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What to watch for now

Mar 3, 2010, 11:24 PM EDT

VIERA, Fla. — The first two weeks of spring training are always the toughest, especially for reporters who want to write about some actual news and start to formulate some conclusions on players and where they stand in the competition for roster spots.

Unfortunately, not much happens during this first stage of camp, unless your idea of excitement includes repeated defensive drills, batting practice and bullpen sessions.

Really, the early portion of the spring is about building up pitchers' strength and precision and running through all the different fundamental situations that are sure to come up over the course of the season. There isn't much evaluation taking place, either from team officials or from media members.

That will all change beginning tomorrow, because the Grapefruit League is commencing, and the rest of the spring will be built around exhibition games and players' performances in those games.

So with that in mind, let's run through some things everyone should be paying attention to now that the games are about to getRead more »

  1. Bill C-H - Mar 3, 2010 at 11:54 PM

    Mark – What will be the normal daily schedule now that games are starting? I'm coming down in a week to see a few games; what other parts of Spring Training will be going on?

  2. ckstevenson - Mar 3, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    How would you rate the level of talent and competition for those remaining rotation and bullpen spots? In the past I think everyone would agree it has been pretty craptastic. But this year? Are we approaching league average?

  3. JayB - Mar 4, 2010 at 12:38 AM

    I think the talent for starters and Bench is still below league average. RF, SS and 2B, are all way below league average for the starters. 4th and 5th OF are the worst spots compared to most MLB clubs. Back up catcher is weak as is starting catcher. Sorry to be so down but really Rizzo still has a huge hill to climb with this roster. I hate to agree with Chico but the only way this team is going to improve is by spending lots of cash…..like $120 Million….and I just do not see that out of the Lerners.

  4. JayB - Mar 4, 2010 at 12:42 AM

    Improve= get to .500…..yes they are going to be better than 100 loses….I hope.

  5. Sam - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:09 AM

    JayB, I have three problems with your assessment. First of all, the Nationals' fourth OF, Willie Harris, is not below average. He is probably one of the best fourth outfielders in Major League Baseball. Honestly, if you can find me another fourth outfielder who, for the most part coming off the bench, provides above average offense (albeit slightly above average), good defense (especially in LF, CF is okay, 2B ehh), and excellent speed, I will be amazed.Another issue I have is that the starters are not horrible. Okay, obviously Strasburg has not yet thrown a Major or Minor League pitch, Wang is coming off surgery, Detwiler just had surgery, and Zimmermann also had surgery. Obviously, Wang was discounted because he is returning from injury, but the other three guys were not leftovers off the scrap heap. They were drafted and developed through the organization (with the exception of Strasburg so far). They are showed or are showing promise of becoming usable Major League pitchers – and good ones.Finally, as far as catcher goes, how many really good catchers are there? Most catchers, with the exception of a few (Mauer, Posada) are one way. And the ones that get more notoriety are the ones who can hit (e.g. McCann, Martinez, Napoli, etc.). Rodriguez has clearly lost any offensive ability he once had (maybe he can start leaning into pitches more like Jason Kendall), but I think his value lies in his defense (assuming he can still play good defense) and experience. You are right, catcher is certainly a weak point for the team, but it is not awful.I think the problem with the Nationals lies with the fact that the bullpen is currently in shambles and the lineup is full of average players (and, sure, the rotation to start the year will be pretty bad too). If you settle for average players (like Kennedy, Guzman, Dukes), you will get average results. And if you add to that the negatives accumulated by the other players, you will get poor results.I don't think spending a hundred million dollars will be the end-all solution. It may be, eventually, when Strasburg, Storen, Zimmerman, and the rest of the crew hit free agency. But that is a long ways off, and these players should prove that they are good enough to be part of a contending team first.

  6. Marlins Fan - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:26 AM

    I'm a Marlins fan, so my knowledge of the Nationals is limited (minus Olsen and Willingham). I heard about what you're doing from deadspin.com and I just wanted to say that I think this is awesome.

  7. JayB - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:44 AM

    You are right Harris is a OK or Average 4th OF…..He is not a 4th OF on a playoff team is he? Look at LAA, BOS, NYC, MIN, and the other Playoff teams and I do not think Harris would be the 4th OF.Pudge really is not in the same conversation with McCain or the other top 10 catches in baseball. Again look at the Play off teams and you find much better starting and back up catching. I like the longer term look of the pitching if he develops to potential but the position players in the Farm are terrible. That is where they are going to have to spend big money over the next 5 years just to get to .500 in my view. IF Dukes can reach his full potential that will help but right now….as our starting RF…the team is very exposed. Same with Middle Infield.

  8. Michael - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:08 AM

    I have to disagree with the idea that the outfield is set. Dukes was sent down to the minors last year for a long stretch. He has not proven he should be in the majors, much less a starter.

  9. Positively Half St. - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:09 AM

    Alberto Gonzalez is Waived Man Walking. If he is on the roster at the end of Spring Training, then I give up. I am rooting for Mike Morse as a guy who can hit and will do anything to play. I am rooting even more for Chris Duncan, an actual bona fide major leaguer going through injury problems. Probably most germane, though, is Eric Bruntlett. He is a utility man who has actually stuck in the major leagues for a World Champion. What could possibly make us keep Gonzalez over him?That was a real question- what could actually give Gonzalez an edge over Bruntlett, if that were the choice?

  10. greg - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:36 AM

    jayb, the yankees 3rd/4th OFs are randy winn and brett gardner. harris can hang with both of them.rays: kapler is a little better offensively, worse defensively.dodgers: reed johnson? no better than willie. cards: showing schumaker right now on MLB, who was almost the exact same hitter last year. the rest of their backup OFs are a veritable list of "who's that?" phillies: francisco is a little better offensively. i don't really know about him much defensively. then there's the mets: gary matthews. blech.marlins are another "who's that?" team.i dunno, i don't think harris looks that bad once i start looking at the 4th OFs out there.

  11. bknight47 - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:43 AM

    Mark: You could make watching plaster dry interesting…thanks for your updates…B

  12. JayB - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:11 AM

    Fine….Willie is a little above average if you say so….I don't think he rates on too many teams like BOS, LAA or MIN as a 4th OF.But that is not the point of the post really…Point is the roster is still weak and the Farm bats are VERY WEAK

  13. Sam - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    JayB: The only reason I mentioned McCann and Rodriguez in the same sentence is because I was pointing out that McCann has great offensive value but not great defensive value. In that sense, Rodriguez is probably better defensively, but his offensive ability (or, lack thereof) does not make up for how good McCann is. I wasn't very clear: I think Rodriguez stinks offensively (downright awful, in fact), but he may be able to provide something defensively (I'm just not sure what that is).I agree with you, for the most part, that the team stinks right now. If all goes well and the team wins 75 games, that is still bad (but showing good progress).

  14. Mark Zuckerman - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:44 AM

    Positively Half St.: If one were to make an argument for Alberto Gonzalez — not saying I am, just saying what one would — it would be his defense. He's at least an average big-league middle infielder, maybe above-average. Certainly more adept at SS and 2B than Bruntlett. Is that enough to keep him on the roster? I don't know.

  15. RPS - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:56 AM

    Willie Harris posted a .757 OPS last year, good for 71st among OFs with at least 300 PAs. Good for 2nd on the Nationals (ahead of Morgan by a smidge). Is Harris a solid 4th OF? Sure. The Gnats' problem isn't Harris as a 4th OF. Their problem is Morgan and Dukes as starting OFs, both of whom should also be 4th OFs. Morgan should also lay off the steal attempts–thrown out nearly 30% of the time.I would also agree that the starters are not horrible. Again though, the problem is that they are not good either. At his best, Lannan is a number 3 guy. Same with Wang, and most of the other guys. When you have a rotation of 4 and 5 starters, that's not a good thing. I think it was a mistake for the Nationals not to have splurged on Sheets or Harden, both of whom have #1 SP potential. But that would have required spending 6-8mil more than what Wang cost. The horror.

  16. natbiscuit - Mar 4, 2010 at 4:24 AM

    The BIG IF is IF players are healthy. The one spot that might be open for competition in the lineup is shortstop. Everybody seems to assume Guzman is healthy enough to take the field, but is he healthy enough to start at shortstop? I still think Desmond has a chance to crack the roster and the lineup. It may only be a chance predicated on Guzman's health, but until Guzman ranges deep to his left to show his mobility and ranges deep to his right and shows his arm he's still a question mark. IMHO.

  17. greg - Mar 4, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    Wang, at his best, is not a #3. Could be a #1 on a playoff team, although he's not an "ace," by definition. The guy was the #1 pitcher on the yankees for two years winning 19 games back-to-back. The problem with that is that we have no idea how close he'll be to "at his best." or if he'll even be decent. as far as pointing out the ranking of harris' 757 OPS, did you notice who was behind him? none other than the 3rd OF for last year's WS champion yankees, melky cabrera. hermida, the 4th OF of the red sox this year (who jayb said he wouldn't rank with). josh hamilton, starting LF for the rangers (contenders). carlos guillen, starting OF/DH for the tigers. soriano. rasmus, starting LF for the cards (playoffs). randy winn and brett gardner (current 3/4th OFs for the yankees). i agree with the general principal that there are holes in this lineup. i think RPS pokes on the wrong numbers for morgan. a leadoff hitter isn't measured by OPS, he's measured by OBP. if you look at that number, morgan is 23rd in OFs w/300 ABs (willingham and harris not far behind at 26 and 34). i think the nats are fine offensively from 1-5 (with #2 being a bit of a hole right now since it'll be guzman). but from 6 down, it's a big hole offensively. i think they'll score, but it's not exactly a juggernaut. now if dukes can get it together (and this has to be his last chance), the lineup looks much better with him at 6. the rotation is shakey beyond #2 until later in the season when we all expect strasburg and (a hopefully healthy) wang. which will make the rotation at least respectable. i can't argue against the idea of signing sheets or harden. if they were willing to consider washington, we should have been pushing hard for them (and in *addition* to wang).

  18. Chuckles - Mar 4, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    Mark: On eve of Spring Training Opening Day, how about a projected guess on the 25-man roster.

  19. Anonymous - Mar 4, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    BA's top 100 prospects, rating tools, etc. Drew Storen is in the 90s…insane, he is ready, poised and smart. just to make my point marlins prospect logan morrison is in the 20s, and he is one of the worst hitters i have ever seen in the minors. throw a ball on the outside and he will ground out ever time. the world of "upside" has gone beyond reality and is not to be taken seriously any longer. yeah he will be great if a pitcher never throws to the outside…

  20. NatsNut - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    Positively Half St. said… Alberto Gonzalez is Waived Man Walking.******************LOL! Waived Man Walking. Good one.

  21. Pdowdy83 - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    RPS, I have to question your evaluation of the Nats picking up Wang not being as good as picking up Sheets or Harden.Sheets is 2 years older than Wang, signed a 1 year/10 million dollar contract and has NEVER won more than 13 games in the NL Central, a far more inferior division than the AL East. Sheets also hasn't pitched 200 innings since 2004. Harden has only sniffed 200 innings once in his career and that was 2004 as well. While his contract is more favorable than Sheets this year, his option is quite high. He, like Sheets has also never one close to as many games in a single season as Wang did twice in NY.Wang has the potential to be a HUGE bargain this year and next if he returns to even 3/4 of what he was in 06/07 with the Yankees. The guy is arbitration eligible next year and def won't command the 10 mil that Harden will make, and the A's don't even have Sheets next season. Also, how do you call Morgan a 4th outfielder when he is up there with Franklin Gutierrez defensively and has hit right around .300 in each of the seasons he has been in the bigs.

  22. peric - Mar 4, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    The problem again is that its worst than having "waived men walking" on your roster: you are depending on "walking wounded whirlpool" denizens to improve the team to .500: Chico, Wang, Olsen,JZimm … look at former, ( and not that long ago) 1st rounders Burnett and Martin. Do you really believe they are the same pitchers? Do you really think Chico is going to be? And Wang, and Olsen, and Jordan Zimmerman?Rizzo said it takes about 5 years to build a team through the farms. Hopefully, his work under Bowden wasn't a complete waste? So, how long will it take from today?

  23. peric - Mar 4, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    What to watch (maybe), a way for Rizzo to potentially rebuild this team and farm system more rapidly … the Lerner way:Kasten keeps talking about impending signings of International players.I found this list ranking Cuban ball players:LHP Aroldis ChapmanRHP Reinier Roibal1B/LF José Julio RuizRHP Yuniesky MayaOF/1B Leslie AndersonOF Jorge PadrónSS Adeiny HechevarriaCF Juan Carlos LinaresSS Yadil MujícaRHP Yadel MartíSS José IglesiasLHP Noel ArgüellesC/1B/2B/3B Adalberto IbarraRHP Israel SotoRHP Alexei GilLHP Sergio Espinosa3B/LF Ronnier MustelierRHP Deinys SuárezRHP Reinier CasanovaCF Luis FonsecaRF/CF Yasser Gómez

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
x-WASHINGTON 90 64 --
ATLANTA 76 78 14.0
NEW YORK 75 80 15.5
MIAMI 74 80 16.0
PHILADELPHIA 71 84 19.5
x-Clinched NL East title
Through Saturday's games

NL PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

W L GB WCGB
x-WASHINGTON (5) 90 64 --
y-LOS ANGELES 88 67 2.5
ST. LOUIS 87 68 3.5
-------------------------
SAN FRANCISCO 84 70 6.0 +1.0
PITTSBURGH 83 71 7.0 --
MILWAUKEE 80 75 10.5 3.5
x-Clinched division title
y-Clinched playoff berth
Through Saturday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
SUN: Nats at Marlins, 1:10 p.m.
MON: OFF
TUE: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
WED: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
THU: Mets at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
FRI: Marlins at Nats (DH), 1:05 p.m., 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Marlins at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
Full season schedule

Mark joins Rob Carlin and Joe Orsulak every Thursday at 4 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet for a half-hour show on the Nats, Orioles and rest of MLB. Re-airs Thursdays at 11:30 p.m., Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

ON THE RADIO

As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.

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