October 16, 2019

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Outfielders

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Denard Span
2014: 668 PAs, .302/.355/.416 with 5 HRs, 37 RBIs, 31 SB/7 CS (3.6 WAR).

Span enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career at the plate and in the field. He led the N.L. in hits, had 39 doubles and eight triples with 94 runs scored. You’ll score a lot of runs when you get on base a lot, and Span did just that, registering the third-highest mark of his seven-year career. Much is made of the Nats power, but this offense goes when Span gets on base, and ever since the last third of 2013, he’s been getting the job done. There might not be a finer defensive center fielder in the game. He gets underappreciated on defense since he has the natural ability to make the difficult look routine. Span will be a free agent after the season as well, and he’s being pushed by Michael Taylor, who is probably his equal in the field, but a much different player at bat.

Bryce Harper
2014: 395 PAs, .273/.344/.423, 13 HRs, 32 RBIs, 2 SB/2 CS. (1.0 WAR).

The key number to look at in Harper’s stat line is the first: plate appearances. Harper managed just 395 of ‘em as he played in just 100 games. Every season in the bigs — and he’s entering his fourth despite being just 22 years old — he’s missed a significant chunk due to injury. He plays the game hard and loud, and he’s paid the price. Most around the league think that simply staying on the field long enough to accumulate 600 at bats is the only thing Harper needs to accomplish to fulfill the projections that have surrounded him since he was 16. Certainly, he saved the best for last in 2014, hitting three homers in four games against San Francisco in the Divisional Series on the national stage. As one publication put it, the next time Harper faces a pitcher younger than him as a professional will be the first time.

Jayson Werth
2014: 629 PAs, .292/.394/.455 with 16 HRs, 82 RBIs, 9 SB/1 CS (4.0 WAR).

Werth continues to produce for the Nats at a very high level, though his fielding and power have declined due to advancing age and accumulation of injury. He’s another year older, and has more injury to recover from, as offseason shoulder surgery has him questionable for the start of the season. Considering it’s his right shoulder, Werth won’t join the lineup until he’s absolutely 100 percent able to throw and even then, whatever power he still has might not return until the All-Star break. When he does return, it’ll be to left field, where he’s more suited these days as his lack of range and arm was evident at times in right field last season. Hopefully, he’s able to make a full recovery with his shoulder and will be able to hold down left field, since the Nats are on the hook to Werth through the 2017 season for $21 million per.

Michael Taylor
2014: 443 PAs, .205/.279/.359 with 1 HR, 5 RBIs. AA-AAA: 493 PAs, .304/.390/.526 with 23 HRs, 64 RBIs, 37 SB/9 CS.

Taylor had a breakout season in the minors last year to skip Brian Goodwin as the heir apparent to Span in center field. His defense is already Gold Glove caliber at the position, using his natural athletic ability and terrific instincts to track everything down hit in his general direction. He’s been lauded the past two seasons as the best defensive center fielder in the minors. His hit tool has always lagged behind his fielding, but it all came together for him in a big way last season and he’s in the Top 50 on prospects lists all across baseball. He’s slender at 6’3”, 215 and could fill out a little more without hindering his speed as he gets into his mid-20s. Taylor has all the talent in the world though, and should be in D.C. full-time starting opening day in 2016. Could be pressed into duty early this season though with Werth’s questionable shoulder.

Kevin Frandsen
2014: 236 PAs, .259/.299/.309 with 1 HR, 17 RBIs (-0.5 WAR).

Frandsen played first, second, third and left field last season as he clings to the remaining shreds of a decidedly mediocre big league career. He can’t hit, run, or field particularly well, but he’s willing to take any role to stay on the team, and it’s better than a veteran does this work rather than a younger player with any semblance of a future. Frandsen’s only claim to MLB usefulness is his utility. Just don’t expect much from him when you ask him to play and he’ll probably be able to give you that.

Nate McLouth
2014: 162 PAs, .173/.280/.237 with 1 HR, 7 RBIs, 4 SB/1 CS (-0.7 WAR).

Unlike Frandsen, who’s never really been useful, McLouth was once a productive Major League outfielder. I say “once,” because that day is long gone. He was atrocious last season for the Nats before he got hurt, and a shoulder injury prevented him from doing more damage than he did. He’s under contract again this season, so the Nats are going to see if there’s anything left in that surgically repaired shoulder during spring training, but it’s hard to imagine McLouth being a dependable backup this season.

Jeff Kobernus
2014 AAA-AA-A: 295 PAs, .264/.347/.360 with 3 HRs, 31 RBIs, 24 SBs/4 CS.

Kobernus came up as a second baseman but was moved fulltime to the outfield. That the Nats have never considered moving him back to second to push Espinosa tells you all you need to know about his long-term viability in the big leagues: he has none. He’s an okay minor league hitter with okay speed and okay defense. He’s the kind of guy that folks that watch minor league baseball on a daily basis love because he plays hard and is willing to take on a new role to stay in the organization, but he just doesn’t have enough of any particular talent to get him to the big leagues even as a backup. He’s 27 this season.

Brian Goodwin
2014 AAA: 329 PAs, .219/.342/.328 with 4 HRs, 32 RBI, 6 SB/4 CS.

We found out after the season that Goodwin hurt his shoulder in June and played through it all year, which explains a lot of the shock of such a disappointing season for the now 24-year-old. Goodwin was once one of the prized prospects in the Nats organization, but has been leapfrogged by Michael Taylor as next in line in the outfield and Goodwin is going to have to put on a show at AAA this year to get back on the radar and prove it was the shoulder, more than anything last season. As it was, his star had already lost some luster, as 2013’s .258/.352/.413 wasn’t tremendously inspiring either. Goodwin has elite plate discipline, but isn’t making enough good contact as he works his way up the chain. He’s a capable defender, but pales in comparison to Taylor. If they spend time in the same outfield in Syracuse this season, Goodwin will be the one sliding over to make room, something inconceivable just a year and a half ago.

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

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  1. […] Catchers Tuesday: Infielders Wednesday: Outfielders Thursday: Starters Friday: […]

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