Thursday, March 6, 2008

Nationals Face a Revolution Throughout Spring Training (Part 1)

There is one spot and one spot only on the Washington Nationals 2008 roster that is set in stone, expected and deserved. This is third baseman and number three hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who batted .266 with 24 homeruns 91 RBIs and 99 runs in 2007. However, this golden boy of an otherwise dismal offensive team was not without deficiencies of his own in 2007. Zimmerman also led the team with 125 strikeouts and produced a very mediocre .771 OPS. Regardless of the rest of the lineup, Zimmerman has to improve his plate discipline in order to demand respect from opposing pitchers. In his third year the overall success of the Nationals offense will rest on Zimmerman's ability to take the next step toward super-stardom.

There is an old saying that competition is healthy for a team, as it breeds excellence, and while that may be true to produce and sustain the best results, the Nationals' supposed position battles are not as fierce as many would have you believe.

First Base: This is Nick Johnson's position and he will play the majority of the Nationals games at first base. While there is always the risk of injury with this fragile giant, there is no doubt in my mind that he gives the Nationals the best chance to win playing first base. Not only does he bring a superior glove to the position over Dmitri Young, his power numbers are undeniable even in the limited action he saw in 2006 (23 homeruns). Johnson had a tremendous impact in the middle of the Nationals lineup in 2006 and his patience in the four spot (110 walks in 2006) will bring more to the table than Dmitri's previously unheard of .320 batting average in 2007.
It is important to mention that both players are injury prone and won't play more than 140 games in a good year, so it's vital that Acta can keep them fresh until the other one invariably goes down... oh yeah and Young had already tweaked something in spring training.

Second Base: While with Cincinnati Felipe Lopez put up pretty good power and speed numbers that will never be repeated in a Nationals uniform. Clearly helped by a hitter's park in the great state of Ohio he is one of many Nationals that could benefit from the new stadium. However, Lopez's true value as a base thief went unfulfilled as a member of the Nationals in 2007. Bottom line, Acta isn't a manager that likes to run all the time and with Lopez's true value on the diamond handcuffed it makes more sense to start Ronnie Belliard that Lopez. Belliard brings more pop to the lineup and a better sense for situational hitting.
Lopez will get his reps as a shortstop for the team, as Guzman tends to struggled for prolonged periods of time during every season, but looking at him to rebound into a player that hits .300, 20 HR, 75 RBIs and 40 SB will not happen.

I'll definitely break down the rest of the perceived position battles within the next few days and have a wrap up preview for the Washington Nationals 2008 season. I think you'll be surprised how high I rank the boys in Red, White and Blue.

-The Hokie

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