“You try to go off the center fielder, what he’s going to do,” Harper said. “He’s the leader out there, and everyone knows that. Just trying to see what he’s going to do, how he communicates, is always good for everybody. . . . He’s got pretty good speed. As many balls as he wants to go get, he can have.”
Span may take priority during plays, but before it, Harper and Span agree Werth is in charge. First base coach Tony Tarasco, who also oversees outfielders, has so far mixed the times when he aligns the outfield and when he simply allows Werth to make the decision.
“Even though I’m the center fielder, he’s really the captain out there,” Span said. “He has the most experience out of the three of us out there. He’s constantly positioning me and Bryce. If I see something, I’ll let him know. But I’m looking at him.”
Werth has less physical ability than Span and Harper at this stage of his career; FanGraphs’ ultimate zone rating, a catch-all stat that measures the sum of a player’s defensive contributions, rated Werth as 18.7 runs below an average major league outfielder over the past three seasons. Scouts and coaches disagree, citing his ability to diagnose situations and make quick jumps.
“He’s maybe not recognized for it, but he’s a very smart defender,” Tarasco said. “He sees things happen before they actually evolve.”
The Nationals have 10 more spring games before their outfield takes the field together in a game that matters, 10 more chances for the best outfield they’ve had to learn each other. It helps that they like one another. Werth helped mentor Harper last season, and Span and Harper are separated by just two lockers in the clubhouse.
Over the weekend, a reporter asked Harper about playing next to Span. “I hate playing with him,” he said, knowing Span was in earshot. Span glanced over and smiled, and Harper burst into laughter.
“They respect one another, and they listen to one another,” Tarasco said. “It’s nice to see them jelling the way they’ve been jelling.”