Washington Nationals' Position-by-Position Breakdown at 2015 Spring Training

Danny Garrison@@dannylgarrisonContributor IFebruary 24, 2015

Washington Nationals' Position-by-Position Breakdown at 2015 Spring Training

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    The Nationals have compiled one of the most loaded rosters in baseball heading into spring training.
    The Nationals have compiled one of the most loaded rosters in baseball heading into spring training.David Goldman/Associated Press

    The Washington Nationals checked off all of their boxes this offseason—fortifying the infield and amplifying the rotation—and now, with spring training upon us, we get our first look at the double take-inducing product the Nats will send out this summer.

    Washington has eight everyday field players and five starting pitchers who don't have to worry about fighting for playing time. All that's left to decide on that front is the order of the lineup and the rotation, so you'll have to look elsewhere for compelling position battles. 

    This preview is a chance to get familiar with the Nationals who will make the biggest contribution to a potential World Series run, their likely backups and fringe players who may be needed in case of emergency this season.

Catcher

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    Wilson Ramos will be Washington's starting backstop again in 2015.
    Wilson Ramos will be Washington's starting backstop again in 2015.USA TODAY Sports

    Starter: Wilson Ramos

    Backup: Jose Lobaton

    Wild Cards: Sandy Leon, Dan Butler

    Wilson Ramos is a big backstop who, by all accounts, calls a very solid game. He won't be winning a batting title any time soon, but he's a serviceable seven- or eight-hole hitter. 

    The point is, Ramos can be a good starting catcher on a great team.

    But, at this point, the concern with the 27-year-old Venezuelan isn't what he does on the field, but if he can just stay healthy enough to be there. 

    Ramos hasn't played more than 90 games since 2011 due to knee and hamstring injuries. 

    The catcher has a clean bill of health entering spring training but, as per usual, according to The Washington Post's James Wagner, we'll have to take a wait-and-see approach to Ramos' health entering the season.

    But, for what it's worth, Ramos said via Wagner he does feel a difference in 2015.

    The last three years I had problems with my leg. But this year, the offseason I worked a lot with my legs. I was really working on my agility. This year, I feel 100 percent. I feel like I’m running without problems. When I feel 100 percent when I’m running in the field, that’s when I don’t have any problems behind the plate.

    Jose Lobaton is essentially Wilson Ramos Lite in terms of build and offensive production, but he proved in his 66 games last season he's very capable as a backup catcher.

    He'll reprise that role in 2015, while Sandy Leon and Dan Butler will be on call in case of injury to either of Washington's top two catchers. 

First Base

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    Ryan Zimmerman will spend spring training adjusting to his new first base position.
    Ryan Zimmerman will spend spring training adjusting to his new first base position.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Starter: Ryan Zimmerman

    Backup: Kevin Frandsen

    Wild Cards: Tyler Moore, Mike Carp

    You had all offseason to prepare for it, and whether you're ready or not, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has arrived. 

    The term will still take some getting used to for Nationals fans, but the career third baseman has a new position, directly across the diamond, that he'll man in 2015. 

    The move kills two birds with one stone, saving Zimmerman's degenerative shoulder from the wear of third base and filling the hole left by the departure of Adam LaRoche.

    But despite the cautionary measures to protect his shoulder, Zimmerman still isn't immune to injury. 

    "I wouldn't say I'm old, but I have a lot of miles," he said, via The Washington Post's Chelsea Janes.

    Because of Zimmerman's potential for injury, Kevin Frandsen needs to be on high alert as the backup at first base, among other positions he's capable of playing.

    The possibility of Zimmerman going down also likely reserves the last spot on Washington's 25-man roster for someone who can moonlight at first base. That's why the performances of Tyler Moore and Mike Carp will be heavily scrutinized at spring training. 

    The vibe is that Moore opens as the favorite to win the roster spot, but there isn't much to separate the two. So for the next month and change, Moore versus Carp is one of the closest things to a "position battle" the Nationals have at camp.

Second Base

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    The Nationals brought over Yunel Escobar in a trade to fill their need at second base.
    The Nationals brought over Yunel Escobar in a trade to fill their need at second base.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Starter: Yunel Escobar

    Backup: Danny Espinosa

    Wild Card: Dan Uggla

    For a while there, Washington was bracing itself for the Danny Espinosa era at second base. 

    But that scenario was avoided with the acquisition of Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics, relegating Espinosa back into his utility infielder role. 

    The move from Asdrubal Cabrera, the Nats' everyday second baseman for the second half of 2014, to Escobar is a pretty lateral one. They both have seven years of big league experience, they're both shortstops by trade, and only .008 percentage points separate their career batting averages. 

    But business is business, and business dictated Washington let Cabrera walk in free agency and find a second baseman elsewhere. 

    Escobar has played at least 130 games every year since 2008, so he's not exactly a high injury risk. That means Espinosa won't have much room to ply his trade at second base with the exception of Escobar rest days. 

    The only shot Dan Uggla has at playing time in the majors is a complete rebirth at spring training. The Nationals have more pressing backup needs at several positions other than second, but if the Uggla who hit 30 homers for five straight years shows up, that would be hard to turn away. 

Third Base

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    Anthony Rendon assumes permanent third base duties following Ryan Zimmerman's move to first.
    Anthony Rendon assumes permanent third base duties following Ryan Zimmerman's move to first.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Starter: Anthony Rendon

    Backup: Kevin Frandsen

    Wild Card: Ryan Zimmerman

    For pretty much as long as the Nationals have existed, the face of the franchise has been the third baseman.

    For the past 10 years, that's been Ryan Zimmerman. But with Anthony Rendon set to begin his first full season as a third baseman, it looks like the torch is ready to be passed, and the face of the franchise could still hang out in the hot corner.  

    Rendon is fresh off of his first Silver Slugger award and, at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, it's conceivable that he could show up in the race for the National League batting title this summer. 

    Third base is another spot Washington's Swiss Army knife Kevin Frandsen can play, and Ryan Zimmerman presumably still has the skill set to play the position, but only in the case of an absolute emergency would Rendon relinquish starting duties for any length of time. 

    In 2014, his first full season in the majors, Rendon played in all but seven of Washington's 162 games. 

Shortstop

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    Ian Desmond has established himself as one of the best shortstops in baseball.
    Ian Desmond has established himself as one of the best shortstops in baseball.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Starter: Ian Desmond

    Backup: Danny Espinosa

    Wild Card: Wilmer Difo

    Less than two months ago, it would've been a minor shock to hear Ian Desmond made it to spring training without being traded. 

    Yet here we are. 

    Desmond is still with Washington, where he's spent the first six years of his major league career. And despite the unlikelihood he re-signs with the Nationals when his contract expires after the 2015 season, his attitude hasn't taken a hit. 

    "I'm going to enjoy this ride," Desmond said via The Washington Post's James Wagner. "And you know what? If it's my last year here, it's my last year here. But I'm going to enjoy every single day."

    It more than likely won't be until September, barring injury of course, but highly touted infield prospect Wilmer Difo could be called up this season.

    He's a leading candidate to replace Desmond in the future as the Nats' shortstop, so it could benefit the 22-year-old to spend some time with the incumbent while he's still in his seat. 

Left Field

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    Jayson Werth's tumultuous offseason gives way to a minor position change in spring training.
    Jayson Werth's tumultuous offseason gives way to a minor position change in spring training.Elsa/Getty Images

    Starter: Jayson Werth

    Backups: Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen

    Wild Cards: Tyler Moore, Mike Carp

    The start of spring training means Jayson Werth will have to say a teary goodbye to his wild offseason of surgery and prison time

    It would also mean time to begin work at his new position, but his shoulder procedure will keep him out for most of spring training. In 2015, he'll move from right field to left to save his 35-year-old legs. 

    Nate McLouth is back as Washington's utility outfielder. It's easy to forget McLouth has a Gold Glove to his name from his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so he's not the worst option as a backup. 

    Part-time infielders Kevin Frandsen, Tyler Moore and Mike Carp are all capable of playing outfield as well, but the latter two are more concerned with making the team at this point.

Center Field

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    Denard Span enters spring training coming off of a career season in 2014.
    Denard Span enters spring training coming off of a career season in 2014.Al Bello/Getty Images

    Starter: Denard Span

    Backup: Nate McLouth

    Wild Card: Michael A. Taylor

    2014 co-NL hits leader and baseball-seeking missile Denard Span is on the last year of his contract with the Nationals, but he'll hold down center field for at least another season in Washington. 

    Like Werth, Span underwent surgery this offseason. Unlike Werth, Span will participate in spring training activities because the center fielder is almost completely recovered from his sports hernia procedure. 

    For Span's successor in center field, Michael A. Taylor, it's not a question of if he'll be called up to the majors this season, but how often. He even has an outside shot at making the Opening Day roster. 

    The 23-year-old Taylor played in 17 games last year, and 2015 will likely be his last year of transition before he's a full-time big leaguer. 

Right Field

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    The spotlight on Bryce Harper intensifies in 2015 with a move to right field.
    The spotlight on Bryce Harper intensifies in 2015 with a move to right field.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Starter: Bryce Harper

    Backups: Nate McLouth, Kevin Frandsen

    Wild Cards: Tyler Moore, Mike Carp

    With Jayson Werth's move over to left field, Bryce Harper inherits the veteran's old spot in right. 

    The cannon hanging off of Harper's right shoulder will be a useful tool in his new corner of the outfield, but his defense is relatively low on the list of Harper-related questions in 2015. 

    His ability to stay healthy and hit consistently far supersedes his defensive aptitude. 

    Harper is still looking to fill the superstar mold that was cast for him when he was in high school. If the 22-year-old doesn't make the transition from above-average to great this season, we'll find out if there's an expiration date on the fans' patience with him. 

    The same crop of outfielders that will back up Werth in left are available for right field duties.

Bullpen

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    2015 is Casey Janssen's first spring training with any team not called the Blue Jays.
    2015 is Casey Janssen's first spring training with any team not called the Blue Jays.David Goldman/Associated Press

    Probable Opening Day Bullpen:

    • RHP Drew Storen (closer)
    • RHP Casey Janssen
    • RHP Aaron Barrett
    • RHP Tanner Roark
    • RHP Craig Stammen
    • LHP Jerry Blevins
    • LHP Matt Thornton

    Wild Cards:

    • RHP Blake Treinen
    • LHP Xavier Cedeno

    Washington's bullpen is the odds-on favorite to cause fans the most stress in 2015. 

    The group has the potential to be very good. Drew Storen and Casey Janssen have amassed 43 and 34 saves in a season, respectively, at various points in their careers. Tanner Roark won 15 games as a starter last season. 

    But the possibility also exists for a complete meltdown with the hard-to-predict Storen, the aging Janssen and the potential for Roark's abilities as a starter to reject a transition to the bullpen. 

    With Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano gone, Washington's bullpen will have to develop a new identity for itself. 

Rotation

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    Max Scherzer begins his first spring training as a National after signing a massive free-agent contract this offseason.
    Max Scherzer begins his first spring training as a National after signing a massive free-agent contract this offseason.USA TODAY Sports

    Rotation:

    • 1. RHP Stephen Strasburg
    • 2. RHP Max Scherzer
    • 3. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
    • 4. RHP Doug Fister
    • 5. LHP Gio Gonzalez

    Wild Card: 

    • RHP Tanner Roark
    • RHP A.J. Cole

    The mega-rotation has arrived for spring training, and seeing the five of them throwing next to each other in workouts is definitely the religious experience that was advertised. 

    Tanner Roark has also been working with the starters so far in camp, but his move to the bullpen seems inevitable. 

    Once manager Matt Williams pulls the trigger on that decision, all that's left for him to nail down is the order in which he'll present general manager Mike Rizzo's horrific pitching creation. 

    Career credentials would have former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer pitch on Opening Day, but politics favor Stephen Strasburg, who's started Washington's last three openers

    It's one of the greatest problems a manager has ever had, but a problem nonetheless. 

    Whichever way Williams goes, some pitcher in the Nats dugout will have a small ego bruise and some hitter on the New York Mets will face a very high likelihood of being struck out to start the season.