As the calendar now says March and we are officially one month from Opening Day, today is a good day to reflect on the early happenings from Nationals spring training. Unlike last spring, this has been a relatively quiet and injury-free camp, as only Christian Garcia’s forearm seems to be the only new injury and Davey Johnson has made the rather public decision to bring along his veteran players coming off injury such as Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos very slowly. Instead we have seen a healthy dose of playing time given to reserves and youngsters such as Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Corey Brown, and Anthony Rendon. While it is difficult to find much news amongst the early spring training games, here are a few positives I have noticed in the first few weeks in Viera.
1) Starting Pitching
The Nationals have only played six spring training games, but the starting pitching as expected, has been extremely impressive thus far. Stephen Strasburg has made two starts and has been somewhat rusty with his fastball command, but his velocity is good and his curveball and especially his changeup are both in midseason form. While the rest of the staff has only made one start, Zimmermann was extremely impressive in three innings Sunday, Gio was solid Monday night and flashed his patented knee-buckling curveball, Detwiler followed up on Tuesday with a good effort and flashed his new-and-improved curveball and finally Dan Haren was showing fastball velocity at 89-90 and touching 92, which is a great sign after averaging 88.5mph on his fastball last season. Granted it is only a few innings in February, but these positives should not be ignored by fans and hopefully portend good things to come from the starting rotation this season.
2) Impressive Youngsters
Anthony Rendon has been the talk of Viera, showing impressive defense at third base and batting .417 with a home run, two doubles, and five runs batted in over the first 12 at-bats of the spring. Rendon’s beautiful, level swing gives him plenty of power and his defensive skills make him appear major league ready but unfortunately for him he does not have a place to play. Rendon will begin the season in the minor leagues, most likely in Double-A Harrisburg, but should not need more than 250-350 additional minor league at-bats to refine his approach and could arrive in Washington early in the season if an injury opens a spot in the everyday lineup.
In addition to Rendon, right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns made an exciting two inning appearance Monday night against the Mets, pumping fastballs in the mid-90s and flashing a knee-buckling slider, giving the impression he could help the team out of the bullpen later in the year. Eury Perez has started out well at the plate batting .375 with two stolen bases this spring and his elite speed and defensive skills at all three outfield places makes him an intriguing potential reserve for the Nationals. Finally, Chris Marrero entered camp as a bit of an afterthought after a difficult 2012 season, but he has created a buzz with his noticeable bat speed and flashes of power in the early going. Still only 24-years-old and the pedigree as a former 1st round pick back in 2006, Marrero still has time to carve out a career in the major leagues, most likely as a slugger off the bench.
3) Bryce Harper
Difficult to believe it took this long to mention the man on the cover of Sports Illustrated and reigning National League Rookie of the Year, but Bryce has entered this spring en fuego batting .600 with 2 doubles in 10 at-bats. Most Nationals fans are expecting Bryce to build on his excellent rookie season, with the unspoken fear that he succumbs to the dreaded Sophomore Slump like Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond before him, but his improved physique and hot start this spring should help him avoid a down year and could help propel him to a monster season in 2013.
4) The Forthcoming Roster Crunch
Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office has done an excellent job in recent years of building depth throughout the organization and one of the consequences of this is the upcoming roster crunch on the 25-man and 40-man roster. Because of the limited space available on the Nationals bench and five spaces spoken for in the bullpen, players like Carlos Rivero, Henry Rodriguez, and Chris Snyder could find themselves on the trade market later this month. Both Rivero and Rodriguez are out of options and face a difficult challenge to make the opening day roster, however they are talented players that could use a trade and a potentially larger opportunity in a different city. Snyder is a non-roster invitee who has been impressive with some solid hitting early in camp and while he may not have a great opportunity in Washington, he is one of the best 60 catchers in baseball and should secure a job as a backup somewhere in the big leagues.
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