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
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.
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.
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.