So far during this year’s Spring Training season, all the emphasis regarding the Washington Nationals has been placed on pitching. Not just because they were the first ones to report to camp last week, but because the pitching situation looks very promising for the Nats this year. But how is their offense? Good pitching stops good hitting, but there’s only so much that pitchers can do if they don’t have the bats to back them up.
Since most of the Nationals’ off-season deals involved pitchers (except for the acquisition of Mike Cameron, who since then has decided to retire), most of the guys who played last year are returning for another season. In all the interviews I’ve heard this past week with several different players, they all seem pretty confident that this season will definitely be a contending one, and they all sound happy and relaxed (though that could be from having had over four months of vacation!).
So what will the Nationals’ lineup look like this year, and will they indeed be contenders? Well some things have to happen if they’re going to improve on last year – mainly Jayson Werth has to hit, the leadoff hitter has to get on base more, and manager Davey Johnson has to be a little bit more aggressive (which is hard for a guy who has implemented the suicide squeeze only once in his 100-year career). Here is my projected lineup for the start of the regular 2012 season, though things remain a bit fluid since GM Mike Rizzo is now showing interest in Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra. Let’s pretend that’s not going to happen and look at a lineup without Parra involved:
Leading off is going to be shortstop Ian Desmond. He batted in just about every spot in the lineup last year, and finally started feeling comfortable at leadoff towards the end of the season. Desmond has shown some maturity at the plate, and if he can accept that it’s OK to get walked, he should be OK. He needs to be more aggressive on the bases and still has some improving to do defensively at shortstop, but overall I’m comfortable with Desmond leading off.
Batting second will be right fielder Jayson Werth, who batted a crappy .232 last season. He doesn’t have any excuses this year – he needs to move baserunners, strike out less, and be less wishy-washy at the plate. It’s a good thing he can field; otherwise I really wouldn’t like him.
Batting third is a no-brainer – previous Gold Glove and Silver Slugger-winning third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Poor Zim has been distracted recently by contract talks (he wants a no-trade clause so he can stay in DC for years to come), but that should be resolved in the next day or two, so he can get back to being the awesome player that he is. I am totally on Ryan’s side on this one – he wants to be like Derek Jeter, Mike Schmidt, and other great franchise players who spent their entire careers with the same team. But then the Nationals go and pick third baseman Anthony Rendon in last year’s draft; that’s gotta make a guy nervous!
The cleanup position is also a no-brainer – that goes to left fielder Michael Morse. Morse batted .303 last season, with 31 home runs. He’s an all-around nice guy with a good attitude, a winning smile, and a lot of power. He played some first base last year after Adam LaRoche injured his shoulder, but the outfield is where he will play in 2012.
The fifth and sixth positions are a toss-up for me – first baseman Adam LaRoche would be fine there, but switch-hitting Danny Espinosa might be a good fit too. Espinosa is going to win the Gold Glove at second base this year (you read it here first!), but he strikes out a LOT and is very slumpy. I guess you can put lefty LaRoche fifth and Espinosa sixth. Yeah, that should work.
In the bottom of the lineup, I would put catcher Wilson Ramos seventh and either Roger Bernadina or Rick Ankiel (both center fielders) in the eighth spot. Ramos had a .445 slugging average last season and has a good amount of power. Bernadina and Ankiel, both lefties, received last-minute invitations to Spring Training, so they will have to really perform in the next few weeks if they want a spot on the team. Ankiel, a former pitcher, has a cannon for an arm, and Bernadina has some speed. And what if they acquire Parra? I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, he’s a lefty outfielder as well and would stay in the bottom of the lineup unless Desmond does not produce in the leadoff spot. (Regarding the possibility of trading for Parra, there have been trade talks floating around regarding Nationals’ pitcher John Lannan, so don’t be surprised if he’s the one they trade for Parra.)
And what about 2010 first round draft pick Bryce Harper? He’s not starting in the Majors until mid-summer. Not only is he not mature enough, but if he starts too soon, it affects the Nationals’ ownership of Bryce’s contract and they relinquish control of him sooner than if he played less than 170 days this season. It’s one of those complicated business-side-of-baseball things that fans don’t realize has such an impact on a player’s career. My money is on Harper starting out in AAA Syracuse (though they might let him play in the April 3rd exhibition game against the Red Sox at Nationals Park).
So as you can see, the Nationals have a lot to offer offensively this season, and they should be fine defensively as well. Today is the first day of full-squad workouts in Viera, Florida, and their first Spring Training game is scheduled for March 4 with Edwin Jackson starting on the mound. Let’s hope everyone stays healthy, learns a lot, and plays to his fullest potential during Spring Training – it’s almost time to say “Play ball!”
About the Author
Written by Marien Hornyak
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but have lived in the continental US for 22 years. I have a BS in Athletic Training and a MEd in Sport Management, where I did my thesis on "The History of Baseball Litigation." I am a wife, mother of 2, and self-proclaimed "Baseball Nerd." My favorite baseball players include Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, and Iván Rodriguez.