The Washington Nationals opened Spring Training camp officially on Wednesday, and pitchers and catchers are already hard at work. In total, 39 pitchers were on-hand at the start of Spring Training. In total, there are 32 positions players on the roster. Position players are set to officially report by Sunday. In total, there will be 71 players in big league camp. MLB set a limit at 75, and that will give the Nats room for some more acquisitions or adding players to the roster.
There were some notable “snubs” in camp as the team’s № 8 prospect, Mason Denaburg, did not receive an invite. Also missing were the Nats’ № 18 prospect, Holden Powell, and the № 25 prospect, Sterling Sharp. While Denaburg and Sharp were rehabbing from injuries last year, both are thought to be healthy. Powell is a former UCLA closer who was drafted last year, but he has not appeared in any minor league games due to the 2020 COVID shutdown.
The team did not bring any of their top teenage prospects into camp like Andry Lara, Jeremy De La Rosa, Daniel Marte and Roismar Quintana. They are all aged 18 or 19 and none have appeared in games above the DSL or GCL level, although De La Rosa was added late to the Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg last year.
None of the so-called snubs had a shot to make the Opening Day roster, but they could have gained valuable training time among the established players. Keep in mind that Sharp was a Rule-5 draftee by the Marlins and made his MLB debut before he was returned to the Nationals. He had hip surgery in the off-season and is expected to be on the Triple-A roster in Rochester.
The simple math if there are no injuries, roster moves, DFAs, trades or acquisitions will be a pool of the 71 players in camp with 26 going north to D.C. at the end of March for the Opening Day roster, and a maximum of 28 players can be assigned to Triple-A, and the remainder of players (a minimum of 17) will stay behind at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches complex to wait for their Spring Training to start on May 4 at either Double-A or Single-A.
Of course, the team is allowed to add players to the Spring Training roster as long as they do not exceed the 75 players. It is still possible that general manager Mike Rizzo could make a waiver claim, free agent signing or a trade. The bench does not have a front-runner for the last remaining spot. For instance, the Marlins designated Harold Ramirez for assignment. He may become available and be a good fit for the Nationals as a low cost option. Also, there are still some viable free agents on the market like Jedd Gyorko who could be a fit for the bench.
For now, Spring Training is getting to know each other again and players need to get in their reps to build up their endurance for the marathon season ahead. There will be the constant flow of rumors and media calls. Some of them answer few of the burning questions.
Most questions and answers were about Stephen Strasburg‘s health, Max Scherzer‘s sprained ankle, Juan Soto‘s future contractual value, and why the Nats did not acquire a third baseman in place of Carter Kieboom.
The Nats’ brass said that Straburg’s recovery from carpal tunnel neuritis surgery went well and his rehab finished up successfully. They expect him to have a normal Spring Training.
“He is in preparation mode, not in rehabilitation mode,” Rizzo said.
“He’s going to get ready to start the season just like normal,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Normal Spring Training for him. He looks good. He looks great, actually, and he feels good, which is the most important thing.”
There was the news that Scherzer sprained an ankle while working out to get ready for Spring Training. The team wants Scherzer to ease back into his bullpen sessions with caution.
“He’s gonna push himself, but we have to be careful,” Martinez said. “As we all know, he’s so used to coming in and throwing 45-50 pitches on the first day. So this could be a blessing in disguise, who knows. We just want to make sure that when he’s out on the mound, his mechanics are right and everything’s right, so he doesn’t hurt anything else.”
But most questions were about why Rizzo did not replace Kieboom via a trade or free agency. Rizzo made it clear that he really had no intention of replacing Kieboom who struggled in 2020. We reported that his groin injury hurt his power — and probably a lot more when you look at the overall numbers. But if Kieboom has a poor 2021 season, then it will look like the groin injury had no bearing.
“Again, 44 big league games, sporadically over two seasons, we’re not going to make any drastic evaluations there,” Rizzo said on Thursday. “We have seen the kid play since his junior year of high school. Everybody who laid eyes on him had him as a big-time prospect and a guy who’s going to help us a lot.”
“We have confidence in Kieboom that he’s going to be a good player. We have too many guys with too many eyes on him that think he’s going to be a really good big league player. I’m not going to judge any player off  plate appearances in his Major League career. We see him as a guy with great upside for us who’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Those 165 plate appearances generated a slash of .181/ .309/ .232/ .541 which even Kieboom will tell you was horrible. But keep in mind, he has never made an excuse. The kid just has to show everyone that the confidence that his G.M. and manager have in him will be rewarded.
“Here’s a kid who had so much success in the minor leagues, and we really feel like he can bring that success up here,” Martinez said. “I just want Carter to go out there and have fun, relax and just play the game like he’s played it in the minor leagues. I’ve talked to Riz about this, and we’ve had unbelievable conversations about him. I, 100 percent, believe in Carter, and I think he can help us.”
Martinez used his own career as example of struggling out of the gates, and there are many players like even Mike Trout whose first season in the Majors was poor (.220/.281/.390/.672), and while nobody is saying Kieboom will have a career like Trout, the Nats are giving him a third chance.
“My first (53) games (with the Cubs in 1986), I think I ended up hitting .139,” Martinez said. “So for me to judge a kid, a prospect, after 44 games and 100-some at-bats, it doesn’t seem right.”
The humorous part of the media sessions was when Rizzo took a page out of Davey Johnson‘s book and took a swipe at the fan’s social media tirades on Twitter. Does Rizzo even have Twitter?
“If we listened to the Twitter world, we would have gotten rid of Robin Ventura when he was 0-for-48 or something like that in his early days in the big leagues,” Rizzo said.
Actually, Ventura started his career 8-for-45 (.178) which was worse than Kieboom’s start to his career. None of the media members asked Rizzo or Martinez if Kieboom’s groin injury played a part in his 2020 struggles.
“I don’t think [the Tatis deal] gives us any more clarity of what it’ll take for Juan Soto,” Rizzo said. “I think every deal is separate and independent. It’s all about players’ wants and needs and can both sides get together to fulfill those.”
“We signed, developed and brought Juan to the big leagues in very, very short order and at a very young age. We see him as hopefully a National for a long, long time. But we’re still in the early stages of discussions. We had some discussions with him on [a] long-term deal last Spring Training, and that didn’t go very far. Since the COVID season of 2020, we really haven’t re-engaged on that.”
“But our plans are to make an effort, like we’ve made efforts in the past to our really great young players, to keep him in a National uniform for a long, long time.”
Soto debuted with the Nationals in May 2018 as a teenager and as a Super-Two player gained an extra year of arbitration without completing three years of service time. His 2021 salary of $8.5 million will make him a wealthy young man even before he cashes in on future earnings. After this season, he will remain under Nats’ control for three more years unless something drastically changes in the next CBA.
That kind of put a wrap on the first media sessions of Spring Training. Here is a look at a chart we prepared for the 71 players in camp:
|Max Scherzer 31||R||Y||SP||1|
|Stephen Strasburg 37||R||Y||SP||2|
|Patrick Corbin 46||L||Y||SP||3|
|Jon Lester 34||L||Y||SP||4|
|Joe Ross 41||R||Y||SP||5|
|Brad Hand 52||L||Y||RP||CL|
|Daniel Hudson 44||R||Y||RP||SU|
|Kyle Finnegan 67||R||Y||RP||MR|
|Tanner Rainey 21||R||Y||RP||SU|
|Wander Suero 51||R||Y||RP||MR|
|Will Harris 36||R||Y||RP||SU|
|Austin Voth 50||R||Y||RP/SP||LM|
|Aaron Barrett 32||R||N||RP|
|Ben Braymer 59||L||Y||SP/RP|
|Bryan Bonnell 68||R||N||RP|
|Cade Cavalli 78||R||N||SP|
|Cole Henry 71||R||N||SP|
|Dakota Bacus 55||R||Y||RP|
|Erick Fedde 23||R||Y||SP|
|Gabe Klobosits 90||R||N||RP|
|Jackson Rutledge 79||R||N||SP|
|Jacob Condra-Bogan 89||R||N||RP|
|Javy Guerra 43||R||N||RP|
|Jefry Rodriguez 39||R||N||RP/SP|
|Joan Adon 60||R||Y||SP|
|Kyle McGowin 61||R||Y||RP/SP|
|Luis Avilan 70||L||N||RP|
|Matt Cronin 64||L||N||RP|
|Paolo Espino 30||R||N||SP|
|Rogelio Armenteros 40||R||Y||SP|
|Ryne Harper 33||R||Y||RP|
|Sam Clay 49||L||Y||RP|
|Seth Romero 56||L||Y||SP|
|Steven Fuentes 58||R||Y||SP|
|T.J. McFarland 47||L||N||RP|
|Tim Cate 80||L||N||SP|
|Todd Peterson 92||R||N||SP|
|Tyler Dyson 91||R||N||SP|
|Tyler Eppler 62||R||N||SP|
|Alex Avila 6||L||Y||C||BENCH|
|Yan Gomes 10||R||Y||C||1|
|Blake Swihart 57||S||N||C/OF|
|Israel Pineda 75||R||N||C|
|Jakson Reetz 76||R||N||C|
|Raudy Read 65||R||N||C|
|Tres Barrera 38||R||Y||C|
|Welington Castillo 20||R||N||C|
|Carter Kieboom 8||R||Y||IF||3B|
|Josh Bell 19||S||Y||IF||1B|
|Starlin Castro 13||R||Y||IF||2B|
|Trea Turner 7||R||Y||IF||SS|
|Josh Harrison 5||R||Y||IF||BENCH|
|Ryan Zimmerman 11||R||Y||IF||BENCH|
|Adrian Sanchez 9||R||N||IF|
|Brandon Snyder 26||R||N||IF|
|Drew Mendoza 73||L||N||IF|
|Hernan Perez 3||R||N||IF|
|Jackson Cluff 72||L||N||IF|
|Jake Noll 18||R||Y||IF|
|Jordy Mercer 27||R||N||IF|
|Luis Garcia 2||L||Y||IF|
|Yasel Antuna 45||S||Y||IF|
|Juan Soto 22||L||Y||OF||RF|
|Kyle Schwarber 12||L||Y||OF||LF|
|Victor Robles 16||R||Y||OF||CF|
|Andrew Stevenson 17||L||Y||OF||BENCH|
|Carlos Tocci 77||R||N||OF|
|Cody Wilson 81||R||N||OF|
|Gerardo Parra 88||L||N||OF|
|Yadiel Hernandez 29||L||Y||OF|
|Yasmany Tomas 25||R||N||OF|