This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.
PROJECTED OPENING DAY OUTFIELD: LF – Bryce Harper, CF – Denard Span, RF – Jayson Werth; Bench: Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore. First callups: Corey Brown, Eury Perez
LF – Bryce Harper: Given that the Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span in November, Bryce Harper will likely move to the left field corner full-time in the wake of Michael Morse’s departure from Washington. Harper’s numbers last season were stellar for any rookie, let alone one who celebrated his 20th birthday just days before the 2012 postseason ended. In the middle of the season, however, Harper hit a snag that brought fans of the Nationals’ phenom back down to earth for a bit. Harper will have to develop greater patience at the plate in order to steer clear of an impactful slump, particularly when he is faced with one of his biggest weaknesses – the outside breaking ball. Just as pitchers adjusted their approach to offset Harper’s power, so too, will Harper need to make adjustments throughout the year ahead in order to avoid a mid-season lull. There is no doubt he can handle the spotlight, but if Harper hopes to exceed expectations, he will need to grow both in the field and at the plate throughout his sophomore year. Perhaps, once and for all, he will even break the habit of obliterating bats after a called third strike. Still, one has to remember that Harper finished his rookie season with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and 18 steals. He also rounded out the year with a .340 OBP and a .477 SLG. Harper’s success this year will boil down to good health, his adjustment to left field and his ability to reach base consistently.
CF – Denard Span: The Nationals can once again celebrate a big-time deal – they successfully acquired left-handed hitter Denard Span in a trade that sent minor league pitcher Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins in the fall. With Span on the roster, Harper will undoubtedly serve as the fulltime left fielder, while Jayson Werth settles back into right. Additionally, Span – a designated lead-off hitter with the Twins – will also shift the Nats’ lineup and bump Werth to a fifth or sixth spot in the order. More importantly, Span is the last great piece to the outfield puzzle. His intuition in the field and ability to deliver at the plate will complete the outfield trifecta, provided all remain healthy. Last year, Span batted .284 with four home runs, 47 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 516 at-bats. His .342 OBP represented his highest since 2009, but his best years may not lie behind him just yet. It will be interesting to see how Span fairs against National League pitching and whether or not he remains the Nats’ best candidate for the top of the order.
RF – Jayson Werth: Never mind Jayson Werth’s walkoff home run in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, or his ability to deliver in high-pressure situations late last season. Werth has five years left on his seven-year, $126 million dollar signing and plenty of room to prove he was worthy every penny. While Werth finished the year with a respectable .300/.387/.400 line, he only made 344 plate appearances in the season, due to injury to his left wrist. While the Nats can hope Werth will hover above the .300 mark this season, perhaps his biggest contribution in 2013 will not be evidenced by box scores or fielding statistics. Instead, Werth could provide confidence to a roster that boasts an average age right around 27 years. While Harper’s contributions could far outweigh Werth’s in the long-run, it does not take away from the fact that Werth took the phenom under his wing last season. With a new face in center field, Werth has the opportunity to further establish himself as a leader in the outfield, provided his arm can hold up from the right-field corner. Span’s presence in center will create a new dynamic in the Nationals’ outfield, which is likely to produce highlight-worthy plays throughout the season. Werth may have the weakest throwing arm of the everyday outfielders, but runners should not count him out. In addition to his contributions on the field, Werth’s speed on the basepaths can be a silent killer for opposing pitchers, particularly if he finds himself batting in the middle of the Nationals’ order this year.
Roger Bernadina: The Nationals narrowly avoided arbitration with Roger Bernadina, who reached a one-year agreement worth $1.21 million plus $130,000 in incentives – a huge bonus considering he made just under $494,000 in 2012. In 261 plate appearances, Bernadina achieved a .291/.372/.405 line with five home runs, 15 stolen bases and 25 RBI – a good enough reason for the Nats to bump his salary. Nevertheless, if Bernadina can match – or, of course, improve upon – last year’s numbers, he will likely emerge as Davey Johnson’s go-to backup outfielder, particularly against righthanded pitching.
Tyler Moore: Moore could very well be called upon to serve as a backup for first base, if needed, rather than the outfield this year given how much depth the Nationals have in the corners. Nevertheless, Moore earned experience in left field in 2012 and proved he, too, could emerge a heavy hitter with more experience. At 25 years old, the right-handed hitter earned a .263/.327/.513 line with 41 hits, 10 home runs and 29 RBI in 156 at-bats. In 229 innings spent in left field, he produced no errors over 28 defensive chances. The same holds true, however, for the 76 defensive chances he received at first base. Nevertheless, Moore provides Davey Johnson & co. with the chance to be flexible both in the outfield and at first base.
Corey Brown: Brown had very few opportunities with the Nationals last year, yet it seemed that whenever Davey Johnson called upon him, he delivered. His very first career hit, in fact, was a home run against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 28 of last year. In just 25 at-bats, Brown tallied five hits, which included two doubles and a walk-off single against the Miami Marlins on Sept. 8. Brown will likely spend most of 2012 with Triple-A Syracuse, but at 27 years-old, he is now being pushed from behind by several quality prospects.
Eury Perez: Eury Perez earned a September call-up last year after spending the bulk of the season at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. At just 22 years-old, Perez has plenty of room for growth. Nevertheless, he has proven down on the farm that he can handle any of the three outfield spots when called upon. In just five at-bats with the Nationals, Perez produced one hit, three runs and three stolen bases. Prior to the call-up, he batted .314/.344/.361 over 127 games in the minors. He will likely begin the season at Triple-A Syracuse
DOWN ON THE FARM
With as stacked an outfield as the Nationals have, it is unlikely Davey Johnson will need to pull from Washington’s farm system, barring any significant injuries to his Big Three – Harper, Span or Werth. Nevertheless, the Nats have some noteworthy prospects.
Brian Goodwin: At just 22 years-old, left-handed hitter Brian Goodwin already has the makings of a great hitter and his speed on the basepaths could pose a big threat to opposing pitchers. After batting .324 at Class-A Hagerstown, Goodwin earned a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg in July. He finished the season at Double-A with a .223 batting average, five home runs and 14 RBI.
Destin Hood: At 22 years-old, Destin Hood has already shown his potential at the plate. Hood has above-average speed and shows good intuition in the batter’s box, but he suffered a wrist injury and a groin injury in 2012. In 94 games with Double-A Harrisburg, Hood batted .245 with three home runs, 45 RBI and 20 doubles. Should he remain healthy this season, he could serve as yet another backup for the Nationals, particularly when rosters expand to 40 men.
Michael Taylor: Taylor will be 22 on Opening Day. Defensively, he could be int he Majors already. Blessed with world-class athleticism, Taylor can run ‘em down in the outfield as well as anyone in the minor leagues. He’s still raw in the batter’s box though, and last year at Hihg-A Potomac he hit .242/.318/.365, all remarkably consistant with his career minor league numbers in over 100 plate appearances now. Some see Taylor as the Nats center fielder of the future, and while his hit tool is still developing, most scouts see the raw natural power (33 doubles last season) and think that aspect of his game will eventually catch up to his exceptional fielding skills.