Young core key to Nats' success in 2023
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Following two consecutive roster overhauls ahead of the Trade Deadline, the Nationals enter the 2023 season on the path of development, core-building and growing talent for the future.
This will be the first full season for players such as catcher Keibert Ruiz, 24 (who signed an eight-year contract extension on March 11); second baseman Luis García, 22; shortstop CJ Abrams, 22; right-hander Josiah Gray, 25; and left-hander MacKenzie Gore, 24, to share the field together. Righty Cade Cavalli, 24, who is sidelined for the season because of Tommy John surgery, is also part of this long-term group.
These young players will have the veteran presence of first baseman Dominic Smith, third baseman Jeimer Candelario and left fielder Corey Dickerson, among others, to learn from in the early stages of their careers.
Beyond the big league stage, the development of those in the Nationals' Minor League system -- which was bolstered in last year’s megatrade with the Padres -- will be just as key.
What needs to go right?
Starting pitching needs to go deep. After taxing the bullpen last season, manager Dave Martinez emphasized the importance of deeper outings from the starting pitchers: Patrick Corbin, Gray, Trevor Williams, Gore and Chad Kuhl.
“You want those guys to go out there and succeed and give us the innings we want,” Martinez said Friday. “When can only go four innings and 100 pitches, it sets a lot of things back. You look at all the guys we’ve got to use in our bullpen, and then the next couple days after that. But when you have guys like we feel like we have now, where we could get a good start from these guys almost every day they go out there, that’s a plus. … I push these guys to want to get 21 outs for us, and then anything after that is a bonus. You’ve seen later in spring, these guys have pushed themselves a little bit and they’re starting to peak right before the season, which is awesome.”
Sean Doolittle is rehabbing after undergoing an internal brace procedure to alleviate a left UCL injury last season. The 36-year-old opted for that over Tommy John surgery for a shorter recovery time. Doolittle, who signed a Minor League deal, has been slowed in his return and will not be ready for Opening Day. If healthy, he can add a coveted veteran arm to the Nationals' bullpen. But he will have to pass several milestones in his recovery before being cleared to do so.
Team MVP will be ...
Joey Meneses. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether or not Meneses will sustain across his first full season the hot hitting he displayed in a 56-game span after making his Major League debut last August. His performance for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic was a hot start to the season. Meneses’ two-homer game against Team USA demonstrated how the 30-year-old can rise to the occasion in a big moment. He is projected by ZiPS to lead the team with 27 home runs.
Team Cy Young will be ...
Hunter Harvey. A reliever gets the shoutout here, given how heavily the Nats count on their bullpen. Harvey, who battled injuries early in his career, showed what he can do when healthy last season, with a 2.52 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His lone home run allowed did not occur until his 30th appearance. Harvey could be utilized as a closer this season, at which point his disciplined, efficient approach could really shine.
Abrams will be a Gold Glove Award finalist. Abrams showed flashes of his defensive potential in his 44-game stint with the Nationals last season after being acquired from the Padres. He already was recognized with the Electric Play of the Week Award in September for his double-take diving stop at shortstop to nab the Phillies’ Alec Bohm at first. The Nats will rely on their middle-infield defense, and Abrams likely will turn heads with his play.