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.


paul said...

The whole Dmitri Young situation is going to be a puzzle for Manny. I can't imagine a more talented hitter riding the bench as much as you're implying--not that you're wrong about forecasting him as mainly a pinch-hitter. It is usually luxury for top teams.
On another note, did you read the preview of the Orioles? Wow. Now there is a team that will push the Mets' futility record. Good luck, O's fans!

Anonymous said...

Granted, the collision at Shea was a freak accident but Nick just seems to get hurt fairly often is notoriously slow to heal - no one could accuse him of steriod use! So as I see it, even if Nick does start at first, its only a matter of time until Dmitri gets it back.

Anonymous said...

Did you really just compare Shawn Hill to Brandon Webb? Really? The best pitcher in the National League the last three years. Really? My god, you've officially lost it. Our Number 41 is a nice pitcher, I suppose. He's fine. But come on. Perhaps you missed the memo, but your seats 30 rows up over 3rd base aren't exactly the spot from which one has an accurate gauge of one's slider. There's a reason the scouts didn't sent in 320. Please don't ever compare shawn hill's slider or any other facet of his game to brandon webb.

Anonymous said...

IF NJ starts at first, it is only a matter of time until he is on the DL. I would advocate trading him for talent and letting Young start at first. As I said in the Journal, last year every game, Dmitri did 2 things. Played, and hit.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Nick Johnson/Dmitri Young is a chicken/egg situation. If Washington traded Nick Johnson--no one is going to take him--for anything good--unless he proves he can play. If he can't play it will not matter. So, Nick has to play--if healthy. This is the only way out of the scenario allowing for better options--to all involved. No matter what--The Nationals are in a stronger position. They have a first baseman for two more years.

The same holds true for Felipe Lopez. If the team was going to dump him--they would have non-tendered him some time ago. But, they obviously see value and are going to let him play his way out.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned the career of Reggie Sanders in comparison to Escobar. I have another one for Patterson and Hill--Al Lieter. Lieter was oft-injured in his 20s and then after 30 became a near 200IP a year guy and an All Star.

If even one of our two hopefuls duplicate Lieter's accomplishements the Nats will come out far ahead for sticking with them.

Anonymous said...

You say Estrada isn't known for his ability to handle a pitching staff, but consider this: When he took over for Javy Lopez in Atlanta, the Braves' staff ERA improved from 4.10 to 3.74. When he took over in Arizona, the Diamondbacks' staff ERA improved from 4.84 to 4.48. And when he took over last year in Milwaukee, the Brewers' staff ERA improved from 4.82 to 4.41. That's better than a third of a run improvement per game, which is huge, and it happened all three times Estrada switched teams, so it's probably more than a coincidence. Also, Estrada to my knowledge has never played for a team with a losing record, and in his last two stops bad teams improved to better than .500.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Actually--I like Estrada--he's a decent player and for Washington he is a very good pick up. Many folks laughed at The Braves when they picked him up for Millwood--yet Johnny became an All Star Player. Over the past few seasons at RFK--he produced some good hits for the other side. As a stop gap--Estrada is a decent pickup. He is going to help. For the long haul--The Nats need to groom Jesus Flores--and this move allows that progress to happen. Nothing wrong with that.

SenatorNat said...

Without any star players, with the possible exception of Zimmerman, the Nationals have one, two, and even three guys who can play at every one of the eight positions - this gives Acta versatility he should enjoy. The plan, probably, is to be credible for this year, 81 wins; and then see what there is in free agency for 2009 (one or two) to make a run at the wild-card; with the real bust-out being 2010 as some of the turks in the farm system ready to break-through. I feel like they have a genuine three year plan at this point, and there is no reason that this is unrealistic.

The average age of the current 40 man roster is relatively young: should Millings, and/or Dukes; and/or WM Pena; and/or Alex Escobar, even, come through as viable players for the next three-five years, the plan will be on-track.

In all probability, the first-baseman, second-baseman, and shortstop of the future all not on the current 40 man roster - the catcher may be, though. But, all three positions will have decent to very good players manning them for 2008-9, at least.

Pitching for 2008 remains a great uncertainly, however: Hill, Patterson, Chico, Bergmann, Redding could ALL become problematic: re-injured (former two); or suffer sophomore slumps (middle two); or just plain not be major league quality (last one). Being forced then to accelerate the timetable for the next five-seven developing arms to fill-in is not the best thing for the team's plan, I wouldn't think...Should three-four of the projected starting five work out well for the entire season, though, then compared to last year, it should be a breeze for the Saint and Acta. I am just concerned about the exigency should the whole starting rotation melt down early in 2008 - not to be a pessimest...

Should be a LOT of FUN if they start getting the breaks health wise, and potential wise: there was nothing like that magical first half of 2005 - let's hope the new park can garner the same kind of good fortune experienced then.

Trust in Nationals Park. All good.

An Briosca Mor said...

"Please don't ever compare shawn hill's slider or any other facet of his game to brandon webb."

I believe Barry Svrluga and others have been nearly as effusive about Hill in comparison to Webb as SBF is here. They may not all be right, indeed none of them may be right. But I doubt that all of them are as full of it as you accuse SBF of being. There may not be as much there as he says there is (SBF go overboard in praise? Never happen. :->) but I think he's not totally off base either. Hill was unhittable, literally, in his last start before he walked off the field and onto the DL, and he looked pretty damn good on his first start back against the Phils, too, although the Nats lost that game. I was at both those games and saw it with my own eyes. If he stays healthy, he can do some pretty good things this year, I'd say. Not quite B. Webb/Cy Young quality? That's okay, I'll take it anyway.

Anonymous said...

SBF when are headed down to Viera?

Anonymous said...


You continue to confuse what you want for reality. The reality is, right now, Dimitri is the starting 1B. No amount of diehard fan mentality is going to change. What will change that, however, is a stellar performance by NJ in spring training. In any case, it is not only incorrect, but completely reckless to consider NJ as an everyday player while demoting Dimitri to the bench. That is simply not the case right now.

Also, I will be curious to see how many consider Cordero the most thrilling closer in the game at the end of the season. My how people have very short memories. A lot of people forget how many times Cordero allowed a hitter to take his pitches to the warning track last season in RFK. Guess what, those same pitches hit by those same hitters are going to be HRs in the new park. Yeah, he might be the most thrilling closer at the end of the season, but the people he may be thrilling are fans of the opposing teams.