It's clear that the Washington Nationals have turned the corner as a franchise on the rise.
Coming off an impressive 98-win season, the Nationals had very few question marks to address roster-wise. The majority of them were answered—which is something not all teams can boast.
With a few key offseason additions and returning veterans, the Nationals opening day roster might be more complete than in years past.
With the countdown to Opening Day officially underway, the Washington Nationals will soon begin their first wave of spring training games. As the team is evaluated by manager Davey Johnson and the rest of his coaching staff, moves will eventually be made to trim the roster down to the final 25 spots.
As an initial attempt to sort them out, this article will take an educated guess at the Nationals Opening Day roster from top to bottom.
First let's delve into the Nationals starting rotation.
Heading into the 2013 season, there is really only one change: the addition of Dan Haren and the subtraction of Edwin Jackson. The rest of the rotation will be rounded out by returning starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler.
Baseball fans would be hard pressed to find a better one-two punch than Strasburg and Gonzalez atop the rotation. In fact, the Nationals rotation as a whole have 80-85 (combined) win potential.
Not many teams can claim that.
Projected Opening Day Starting Rotation
No. 1: Stephen Strasburg
He is heading into the first unrestricted season of his career. There are high hopes of him being the anchor of this Nationals pitching staff and potentially exceeding the 200 innings pitched mark.
Strasburg still had a pretty productive season in 2012 despite being limited to 28 starts. He went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He also struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings. Without the innings limit, Strasburg's win and strikeout totals will rise in 2013.
Barring any unforeseen episodes during spring training, he should undoubtedly be their opening day starter.
No. 2: Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez can now place his focus solely on following up a Cy Young caliber season.
With the offseason PED accusations now officially behind him (per MLB.com report this week), Gonzalez will look to build off a career year in which he led the NL with 21 wins. He has averaged 17 wins the last three seasons and has been a model of consistency—which is invaluable as the Nationals second starter.
He took a big step forward last season and while he may not match the 21 wins, there is no reason Gonzalez can't put up big numbers and hover around the 2.89 ERA he posted last season.
No. 3: Jordan Zimmerman
Zimmerman will be counted on to continue the overall consistent improvement he's shown the past couple seasons.
Potentially the most important factor for Zimmermann in 2013 is staying healthy and following up career high of 195 innings pitched in 2012. If so, he will widely be considered as one of the league’s best and most underrated third starters.
Zimmermann posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP last season. If he can manage anywhere near those numbers in 2013, the Nationals could potentially have their top three starters all with an ERA below 3.
On a contender like the Nationals, he could also easily eclipse his win total (12) from last season.
No. 4: Dan Haren
He is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.
Coming off an injury riddled year with the Angels, Haren will look to rejuvenate his career returning to the National League. He could go down as the best offseason addition for the Nationals—as his proven track record and experience can help the rest of the staff immensely.
Signed on a one-year deal, it's a low risk, high reward situation for Washington.
Haren won't have the pressure of leading the rotation and that could ultimately catapult him into a comeback campaign in 2013.
No. 5: Ross Detwiler
Detwiler will round out what will be considered one of the best rotations in baseball.
He recently accepted an invite to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, which can only help him learn and grow as a pitcher. Detwiler still has room to improve and it seems the Nationals are committed to working with developing the left-handed hurler.
If Detwiler can improve his strikeout rate, being a member of this staff could make him a consistent winner in 2013.
Projected Opening Day Bullpen: Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke
Brought in to solidify the closer role in the Nationals bullpen, Soriano will bring past success and experience to a primarily young and talented group.
If he can continue to put up the numbers he has over the past few seasons, a 45-50 save year will be within reach. Soriano stepped in for the injured Mariano Rivera a year ago and converted 42 of 46 saves with a 2.26 ERA.
The right-hander should be in for another solid campaign and help rack up the saves in DC.
Clippard will most likely assume the setup role going into the 2013 season.
He was an all-star in 2011 in this role and will be the consistent bridge to Rafael Soriano in helping close out games. Clippard still possesses solid control and has tallied a WHIP of 1.21 or less in each of the past four seasons.
The right-hander should be able to follow up his early career success in 2013 and help comprise one of the deepest bullpens in baseball.
He could potentially close out some games under Davey Johnson's "A and B" bullpen system, which keeps his top relievers fresh and requires shuffling of closers.
Although that is no guarantee, Storen could rack up around 10 saves in 2013.
With Rafael Soriano signed to a lucrative deal, it will most likely be his job to lose. The addition of Soriano might put Storen into a position where he’d rather not be.
But the pickup should make the entire bullpen better by pushing each reliever up one inning.
The Nationals now boast a bullpen with three different pitchers that can amass a 30-plus save season.
Stammen had a 2.34 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, with 87 strikeouts in 88.1 innings.
A converted starter, Stammen has been a solid bullpen force since being moved to a relief role in 2010. He is a nice source of low ERA/WHIP and high strikeouts for the Nationals.
Stammen will look to continue this middle relief role in 2013.
He has been a solid arm out of the Nationals' bullpen since his debut last season.
He owns a career 2.84 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 54 major league outings. Mattheus is used in a variety of situations for Washington and is a trusted by Davey Johnson and the rest of his staff.
Mattheus will look to help continue the consistency of the Nationals bullpen going into 2013.
We saw his ERA jump from 3.56 in 2011 to 5.83 in 2012 (although his WHIP dropped from 1.51 to 1.40).
He is probably fourth in line for saves this year, so his value will lie in his ability to strike batters out (his career rate is around 9.0 K/9). If Rodriguez can improve upon his erratic control, he could be a very dependable option out of the Nations bullpen.
It also doesn't hurt that he can hurl the ball consistently at 100 MPH.
Duke will most likely be the final piece in the puzzle.
In the eight games he appeared in last September, Duke allowed only two earned runs in 13.2 innings.
With Sean Burnett gone via free agency, Duke is the Nationals lone left-hander out of the bullpen. This fact alone makes him a lock to make the Nats opening day roster, edging out Christian Garcia.
Projected Opening Day Infield: Adam LaRoche (1B), Danny Espinosa (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Steve Lombardozzi (Bench) and Chad Tracy (Bench)
LaRoche is unlikely to match the career-high 33 home run total that he posted last season, but he should be good for roughly 25 homers with little drop off in batting average.
That makes LaRoche a crucial member of the Nationals infield and lineup in general.
LaRoche’s numbers are extremely consistent, both at the dish and in the field. He provides top-notch defense around the bag and will look to continue his success in Washington heading into 2013.
Hitting in the heart of the Nationals lineup, he will be counted on to do so.
He brings a solid combination of power, speed and defense to his position—but its imperative he improves upon a poor batting average and high strikeout rate.
Health will be a factor for Espinosa this season, as he dealt with a shoulder injury late last year. If he can prove he is past that road block, he could easily match his 20 homer campaign since he possesses plenty of pop in his bat.
Espinosa should be in line for an improved 2013 season if he can get better at making consistent contact.
Desmond has the potential to be an elite shortstop in this league and could easily flirt with a 30-30 season in 2013.
With the arrival of outfielder Denard Span, who will most likely lead off for the Nats, hitting in the middle of the order could help Desmond's power numbers and RBI chances.
Coming into his prime, Desmond should continue to shine for the Nationals and follow up his career year in 2012 with added improvement.
He is the clear-cut face of the franchise for the Nationals.
Injuries the past two seasons that may be the only thing holding Zimmerman back from being a true elite superstar. Consistent health will without a doubt be what the Nationals look for from Zimmerman in 2013.
He has already proven he is capable of putting up monster numbers, as evidenced by his hot second half in 2012.
If he can simply manage to stay on the field, the Nationals lineup will be that much more potent.
Lombardozzi has been a versatile player for the Nationals thus far.
He is a true utility man with the ability to play second base, shortstop and the outfield. It's an ideal situation for the Nationals to have such a versatile option off the bench.
Lombardozzi will need to improve on his lack of power and speed this coming season, but he will still serve as a valued member of this team regardless.
Tracy isn't an everyday type of player at this point in his career, but he'll serve an important role for the Nationals as their backup corner infielder and primary pinch hitter.
General Manager Mike Rizzo recently spoke about the Washington Nationals' outfield, stating
We have three outfielders that are all center field-capable guys and it's going to be a fun, fun outfield to watch play, because you've got three defensive stalwarts out there with range, throwing arms and guys who have great routes and angles to the ball.
This quote can only get Nats fans even more hyped about the status of their outfield headed into the 2013 season.
Projected Opening Day Outfield: Bryce Harper (LF), Denard Span (CF), Jayson Werth (RF), Roger Bernadina (Bench) and Tyler Moore (Bench)
Harper was every bit as good as advertised in 2012 on his way to winning rookie of the year honors in the NL.
The 20-year-old still has a lot of untapped potential, but he could be ready for a breakout season as soon as 2013. Harper’s success this year will boil down to good health, his adjustment to left field (after the acquisition of Denard Span) and his ability to reach base consistently.
If Harper can improve on one of his outside breaking ball, he certainly can avoid a sophomore slump.
After finishing last season with 22 homers and 18 stolen bases, there is little doubt of his ability to pursue the esteemed 30-30 club.
He appears eager to show the Nationals they made the right decision by trading for him.
Not only does Span want to get back to being a .300 hitter, but he would like to steal more bases this season. He is almost a lock to accumulate 25-30 stolen bases while racking up runs scored in the high powered Nationals lineup.
As long as Span adjusts well to National League pitching, he should excel with his new team in 2013.
Werth mustered just five home runs last year to halt a streak of four consecutive seasons with 20-plus homers.
Werth must to return to full health this season in order to get back to his previous form and prove worthy of his long term contract.
The Nationals are expected to use Werth in the middle of the lineup this season after he spent most of his time in the leadoff spot last year. It will be crucial in 2013 for Werth to hover around the .300 mark.
He'll also be expected to be a veteran leader on and off the field for the rest of his younger teammates.
Bernadina will most likely start the season out as the Nationals' fourth outfielder.
After the addition of Denard Span in the offseason, Bernadina does not stand to see much playing time heading into 2013. He has the power and speed to make a difference and will be considered added depth on an already stout lineup.
Davey Johnson will most likely call on him as the Nats go-to backup outfielder, especially against right-handed pitching.
Moore has shown some decent pop during his limited playing time thus far, and will continue his bench role heading into 2013.
While Bernadina handles pinch hitting duties against righties, Moore will be called on against lefties. Moore also has the potential to backup Adam LaRoche at first base.
That positional flexibility will serve him well on securing an opening day roster spot in 2013.
Projected Opening Day Catchers
Suzuki came to the Nationals last season in a deadline deal with the Oakland A’s and became the full-time catcher down the stretch.
With the trust of Davey Johnson, who coached him on the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, Suzuki should provide consistency behind the dish in 2013 on both sides of the ball.
If he can produce double digit home runs while managing the Nationals' top-notch pitching staff, the team can't ask for much more than that.
After a torn ACL limited him to just 25 games last year, Ramos is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season in 2013.
Ramos has been participating in catching drills since the start of spring training. He will most likely ease his way back into the Nationals' lineup in spring training by initially serving as the DH. He will backup Kurt Suzuki to begin the upcoming season.
The Nats are hoping he can regain his power stroke at the plate in 2013 after hitting a career-high 15 homers last year.
Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup
1. Denard Span (CF)
2. Bryce Harper (LF)
3. Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
4. Adam LaRoche (1B)
5. Jayson Werth (RF)
6. Ian Desmond (SS)
7. Danny Espinosa (2B)
8. Kurt Suzuki (C)
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Stephen Strasburg (Opening Day Starter)
2. Gio Gonzalez
3. Jordan Zimmermann
4. Dan Haren
5. Ross Detwiler
1. Rafael Soriano (Closer)
2. Tyler Clippard (Setup)
3. Drew Storen (Setup)
4. Ryan Mattheus
5. Craig Stammen
6. Henry Rodriguez
7. Zach Duke
1. Adam LaRoche (1B)
2. Danny Espinosa (2B)
3. Ian Desmond (SS)
4. Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
5. Steve Lombardozzi (2B/SS)
6. Chad Tracy (1B/3B)
1. Bryce Harper (LF)
2. Denard Span (CF)
3. Jayson Werth (RF)
4. Roger Bernadina (Bench)
5. Tyler Moore (Bench)
1. Kurt Suzuki
2. Wilson Ramos