2017 Spring Training Thoughts

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training today, but as you might imagine, the signing of Adam Lind has further depressed the chances of any of “our guys” making the big club.

Not that it was all that likely anyway. Don’t get me wrong: When a lot of young players have a good chance of making the Opening Day roster, it’s usually not for a contender, which the Nationals are and have been for several seasons now.

This is the eighth spring training since the site began in late 2009, and it seems like I keep writing that it’ll be a shorter time covering spring training than the year before.

I’m not alone in thinking this, though. Todd Boss has painstakingly analyzed the non-roster invitees and come to a similar conclusion: It doesn’t look good for anyone not already on the 40-man roster.

So once again, I’ll post about Nationals spring training for as long as it’s both reasonable and feasible. That’ll probably work out to about mid-March, after they’ve played about 17 or 18 Grapefruit League games.

But those don’t start for another 11 days, so we’ll have to work through stories about the new digs and Dusty Baker rolling off clich├ęs about who will pitch the 9th inning.

Finally, for your reference, when the Nats will be on TV and/or radio this spring.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of NationalsProspects.com. Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

25 thoughts on “2017 Spring Training Thoughts”

  1. I’ve been excited about the team when the NRIs have a chance, and when they have no chance. It is so much better now, as long as you keep posting, anyway.

  2. Very interesting to see further
    Concentrated instruction on Wander Suero as reliever along with Nick Lee
    Andrew Lee meanwhile will sign many autographs

  3. I find it somewhat a downer how the kids, unless one totally overwhelms, are not given much of a chance in lieu of mediocre over the hill veterans.
    I truly believe Severino is the best catcher they have and I mean now. I’d like to see more of Difo and Goodwin but they’ll all likely start the season at AAA.

      1. Plus some guys need repeat time at each level .
        Interesting this spring to see
        Advancement with Crownover, Silvestre and Gilabeau with numerous lefties coming up the ladder behind

  4. Difo needs to go to Syracuse and hit. He didn’t have a good season at the plate in AA in 2016 and will have to show more to become a viable major-leaguer, even a bench guy. The Nats really have no other non-1B infielders projected for the bench other than Drew, though, so there’s a good chance that Difo will get a call-up again at some point in the season.

    Of “our guys,” the one I’d really like to see make the big club out of the spring would be Goodwin. I’m beyond frustrated with Taylor’s strikeout rate, so I’d like Goodwin to have a chance to see if he could be more consistent. With the addition of LH bats Drew and Lind to the bench, though, I fear the Nats will lean more toward RH Taylor. All Goodwin can do is post a strong spring and see where the chips fall.

    Former farmhand Derrick Norris may get his mojo back and prove me wrong, but as bad as he was at the plate last year, I don’t think there would have been much difference in just going with Severino as part of the platoon. We’ll see. I’m not optimistic that either Norris or Lobaton will produce very much. As with Difo, Severvino just needs to go to Syracuse and prove that he can hit like he showed in his MLB SSS.

    Stevenson, Fedde, and Skole can at least try to position themselves for possible later-season call-ups. Ward might even be in line for a Sept. cup of coffee this year. I would give Voth an outside chance at winning the long-man role with the big club, but more likely they’re going to want him stretched out in AAA. I think he’ll get his MLB debut sometime this season, though. (I thought he deserved a look last year, particularly ahead of Cole, whom he outpitched all year at Syracuse.) On other teams with lesser bullpens, guys like Mapes and Simms might have a chance, but likely not with this one. If they only threw left-handed . . . (the only real explanation why Nick Lee gets the call to the big camp and they don’t; it’s certainly not based on results).

    Time to play ball!

    1. Unless his offense indeed bounces back, Norris is now the “Danny Espinosa” in the lineup–there for his defense, which was so good last year it actually elevated his b/WAR into positive territory. Just like Danny, he hits dingers while striking out a ton and not walking much, and even steals the occasional base. Yet if he could just revert to 2015 form and be acceptable at the plate while playing killer D, he’d at least be a solid replacement for Ramos.

      1. If nothing else, it would be nice to see a catcher who can take any throw from the outfield *and* make a strong tag. That alone could be worth 10-15 runs.

      2. Norris is an enigma. Will we get the high offense/bad defense guy in Oakland or the bad offense/good defense guy in San Diego?

        In Oakland (12-14), he hit .246/.336/.392, walked 11.4% of the time, and struck out 22.7%. His defense was one of the worst among catchers with 600+ PA.

        Then he moved to San Diego and hit .222/.283/.370. His walk rate dropped to 7% and his strikeouts spiked to 26.6%, as a result his OBP dropped 53 points. However, his defense was rated above average compared to his peers.

        Hopefully we get his Oakland bat and San Diego glove.

    2. I thought Goodwin showed some great at bats in September. He’s deserving.

      It’s a given that Strasburg will miss 6+ weeks during the regular season so who will get the call?
      I think Voth is ready, even if he does not fit the Rizzo flamethrower profile.

  5. The problem with Goodwin is that he is at best a fringe defensive player in CF with a below average arm. Eaton played RF last year, and while he will play CF this year, the Nats have a need for someone else who can play CF on the active roster (don’t think that they want to move Turner back and forth from SS). Stevenson is a strong defensive CF, but don’t think he is ready yet (but could be up soon). Taylor was 4th in the NL in 2015 in range factor in CF (he didn’t play enough in 2016 to qualify). Realize that MAT strikeout rate is alarming, but I think the 5th OF spot is his to lose until Stevenson, Bautista or even Robles is ready.

  6. Taylor is also a poor base runner despite his speed, and takes some curious routes in the OF despite his range. He’s got a lot of “tools” but just never has developed the proper skills to use them . . . after seven years of pro ball.

    I had heard better defensive reports on Goodwin than this but don’t really know. After several years of wandering in the wilderness offensively, he seems to have figured things out better than Taylor has, but it will be hard to know for sure unless and until he can get an extended MLB look.

    Stevenson struggled after his AA promotion last year but then lit it up in AZ. We’ll see. He’s only been in pro ball a year and a half. He’s supposedly great defensively in range/tracking but with a limited arm. Luke might be able to give a better eyes-on scouting report.

    There are two big issues in play here. One is that Werth would benefit from a reduced workload this season, perhaps 120-130 games, but someone (besides Heisey) is needed to play those other 30-40 or so. Then Werth’s contract is up. Is the OF heir apparent in the organization? It’s really hard to say at this point. I really, really don’t think Taylor is an everyday player, at least not for a contender. I don’t know about Goodwin. Like many, I had sort of written him off before last season. No matter how good Robles proves to be, I think it’s a long shot that he’s MLB-ready by the start of 2018. He still needs some polishing in nearly all aspects of his game. Stevenson is probably closer to the majors, but his ceiling is lower, unless he really does turn into something approximating Trea and Eaton.

    And then perish the thought of the other potential OF opening that might have to be filled for 2019 . . .

  7. KW, should you have any doubts about Stevenson’s defensive prowess just remember his nickname is Spiderman.

    Also, it would be good for your psyche to see if you can go 7 days straight without badmouthing Michael Taylor.

    I’m all in on Ward. He’s still just a pup. Doesn’t have the quick-twitch of Robles but has all a lot of old fashioned skills.

    1. Taylor may be the most physically gifted player from among the OFs I named. I don’t “hate on” Taylor. What I “hate on” is the lack of development of those gifts into refined baseball skills.

      It’s not just Taylor, though. The Nats have drafted a number of outstanding physical specimens who haven’t turned into MLB-quality baseball players. Taylor and Goodwin are two of the most prominent, but there are others, including Destin Hood. Souza was another of this type, and while he managed to improve to the point that got him into the majors, his continuing fight with strikeouts will probably keep him from becoming the star-level player that his talent seemed to indicate he has.

      This all leads to a chicken-egg question: did these guys have some fundamental flaw when they were drafted that has stalled their development at a certain level, or has the Nats’ system failed to develop and polish them to get to the highest level? Of course the issue goes beyond the four I named, but of those four, three were HS draftees, and Goodwin only had one year of four-year college.

      I don’t have the answers; I’m just raising the questions. The bottom line, though, is that the guys who are making the big club by and large are ones who have come into the system as already-polished players with an advanced idea of how to hit: Harper, Rendon, Turner. Even Espinosa, for all of his flaws at the plate, was already a pretty polished hitter and very polished fielder coming out of college.

      The lack of internal development of position players has been costly to the team. They didn’t have CF so had to trade a top prospect for Span. After three years of Span — and waiting on Taylor or Goodwin to be ready to follow after him — they had to trade for Revere, then give up the huge package for Eaton. They had no middle infielders ready to follow on for Desmond and Espinosa so had to sign Murphy and trade for Turner. They had no catcher ready to follow Ramos so had to trade for the very marginal Norris. Now we’re asking whether they have anyone ready to replace Werth, not to mention (gulp) Harper. The cycle continues.

      I should add that the stakes have been raised in all of this. The level of talent they’re looking for to make the big-league club after a five-year run of contention is very different from the level of “talent” (and I use the term loosely) it took to crack the line-up in the 100-loss years. It’s a “good problem” to have to be trying to replace guys with at times near-all-star talent at every position. But the situation also raises the stakes for the developmental process across the system.

      1. I would have to disagree in your calling Espinosa a “polished” hitter. Other than “stubbornness” he polished nothing with regards to hitting.

        1. Fair enough. He drove me crazy, too. I guess what I meant was that he had a fairly well-developed approach at the plate, albeit a fundamentally flawed one.

      2. There’s another common denominator between these guys (maybe less so with Goodwin) and that’s strikeouts. And I’m not sure it’s their fault.

        Baseball used to celebrate contact guys that didn’t strike out a lot. But at some point — we could argue when, but it’s incidental — K’s became tolerated so long as they came with the HR’s.

        I can’t remember the last time I saw a guy choke up with two strikes (or one… or none…) and I honestly wonder if that skill is even being taught anymore; I’m certainly not seeing it. Can we really blame today’s players if they’re not being told when NOT to “grip it and rip it?”

        1. I totally agree about the K problems. Can players be taught in a meaningful way to strike out less? Or do you have to more consciously draft higher-contact guys and pay less attention to their physiques?

          (FWIW, Taylor actually chokes up a little, but it doesn’t help him much with his long, looping swing.)

          The big club seems to have made a conscious move away from high-K guys over the last couple of years. Murphy and Revere were the big acquisitions last year, and Eaton this year. All have very low K percentages. Meanwhile, big-K guys like Desi and Danny are gone. Is this an organizational shift that will start to be reflected on the farm?

          FWIW, Dusty’s career K percentage was 11%. He may not completely get it about some of the more analytical stats, but he has a personal understanding of this one.

          1. The financial incentives in baseball favor hitters with power as well as pitchers who rack up a lot of Ks. Young guys coming up know that they have to make the first 2-3 draft rounds to get a bonus big enough to provide them at least some financial security while they try to make the majors, so they try to develop those two skills in particular even if it means other aspects of their game suffer. So teams end up with a lot of young hitters who strike out a ton and a lot of young pitchers who are trying to strike every batter out.

            You can see how baseball philosophy has changed by looking at the history of the Nats. In their first 7 seasons, their starting pitchers exceed 150 Ks in a single season just 2 times. In the 5 seasons since it has happened 19 times. Yes, that is partly because they have much better pitching now, but it is also because of Rizzo’s philosophy of wanting hard throwers on his pitching staffs, which has become common throughout baseball at the same time lineups have filled with free swingers who are allergic to taking walks or going for the single with two strikes.

            That philosophy has been adjusted a little bit because of the success the Royals had with high contact guys in their lineup (who incidentally were cheaper), which caused a lot of teams to finally realize that the system has tilted too far in favor of Ian Desmond-type hitters. Baseball is also looking for ways to juice up offense again without juicing up either the balls or the players, and having fewer rally killers in every team’s lineup ought to help.

        2. It’s a good point, and I wonder if it’s a chicken-egg scenario. Are batters striking out more? Or are pitchers striking out batters more?

          It seems to me that pitching management has improved significantly in the past half decade. The flawed idea of your best RP only pitching the 9th is becoming endangered, and guys like Betances and Miller, power relievers who aren’t closers, are becoming the norm.

          K% is at the highest point it’s ever been (22.7% or 8.70/9IP), and has been steadily increasing. There was an interesting look at this from several years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/29/sports/baseball/Strikeouts-Are-Still-Soaring.html

  8. Anybody fortunate enough to be
    In Palm beach already or soon?
    I won’t be in Florida this March but
    For my 3/31 birthday I want progression with the lefty arms destined for hags from auburn16.
    2) Franco and Mota getting cups of coffee in hags in April
    3) JD Martin truly masters the art
    Of knuckleball
    4) Robles and his mentor DK Carey
    Reach harrisburg by May
    5) advancement with Robbie Dickey,
    Kyle Simonds, Chase McDowell,
    Crownover and Silvestre
    6) David Masters super sub to harrisburg where the short dimensions help his hitting results

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