State of the 2019 Washington Nationals: Position Players

The Nationals pitching staff appears to have gotten a boost, but the new-look lineup is also intriguing. Bryce Harper likely won’t be around, but it might not actually make a huge difference.

Before getting into how the top nine should be configured, let’s take a look at the position players at large and how the roster should shape up.

Catcher

Don’t expect any surprises here. Barring injury, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki will make the team out of spring training.

There likely won’t be a third catcher, but if there is, it will probably be Pedro Severino. While it appeared that Spencer Kieboom jumped him by the end of 2018, Severino is out of minor league options. Given his defensive activity and how highly he’s been thought of within the organization for years, the Nationals may not want to expose him to waivers.

Infield

There aren’t any secrets on the left side of the infield, either. Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner will continue to shoulder heavy workloads at third and shortstop, respectively, and will likely contend for All Star bids once again.

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First base is always worth monitoring over the course of the season, but the names are set in stone. Ryan Zimmerman will receive the bulk of the starts, but he shouldn’t play every day. Matt Adams returns after being dealt to St. Louis at the trade deadline, and he’s seemingly the perfect backup, as a lefty with middle-of-the-lineup thump in his bat. He will likely start once or twice a week, while also being one of the preferred pinch hitters when he sits.

Second base is probably the most interesting spot on the team. Brian Dozier was brought in to be the starter. As recently as 2017, he won a Gold Glove and hit 34 home runs, so there is clear upside. However, his numbers dipped on both ends last year, including a career worst offensive slash line (excluding his half-season as a rookie) and a defensive runs saved (DRS) output of minus-8 (fifth-worst in the majors, although better than Daniel Murphy). Even so, a bounce-back, particularly offensively, seems likely. He’s worthy of starting out of the gate. Don’t be shocked if there’s a short leash on him, though.

Wilmer Difo, who received the majority of the second base reps last year, will be back, but his role will be much more like it was in his first two seasons. He had a DRS of plus-3 in only 792.1 innings (the equivalent of roughly 88 nine-inning games) last year and has also stolen double-digit bases in each of the last two seasons, in spite of the somewhat limited play time. He’s an ideal defensive sub/pinch-runner.

Howie Kendrick is also back after rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon last May. His defensive metrics have dipped, even prior to the injury (hence the rise of his usage in the outfield), and it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be a great option at second base. However, his bat and veteran leadership are immensely valuable, and early returns on his defense are decent.

Washington will almost certainly carry those seven players, and only those seven. There is one significant honorable mention, though. Carter Kieboom, the team’s No. 2 prospect who is also widely regarded as a top-30 prospect in the league, will be a difficult omission. The only thing he seems to be missing is experience at second—the vast majority of his minor league time has been spent at shortstop. He also hasn’t played higher than Double-A, but he’s had success at every level, including recently in the Arizona Fall League. As a matter of fact, he’s even succeeding in big league camp.

Outfield

Juan Soto and Adam Eaton will start in the corners. The lone position up for grabs is center field, and even that doesn’t seem to be. Even last offseason, manager Dave Martinez made it clear that he wanted top prospect Victor Robles getting full reps somewhere—not even ruling out the big leagues—as opposed to sitting on the bench. With Bryce Harper out of the equation, Robles is making the team. No more playing the service time game, especially since he appeared to be much more ready last September than he did after his 2017 call-up. If Martinez puts his money where his mouth is, Robles will likely be the lead man up the middle, with Michael A. Taylor serving as the backup.

Lineup

Martinez has stated that he wants Turner leading off this year, in large part because he wants him to have a chance to run more frequently.

With that in mind, here’s a guess at what the typical lineup card will look like.

  1. SS Trea Turner
  2. RF Adam Eaton
  3. 3B Anthony Rendon
  4. LF Juan Soto
  5. 1B Ryan Zimmerman
  6. 2B Brian Dozier
  7. C Yan Gomes
  8. Pitcher
  9. CF Victor Robles

The idea of Robles initially hitting ninth has been floated around, and I like it—at least in this configuration. However, I’d make some additional tweaks.

By all accounts, your best hitter is supposed to be your No. 2 hitter. From that perspective, flipping Eaton and Turner is certainly more optimal, but Eaton also isn’t Washington’s best hitter. That honor comes down to two players. While I don’t think they could go wrong with either, here’s where the decision should be made.

In 2014 (his first full season), Rendon had a .287/.351/.473 slash line, stole 17 bases, drove in 83 runs and scored 111 times while predominantly batting second. He also wasn’t quite the hitter then that he is now. Sandwiching him between Denard Span (similar to Eaton) and Jayson Werth (a more pull-happy Soto) netted the Nationals 97 wins.

I also believe that Eaton—not Turner—should be leading off. Eaton is simply a better hitter at this point, but Turner would also be helped by hitting behind the top bats, because it would allow him more opportunities to run. If he’s on base with Rendon, Soto, or Zimmerman at the plate, the natural inclination is to play it safe and not give up an out. That’s exactly what plagued him hitting in front of Harper.

There’s also something to be said for the fact that Turner had a .223 average leading off an inning last year, and that mark dropped to .217 in the first inning. Either he got caught pressing, trying to be like other modern-day leadoff hitters that hit for power, or he simply needs to scout a pitcher from the dugout before getting into the batter’s box to be his best as a hitter. Regardless, a change would help.

Here’s what I would like to see on Opening Day.

  1. RF Adam Eaton
  2. 3B Anthony Rendon
  3. LF Juan Soto
  4. 1B Ryan Zimmerman
  5. 2B Brian Dozier
  6. SS Trea Turner
  7. CF Victor Robles
  8. C Yan Gomes
  9. Pitcher

I like the idea of splitting the lineup in half and having two cohesive units. In a lot of lineups, Turner and Robles would be the top two hitters. Why not use that to your advantage after the heart of the order? If Eaton gets hurt, you could also move either of them to the leadoff spot.

Placing Dozier fifth is a bit of a risk, but production like he had from 2014-2015 (no less 2016-2017) would merit it. He also isn’t as disciplined of a hitter as I would prefer behind Turner and Robles.

Although Gomes doesn’t have experience hitting in front of the pitcher, which does hold some weight, it’s easier to sacrifice his power in exchange for some hit-and-run opportunities than it is for Dozier. The same also applies for Suzuki, who will get more play time than recent backup catchers. He is also the least strikeout-prone of the three, so this role might actually suit him well.

The roster is far more locked than the lineup is, but it would behoove Martinez to tinker during spring training and get a bit unconventional. After all, he is a Joe Maddon disciple—this should be in his wheelhouse.

Author: Stephen Newman

Stephen is a 2018 graduate of Virginia Tech, receiving a bachelor's in multimedia journalism. He's an intelligent sports fan, following three of America's major sports as close as the analysts. Stephen follows the Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards and New England Patriots avidly and of course, keeps up with Virginia Tech athletics. As a student, Stephen worked as the Social Media Editor of The Collegiate Times and contributed in the CT's coverage of Virginia Tech football, men's basketball and women's basketball.

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