Just let that sink in for a moment, Nationals fans — games are just a few days away. Game action, suffice to say, is a major game-changer when it comes to Spring Training. Players begin to see live pitching, get live field work, pitchers see opposing hitters, and fans get the closest thing to real games for a while.
Another thing that occurs is minor leaguers begin to open the eyes of the major league coaches and executives, showing they could be ready for the show or that they need some more time in the minors.
Some of these minor league players could open the eyes of their superiors so wide they may push a veteran out of a spot, or perhaps win a bench spot out of nowhere. Needless to say, there will be plenty of dark horses and players to watch in spring, especially with the Nationals, who have such a full roster already. With that in mind, who could be players to watch this spring that could push the issue for Matt Williams, Mike Rizzo and company?
Let’s start with the infield, shall we? There are quite a few names to watch here, some we know of, some we may not be too familiar with. We have Zach Walters, Danny Espinosa and Matt Skole as the young guns looking to secure a job. Skole has serious power potential, and Williams even drew comparisons to Jim Thome in regard to how he has a proficiency for taking the ball the other way, along with him being a big left-handed bat like Thome.
Walters came over a few years ago in the Jason Marquis trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and belted 29 home runs for triple-A Syracuse in 2013. A switch-hitting shortstop, Walters did have 38 errors in 2013, playing both third base and shortstop, but his potential is probably more in his bat than his glove.
Meanwhile, Espinosa’s story is well known, going from second baseman of the future to having to win his job back after an injury-plagued 2013.
Next up is the outfield, which should be interesting to watch, at least a little more than the infield. The Nationals have Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth as their reserves for their everyday outfield of Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth.
The Nationals seem to have a surplus of speedy outfielders with names like Eury Perez, Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor all looking to open some eyes especially with Span’s potential departure this offseason, though Washington does own an option on Span for 2015.
Let’s start with Perez, who is coming off a .300/.336/.422 season in triple-A with seven home runs with 28 RBIs. Perez also did not strike out a lot with only 64 in 2013, though there were only 13 walks to compliment that. Perez is also a speedster as he stole 23 bases and was caught eight times. Perez will also get a look because of his speed, and it does seem that his bat could play in the majors, and could be a leadoff hitter of the future for Washington.
Goodwin is a non-roster invitee who seems to be heavily favored as the center fielder to take over should Span walk after this season concludes. Goodwin spent his 2013 in double-A and hit .252/.355/.407 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs. Goodwin walked 66 times, but also struck out 121 times, almost double the walks he had. Goodwin also had 19 steals but was caught 11 times. The average and strikeout numbers are certainly alarming, so it would be shocking to see Goodwin make the team this spring.
Taylor is probably one of the least seasoned players on this list. In single-A in 2013, he slashed .263/.340/.426 with 10 home runs and a whopping 87 RBIs. Taylor also stole 51 bases, was only caught seven times, though he did strike out 131 times, which was double his 55 walks. The potential is certainly there for Taylor.
The Nationals certainly have a loaded minor league system when it comes to young prospects, which makes it pretty difficult to handicap the races, especially when talking about dark horses. However, I would say these guys all players to watch, since they all have the potential and the numbers to warrant multiple looks.