With just over two weeks until the start of the 2011 MLB regular season, let’s take a look at the Washington Nationals’ players who are looking to lead their team to its first winning season since Nationals Park was built in 2005.
Perhaps the two most talked about names this offseason were Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
Obviously, the Nationals thought that Werth was worth a lot, as they signed the 31-year-old to a seven-year, $126 million deal. As my esteemed colleague Tyler Tomea pointed out in January, if you’re a Nationals fan, you’re probably wondering why your team just spent $126 million on a player who averages 25 home runs, 85 RBIs and bats .272. If you’re Werth, you get a lot of money.
Looking at Harper, he isn’t likely to crack the opening day roster and isn’t even assured of getting a “cup of coffee” in the big leagues as a late-season call-up. Even though Harper has tremendous power, he needs to learn the ins and outs of facing big league pitching.
Sticking with the outfield, the Nationals should have a somewhat competent outfield going into 2011. Werth is going to play right field, while Nyjer Morgan plays center, and Roger Bernadina plays left. Morgan, who is more known for his temper than his playing, flashes the athleticism to make a few highlight reel plays in the outfield. As a hitter, Morgan’s strength is mostly in the speed department, as he posted 34 stolen bases in 2010.
The best word to describe Bernadina would be raw. He has the athleticism to play any position in the outfield. He hasn’t been able to put it all together for a successful season. The Nats brought in ex-Royals outfielder Rick Ankiel, who can play both corner outfield positions, as well as provide some offense off the bench.
The star of the Nationals continues to be Ryan Zimmerman. Fans should expect nothing less than an all-star performance from Zimmerman. He projects to be the Nats leader in every offensive category excluding steals, and a 30-home run season could be in the works.
Perhaps the National most poised to breakout is shortstop Ian Desmond. But like many other Nationals, Desmond needs to refine his game, as his 34 errors in 2010 are not going to sit well with any manager. To Desmond’s left will be Danny Espinosa. He only played in 28 games last season, but he made them count, hitting six home runs and driving in 15 runs.
First base will be manned by another Adam, just not Adam Dunn, as Adam LaRoche was signed this offseason to fill the hole left by Dunn’s departure. While LaRoche does not possess the power Dunn has, he is still capable offensively and should hit around 25 homers and could flirt with 90 RBIs. Defensively, LaRoche is a minor upgrade over Dunn.
The most heated battle throughout spring training has to be at catcher. Ivan Rodriguez is no longer the answer, and having a 39-year-old behind the plate is never a good thing.
The likely backup is Jesus Flores, who won’t be a defensive or offensive liability, but isn’t great. Flores is the likely stopgap until Wilson Ramos is ready.
Ramos and Flores are fairly equal in offensive capability, but Ramos is certainly better defensively. The big thing for Ramos to learn is how to be a better receiver and call a better game.
There is obvious talent on the Nationals this year, the only question is whether these talented pieces will fall into place.