The Future Roles of the Stars of Nats 6-4 Win
Last evening's 6-4 Nats Spring Training win over the Mets was interesting for a couple of reasons, and none of them had to do with the fact that Nats finally won a Spring Training game. Spring Training is a lot like minor league baseball. A starting pitcher takes the mound and throws a certain number of pitches and then other pitchers get their work in. It is very formulaic. There is a set way for it to work and results matter far less than during a regular game. It is more important that a pitcher get in their pitches than prevent runs and if one runs into trouble on the mound before they have gotten their work in it is rare that they come out.
There are still things to notice in watching a game that is run this way. Last night the Nats didn't send a whole lot of regulars. Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, and Steve Lombardozzi were the only players to appear that are likely to make the Opening Day 25 man roster. The rest of the players are either prospects or other non-roster invitees. That doesn't mean that these players won't be important to the Nationals during the course of the season, but what exactly will all their roles be?
There are those like Chris Snyder and Will Rhymes whose role is obvious. They signed minor league deals and unless those deals have an out clause where they can reject the assignment and go play with the Astros they will be spending most of their season at AAA, but that doesn't mean they won't have an impact on the 2013 Nats. Keep in mind in 2012 the average MLB club used 43 players and very few clubs used less than their 40 man roster. It is highly likely that the Nats are going to need some of their AAA depth. The big hope is that when the Nats do need to make a call-up for an injury replacement it is because someone went on the 15 day DL and not the 60 day DL.
Snyder and Rhymes may end up being used if the Nats do suffer an injury, but they are both only with the organization for one season. Someone like Corey Brown, who this season could serve in much the same role, stands to have more of an impact on the future. Roger Bernadina is a fourth outfielder and is already making over a million dollars. Very shortly, because of the nature of the arbitration process and service time, Bernadina is going to be too expensive to be a bench player. One of Harper, Span, or Werth is likely to hit the 15 day DL at some point this season and when they do Bernadina will likely take their spot and Brown his vacated bench spot. Brown is going to be very important to the 2013 Nats. He saw some limited time last season because of injuries and if Chad Tracy gets hurt the Nats are going to want a left handed power bat on the bench to replace him. Corey Brown is going to see time in the majors this season and when Bernadina is non-tendered he is the likely replacement for the Nats fourth outfield spot.
Now we get to the prospects. Players like Eury Perez were once thought to be full of promise but as they rose through the ranks and their skill sets didn't change that much they fell out of the prospect rankings. It isn't the Perez did anything wrong it is more the people that expected him to add a batting eye or develop power misjudged him. Perez is a speed player and that was on full display last night as he went 3-3 with three infield hits and scored twice. They say you can't steal first, but that is exactly what an infield hit or a bunt single is. Perez not only reached first because of his speed but one of his runs scored was from going first to home on a double and the other because he stole second base. His type of speed is fun to watch, but because of his low OBP it is hard to find a spot in the line-up for him. The Nats also have Brian Goodwin rising through the ranks and Denard Span now at the majors. There was a time when a player like Perez would have been very exciting, but the Nats now have more complete players at both the major and minor league level.
Matt Skole was drafted, much like Tyler Moore, without much hype, but all he has done in the minors is hit. At 23 years old Skole is reaching the age where the minors should be nothing more than a finishing school. Skole has to learn a new position in first base, but if he continues to hit at AA and AAA like he did and high and low-A he is going to be Major League ready as soon as Opening Day 2014. The Nats won't need him then and with Anthony Rendon also knocking on the doors of the majors around that time they likely won't need him at all. Things happen and maybe Rendon can't stay healthy or runs into some other sort of trouble that delays his career, but there is a strong chance that the Nats end up using Skole at the deadline to bring them back whatever it is they need at that point. The Nats have no weak positions entering the season, but injuries and under performance happen and the trade deadline is a built in self-correction system. Skole may have a future with the Nationals at first base, but the more likely possibility is he ends up as trade bait.
Now we get to the all-important pitching side of things. Nathan Karns was perhaps the most impressive young National that played in last evening’s game. He pitched two scoreless innings striking out three. He faced mostly Mets Major Leaguers including Ike Davis and David Wright, who had the lone hit off of him. Karns was impressive and will either start the season at high-A Potomac or AA Harrisburg. Karns is part of a collection of pitchers along with Sammy Solis, Matt Purke, Robbie Ray, and AJ Cole that the Nats are hoping can develop this season and end the year at AAA ready to fight for the fifth starters job in 2014. The Nats don't have a lot of free agents, but Dan Haren is one of them and if the Nats can fill that final pitching spot internally they will. As of right now Nathan Karns is in the lead. If he can finish the season at AAA and ahead of the other pitchers in the Nats organization then it makes it all that much easier for the Nats to ignore what is likely to be a poor but expensive 2014 free agent pitching class.
Games like last night are fun, but they were once more fun. It is no longer so much watching the future of the organization, but more watching guys that could be injury fill-ins or trade bait. Eury Perez is a speed player with a 78% stolen base success rate and .314/.344/.361 batting line last season. He could help out a lot of Major League clubs right now. Matt Skole is going to continue to hit, will learn first base and may be ready as soon as the end of this season. Both of those players currently don't have a present or future slot on the Nationals, but there are teams interested in Major League ready talent. The Nats also don't have any needs without an injury. Injuries are going to happen, but not all injuries require a trade. The future roles of the promising players that were on display last night are very much up in the air, and the future does have a way of sorting itself out.