When Taylor Jordan arrives in Port St. Lucie on Friday, he’ll probably have quite a few things on his mind.
The 24-year-old right-hander will not only be preparing to start the Nationals’ first Grapefruit League game of the spring, but he’ll also know that Friday’s game is more than just a meaningless exhibition game for him.
As soon as Jordan steps onto the mound Friday, the competition for the fifth spot in the starting rotation will officially begin, a competition in which Jordan will play a major role.
While cracking the Opening Day roster won’t be an easy task by any means, Jordan will still have several chances to prove that the job belongs to him this spring. His first chance will come this Friday, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing a lot of him this spring.
Jordan is not the only Nationals player who could benefit from a full slate of spring training games.
For second baseman Danny Espinosa, Grapefruit League play will essentially be a month-long tryout. Not only will he have a chance to make the Opening Day roster, but he’ll also be in what manager Matt Williams called an “open competition” for the starting second base job.
While Williams insists that there are no favorites in the competition, it’s hard to believe that Espinosa–who only appeared in 43 games for the Nationals in 2013–will have any real shot at dethroning Anthony Rendon for the Opening Day job.
Nevertheless, spring exhibition games will give Espinosa a chance to earn back his old job. And if he truly has recovered from the injuries that plagued him in 2013, a chance may be all he needs to become the great player that the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in 2008.
The team’s 31 exhibition games will also give a handful of relievers the opportunity to compete for the final two spots in the Nationals’ bullpen. Josh Roenicke, Ryan Mattheus, Christian Garcia, Sammy Solis, and several others will all compete for the remaining spots.
While this particular competition will likely go to the very end of spring training, all of those players will treat their Grapefruit League appearances as if they were coming in to protect a late-inning lead in the heat of a playoff race.
For baseball fans, spring training games are essentially glorified workouts. And it’s true, the games are completely meaningless and have absolutely no influence on what happens during the regular season. But for some players, the first game of spring training is just as important as Opening Day. Because for most of them, there simply wouldn’t be an Opening Day without spring training games.
It’s impossible to know what will become of all these different competitions, and we likely won’t find out for at least a few more weeks. The one thing we do know however, is that March promises to be an exciting month to watch Nationals baseball. And fortunately for us, that excitement starts in less than 24 hours.