Wednesday, April 1, 2015

25 Man Roster Review



Opening Day is around the corner, and the Nationals 25 man roster is coming into focus. There has been a flurry of activity this week, and a couple of decisions still need to be made, but let’s take a look at the team that will be in the dugout to kick off the 2015 season.

Starting Lineup:
CF Michael Taylor
3B Yunel Escobar
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Dan Uggla
SS Ian Desmond
C Wilson Ramos
LF Tyler Moore

That’s my best guess at the batting order (it was the starting lineup for the Nationals against the Marlins yesterday). Taylor checks the boxes for a lot of the old school leadoff hitter due mostly to his speed. He has hit well in spring training, but still has to prove he can limit his strikeouts and get on base as a table setter at the top of the lineup. Escobar has shifted from second base to third base to fill Rendon's spot as Uggla slots into the starting lineup at second over Danny Espinosa. Uggla has also put up big numbers in spring training, and it looks like his vision problems may have been what was holding him back. Spring training results don't mean a whole lot, though, so he will have to prove he really has improved at the major league level. A lot of pressure will fall on Ryan Zimmerman to produce in place of the injured Werth and Rendon as he holds down the middle of the lineup. Finally, Tyler Moore is getting one last shot at the major league roster after a big spring training. Let’s hope Michael Taylor’s defense is as good as scouts claim it is, as he will have to cover for Moore in left, as Moore falls in the “Adam Dunn, hide him in left field” bucket of outfielders.

Starting Pitchers

Max Scherzer
Jordan Zimmermann
Stephen Strasburg
Gio Gonzalez
Doug Fister

Scherzer gets the opening day nod but, otherwise, no surprises here. Whatever injuries may hit the position players, these five guys will keep the Nationals in every game.

Bench:

Danny Espinosa
Matt den Dekker
Jose Lobaton
Reed Johnson
Mike Carp vs. Clint Robinson

The Nationals traded away Jerry Blevins to the Mets for Matt den Dekker. den Dekker has the ability to play all the outfield positions, offering depth to the center field position behind Taylor while Span is on the mend. Lobaton will get in a good amount work as the second catcher and Espinosa will serve as the defensive infield specialist and right handed pinch hitter. Reed Johnson, also picked up this week, offers a lot of defensive flexibility but carries a pretty light bat. The final position player spot comes down to Mike Carp versus Clint Robinson who are competing for the pinch hitting lefty bat role on the team. Clint Robinson has been a career minor leaguer, although he has put up good numbers along the way. He has never really had the chance to prove it at the major league level, and this might just be the chance he has been waiting for. On  the other hand, Carp has veteran experience and a World Series ring. His recent major league performance, though, has not been stellar. Neither guy figures to get major playing time, but both could offer some thump from the left hand side of the dish.

Bullpen:

Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
Aaron Barrett
Tanner Roark
Matt Thorton
Blake Treinen
Xavier Cedeno vs. Rich Hill

Despite a bad blister on his toe and a broken bone in his non-throwing hand, Drew Storen will hold down the closer role on Opening Day. Behind him, it is a little less clear. Aaron Barrett gained a lot of big league experience last year and figures to be the right handed set up man. Matt Thorton, acquired last year from the Yankees, will be the left handed set up option. Rookie Blake Treinen will make the big league squad. Despite some starting experience, Treinen has always projected best as a bullpen arm where his velocity and two pitch repertoire will play up nicely. Tanner Roark is the real wild card. He has still gotten stretched out in spring training, pitching multiple innings at a time, and has not pitched on back to back days. Stammen already holds down the long reliever role, so will Roark end up being a set up option or will Matt Williams save him for multiple inning appearances only? Finally, Xavier Cedeno and Rich Hill are competing for the second left hander role in the bullpen. Cedeno might have a leg up not due to his performance on the field necessarily but rather due to the fact that he is out of minor league options. In other words, if the Nationals were to send him to the minor league squad, every other team would have the option of claiming him on waivers first, so the Nationals will have to give him the last roster spot or risk losing him to another team. Veteran Rich Hill is signed to a minor league deal, so the Nationals don’t have the same fear of losing him if they send him down to the minors. Once the decision is made, Cedeno and Hill will likely play the role of LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY).

DL

Jayson Werth
Anthony Rendon
Denard Span
Casey Janssen
Nate McLouth

The Nationals certainly aren't happy with the big name players who will be starting the year on the DL. Jayson Werth, coming off of AC joint surgery in his shoulder, has been playing in minor league spring training games and is likely to miss only a week or two of the regular season as he gets his timing back. Werth is still recovering from shoulder surgery, keep in mind, so we can't be sure he won't still be feeling the impact of the surgery into the regular season, once he does return.

Casey Janssen has a sore shoulder, but is scheduled to resume throwing in a day or two. There are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, the Nationals are counting on Janssen to fill the Tyler Clippard role as the 8th inning guy so it's a positive that he is projected to miss only a handful of games. On the other hand, this is a reliever who struggled with injuries and poor performance last year and has dealt specifically with shoulder issues in the past. He could be a nice player if he comes back healthy, but there is still a good chance that his diminished velocity and control means he can't cut it in the bullpen.

Anthony Rendon is the biggest question mark on this list. He is a very important part of the Nationals' 2015 team, and he leaves a big hole in the lineup on both offense and defense. Three different doctors have told Rendon he has a sprained knee and that he just needs to rest. I guess that is good news, although if he had to go see three different doctors then clearly there were fears that it was something worse than a sprain. Rendon has had major injuries before, usually related to the ankles, but all lower body injuries nonetheless. Let's hope this isn't a sign of things to come down the road for this young star.

Denard Span underwent his second core muscle surgery of the offseason, and his timetable is more long term. We expected some (potentially a lot) of regression out of Span in 2015, and the Nationals have a possibly competent replacement for him in Michael Taylor, so his absence won't doom the team. Span's timetable gets him back on the field in a month or two, and he is already throwing and swinging the bat, but the history of these types of injuries tells us the effects might linger for months to come.

Finally, Nate McLouth still hasn't progressed very far from surgery last year. His absence is what caused the waterfall of transactions this week as the Nationals bench grew very thin once Werth was placed on the DL. Reed Johnson and Matt den Dekker will essentially be splitting the role McLouth would fill as fourth outfielder/defensive replacement. McLouth is only a season or two removed from being an above average ball player, but a disappointing opening with the Nationals and the subsequent surgery leave some big question marks about what the Nationals could ever expect from him. Johnson and den Dekker have held their own in the past, and should be capable replacements should McLouth struggle to get back on the field.

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