Sunday marked the first televised broadcast of a Nationals game, and though we’re in the midst of a snowstorm at the moment, that marked the start of an early spring for many DC area residents. Friday afternoon brought us the first radio broadcast, as Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes first took a moment to celebrate the beginning of their 9th season together as a radio team. It was 26°F in Vienna, VA as I drove to a client, but inside my head, it was suddenly the midst of summer.
The start of Spring Training often means the dissection of a number of story lines, and it’s gotten to the point where there are some really good mad libs for constructing your own. You won’t find much of that here, because the Spring Training stories this year aren’t going to be about a number of position battles where wily veterans make their cases against young prospects. There are really just two battles right now: Second Base (Danny Espinosa vs. Anthony Rendon), and the last Bullpen slots (Mattheus vs. Roenicke vs. Davis vs. Garcia vs. Delcarmen). This team is largely the same as it was for their 2012 NL East Title squad and their 86-win-yet-still-disappointing run 2013 season, though, and I suspect the drama will not be intense in Florida.
All that said, the Nationals have some interesting folks to watch this spring, and here’s a few names in the infield to keep an eye on:
Zach Walters – Infield – 23
Zach Walters is three games into Spring Training, and he’s already put up some crazy numbers. Walters is a dark horse for a bench spot with the big league club, but is 5-for-5 with two doubles and a triple, and a pair of RBI. He’s also made a ridiculously athletic play on Sunday, and followed it up with a 6–4-3 double play the sort we’re used to seeing from starting shortstop Ian Desmond. Look for Walters to fight for a spot on the roster, or just miss and be a quick call away in Syracuse. Walters came to the Nationals by way of the Diamondbacks, when they sent Jason Marquis west in 2012.
Matt Skole – Corner Infield – 24
Matt Skole is in his first big-league camp, having spent most of his minor league career in single A Hagerstown before a bizarre play tore his ulnar collateral ligament and sent him for Tommy John surgery. There aren’t a lot of position players who undergo that particular season-ending surgery, but Skole is looking good in the early games of the year. Sunday, he had a two-run double up the middle while playing third. Skole was a top prospect for the organization prior to Tommy John, but that setback has pushed him down the depth chart. A healthy spring could well push him back up that hill. Look for Skole to go down late, but he’ll be in it through the middle of the month. Don’t miss a great interview with Nats’ manager Matt Williams about Skole from our friends at Federal Baseball
Stephen Souza, Jr. – Outfield – 24
Stephen Souza, Jr is a fascinating story of talent and redemption. Souza ended up in trouble with the powers that be over the use of a banned prescription stimulant in 2010, serving a 50-game suspension. He survived the experience to develop his talent anew, until he got into a shouting match with manager Matthew LeCroy, which ended with his departure from the organization entirely for almost a year. Again chastened, the third time appears to have been the charm for Souza, who had a good solid season with Harrisburg (.300/.396/.557, 15 HR, 23 2B, 44 RBI and 20 SB) and seems poised to move up in the ranks. There likely isn’t a great spot for him with the Nationals right now, but with the injury bug a consistent problem for the hometown boys, it’s never a bad thing to have someone waiting in the wings.
Jamey Carroll – Middle Infield – 40
If you remember the 2005 Nationals, they could best be summed up by Jamey Carroll: gritty, tireless and lucky. Carroll was such a big part of that 2005 team that then-manager Frank Robinson said in a press conference: “Every team could use a Jamey Carroll.” A few months later, Carroll was traded to the Rockies. For cash. Carroll has since spent time with Colorado, Cleveland, Los Angeles (Dodgers), Minnesota, and Kansas City, amassing a thousand-hit career, and a slash-line of .272/.349/.338. While Carroll won’t be starting for the Nats this year, there’s a chance he’ll fill one of the five bench slots.
We’ll have more on the bullpen, the starters, and the other position players in the coming weeks as the Nationals prepare for their 2014 campaign. If you’re at home reading today, catch the Nats/Yankees tilt at 1pm on MLB Network, or through the mlb.tv app for your iOS or Android device.