One of the most intriguing things about spring training is the competitions for starting spots on the major league roster. Unfortunately for the Washington Nationals, that excitement for the most part is relegated to the bench roles. But with uncertainty in the outfield and the starting rotation, not all is lost for the team and fans who actually watch these exhibition games. Let the battles commence!
All the attention and cameras will be on phenom Bryce Harper, who will try to break camp as a 19-year old major leaguer. Skipper Davey Johnson wants Harper to get a fair shot at making the roster, although it’s safe to assume that management doesn’t want him to for financial reasons. I would think Bryce would start in right if he makes the team, moving Jayson Werth to center. Rick Ankiel was brought back to potentially play center and he looked good, hitting an opposite-field homer. Forget his power for a second, Ankiel has one of the best outfielder arms in the game and covers a lot of ground. Roger Bernadina also has a chance to start and he too, would force Werth to shift to center. Berny is athletic enough to play center, but he takes strange routes to fly balls and sometimes looks lost. Mark DeRosa can play the corner outfield positions, but he’ll be used in a utility role off the bench. PREDICTION: Ankiel in center, Werth in right.
Washington is blessed that they have a surplus of starting pitching and they have three capable arms of being the fifth starter in the rotation. Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan, and Ross Detwiler all have started for the Nats in the past and either of them wouldn’t be the worst option every fifth (or sixth) day. Rumors have swirled all offseason long that Lannan would be traded, but it’s less than a month until the season opener against the Cubs and he’s still here. I think it’s likely he’ll be traded, but he shouldn’t be. He’s dependable, gets along with the rest of the team, and knows the routine of playing in Washington. Wang is one year removed from major shoulder surgery and it’s unfair to him to expect a revival of his Yankees stint, when he won 19 games in back-to-back seasons. Detwiler has always had the stuff, but control and consistency has been an issue that impedes his progression. Again, I’d love to see Lannan stay, but management has other ideas. PREDICTION: Wang is the fifth starter, Lannan is traded, and Detwiler is the long reliever.
The fight for a reserve spot in the outfield is a crowded one and this will probably come down to the last few spring games. Besides Ankiel and Bernadina, Washington has a trio of players who want a chance to prove themselves. Veteran Jason Michaels, former Marlin Brett Carroll, and Xavier Paul are the contestants and a maximum of one will make the squad. Heck, it’s even possible that none of the three make it because Ankiel/Bernadina could and DeRosa would act as a fifth outfielder. Michaels hit a home run already this spring, but he’s just a mediocre player that brings nothing to the table except humor for me. Years back, he bobbled a fly ball that he deflected over the wall for a homer and that’s all I think about when I hear or see his name. Carroll has never had a full-time starting job and with good reason. The career .203 hitter strikes out more than a quarter of the time and it’s possible I run better than he does. Paul has jumped around a few organizations lately and at least he has one supporter, MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, who has shown past obsessions over the guy. There’s no way Bryce sits on the bench, so it’s either starter or minors for him. I don’t have faith in management with this decision. PREDICTION: Michaels and Bernadina make it.
Overall, in terms of players battling it out with teammates, there isn’t much there for Washington. Considering the fact that one of them (fifth starter), is virtually decided by default, only one starting spot is in question. For a “playoff or bust” team, according to Johnson, that’s definitely a good thing. There’s still three weeks of exhibition games, so there’s plenty of time to make lasting impressions with the organization. What fans need to realize is that sometimes, spring stats have to be overlooked. If your favorite player has had better days, it’s not the end of the world. Werth hit .245 last spring and would have killed to have done “that well” last regular season.