Spring training is here! After months of waiting, the first signs of the MLB 2013 season are upon us with pitchers and catchers reporting. Barring injury, I would say 23 of the team’s 25 Opening Day roster spots are pretty much a lock. I wanted to detail a couple battles brewing at Spring Training this year. But first let’s cover some big storylines out of the gate.
Among the pitchers reporting was Gio Gonzalez who addressed the Miami New Times report linking him to possibly using PEDs. He denied any use or any connection to the clinic other than knowing his father was receiving treatment. Alot of speculation that the Nationals are looking for an insurance starting pitcher as a result from this report.
Javier Vazquez and Kyle Lohse are names being thrown around. The Nats scouted Vazquez earlier in the offseason but he had minor surgery and probably wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day. As I’ve said before, if he’ll take a minor league deal the Nationals would definitely sign him as a low risk insurance policy. Lohse has struggled to find a home still due to the draft pick that a team must surrender to sign him and the high price tag. I don’t see the Nationals signing him, even on an one year deal as they already gave up a draft pick for Rafael Soriano. The team will more than likely look at internal options for depth like Christian Garcia, who is supposed to be stretched out to a starter.
Stephen Strasburg is back and he says he is ready to be the workhorse of the rotation. He thinks that 200 innings is a realistic goal for him this season after being limited to 160 last year by the team. Strasburg will be more important than ever especially if anything happens to Gio with all this PED drama.
Heading into this spring training, most of the regulars use the time to get back in shape but others are battling to make the 25 man roster. In years past, almost every position on the Nationals team was up off grabs even the Opening Day starting pitcher. This year spring training has a very different feel. Many roster spots are locked in leaving non roster invitees and bubble players to fight for 1 opening.
Pitchers are battling for basically the #7 bullpen position. The rotation was been solidified by the signing of Dan Haren. The closer role now belongs to Soriano and will be set up by Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, and Ryan Mattheus. The long relief guys will be Zach Duke and Craig Stammen. Now to the Nats use that final spot on a lefty? A guy with no options left? Or a guy that showed great potential late last season? This battle comes down to non-roster invite Bill Bray, optionless Henry Rodriguez, or Christian Garcia.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about how dislike the situational lefty position in a bullpen. I want a pitcher that’s useful for more than a single batter. The Nationals already have pitchers in the bullpen with great numbers vs left handed hitters like Clippard or Stammen. So, unless Bray blows the team away in spring training, he may just be depth in the minors.
Rodriguez at one point was closing games for the Nationals in 2012. A blew quite a few saves. He got velocity on his fastball with very little control. He was hurt for the latter part of the season and there is talk already he is dealing with soreness in his throwing arm. H-Rod is out of options and would be vulnerable to a team claiming him if the team puts him on waivers. He had an ERA of nearly 6.00 last season and I honestly don’t see whatever the Nationals do in him. In theory he’ll just be like #6 or #7 in the bullpen hierarchy but the team has depth to risk exposing him to waivers. He may sneak on to the 25 for one reason.
Christian Garcia came up as a September call up and pitched very well. Now I know its a small sample size but he would be a front runner for the bullpen but the rumors are the Nationals want to stretch him into a starter. That will require a stay down in AAA to begin the season. I would think the team’s best option would be to leave him in the bullpen but maybe the prospects they have at starter do not give the team much confidence currently.
Another battle we could see if for the final bench position. Locks for the bench are Chad Tracy, Roger Bernadina, and Steve Lombardozzi. I assume Wilson Ramos will be ready for Opening Day as well. Although the recent signing of Chris Snyder could be a backup plan for Ramos.
That leaves 1 spot for a position player. Most would assume Tyler Moore would be the final guy but I not too sure. The Nats trusted him in the playoffs in a big pinch hit spot but his play time crashed after Mike Morse return from the DL. There’s no real place for him to get at bats and unless they want him to just be another PH like Tracy; it may be best to let him play everyday in AAA.
I think Carlos Rivero or Will Rhymes may be able to take the final spot. Rivero hit .303/.347/.435 in AAA for the Nationals last year. He also played SS, 3B, and 1B. He gives versatility as a backup infielder and allows the team to also use Lombardozzi in the corner outfield if needed. Rhymes provides the same versatility with some major league experience.
Send me your thought on the Nationals and Spring Training in general.