With Pitcher's and Catcher's now firmly situated in Viera, running through flip drills and bullpen sessions, the dust is finally being kicked up on the 2011 season. We have gone over some of the spring training battles in the past, focusing on different positions and roles that are up in the air. Now it's time to turn our attention to some more specifics, who exactly are we watching and what for? Lets' single out 5 players who we've got our eyes on in Spring Training.
Jesus Flores - Catcher
Is he finally healthy? Flores has spent his career as a long-shot, signed as an amateur free agent by the Mets, the 17 year-old Flores worked his way up through the system. By 2006, Flores was busy hitting .266 with an OPS of .822, in 120 games in High-A Port St. Lucie (also 21 HR and 70 RBI). The Mets decided to leave him off their 40-man roster at the end of the season and the Nats picked him in the Rule 5 draft, hoping to keep him on the big league team for the rest of the year. Flores proved to be a very serviceable backup, providing mediocre numbers with solid defense while giving fans hope for the future. He would spend much of the next 3 years on the DL with a variety of injuries ranging from a sprained ankle to broken shoulder to a torn labrum. Is this the time where Flores is finally healthy and ready to build on his amazing start to the 2009 season (.301 AVG and .877 OPS)?
Ross Detwiler - LHP
Is he finally healthy? This blurb will appear very similar to the previous one, with all the same stories being told. Tons of untapped potential. The only difference here is that Ross Detwiler was taken as the 6th overall selection in the 2007 Draft. Detwiler had the distinction of falling into the same boat as Justin Maxwell, called up to the Majors just a few months after signing with the club, starting his arbitration clock way too early. Early on it became evident that Ross was going to run into lots of problems due to the fact that his delivery crossed his body, creating unnecessary pressure on his left hip. True enough, he has had 2 separate trips to the DL with a chronic hip injury. In his limited time in the Majors, Ross has put up a 2-9 record with a 4.74 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP, not very solid for a first-round selection. If Ross can't put it together this year, it's time to starting using the word "bust".
Nyjer Morgan - CF
Nyjer's problems have been well-documented. Coming over from the Pirates in 2009, Morgan solidified a position as a future Nats star when he hit .351 and stole 24 out of 31 bags in just 49 games. Then 2010 rolled around, and it became apparent that Morgan was a loose cannon. His batting average dropped to a career low and he led baseball in Caught Stealing, hopefully new Nats 3B coach Bo Porter can work his magic in that department... Stats aside, there were tantrums in the outfield and brawls in Florida, Morgan lost a lot of goodwill with the fans. Normally this would be forgiven with solid play (See: Manny Ramirez's entire career), but Morgan struggled in every place he succeeded just one year prior; at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field. I am already on the record as saying that I believe Morgan will lose his job by July, its now up to him whether or not that happens.
Jason Marquis - RHP
Marquis was last years "big name pitcher" the Nats acquired after failing to get someone better. Signed for a 2 year/$15 million dollar contract, Marquis dazzled opposing team's fans in his first three starts, giving up 19 ER in his first 8 IP in a Nationals uniform. The lowest of low points came on the Nats first Sunday Home game of the year, when Marquis failed to record an out despite giving up 7 ER en route to a 10 run first innning. Immediately going on the DL with a "right elbow injury" (read: case of the can't-pitch-itis), Marquis was out for most of the year. He came back in August and proceeded to pitch in a bi-polar nature; couple good starts, then a bad one, couple good starts, really bad one. The only impressive thing from his 2010 season is that he was able to lower his ERA from 20.52 all the way down to 6.60 by the end of the year. Going into Spring Training, he is almost guaranteed a spot on the rotation due to the large financial commitment ($7.5 million) the team has already made. Marquis needs to have a quick recovery from his worst year as a professional, if it doesn't happen by the end of Spring Training I could see Marquis getting a pink-slip before the ball club heads north to Washington.
Bryce Harper - OF
The wunderkind himself. No player will get as much buzz as the 18 year old phenom come March 1st. In all reality Bryce Harper has no real shot at making the big league ball club, but that won't matter to baseball pundits or fans. Fresh out of a stellar performance at the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .343 with a 1.039 OPS, this will only be Harper's second experience with Major League pitching. The only real markers that Nats fans should be looking for out of Bryce will be his adjustment to the outfield and how he can hit a Big League curveball. I, for one, hope that when Capitol Baseball makes our trek down to Viera that Bryce Harper is still in Big League Camp.