Since the Expos’ departure from the country where politicians say Canada, eh, to the country where politicians say well, I might as well get paid, the Nationals have little to show for their time in Washington. A few savvy moves and two franchise-changing draft picks later. They’re on the verge of being the MLB’s next dynasty.
Quietly finishing last season with the best record in baseball, the Nats made the postseason for the first time since relocating. Their championship aspirations took a big hit when ace Stephen Strasburg, one year removed from Tommy John Surgery, was shut down in early September. The team lost its Divisional Series matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals three games to two.
The decision was one that had to be made. Healthy and without an innings restriction entering 2013 he is poised to build on the prior year’s campaign highlighted by a 15-6 record, 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts. He profiles as a perennial Cy Young candidate for the next 10-12 years.
The other half of the franchise’s cornerstones is 20 year-old Bryce Harper. Hyper-talented, young, aggressive and confident in a way that is off-putting to some Ð mostly those less talented than he (cherry-picking, nearly everyone is less talented) Ð Harper is the second of two most anticipated prospects of millennium. Both reside on the Nationals roster.
Expediting his path to the majors Harper earned a GED after his sophomore year of high school. He enrolled in Southern Nevada Junior College, won MLB honors and was subsequently picked first-overall.
Rapidly moving through the Nationals farm system Harper debuted about a month into his age-19 season and posted 22 homers, 18 steals and a .270 batting average. Another first-overall pick who got his feet wet at age 19 was Ken Griffey Jr. He totaled 16 home runs, 16 steals and a .264 batting average that year.
Already established as two of the best players on the Nationals roster Strasburg and Harper are only scratching the surface of what they should be in the coming years.
Don’t let the focus on two generational talents lead you to believe Washington is a two-trick pony. Prior to last season the Nationals sent three good, but not great prospects to the Athletics for pitcher Gio Gonzalez. He responded with the most wins, strikeouts and best ERA on the staff. He’s 27.
Rounding out the rotation is Jordan Zimmermann, 26 years-young coming off a sub-3 ERA season, Dan Haren, one year removed from a 16 win, 3.17 ERA campaign, and Ross Detwiler, who would be the best pitcher on the Colorado Rockies. Admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot, but you could do a lot worse with your fifth starter… Looking at you, Luis Mendoza.
Offensively the Nationals boast one of the deepest lineups in the National League. Unheralded Dernard Span came over from Minnesota in the winter months and gives them the leadoff hitter they desperately needed last year. Third outfielder Jayson Werth might be getting paid an excess 10 million bucks a year but he still wrecks lefties like a seven-year-old hopped up on Mountain Dew at a pi?ata party.
The outfield of Harper-Span-Werth is very good, but their infield is even better. Third baseman Ryan Zimmermann projects to hit forth behind Harper while double-play tandem Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa have only the Phillies for competition as the best hitting middle infield in the NL. Adam Laroche rounds out the infield and could knock in 90 runs while deactivating his MySpace
If Ryan Zimmermann’s shoulder causes you concern, allow me to introduce Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ most promising prospect and the best hitter in the 2011 draft. Rendon slipped to the Nationals due to injury concerns that are still present today. He was forced him to miss much of last season with a balky ankle. Despite only 133 minor league at-bats his spring training performance forced him into opening day consideration.
A natural third baseman, Rendon improved his utility by familiarizing himself at second base. This would allow the Nationals to slide Espinosa to shortstop if Desmond fell to injury. If needed, he could handle first base as well. If you know your heal from your elbow you can play first base.
Last but not least, the Nationals bolstered an already good bullpen with the signing of Rafael Soriano. Paired with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, he gives the team it’s third closer quality arm. Calling the games behind the plate will be the former top prospect Wilson Ramos and the formerly good Kurt Suzuki.
Short story long, the Nationals will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come and should be considered the favorite to win it all this year. Nationals over the Blue Jays in 2013ÑNationals over a lot of teams in years to come.