Final thoughts from the Nats’ Grapefruit League

Spring Training camp opened on Valentine’s Day and closed 39 days later with a mix of optimism and pessimism. When you embrace the reality that the Washington Nationals are still in a rebuild, you will understand that this team still is not ready to move into playoff contention. The goal is to improve over last season. That is the challenge for manager Dave Martinez and his players. Much of this team are made up of short-timers — but the nucleus of the team is like coordinating the intricate cellular architecture. The nucleus contain the DNA of a team.

Like we found from 2011 to 2012, the DNA of the team was established in the core that began with Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jayson Werth. They knew they had Bryce Harper in the wings — but the rest was an unknown. It was the identity that was forming. The DNA has personality traits. When CJ Abrams was mic’d up going around doing a day in the life of a Spring Training player’s experience, you saw that he is part of it.

From “Hope Row” to Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, and Jake Irvin — there is that identity forming and around it is going to be a change in the roster like we have never seen before going into September, the offseason, and the 2025 season. This is a final stepping stone in the rebuild. The last players of the 2019 World Series will be gone when Patrick Corbin and Victor Robles depart. Over one-third of the projected Opening Day roster are essentially playing on one-year deals. Lane Thomas is team-controlled through the 2025 season. Many of the players are just here to get paid for a season, and will move on to their next place.

This is a season of seeing the cream rise to the top and the chaff to fall to the bottom. You have to know in the winnowing process which is which. The team finally moved on from Carter Kieboom, and they have decisions to make on Luis Garcia Jr. as the threshing continues. What side will Garcia land on? There is Tanner Rainey too. Those players all have team control — but what is their future with this team? Those questions must be answered.

“… we have a chance to win here, and get back to where we need to be, and that’s to be in the playoffs.”

” … tack on some more wins and get to those playoffs. …”

” … and be ready to go with [the goal to] try to get back into playoff contention.”

— manager Dave Martinez said at the end of the 2023 season

The 2024 season is about winning as Martinez said, but the manager can only play the personnel he is given. The star of Spring Training in all of MLB was James Wood with his four home runs and 1.214 OPS. The team informed Wood last week that he was not going to make the team’s Opening Day roster. Trey Lipscomb finished with a gaudy .400 batting average only trailing Mookie Betts in all of MLB for Spring Training. Lipscomb’s .995 OPS ranked eighth in baseball tied with Jackson Merrill. While ST stats, don’t matter much to veterans, they sure do to top prospects. How they translate is really based more on the individual player and their process over small sample size statistics.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Spring Training was the K/BB ratios for Nats’ hitters. Jesse Winker finished at 1.11, Wood at 1.18, Lane Thomas at 1.22, Lipscomb at 1.40, Joey Meneses at 1.67, and team’s best was Ildemaro Vargas at 0.50. You probably don’t want to hear that Joey Gallo was at 4.00, Garcia at 3.50, or Nick Senzel at 3.25. Okay, you expected Gallo to be there.

Unless there is a surprise trade, waiver claim, or free agent signing, your Washington Nationals roster is set:

Starting rotation: RHP Josiah Gray, LHP Patrick Corbin, RHP Jake Irvin, LHP MacKenzie Gore, RHP Trevor Williams

Bullpen: RHP Kyle Finnegan, RHP Hunter Harvey, RHP Matt Barnes, RHP Dylan Floro, LHP Robert Garcia, RHP Jordan Weems, RHP Tanner Rainey, RHP Derek Law (NRI)

Catchers: Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams

Outfield: Lane Thomas, Eddie Rosario, Victor Robles

DH: Joey Meneses, Jesse Winker

Infield: CJ Abrams, Joey Gallo

The rest of the infield is a competition of five players for four slots: Ildemaro Vargas, Luis Garcia Jr., Nasim Nunez, Nick Senzel, and Trey Lipscomb (NRI).

That is it. One remaining decision….for Thursday’s Opening Day. Many more to come to shape the future. This all moves in perpetual motion, and there are few givens.

The future will be on display in an exhibition game at Nationals Park titled ON DECK: NATIONALS FUTURES GAME.

Pitchers: Brendan Collins, DJ Herz (L), Joe La Sorsa (L), Orlando Ribalta, Jackson Rutledge, Tyler Schoff, Jarlin Susana, Amos Willingham

Catchers: Drew Millas, Israel Pineda, Maxwell Romero Jr.

Infielders: Darren Baker, Armando Cruz, Brady House, Trey Lipscomb, Kevin Made, Yohandy Morales, T.J. White

Outfielders: Dylan Crews, Elijah Green, Robert Hassell III, Daylen Lile, Andrew Pinckney, Cristhian Vaquero, James Wood

Coaching staff: Manager Delino DeShields (Double-A Harrisburg), Bench Coach Oscar Salazar (Double-A Harrisburg), Pitching Coach Rigo Beltran (Double-A Harrisburg), Hitting Coach Jeff Livesey (Double-A Harrisburg), First Base Coach Jake Lowery (Single-A Fredericksburg Manager), Third Base Coach Mario Lisson (High-A Wilmington Manager), Bullpen Coach Justin Lord (Single-A Fredericksburg Pitching Coach)

This is where the past, present and the future comes together as foresight is the key to success. Developing what you have is the most important component at work here. This isn’t philosophical as much as this is practical in learning from the past to improve the present and future. Trust me, good things are coming!

There is one thing that is almost a guarantee for the Nationals: someone on the 40 man roster will be traded; and it won’t be Wood, Crews, Hassell or probably any of the kids. The poll below is your chance to weigh in on who the first player traded is. You can pick three names; not three who will be traded, but you are given three options for who the first player traded is.

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