For a number of years, the Washington Nationals had been lacking a true center fielder who couls secure the the leadoff hitter role. Last season the Nats got by with shifting rookie phenom Bryce Harperfrom a corner outfield spot to center field and having RF Jayson Werth assume the leadoff batter role.
Going into this off-season, there was no doubt, much like prior off-seasons, that a true leadoff center fielder was the top priority for Nats GM Mike Rizzo. With relatively limited needs outside the bullpen and a fourth starter, Nats GM Mike Rizzo focused on acquiring that leadoff position player. He did it by dealing top pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for CF Denard Span. The Nationals have coveted Span for the past two seasons and finally got their man. The acquisition of Span also hadadditional roster reverberations. By acquiring Span and resigning 1B Adam LaRoche, the Nats ran out of roster room for slugger Mike Morse. Subsequently, they dealt Morse back to Seattle for prospects, including P AJ Cole.
Span has been bit by the injury bug recently, suffering a concussion that limited him to 70 games in 2011, returned last season and played in 128 games for the Twins. Span batted .283 with 38 doubles, 4 triples, and 4 home runs, while scoring 71 runs and drivbing in 41runs. Span produced a .342 OBP and added 17 stolen bases. Span provides the Nats outstanding defense and range and will be the patrol in center field the Nationals have been seeking for three plus seasons. The Nats were able to acquire Span at a relatively bargain price of $4.75 million and $6.5 million in 2014 with a $9 million team option in 2015. Span joins with Harper and Werth to create the best defensive outfield in all of baseball.
Harper will be moved back to the corner, most likely in left field. The 2012 National League Rookie of the Year recorded an .817 OPS and finished with 22 home runs, second all time for a teenager in major league baseball history. His 57 extra base hits, which included 26 doubles, 9 triples, and 22 homers, was the most in major league history for a teenager. In 139 games, Harper batted .270 with a .477 slugging percentage. He scored 98 runs while driving in 59. His 9 triples were tied for fifth overall in major league baseball. However, it was not just Harper's bat that was astounding. Harper's defense was mind boggling that included two highlight reel throw outs at home plate with picture perfect deliveries. His powerful arm and speed compliment Span in centerfield.
Jayson Werth will be in right field and had a comeback season in 2012. Werth was injured for part of the season, but returned and batted .300 over 81 games and 344 at bats. Werth added 21 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs to his season. His second season with the Nats was stark difference than his first, in which he batted just .232 and earned more jeers than cheers. Werth also took on a leadership role for the Nats, serving as a mentor to the youth, including Harper, and a tormentor to his old team Philadelphia. Werth had a .387 OBP and an .827 OPS. The Nationals will be looking forward to a full, healthy season for Werth and he will likely cement the right corner of the incredible Nationals outfield.
Roger Bernadina joins the outfield in reserve and will likely play another integral role for the Nats in 2013 coming off the bench. The Shark played in 129 games last season at Washington and batted .291 with 11 doubles and 5 home runs in 227 at bats. Besides making a few stunning catches in the outfield, Bernadina provides a little speed as well, swiping 15 bases and scoring 25 runs. He produced a .372 OBP. Tyler Moore will serves as a backup to 1B Adam LaRoche, but will also provide depth in the corners of the outfield. In his rookie season, Moore batted .263 with 156 at bats. He provided some big time pinch hits, including a game winner in his first trip to the MLB playoffs. Moore swings a big bat, smacking 10 home runs and driving in 29 runners.
Other in the pipe: Corey Brown played in 19 games for the Nats last season, producing 5 hits in 25 plate appearnces. He smacked 25 home runs and drive in 17 at AAA Syracuse. He ended the season with a .523 slugging percentage. Eury Perez is listed on the 40 man roster. The 22 year old prospect out of the Domincan Republic has steadily moved him self up the Nats minor league system. He combined hsi season between Harrisburg AA and Syracuse AAA where he batted .314 with 19 doubles, 3 triples, and 51 stolen bases. He played 40 games at AAA and batted .333. He has tremendous speed and could provide excellent depth in case of injury. You've heard plenty about Brian Goodwin. In fact, the acquisition of Span could very well be the briudgde needed to get to Goodwin. Goodwin will likely start the season at AA Harrisburg. He hit a combined .280 with 26 doubles, 2 triples, and 14 hoem runs between A and AA last year. Nats will look for a 20 home run season for Goodwin this year. Nats also have Michael Taylor, another speedster, at A Potomac. Taylor was selected in the 6th round of the 2009 draft. He batted .242 with 33 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, and 19 stolen bases at A Potomac last season. The Nats have a few other speedsters in the pipeline as well. Caleb Ramsey will start the season at Hagerstown. Ramsey was a 2012 South Atlantic League all star where he batted .294 with 17 doubles, 10 triples, 7 home runs, and swiped 46 bases. He had a .352 OBP with a slugging percnetage of .420. Billy Burns was a 32nd round pick in the 2011 draft that had an excellent season in Hagerstown in 2012. He batted .322 with 14 doubles and 5 triples and stole 38 bases. He finished with a .432 OBP. Further down the pipeline are 2012 draftees Brandon Miller and Mike McQuillen. Miller played at Auburn last seasona nd batted .292 with 33 doubles, 11 triples, and 2 homers. He finsihed with a .549 slugging percentage and a .354 OBP. McQuillan split time between GCL and Auburn and combined to bat .298 with 9 doubles, 6 triples, and 2 homers. He scored 39 runs and drove in 28.