Gone are the days of cattle calls of veteran and journeymen pitchers competing for roles in the starting rotation. There aren't too many position battles to be decided this Spring either. The Washington Nationals' roster is pretty much set barring any injuries, setbacks or hiccups, etc. But there are a few storylines to follow as the defending NL East Champions start arriving at Space Coast Stadium in Florida for the start of the 2013 campaign. Pitchers and catchers report in just five days now (February 11th). Here are a few players to watch as Spring Training and eventually Grapefruit League action gets underway...
5. Matt Purke: 22-year-old 2011 3rd Round pick Matt Purke signed a 4-year/$4.15M dollar major league contract after the Washington Nationals' drafted him with the 96th overall pick following a 2011 season at TCU in which the left-hander suffered a shoulder injury (bursitis) which limited his action and caused him to drop to the third round two years after he was selected 14th overall by the Texas Rangers in the '09 Draft. Purke walked one and K'd 3 in 3.1 IP last Spring in major league camp, but after an extended Spring Training, the lefty made just three starts at Class-A Hagerstown before he was shut down. The pitcher eventually had surgery to "relieve bursitis and clean out scar tissue," in his shoulder as Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak reported this past October. Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris told MLB Network hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin Wednesday that we might finally see the real Matt Purke this season.
4. Wilson Ramos: The Nationals' 25-year-old catcher had two separate surgeries to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee after he suffered the injury last May. The Nats got by with Jesus Flores, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado last summer, but eventually acquired Kurt Suzuki last August in a deal with the Oakland A's that sent backstop prospect David Freitas to the Athletics. The veteran catcher was strong down the stretch and his presence in the Nats' camp will allow Ramos to work his way back slowly. The Nationals also signed veteran catcher Chris Snyder this past week to bolster the depth of their catching corps. Wilson Ramos, however, is supposed to be the Nats' no.1 backstop. The knee injury is a significant setback at an important time in his development, but the Nationals have to be hoping the catcher they acquired from the Minnesota Twins in July 2010 can come back to full strength and reclaim the job.
3. Anthony Rendon: Mike Rizzo said recently that 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon would once again bounce around the infield this Spring while he's with the major league club, but the 22-year-old (who's expected to start the season at Double-A Harrisburg) will likely move back to third base once he's assigned to an affiliate at which point he'll attempt to stay healthy after an injury-shortened season in his first year as a pro. Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris singled Rendon out as his sleeper pick in the organization for 2013 in Wednesday's MLB Network Radio interview though he noted Rendon won't surprise anyone. "The sleeper pick is not really a sleeper pick for us," Harris said, "It's seeing what Anthony Rendon is capable of doing when he gets on the field for 140-150 ballgames. We're anxious to see that. We just think that we got a glimpse of it and we're anxious to see him go out and compete on a daily basis."
2. Henry Rodriguez: A 100 mph fastball. A devastating slider. A tendency to bounce pitches off the backstop and throw fastballs over batters' heads. The right-hander may drive the fanbase crazy, but Davey Johnson likes him. The Nats' skipper told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern this past November that Rodriguez had better command than any other pitcher in Spring Training last February/March and he expects him to come back strong after elbow surgery ended his 2012 campaign early. "Henry Rodriguez is going to come back," Johnson said, "He had bone chips in his elbow. When he's right, he had more command... than any pitcher I had on the staff in Spring." He has no options left and the Nats' bullpen is crowded. Is this Henry's year to finally figure things out? Pitchers with 100mph heaters tend to get a lot of opportunities.
1. Bill Bray: Is 29-year-old reliever Bill Bray the late-inning lefty the Washington Nationals have talked about adding all winter? I could've sworn they were going to sign J.P. Howell... Sure the Washington Nationals trust their right-handers to get lefties out and yes they have good splits against lefties, but as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote earlier this winter, maybe the Nats should, "... go with the wisdom of the last 100+ years that it's a real good idea to have a tough late-inning lefty who can [dominate] key sluggers on other teams, not just 'have good splits.'" Zach Duke is expected to be the left-handed long man Davey Johnson likes in the pen. Bray could be the late-inning option as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo explained in an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. this winter in which he discussed the makeup of the 2013 pen:
"The back of the bullpen is going to consist of [Rafael] Soriano, [Drew] Storen, [Tyler] Clippard, [Craig] Stammen, [Ryan] Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez will be competing for a job. We've got Zach Duke as our lefty. Billy Bray is going to be competing for a job and we think it's a strong bullpen that has power and swing and miss stuff. They were a great bullpen last year and I think they're going to be as good if not better this year."
Did I mention pitchers and catchers report in five days?