Inbox: Desmond key to Nats' future success?
Beat reporter Bill Ladson answers questions from fans
Do you see Trea Turner as a future leadoff hitter for the Nationals? If so, when? Ian Desmond has one year left on his contract, so I have to think the front office is counting on his rising through the Minor Leagues quickly like Anthony Rendon.
-- Timothy F., Montreal
I was told Turner is considered a top-of-the-order hitter. The Nationals have been quiet when it comes Turner because he is the player to be named later and still the property of the Padres until June. Like Rendon, Turner seems to on the fast track, but I can't say he will be in the big leagues within a year like Rendon.
How is Desmond not locked up, or even the No. 1 priority? I understand Jordan Zimmermann is a staff ace, but shortstop is a prime position and every team desires one. Desmond is one of the best in baseball and can't be replaced.
-- Kent E. Elizabethtown, Ky.
I wouldn't go that far and say that Desmond is not the No. 1 priority. He was offered a contract worth over $100 million. Let's see what happens in the next few weeks. I agree that Desmond is one of the best shortstops in baseball. I also believe he is the most accountable on the team. Without fail, he is by his locker after he makes a crucial error or hits a big homer.
I noticed Rafael Furcal is a free agent. Might the Nats sign him as a veteran middle-infield stopgap until Turner and Wilmer Difo are ready?
-- Josh L. Dumfries, Va.
I don't see Furcal coming to the Nationals because he recently tore his hamstring while playing winter ball. For now, we will see a lot of Dan Uggla, Danny Espinosa and Emmanuel Burriss at second base during Spring Training. I would not be surprised if the Nationals tried to acquire Ben Zobrist from the Rays. He would solve a serious problem at the position.
What are your predictions as to how the NL East will stack up in 2015, especially given personnel changes and improved health throughout the division?
-- Chris D., Washington
As of right now, I still say the Nationals are the best in the division because of their pitching staff. I still have doubts about the offense. One hopes that Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman can stay healthy and carry the team for a long period of time.
The Marlins have made dramatic improvements. I like that they picked up Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Martin Prado, who is a Nats killer. Their young players, like Christian Yelich and Adeiny Hechavarria, are going to be even better. We can't forget Giancarlo Stanton, who loves to face Nationals pitching. As of right now, the Marlins look like the only threat to the Nats in the division.
I know a lot of people believe the Mets have improved, but I would like to see them improve their offense. In my opinion, acquiring Michael Cuddyer isn't enough.
I'm frustrated by Desmond's strikeouts. If he could make contact for 20 percent of his strikeouts, he would be all world. What can the Nats do to help him make more consistent contact -- just patience at the plate for better pitch selection?
-- Larry L., Silver Spring, Md.
Believe me, Desmond is not happy about his strikeout rate last year, either. This is what he told me last December: "I couldn't care less about the Silver Slugger. In my mind, I had a down year this year. I had 183 strikeouts. That was tough. There is no worse feeling than walking back in the dugout after a punchout. Nobody likes to do that. To do it at that rate is tough."
I'm sure Desmond is finding a way to cut down on the strikeouts by talking to hitting coach Rick Schu. Remember, Desmond got off to a slow start last year because of the flu. I expect him to be OK this season.