Spring Training Preview, Part V: Outfielders
by Amanda Comak
Pitchers and catchers will report to the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla., in just nine days, so as our review of the Nationals’ 40-man roster hits the home stretch, we reach the outfield.
With the exception of swapping corner assignments, the Nationals’ outfield unit is once again one of the most stable in the Major Leagues. Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper will all return as the Nationals’ starting unit, with Nate McLouth, Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin rounding out the 40-man outfield talent. And that doesn’t even include Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Frandsen, Tyler Moore, and Jeff Kobernus, infielders on the Nationals’ 40-man who also have outfield experience.
*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.
If the 2014 Postseason was any indication, Bryce Harper could be on the verge of posting a career season. Returning from a thumb injury on June 30, Harper hit .268 with a .342 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage in his final 78 games of the season, clubbing 12 home runs. In the Postseason, though, Harper was one of the Nationals’ best at the plate, slugging .882 in the four-game series (smacking three home runs, one double and driving in four runs). Putting injuries behind him, Harper is expected to move to right field on a primary basis this season, giving the Nationals the added use of his strong throwing arm in a new spot.
2014 Season Totals: .302/.355/.416, 117 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 9.7% K rate, 3.8 fWAR in 668 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .282/.338/.387, 104 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 11.1% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 637 PA.
Coming off a career year in many offensive categories, including 31 stolen bases, Denard Span returns to the top of the Nationals’ lineup as a consistent presence and one of the best leadoff men in the league. After securing the Nationals’ single-season record for hits (184) and leading the league in that category, the Nationals are looking for another solid season out of their slick-fielding outfielder. Span did spend the offseason rehabbing a core muscle injury but is working to be ready to go at full speed by the start of Spring Training. Entering his third season in Washington, Span’s comfort level with his surroundings, working with his fellow outfielders, as well as hitting coach Rick Schu should all bode well for the final year of his existing contract.
2014 Season Totals: .292/.394/.455, 141 wRC+, 13.2% BB rate, 18.0% K rate, 4.8 fWAR in 629 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .285/.374/.454, 134 wRC+, 11.8 % BB rate, 18.6% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 536 PA.
Consistency has come to be Jayson Werth’s hallmark in a Nationals’ uniform, and as he enters his fifth season in the District, the expectation that he will remain a stalwart in the Nationals’ lineup remains. While Werth will be working to come back from arthroscopic surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder, his averages from the previous three years are telling: .303 BA, .394 OBP, .479 SLG, and his projections reflect another strong season. Moving to left field should allow him to rest his legs a little more throughout the season, and hopefully keep him fresh deep into October.
2014 Season Totals: .173/.280/.237, 50 wRC+, 9.9% BB rate, 21.6% K rate, -0.6 fWAR in 162 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .238/.312/.354, 88 wRC+, 8.7% BB rate, 17.6% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 164 PA.
Nate McLouth’s first season in the District was derailed by a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but while the surgery to repair the injury ended his 2014 season prematurely, the Nationals are hopeful he will bounce back well in 2015. The left-handed hitting outfielder gives the Nationals good depth as he can play all three outfield positions, and his bat off the bench should be a nice weapon for Nationals manager Matt Williams.
Michael A. Taylor
Michael A. Taylor’s breakout season saw him post eye-popping numbers in Double-A Harrisburg (.313 BA, .336 OBP, .539 SLG, 17 2B, 22 HR, 34 SB), earn a midseason promotion to Triple-A Syracuse and the Major Leagues shortly thereafter with a debut that featured his first hit, as well as home run, at Citi Field. The offseason trade of Steven Souza Jr. pushed Taylor up on the Nationals’ depth chart. Taylor is considered one of the most athletic talents in all of Washington’s system, projecting as good insurance for the Nationals, particularly in center field, where he has the potential to develop into a plus defender.
2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: .225/.301/.331, 82 wRC+, 9.2% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA.
A first-round selection by the Nationals (No. 34 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Goodwin had a solid year at Double-A Harrisburg, made good progress in a late-season promotion to Triple-A and performed very well in the Arizona Fall League in 2014 (.296/.333/.444). That was enough to earn him a spot on the Nationals’ 40-man roster for the first time. The promising young outfielder figures to give the Nationals another good depth option as he projects mostly as a center fielder but can play left and right field as well.