The Nationals’ roster is relatively set going in to spring training (pitchers and catchers report in less than 6 weeks!), with a few possible exceptions. We don’t know if they plan on keeping 3 catchers assuming Flores can play. We think that Livan, Lannan and Zimmermann are penciled in as starters, and that Detwiler, Maya, and Marquis get to fight over the remaining two spots. There are some questions about the bullpen, but it was strong last year and most of those guys remain.
All this being said, there are some holes remaining in the lineup. The middle infield positions are solid but not occupied by guys who have yet proven themselves to be great players. The outfield has questions outside of RF, including whether the center fielders can hit, and whether the left fielders are full time players. Even at first base, the new acquisition is thought to be solid, and he’s a late season hitter, but he’s coming off a bad year, and his assumed slow start will bring questions of decline.
Meanwhile, the starting staff is rather fluid at the moment. I can’t be assured that anyone is guaranteed after a month or two of poor performance. So the rotation, while relatively complete for this season, is not on solid ground. All of this means that there is a chance for guys to shine in the minors and get a chance in the big leagues.
Here are a few that might fit the bill:
Tom Milone – I’ve been talking about this guy for a year, and he might be invited to spring training, not so much to earn a spot but to get a chance to be around the major league team before he eventually gets called up. In his last 2 years of A+ and AA he’s got an ERA under 2.90, while starting 52 games. His peripherals were great in AA – 8.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and an unbelievable 6.74 K/BB – all while allegedly never hitting 90 on the radar gun. Because he’s all location and control and offspeed with no heat, he’s gotta prove his worth one step at a time. But if the almost 24 year old does the same thing in AAA this year, I think they’ve gotta bring him up before September.
Josh Wilkie – Another I’ve been touting for a while, Wilkie had a great year last season. He spent the entire year in AAA, and his 2.45 ERA made it his third year in a row with a sub-2.70 ERA. He had 62 Ks to 22 BBs in 69 2/3 IP last year, and has been a strong reliever at every level from his first full season, at low-A, in 2007 until now. He might even get a chance to join the bullpen in March.
Leonard Davis – Davis is a utility man extraordinaire, he played RF, LF, 3B and 2B last year at AAA, and all that plus some CF in AA. He hit .254/.318/.450 in AAA last year, and while he doesn’t walk enough, he has been a strong minor league hitter for 4 seasons now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the fifth outfielder at some point this summer.
Adam Carr- He’s going to be 27 in April, but this journeyman’s never seen the majors. That being said, he was an effective closer in AA and AAA this year, compiling 67 Ks and 24 BBs in 72 IP last year, with a 2.75 ERA. This compares rather favorably with his 6.18 ERA in 2009.
Cole Kimball – Last season was pretty different for Cole. His K/9 went up and his BB/9 went down. He still walks alot of guys, but when you strike out 101 guys in 78 2/3 IP, it’s easier to succeed. His ERA was only below 5.00 once in four seasons before 2010, when he amassed a 2.17 mark in high-A and AA. He’ll have some more work to do in AA this year, but he could be a midseason callup depending on his performance and that of the Nats’ bullpen.
Chris Marrero – Ok, so the Nats have a first baseman, and Marrero’s probably a bit away, but I’ll put him here for two reasons. First, LaRoche may end up being a complete dud after last year, we just don’t know, and someone would need to fill in the spot. Second, Marrero hit .294/.350/.450 as a 21 year old in AA. It wasn’t incredible, but it was very good. He will get some opportunity to impress everyone in AAA and may wind up on the Nats at some point.
There are a couple of other guys who might make the team at the end of the season, but I really don’t see them stealing someone’s job this year:
Michael Burgess – We’ve been hearing about him for years, it’s hard to believe he’s only 22. He’ll start the year in AA, and his short time there last season yielded a .284/.391/.649 line in 87 PAs. If he can keep that up, he’s got a chance to move quickly and take some ABs away from LF by the end of the year. Most likely, he won’t be seen until Sept or 2012.
Derek Norris – There may be a logjam at catcher this year, so I think he’s probably going to spend the year in the minors. He’ll get his shot at AA this year, and if things go well he could move up. They probably see a potential star in him, especially after his .278/.403/.667 AFL performance. That all being said, with a Pudge departure on the horizon after this season, I wouldn’t think it an impossibility to see Norris in September.