WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With a little more than one week to go before the Nationals begin the regular season in Cincinnati, the club has not offered much insight into who will win the few unsettled position battles still to play out through the remainder of camp.
The backup catcher spot is up for grabs and there is some uncertainty with the final spots in the bullpen. The late signing of right-hander Joaquin Benoit that happened simultaneously with the news of Koda Glover's shoulder injury made for an exchange in the projected bullpen. Plus, there are still question marks surrounding the health of a few players that will determine who ultimately breaks camp.
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So there are a few changes from the last time MLB.com took a shot at projecting the Nationals' Opening Day roster. Here is the latest prediction:
Catcher (2): Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero
Given the way Montero has blended in since his arrival with the Nationals and the rave reviews from both the pitching and coaching staff about his handling of the pitching staff, Montero seems to be ahead of Pedro Severino in the battle for the backup catcher's spot. Wieters has looked much improved at the plate this spring after adjustments made by new hitting coach Kevin Long, but the team still plans to reduce his number of games. Having a veteran backup will make that easier. And because Severino has Minor League options left, they can keep him in the Minors and promote him to the Majors when necessary.
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First base (2): Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams
Even though Zimmerman has only appeared in one Grapefruit League game this spring, he has had plenty of at-bats on the backfields in Minor League games. The Nationals have given no indication that he will not be ready for Opening Day, and Adams should slide in as the backup.
Second base (1): Howie Kendrick
With each passing day, it is becoming more difficult to see how Daniel Murphy will be ready for Opening Day. The Nationals have taken their time with his recovery as he works his way back from offseason right knee surgery, but at this point, he has only taken batting practice on the field, fielded grounders without being able to move laterally and been limited to running on a treadmill. The Nats have not rushed him up until this point; doing so just to be ready to start the season would be unusual.
Third base (1):Anthony Rendon
It's been business as usual for Rendon this spring as he prepares himself for another season to man the hot corner for the Nats.
Shortstop (1): Trea Turner
This will be Turner's second full season as the starting shortstop, and it will be interesting to see how much he improves as he continues to play the position every day.
Utility (1): Wilmer Difo
If Kendrick begins the season as the starting second baseman because of Murphy's injury, Difo will take on a bigger role off the bench and likely get a few starts at second as well. The Nats could decide to keep another bench member on the roster in Matt Reynolds, but that final spot might be better utilized by keeping an extra reliever who is out of options.
Outfielders (4): Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor, Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin
This outfield should be a strength for the Nationals if healthy. Eaton began playing in Grapefruit League games last week and Taylor missed time after developing tightness in his right side, but they are both expected to begin the season on time, meaning top prospect Victor Robles still will not crack this bunch.
Rotation (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Giovany Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, A.J. Cole
The battle for Washington's fifth starter was supposed to be one of the most intriguing battles entering camp. However, though the Nats will not say it outright, the job belongs to Cole at the moment. Right-hander Erick Fedde has been impressive, bouncing back from a forgettable Major League debut. The Nationals signed veteran Jeremy Hellickson to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training, but he will not be rushed. Washington is confident in Cole, and that much has not changed this spring.
Bullpen (8): LHP Sean Doolittle, RHP Ryan Madson, RHP Brandon Kintzler, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Benoit, LHP Sammy Solis, LHP Enny Romero, LHP Matt Grace
This is where there has been the most change. First is the exchange of Benoit for Glover, which is a straightforward replacement after Glover's injury. But the more difficult dilemma may come with how to fit in the Nats' non-closing left-handers in Solis, Romero and Grace. Romero and Grace are out of options, so the Nats must either put them on the 25-man roster or risk exposing them to waivers. But with Murphy potentially not able to start the season on time, it could free up a roster space for the Nationals to keep all three to start the season and sort it out later .