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Official Beat Writer Roster Prediction Post

We have just less than three weeks until Opening Day, and those three weeks could do much to alter, or even annihilate, this prediction. During the next three weeks, for instance, we'll know if the Nationals thin out the first base-outfield crowd by trading Nick Johnson, Josh Willingham, etc. We'll know if Shawn Hill is facing opposing hitters, or facing another Dr. James Andrews appointment. We'll know if the Nats sign another arm for the bullpen.

But enough caveats. Here's your Official Beat Writer Roster Prediction Post.

Catchers (2)

Jesus Flores
Wil Nieves

Comment: This position is more clear-cut than any other, and that's because both players listed above performed at or above expectations last year. Flores will begin his second year as the full-time catcher; expect 450-550 at bats and a lot of progress. Nieves got his chance last year because of some injuries. He calls a decent game and hits just enough to stick around, probably fighting off non-roster signee Javier Valentin. Only if Flores' elbow injury becomes a lingering problem does Valentin crack the roster.

Infielders (6)

Nick Johnson
Anderson Hernandez
Cristian Guzman
Ryan Zimmerman
Willie Harris
Ronnie Belliard

Comment: Johnson, if healthy, will get most of the at bats at first base. Hernandez starts at second; Acta really likes the guy, but if he falters -- and remember, his track record before coming to DC was nonexistent -- then Ronnie Belliard might get yet another chance to show his value. Even as a bench player, Belliard is important here for his versatility. Harris, too. (And because of the outfield depth, he'll be seeing more time as an infielder this year.) The real problem with this list is the lack of an ideal shortstop behind Guzman. Granted, the Nats expect CG to play almost every day -- and here, he'll have to, because neither Harris nor Belliard is a good fit at shortstop. Anderson Hernandez has a little SS experience, though, and can fill in every so often. Alberto Gonzalez has plenty of potential, but he's better off getting at bats every day with Class AAA Syracuse.

Some of the names you don't see: Pete Orr, Kory Casto and Dmitri Young.

Outfielders (5)

Adam Dunn
Lastings Milledge
Elijah Dukes
Josh Willingham
Austin Kearns

Comment: Whew, what a pile-up. For now, let's assume Dunn plays three out of four games in LF and plays one of four days at 1B. That reduces the wear on Johnson at first base, and opens plenty of at bats for a fourth outfielder. And indeed, on a good team, somebody like Josh Willingham represents an ideal fourth outfielder. Those players can still get 300-350 at bats per year -- and you can be sure that injuries, at some point, will give somebody in this position regular playing time. Remember, Milledge was on the DL last year for about a month. Dukes had three separate trips to the DL.

The real dilemma here is Kearns. Unless he somehow gets at bats and raises his value, he's tough to trade. (Unless Jim Bowden gets another GM job.) Maybe another trade or an injury opens the door for him to play more regularly, but until then, he's an expensive bench player. I know the Nationals like his reliability in RF and his clubhouse presence, and they're hoping his work with Rick Eckstein can help him return to old form. But Milledge and Dukes have to play most days in CF and RF.

The crop of outfielders just behind this current group are promising. Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell have had fine springs, but they will be in Syracuse. As for Wily Mo Pena? I can't imagine a scenario where he's worth keeping on the team. His value as a bench player is nil.

Starting pitchers (5)

John Lannan
Scott Olsen
Daniel Cabrera
Jordan Zimmermann
Shawn Hill

Comment: The first three are clear-cut. The bigger decisions come with the last two spots. If Hill is healthy -- and I'm writing this sentence for the 43rd time this spring -- he'll be in the rotation. His track record says that won't happen, but if you can't be optimistic about a pitcher's health in March, you're either heartless or working as a scheduling secretary at the Alabama Sports Medicine Center. Yeah, the Nats are saying Hill's health is a bonus, but without it, their rotation could have two 22-year-olds. Jordan Zimmermann is 22. Same with Collin Balester. Shairon Martis turns 22 at the end of March.

In terms of readiness to pitch in the big leagues, I'd rank the contenders thusly: Zimmermann, Martis, Balester. The Nats might consider dispatching Zimmermann to Syracuse for the first couple weeks of the season, just to delay the start of his arbitration clock, and there's a little logic to that. But this spring, Balester has not looked ready. He's still too wild and mistake-prone. Martis looks more polished, good at keeping the ball low, but still, he had a 5.66 ERA in his cup-o-joe last September. Both Martis and Balester are better off learning and growing at Syracuse. By the end of the year, the Nats could have one of the youngest, most intriguing rotations in baseball. Zimmermann, for sure, will be there by then. Same with Stephen Strasburg, provided Scott Boras allows it and the Lerners facilitate it.

Relief pitchers (7)

Joel Hanrahan
Saul Rivera
Jason Bergmann
Julian Tavarez
Garrett Mock
Mike Hinckley
Steven Shell

Comment: Anybody got some darts, here? Really, I'm just aiming for the target and hoping to hit ... something. Maybe I'm relying too much on the brief success that some of these guys had late last year, because really, Shell and Hinckley haven't given the Nats much reason to make this team. I am listing Hinckley here for one reason alone: he's a lefty. The team needs a lefty. (Do we already miss Charlie Manning?) Mock will be a serviceable arm, and Bergmann might surprise some people in his new, full-time role. Tavarez is a proven commodity, and that alone gives him a boost. Rivera and Hanrahan are locks.

By Chico Harlan  |  March 18, 2009; 10:22 AM ET
 
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Next: Open Heart Surgery for A. Boone

Comments

Cabrera may be a lock as the #3 starter right now, but I'm willing to bet he's the first starter who gets "re-assigned" in some manner, either by injury or through his own inconsistencies, thereby opening up a place for Balester or Martis.

Sec314

Posted by: arlingtontwb | March 18, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Carrying forward:

New post.

Also, saw a piece in the Examiner noting that Aaron Boone will be having heart valve replacement surgery?

http://www.examiner.com/a-1911377~Houston_s_Boone_to_have_open_heart_surgery.html

If so, I wish him well with the procedure and recovery.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 18, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Oops, I should have cut out the "new post" part before carrying forward. On the glass half full side, it will be true eventually.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 18, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

"It was MILLEDGE'S OWN WORDS that said he refuses to show up early, HIS words that said he spends just 15 minutes in the batting cage, etc"

If I recall, he was quoted as saying he wouldn't show up early just for the sake of showing up early, to sit around playing cards or whatever. I've never seen a quote from him saying he refuses to show up early if a coach requests that he show up early for extra work. And if you believe Cedeno, "He comes in and he asks you for extra work, and that impressed me." But hey, it's all opinions. Believe whatever you want.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 18, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Holy smokes! You're knocking my socks off with these posts, Chico. You're really starting to sound like a baseball guy. ')

Your outfield solution seems pretty non-dramatic. I like it. It assumes no major trades, gets everyone enough at-bats and keeps some insurance for any of the what-ifs that could happen.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 18, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Here's another source for the Boone story:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/6318676.html

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 18, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I think T. Young makes the team unless they can make a deal with Cinn. He is a Rule 5 guy and needs to be on the Roster and he has shown he is as good as Shell or Mock.

Posted by: brothbart | March 18, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

It seems worth noting that SOCH is calling ZNN "Flash Jordan" over on FJB.

Posted by: BobLHead | March 18, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Chico -- first of all, great stuff this Spring! You really have been getting better and better over the past 9 months or so. Keep it up!

I don't have too much to quibble about on your predictions, except I think I'd rather see Ledezma as our LOOGY instead of Hinckley. While Hinckley did a tremendous job in September, I feel he needs a little more time in AAA to hone his craft. Ledezma has been pretty darn good so far this spring (knock wood) and he has a little more experience.

Posted by: erocks33 | March 18, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Flash Jordan. Nice.

Is he still calling it Fire Jim Bowden? I was kind of hoping he'd keep it. Seems like the blog did well talking about other stuff so it would be funny and a little nostalgic to keep the name.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 18, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone have an opinion on what the better defensive alignment is when Dunn and Willingham are in the line up together? It appears that Chico is putting JW in LF and Dunn at 1B. Is that because JW hasn't been getting any work at 1B? I'd think leaving Dunn in left and platooning JW at 1B with NJ would be better. You could also start JW in LF for Dunn occasionally - day game after night game, games with a DH.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 18, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I saw the Aaron Boone article, and it is disappointing.

However, it also may be an opportunity. I wonder if the Astros would be interested in trading for either Ronnie Belliard or (less likely by far) Kory Casto. Ronnie plays 3rd base in Winter Ball.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | March 18, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

The proper name is FJB, at least for now. Doesn't stand for anything--just FJB. Like AARP.

Posted by: sbiel2 | March 18, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Let's assume there are 2200 ABs to go around for our three OF positions and our 1B. How does this look:

Dunn 500 (400 in left, 100 at 1B)
Milledge 450 (all in CF)
Dukes 450 (350 in RF, 100 in CF)
Johnson 300 (all at 1B)
Willingham 300 (150 in LF, 150 at 1B)
Kearns 200 (all in RF)

Absent a trade or an injury, it's going to look like musical chairs out there this season.

Posted by: BobLHead | March 18, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Dealing Belliard raises the question of who backs up Zimmerman at the hot corner, particularly if we end up cutting Casto.

Posted by: BobLHead | March 18, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Good post, Chico - I think I mostly agree with your picks. I have a slightly different bullpen, but that's because my darts hit in different spots, not any real special insight.

Listing it out like that, though, you really see the gaping hole at SS. If Guzman gets hurt (and let's not forget, in '07 he played a total of 46 games) it's going to be an awful lot of the former Attorney General. Not sure I agree that AG has "plenty of potential," though - he's entering his age 26 season, and he's a career .700 OPS player in the minors. He looked great in 49 ABs last year, but he's a stopgap at best. I still think Belliard is also likely to be traded. He and Willie Harris are pretty interchangeable. I think a Kearns/Belliard move would make a good bit of sense, so long as we got the right pieces coming back.

As for the rotation, I think ZNN starts down, not up. Arb clock, IP balance, Lack of need for a 5th starter, etc. all say keep him down till June 1. In Svrulgese "Guess the Rotation" style:

Opening Day: Lannan, Cabrera, Olsen, Hill (Bergmann/Tavares)

June 1: Lannan, Cabrera, Olsen, ZNN, Martis

Sept 1: Lannan, Olsen, ZNN, Strasburg, (Martis/Balester)

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | March 18, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Kearns 200 AB's for $8 Million Dollars.....just cut him at that point....why drag down the moral of the whole organization.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I seem to remember Willingham batting cleanup last year for the Marlins (incidentally, a better offense than the Nats had). How do you only give him 300-350 ABs?

Posted by: dclifer | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

C'mon Steven, you're more clever than that. I think you should have to come up with a new name for your blog periodically, while still retaining the initials FJB. A name that represents something about the current state of the Nats, or baseball in general, or anything else remotely funny or interesting. Kind of like Needham does with his tag line.

I'll start for you: Today, FJB stands for Flash Jordan's Blog.

Posted by: BobLHead | March 18, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Whats up with the number 1 pick in the rule 5 draft, terrell young I think. Has he shown anything to keep him on the roster, and if not will he make through waivers to the minors or will we lose him?

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 18, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

BobL:

Agree with your premise. I think there are probably 200 ABs you are missing. I'd figure at least 600 ABs per position. That's 3.7 per game. I'd hope that NJ gets to 400 and you could add the remaining 100 to Dukes and Milledge, spread out evenly.

Dunn: 500
Dukes: 500
Milledge: 500
Johnson: 400
JW: 300
Kearns: 200

The question is whether Kearns can be happy and productive with just 200 ABs. I doubt it. He'll be thinking that his most productive (i.e.: money-making) years are being frittered away.

#4

Posted by: db423 | March 18, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

So....What's Ray King doing these days...?

Posted by: fischy | March 18, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

After his spring performance, I'm surprised not to see Jesus Colome on your list of relievers over Taverez or Shell.

Also,unless he demonstrates not only a revived ability to get hits, but the ability to hit with power, I truly hope the Nats rid themselves of Austin Kearns soon, even if it means agreeing to pay a good portion of his salary to whoever takes him off our hands. That would be my strong preference over trading Willingham who gives us a good platoon possibility with Nick Johnson.

Posted by: Section222 | March 18, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

So now it's a *moral* failure, as well?? I know we get a tad judgemental in here, but really.

*********
Kearns 200 AB's for $8 Million Dollars .....just cut him at that point....why drag down the moral of the whole organization.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM

Posted by: CEvansJr | March 18, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Chico's roster is right on the money for the position players and starters. I have to believe Jesus Colome has earned a spot in the bullpen at this point, probably over Mock or Shell. My biggest concern is the weakness of the outfield defense with Dunn in left and Milledge in center, but this is clearly a much better team at this point than last year's bunch.

Posted by: nats24 | March 18, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I agree except for I would rather see JZim in the Minors for a month or 2 or 3, but I still say when you rest Nick Johnson against lefties you want to put Willingham at 1st.

Also since most of us agree that Kearns unless traded is a backup, I don't want to see him playing as a "showcasing" for a trade as I think Bernadina earned a spot with Maxwell not too far behind. Bernadina and Maxwell have so many more tools IMO and if Kearns is a .225 hitter the Nats will get the same production from either Bernie or JMax.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 18, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Fischy - or, for that matter, Mike Stanton? Sure, he didn't pitch at all last year, and sure, he's 42 years old, but come on, we ought to be able to bring him in and flip him for prospects later (again), right?

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | March 18, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Also since most of us agree that Kearns unless traded is a backup, I don't want to see him playing as a "showcasing" for a trade as I think Bernadina earned a spot with Maxwell not too far behind. Bernadina and Maxwell have so many more tools IMO and if Kearns is a .225 hitter the Nats will get the same production from either Bernie or JMax.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 18, 2009 12:25 PM
************************************

Meant to add they will get at least a .225 batting average plus the intangibles of speed. I think Kearns has a better arm but I believe Bernie and JMax get to balls that Kearns can't get to.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 18, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Kearns 200 AB's for $8 Million Dollars.....just cut him at that point....why drag down the moral of the whole organization.

Posted by: JayBeee | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Do you really know what you are talking about? Have you read his body language to determine he is detrimental as a bench player? Many of the guys on the team like Austin Kearns and he was certainly a factor for Adam Dunn coming here.

I for one don't believe this is a sour face Johnnie Estrada or Felipe Lopez situation to bring the morale down. If it does become that, then eat the $8 mill but lets hope they can trade him.

That has to be the goal to trade him first and then go from there.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 18, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Bob: Willie Harris can play third if Zimmerman needed a day or two off if we trade Belliard. Harris may not be ideal (only 3 career starts and 16 total games) but he should be a solid defender there and if his bat plays like last year he'd be a better option than Belliard. If Zim were out long term we would need a better option, but for that case we'd have a roster spot and could maybe bring up Leonard Davis.

Posted by: Steveo11 | March 18, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

"The proper name is FJB, at least for now. Doesn't stand for anything--just FJB. Like AARP."

~~~~~

American Association of Retired Persons

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 18, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

>The crop of outfielders just behind this current group are promising. Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell

Not hardly. Maxwell has only hit .233 above Class A, and only had a couple hundred at-bats at AA like Neyer said. And he's almost TWENTY-SIX. He's way too far along for promising. Bernadina is a mirage, just like he went 0-5 the day after he hit a HR against Italy. His swing's got the swiss cheese look, as does Maxwell's. They've got virtually nothing as far as outfield prospects, and I would be extremely careful about unloading anybody out of spite or convenience. It's like Kearns - he'll hit better this year because Eckstein won't let him go three months without addressing his swing. Pena - who knows - but he deserves a shot with a real hitting coach before anyone decides to punish him by casting him off. As bad as he's been, at least he can hit the ball out of the park, which Bernadina and Maxwell only do sporadically.

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

>seem to remember Willingham batting cleanup last year for the Marlins (incidentally, a better offense than the Nats had). How do you only give him 300-350 ABs?

Because people seem to be gun-shy about putting Milledge in the 4th outfielder slot where he belongs. Willingham will give you more consistent at-bats and production than Milledge ever could. Milledge can 'learn' with 300 ABs instead of 'learning' with 600 ABs. It'll just drag the team down like it did when Manny decided to hit him third in the lineup last year. How he arrived at that decision is a mystery, injuries aside, because you never put an inexperienced guy in a crucial slot in the order because there are just too many more ways to get him out than a veteran, so your chances of success are greatly reduced. That's about the time I realized that Acta was no brain surgeon.

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

The issue of catcher - Dave Johnson made a good point on the MASN show on Saturday morning w/Tom Davis and Phil Wood - he says forget how well a backup can call a game or handle a pitcher, you want one that can hit, because he won't be doing much catching, maybe once a week, but he would be valuable off the bench as a stick. Why have a guy sitting there who can't hit?

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I suppose the Nationals are considering Daniel Cabrera to be an un-official Rule 5 player for 2009 as it appears they are trying to re-make him as a major league pitcher.

On that basis I don't see how you can pencil him in as the #3 starter.

To me he is a #4 or #5 based on what we have seen.

There is no reason to limit Zimmermann's innings and chance to make an impact because of Cabrera.

At 27, coaches have been working with Cabrera for the past 5 plus years in trying to get him to be more consistent and fluid in his pitching motion.

While the Orioles are not the best staff coaches in baseball, I would give them enough credit to say that Cabrera at this point is no better than a 50/50 shot to stay in the majors.

Zimmermann's upside is a lot greater than that.

As far as the arbitration schedule/clock goes, forget it.

The Nationals have underspent the other teams in their division by MILLIONS getting these kids ready to pitch at this level.

If Zimmermann hits arbitration early and gets paid based on demontrable performance, so be it.

After 59-102 the Nationals organization owes the fans and city more than penny pinching on prospects.

Posted by: leopard09 | March 18, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

>I suppose the Nationals are considering Daniel Cabrera to be an un-official Rule 5 player for 2009 as it appears they are trying to re-make him as a major league pitcher.

This is a classic. People have been holding a baby bottle up to him his whole career. Why the club thinks it'll be any different this year, I don't know. Rotation's in trouble as it stands right now. You got Lannan and Olsen, and Olsen has lost quite a bit of velocity - he's had a huge workload the last few years. I guess I'll just hold my breath like everyone else and hope they don't kill the bullpen by the All-Star break. I really don't see the rationale in the way they've constructed the rotation, unless they've given up on this year entirely. Three 22 year olds as prime candidates is crazy any way you cut it.

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Brue

Milledge hit 3rd and I believe 4th at times last year because everyone else was hurt. Milledge is a much better player than Willingham. The positives for Willingham as a 4th outfielder over Kearns is that he comes cheaply and is still under club control.

For those that want to just dump Kearns. Why would you throw away $8 million dollars. There were reports he was claimed off waivers last year, therefore teams are interested. He seems like his bat is alive. The Nats could trade him to a team for a bag of balls if that team took the majority of his salary or they could trade him for a better prospect or two if they decide to take on more of his salary. You don't just dump him now. Baseball is not like Football and you don't just release guys willy nilly.

Posted by: brothbart | March 18, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

>Milledge is a much better player than Willingham. The positives for Willingham as a 4th outfielder over Kearns is that he comes cheaply and is still under club control.

Yeah, I guess the point is that while Milledge may become a better player than Willingham, he isn't right now, and part of that is because Willy's had more experience and more chances to succeed. I just wonder if giving Mills 600 ABs as a nod to his development is wise when Willy can give you a lot more this year. Then you get back to what's good for the player's development and the long term, or do you try to put up the best numbers this year and let the guys develop off of whatever opportunities they get. The other thing is that Mills is immature, and he wouldn't give you as much as a PT player because he's learning about keeping his head in the game, whereas Willy could give you a lot more off the bench. I guess it all depends on what their philosophical approach is to Mills development. You also have Willy's back concerns, but he seems alright now. Of course, if he's starting every day, he may strain it again.

Posted by: Brue | March 18, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

AARP officially changed their name a few years back to just AARP. It no longer stands for American Association of Retired Persons. Because they don't just represent retirees:

http://www.aarp.org/aarp/About_AARP/

Posted by: sbiel2 | March 18, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

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