As those magical dates rapidly approach, what are Nationals fans looking forward to during spring training?
Nats fans could be watching new players who joined the team via trade or free agency. Perhaps they will look out for prospects who made the 40-man roster and could debut this season. And finally, they will make sure previously injured players have returned to form.
Here are five things Nats fans have to look forward to most in spring training.
Thanks to their offseason acquisitions, the Nationals have fewer and fewer questions about their roster.
One such move was the trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span. This natural center fielder can play 130 or more games per season at the position—something the Nationals have lacked in recent years.
The Nats have experimented with Bryce Harper, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel in center field, among others. Ankiel played himself out of the lineup. And although they are both great athletes, Bryce Harper and Roger Bernadina play the corner outfield positions better.
Span, on the other hand, is a very good defensive center fielder. In 448 career games in center field, he has a fielding percentage of .991 in 1165 chances with 14 assists.
Plus, Span is good leadoff hitter—something Harper, Bernadina, Ankiel and several other hitters were not consistently for the Nationals.
Spring training will be the first chance for Nationals fans to see the new cornerstone of a very good defensive outfield.
Denard Span's addition to the Washington Nationals means Bryce Harper will be moving to left field.
Harper has a chance to be the best defensive left fielder in the National League—and perhaps all of baseball. He plays the position better than he does center field, using better positioning and taking better angles. And he has that arm of his.
Harper played very little in left field during his rookie season in 2012, playing seven games at the position with 14 put-outs in 14 total chances. He had 208 total chances in center field, finishing with a .981 fielding percentage.
But Harper had a more equal sample size for these two positions as a minor league outfielder, creating a much more accurate comparison. In left field, Harper had 74 total chances with a .946 fielding percentage and seven assists. In center field, he had 66 total chances with a .939 fielding percentage and five assists.
Nationals fans will be eager to see if Bryce Harper is a better left fielder than center fielder.
That's because, on May 12, he suffered a torn ACL. Joe Kay of the Huffington Post provided the details:
Ramos' knee buckled as he chased a passed ball during the seventh inning of a 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night. He fell on his back in pain and had to be helped off the field, putting little weight on the knee. The Nationals feared that he'd torn the ligament, which was confirmed overnight by an MRI
On August 3, James Wagner of the Washington Post wrote an update on the catcher's progress. Ramos said, “I feel good and I’m happy with the surgery and how everything has come along and the recovery, too."
Wagner also reported on Ramos' projected return from rehab:
Ramos doesn’t come to Nationals Park often for games, watching them from home instead and resting his knee. He won’t play winter ball in Venezuela like he has before. His target of return: next March.
Nats fans not only want to see Ramos playing in March, but also April, May, June...and so forth.
Despite only being drafted in 2011, Rendon was invited to the Nats' spring training in 2012. While there, Rendon impressed with his sweet swing. Bo Porter, Nationals third base coach at the time, described Rendon's swing to Amanda Comak of the Washington Times:
It’s about as clean a delivery of the barrel as you will find. They don’t come around too often. You know the thing about that swing? It plays in any ballpark.
But shortly after beginning his professional career, Rendon injured his ankle. He missed a large portion of the minor league season due to the injury. Rendon played a total of only 43 games, spending most of his time with the Class-A Potomac Nationals and the Class-AA Harrisburg Senators.
Rendon was a big hit in the Arizona Fall League, however, and will once again attend spring training for the Washington Nationals. His major league debut may not be too far off in the future.
It is time for the Washington Nationals to let their big dog off his leash.
Stephen Strasburg will be pitching without an innings limit in 2013, much to the delight of "baseball purists" everywhere.
Nationals fans will also be delighted.
For the first time in his career, Strasburg's spring training will not be hampered by impending minor league assignment, prolonged stays on the injured reserve or restrictions due to rehab.
Finally, the sky is truly the limit for Strasburg.