OK, it’s time to stir the “SOUP”

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AP Photo

This is the time in Spring Training (ST) for reckless prognosticators (like me for example) to just throw caution to the wind and do the impossible:  predict who (when I know it’s too early for a sane person to make any predictions:) will make the 25 man roster as position player subs.  First, a little math:  assuming the Nats carry 12 pitchers (5 starters and a 7-man bullpen) and 8 starters at the 8 positions in the field besides the pitcher, that leaves 5 bench-warmers.

So here we go:

1.  Jose Lobaton, catcher.  This is a given since the team made it clear when they traded for him that they expected Jose to be the backup to Ramos.  Every team has to carry a backup catcher.  The Nats will have plenty more of these at Syracuse and Harrisburg, should something happen to upset the plans.  Note:  Jose is not impressing anyone yet with his lack of hitting!

2.  Jamey Carroll, infielder extraordinaire.  He reminds me of myself, low on talent and size, but a 100% “gamer.”  He does all the little things very well.  Also, Matt Williams knows him well (from their days together with the Diamondbacks) and clearly likes him a lot, just look at the playing time he’s getting!

3.  Jeff Kobernus, OF AND (!) INF.  Like Jamey except he is even more versatile in that he can hold the fort in both the infield AND the outfield.  He has been hitting consistently since day one of ST.

4.  Zack Walters, infielder.  He played well last September and has shown me he is ready for prime time this Spring.  Note:  there have been several other youngsters who have shown great talent this ST but Zach (like Ryan Zimmerman several years ago) is the most “ready” of them all, with an OBP (on-base-percentage) well north of .500 at this point!

5.  Nate McLouth, outfielder.  Nate had a helluva comeback year with the Orioles last year.  He can hit, play OF and run the bases much better than average.  He would possibly be the best 4th outfielder in baseball.

Who does this leave on the outside looking in?  Tyler Moore and The Danny.  The Nats have been very patiently giving both many chances to make the team, but I say time has run out for both.  Neither one is looking good with the bat.

A Preview of the 2014 Nationals

Compared to the 2012 Nats, the 2013 team was a disappointment. They won the most games in the majors in 2012, but 12 fewer last season. What’s worse, they did not get to the playoffs. Former manager Davey Johnson, who retired just after the 2013 season (and is a Trinity University grad), predicted before the season that the Nats would get to the World Series. I think this created needless pressure on the players, and led to the offense taking almost half the season to really get rolling. (Note: The most important thing that affects batting is being very RELAXED! I’ve been playing this game for 60 years and it has taken me a big chunk of that to be truly relaxed at the plate.)

They aim to improve in 2014. Matt Williams, the new manager, appears to be an exciting upgrade. Though this is his first crack at managing, I think the team could not have made a better choice. Matt is a no-nonsense, hands-on type. As a player (and I watched him play frequently) he worked hard to excel, setting the bar pretty high for himself, and he is likely to expect the Nats to do the same.

Going into the 2014 season, the team needed a better no. 4 starting pitcher, a better “bench” and a better bull-pen (especially left-handers). They recently acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers as the 4thstarter. He is likely to be more effective than Dan Haren, last year’s 4th starter. Doug is young, did well in Detroit, and has the potential to get even better with time. Tyler Roark and Ross Detwiler will likely compete for the 5thstarter spot. There is a chance Ross could be used as another lefty in the bullpen too.

The Nats also acquired Nate McLouth, a very capable, fast outfielder from Baltimore to bolster the bench. The fact that Nate bats from the left side is good as the other bench outfielder, Scott Hairston, bats right-handed. Nate is also a potent base-stealer, so he could do lots of pinch-running! The Nats still need at least one more backup infielder. They lost Steve Lombardozzi in the Fister trade, and he will be greatly missed, I predict. In a “stealth signing” just before Christmas, the Nats picked up veteran infielder Emmanuel Burris. He grew up and played high school ball here in the nation’s capital.

The bull-pen has added one new left hander, Blevins, but needs one more. They also need to replace Ryan Mattheus, who was not very effective last year.

The coaching staff so far has not changed much from last year, but the new manager has added a new position, that of defensive coordinator, staffed by Mark Weidemaier. I think this is a great idea.

Besides the remaining moves I have recommended, another issue Matt Williams needs to address in Spring Training is the glaring inability of the team’s pitchers to hold runners on base–this is simply unacceptable in the major leagues.

I predict the Nats will win 88-92 wins, depending on what additional moves they make. Two very significant things that happened last season are reasons for optimism: (1) the Nats were the best team in baseball over the last 6-8 weeks of the season (they almost made the playoffs); and (2) the new hitting coach, Dick Schu, who was hired mid-season in 2013. He likely was one of the reasons Jayson Werth almost won the national League batting title!

And then we have the “Racing Presidents“. They added one more in early 2013, William Howard Taft. “Teddy” Roosevelt needs to work harder on the basics.

P.S. The price of beer at Nats Park is outrageous! I’m contemplating trying to get in with a hiking “flask” under my shirt.

P.P.S. If anyone is wondering whether the Nats will seriously enter the circus-like chase to grab the Japanese star pitcher, Tanaka, I say “no way.”