Just as we thought that the Nationals were set in possible bullpen options, Mike Rizzo goes and resigns left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Gonzalez was in a Nationals uniform during their amazing 2012 season, in which he was a major contributor out of the bullpen.
With the Gonzalez addition, I think it solidifies that Jerry Blevins won’t be the only left-hander in the pen. They want another lefty in there, since it might appear they have full intention of giving the fifth starter spot to Ross Detwiler. If not, three lefty relievers is never anything to look down upon. Also with the move, it might look slimmer and slimmer that Xavier Cedeno will be in the bullpen come opening day, but will have every chance to compete for that position and send Gonzalez packing through the rest of Spring Training.
So far, the Nationals have been very solid during their exhibition games. Jayson Werth is just getting back in to playing mode, and that is the only concern. Pitching has mostly been solid, especially from the potential starters. Stephen Strasburg is one that really caught my eye. He has developed a slider, and it leads me to believe he will be even more effective this season than he ever has been. Since he throws hard, it will compliment all of his pitches in multiple ways. His fastball will jump through the zone, his curveball can be devastating with 12-6 movement, and is a fantastic compliment to the change-up with each pitch being off speed and diving to a side of the plate. The slider will be used mostly against left-handed hitters, but will mix in to righties. Only fear of this new pitch is an escalation in home runs given up. A few flat ones or sliders up in the zone could potentially be upper deck meat for lefties (cue Bryce Harper or Adam Dunn status)
Another name that has stuck out to me is prospect Zach Walters. Even though he is most likely going to end up at Triple-A Syracuse, he has made a positive impression with me, and hopefully Nats personnel. He has shown good hands, and pop in the bat, a sizzling 1.538 OPS in 16 AB’s this spring. Looks like he will be able to shoot the gaps well, and use what speed he has even though it is below average for shortstops. If he keeps good consistent play, look for him to potentially earn a bench slot over vets Jamey Carroll or Mike Fontenot, however in the long run would not be beneficial for him.
Speaking of shortstops, my impact player for the year is Ian Desmond. He was the guy I knew from the get-go that if he doesn’t have a good year, things might not happen for the Nationals. But he has come into camp with a fire to lead with passion and succeed on the field, a fire I believe Matt Williams added gasoline to by looking to him for leadership. He has shown that he should be in the conversations for best shortstops in the league. He now has power, will use his speed and newfound aggressiveness on the base paths to swipe bases, and has tirelessly worked on his defense. He will easily be a 20-20 guy this season, maybe even 30-30.
Lastly, there are a few players I feel haven’t left a good impression on me so far, or have still something to prove. First, is Danny Espinosa. Back in 2012, he was my favorite player. Now, he has a long hill to climb. He has shown some good defense, something he has always been known for. His at-bats so far haven’t been great, but they aren’t terrible. He went 0-for-10 to start the Spring, but his approach has been decent. Even Matt Williams likes his approach so far. I expect some growth their still, and hope he can pull out a backup role. His retooled swing has improved over the past few weeks, so optimism is flowing over the Nats once best-kept secret.
The last player would be Steven Souza. Souza was hyped in Spring Training as a potential player that could possibly come in and pick up a bench role for his power, and maybe even convert to first base. He’s looked fine in the outfield and while his offense is something yet to be proven consistently, he has been solid to start the spring. He still has a hill to climb before unseating Tyler Moore, but with both having options available Souza could certainly work his way on to the Opening Day roster.
Food for thought to close: Give credit to Matt Williams for being gutsy and trying to pull in an extra player (Souza) in during the 8th inning of their game against the Braves last Tuesday. Nothing better than seeing your manager tinker and try some aggressive defense when it doesn’t matter, and see how your team responds. I’m sure it got guys excited to make an aggressive play. I like it, Matt Williams is looking like the right choice more and more each day.