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All eyes will be on these four

Jan 27, 2011, 3:52 PM EDT

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan faces plenty of pressure to return to form in 2011.

As the Washington area digs itself out of a snowstorm that has left everyone in a sour mood, perhaps some solace can be taken from one heart-warming thought: Pitchers and catchers report in less than three weeks.

Indeed, baseball season is nearly upon us, and members of the Nationals are already starting to trickle in to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, the slow build-up to the first official day of spring training on February 15.

There will be no shortage of players drawing attention throughout camp, some of them stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Stephen Strasburg (who will soon begin throwing for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery). But there will be another group of players who should draw significant attention this spring, not only for who they are but for what their performances this season could mean for a Nationals club trying to escape the NL East basement for the first time in four years.

On CSNwashington.com, I take a look at four members of the roster who will be particularly scrutinized throughout spring training: Jordan Zimmermann, Nyjer Morgan, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper.

  1. Knoxville Nat - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Maya will also be scrutinized as well. Is he the pitcher who we saw in September or is he the pitcher who dominated in winter ball?

  2. SCNatsFan - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    Zimm needs to be the pitcher we hope he is… he's the only pitcher who can start the season with us who can truly take the next step. Without that we are hurting again.Mark do you have the feeling if Brown has an excellent ST that Morgan's leash will be very short or do you really believe mgt. is behind him because they really like him, not just because no one is behind him?Thanks for the excellent work you do.

  3. HHover - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    Great piece, Mark. I agree with the players you ID on the 2011 roster–they've all got some kind of question mark hanging over them, and no obvious replacement if they fail. (That's the difference with Maya, as I see it–yes, there are questions about him, but he's contending for the 4 or 5 slot in the rotation, and there are plenty of other contenders for that).Corey Brown won't be ready to replace Nyjer for a while. He's only had 41 games at AAA and wasn't exactly tearing it up–.193/.253/.378. It's going to take more than ST to get him ready.

  4. Doc - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Of the 4, Zimmermann is the most likely to fulfill his role. Espinosa may take awhile to adjust to ML pitching. It's amazing how quickly pitchers figured out how to pitch to him. Hope Espinosa pulls a reverse on them–sooner, not later.Nyj is a big question mark. He should be in the middle of his prime baseball career, not the start of it, like it appears.Top 20 MLB scouts rated Harper at No. 3 in the prospects scaling. Time will tell, but from his performance in the AFL I'd say he'll have a career that buries Mike Trout, so-called No. 1. Recently, Riggleman was quoted as saying that Harper probably won't go beyond AA this year. Not sure whether Riggleman is frequently asleep when he's talking, but Harper playing 2 games/wk. in the AFL pretty much indicated he could more than handle what is probably rated as at least AA pitching.

  5. Knoxville Nat - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    I think Riggleman was wide awake when he said that Harper "…PROBABLY won't go beyond AA this year". The sample from the AFL is just too small to draw any definitive conclusions as to how soon Harper will advance throught the minor leagues. And PROBABLY means that the possibility for going beyond the AA level is still open.

  6. DFL - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Everything Doc writes makes sense. If Zimmerman makes 28 starts, wins 12 games and has an ERA of 4.00 or lower, the Nats should be happy with the progress. Harper looks likely to spend half a season in A and the other half in AA. For Morgan, it's make or break. If he can hit .270 and earn a .350 On Base Percentage, play solid defense, steal 50 bases and act like a 30 year old man rather than an Elijah Dukes impersonator, he'll have a place in Washington. If he duplicates his 2010 season, Morgan will be gone by the All-Star break. Espinosa was figured out quickly by National League pitchers last season and swooned at the plate. If he's hitting in the low .200s in June, expect that Jerry Hairston will be splitting playing time with Espinosa. A summer in Syracuse is not out of the question for Espinosa, a 50-50 proposition.

  7. Todd Boss - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    Maya most likely lost his spot in the Gorzelanny trade. I think he'll go to AAA and compete with Detwiler to be the "first guy called up" to replace an injured starter.

  8. Theophilus - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    Let Harper mature, learn the game at whatever level before moving him up. Late bloomers like Bernandina, and never-bloomers like Morgan, illustrate the importance of learning the fundamentals of the game at the lower levels. No matter how good Harper's attitude, and how unique his talent, he needs a chance to pick up the finer points before being thrown into the majors on a day-to-day basis. That does not rule out a September call-up but we needn't be in a hurry. Besides, both Hagerstown and Potomac are closer to me than Harrisburg, and the tickets are cheaper than DC.

  9. JayB - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    I am not a Maya believer….He is just a right handed Lannan….he works hard and competes but in the end he is a 91 MPH tops soft tossing 5th starter at best…he is also much older…..Oh his DR stats….recall Anderson Hernandez hit .355 and above in that league several times…..It means nothing.

  10. P. Cole - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    Speaking of Lannan, I think he is a guy to watch as well. He's an excellent pitcher in July, August, and September but if he can start the year in mid-season form we'll have a much different ballclub.

  11. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    I'm looking forward to the battle between Flores and Wilson in training camp. I know everyone thinks of Flores as an injury waiting to happen but he really has transformed his physical body to something entirely different than it was 18 months ago.In any case, Syracuse will be getting a great catcher to open the season, provided Pudge stays healthy.

  12. Anonymous - Jan 27, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    I am not a Maya believer….He is just a right handed Lannanhe works hard and competes but in the end he is a 91 MPH tops soft tossing 5th starter at bestLannan throws 87. He never gets near 91. Livo throws 77. Maya who is said to actually gets as high as 93-94 has the same pitching repertoire as LIvo. Therefore, no one should underestimate what Maya might be able to do.

  13. DFL - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM

    If Lannan and/or Maya become latter-day Jamie Moyers, the Nats should be pleased. Moyer only won 267 games and pitched 4000 innings.

  14. JayB - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Wrong on Lannan check the FX numbers….he tops at 91….just like Maya….yes I have heard that Maya can hit 94 and if he does than that is a different story…he did not do it last year….so I am in show me mode…..DR stat..no real in my view.

  15. mockcarr - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Lannan's fastball averaged 88.8 mph last year, which is usual for him, 89 or so. Maya's was 88.7 in his five starts. Of course, it doesn't matter much since Lannan relies on command, movement, changing speeds like Glavine did, for instance. Velocity is overrated for sinkerball guys, it's better to throw quality strikes with some deception in your delivery at 89 than throw 94 down the middle after trying to nibble. I don't really know what Maya's velocity should be, but he sure was nibbling last year and got hit HARD.

  16. joemktg - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    Disagree about Nyjer. I think the club believes it is what it is, and if there is an improvement in performance, then that's gravy.To me, compared to Nyjer, the greater question mark is Marquis and his bounceback from injury. For this club to sniff 75 wins, they're going to need him to improve from where he left off in post-injury September. Why important? (1) The starting rotation needs ML starters, and the Nats cannot afford to fill yet another spot in this rotation. Jason has to come through this year and pitch well so as not to add to the club's starting pitching woes. (2) The club needs to show improvement in order to attract 2011 FAs. The club needs to be in position to land the desired FA(s) with the highest bid (vs. rejection even though they were the highest bidder). Marquis' performance this year is critically important relative to demonstrated improvement in the wins category.

  17. sm13 - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    I'm hopeful that the evaluation of Nyjer doesn't linger for the whole season. If he doesn't perform at a high level in spring training or in April or May it is time to cut him loose. He has disappointed regularly since the first few months after the trade. Last season saw a deterioration in his skills, a continuing lack of fundementals, and a big-time attitude problem. The sooner we move on and find a real centerfielder/leadoff man, the better for the club & the fans.Go Nats!

  18. Theophilus - Jan 27, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    Looking at the picture of Morgan above . . .. Am I wrong or are his hands completely out of position to hit that ball? It looks to me like he's been fooled (again) and is already bailing. If so, how appropriate a selection.

  19. JayB - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    He looks ok there…head down…not stepping in the bucket…..hands out front…..just looks like he thinks it is a fastball and it is a change up…strike three….no worries he would just get picked off first anyway

  20. joemktg - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    Don't know about that Theophilus. Assuming that this is post-contact, it looks like the path of the hands and barrel were in (ideal). Additionally, it looks like that he is striking an outside pitch, and based on the bat angle and path, I'm guessing he let it travel deep so that he could go to LF. If anything, his shoulders could be a bit more parallel with the bat.

  21. BinM - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    There are still more than enough question marks to go around on the Nationals' roster, imo – Flores vs. Ramos for the #2 CA job, Espinosa at 2B, Morgan in CF, Bernadina/Morse in LF, Maya/Detwiler/Gorzelanny/Marquis in the starting rotation, and sorting out the bullpen. Let's be honest – There are only about 11 players who have already earned roster spots (RZim, Werth, LaRoche, Pudge, Desmond, Livo, Lannan, Clippard, Burnett, Storen & Slaten; JZimm, Morse, Bernadina, Morgan, Espinosa are probables, but everything else is wide open. If we truly have a GM & Mgr who are open-minded about competition & applied skills as opposed to "veteran presence", the Nationals have a chance to exit Viera with a watchable team this year.

  22. Anonymous - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:25 PM

    What was it about Espinosa's batting that the league figured out? I too saw the dramatic dropoff, but didnt pay close enough attention to how pitchers were pitching him differently.

  23. BinM - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    On the photo – Looks like the Catcher is coming across his body for an inside pitch… I'm guessing post-contact, so Morgan's hands & bat position suggest either a sharp one-hopper to 2B, or a single up the middle. If the photo was pre-contact, I'm with JayB – guessing FB, seeing slider/change = swinging strike.

  24. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Justin Maxwell…. DFA'd !!! Hallelujia!!!!

  25. JayB - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Hey this is fun….my post was before (missed really) contact….if it is after contact….it is to left side not right side….Mark any idea on this?

  26. JayB - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    YES!!!!! oh my god finally….I am going to turn over a new leaf if this is the "new Nats"….that is so about time!

  27. Pauloyd - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    Mark, can we get CSN to put your actual columns into an RSS feed? I can get your Nats insider posts, but not the CSN ones. Am I missing something?

  28. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:51 PM

    JayB said… "I am not a Maya believer….He is just a right handed Lannan….he works hard and competes but in the end he is a 91 MPH tops soft tossing 5th starter at best…he is also much older…..Oh his DR stats….recall Anderson Hernandez hit .355 and above in that league several times…..It means nothing.""Wrong on Lannan check the FX numbers….he tops at 91….just like Maya….yes I have heard that Maya can hit 94 and if he does than that is a different story…he did not do it last year….so I am in show me mode…..DR stat..no real in my view.""He looks ok there…head down…not stepping in the bucket…..hands out front…..just looks like he thinks it is a fastball and it is a change up…strike three….no worries he would just get picked off first anyway."See. You can do it. Three quality contributions.

  29. Pauloyd - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    What I mean to say is, I can get an RSS feed but it is only the headline and one sentence, instead of full text. Anyone else have this problem?

  30. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    NatsJack in Florida said… "Justin Maxwell…. DFA'd !!! Hallelujia!!!!"When is the parade? Or are we holding off just in case nobody picks him up and he reports to Nats minor league camp?

  31. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    Did I ever mention that I hate the rollover ads that show up on this page?

  32. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 27, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    N.Cognito…. Are you going to be in Spring Training this year? … If so, look me up in Section 111 row 2, seats 9 & 10…

  33. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    My son and I might go down. We'd be there the week of Mar 14-18.

  34. Another_Sam - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    Re: Pudge – last year I couldn't picture him as the regular catcher but I saw him in Florida and his conditioning and agility floored me. But again this year I can't believe he's got another MLB season left in the tank. You guys think he does?

  35. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Another_Sam said… "Re: Pudge But again this year I can't believe he's got another MLB season left in the tank. You guys think he does?"Barely. Defensively he's still fairly good, but it appears his bat just isn't major league anymore. I wouldn't be surprised if he has trouble hitting .220 this year.

  36. NatsJack in Florida - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Another_Sam…. Precisely why you won't see Flores or Wilson traded (unless somebody gets stupid for us)this season. Should Pudge have a respectable year, he'll be trade fodder at the end of July.

  37. BinM - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    @Another_Sam: Given his off-season conditioning regimen, I'd think he's got another season (or at least a half-season) left.

  38. sec3ms - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    A close look at the photo seems to indicate post-contact, and he's taking this inside pitch (catcher's mitt, as BinM says) to left (the ball's shadow is outside, and the other shadows aren't angled that way).

  39. N. Cognito - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    A closer look at the photo indicates that if this is after he has made contact, there's a righty on the mound.

  40. natsfan1a - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    All this photo analysis is really interesting, but was anybody reminded of the Seinfeld episode recapping/analyzing the Keith Hernandez spitting incident? :-)

  41. natsfan1a - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    Anybody aside from me, that is?

  42. BinM - Jan 27, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    @1a: Sorry, but Seinfeld correlations are lost on me (never a fan). I fully understand it's my loss, and shows a lower-than-normal NY sensibility, but sobeit; I can't watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO for some of the same reasons; Too much mis-placed anger & over-the-top behaviours for me. End pop-culture comment/rant.

  43. natsfan1a - Jan 27, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    Whoops, I must have touched on a nerve there. To each his (or her) own, BinM. No worries. ;-)

  44. BinM - Jan 27, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    @1a: No worries at all. Your're still a top-notch Nationals fan, in my book.

  45. natsfan1a - Jan 28, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    Thanks, BinM. Likewise.

  46. Big Cat - Jan 28, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    Bryce will be in Potomac a month and a half, then to Harrisburg for 2 months, then up to the "show" for the pennant race! Him and Steven will arrive the same day. The stadium will be sold out! Nats Jack…..how many days till pitchers and catchers report!?PLAYBALL!!!!

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