Congratulations Washington Nationals fans, your team is finally being recognized as a legit world-series contender. After a heart-breaking Game 5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals last season, the team is facing huge expectations, including from Manager Davey Johnson, who called this season, “World Series or bust.” With Stephen Strasburg finally off the innings limit, the emergence of Bryce Harper, and the additions of Dan Haren, Denard Span, and Rafael Soriano, the team is expected to take a big leap. The Nats wouldn’t be wise to overlook the rest of the division though (excluding the Miami Marlins).
The Atlanta Braves are always dangerous, yes—even with Nat-killer Chipper Jones retired. The Braves have added the Upton brothers to an already dangerous line-up that includes Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. They already have a strong rotation that includes Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen to go with one of the best bullpens in the MLB that includes the one-two combo of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
Even with a down year last season, don’t disregard those Phillies. Their rotation is still rock solid with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee. They also have added Michael Young, Ben Revere, and Delmon Young to their lineup with a healthier Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
The Nats will face stiff competition from the Braves and possibly the Phillies, but their starting rotation of Stras, Gio, Zimm, Haren, Detwiler, strong bullpen, and lineup should give them the edge to win the East.
We already know how strong the big league club is expected to be, but Washington also has a very strong minor league system in place as well. Since the Nationals have such strong minor league depth, expect them to be competitive not only for the present but for a long, long time. Let’s take a look at their top 5 prospects:
- Anthony Rendon, 5-11, 3B: Your prototypical third-baseman. Great bat, great glove. Can also hit for power. Rendon put up great numbers during spring training but he is blocked at third-base by Ryan Zimmerman. He has been optioned to the minors where he’ll play at SS and 2B. If Rendon makes the team during the season it will be at second-base where Danny Espinosa didn’t put up numbers last year. He is also known to be injury-prone. He missed most of his first year in the minors thanks to a broken ankle. Might be a trade-chip if the Nats can’t find a place for him.
- Lucas Giolito, 6-6, RHP: He might have the highest ceiling out of all the prospects in the farm. He fell in the draft thanks to an elbow injury, which eventually led to a Tommy John surgery with the Nats. Still only 18, and has big time potential. Great fastball to go along with advanced secondary pitches for a kid this young.
- Brian Goodwin, 6-0, CF: I am a huge Goodwin fan. He is about 2-3 years away from the minors. He has the ability to get on base, steal, and also hit for power. He gets to spend more time in the minors with the addition of Denard Span.
- A.J. Cole, 6-4, RHP: The Nats drafted Cole two years ago, then traded him in the Gio Gonzalez deal but got him back in the Michael Morse deal. He had an encouraging first year with the Nats but surprisingly regressed in single A with the Athletics. The Nats had enough confidence in the 21 year old right hander to trade back for him. He like Giolito has a good fastball with developing secondary pitches.
- Matt Purke, 6-4, LHP: Purke has been dealing shoulder issues since he was drafted by the Nats. Pre-injury, Purke could crank up his fastball to 96MPH and had advanced secondary pitches, but he hasn’t been healthy for a while. The good news on him is that there is nothing torn in his shoulder and he expects to start the minor league year on time and says that his shoulder is healthy.
Honorable Mentions: Matt Skole 3B, Sammy Solis LHP, Destin Hood RF, Zach Walters SS, Eury Perez CF.
With the strong roster that the Nats have already built combined with their strong minor league system, this is going to be one exciting season for DC baseball fans. And with the depth of their farm system, I expect them to be around as title contenders for some time now.