can complain about Zimmerman's production; he's hitting .357 with a home run and four RBIs, five runs scored and has walked more than he has struck out. He was playing well. But this will be the third time in six seasons that he will not play a full season. Zimmerman missed 20 games last year because of various nagging injuries and missed 56 games in 2008, most of them because of a labrum tear in his shoulder.

For years, Rolen wore the tag of a brittle player, and let's face it, he has earned it. Yet Zimmerman seems to get a pass; he was taken higher than even Alex Rodriguez in a handful of leagues. Zimmerman ended up 21st overall in ESPN average live drafts, ahead of Kevin Youkilis.

If you drafted Zimmerman, you have little choice but to wait until he returns and hope he can give you 140-something games. Abdominal strains can be tricky, but this didn't appear to be an overly serious one. Perhaps Zimmerman returns before the 1st of May, in which case your fantasy season is far from over. The Nationals, of course, don't have a suitable replacement in the interim at third base, or in the middle of their struggling lineup.

Outfielder Jayson Werth, off to a slow start with a .200 batting average and one RBI through nine games, has hit in the No. 2 hole for all but one of his starts. That could change now, though that shouldn't make fantasy owners any more or less likely to trade for him or trade him away. Having Zimmerman protect Werth in the batting order didn't seem to matter much. The Nationals need someone to hit; they are hitting .217 as a team, with a measly .328 slugging percentage. Michael Morse has done next to nothing, failing to deliver an extra-base hit. First baseman Adam LaRoche is hitting .194. No Nationals hitter has more than one home run.

The players on the roster capable of playing third base include Alex Cora, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Morse, who played mainly third base and shortstop in the minor leagues. Cora and Hairston will probably play the most at third base, though they are a combined 1-for-19 at the plate thus far, so any potential stolen bases they'd accumulate just don't seem worth it. If Morse moved to the hot corner, Laynce Nix would be an interesting power source in the outfield. Then again, if Morse doesn't hit soon, that might happen anyway. And no, Bryce Harper cannot play third base, and he's not ready for the big leagues anyway.

While third base isn't as strong this season from a fantasy aspect as it has been in recent seasons, you can still do better than Cora and Hairston. Among the choices available in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues are Jhonny Peralta, Juan Uribe, Miguel Tejada, Maicer Izturis, Ty Wigginton and Alberto Callaspo. To be honest, none of them are statistically attractive, although Izturis also has second base eligibility and should add shortstop to it in the next two weeks, now that Erick Aybar is on the DL. Chris Johnson and Brent Morel, similar players to me, are out there. Hey, this isn't a deep position, but it's only a short-term fill-in. You can do worse than use Peralta or Uribe for a few weeks.