David Brown

Spring Snapshot: Werth and Nationals await Strasburg and Harper

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., where the Nats are ready to lift off from the bottom.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2010 RECORD: 69-93, fifth place in NL East

BIGGEST ACQUISITION: With slugger Jayson Werth(notes), you get a power-hitting right fielder with a good arm, but you also get an all-powerful beard. And, perhaps, a champion for when the Philadelphia Phillies come to town.

BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Not only did the Nats lose a highly productive hitter from the middle of the order in Adam Dunn(notes), but one of the leading protectors of sea life in Chesapeake Bay. The Josh Willingham(notes) trade for Oakland prospects made some sense, with Werth coming in and Michael Morse(notes) already on the roster, but Willingham has always seemed undervalued to me.

FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NATIONALS

1. Did Jayson Werth make the right decision by taking the Nats money? There's no reason to expect the Nats to win more games than the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, but it's anyone's guess thereafter. Sure, a great contract offer attracted Werth to Washington, but so did the presence of Stephen Strasburg(notes), Bryce Harper(notes), Ryan Zimmerman(notes) and others. The Nats still have an air of dysfunction about them — despite Stan Kasten leaving his post as team president — but they are putting some great pieces together.

2. How is Strasburg recovering from Tommy John surgery?
At this point, he's just playing careful games of catch with trainers — and nothing too stressful. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated recently put down on paper what many have been thinking about Strasburg's delivery: that it's dangerous to his health as a pitcher. Verducci's post was kind of a downer, but other experts counter that there's no definitive evidence that Strasburg is doomed to more arm failures. Another pitcher further along on the road back from Tommy John — right-hander Jordan Zimmermann(notes) — looks solid in spring so far. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff.

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3. How long until Harper is a major leaguer? He's heading to Single-A Hagerstown, as the Nats are not rushing him — yet. But if Harper were a horse, he'd be like a 2-year-old thoroughbred rather than some wild stallion; almost ready for the Derby. He's young, but mature in a baseball sense. He appears to belong in major league camp. He makes mistakes, but he's aware of them and is working on fixing them. He can handle professional pitchers, as evidenced by a two-hit inning recently. Expecting a September call-up would be premature, but it's not out of the realm of possibility if he progresses to at least some Double-A ball in 2011.

4. Can Nyjer Morgan(notes) get on base more often, behave himself and yet still be Tony Plush when he feels like it? Nyjer's highlight of 2010 might have been his Answer Man interview, because his season seemed to be bad news in every other way. He hit and ran the bases poorly, got into a fight, acted clownishly at times and had other misunderstandings. He has a great personality, and it would be ashamed to have it muted, but he took too much of a left turn last year. He has to play better baseball first. If he does, his alterego can come out and play too.

5. Should fans be excited about Ian Desmond(notes) and Danny Espinosa(notes) as a double-play combo? Desmond had a rough season in the field — he led the league in errors with 34 and his zone ratings were weak. It's just a one-season sample of a 24-year-old rookie, though. It's a critical year to show improvement. He also was below-average at the plate but has the ability to improve. Espinosa is one of the Nats' top prospects, but he had surgery to remove the hook on the hamate bone in his right hand. That often leads to a lag in power. Aside from that, Espinosa has had an up-and-down camp so far. Together, these guys might not make for Trammell and Whitaker or Rollins and Utley, but they could still be very good.

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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