Every great team that has been thrust into immortality for the Nationals had one thing in common: they could hit the ball and put up some runs. Last year, even after trading many key contributors, the Nats were still able to hit. A lot of this is due in large part to Juan Soto, the other worldly right fielder for the Nats who nearly won MVP on a last place team. Soto is an incredible talent, arguably one of the top handful of players in the league. The Nats need to surround him with talent in order for him to get opportunities to hit. Unlike many other superstars, Soto’s elite plate discipline will allow him to take his walks, passing the baton to the next hitter. Since winning it all in 2019, the Nats have struggled to find the player to provide adequate protection for Soto.
Unlike other teams in the NL East, the Nats did not make that many big additions to their lineup. The addition of the ageless wonder, Nelson Cruz, will give the Nats a big time right handed power bat behind Soto. At 41 years old, he has been a professional since before Soto was even beginning his journey to stardom in the Dominican Republic. Regardless, the Nats will also be looking to get a bounce back season from Josh Bell. After scolding the ball in Spring Training, a stint on the Covid-19 List derailed any momentum. Bell struggled at the start of the season, but his numbers stabilized at the end of the season. Nonetheless, the Nats will need him to hit at the level that he found at the end of 2021.
The rest of the lineup sees the Nats with a lot more questions than answers. Keibert Ruiz, one of the top prospects in the organization, looks to have the starting role locked up behind the plate. He performed unevenly after getting called up in September, but demonstrated very mature plate vision and contact skills. Lane Thomas, another trade acquisition, surprised many when he took over the starting center field job from Victor Robles. Robles ended the season in AAA. It appears as though both Thomas and Robles will be starting in the outfield. Robles is in need of major improvements. He has struggled with contact, striking out far more than expected and unable to find his stride. Similarly, Carter Kieboom will look to amend the same issues that plague Robles, although he will get a late start as he will start the season on the IL. The former heir-apparent to Anthony Rendon has not lived up to the hype to this point. An injury in Spring Training does little to help his cause.
The Nats have invested in advanced scouting and coaching for many of these young players. This provides a fair deal of hope that they will eventually find the tools that had them labeled as future stars in the minors. Also, the Nationals have not been shy to admit they will not wait for these players. There are many in the organization that believe that this might be the last true chance for them. At the very least, the organization hopes to see improvements for both players in 2022.
Speaking of former top prospects, Luis Garcia will also be one of the main hitters to watch. He has not had quite as much time as the previously mentioned Robles or Kieboom. That being said, he has expectations for improvement as well. He played better after the Trade Deadline. The Nats want him to follow in the footsteps of Soto and solidify his place in the future of the team. Some of the signings, though, do not echo the same level of confidence. The resigning of Alcides Escobar and signing of Cesar Hernandez, both middle infielders, complicates matters. Escobar was one of the few bright spots for the Nats as he arrived and hit very consistently. Hernandez has always been able to hit at a high level regardless of where he is playing. It remains unseen who gets the starting role at the middle infield spots. The fact that Kieboom is injured might mean that all three play in some configuration.
The Nationals, on a more understated level, have made moves that they think will put them in a very good position this season. Whether or not that position is to compete or sell off veteran contracts at the Trade Deadline remains unclear. The fact remains that a strong season will be necessary, which means surrounding Soto with the best hitters. Soto will be the engine that makes the Nats run, something that should not come as a surprise to anyone. The hope in DC is that some of the pivotal young players make the next step in their development. These developments will be pivotal in giving the Nats a formidable lineup for years to come.