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How will the Nats' outfield situation play out?

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' outfield should be one of their strengths this season. They are expecting a full, healthy season from Bryce Harper in right field. Adam Eaton is returning from a torn left ACL and will move to left field to make room for Michael A. Taylor in center field.

For now, the Nationals see their outfield as set with those three players. Waiting in the wings, however, will be Victor Robles, the team's top prospect and MLB Pipeline's third-ranked prospect in the Majors. Robles is in position to take over as a starting outfielder in Washington in the near future, but it's worth wondering how he will fit into the Nats' outfield plans in 2018. 

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' outfield should be one of their strengths this season. They are expecting a full, healthy season from Bryce Harper in right field. Adam Eaton is returning from a torn left ACL and will move to left field to make room for Michael A. Taylor in center field.

For now, the Nationals see their outfield as set with those three players. Waiting in the wings, however, will be Victor Robles, the team's top prospect and MLB Pipeline's third-ranked prospect in the Majors. Robles is in position to take over as a starting outfielder in Washington in the near future, but it's worth wondering how he will fit into the Nats' outfield plans in 2018. 

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

Harper's spot in right field is a lock and Eaton, who was the prize of the Nats' offseason coming into 2017, should also have a secure starting spot in the outfield. But the Nationals were so impressed by Taylor's defense in center field -- where he was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award -- that they will shift Eaton to left field for this season to keep Taylor in center.

Barring an injury or trade, those three starting spots seem to be set to start the season for Washington. Brian Goodwin had his own breakout rookie season and seems poised to make the team as the fourth outfielder. The Nationals have stayed firm that Robles will play every day to start the season, so if he is not a starter in the Majors, he will be a starter at Triple-A Syracuse.

Taylor took advantage of the opportunity to start in 2017, as he flashed the power and speed the team saw in him as a prospect, proving he can be a productive everyday player. The Nats plan on giving him the chance to continue his breakout in '18, and the leash on him as the starting center fielder will likely not be a short one.

Video: Check out Taylor collecting eight RBIs vs. Cubs

However, should Taylor show signs of regression or begin scuffling at the plate again, the Nats could be in position to call up Robles at some point during the season.

It would serve the Nationals well to figure out what they have in Robles this season. This is the final season of Harper's contract in Washington, and if the team can not re-sign him, it needs to know if Robles will be able to fill Harper's shoes in 2019.

Robles' time as a starting outfielder in Washington is coming soon. Just how quickly that time arrives will depend on his progression and Taylor's performance.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Victor Robles

Gallo: Harper 'as focused as I've ever seen him'

Rangers infielder, Nats right fielder working out together in offseason
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

As Gallo has trained with Harper this winter, he has noticed something in him.

WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.

As Gallo has trained with Harper this winter, he has noticed something in him.

"At the workouts, he's as focused as I've ever seen him," Gallo said Thursday on MLB Network Radio. "He always is, but I mean, he's going through those workouts like nothing now. He's really focused, he's hitting and just the way he's talking, you can tell he's really prepared."

It's a fact that could be cause for intimidation in opposing National League pitchers. Harper altered his training programs a year ago, and he added 15 pounds of muscle before Spring Training. The results were easy to spot, as he spent the spring mashing homers. During the season, he quickly returned to form as a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award before his season was interrupted by a hyperextended left knee. In 111 games, Harper posted a 1.008 OPS with 29 home runs and 4.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Harper rips game-tying homer HR 421 feet

Yet perhaps Harper is motivated to reach another level in 2018, in what is set to be the final season on his contract with the Nationals. His pending free agency has already been anticipated for years, especially if he can add to his already impressive resume of five All-Star Games, a National League Rookie of the Year Award in '12 and the NL MVP award in '15 -- all before his 25th birthday this past October.

Gallo believes Harper's motivation is in part tied to getting injured last season, which halted a bid for perhaps another NL MVP Award. To what extent the knee injury or time off hampered Harper in the postseason is still unknown, but Harper posted just a .725 OPS in five games during the NL Division Series vs. the Cubs.

"I think what was tough for him was missing time last year with that injury," Gallo said. "Obviously, he didn't put up the numbers and they didn't win the amount of games that they wanted to win [in the postseason], and that was tough for him."

Whenever he has the chance, Gallo has been sure to point out that he actually hit more homers (41) than Harper (29) last season, regardless of Gallo's edge in games played. Gallo is sure to have his fun now, because he has seen the voracity with which Harper has worked out this offseason.

"He's just a competitor," Gallo said. "I think, this year, I've never seen him as focused and as ready to play as I have, and I've trained with him [for] 3-4 years, so I'm really excited to see what he brings to the table this year."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper

Zimmerman: Nats must 'learn from our mistakes'

First baseman discusses postseason hopes, new manager Dave Martinez on Newsmakers podcast
MLB.com

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is proud of the Nationals' accomplishments, despite losing the National League Division Series in four of the past six years.

Zimmerman's perspective carries weight, considering he's been a mainstay on the team, which has become a perennial postseason contender after averaging more than 90 losses during his first five seasons in the big leagues.

First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is proud of the Nationals' accomplishments, despite losing the National League Division Series in four of the past six years.

Zimmerman's perspective carries weight, considering he's been a mainstay on the team, which has become a perennial postseason contender after averaging more than 90 losses during his first five seasons in the big leagues.

"The easiest answer is, it's really hard to win the World Series," Zimmerman said in the podcast, Newsmakers. "I don't think [the lack of a World Series title is] because of lack of effort from the players' standpoint. It's certainly not lack of effort from ownership and the front office. They do a good job of putting a great team on the field every year. That shows in the division titles we have won and the amount of games we've won over the past five or six years. But we have to continue to build on it and learn from our mistakes."

After their heartbreaking loss to the Cubs in the NLDS last October, the Nationals parted ways with Dusty Baker and replaced him with Dave Martinez, their sixth manager since 2011.

Zimmerman loved playing for Baker, but he is happy to see Martinez get his first chance to manage in the big leagues.

"Everybody respected Dusty," Zimmerman said. "He has done so much for the game. He has done so much for us -- for the guys on the team and for the organization. A lot of us were shocked. You win 95 and 97 games and win the division twice, you don't expect managers to be fired.

Video: WSH@CHC Gm3: Zimmerman belts an RBI double in the 6th

"If [a change] had to happen, I'm glad they went with a fresh face and mixed it up a little bit. I talked to a lot of guys, and they are excited to see where this goes. I talked to Davey. Obviously, he has been with [Cubs manager] Joe [Maddon] for a long time. He seems to be a family-oriented kind of guy who will let us be professionals."

Zimmerman hopes to put up great numbers for Martinez the way he did for Baker. Coming off his best season since 2009, Zimmerman hit .303 with 36 home runs, 108 RBIs and a .358 on-base percentage in '17. Staying healthy was key to his resurgence. In the previous three years alone, Zimmerman dealt with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, strained rib cage injuries, a left wrist contusion and a right hamstring strain.

"Being healthy, being able to play, there is no bigger reason than that," Zimmerman said. "You can't really put up numbers if you are not on the field. The last 2 1/2 years, I had a big problem staying on the field. Health is the main reason. As your career goes on, you learn to adapt and adjust. Being part of a great team always helps."

Zimmerman is now in his fourth season at first base, and he is getting more comfortable at the position. After switching from third base, he acknowledged he was lost at first base in 2015. The learning curve was pretty high, and he was replacing a Gold Glover in Adam LaRoche.

"The second year, it got a little better," Zimmerman said. "And I think each year, you learn the position more, you learn where you can take chances and where you don't take chances. You learn how to be an efficient defensive player at that position. I've always taken a lot of pride in defense.

"Being on the other side of third base, I know how nice it is to have an above-average first baseman. That's sort of my goal -- to make those guys feel confident in me to let them try and make plays or do certain things they might not do. It makes me work even harder to be that guy over there they can trust."

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002 and does a podcast, Newsmakers. He also could be found on Twitter @ladsonbill24.

 

Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman

Nats' offseason to-do list all but complete

Club may bring in free agents to compete for reserve roles
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- When the Nationals reached an agreement to bring back veteran free agent Howie Kendrick on a two-year deal, they solidified their bench with about a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Building a bench was one of the items on the Nats' short list this offseason, and now their reserves are all but set. The bench includes Kendrick, Matt Adams (signed as a free agent last month to replace Adam Lind), Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and the backup catcher, which is currently Pedro Severino. Other than possibly signing a veteran backup catcher, the Nats can pencil in their reserves for Opening Day.

WASHINGTON -- When the Nationals reached an agreement to bring back veteran free agent Howie Kendrick on a two-year deal, they solidified their bench with about a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Building a bench was one of the items on the Nats' short list this offseason, and now their reserves are all but set. The bench includes Kendrick, Matt Adams (signed as a free agent last month to replace Adam Lind), Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and the backup catcher, which is currently Pedro Severino. Other than possibly signing a veteran backup catcher, the Nats can pencil in their reserves for Opening Day.

Washington is set with its eight starting position players, top four starting pitchers and most of its bullpen, including the back end. The club began this offseason searching for tweaks to improve the team and have accomplished that by re-signing key free agents in Kendrick and right-hander Brandon Kintzler. The Nats have ensured the team that won 97 games last season will be all but intact for 2018.

Video: MLB Tonight: Kendrick's two-year deal with Nats

So what's left for Washington's offseason?

The club's fifth starter is far from settled, though the Nats re-signed Edwin Jackson, who served as the No. 5 starter for most of the second half. Jackson should compete at Spring Training with a few young pitchers, including A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde, for the final rotation spot.

Look for the Nationals to also hunt for depth, perhaps bringing more starters into camp to compete for rotation spots, filling out their bullpen with arms to protect their relievers with injury issues and adding players to challenge for reserve roles.

Now that the Nats have taken measures to address their needs this offseason, they can operate from a position of strength. As the Hot Stove has stalled, leaving several prominent free agents still on the market, Washington can hunt for a potential bargain.

If one of the front-end free-agent starters continues to linger on the market and the asking price decreases, maybe the Nats will jump into the mix to bolster their rotation. If they decide to upgrade at catcher, the Nats could decide to spend money there. But for all the teams with holes to fill and potential impact free agents still searching for jobs, the Nationals have quietly taken care of business and have put themselves in a strong position as Spring Training approaches.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals

Nats, Kendrick agree to 2-year deal

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals reached an agreement on Thursday to bring back Howie Kendrick, the veteran utility man who became a valuable player off the bench after he was acquired midseason.

According to a source, the deal is reportedly worth two years and $7 million.

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals reached an agreement on Thursday to bring back Howie Kendrick, the veteran utility man who became a valuable player off the bench after he was acquired midseason.

According to a source, the deal is reportedly worth two years and $7 million.

Kendrick, 34, impressed the Nats after he was acquired in July. He slashed .293/.343/.494 with eight homers in 52 games for Washington while playing second base and the outfield, and serving as the team's best right-handed hitter off the bench. Kendrick was seen as a rental then, but the Nats will bring him back to join their other midseason acquisitions: Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson (who were already under contract), and Brandon Kintzler (whom the team re-signed last month).

Hot Stove Tracker

Filling out the bench was a key priority for the Nationals entering this offseason, and Kendrick adds to the club's strong set of reserves. Kendrick will complement left-handed hitter Matt Adams, who replaces Adam Lind, to form the club's primary pinch-hitting options. Infielder Wilmer Difo, outfielder Brian Goodwin and catcher Pedro Severino are likely to round out the bench, which should be a strength for Washington again.

Video: MLB Now: Howie Kendrick's two-year deal with Nats

Kendrick also provides versatility for the Nats, and new manager Dave Martinez could find a way to keep him in the lineup if Kendrick continues to perform. He would also provide insurance at the start of the season while second baseman Daniel Murphy is recovering from offseason knee surgery. The Nationals continue to be optimistic that Murphy will be ready for Opening Day, but Kendrick could give them another reason not to rush Murphy's progress.

"Love Howie Kendrick, love what he brought us in the clubhouse with the young players," general manager Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings. "He's got a good skill set. He's a guy that did nothing but great things for us between the lines and in the clubhouse."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Howie Kendrick

Robles ready to take next step in 2018

Nats' top prospect likely to start season in Minors, but not far off from Majors
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Victor Robles is going to play every day to start the 2018 season. The Nationals have stayed firm on that about their top prospect and one of the most electric talents in all of baseball.

The question is where Robles -- the No. 3 overall prospect in baseball as rated by MLB Pipeline -- will take his at-bats every day. The Nationals' starting outfield in the Majors is all but set, with Bryce Harper in right field, Michael A. Taylor in center field and Adam Eaton shifting to left field. Barring injuries, those spots are virtual locks, with Brian Goodwin set to begin the season as the fourth outfielder.

WASHINGTON -- Victor Robles is going to play every day to start the 2018 season. The Nationals have stayed firm on that about their top prospect and one of the most electric talents in all of baseball.

The question is where Robles -- the No. 3 overall prospect in baseball as rated by MLB Pipeline -- will take his at-bats every day. The Nationals' starting outfield in the Majors is all but set, with Bryce Harper in right field, Michael A. Taylor in center field and Adam Eaton shifting to left field. Barring injuries, those spots are virtual locks, with Brian Goodwin set to begin the season as the fourth outfielder.

So it would appear Robles is destined to begin the season in the Minors, although his talent has altered the Nationals' plans before.

Nationals' Top 30 Prospects

Robles exceeded expectations within the organization when his performance earned him a promotion to the Majors as a September callup in 2017. The team was so impressed with Robles during that one-month stint -- where he flashed his blazing speed and did not appear uncomfortable facing Major League pitching -- that he earned a spot on the roster for the National League Division Series. Perhaps once again Robles could change the team's plans.

"It's never a bad idea to get Minor League at-bats," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said last month. "That's never a bad thing. But he forced his way onto the playoff roster last year, and we're going to give him every opportunity to force his way onto the big league roster."

Video: Robles on most exciting moment with Nationals in 2017

Robles will admit he did not expect to get the call to Washington last September, considering he was busy preparing to go play in the Arizona Fall League then. But he made the most of his opportunity once it was presented to him.

"The truth is that I wasn't expecting it," Robles said in Spanish at the Rookie Career Development Program. "But I was prepared for that because I was working hard, and that is the wish of every ballplayer -- to be brought up to the big leagues. Everything I did, I did it like a big leaguer because I was prepared for that, but I didn't expect it."

However, the Nationals have little reason to rush Robles. Their outfield picture is already crowded and should be one of the team's strengths next season. Robles, who is still only 20 years old, is inexperienced at the upper levels of the Minors, with only 37 games under his belt at Double-A and none at Triple-A. He appeared in 13 games for the Nationals in September and two NLDS games.

It seems likely the Nationals will be content to start Robles at Triple-A Syracuse, where he can continue to get seasoning and be ready if an injury occurs or Taylor regresses into some of his previous struggles. But eventually the Nationals are counting on Robles to force their hand again.

"My goal for 2018 is to continue to do the same things," Robles said. "When something is good, you can't change it. So keep doing the same things and working hard to show them that I can be part of the big league team.

"I'd understand that [opening 2018 in the Minors] would be part of my development, but I'm going to get [to Spring Training] ready to show them that I can start out on the big league team."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Victor Robles

Get to know the Nationals fans auditioning to become Racing Presidents in 2018

Originally just a scoreboard animation, the Nationals introduced the Presidents Race in 2006, their second season in D.C., with four competitors: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. (The team has since added William H. Taft, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the race as well. Since then, the Racing Presidents have not just become staples of the Nationals organization, but icons of the nation's capital as well. 

Rendon ($12.3M) among Nats with new deals

Roark, Taylor also avoid arbitration before deadline
MLB.com

The Nationals agreed to one-year contracts with Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and Michael A. Taylor on Friday, thus avoiding arbitration.

Rendon, coming off an MVP-caliber season, agreed to terms on a $12.3 million contract for 2018. Roark will receive $6.475 million and Taylor will get $2.525 million.

The Nationals agreed to one-year contracts with Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and Michael A. Taylor on Friday, thus avoiding arbitration.

Rendon, coming off an MVP-caliber season, agreed to terms on a $12.3 million contract for 2018. Roark will receive $6.475 million and Taylor will get $2.525 million.

Rendon made $5.8 million in arbitration last season, but he earned a considerable raise after hitting .300 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in his most consistent and productive season over five years.

Roark, 31, went 13-11 with a 4.67 ERA in 181 1/3 innings for Washington while earning $4.315 million. It marked the third time in four seasons that the right-hander notched at least 13 wins.

Video: Mike Rizzo talks about Roark's value at Winterfest

Taylor, in what marked his first year of arbitration eligibility, hit .271 with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs.

Quinn Roberts is a reporter for MLB.com.

 

Washington Nationals, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark, Michael A. Taylor

MLB Pipeline's 2018 All-Defense Team

Nats' Robles receives most votes in survey of front-office execs
MLB.com

Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning balls in play into outs.

Defensive metrics are improving, giving clubs a better handle on how valuable individual players are in the field, yet it's still far from an exact science and even less so at the Minor League level. In MLB Pipeline's annual survey of front-office executives asking them to identify baseball's best defensive prospect, the 19 respondents tabbed 14 different players.

Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning balls in play into outs.

Defensive metrics are improving, giving clubs a better handle on how valuable individual players are in the field, yet it's still far from an exact science and even less so at the Minor League level. In MLB Pipeline's annual survey of front-office executives asking them to identify baseball's best defensive prospect, the 19 respondents tabbed 14 different players.

Video: Jim Callis on best catching prospects

Top 10 Prospects by Position

Nationals center fielder Victor Robles, the lone repeater from our 2017 All-Defense Team, led all prospects with four votes. Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford and Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras were the only others to get multiple mentions and join Robles on our 2018 squad, which is based on our survey results as well as separate discussions with scouting and development personnel:

Catcher: Jake Rogers, Tigers
Some scouts considered him the best defender in the entire 2016 Draft, when he went in the third round to the Astros, who used him to pry Justin Verlander from the Tigers last August. Rogers erased 46 percent of basestealers in his first full pro season, enhancing solid arm strength with a lightning-fast transfer and impressive accuracy. His agility and soft hands also make him an outstanding receiver and blocker who excels at framing pitches.

"His defense is so slick," an assistant GM with an American League team said. "He has more of a 55 arm [on the 20-80 scouting scale] but it's so quick and accurate. He has such a pretty release."

Video: Rogers has potential to win a Gold Glove in future

Catcher was the toughest call on our All-Defense Team. The Athletics' Sean Murphy, another 2016 third-rounder, has similar receiving skills and even more pure arm strength but hasn't had the same success nabbing basestealers.

Video: Jim Callis on whether defense is still valued

First Base: Evan White, Mariners
Like Cody Bellinger, the first baseman on last year's All-Defense Team, White could be a Gold Glove first baseman or an everyday outfielder. He has more range than most first basemen, excels at digging errant throws out of the dirt and one scout said he's the best defensive first baseman to come out of college since Nick Swisher. White also has plus speed and solid arm strength, so he's potentially capable of handling all three outfield spots.

Second Base: Luis Guillorme, Mets
He could have challenged for shortstop honors if the presence of Amed Rosario in New York hadn't led the Mets to shift Guillorme to the other side of the bag last June. He's not the quickest middle infielder, but his hands, reflexes and instincts are as good as anyone's in the Minors. He has solid range and arm strength, and he would have led the Double-A Eastern League in fielding percentage at both second (.983) and short (.968) last year if he had played enough at either position to qualify.

Video: Guillorme's defensive versatility at short and second

Third Base: Nick Senzel, Reds
He saw time at second base and shortstop at Tennessee and didn't become an everyday third baseman until his junior season in 2016, when he was the No. 2 overall pick. Senzel is faster and more athletic than most players at the hot corner, where his hands and strong arm are also assets.

Tweet from @Vol_Baseball: ICYMI: Here's a look at @Vol_Baseball third baseman Nick Senzel's No. 1 #SCtop10 play on @SportsCenter tonight! pic.twitter.com/LQTNRPytH0

Shortstop: J.P. Crawford, Phillies
After getting significant support when we assembled our 2016 and 2017 All-Defense Teams, he makes it this time around. Crawford's range at shortstop belies his average speed, and his quick hands, strong arm and uncanny internal clock help him make all the plays. He moved all over the infield for the Phillies last September, looking very good at second and third base for someone with little experience at either position, but is their unquestioned shortstop after they traded Freddy Galvis to the Padres.

"He's very advanced at a premium position," a pro scout with an AL club said. "There are others with better tools at shortstop, but this guy can really play the position and his tools are still plenty good. His feel for shortstop, secondary tools and defensive intangibles help separate him from others."

Video: NYM@PHI: Crawford makes a slick spin and throw

Outfield: Cristian Pache, Braves
Braves überprospect Ronald Acuna can do almost anything on the diamond, including play quality defense in center field, but he'll eventually have to cede the position. That's because Pache's blazing speed and fine instincts allow him to cover more ground in the outfield than perhaps any other prospect. He also has plus arm strength, unusual for his position, and used it to top the low Class A South Atlantic League with 17 assists last summer.

Watch: MiLB Video

Outfield: Victor Robles, Nationals
If Pache doesn't have the best range among outfield prospects, then that distinction might belong to Robles. He not only has plus-plus speed but also the arm strength to match. While he could cruise on natural ability, he has worked diligently to improve his reads, routes and throwing accuracy.

"He's a game-changing defender," a National League farm director said, "with both his arm and his glove."

Video: WSH@NYM: Robles shows off defensive skills in right

Outfield: Leody Taveras, Rangers
One of the best athletes available during the 2015-16 international signing period, Taveras is highly advanced for a teenager. He makes the most of his plus speed in center field, getting quick jumps and taking direct routes, and his solid arm strength would fit anywhere in the outfield.

"He plays center field so easy," an AL farm director said. "I bet Carlos Gomez was like that as a teenager. It's a similar body and an explosive athlete."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Inbox: How will players respond to new staff?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier fields Nationals fans' questions
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Welcome to 2018, a year that could be franchise changing for the Nationals. The team released its Spring Training report dates last week, so the countdown toward West Palm Beach has officially begun.

Washington has taken care of a few items on its offseason wish list and has done so at prices and values the team was comfortable with. And yet, there are still several questions lingering as the calendar turns, so it's time for a Nationals inbox to tackle some of them:

WASHINGTON -- Welcome to 2018, a year that could be franchise changing for the Nationals. The team released its Spring Training report dates last week, so the countdown toward West Palm Beach has officially begun.

Washington has taken care of a few items on its offseason wish list and has done so at prices and values the team was comfortable with. And yet, there are still several questions lingering as the calendar turns, so it's time for a Nationals inbox to tackle some of them:

How will the Nats respond to the new coaching staff? They won so many games with the previous one, why wouldn't management try and retain more of those coaches (besides Bob Henley)?
-- @ogorourke

This is an interesting question and on one hand it's too early to tell whether or not the players will respond to this new coaching staff. No matter how good a staff or manager might look on paper or how qualified they might be, it's difficult to tell what kind of connection they might be able to make with a clubhouse. One sort of positive is that it's not like this will be anything totally new to the Nationals. They have won four division titles in six years, but with three different managers at the helm. It's a veteran clubhouse that understands baseball is a business.

"Any time you don't meet your expectations, that's what can happen to your manager," Max Scherzer said last month at the team's WinterFest. "It's an unfortunate situation, but this is baseball. That's what happens when you play the game at the highest level. Decisions like that can get made. But I think [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] in what he was able to do and find a candidate in Dave [Martinez], he feels like he's assembled a staff that we can go out and compete and really continue to grow.

"I've said this a couple other times, but baseball players, we've always had changes at manager position, change at pitching coaches. I've been through several changes of manager and changes of pitching coaches throughout my entire career."

As for why they did not retain more of the previous coaches, I think it's more important to give your new manager the chance to be involved in the process of building a staff than hiring someone but forcing coaches on him. Plus, if they were looking for fresh voices, having too many members of the old staff around would defeat that purpose.

:: Submit a question to the Nationals Inbox ::

What are the most realistic options to improve at catcher or do you see us sticking with Matt Wieters all season?
-- @hokiejoe3

It's no secret the Nats would like to get more production from their catchers this upcoming season. The most obvious way to do so would be to go acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, however, the asking price on him seems to be a bit high at the moment. I'm not sure the Nats would be willing to pay the significant prospect package it will likely take in order for them to acquire Realmuto, and I'm not convinced they should be inclined too, either.

The Nats have devised a plan to get more production out of the 31-year-old Wieters this year, by splitting his playing time more evenly with a backup. I like this plan and think it can pay off, especially if Washington lands an experienced backup catcher such as Alex Avila, who they have been reportedly interested in all offseason. Wieters should be due for a better season at the plate than last year, but combining him with a sort of platoon at catcher seems to be the Nats' best bet if they cannot pull off a trade for Realmuto.

Video: Wieters discusses his new diet plan, conditioning

For years we've seen Joe Maddon hit players such as Addison Russell ninth in the order behind a pitcher. With how dense the middle of our lineup is, could you see Martinez taking this approach with Michael A. Taylor or Trea Turner?
-- @bud_zay

Yes, actually. Martinez has not revealed much about what his potential lineup might look like, but he has let us in on a few insights. He sees Adam Eaton as the leadoff hitter and he would be open to the possibility of the pitcher hitting eighth. That would pave the way for a "second leadoff hitter" type hitting ninth. I think Taylor fits in that role a lot more naturally than Turner. Turner is probably still better served in the top or middle of the lineup with his ability to change the game on the bases, and you don't want to reduce his number of at-bats too drastically. I think Taylor has the combo of speed and power that can still punish opposing staffs at the bottom of the order, but also can get on base and cause problems before the lineup changes over. So, I would not rule it out and will be interested to see how Martinez begins to configure his lineup.

Video: WSH@PHI: Taylor slugs a solo jack to left field

Do the Nats have genuine interest in bringing Howie Kendrick back?
-- @bren032

I think the Nats do have some interest in bringing back Kendrick after he was so valuable for them a year prior, and Rizzo did not want to close the door on a potential reunion.

"Love Howie Kendrick, love what he brought us in the clubhouse, with the young players," Rizzo said. "He's got a good skill set. It all depends on what value he brings to us. But he's a guy that did nothing but great things for us between the lines and in the clubhouse."

I think the biggest question with Kendrick, 34, will be whether another team can guarantee him more playing time or a more prominent role than the Nationals will be able to. In Washington, he will likely be a backup second baseman and outfielder, and the Nats could use him if Daniel Murphy takes a little longer to recover from knee surgery. The question remains at what price would they be comfortable bringing Kendrick back and what exactly he can command on the open market.

At this point, what other offseason moves do you think would be necessary? More bench players? Adding another to the rotation? Bullpen help?
-- Matt A., Gaithersburg, Md.

Well, the Nats have had a nice offseason so far by bringing back Brandon Kintzler to stabilize their bullpen and signing Matt Adams as a replacement off the bench for Adam Lind. They probably still need at least one more hitter to add to their bench -- either Kendrick or someone else to replace him -- another starting pitcher or someone who can compete to win a spot in the rotation. Washington seems pretty set in the bullpen and it seems unlikely any more major bullpen moves are coming, especially considering the contracts some of the best free-agent relievers have received. 

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals

Let's rank the best starts of Max Scherzer's three years with the Nationals

On Jan. 18, 2015, Max Scherzer agreed to a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals. Sure, the righty was just two years removed from winning a Cy Young Award with the Tigers, but Washington already boasted a great pitching staff and Scherzer was on the wrong side of 30.

Three years, two more Cy Young Awards and one novelty cake later, and Mad Max has been one of the best and most durable starters in the Majors, posting a 2.76 ERA and striking out 828 batters (!) over 657 2/3 innings (!!).

Nats' bullpen situation as strong as ever

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- It had seemingly become an offseason tradition, with the Nationals searching for a closer or trying to shore up a bullpen that had more question marks than answers. But now, Washington has its most stable bullpen situation at this point in years. It already made one move to bring back Brandon Kintzler, re-forming the dynamic bullpen trio -- alongside Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson -- acquired midseason in 2017 to help close out games. Washington's bullpen looks like it will be a strength this season, after entering past campaigns as a question mark.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Nationals stack up:

WASHINGTON -- It had seemingly become an offseason tradition, with the Nationals searching for a closer or trying to shore up a bullpen that had more question marks than answers. But now, Washington has its most stable bullpen situation at this point in years. It already made one move to bring back Brandon Kintzler, re-forming the dynamic bullpen trio -- alongside Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson -- acquired midseason in 2017 to help close out games. Washington's bullpen looks like it will be a strength this season, after entering past campaigns as a question mark.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Nationals stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Sean Doolittle, LHP
Ryan Madson, RHP
Brandon Kintzler, RHP
Shawn Kelley, RHP
Koda Glover, RHP
Sammy Solis, LHP
Enny Romero, LHP

STRENGTH
The trio of Doolittle, Madson and Kintzler should once again be a strength for Washington next season, helping the Nationals shorten games and secure victories. Each pitcher comes with closing experience, and each is comfortable in interchangeable roles -- giving the Nats flexibility to use each of them depending on the matchup.

Video: PIT@WSH: Doolittle retires Diaz to retire the side

QUESTION MARK
Health will be the biggest issue for Nationals' relievers, several of whom already have a history of injury issues in the past. Washington is hoping to get some sort of production from both Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley, after a difficult 2017 campaign saw them bouncing on and off of the disabled list. Both pitchers have arsenals good enough to impact games in the late innings and in high-leverage situations, though the Nats have the luxury of incorporating them into different roles to lessen the workload on their arms. If they are healthy and prove themselves to be reliable, Glover, Kelley, and Sammy Solis could provide a huge boost to the Nats 'pen.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
There might not be many changes to the bullpen from now until the start of the season. After re-signing Kintzler, the Nats felt good about entering the season with their current group of relievers. The one area they are likely to explore is depth -- trying to cover for potential injuries to some of their relievers with injury histories. But the Nats seem to have made their major splash on the relief market already and believe they have the pieces in place for a successful bullpen.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals

Grissom gives back to game with Dream Series

MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

"I had coaches who provided me with equipment, rides back and forth to the ballpark, mentorship and just giving me all the things I needed to prepare for life," said Grissom, who played 17 years in the Major Leagues with the Expos, Braves, Indians, Brewers, Dodgers and Giants starting in 1989. "It wasn't just about baseball. It was getting me ready to become a fine young man and to be productive. I know that's what I'm supposed to be doing, too."

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Buenos dias from the desert. The #DreamSeries starts today at Tempe Diablo Stadium and continues through Monday. https://t.co/RVKEWZCYuP pic.twitter.com/oE6oYPjWh0

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began workouts Friday and continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels.

The series, which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, features on-hand coaching from former players like Grissom, presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

"I love teaching, I love development, and I love to see a kid smile," Grissom Sr. said. "When a kid gets it and starts having some success at it, and we're not talking just about baseball, things begin to change. He begins to change, and has more confidence in himself. There are more of us in this space, teaching and developing. Hopefully, we can expand and change the game, and impact as many people as possible that want to pursue the game of baseball."

Tweet from @Shannon__Ford: Hi ho, hi ho, it���s off to work we go. First event of the year @MLB #DreamSeries is underway!! Welcome back Baseball, you were dearly missed. pic.twitter.com/huzvGDJoiC

Joining Grissom on the coaching staff is a list that includes Tom Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and many others.

"The coaches were calling us, asking if we were doing it again because they wanted to be a part of it," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We have probably got about 100 years of Major League experience here. For those guys to share their experience with these kids and hopefully give them some insight on things they never thought about before, it's huge."

Grissom, who retired in March 2006, made a seamless transition from full-time player to full-time youth coach after his playing days were over. It was an easy move, he said, because he coached his two older sons and most of the neighborhood kids in his free time during the final 10 years of his playing career. The former outfielder has spent the last dozen years dedicated to coaching youth.

"This is the perfect time for this event," Grissom said. "It's Martin Luther King weekend, we've got about 80 kids here from all over the country working with 15 to 20 former Major League instructors and we are all trying to get them to understand themselves a little better and understand what it's going to take to become a professional student and baseball player. This is what I've been doing for the last 12 years."

Grissom Jr., 16, is also playing in his second Dream Series. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-handed pitcher has participated in MLB's Elite Development Invitational twice and on two MLB Breakthrough Series teams. He says he loves having his father around, and he jokes he is still coming to terms with how good of a player his father really was during his prime

"I just really want to learn a lot from all the veteran players that are here and just to see the level of competition that I'll see in the future as I proceed to, like, college and upper levels," Grissom Jr. said. "Just to know that I'm a prospect feels good to me, but it doesn't stop, because I want to always improve as a player."

The Grissoms realize how fortunate they are to participate in the Dream Series. Grissom is hopeful the experience in Arizona will help his son grow as a player -- and as a person.

"He gets sick of hearing it from me, but when you get a chance to hear it from 10 or 15 other guys, hopefully something might stick," Grissom Sr. said. "And I'm excited for him, I'm excited to be here, and for me, this is what it's all about. I've had a lot of opportunities to go coach at the Major League level, but this is what I enjoy doing right here."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

 

Stellar rotation has Nats well armed for 2018

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The backbone of the Nationals' transformation into one of the most successful teams in the Majors during the past few seasons has been the team's starting staff, always a strength they can rely on. It should be no different in 2018, with the Nats poised to bring back one of MLB's best groups of starting pitchers. They will return their top four starters in a rotation headlined by the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who also won the honor in the American League in '13. The Nats will have a starting pitching advantage in most games they play.

Nats' potent 2017 lineup returns mostly intact

WASHINGTON -- The backbone of the Nationals' transformation into one of the most successful teams in the Majors during the past few seasons has been the team's starting staff, always a strength they can rely on. It should be no different in 2018, with the Nats poised to bring back one of MLB's best groups of starting pitchers. They will return their top four starters in a rotation headlined by the two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who also won the honor in the American League in '13. The Nats will have a starting pitching advantage in most games they play.

Nats' potent 2017 lineup returns mostly intact

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Nats stack up:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Max Scherzer, RHP
Stephen Strasburg, RHP
Gio Gonzalez, LHP
Tanner Roark, RHP
A.J. Cole, RHP

STRENGTH
A year ago, Washington finished with two of the Top 3 finishers in the NL Cy Young Award balloting in Scherzer and Strasburg, who finished first and third respectively. That duo at the top of the rotation can stack up with any other pair in the Majors. If Scherzer and Strasburg can remain healthy, the Nats own a pair of aces capable of dominating opposing lineups.

Video: Strasburg finishes third in 2017 NL Cy Young voting

QUESTION MARK
The Nats do not have a fifth starter set in stone at this point in the offseason, and could enter camp with some sort of competition for that spot. For now, the favorite to win that job is A.J. Cole -- a once highly-touted prospect who has bounced around between the Minors and Majors as a spot starter for the past few seasons. During his final six starts of 2017, Cole posted a 3.51 ERA. He is out of options next season and impressed some in the organization with his showing during the final month. Whether it was enough to win the job, however, remains to be seen.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The Nats seem very likely to add more starters before Spring Training begins. General manager Mike Rizzo has said adding depth to the rotation has been a priority from the beginning of the offseason. But how will he go about adding pieces? Will he add to the top of the rotation by entering the free-agent market for one of the frontline starting pitchers lingering on the market after the New Year? Or, will the Nats be comfortable bringing in a few veteran pitchers to compete for the job in Spring Training? The answer will likely rely on how confident the club is in Cole or Erick Fedde, the club's top pitching prospect, to begin the season in that role.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals