Questions Going into Spring Training 2010

It’s almost upon us. Pitcher and catchers report in a matter of days rather weeks, although many are down there now already. Spring training games begin in a few weeks, and the Nats are semi-set at many places to begin the season. But that doesn’t mean there still aren’t many many questions that need to be answered. Here are a few I have going in to the season…

Who are the 5 starters?

That’s kind of a big one, so I put it first. You know, the guys that start the games? We’ve got two for sure! John Lannan is the only guy I have real confidence in as of Feb. Marquis is fine, he’s not great, but you can expect a close-to-league-average ERA and near 30 starts. On this team, that put you at the top. But that’s IT. There is nobody else guaranteed a spot. Three empty rotation spots is a ton, and I’m not sure they’re planning on bring Strasburg up any time soon. 2011 looks promising when you add him and Zimmermann, but until then? Here’s a quick rundown of the candidates:

  • Scott Olsen – Was once pretty good, once threw in the mid-90s. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery, so he’s very risky BUT, if that heat is there, he’s gonna be decent. The problem is that it hasn’t been there for years.
  • Garrett Mock – Lots of Ks but too many walks. Good stuff, but hasn’t put it together and is now 27.
  • J.D. Martin – Had some success last year, but doesn’t miss many bats. Also turning 27.
  • Shairon Martis – We’ve seen flashes, some of it luck, some if it a good sinker. He’s only 23, should probably be figuring it out in AAA, where he wasn’t great last year.
  • Ross Detwiler –  He’s got some decent pitches, but struggled early last year. In AAA, he looked much better, and in Sept he had 5 appearances and a 1.90 ERA. Don’t get too excited, in his 23 1/3 IP he had 11 BB and 10 K. Unsustainable. Still, the runs didn’t appear.
  • Collin Balester – The man with the great website still has more talent than alot of the guys on here. But he’s not dominant so he has to be wily as well. He needs to nibble less K/BB in the majors last  years – 1.42.  In AAA the last two years – 2.25. Yes, different levels, but he can’t K everyone so he better stop walking them.
  • Craig Stammen – Great in AA in ’08, great in AAA in ’09, great in the majors in ’10?
  • Shawn Estes – They signed another vet, and he’s pitched 49 2/3 innings since the end of 2005. His numbers have been so so in a pitchers park in the NL, which is where he’s returning. So many he’ll be so so again.

If I had to cherry pick 3 out of this group, I’d start with Detwiler. He pitched well in AA and AAA last year, his first time in both. He’ll have some more adjustments in the majors, but he’s my favorite of the bunch in terms of talent. I have faith that at only 24 year old in 2010, he could be good enough to help round out the starters in 2011 and beyond. Olsen is a wild card because of injury, but I think if he’s healthy he’s probably in the rotation, with much more experience than almost everyone else, and he’s only going to be 26 this year. As for the last spot, I think maybe Mock or Martin has the best chance of success early on, with Balester and Stammen later on. That I would determine in spring training. That’s not an answer though, and for some reason I have a feeling Estes is going to end up making it, even if that isn’t going to end pretty.

Will they sign another starter?

A sort of corollary to the first question. I suggested pursuing Chien-Ming Wang over a month ago, he may be the best option out there at this point. Are they going after him? Or someone else? It’s hard to imagine that group above giving you a consistent rotation. If that’s important, they’re probably going to have to sign someone else.

Who will be catching in June?

Jesus Flores is the best hitting catcher on their team, he may or may not be ready for the beginning of the year. He’s young, he’s a good player, and the Nats are going to be careful with him. So they signed Ivan Rodriguez to provide leadership for the team, tutelage for Flores (and maybe Norris), and playing time for their unhealthy catcher. That’s all well and good, but what is going to happen once Flores is healthy? And I don’t mean the first two months that he’s healthy, when the team will probably be gentle with him. What happens this summer, assuming he stays healthy? Do they play their young prospect who provides a killer bat for a catcher (his OPS ranked 4th in the league for all catchers with at least 100 PAs last year, in a small sample size) or do they play the Hall of Famer? Because the Hall of Famer is NOT as good of a hitter anymore.

Is Guzman still a tablesetter?

He’s spent most of his career batting in the first or second spot in the lineup, and since coming back from his off year in 2006, he’s barely touched the bottom of the order. I’d assume that if things stay the same, the lineup will look like this:

CF – Morgan
SS – Guzman
3B – Zimmerman
1B – Dunn
LF – Willingham
RF – Dukes
C – Pudge
2B – Kennedy

But that’s not the way I’d do it. His low power isn’t such a big deal when he is getting on base, but last year his OBP sunk to .306. His career OBP, by the way, is .307. He’d be drain on the top and take away chances for runs and RBIs. I’d be much more comfortable having something like this

CF – Morgan
2B – Kennedy
3B – Zimmerman
1B – Dunn
LF – Willingham
RF – Dukes
C – Pudge
SS – Guzman

And, by the way, if Dukes is getting on base at his .400 clip again, I’d be perfectly happy putting HIM second and letting Kennedy bat towards the end.

Can Adam Dunn play 1B?

Of course he can play, but is he good enough at it? It may be a make or break on whether or not this team decides to re-sign him at some point before next year. Or, possibly even more impactful, whether or not they decide to trade him before the deadline in the summer. They’ll give him some time, but the signs are mixed. He doesn’t seem to make the horrible misreads he made in the OF, but he is slightly less ambulatory than the Frank Howard statue outside the stadium. He has no range, and if he can’t play first any better than he plays the outfield, 2010 may be the last time he starts at any position besides DH.

Is THIS the year that Dukes puts it all together?

A question that is now being asked for what, the third straight season? Dukes has hit, then he’s got hurt. Then he hits again, then he gets hurt, or he just stops. The talent is still there, he’s had significantly long streaks where he’s been a great hitter:

  • Jun 1 – Jul 5, 2008: 304/.396/.528 (Arbitrary removing awful month of may to injury)
  • Aug 27 – Sept 27, 2009: .266/.425/.564 (Return from injury to end of season)
  • Apr 1 -May 17, 2009: .277/.347/.473 (Season start to injury)
  • Aug 25 – Oct 4, 2009: .293/.432/.406 (Return from injury to end of season)

These aren’t the biggest sample, each just about a month or slightly longer. But still, he has shown that he can, for extended periods of time, be a significantly impressive hitter. The question is can he do it for more than 6 weeks at a time. The last weeks of last year also make you wonder where all his power went, but that may be more about coming back from injury than anything else. He was still getting on base quite a bit. So, what’s it gonna be? Another month and getting hurt? A protracted slump to start? Or this kind of hitting for more than half the season?

A few questions going in to spring training, and I’m sure those aren’t the only ones. But as we enter March, hopefully some of these will begin to get sorted out. I know I’ll be watching.

3B – Zimmerman

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