Out of Options Heading North To DC
It is nearing the end of Spring Training, rosters are being finalized, and final cuts made. Players around the leagues who have impressed during the spring but do not have a path to the Majors are being sent to minor league camp unless of course they are “out of options.” The Washington Nationals have plenty of decisions to make, but when it comes to Michael A. Taylor the only person who is out of options is GM Mike Rizzo. No sane person would sit Taylor who has torched every pitcher he has faced in March and is the hottest player in any Florida Spring Training camp.
Facing Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals yesterday, Taylor had a double and a home run to collect four RBI and lead the team to another win. He is hitting .486 for the spring with four home runs and thirteen RBI, all of which lead the team. And he has three stolen bases. Last season Taylor filled in for the injured Denard Span and slashed an anemic .229/.282/.358 and threw in 158 strikeouts in 511 plate appearances. But he was one of the better defensive center fielders in the National League.
Ostensibly the Nationals have their outfield set with Bryce Harper in right, Ben Revere in center and Jayson Werth in left. Which leaves the decision-making to the other two slots, or does it? There are two question for Washington as the team heads north and the first is what to do with Taylor. They are going to have to find him some serious playing time in the first months of 2016 to see whether this is his break out year or just a hot spring episode. Washington’s record for the spring is 15 wins and only 4 losses. It’s only spring, but who wants to mess with a good thing?
How does he get playing time? Does he take it from Ben Revere or Jayson Werth? The best answer is Jayson Werth, because Ben Revere is a natural to lead off for Washington and Dusty Baker would love to have the speedy twosome of Revere and Taylor atop his lineup. But there are those strikeouts and so it is more likely that Taylor will hit lower in the order. The better option would be a platoon of sorts with Werth where Revere plays center on days when Werth plays and then slides to left when Taylor plays center and Werth sits. Late in games in which Werth starts in left it will make sense to slide Revere to left, insert Taylor in center and sit Werth.
That situation will no doubt cause dismay among the women fans who cheer for their matinee idol with the long locks, but Werth is going to have to prove that he can do better than hit .217, which was his mark last season, one a few bricks short of Taylor’s. And when called upon to play left field, Werth was challenged by the requirement to field the position. Balls sailed over his head that were clearly catchable and befuddled him when hit right at him.
The playing time issue will work itself out in the first few month. There is still one other outfield slot to fill and Chris Heisey might be winning the war against Reid Johnson and Matt den Dekker, but it is too close to call. GM Mike Rizzo has an enviable embarrassment of riches at the moment. Werth is starting to take the situation seriously and is hitting the ball with authority finally. Is the wrist he broke finally healthy? Is he the player most happy to see Matt Williams gone? Who knows or cares, but the Nationals have four very good options in the outfield for the time being.
The more difficult decision is going to be Trea Turner or Danny Espinosa. Turner is one of those players like Taylor and Revere who can fly on the base paths, which is a delight to Baker. Danny Espinosa is the better glove man and it would be fun to see him play shortstop after deferring to Ian Desmond for the past few years. But Turner is clearly the future and the only decision is when it arrives. Stephen Drew is signed to a $3 million contract and so it seems he is the reserve for 2016 and he has looked good in the spring. So, Drew and Daniel Murphy are locks, who is the third man?
Espinosa is hitting only .120 and it recalls those seasons when he has struggled to make sufficient contact to stay in the Majors. He was in fact sent down in 2013 when he was hitting only .158 and he spent most of that season at Syracuse. In 2014 he hit only .219. Last season was a bounce-back year and that may be enough to give him the nod. Turner could stand a few more games in Triple-A. He is only 22.
It is a good situation to have. Washington has plenty of talent around the diamond and, knock on wood, health has not been an issue so far. Ryan Zimmerman is playing well. Wilson Ramos is seeing the ball much better. Stephen Strasburg struck out nine in five shutout innings. This team looks ready to start the season. It is after all an even numbered year and Washington seems to prefer it that way. “All Aboard!!” This Big Train is about ready to travel north for 2016!!