The Washington Nationals may finally have an outfield that is as good defensively as its infield. By trading for center fielder Denard Span, Washington has upgraded at that position, along with left and center. Going into the 2013 season, the projected outfield of Span, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper may be the best that the Nationals have ever had.
Before the trade for Span, Washington did not have a true center fielder. Because of this, Harper had to play the position in 2012. Though he did well enough to win NL Rookie of the Year honors, Harper is more suited to playing right field. He has the speed to cover much ground, which will allow Span to shade to left and take the power alley away from right handed pull hitters. Harper may also have the best arm on the team, and opponents will be reluctant in trying to take the extra base on balls hit to right.
By trading for Span, the Nationals hope that they have acquired their first true lead-off center fielder. Span may not be as fast as Harper or have the arm of Rick Ankiel, who started 2012 in center, but has the natural instincts to play the position. Though he is coming to the NL and will have to get used to new ballparks and hitters, Span should give Washington the range in tracking fly balls and cutting off line drives to the gap that they are looking for.
Werth will be going into his third season with the Nationals. The first two have been marred by sub-par performance and injury. When he has been healthy, Werth has played all three outfield positions for Washington. Before suffering a broken wrist last season, he was the regular right fielder. He returned to that position in August and played well offensively and defensively. After batting lead-off down the stretch and in the post season, Werth will give up that role to Span.
On defense, Werth will probably move to left field and replace the Nationals biggest liability on defense in Michael Morse. Though he gave Washington everything he had, Morse was in the lineup more for his bat than his glove. Werth will give the Nationals more speed in left and a better arm. Like Span and Harper, he will get to balls that Morse could not, and stop opponents from taking the extra base.
With the outfield trio of Werth, Span and Harper, Washington is now able to do the two most important things in baseball defensively, which is not give teams extra at bats and bases. If there is an out to be made, they will make it. If there is a runner to be held they will stop them from advancing. This will make things easy on every phase of the Nationals game from pitching to hitting.
In 2012, the Washington infield grew into one of the best in baseball. It looks like the outfield may catch up to them in 2013.