January 26, 2020

World Series or Bust–Washington Nationals 2013 Roundtable Part VII: Most Important Development

With opening day right around the corner, each day for the last seven District Sports Page’s Nats staff has taken a look at the biggest issues concerning your 2013 Washington Nationals. We borrowed a quote for the title of the series from Nats manager Davey Johnson’s Spring Training proclamation that he expects a “World Series or Bust” in Natstown this season.

We’ve also invited the other credentialed blogs to chip in with their answers. Then on Opening Day, look for the results to the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association Preseason Survey, where we polled The Natosphere on various topics related to the Nats, as we have for the last several seasons.

Participants:

Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief, District Sports Page
Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer, District Sports Page
Ted Starkey, Contributor to DSP, author and Editor at SBNation.com
Ryan Kelley, DSP Prospects Writer and founder of BaseballNewshound.com
Patrick Reddington, Editor, Federal Baseball
Joe Drugan, Managing Editor, The Nats Blog
Tom Bridge, Editor, WeLoveDC.com

Part I: Grading the Offseason
Part II: What do you expect from Bryce Harper?
Part III: What aspect of the Nats has you most excited for the coming season?

Part IV: What aspect of the Nats has you most concerned?

Part V: Which prospect are you most looking forward to following this summer?

Part VI: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

Part VII (and conclusion): What is the single most important development for the Nats this season?

Dave: With the big club poised for a World Series run, I’ll say the development of the stable of minor league pitchers. The Nats have traded away several of their high-level prospects in deals the last couple of off-seasons, using prospects as inventory to bolster the competing Major League roster, as good teams are wont to do. Those that remain all have serious question marks, particularly due to injury concerns.

The Nats best pitching prospect right now is Nate Karns, a player that was arguably a little old for his league last season. Past that, Sammy Solis is coming off Tommy John surgery, Matt Purke had off-season shoulder surgery to alleviate bursitis in his shoulder, and A.J. Cole, returned in the Morse deal, was demoted last season when he got off to a very shaky start in AA. The most recent addition, 2012’s first round pick Lucas Giolito, has already has his own Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season, but he was considered a top-of-the-rotation talent before the injury.

The progress of all five pitchers will tell if the Nats have an arsenal of future starters or trade-bait, or if Rizzo has to back to the drawing board.

That said, this organization has come a hell of a long way since the days of holding open try-outs for the rotation during spring training and Rizzo has done a terrific job stockpiling assets in the minors and developing talent to add to the big league club.

Alyssa: It sounds cliché, but I think the greatest factor the Nats need to overcome this season is the mental battle. This isn’t the tale of the underdog anymore. This is a franchise that has made strategic moves in recent years to build a ball club capable of winning games – and they are exactly that. Empires aren’t built overnight, but if the Nats want to establish themselves as a frontline contender, they’ve got to build upon that mentality in the clubhouse.

We saw the Nats lay the groundwork for the foundation they needed last season. Even if you set aside memories of Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 or Strasburg asserting his will to pitch beyond the innings limit, there were standout moments indicative of what this team has become. Let’s not forget Bryce Harper’s gutsy base running just a week into his big-league career, Ryan Zimmerman’s comeback in the second half of the season, the benches-clearing brawl against the Cubs last September and Gio’s 21 wins to cap off the year … all of which showed this team has tenacity and an invaluable sense of unity. Don’t kid yourself – there will be injuries, blown saves, tough road trips, offensive slumps, fielding errors and all of the other incidences that leave fans clenching their caps in their fists. The question is, how will the Nats keep their eyes on the prize for 162 games if – and when – the going gets tough?

Ted: Handling higher expectations and being able to overcome adversity to try and claim the World Series title will be their biggest challenge. Lots of teams can approach the cusp, but the 2013 Washington Nationals will face much higher expectations both locally and nationally than any Washington ballclub since the 1920s. With increased pressure and attention, it will be notable to see how this team adjusts from the one that operated in the shadows for years.

Ryan: It’s player development. Their young pitchers will need to continue to refine their mechanics, pitch efficiently and stick to a work-out regiment that keeps them healthy. In the bullpen, it would be foolish to rely on Soriano as the go-to guy considering his history, so Storen and Clippard will have to take a step forward and build-up some guts for the next time they’re in a cold-sweat situation.

Obviously, the club’s key players are all young. Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond all have to take a step forward and prove that they’re franchise players. Zimmerman always falls short of the All-Star conversation because of his health or even his occasional mental lapses on the field. So he needs to step up and take a leadership position. Now that the spotlight is on them, Harper and Desmond will really need to prove themselves.

And finally, if the Nats stand a chance, they’ll need to continue what they do best, develop from their own system. If it were up to me, they should’ve held on to Freitas, Meyer, Morse, etc… Trading for Gio, Kurt Suzuki, Span and signing Dan Haren is great. But winners aren’t made with the checkbook or hot stove signings. Teams that win feature rosters that have grown together. Rendon, Goodwin, Giolito are the next wave, and Washington would be smart to hold on to them, no matter how enticing a mid-season trade is or how blocked these players are.

Patrick: The Game 5 loss and what they all learned from it. There’s no better experience or motivator than getting close and falling short. Davey Johnson’s said all winter that the experience his players gained in their first real run is priceless. Now you have a team full of people coming back who have been there and seen what it’s like to play in front of 40,000+ screaming fans and the entire baseball world.

When (if) they get back they’ll have already been there and know what to expect. That experience can only help, and Davey Johnson’s proven to be a pretty good judge of talent. He thought last year’s team could compete and they did and he thinks this year’s team is a legit contender. I don’t doubt the man or his ability to back up his own bold predictions. As he said recently, he’s not into B.S. or romance. He tells it like it is and he’s been right most of the time so far in D.C.

Joe: It has to be to see if/how they are affected by last year’s October disaster. This team has a lot of confidence, as was evidenced by spring training last year when Davey Johnson was talking about winning the NL East title when everyone thought he was crazy. I don’t expect that to change this year. With another year of experience, this time with a playoff appearance, for Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and even Danny Espinosa, I expect the team to be ready for the challenge of the gargantuan expectations people have of them for 2013.

Tom: Their transformation from an upstart dark horse into a perennial winner. This is the sort of thing that so few teams have done, it will be a testament to their construction and development programs if they can do it. This is the most important Nationals season yet.

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

%d bloggers like this: