Coming off a highly disappointing year, it has been a long offseason for the Washington Nationals but the team has finally arrived in Viera, Florida to work towards getting the bad taste out of their mouths. World Series expectations remain but a different vibe is present this time around. Under new manager Matt Williams, the club seems to be structured and humble opposed to last year’s vibe of cocky and loose. Meaningful games remain over a month away but for now here are a few meaningful storylines to follow:
1. Infield Shuffle
Last year’s infield situation was hectic. Adam LaRoche struggled mightily at the plate, Danny Espinosa was all around ineffective, and it was a sore sight watching Ryan Zimmerman airmail balls to first. To ensure a turn around in 2014, the Nationals cannot afford to deal with such liabilities thus there will be contingency plans in place. As anticipated, Ryan Zimmerman will spend a good amount of the spring learning the first base position. Such will allow flexibility among the whole infield. With that in mind, don’t believe there is only a two-man competition for playing time between Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. In reality, it’s a three-way battle among the two and LaRoche because Zimmerman could slide over to first, with Rendon taking his natural position at third base, and Espinosa taking back second base.
2. Arm’s Race
The Nationals will enjoy the best problem to have in baseball, too many arms. After the acquisition of Doug Fister, the first four rotation spots are solidified with three capable starting pitchers remaining. Blossoming youngsters Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, and southpaw Ross Detwiler will fight it out for the fifth slot. With the most experience, Detwiler appears to be the frontrunner but it makes more sense to reward Roark for his 7-1 record and 1.51 ERA as a rookie last season. This would allow Roark to keep his momentum as he develops and give the bullpen another lefty in Detwiler. Besides, limiting Detwiler to a relief role would probably improve his hip and back health issues.
3. The Phenom
As face of the franchise, Bryce Harper will always be the head of attention and even more so this spring. After limping through last season with knee bursitis, Harper underwent offseason surgery and has been building back his strength. It will be interesting to see if he appears 100%, as reported, and more importantly if he can avoid further injury.