Below, we break down the Nationals’ lineup for 2013. Click here for Harry Pavlidis’s assessment of the pitching staff. To see the complete Nationals season preview, click here.
CF Denard Span
|AGE: 29 |||HT: 6-0 |||WT: 210 |||B-T: L-L |||AVG: .283 |||HR: 4 |||RBI: 41 |||OBP: .342|
The Nationals shipped away their best pitching prospect to acquire the type of player they long coveted: a true leadoff hitter who can play center field. Span fits the mold, a rangy defender and left-handed hitter with a team-friendly contract and a career .357 on-base percentage over five seasons in Minnesota. The Nationals and Span are confident that past concussion issues are behind him. They substituted power (Michael Morse) for on-base percentage and defense, but it’s hard not to imagine that a consistent leadoff hitter ahead of potent power bats could be successful.
RF Jayson Werth
|AGE: 33 |||HT: 6-5 |||WT: 225 |||B-T: R-R |||AVG: .300 |||HR: 5 |||RBI: 31 |||OBP: .387|
Even in a season cut short by 75 games because of a broken left wrist, Werth found his comfort zone in Washington. This is his year-round home, he leads the clubhouse in a unique manner, he is the team’s highest-paid player, and with one swing erased criticism of his seven-year, $126 million contract signed in 2010. Werth provided one of the most exciting moments in Washington baseball history with his epic, series-saving walk-off home run in Game 4 of the NLDS. He is the oldest player on the roster but had a late-blooming career and his ability to work opposing pitchers is well-suited near the top of the lineup as his wrist continues to build strength.
LF Bryce Harper
|AGE: 20 |||HT: 6-2 |||WT: 230 |||B-T: L-R |||AVG: .270 |||HR: 22 |||RBI: 59 |||OBP: .340|
The Nationals believe age means little, but it’s hard not to see what Harper has in store for 2013 through that lens. He will bat from the three-hole, a spot reserved for the team’s best all-around hitter, to balance the left-right-left configuration of the lineup. Throughout his career, and particularly last season as he battled through a summer slump to finish on a tear, Harper has shown an uncanny ability to adapt and excel. He will adjust quickly to playing left field every day. Already seen as a leading MVP contender, he has ravaged opposing pitching staffs this spring, and all signs point to Harper having an even better season.
3B Ryan Zimmerman
|AGE: 28 |||HT: 6-3 |||WT: 230 |||B-T: R-R |||AVG: .282 |||HR: 25 |||RBI: 95 |||OBP: .346|
To reflect on Zimmerman’s production last season, it’s hard to believe he played the first three months with a lame right shoulder that landed him on the disabled list early and finally responded to a third cortisone shot. Zimmerman underwent offseason shoulder cleanup surgery that he hopes will fix his maligned throwing. The slick-fielding third baseman has looked more comfortable flinging the ball across the diamond on routine throws during spring training, but throwing errors have been his defensive weakness. When he is healthy, Zimmerman, the longest-serving National, remains one of the best players on the team.
1B Adam LaRoche
|AGE: 33 |||HT: 6-2 |||WT: 200 |||B-T: L-L |||AVG: .271 |||HR: 33 |||RBI: 100 |||OBP: .343|
The Nationals — Davey Johnson, specifically — doggedly pursued LaRoche over the winter to re-sign, knowing he was perhaps their best chance at a title with his powerful left-handed bat and slick defense. He’s back on a two-year, $24 million deal, with a mutual option for a third season, but not for longer because the Nationals have a backlog of infield prospects. LaRoche is creeping past what is historically known as a player’s peak age, but he carried the offense for stretches last season and his totals were generally in line with his career rates. But he will still be counted on to provide Gold Glove defense and serve as a calming presence in the clubhouse.
SS Ian Desmond
|AGE: 27 |||HT: 6-3 |||WT: 210 |||B-T: R-R |||AVG: .292 |||HR: 25 |||RBI: 73 |||OBP: .335|
A year ago, Desmond was facing an important season to prove he was the Nationals’ everyday shortstop, but now he is a candidate for a long-term contract extension. He produced perhaps the finest all-around season for a shortstop in baseball, combining
clutch hitting, power, standout defense and leadership. He thrived lower in the lineup, in a place that suits his aggressive, swing-early style with proven hitters in front of him. He is just entering his peak seasons and his talent suggests he will again play an important part in the Nationals’ success. Another season like last and he could become more expensive to lock up long term.
2B Danny Espinosa
|AGE: 25 |||HT: 6-0 |||WT: 195 |||B-T: B-R |||AVG: .247 |||HR: 17 |||RBI: 56 |||OBP: .315|
The switch hitter is often compared to Ian Desmond, who in his third full season enjoyed a breakout year. Espinosa enters the season a valued commodity because of his power (38 home runs over past two seasons) and elite defense, but he has been held back by his NL-leading 189 strikeouts. He played the final month of the season with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and spent the winter rehabbing and strengthening the muscles around it. As a result, his revamped left-handed swing was quicker and impressive during spring training. But will his shoulder hold up all year? This season will provide more clarity on Espinosa’s future.
C Kurt Suzuki
|AGE: 29 |||HT: 5-11 |||WT: 205 |||B-T: R-R |||AVG: .235 |||HR: 6 |||RBI: 43 |||OBP: .276|
C Wilson Ramos
|AGE: 25 |||HT: 6-0 |||WT: 220 |||B-T: R-R |||AVG: .265 |||HR: 3 |||RBI: 10 |||OBP: .354|
Suzuki, acquired in a trade in August from Oakland, added stellar defense as well as clutch hits. But Ramos’s strong spring and his recovery from last May’s devastating knee injury means they will split time as the starter. Ramos looks poised for a strong season as the Nationals ease him back into game action. Suzuki’s contract includes an $8.5 million option for 2014 that vests at $9.25 million if he makes 113 starts this season. The Nationals still view Ramos as their long-term catcher.
After the 2011 season, the Nationals overhauled their bench, replacing defensive subs with players who have more pop. The moves helped keep the team afloat despite a rash of injuries. Chad Tracy morphed into one of the best pinch hitters in the majors and earned an extension for 2013. Roger Bernadina posted the best rate stats of his career. Injuries to starters had a silver lining: Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore played frequently and blossomed. The bench fills every potential void the team could experience: left- and right-handed power, a defensive outfielder and a versatile infielder. If the starters stay healthy, Davey Johnson’s biggest challenge may be to find ways to keep the bench players sharp.