The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo used his "Sunday Baseball Notes" column this week to look at where each of Major League Baseball's 30 teams stands as the Hot Stove season draws to a close and Spring Training chatter begins to take over. The Boston Globe writer ranks each team in terms of what they accomplished this winter and discusses what lies ahead. The Washington Nationals, according to Mr. Cafardo, finished 14th overall on his list, just behind the Braves, who did very little this winter, and one spot ahead of the San Francisco Giants who added Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan to a roster that will once again feature catcher Buster Posey who went down in late May 2011 with a broken bone in his leg. According to Mr. Cafardo, the outlook for the Nats' 2012 season is "intriguing":
"Stephen Strasburg will be back from Day One. Sometime this season, they will unveil phenom Bryce Harper. Strategic additions were made in Gio Gonzalez, Mike Cameron, and Brad Lidge."
A year ago this month, Strasburg held his inaugural 5 K Walk and Run at San Diego State University. Both the 23-year-old right-hander and his SDSU coach and mentor (Hall of Famer) Tony Gwynn were in much different places in terms of their health last January when they spoke to reporters at the charity event. Gwynn was in the midst of a battle with parotid cancer. Strasburg was still in recovery mode some six months after having undergone Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2010 season. Gwynn told U-T San Diego writer Chris Jenkins at the time, in an article entitled, "Strasburg getting lessons in resilience from Gwynn", that he was impressed with the progress Strasburg had made, though he wondered if the pitcher wasn't moving too fast.
""He feels like he’s ahead of schedule,'" Gwynn told the U-T San Diego writer then, "'He feels like he’s gonna be able to throw sooner than anybody thought. I was telling him, 'Hey, slow dowwwwwn. Tommy John, man. Tommy John.'" Strasburg, of course, avoided any setbacks in his rehab and returned to the majors late this past season, where he again impressed his former manager with what he was able to accomplish on the mound in the nation's capital. As Gwynn told U-T San Diego's Mr. Jenkins at this year's 5K Walk and Run, as quoted in an article entitled, "Strasburg walk, run part of comeback trail", when Strasburg told Gwynn last January that he would back late in the 2011 season, his former mentor was surprised. "'He told me last year his goal was to pitch at the end of the year. We were like, 'Hey man, you’ve got your whole career ahead of you. Just take your time.' But he was here working on that goal.'"
Strasburg achieved his goal of returning late in 2011, of course, and Gwynn liked what he saw from Strasburg last September. "'I actually thought he did better than he had when he was a rookie punching out guys left and right,'" Gwynn told the U-T San Diego writer this weekend, "To me, he was more composed, more confident and trusting in his other pitches.'" In five starts at the end of the 2011 season, Strasburg had a 1.50 ERA, 1.28 FIP, 2 walks (0.75 BB/9) and 24 K's (9.00 K/9) in 24.0 IP. Strasburg heads into his third MLB season 100% healthy though he'll be on an innings limit and likely unavailable should the Nationals make a run at the postseason this year.
Joining Strasburg (the Nationals' 2009 no.1 overall selection) in the nation's capital, "Some time this season," as the Boston Globe's Mr. Cafardo writes, will be Bryce Harper, the Nats' 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick. Strasburg was asked about Harper by the U-T San Diego writer this weekend, and the fact that the young outfielder will likely be the focus of attention this Spring just as Strasburg had been in 2009:
"'Harper handles it differently than I would,' said Strasburg. 'There’s nothing wrong with the way he handles it. That can work to his advantage to some extent. I’ve talked to him a few times about it. He’s a great kid, a young kid who comes from a different situation.
"'Me being a college guy, I got a chance to kinda slowly move into it, whereas he was 16 on the cover of Sports Illustrated.'"
Rick Ankiel, who's currently a free agent, but was in Washington last season, was asked about the Nats' two phenoms this weekend too in an article by TC Palm writer Jon Santucci entitled, "Rick Ankiel still waiting to see where he will play this season." The 32-year-old outfielder told the TC Palm reporter he likes what he's seen, early in their careers, from both of the Nats' back-to-back no.1 overall picks:
"'Great, great talents. It will be exciting to watch these guys come into the league and make a name for themselves. They already have made a name for themselves, but establish themselves as big leaguers.'"
As for Ankiel's future and whether or not he'll be back in the nation's capital to watch Strasburg and Harper establish themselves up close, the outfielder's agent Scott Boras confirmed what D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told MASN's Mel Antonen (@MelAntonen) this weekend. "'(The Nationals) are kind of looking through the trade market and evaluating those things,'" Boras told Mr. Santucci, "and then they're going to make a decision on him after that.'"
Whether or not Ankiel's a part of the Nationals' plans for the 2012 season is unclear. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) wrote on Twitter that, "The Nats are still talking with Rick Ankiel. If he returns, it'd be in a platoon/4th OF role, with a chance to earn more playing time." With Strasburg back, Harper on the way and Gio Gonzalez at the top of the rotation along with Stras and Jordan Zimmermann, it is looking like it will be an "intriguing" 2012 season. Will that intrigue include Ankiel? Or a run at the franchise's first post season berth?