TANNER IS TERRIFIC, AGAIN
When Jordan Zimmermann left the Nationals to sign with the Detroit Tigers in free agency, it was clear that there’d be additional pressure on those competing for spots in the Nats’ rotation to try to fill the void left by Zimmermann’s departure. It is looking as though Tanner Roark will be the one to fill the spot.
Last evening against the Atlanta Braves, Roark became the first Nationals’ pitcher to go four innings in a spring training start as he allowed only three hits and one run to pace Washington to an 11-1 rout of the Braves. As is his custom, Roark was around the plate in the outing as he struck out three without allowing a walk.
The underrated, and possibly under-appreciated (at least last year when he was bumped from the rotation) righthander has shown an ability to throw strikes in his career, especially when he is a starter. In 48 career starts, Roark has allowed no walks 10 times, one walk 24 times, two free passes on nine occasions and three walks in five starts. As a starter, Roark has posted a 3.12 ERA and has a 21-15 record. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 37 of those 48 starts and has been a reliable and durable starter. With teammates Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on board the top of the Nats’ rotation is in fine shape, but it will be up to Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and possibly Bronson Arroyo to fill in on the back end to make the Nationals’ rotation special in 2016.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN FOR THE FINAL SPOT
Speculating on who will make the opening day roster if a fun exercise for all of us whose general managing skills were honed on MLB the Show or Strat-O-Matic baseball, but even Mike Rizzo and his staff have to be thinking a lot about who will be the five players to make up the Nats’ bench at the start of 2016.
Jose Lobaton appears to have the backup catching job locked up, and Clint Robinson’s value as a pinch-hitter and backup option at first base and in the corner outfield spots makes him a near certainty to be wearing a curly W cap when the season starts next month in Atlanta. One would think that Michael A. Taylor’s power, speed and defensive skills have clinched a roster spot for the talented youngster, and new National Stephen Drew probably will make the Major League roster as well.
That leaves one bench spot open, with four main contenders for the position. Let’s take a brief look at those four players and try to figure out who has the inside track on making the squad.
Tyler Moore has only three hits in 19 at bats this spring, but two of them have shown the type of power that makes Moore someone the Nats are likely reluctant to lose (as they likely would if he were to not make the Major League squad as Moore is out of minor league options). Moore’s power bat is his major plus as he’s limited defensively and has not shown much as a pinch-hitter during his time in DC.
There seems to be surprise player in virtually every spring training season, and Scott Sizemore has been that for the Nationals in 2016. Sizemore has eight hits in 17 at bats so for this spring, with a team high three homers and six RBI. He has the ability to play third base and second base, and played briefly at first base for the Yankees in 2015. Sizemore’s hot start has admittedly been in a relatively limited number of at bats but on a team looking for a right-handed complement to Robinson’s left-handed pinch-hitting ability, Sizemore may have the inside track on making the Major League roster.
Speed is Trea Turner’s calling card, and he’s certainly shown that so far this spring. Many expect Turner to be a fine hitter and defender at the Major League level, but the question on the Nationals’ second rated prospect is whether he’d be better served playing every day at the Triple A level than sitting on the bench in Washington. Turner’s ticket to the Majors at the start of the 2016 season would likely only be punched if he beats Danny Espinosa out for the starting shortstop role and judging from the word coming out of the Nats’ front office, that doesn’t appear likely.
Matt den Dekker is a well-rounded player who can hit for power, run and play good defense, but can he hit enough to earn a spot on the roster? With lefthanded hitters Robinson and Drew likely to have spots on the bench, the Nats are probably looking for another right-handed hitter to join Taylor on the bench.
My guess is that Sizemore’s sizzling spring will earn him the final spot, with Moore being shopped and Turner and den Dekker starting the season in Syracuse. Of course, there’s a chance that injuries and/or late spring acquisitions could change things. It will be interesting to watch how things unfold over the next few weeks.