Washington Nationals 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Washington Nationals. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

I wanted to in the worst way; to put up a picture of Bryce Harper as ‘the headliner’. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the picture that goes at the top of these previews year by year is ‘the headline guy’ or a pop culture reference to the team, or something that will associate your mind with the post forever if done correctly. This is not unique from what other blogs do.

But as badly as I want to make the 2011 Washington Nationals storyline about Bryce Harper, I can’t. It’s just not time yet (he went 0 for 2 with 2 K’s yesterday in his unofficial debut). But I’m telling you, Harper fever is on the horizon. And we’ve already caught a mild case.

If you’re a baseball fan, this team is going to be the team that will someday knock the Philadelphia Phillies off the hill. They’ll be the Buster Douglas to Philly’s Mike Tyson act in just a few short years. I can see it coming now. But it’s just going to be a waiting game until then. And Washington will continue to stockpile the young talent and supporting cast that will get it done. And when that day arrives they’re going to be on top for a while.

The Future

These young guys I like go beyond the crown jewels of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Add to the list Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa and Mike Morse.

These guys have major staying power. I think they’ll all be part of that eventual group in Washington that wins a division. But right now it’s more about the climb through the ranks of the minor leagues or more about becoming productive players at the Major League level so they can all peak together to make my prediction come true.

On a surface level everyone wants to look at Harper or Strasbug, but GM Mike Rizzo knows what he has been doing. Look at that grocery list of guys above; that is a ton of young talent and that isn’t even including whoever they find in lower rounds of drafts and this upcoming draft to add to the mix. It’s silly to think they’ll all pan out, but it’s also silly to think that a team with that much young talent stock-piled won’t be raising some eventual Hell in the standings. Their day is coming.

The Now

Now that we’ve showed you a glimpse into what will be by as early as 2012, it’s time to look at what will be in 2011. This is Ryan Zimmerman’s (pictured above as the headliner) team. He’s one of the cream of the crop third baseman in the game, coming off a season where he hit .307 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI. He’ll be 26, and you would expect him to continue his very Scott Rolen-esque career. He’s durable, consistent, and understands all about playing hard for a team that hasn’t played many meaningful ballgames. That says a lot about a player. He’s the unofficial captain of this group for all intensive purposes.

With Strasburg out for the year recovering from Tommy-John surgery, it’s been deemed a ‘throw away’ year in Washington. When you look at the starting rotation of Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Jordan Zimmerman, Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang, Tom Gorzelanny or Yunesky Maya as the starting rotation, you find out why these guys don’t have a ton of hope for the ‘now’.

The bullpen bunch boasts some decent names. Tyler Clippard finally found his niche in the game of baseball as a long-relief/set-up type. Sean Burnett and Drew Storen are quality guys of the group. They’ll have a host of other guys to shape the rest of the pen from in Clay Meredith, Doug Slaten, and Henry Rodriguez.

The Ian Desmond files

He’ll be just 25 years old, and he’s already one of the best defensive shortstops in the game of baseball. Last year, he showed that he has a little bit of pop to the tune of .268/10/65. He also stole 17 bases. You’ll take that any day from a guy who plays defense the way he does, and it would be silly to assume that he has already topped out. He’s going to turn into a top of the order hitter and a guy who can score over 100 runs. You should keep your eyes on this kid, because he’s going to eliminate the negative plays in the field (he did have 34 errors last season) and gain enough notoriety to win a Rawlings Gold Glove award. Washington has a nice little shorstop to build around for the future.

The Outfield, starring Jayson Werth

Everyone knows that this was one of the worst contracts ever signed, but that was based on what he’ll be doing several years from now and not necessarily what he’ll produce in 2011. For this year, he figures to still be a guy who can hurt opposing teams and he’ll be a key cog in the lineup hitting 3rd on most nights.

We have to hand it to him, we don’t know how he’s evolved from journeyman to significant linchpin, but he’s done it. Expect him to have a nice season around the .280/25/100 arena and look momentarily like he’s earning the big contract. But time catches up to us all.

We really like Roger Bernadina and Mike Morse. It’s too bad the Nats won’t just scrap the Nyjer Morgan experiment altogether, play Bernadina in center and Morse on one of the corners every day. Morse is downright scary power-wise and Bernadina is a nice balanced outfielder who can play any of the three spots above average. If they could combine the two somehow, they would have a whale of a player; which is basically what they’ll probably do in a platoon role.

Don’t forget, they’ve also got Rick Ankiel in a pinch. Not a bad guy to have off the bench.

Odds and Ends

The starting catcher is going to be Ivan Rodriguez. The first baseman is Adam LaRoche. You could be worse off there, but you could be a lot better. These guys haven’t stuck anywhere in a while and there’s a reason for that. These are hold-overs, not long and steady’s we’re talking about.

Jerry Hairston Jr. is a nice piece off the bench. He’ll get a few clutch hits that win ballgames. People might think that guys like him on a team like Washington don’t make a difference, but they actually are what makes Washington trend towards .500 rather than towards winning only 70.

The Final Verdict

We like Jim Riggleman. He’s the right man for the job in Washington. He’s a good baseball man and a guy who can win if given the time to put something together. While this ultimately is a throw away year, look for them to gear up for 2012 and find a regular 9 that get them the most wins possible while heading in that direction. A lot of eyes will be on Bryce Harper’s activity in the minor leagues, but at the Major League level we like them to finish 4th in the division and win about 80 games, falling just short of the .500 level. However, they’re pesky, and they will steal a series from competitive teams here and there.