The Nationals' top 10 questions for spring training
Just arrived in Orlando, Fla., ready to handle about a week of spring training coverage until my yet-unnamed replacement (sorry, just following company orders; I am winking as I type this) arrives. Anyway, before I drive to Melbourne in the ol' Avis rental car, I thought I'd dish out a quick post, a list inspired by those in-flight magazine top-10s ranking steakhouses and surgeons.
Friday morning, Nats pitchers and catchers report. And so it begins. Everything is fresh, and everything is possible, and no conceivable miracle seems too distant to find along the horizon. Just speaking personally, I love sentences that begin with "Maybe," and February is baseball's season for maybes. Maybe Chien-Ming Wang wins 14 games this year, and maybe John Lannan makes the all-star game, and maybe Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn form the best 3-4 punch in the NL. Maybe the Nats play .500 ball through the first two months and Nats Park draws 42,000 for Strasburg's June debut. Hell, maybe Strasburg starts Game 1 of the NLCS. And Game 1 of the World Series. And maybe Bryce Harper is his battery mate.
OK, so February is also a good month for getting carried away.
But curiosity is fun.
So here are my biggest questions as the Nats enter Spring Training 2010. Feel free to add your own thoughts; I'm curious to hear them.
TOP TEN QUESTIONS FOR SPRING TRAINING
1. What becometh of Stephen Strasburg? His every move will be scrutinized, analyzed, recorded, posterized, YouTube'd, tweeted and possibly even twitpic'd. The Nats believe they have an ace, but how do they handle him? Does he start the year as the world's most famous P-Nat -- heck, he's more famous than the letter 'P' itself -- or can he conceivably pitch lights-out in the Grapefruit League and go north with the big leaguers?
2. Is Jesus Flores the catcher of the future or the catcher whose future never came? Much of it rides on his health; he missed almost all of last season because of a progression of serious shoulder injuries. He might not even be ready for start the season. Just a year ago, Flores looked like Washington's everyday catcher for the next five years, but now, with the signing of Pudge Rodriguez and the emergence of minor league prospect Derek Norris, the window for Flores looks narrow at best. But lest it be forgotten: Flores, at his best, looks like a future all-star.
3. Does Jim Riggleman have the same touch, now that he's full-time? Last year, Interim Jim had a keen sense for what his players needed. He took over after the all-star break and, voila, defense improved, attention to detail improved, etc. The record improved, too. So, how does Riggleman's voice resonate now that players have gotten used to it? And how does he grow into the job?
4. Can Matt Capps finally solve the Nats' closer woes? If he pitches like he did in '09 (5.80 ERA), the answer is no. If he pitches like he did in 2007 (2.28 ERA) and 2008 (3.02 ERA), the answer is yes. Washington is paying him like it's expecting a yes.
5. Who can rebound from old injuries? And who looks like damaged goods? I'm paying special attention to Wang, Scott Olsen and Cristian Guzman. All dealt with various injury problems last year. A healthy Olsen and/or Wang gives the Nats a 180-inning vet -- an early Christmas present. If even one of them can contribute to the rotation this year, the Nats are lucky. A healthy Guzman gives the Nats a shortstop capable of keeping the everyday job for another season. This is important, given that... well, Guzman has the job.
6. Who fills the back end of the rotation? As Sheinin noted in a previous post, the Nats have roughly enough starting pitching candidates to create their own traffic jam. So who emerges from the pack? Garrett Mock? J.D. Martin? Matt Chico? Miguel Batista? No doubt the Detwiler injury is a blow -- he has better stuff than anybody else in the mix, plus he's a lefty -- but the Nats still hope to find decency via quantity.
7. How does Nyjer Morgan look over a full season? Those who saw him in Washington last season witnessed a true burst of excellence; Morgan was like Ty Cobb and Lou Brock, only he also knew how to play hockey. But some in the sabermetrics world aren't convinced, and believe Morgan will backslide, finishing 2010 with roughly a .280 average and a .350 on-base percentage. My take: If Morgan can hit .300 and play first-rate defense, he'll remain one of the Nats' most valuable players.
8. Can Dunn play adequate first base? With Nick Johnson gone, that's his full-time position. Frankly, he looked better at first base in 2009 than he did in left field... or right field. Dunn's two-month trial at first last season has apparently assuaged most concerns about his fielding competence at first, but Washington doesn't have much margin for error with its infield this year, especially with all those ground-ball pitchers. Until the National League adopts a DH, Dunn's glovework will always be worth looking at.
9. Is Elijah Dukes ready to break out? Or is he a player that tantalizes as much as he frustrates? The fashion in which he starts 2010 will go a long way to giving Washington its answer.
10. How do the smaller roster battles play out? The Nats already have much of their starting lineup solidified, but what about those bench spots? Does Eric Bruntlett, Ian Desmond or Alberto Gonzalez earn one (or two) of the middle infield jobs? What about the outfield, where Justin Maxwell, Roger Bernadina and Willy Taveras are all battling for back-up spots?
February 18, 2010; 5:25 PM ET
| Tags: chien-ming wang, jim riggleman adam dunn, matt capps, scott olsen, spring training, washington nationals
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