Yesterday, we talked about the Washington Nationals impressive pitching staff. Today, we must tackle a subject that is far less sure and secure: the team’s offense. An already below average offense last year, the Nats will be missing several key players on Opening Day due to injury: Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel. Without them, let’s explore the position players actually on the 25-man roster today.
Wilson Ramos – Seeing Ramos’ name here is particularly sweet following the traumatic kidnapping this offseason in Venezuela that left his status unknown for more than two days. Now, Ramos is back for his sophomore season, and he will be a key to the Nationals success, but not for his bat. His ability to call games for the team’s impressive pitching staff will be a make or break for the Nats this year.
Jesus Flores – The one time catcher of the future for the Nationals is now relegated to backup duty behind Ramos, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable. Flores has dealt with what must be a frustrating situation with grace since he returned from his shoulder injury, but without him, the Nationals would be in real trouble. Since trading Derek Norris to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, there isn’t a real backup option for the Nats now besides Flores; you probably don’t want to see Carlos Maldonado up in DC in the ideal world.
Adam LaRoche – LaRoche has found his way into the cleanup slot in Michael Morse’s absence, and his ankle and shoulder look to be recovered enough to play. How long does it stay that way? Only time will tell, but if LaRoche can somehow stay healthy, his defensive talent and power could prove key to the Nationals long-term success this year.
Danny Espinosa – Entering his second full season, Espinosa looks to start 2012 the same way he started 2011. The only difference is he wants to keep it going past the All-Star Break this time around. He thinks he’s figured out why he’s struggled from the left side of the plate, and if he does, there’s no telling how much damage he can do offensively.
Ian Desmond – This could be a crucial season to determine Desmond’s ultimate role with the Nationals. Can he take enough pitches to raise his OBP? Can he continue to cut down on his fielding errors? If the answer is “no” to either or both of these questions near the end of this season, look for Anthony Rendon to appear at second to allow Espinosa’s move to shortstop.
Ryan Zimmerman – As Ryan Zimmerman goes, so go the Nats. If he could have even an average Zimmerman season and play in 140 games, the Nationals will be in excellent shape. If not, they could be looking at an extremely long season.
Chad Tracy – This corner infielder and journeyman squeezed his way onto the team as a bench player just one year after playing in Japan. It’s a feel good story, but only if the Nats don’t have to see Tracy in the lineup with any regularity whatsoever. Look for Tracy to get quite a few pinch hitting opportunities when they need some pop in the lineup.
Steve Lombardozzi – Lombardozzi is the forgotten infielder in a lot of ways. He has Espinosa, Desmond, and Zimmerman solidly ahead of him in the depth chart, but he has the potential to be a significant role player for the Nationals if he’s given the opportunity. He gets on-base at an extremely high clip and hits for a good average. He also has good defensive ability. It’s hard to see Lombardozzi playing the utility man role for long. He’ll either work his way into the lineup with regularity, or he’s likely to end up traded.
Mark DeRosa – DeRosa is another feel good story for himself and for the Nationals. In his late-30s, he’s managed to make a roster after battling injuries for the better part of two seasons, and he made a huge splash in spring training. His numbers were outstanding from 2006-2008, and the Nats hope they can catch lightning in a bottle and get another one of those years from the veteran utility player.
Roger Bernadina – Bernadina will get the Opening Day nod in center field, but mostly because Rick Ankiel is on the DL to start the year. Many expected the outfielder from Curacao to have little to no value for the Nats this year, but he was impressive in spring training and earned the spot. Now we watch to see how long he can stay in DC.
Jayson Werth – The cornerstone of the outfield, Werth looks to have a bounce back year after what was one of the worst years of his career. Look for him to rebound significantly compared to last year’s performance and sit firmly in the 5 and 6 hole in the order all season.
Xavier Nady – Less than two weeks before spring training ended, Xavier Nady walked in on a minor-league deal. About 10 days later, he earned 25-man roster spot. I’m still not sure if this is because of an incredibly weak offensive roster or because he truly earned it, but Nady could be one of the first to go once Morse and Ankiel are ready to return to the team.
Brett Carroll – After squeezing in at the back of the depth chart, just over Jason Michaels, Carroll will have the opportunity to platoon with Bernadina and take some time from DeRosa until the everyday starters return to the outfield. Carroll is essentially a career pitch hitter, having never earned more than 150 at-bats in a season.