Nationals profile rising in ESPN league rankings

It seems ages ago the Nationals were battling through rough seasons and long losing streaks with a rag tag bunch that won 59 and 69 games in back-to-back seasons.

But with steady improvement, keen trades and the possible windfall of arguably the top draft picks in first-year player history (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon), the Nationals are garnering attention outside the mid-Atlantic region.

And with good reason. General manager Mike Rizzo has put together a solid starting rotation, led by Strasburg and Jordan ZImmermann, fortified by All-Star Gio Gonzalez and World Series champion Edwin Jackson and solidified by relievers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.

Nationals fans know all about these acquisitions and the promise of the future, but it is certainly worthy of note when the national media takes notice.

The latest ESPN Insider MLB future power rankings certainly grab your attention as the Nationals are ranked No. 14, ahead of teams like the Giants, Reds and Rockies.

Comparing to what the voters think of National League East participants, the Nationals are ahead in the standings of the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, while the Philadelphia Phillies (No. 10) and Atlanta Braves (No. 9) are barely in the top 10.

Voters gave the Nationals high marks in categories named “majors,” “minors” and “mobility.” They also voted the Nationals a little below the league average in “finances” and “management,” but the overall score put them right in the mix of the middle of the pack, a far cry from the bottom five rankings the team endured in 2007 and 2008.

In the 2011 rankings, the Nationals began at No. 23, fell to No. 28 and surged to No. 16 by the end of the season.

By comparison, the Nationals finished No. 25 in 2010, and were No. 30 in 2009.

The writers, composed of Keith Law, Buster Olney and former Nationals’ general manager Jim Bowden, also predicted that if everything falls right for the Nationals, they could very well be a wild card contender this season, which is what many in this region hoped for after the off season acquisitions and a 15-5 end of season run in 2011.

The rankings are similar to fantasy predictors, but it is an indication of the perception around the league and in the eyes of voters that this franchise is on the rise in 2012 and beyond.

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