Would you believe spring training is already 40 percent complete? That’s right, the Nationals have made it through the first 16 days of a 40-day camp. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? (Or when there’s actually baseball being played.)
That’s not to suggest the Nats are anywhere close to being ready for opening night, though. They’ve still got a lot to figure out Washington Nationals Jerseys China over the next 24 days. Truth be told, they’ve barely answered any of the most pressing questions they faced when they arrived in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Is Carter Kieboom ready to start at third base every day? Too soon to say. Is Joe Ross the No. 5 starter? He hasn’t pitched in a game yet. Is Stephen Strasburg back to 100 percent health? Let’s see him actually face another team before drawing any conclusions. Are Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Victor Robles going to bounce back from bad 2020 seasons? They look good so far, but it’s too early to say with certainty.
So the upcoming exercise – projecting the opening night roster – may feel a bit premature. But it also feels worth attempting, because there is plenty we do know for sure already.
Here, then, is a look at which 26 men might be in line to come north with the club at the end of the month …
ROTATION (5): Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Ross
Though this is still the safest projection of the opening night rotation, those two last two spots are hardly guaranteed at the moment. Lester figured to be a lock all along, but that was before he reported fatigue and subsequent tests determined he needed to have his thyroid gland removed. That surgery took place Friday in New York. We’ll hopefully know more about his prognosis today, and hopefully everything is fine. That said, it wouldn’t be a shock if Lester (even if healthy) needs a little extra time to be ready to begin the season. Ross, meanwhile, remains the frontrunner for the No. 5 job, but he needs to actually pitch and prove he deserves it. He’ll get his first chance Monday against the Mets. As always, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are waiting in the wings if they’re needed, though neither has pitched particularly well so far this spring.
Thumbnail image for Suero-in-Rain-Red-sidebar.jpgBULLPEN (8): Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey, Will Harris, Jeremy Jeffress, Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, Voth or Fedde
Though this is the most likely octet to open the season in the Nationals bullpen, not everyone in the group is safe. Rainey is currently dealing with a slight muscle strain near his right collarbone, so that could set him back a little bit. Jeffress, who signed a minor league deal after camp opened, is still building his arm up to pitch in a game. Finnegan has pitched in two games and has given up a home run in each. He’s got options, so he’s not a lock to make the team. We’ve been assuming all along the runner-up for the fifth starter’s job will remain as a long reliever, but it doesn’t necessarily have to work out that way. The Nats could decide they’d rather keep a more experienced and versatile reliever like Javy Guerra or Ryne Harper; a second lefty like Sam Clay, Luis Avilán or T.J. McFarland; or a young right-hander who has a good spring like Kyle McGowin or Dakota Bacus.
CATCHERS (2): Yan Gomes, Alex Avila
Something unexpected would need to happen for these two not to head north as the club’s catching duo. Both veterans are healthy. Both are working with all of the pitchers in the mix for jobs. But if something did happen, Welington Castillo or perhaps Blake Swihart is ready to step in. And younger catchers Tres Barrera and Raudy Read also could be called upon in a pinch.
INFIELDERS (6): Bell, Starlin Castro, Trea Turner, Kieboom, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison
All six of these guys are making the team if healthy. That includes Kieboom, if for no other reason than the fact there is no other realistically viable everyday third baseman in camp. Bell and Zimmerman have looked especially good at the plate so far, going a combined 7-for-10 with three doubles, three homers, six RBIs, three walks and only one strikeout. Harrison can play just about anywhere, including the corner outfield spots.
OUTFIELDERS (4): Juan Soto, Robles, Schwarber, Andrew Stevenson
It’s been an encouraging start to the spring for Robles, who has slimmed down, looks better in the field and looks pretty good as a leadoff hitter. Schwarber is looking more comfortable in his new (actually old) batting stance. Soto doesn’t need to worry about anything other than staying healthy. Stevenson has taken a team-high 12 plate appearances, and though he has only one hit, he’s all but penciled in as the fourth outfielder.
If you’ve added all that up, you realize only 25 players are listed so far. There’s one more spot that needs to be filled, and this is where it gets tricky.
The Nationals could decide to use it on another bench player, but would that be another infielder like Jordy Mercer or Adrián Sanchez; another outfielder like Gerardo Parra, Yadiel Hernández or Yasmany Tomás; or a utility man who can play anywhere like Hernán Pérez?
Or they could decide to keep a ninth reliever, which brings anyone from the aforementioned group of Guerra, Harper, Clay, Avilan, McFarland, McGowin and Bacus back into play.
That’s probably the last decision they’ll have to make at the end of camp. Hopefully by then, the situation will have sorted itself out and someone will have become the obvious choice.