The other evening while attending a Maryland basketball home game, an acquaintance took notice of my NatsGM hat (Yes I am a shameless self-promoter) and asked me a rather simple question, “What are you looking forward to with the Nationals this season?” This individual is not the most astute baseball fan so I do not think she would be intrigued about my anticipation of watching Danny Espinosa’s new swing from the left side of the plate or observing Jordan Zimmerman’s improved changeup. Therefore, in order for the cheap laugh and to keep the conversation flowing, with respectful candor I replied, “Everything.” However, after a few days of pondering this question and thinking ahead to the rapidly approaching season, I decided to answer her question and give a short list of what I am anxious to see in NatsTown this year.
Honorable Mention: Henry Rodriguez hitting 100mph on the radar gun, Anthony Rendon’s debut in the major leagues, watching Bryce Harper run the bases, awkwardly singing along when Ryan Mattheus enters the game to Katy Perry’s song “Firework”, and consuming my first adult beverage of 2013 in the Red Porch bar.
9) Opening Day
Early April weather can be more inconsistent than an Edwin Jackson season, but nothing can stifle my love and child-like exuberance for Opening Day. Children on Christmas morning and students on the last day of school tell me to calm down on this special day. Opening Day holds a special place in my heart, as I attend the home opener with my father each year, but this year will be particularly special with the Nationals opening at home against the Marlins and they will proudly raise their 2012 National League East Championship Flag.
8) The MLB Draft
As an aspiring scout, the three days of the Major League Baseball draft are some of my favorite days each year. This draft will be different than previous year’s, as the Nationals relinquished their 1st round pick as compensation for signing closer Rafael Soriano, so the team will not participate until Day 2 of the draft and will thus be at a disadvantage trying to obtain talent. Last year they drafted talented high school pitcher Lucas Giolito and settled for lesser-ceiling talents throughout the rest of the draft in order to secure his signature: It will be interesting to see what general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals game plan is this year without the benefit of a 1st round pick.
7) Following the Progress of the Minor League Prospects
Every Nationals fan, including myself, will be focused on the progress of Anthony Rendon in the minor leagues, coupled with the speculation of when he will debut with the team. Rendon should have the most impact in Washington, but prospects such as Nathan Karns and Zach Walters have a chance to bolster the roster later this season and potential breakout seasons from AJ Cole, Destin Hood, and Matt Purke could make the Nationals farm system look much more impressive this time next year than it does today.
6) 1st Home Series against Atlanta and Philadelphia
The Braves come to town the second weekend of the season, April 12-14, in what should be a much-hyped early season series, with both teams wanting to make a statement to the other. Weeks later, the Phillies visit Washington from May 24-26 for their initial series of the year between the two teams. Both series fall on a weekend and should be a “hot ticket,” and you are making a mistake if you have yet to purchase your tickets for these games. Mark it on your calendar.
5) Can Ian Desmond Replicate his 2012 success?
Sure, the easy answer would be “No,” as Desmond batted .292/.335/.511 with 25 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 130 games played last season en route to making the All-Star game and winning a Silver Slugger award. While we should temper our expectations in terms of home run totals this season, many will exaggerate the extent Desmond will regress from his 2012 numbers, as evidenced by Bill James’ projection of a .279/.326/.445 with 18 home runs and 22 stolen bases. These numbers would make Ian one of the top-5 shortstops in baseball, and I look forward to watching him prove the doubters wrong in 2013.
4) Davey Johnson’s Final Season
One of my favorite parts of each day during the season is watching Davey Johnson’s postgame press conference, as I seem to learn something new about baseball almost each time. His baseball knowledge is simply incredible and he is quite an asset to the Nationals organization. The Nationals have a great team on paper, even better than last season, and I look forward to watching Davey masterfully use his roster this season to maximize their success and learn more about the game from observing and listening to him along the way.
3) A Full Season from Stephen Strasburg
Owning perhaps the most devastating arsenal in baseball and without any innings restrictions in 2013, Strasburg enters this season as a leading contender for the National League CY Young award. His repertoire and talent gives him the opportunity to throw a no-hitter each time he takes the mound, and I will make every effort to be sitting behind home plate for his home starts this season, likely awestruck by his masterful changeup.
2) The Emergence of Danny Espinosa
I am predicting a monster season from Espinosa, which might sound a little strange considering the questions in terms of the health of his left shoulder and coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign in which he posted a .247/.315/.402 batting line with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases. However, further examination of his numbers shows that an awful April (.205/.300/.269) pulled down his cumulative first half statistics (.232/.309/.374) and his 2012 numbers as a whole. Danny has worked hard this offseason to strengthen his shoulder and shorten his swing from the left side of the plate in order to decrease his strikeouts, which at 189 was excessive last season and severely pulled down his batting average. If this hard work and the combination of his experience and polish from 1,400 major league at-bats come together this season, Danny should have little difficulty matching or exceeding his .264/.321/.432 numbers in the second half of 2012, with 20-25 home runs.
1) Bryce Harper
Not quite sure I can ever remember being so excited for a player’s future as I am in Bryce Harper. Certainly most of that comes from him being a Nationals player, and some of it from the fact that I have been fascinated with his career path ever since hearing about him as a precocious 14-year-old kid, but the combination of his immense talents and insatiable desire to be great has me absolutely giddy like a teenage boy with his first crush to watch him every day this season. I am comfortably predicting a .275 batting average with 30+ home runs and a gold glove award in left field for Bryce this season, and I would not be the least bit surprised if he exceeds these numbers with room to spare. Enjoy Nats fans, Bryce will be in Washington through at least 2018, and should receive plenty of MVP votes after this season.
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