Monday, February 11, 2008
My Watch List
So much of this past off season for Our Washington Nationals has been about The New Ballpark, Relocation, Parking, Transportation, Concessions-the COMPLETE UPHEAVAL of Our Franchise and Our Fan Base from the learned and accustomed ways off the field of play. As glorious and trying as Baseball's Return to Washington was just three short years ago--these past four months since that final game at RFK Stadium--has matched the late 2004 and early 2005 intensity in fan interest. So much so--the game on the field itself has taken a backseat.
At least until this Friday.
When Our Washington Nationals report to Spring Training in Viera, Florida on February 15th--a seismic shift in concern will rightly turn the attention back to the action on the field. So, with that in mind--this is My Spring Training Watch List. Interests and concerns about Our Washington Nationals heading into their second season under Our Manager--That Most Charismatic Of Men--Manny Acta.
While Our Number 14 will be watching over EVERYTHING in camp. My attention will focus on these issues.
A Healthy & Ready to Roll--Nick Johnson. As much as I LOVE Dmitri Young and taking NOTHING away from him--Our Number 24 is a far better fielder and excellent batter. Not many big men have as much patience at the plate than Nick Johnson. NJ back in the everyday lineup--changes Our Washington Nationals batting order--decidedly. (Our General Manager has cobbled together an ALL-Star Bench--Young or Johnson as additions--make this team SO MUCH BETTER!)
In the back of his mind--deep down--Nick's return must free up Austin Kearns mentally. He would never acknowledge it--no one would. But, Our Number 25 has to be still bothered by his unfortunate accident with Nick Johnson at Shea Stadium, now some 17 Months ago. Never does anyone wish to see a fellow teammate go down--so painfully--in such a heart wrenching way. Talented, and one of the best right fielders in the game--Austin needs only to feel comfortable again--to reach the all-around potential so many believe his game possesses. Fate has connected these two players--their careers now more intertwined than some my realize. This is only my opinion--but when one physically injured player (Nick Johnson) returns to the lineup to play the game he loves so much--the anguish of the another (Kearns) will finally fall away. The Return Of One--actually adds up to Two.
"The Most Thrilling Closer In The Game" has been working out with a trainer all winter. Reportedly attempting to re-gain speed on his fastball--Chad Cordero is coming to Camp in Shape with an upgraded arsenal that can only help his other pitches--his slider and change up. If Our Number 32 can effectively set up his fastball--he will be more valuable than ever.
If Our Washington Nationals are not holding open tryouts for their Starting Rotation--as was conducted last spring--its time for those talented, but injured veterans to find their way. John Patterson needs a breakout season. As promising as JP is, another injury prone season--can only mean his time as a Washington National--may be short. Shawn Hill--needs only to be more consistent. From the very first time he pitched for Our Washington Nationals--he has impressed. Composed and aware of his surroundings--If Brandon Webb of The Arizona Diamondbacks has the Number 1 Sinker in the game--Shawn Hill's best pitch, his sinker, is ranked 1A. Our Number 41 has the makeup of a star--only injury has held him back. And, as for Jason Bergmann--just give him the baseball--every fifth day. Matt Chico, John Lannan, Tyler Clippard, Tim Redding and my dark horse--Garrett Mock--can battle it out for the other rotation spots. No--its not the circus of 2007--but you can bet, Our Potential Starters are not the bunch of clowns so many others claim either. There is Good Potential in Our Starting Pitching. And, with Ross Detwiler, Collin Balester, Jack McGeary & Josh Smoker providing a push from below--Starting Pitching may well be a strong point for Our Washington Nationals is a few short years.
Paul LoDuca's Arrival at Camp will be a Must See Media Event. Silent since the release of The Mitchell Report--and injured to boot--how he handles this situation will tell a lot about Paul LoDuca--Catcher for Our Washington Nationals. Will he be accepted for 2008? I have no doubt Our Players will welcome him--but will Our Fans?
Will LoDuca's injury catapult Johnny Estrada into the Starting Catcher's Position? Neither Paul, nor Johnny are well known for their handling of pitchers. How this move--forced by the trading of Brian Schneider--will play out over the entire months of February and March--may well lead into a season long question.
I will be watching Our New Outfield--and how it gels:
Will Lastings Milledge take control of the centerfield position and develop into the all-around performer--The Red Sox seriously considered trading Manny Ramirez for--a few years back?
Will Wily Mo Pena consistently hit--not only deep and away--but to the opposite field when behind in the count. Can Wily Mo patrol left field--and help defensively?
Will Elijah Dukes realize THIS IS HIS CHANCE--to change his life? If he fails miserably on the field of play--so be it. But he can't fail anymore in the game of life. You can be as talented of a baseball player alive as you want--but that's not going to get you anywhere--if you continually throw away your chances.
And--will FLop find the spark to rejuvenate his game? Felipe Lopez was an enigma at times in 2007. A Great Arm, Decent Range--but seemingly lost. How this former All-Star lost his starting position and his game was a total head scratcher. A far better second baseman, than shortstop--FLop says he's ready to prove everyone wrong. Can he do it?
Finally--just for fun--I will be watching Alex Escobar. A FIVE TOOL PLAYER who simply can't stay healthy. In the very short period of time Alex has actually played for Our Washington Nationals--Our Number 44 has consistently been one of the most exciting players on the field at that time. Whether at the plate or patrolling centerfield--he is extraordinary to watch, which reminds me of something Our General Manager Jim Bowden told me last year. Reggie Sanders was injured his entire career as a Cincinnati Red--rarely playing a full season. Then, out of nowhere at the age of 31 with San Diego--he broke out and never looked back--starting for Three Different World Series Teams--slamming clutch hit after hit. I just can't get that fact out of my mind--when it comes to Alex Escobar. Its why I can't give up on him. There is just too much talent in that man's body.
That's My Watch List for Spring Training--2008.
I trust Ryan Zimmerman will be fine--and become Our Franchise Player--The FINEST THIRD BASEMAN IN THE GAME. In fact--a Zimmy, Johnson, Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard/FLop infield is pretty good. If Lastings Milledge is as decent up the middle--as proclaimed--defensively--our pitchers will feel less of an effect on the move from RFK to New Nationals Park. Only Wily Mo--might be a weak link--in the field.
Offensively--Our Washington Nationals should score alot more runs. There is potential with Milledge, Kearns, Young, Zimmerman, Pena & Johnson. Still though--no true leadoff hitter. Only "The Guz" really qualifies this year. Felipe Lopez failed at the assignment in 2007.