With the winter meetings in the rearview mirror and spring training two months away, the Nationals have checked off their most essential boxes. They have their new starter in Doug Fister, their bullpen lefty in Jerry Blevins and their fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth.
It has been a productive winter for the Nationals, one that on paper has again set them up as the favorite to win the NL East. But it does not mean they are done. With Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon as Wilson Ramos’s backups, they are still sifting through backup catcher options, even if that means bringing a veteran minor league free agent to camp as insurance.
Their bench, if opening day was tomorrow, would consist of McLouth, Solano, Danny Espinosa, Scott Hairston and Tyler Moore. Given the struggles of Moore and Espinosa in 2013, do they need another option for the infield and at the corners? Jeff Baker, a free agent right-handed slugger, may make sense.
As the Nationals proceed, let’s quickly look back. Here are just a few scattered pieces from the winter meetings based on conversations around the lobby and other chatter:
>> By this time next year, Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ first pick in 2012, could very well be a top 5 prospect in all of baseball. Inside and outside the Nationals, people say the only thing keeping him from that kind of perception within the industry right now is game experience. If he shows the same kind of stuff he showed in limited action this year over a full season at, say, Hagerstown and Potomac, Giolito will be a prospect darling. He won’t have the same hype as Stephen Strasburg, but people in the game will view his talent as a prospect similarly. Giolito has already undergone Tommy John surgery, but he won’t turn 20 until July and he has a triple-digits fastball and a power slider that scouts say would be elite in the majors right now. “A monster,” one executive said; “a beast,” one scout said.
>> Nationals spring training will be much different this year. Davey Johnson ran a relaxed camp and spent little time hammering home fundamentals. Matt Williams’s spring figures to be more regimented. Like Johnson, he does not want endless practices. But he will seemingly have a different emphasis and will hold players to a different standard. Williams also said he wanted to bring 60-plus players into major league camp, a larger contingent than in recent years, partly so he could get his own eyes on more Nationals prospects.
“You’ll see a little bit of different schedule I think than you’ve seen in the past,” Williams said. “It will be rapid-fire, and it will be very short. But that’s by design, that we can get our work done as a group and then we can break off into our individual work later in the day or earlier in the morning to get our fine‑tuning done. “
>> The Nationals had no room on their 40-man roster for Adrian Nieto, and they hope to get him back after the White Sox snatched him in the Rule 5 draft. One executive described his ceiling – his absolute ceiling, not a likely comp – as Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He’s a switch-hitter with some decent power potential. It seems like there’s a good chance Nieto comes back. Catchers almost never stick as Rule 5 picks; the last time it happened was 2008, and the last Rule 5 catcher to make a real impact was Jesus Flores. Plus, Nieto has never played above Class A.
>> On Friday, the Nationals announced they had signed three players to minor league deals with invites to spring training: reliever Manny Delcarmen, catcher Brian Jeroloman and outfielder Brock Peterson.
Delcarmen we covered back when he agreed to the deal. Jeroloman and Peterson each have interesting back stories. The Nationals acquired Jeroloman last season in a minor trade with the Pirates. He served as Harrisburg’s catcher as they made the playoffs, and in the Eastern League semi-finals a vicious collision left him concussed and hospitalized. Jeroloman, 28, has never reached the majors, but the Nationals value his toughness, which they’ve seen first-hand.
Peterson, a 49th-round pick in 2002, reached the majors for the time last season at age 29, with the Cardinals. He started 2012 in the independent Atlantic League, but in 2013 he experienced a power surge: 25 homers in 456 at-bats to go with a .364 OBP and a .531 slugging percentage at Class AAA Memphis. He hit just .077 in 28 plate appearances once he got to St. Louis, but Peterson sounds like a good story and an interesting right-handed bat to remember.