Now that the offseason has started, let the speculation begin. This is the 4th annual “Nationals of the future” lineup, and it’s something I really enjoy thinking about. I have decided to go with Nats 4 seasons ahead instead of 5, just because 5 is so far out, 4 seems more reasonable. Of course, I’m judging prospects and predicting that there are no free agent acquisitions, both ridiculous for me to do. Here’s my team based on the current farm system, and alot of guessing:
The Position Players
C – Wilson Ramos – Ramos had a very strong rookie season, both offensively and defensively. His Zone Rating put him 3rd among the 22 NL catchers with at least 200 innings, and his CS% ranked 10th. But his bat was what really impressed – hitting .267/.333/.445 is pretty good for any rookie, and its pretty good for a catcher, but it’s great for a 23 year old rookie catcher.
1B – Anthony Rendon – Unless they sign him to an extension, Michael Morse becomes a free agent before the 2014 season, when he’ll be turning 32. It’s possible he’ll stick around then, but I’d say less than 50%. Chris Marrero doesn’t seem like a full timer to me, but Anthony Rendon has been projected to be a 30 homer type. His injury history, and some doubts that he’d be able to play there anyway, makes me very skeptical about this “Rendon at 2B” idea. But his bat could certainly be good enough to put him at first, and he should move up quickly enough that we’ll know soon enough.
2B – Danny Espinosa – Maybe he moves to SS, maybe he stays at 2B, but he looks like he can hit enough to be a real middle infield option for years to come. His rookie year line of .232/.323/.414 has room for improvement, but some of that looks worse thanks to a late season slump. That could easily be excused thanks to the fatigue playing 158 games in his first major league season. We’ll know better next season, but for now, he looks like a power hitting plus defender at a middle infield spot, which is certainly good enough.
SS – Ian Desmond – While Steve Lombardozzi certainly has been a nice story, I’m not sure if he’s a major league starter. If he was, he could play 2B and Espinosa could move here. But since I don’t see that, I think he’s more of a utility player, I have to pick a SS, and Ian Desmond is the best candidate in the organization. Meanwhile, Desmond showed this season that he can field, and his bat was SO bad in the first half, it masked the .294/.342/.422 he hit in the second half (post July 5). He has to put it all together, but the pieces are there for solid, above average SS play.
3B – Ryan Zimmerman – 2015 would be the second season after his current deal expires, and he’ll be turning 30. The Nationals are likely to at least attempt to re-sign him, and as long as he’s healthy, he’s one of the best third basemen in the major leagues. If this team becomes a playoff team, Zimmerman starts getting MVP votes.
LF – Bryce Harper – Somewhere in the outfield, Harper will be playing at hopefully an All Star level. Hard to believe he’ll only be 22 at this time. He is still considered the best or second best hitting prospect in the minors, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the Nats as soon as next season.
CF – Michael Taylor – The numbers give me some pause – he hit .253/.310/.432 this season in low-A Hagerstown, but he’s only 20 years old, and the scouts love him. He’s a toolsy guy who combines power and speed, and while he did strike out alot, he reminds some of Mike Cameron. There aren’t too many other CFers in the organization that are clamoring to fill the role, he might be the best option this team has. And if he does develop as many think he will, that’s a pretty good option.
RF – Jayson Werth – He’s here through 2017, so he’ll most likely be starting in 2015. While he probably isn’t a superstar, his .232/.330/.389 line from 2011 is not what he’ll provide for the remainder of this contract. He emerged from his horrendous first half with numbers that are more like what you might get from him, as he hit .264/.349/.445 for the final 40% or so of the season. Is that a star? No, but it’s not a bad starter.
SP #1 – Stephen Strasburg – Should be a no brainer that this guy will continue to impress, especially after seeing him at the end of his post-TJ surgery 2011. After what we’ve seen so far, if he’s not a perennial Cy Young candidate, it would be a huge disappointment.
SP #2 – Jordan Zimmermann – He emerged this season as not just a strong pitcher, but really as a front line starter. He threw 161 1/3 IP, struck out 124 and walked 31, while compiling a 3.18 ERA. He was one of the better starters in the league at age 25, and as he grows and develops
SP #3 – A.J. Cole – As a 19 year old in the Sally League, Cole had a middle of the road 4.04 ERA. But in his first pro season, he also struck out 108 in 89 IP while only walking 24. He projects as a front line starter and could really make this rotation formidable down the road.
SP #4 – Ross Detwiler – He hasn’t really proved anything yet, but his 2011 season was pretty good, giving us hope that the hard throwing lefty was developing into a true starter. His 3.00 ERA in 10 starts and 5 relief appearances gives us an inkling of what he might provide every 5 days. He will probably come into next season as a favorite to earn a rotation spot, whether or not he can keep it will most likely determine if he’s on this list next year.
SP #5 – Alex Meyer – The team has quite a few guys fighting for this spot, but Meyer probably has more upside than any minor league pitcher in the organization. He has control issues and a spotty track record, but he’s a 6’9″
lefty righty with a blazing fastball who has at least improved his command and control recently. Keith Law said he has “top-10 or top-5 stuff with No. 1 starter upside”, and I think he either ends up not really contributing to the major league squad, or being something better than a #5 guy, but this is where I put him.
CL – Drew Storen – He has given up a few runs here and there, and given out a few heart attacks this season, but he’s still a premier closer. A 2.75 ERA, a strikeout an inning, and 43 saves in his first year in the role, he looks like he’ll have this job for a while.
Other guys watch out for
Brad Peacock - I have some doubts about Peacock. His fastball is pretty good, and his curve really moves. But, as we saw this season, after a time or two through the rotation, hitters start to recognize his breaking ball, let it dive out of the zone, and wait for a fastball to hit. If he can make his pitches a little harder to recognize, though, he could be very effective. That being said, even if he isn’t a starter down the road, he should be at least a strong presence in the bullpen.
Destin Hood – Already a good hitter for average, Hood showed in high-A this year that he could draw a walk, too, while increasing his power. His .276/.364/.445 wasn’t bad for a guy who’s only 21, and if he continues to develop, he could fight for some playing time as a corner outfielder down the road.
Tyler Moore – Sure he struck out 139 times and only walked 30 times, helping lead to a line of .270/.314/.532, but oh my that power. He hit 31 HRs in AA at age 24, which means he might just have enough power to contribute on the bench. Until he figures out how to draw a walk (or hit .330), he probably isn’t good enough to be a starting first baseman.