August 17, 2019

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part I: The Infield

Ryan Zimmerman gets Matt Kemp out in top of 5th (third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to first baseman Adam LaRoche) - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman is a key component to Nats playoff hopes. (stock photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page, Sept. 2012)

 

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

With no further adieu…

THE INFIELD

Adam LaRoche, 1B: LaRoche had a disappointing season any way you slice it. Coming off his Silver Slugger season of 2013, a reasonable assumption could have been made for something of a regression, but LaRoche crashed back to earth in a hard way. Usually at least competitive against LHPs, LaRoche was simply anemic (.198/.254/.313), adding to the Nats woes against southpaws, as the Nats lefties hit a woeful .211/.283/.291 vs. LHPs. LaRoche is in the last year of his two-year, $24 million contract and it won’t be surprise to see him spend the season in a platoon, with either Tyler Moore or even Ryan Zimmerman on occasion as the team prepares for the possibility of “The Face” switching corners.

Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B: The young infielder had somewhat of a remarkable season (265/.329/.396, 7 HRs, 35 RBI in 98 games), considering he practically skipped Triple-A altogether (14 plate appearances) and switched positions at the Major League level. Rendon handled everything with his trademark big smile and has built a solid foundation from which to work in his sophomore campaign. The Nats hope Danny Espinosa rediscovers his bat this season, allowing Rendon to slide back to his more natural (and less apt to get injured) spot at third base next season. But if that doesn’t happen, Rendon seems like he can handle the keystone and the pressure of hitting in a veteran lineup.

Ian Desmond, SS: How’s that for a follow-up? Desmond proved any remaining critics of his abilities wrong last season as he followed up his big 2012 with an equally impressive 2013 (.280/.331/.453, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs, 21 SBs). Desmond has now vaulted himself into the upper echelon of shortstops in the game and if the Nats allow him to reach free agency (following the ’15 season) without a contract extension they probably won’t be able to fit him into the budget. Rarely do top-5 shortstops hit the market and he’ll command a king’s ransom. But that’s a worry for another day, as the Nats can count on his 20-20 production and impressive range for at least two more years while they think about it.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B: The Face of the Franchise suffered through the worst defensive season of his career — and it wasn’t just the throwing. Advanced metrics showed that Zimmerman’s range has shrunk as he’s compensated for his injured throwing shoulder. His throwing got better as the season went along, so there’s hope that a normal offseason of rest and strengthening will allow Zimmerman to return as a plus-defender once again. The hitting stayed consistent, but his numbers (.275/.344/.465, 26 HRs, 79 RBIs in 633 PAs) play better at third than they do at first, which is where he’ll end up if the defense doesn’t get better.

Danny Espinosa, MI: Where to start? The rotator cuff tear in 2012 that he never had surgically repaired? The broken wrist that he sustained in April only to be revealed/properly diagnosed in late May which allowed him to “hit” .158/.193/.272 in 167 PAs? The months of ineptitude in Triple-A (.216/.280/.286 in 75 games) after taking just two weeks off to let the wrist calm down? Espinosa’s career is at a crossroads as his performance has fallen completely off the table as his injuries continued to mount. If Espinosa can return healthy — and that’s not a given — he can provide 20 homer power and speed with Gold Glove caliber defense. He’s going to be given a shot to earn a spot at the big league level as the backup middle infielder, but expect a lot of playing time in March as he tries to establish that he belongs.

Tyler Moore, 1B/LF: What is Tyler Moore? Is he a first baseman? Left Fielder? Designated Hitter? What we know is he’s a 27 years old, 6’2” 220 slugger that hasn’t been able to break into or hold onto a full-time position in the Major Leagues. His Age 25 year produced a .263/.327/.513 SLG in 171 PAs. His Age 26 season: .222/.260/.347 in 178 PAs and a trip back to the minors. Moore’s fans love the big power. His detractors cite the holes in the swing and lack of defensive proficiency. Would he club 20+ homers for a second-division American League team? Almost certainly. But in the N.L., he’s limited to a bench spot. He’s not even qualified as a platoon, as his career splits against LHPs (.222/.276/.383) are significantly worse than against RHPs.

Zach Walters, SS: The shortstop enjoyed a breakout season in Syracuse, mashing 29 homers and 32 doubles. That power comes with severe limitations though, as his .253/.286/.517 slash line does not translate very well to the big league level, considering his defense is only average at best. Walters will probably still end up with the Chiefs again unless Espinosa can’t handle the backup job, but Walters probably isn’t well-suited defensively to be a utility middle infielder.

Jamey Carroll, MI: Back for another stint with the organization, Carroll is on the last of his little legs. He’s 40. He hit .211/.267/.251 in 227 plate appearances in the American League last season. He doesn’t have the arm or range to play short or third anymore. It’s a nice story that the Nats want to bring him to spring training to serve as Danny Espinosa insurance, but the Nats would be better off for a lot of reasons if he doesn’t make the team.

Will Rhymes, 2B: He’ll be 30 on opening day. He’s another veteran MiLB player the Nats have hanging around as catastrophic injury depth/AAA fodder. Rhymes enjoyed a .274/.360/.349 year for Syracuse — if that can actually be enjoyed — getting most of his ABs at second base. He’s useful in that he’s had a couple cups of coffee so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed if he had to spend time on the Major League roster.

Mike Fontenot, MI: Fontenot used to be a versatile utility man in the bigs, but he hasn’t gotten more than 100 at bats for an MLB team since 2011, when he hit .227/.304/.377 for San Francisco, though in just 47 games with Philly in ’12 he hit .289/.343/.340. Still, the 34-year-old will be slated for Syracuse, hopefully never to pull on the Curly W.

Matt Skole, 1B: The 6’4”, 220 first baseman’s 2013 season was over before it began: just two games in he reached for a throw in the baseline, colliding with the runner, requiring Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. He’s got power to spare, as his 27 homers for Hagerstown the year before shows, but he’s a little old for his level having completed his college eligibility before turning pro. New manager Matt Williams has already compared him to Jim Thome. If Skole can rediscover his power early at Harrisburg he could get a quick promotion against more-seasoned arms at AAA, which will quickly determine if he’s prospect — or Brock Peterson.

Brock Peterson, 1B: His name evokes movie stars of the 50’s, but Peterson is a 31-year-old power-hitting minor league veteran. He clubbed a career-high 25 homers for Memphis of the hitter-friendly PCL last year, but he owns 139 homers in 10 minor league seasons so he has the pop to go with a .272/.352/.452 career slash line. He’s probably going to smash his share of homers in Syracuse this season, but if he ends up in D.C. for any reason, something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. The only guys I’m not sure I want to see are the older major league veterans.

    I am most excited to see if Skole can get back on track for the major leagues. If his bat can play with the big guys, I want it to start playing soon. Two games at AA is not much to go on though.

Trackbacks

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