October 18, 2018

OPINION: Nationals Have Options as Opening Day Approaches

The Nationals’ roster for Opening Day is starting to come into focus, and there are some surprises as compared with a month ago. With Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span expected to start their seasons in rehab assignments, the Nats find themselves looking at some additional bench slots, as players on the roster shift around to fill the gaps. Here’s a look at a few of the swaps fans will likely see come April 6th.

Michael Taylor has had quite a spring, including a pair of home runs against Justin Verlander, and is well-positioned to find himself both the CF for Opening Day and the lead off man for Matt Williams. The 24 year old rookie has plus speed and a solid glove, but will likely be back at Syracuse once Span returns barring a miracle. It will be worth it to catch the coming attractions while they’re here, Nats fans, Taylor may well be your Opening Day Center Fielder in 2016, as well.

Danny Espinosa will likely find himself at the hot corner until Anthony Rendon’s knee has fully recovered, which could be until May. Now righty-only, Espinosa has seen some good at-bats this spring against right-handed pitching but his whole season is predicated upon a return to the hitting of his rookie season. Many have praised his approach this spring, but it’s safe to say his career with the Nats hangs in the balance.

Tyler Moore will likely be your starting left fielder on April 6th, and the perennial bench favorite has earned the opportunity his spring with a slash line of .320/.327/.580. While no one will confuse Moore for Jayson Werth and his luxurious beard, that the Nationals can find replacements for three core bats speaks volumes about the depth of the roster right now. For that, Mike Rizzo should be applauded.

What this will do to the bench bats for Matt Williams, though, is a little less clear. I would argue that it is likely to be Kevin Frandsen, a rejuvenated Dan Uggla, the recently acquired Matt den Dekker, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who’s found his swing again. That is definitely not the bench anyone was predicting in February – rather, if you were, please drop me an email with proof and I’ll buy you a beer. It is entirely possible that recently acquired Reed Johnson might displace recently acquired den Dekker in the final roster spot, but I suspect we’ll see a fierce battle with the two of them each getting substantial playing time over the next five days.

This isn’t the Opening Day Roster that Mike Rizzo wanted to run out there; the injuries this spring could conceivably cost this team as many as 4-5 wins this season, though I suspect that’s a worst case estimate. Before you start, fair reader, don’t go blaming these events on a Sports Illustrated curse — curses are silly, and you’re better than that — but do look at the current roster options and rest a bit easier, Nats fans. There’s a lot of depth here, and the prognoses for May returns for Rendon, Werth and Span all bode well for the Nationals.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Zimmermann strong again, Nats tie Cards

RYAN ZIMMERMAN LEAVES GAME AFTER DIVE, AWKWARD LEAP

Jordan Zimmermann allowed one earned run on four hits over six innings in his next-to-last start of spring training and the Washington Nationals added another tie to the ledger with a 1-1 finish against the St. Louis Cardinals at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida.

Following the game, Zimmermann told reporters in Florida “it’s not looking good” for the veteran righty to sign a contract extension before opening day, and he reiterated that he would not negotiate during the season, all but assuring that he will hit the open market as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2015 season. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats tie Astros

The Washington Nationals got some production out of the middle of their opening day batting order but the Houston Astros put together a late rally to force a 6-6 at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. The teams declined to play extra innings.

The Nats put together a three-run third inning behind RBIs by Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, all with two outs. Tony Gwynn Jr got the rally started with a single to right. Ian Desmond followed with a walk from Scott Feldman. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals add Tony Gwynn Jr to the backup outfielder mix

The Washington Nationals signed veteran left-handed hitting outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Gwynn, 32, hit .152 in 105 at-bats with three RBIs and three stolen bases with Philadelphia last season. He is, obviously, son of the late Tony Gwynn, Hall of Fame outfielder with the San Diego Padres and college coach of Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State.

The addition of Gwynn is intriguing, as the Nats seem to have a glut of left-handed hitting outfielders, including holdover Nate McLouth and fellow NRI Mike Carp.

McLouth is coming off shoulder surgery though, and Carp has never been considered much of a fielder. He can play all four corner spots, much in the way most people can sing the National Anthem, but you wouldn’t want to listen to it. The Nats, obviously, would rather see Carp play in the infield if his services are needed.

All of this is necessitated by the injury to Jayson Werth. His shoulder surgery was major, and while the team hopes he’ll be available by opening day, it’s far from a sure thing. Even then, he might not be the “Jayson Werth” Nats fans have come to expect until much later in the season when his shoulder is full-strength again.

Adding Gwynn tells us a few things. First, the Nats are trying to stockpile backups with Major League credentials. Next, they aren’t sold that McLouth is going to be able to open the season on the roster recovering form his own shoulder surgery. Finally, it seems to indicate they’d much rather have top positional prospect Michael Taylor open in centerfield at Syracuse, rather than in left field at Nats park.

 

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