Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What to watch for now

VIERA, Fla. -- The first two weeks of spring training are always the toughest, especially for reporters who want to write about some actual news and start to formulate some conclusions on players and where they stand in the competition for roster spots.

Unfortunately, not much happens during this first stage of camp, unless your idea of excitement includes repeated defensive drills, batting practice and bullpen sessions.

Really, the early portion of the spring is about building up pitchers' strength and precision and running through all the different fundamental situations that are sure to come up over the course of the season. There isn't much evaluation taking place, either from team officials or from media members.

That will all change beginning tomorrow, because the Grapefruit League is commencing, and the rest of the spring will be built around exhibition games and players' performances in those games.

So with that in mind, let's run through some things everyone should be paying attention to now that the games are about to get underway...

1. THE ROTATION: Really, this should could stand alone as the sole thing worth watching for the next month, because it's the most important aspect of spring training and the Nationals' biggest question mark in early March. We know John Lannan and Jason Marquis are going to be fine, but you want them to get their work in without any tweaks and you'd like for them not to get beat around too much. Everyone else still has something to prove, and their actual results will matter. For guys like Scott Olsen and Matt Chico, it's about proving to the Nats they are 100 percent healthy and back to their old selves. For guys like Livan Hernandez and Miguel Batista, it's about proving they've still got plenty left in the tank and are worth including on the Opening Day rotation. And for guys like Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen, Collin Balester, it's about proving they've made the necessary strides to become effective big-league pitchers. For those four especially, results this spring will matter.

2. THE REGULARS: There are no spots in the Nats' regular lineup up for grabs, so there's no competition here. Rather, the key for Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan, Josh Willingham and Co. is getting good work in, seeing plenty of pitches, working on different aspects of hitting and fielding and not doing anything that might lead to injury. Use this time to get yourself ready for the regular season so you can hit the ground running come April 5.

3. THE BULLPEN: For Matt Capps, it's time to show last year with the Pirates was a fluke and the dominant closer of previous seasons is back. For Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett, it's time to start building your arms up so you'll be ready to go back-to-back days come April. For Eddie Guardado and Ron Villone, it's a one-on-one battle to earn the left-handed specialist's job. And for Tyler Clippard, Tyler Walker and Jason Bergmann, it's time to avoid any disastrous outings that could give the front office reason to question whether you should make the roster after all.

4. THE BENCH: Aside from the rotation, this could be the most interesting facet of the club to watch for the next month, because so much is up in the air. Willie Harris and Wil Nieves are basically assured of jobs. The rest is a complicated puzzle, with versatile types like Eric Bruntlett, Mike Morse, Chris Duncan and perhaps Ian Desmond trying to prove their worth alongside guys who slot into more traditional roles like Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina and Alberto Gonzalez. There are a lot of different ways Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman can go with this. Spring performance will play a factor in their decision-making.

23 comments:

Bill C-H said...

Mark - What will be the normal daily schedule now that games are starting? I'm coming down in a week to see a few games; what other parts of Spring Training will be going on?

ckstevenson said...

How would you rate the level of talent and competition for those remaining rotation and bullpen spots? In the past I think everyone would agree it has been pretty craptastic. But this year? Are we approaching league average?

JayB said...

I think the talent for starters and Bench is still below league average. RF, SS and 2B, are all way below league average for the starters. 4th and 5th OF are the worst spots compared to most MLB clubs. Back up catcher is weak as is starting catcher. Sorry to be so down but really Rizzo still has a huge hill to climb with this roster. I hate to agree with Chico but the only way this team is going to improve is by spending lots of cash.....like $120 Million....and I just do not see that out of the Lerners.

JayB said...

Improve= get to .500.....yes they are going to be better than 100 loses....I hope.

Sam said...

JayB, I have three problems with your assessment. First of all, the Nationals' fourth OF, Willie Harris, is not below average. He is probably one of the best fourth outfielders in Major League Baseball. Honestly, if you can find me another fourth outfielder who, for the most part coming off the bench, provides above average offense (albeit slightly above average), good defense (especially in LF, CF is okay, 2B ehh), and excellent speed, I will be amazed.

Another issue I have is that the starters are not horrible. Okay, obviously Strasburg has not yet thrown a Major or Minor League pitch, Wang is coming off surgery, Detwiler just had surgery, and Zimmermann also had surgery. Obviously, Wang was discounted because he is returning from injury, but the other three guys were not leftovers off the scrap heap. They were drafted and developed through the organization (with the exception of Strasburg so far). They are showed or are showing promise of becoming usable Major League pitchers - and good ones.

Finally, as far as catcher goes, how many really good catchers are there? Most catchers, with the exception of a few (Mauer, Posada) are one way. And the ones that get more notoriety are the ones who can hit (e.g. McCann, Martinez, Napoli, etc.). Rodriguez has clearly lost any offensive ability he once had (maybe he can start leaning into pitches more like Jason Kendall), but I think his value lies in his defense (assuming he can still play good defense) and experience. You are right, catcher is certainly a weak point for the team, but it is not awful.

I think the problem with the Nationals lies with the fact that the bullpen is currently in shambles and the lineup is full of average players (and, sure, the rotation to start the year will be pretty bad too). If you settle for average players (like Kennedy, Guzman, Dukes), you will get average results. And if you add to that the negatives accumulated by the other players, you will get poor results.

I don't think spending a hundred million dollars will be the end-all solution. It may be, eventually, when Strasburg, Storen, Zimmerman, and the rest of the crew hit free agency. But that is a long ways off, and these players should prove that they are good enough to be part of a contending team first.

Marlins Fan said...

I'm a Marlins fan, so my knowledge of the Nationals is limited (minus Olsen and Willingham). I heard about what you're doing from deadspin.com and I just wanted to say that I think this is awesome.

JayB said...

You are right Harris is a OK or Average 4th OF.....He is not a 4th OF on a playoff team is he? Look at LAA, BOS, NYC, MIN, and the other Playoff teams and I do not think Harris would be the 4th OF.

Pudge really is not in the same conversation with McCain or the other top 10 catches in baseball. Again look at the Play off teams and you find much better starting and back up catching.

I like the longer term look of the pitching if he develops to potential but the position players in the Farm are terrible. That is where they are going to have to spend big money over the next 5 years just to get to .500 in my view.

IF Dukes can reach his full potential that will help but right now....as our starting RF...the team is very exposed. Same with Middle Infield.

Michael said...

I have to disagree with the idea that the outfield is set. Dukes was sent down to the minors last year for a long stretch. He has not proven he should be in the majors, much less a starter.

Positively Half St. said...

Alberto Gonzalez is Waived Man Walking. If he is on the roster at the end of Spring Training, then I give up. I am rooting for Mike Morse as a guy who can hit and will do anything to play. I am rooting even more for Chris Duncan, an actual bona fide major leaguer going through injury problems. Probably most germane, though, is Eric Bruntlett. He is a utility man who has actually stuck in the major leagues for a World Champion. What could possibly make us keep Gonzalez over him?

That was a real question- what could actually give Gonzalez an edge over Bruntlett, if that were the choice?

greg said...

jayb,

the yankees 3rd/4th OFs are randy winn and brett gardner. harris can hang with both of them.

rays: kapler is a little better offensively, worse defensively.

dodgers: reed johnson? no better than willie.

cards: showing schumaker right now on MLB, who was almost the exact same hitter last year. the rest of their backup OFs are a veritable list of "who's that?"

phillies: francisco is a little better offensively. i don't really know about him much defensively.

then there's the mets: gary matthews. blech.

marlins are another "who's that?" team.

i dunno, i don't think harris looks that bad once i start looking at the 4th OFs out there.

bknight47 said...

Mark: You could make watching plaster dry interesting...thanks for your updates...B

JayB said...

Fine....Willie is a little above average if you say so....I don't think he rates on too many teams like BOS, LAA or MIN as a 4th OF.

But that is not the point of the post really...Point is the roster is still weak and the Farm bats are VERY WEAK

Sam said...

JayB: The only reason I mentioned McCann and Rodriguez in the same sentence is because I was pointing out that McCann has great offensive value but not great defensive value. In that sense, Rodriguez is probably better defensively, but his offensive ability (or, lack thereof) does not make up for how good McCann is. I wasn't very clear: I think Rodriguez stinks offensively (downright awful, in fact), but he may be able to provide something defensively (I'm just not sure what that is).

I agree with you, for the most part, that the team stinks right now. If all goes well and the team wins 75 games, that is still bad (but showing good progress).

Mark Zuckerman said...

Positively Half St.: If one were to make an argument for Alberto Gonzalez -- not saying I am, just saying what one would -- it would be his defense. He's at least an average big-league middle infielder, maybe above-average. Certainly more adept at SS and 2B than Bruntlett. Is that enough to keep him on the roster? I don't know.

RPS said...

Willie Harris posted a .757 OPS last year, good for 71st among OFs with at least 300 PAs. Good for 2nd on the Nationals (ahead of Morgan by a smidge). Is Harris a solid 4th OF? Sure. The Gnats' problem isn't Harris as a 4th OF. Their problem is Morgan and Dukes as starting OFs, both of whom should also be 4th OFs. Morgan should also lay off the steal attempts--thrown out nearly 30% of the time.

I would also agree that the starters are not horrible. Again though, the problem is that they are not good either. At his best, Lannan is a number 3 guy. Same with Wang, and most of the other guys. When you have a rotation of 4 and 5 starters, that's not a good thing. I think it was a mistake for the Nationals not to have splurged on Sheets or Harden, both of whom have #1 SP potential. But that would have required spending 6-8mil more than what Wang cost. The horror.

natbiscuit said...

The BIG IF is IF players are healthy. The one spot that might be open for competition in the lineup is shortstop. Everybody seems to assume Guzman is healthy enough to take the field, but is he healthy enough to start at shortstop? I still think Desmond has a chance to crack the roster and the lineup. It may only be a chance predicated on Guzman's health, but until Guzman ranges deep to his left to show his mobility and ranges deep to his right and shows his arm he's still a question mark. IMHO.

greg said...

Wang, at his best, is not a #3. Could be a #1 on a playoff team, although he's not an "ace," by definition. The guy was the #1 pitcher on the yankees for two years winning 19 games back-to-back.

The problem with that is that we have no idea how close he'll be to "at his best." or if he'll even be decent.

as far as pointing out the ranking of harris' 757 OPS, did you notice who was behind him? none other than the 3rd OF for last year's WS champion yankees, melky cabrera. hermida, the 4th OF of the red sox this year (who jayb said he wouldn't rank with). josh hamilton, starting LF for the rangers (contenders). carlos guillen, starting OF/DH for the tigers. soriano. rasmus, starting LF for the cards (playoffs). randy winn and brett gardner (current 3/4th OFs for the yankees).

i agree with the general principal that there are holes in this lineup.

i think RPS pokes on the wrong numbers for morgan. a leadoff hitter isn't measured by OPS, he's measured by OBP. if you look at that number, morgan is 23rd in OFs w/300 ABs (willingham and harris not far behind at 26 and 34).

i think the nats are fine offensively from 1-5 (with #2 being a bit of a hole right now since it'll be guzman). but from 6 down, it's a big hole offensively. i think they'll score, but it's not exactly a juggernaut. now if dukes can get it together (and this has to be his last chance), the lineup looks much better with him at 6.

the rotation is shakey beyond #2 until later in the season when we all expect strasburg and (a hopefully healthy) wang. which will make the rotation at least respectable.

i can't argue against the idea of signing sheets or harden. if they were willing to consider washington, we should have been pushing hard for them (and in *addition* to wang).

Chuckles said...

Mark: On eve of Spring Training Opening Day, how about a projected guess on the 25-man roster.

Anonymous said...

BA's top 100 prospects, rating tools, etc. Drew Storen is in the 90s...insane, he is ready, poised and smart. just to make my point marlins prospect logan morrison is in the 20s, and he is one of the worst hitters i have ever seen in the minors. throw a ball on the outside and he will ground out ever time. the world of "upside" has gone beyond reality and is not to be taken seriously any longer. yeah he will be great if a pitcher never throws to the outside...

NatsNut said...

Positively Half St. said...
Alberto Gonzalez is Waived Man Walking.

******************

LOL! Waived Man Walking. Good one.

Pdowdy83 said...

RPS, I have to question your evaluation of the Nats picking up Wang not being as good as picking up Sheets or Harden.

Sheets is 2 years older than Wang, signed a 1 year/10 million dollar contract and has NEVER won more than 13 games in the NL Central, a far more inferior division than the AL East. Sheets also hasn't pitched 200 innings since 2004.

Harden has only sniffed 200 innings once in his career and that was 2004 as well. While his contract is more favorable than Sheets this year, his option is quite high. He, like Sheets has also never one close to as many games in a single season as Wang did twice in NY.

Wang has the potential to be a HUGE bargain this year and next if he returns to even 3/4 of what he was in 06/07 with the Yankees. The guy is arbitration eligible next year and def won't command the 10 mil that Harden will make, and the A's don't even have Sheets next season.

Also, how do you call Morgan a 4th outfielder when he is up there with Franklin Gutierrez defensively and has hit right around .300 in each of the seasons he has been in the bigs.

peric said...

The problem again is that its worst than having "waived men walking" on your roster: you are depending on "walking wounded whirlpool" denizens to improve the team to .500: Chico, Wang, Olsen,JZimm ... look at former, ( and not that long ago) 1st rounders Burnett and Martin. Do you really believe they are the same pitchers? Do you really think Chico is going to be? And Wang, and Olsen, and Jordan Zimmerman?

Rizzo said it takes about 5 years to build a team through the farms. Hopefully, his work under Bowden wasn't a complete waste? So, how long will it take from today?

peric said...

What to watch (maybe), a way for Rizzo to potentially rebuild this team and farm system more rapidly ... the Lerner way:

Kasten keeps talking about impending signings of International players.

I found this list ranking Cuban ball players:

LHP Aroldis Chapman
RHP Reinier Roibal
1B/LF José Julio Ruiz
RHP Yuniesky Maya
OF/1B Leslie Anderson
OF Jorge Padrón
SS Adeiny Hechevarria
CF Juan Carlos Linares
SS Yadil Mujíca
RHP Yadel Martí
SS José Iglesias
LHP Noel Argüelles
C/1B/2B/3B Adalberto Ibarra
RHP Israel Soto
RHP Alexei Gil
LHP Sergio Espinosa
3B/LF Ronnier Mustelier
RHP Deinys Suárez
RHP Reinier Casanova
CF Luis Fonseca
RF/CF Yasser Gómez

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