With the long-term extension of Ryan Zimmerman’s contract, the landscape for Nationals prospects has changed. Things just got a little tougher for infielders in particular. The current starters at second, short, and third are now under team control through 2016, 2015, and 2019 respectively. They will be 28, 30, and 31 by the end of the 2015 season.
The biggest difference is how folks may view Anthony Rendon. Well, at least by Nationals fans; prospect gurus still believe in him as a future third baseman. Prior to the extension, he could be legitimately viewed as a hedge against Zimmerman leaving via Free Agency. Now, it appears he’s going to be a bat in search of a position, a contender to push one of the incumbent MIs out in a couple of seasons.
Take the Baseball America projection of the 2015 Washington lineup, for example. Here’s a refresher, with some obvious tweaks (yada yada yada Gio Gonzalez):
||Italics = Not under team control in 2015
||Bold = Currently in minors
That’s presuming, of course, that the BA projection is even close to accurate. Three years ago, BA predicted an IF of Chris Marrero, Esmailyn Gonzalez (*ahem*), Christian Guzman, and Zimmerman. But that was following a 102-loss season (2008) with players that wouldn’t be starting anywhere else (e.g. Willie Harris) and/or were in decline (e.g. Aaron Boone).
As several of the beat writers have pointed out, 40 percent of the projected 25-man roster (10 players) is under team control through 2015, with five players under control through 2016, two through at least 2017 (Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper), and Zimmerman through 2019.
This is highly reminiscent of the 1990s Cleveland Indians, which are often credited with the strategy of buying out the arbitration years, beginning with Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga, and Sandy Alomar Jr in 1992, and continuing with the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Bartolo Colon. The difference is that, contrary to
constant carping common belief, Washington is a top-third market (#8 according to the most recent Nielsen DMA) whereas Cleveland is middle-third market (#18).
Getting back to the prospects… the net effect is that it appears that more of them are going to be blocked for the immediate future. But as we all know, competition has a way of working these things out. Espinosa and Desmond may be the incumbents for the DC middle infield, but Steve Lombardozzi is waiting in the wings now, and there are nearly half-a-dozen others on the radar (a.k.a. the watchlist) that could be in his situation over the next three or four springs.
Likewise, even though Werth and Harper are likely to be in the outfield mix for the next few years, centerfield is still a position that’s yet to be claimed for the long term. The Nats drafted three last June (Brian Goodwin, Caleb Ramsey, Billy Burns) while converting a SS (Michael Taylor) and protecting a 21-y.o. that’s just now about to play AA (Eury Perez).
Ultimately, this all a good thing. Just as I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the lack of agonizing over options is a sign of progress, that the path to DC isn’t so clear for prospects as it used to be is also a positive. It means that it’s going to take more than just being younger and cheaper to get out of the minors. They’re going to have to be better.