Top Performers at Nats’ Spring Training

By: Joe Pohoryles

In just 16 days, the Washington Nationals officially begin their World Series defense at Citi Field against the New York Mets. While the team results at spring training mean little (if at all) to the team’s success in the regular season, the individual performances often reveal how the veterans will look to begin the season, and also which minor leaguers may soon receive a call-up.

After 15 games of spring training, the Nats are 5-10, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Grapefruit League. Despite the poor overall performance, several players have stood out in the best way.

Looking at guys key to the World Series run, Juan Soto is coming in right as he left off. He is the only player with more than one home run (albeit he just got his second today), and he leads the team with seven RBI. He has seven hits in 20 at bats (.350 AVG) to go with a .552 OBP and 1.352 OPS. The team will have to compensate for the loss of Anthony Rendon, so it’s encouraging to see Soto already stepping up offensively.

Looking elsewhere, postseason hero Howie Kendrick’s batting looks sharp as usual. He has six hits in 19 ABs (.316); for someone who will turn 37 this season, that’s great to see. Adam Eaton has done well in a smaller sample size (4-for-11), as has newcomer Eric Thames (3-for-11).

The biggest concerns at the plate among the big league regulars are Asdrúbal Cabrera, who brought great two-way play during the title run but has just three hits in 19 ABs (.158), and Trea Turner, who has just five hits in 22 ABs. Starlin Castro (1-for-22), the expected everyday second baseman, is perhaps the biggest concern at the plate, so hopefully he can get out of this slump by Opening Day.

Victor Robles, who will be relied on to make a jump on offense this season, has one hit in nine ABs, and Carter Kieboom and Michael A. Taylor have been relatively underwhelming with six hits in 27 ABs each.

The bigger red flag for Kieboom is in the field, where he has the worst fielding percentage on the team with .864 (min. 10 total chances). Pegged to replace Rendon at third base, it’s clear Kieboom — a natural shortstop and experienced second baseman — is struggling to adjust. He has three errors in 12 games, and could prove to be a liability if thrust into the every day role too quickly.

2019 Fielding Percentage data among qualified 3B (min. 110 games)

Kieboom’s sample size is much smaller than the rest of the players on this list, so the numbers are not totally comparable, but Kieboom’s struggle is evident. (Table by Joe Pohoryles; Data from ESPN)

Looking at some of the smaller names that have made a positive impact, 19-year-old infield prospect Luis Garcia is 9-for-21 at the plate, and his 1.052 OPS makes him the only player besides Soto with an OPS north of 1.000 (min. 15 ABs).

The soon-to-be 35-year-old switch-hitter, Emilio Bonifacio, has eight hits in 26 ABs, and is tied for second on the team in RBI with four. Third baseman Jacob Wilson, who hit .310 and 15 dingers in 55 games with Triple-A Fresno last season, has six hits in just 12 ABs.

Looking at pitchers, the team knows what it has in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. None of them have pitched much this spring, but Scherzer does have 10 strikeouts in 6.1 innings pitched.

Aníbal Sánchez has pitched more than anyone, with 9.0 IP. He’s allowed three runs and two walks to go with 8 Ks. The three front runners for the fifth rotation spot — Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth — have each fared well in around seven innings pitched each. Each has allowed fewer than seven hits and three runs. Voth even has one win to his name. The sample size is small, but to see more than one viable option for the fifth starter play well is an encouraging sign for the staff.

Spring Training stats from potential fifth starters

Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth have each churned out similar numbers in essentially the same number of innings, although Voth has narrowly looked the best. Voth has allowed just one run despite allowing the most hits of the three, and has struck out six in 7.0 IP. (Infographic by Joe Pohoryles; Data collected from ESPN)

On the bad side, neither Sean Doolittle nor Daniel Hudson have pitched well at all, although their sample sizes are even smaller. Neither has pitched more than three innings, but Doolittle has allowed three runs, and Hudson has allowed six.

The bullpen has been the team’s weakness for years now, but it is expected to improve with Doolittle and Hudson at the helm along with new signing Will Harris, who has yet to appear this spring. To see the former two struggle is disappointing, but they may very well settle into things once they start seeing consistent innings.

Of the less heralded names on the pitching staff, James Bourque has stuck out. The 26-year-old struck out three today to move his spring total to 11 Ks, which leads the team (and he’s pitched as many innings as Scherzer). He’s allowed three hits, two runs, including one home run.

His first and only major league appearance was last season, and it was memorable in the wrong sense. In just 0.2 IP on May 26 against the Miami Marlins, Bourque allowed four runs on three hits, and walked two to give himself a 54.00 ERA and 7.50 WHIP. It didn’t cost the team much (they still won 9-6), but if Bourque gets another opportunity in The Show, he can’t do much worse.

There are still 13 spring games left, so there’s still time for offseason concerns to be addressed, but Opening Day is approaching quick, so it will be worth watching what decisions come before then.

(Cover Photo Credit: NBC Sports Washington)

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