When the Washington Nationals signed free agent Dan Uggla to a minor league deal earlier this offseason, nearly everyone agreed that the signing was merely for depth and that Uggla didn’t have much of a chance of making the Opening Day roster. Months later, a lot of people probably still feel the same way.
But with Spring Training well underway for the Nationals, it’s become abundantly clear that nothing is set in stone as to who will make the Opening Day roster as a bench player, and Uggla’s name is far from being off the list of potential bench candidates.
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The team already knew going into camp that Jayson Werth would likely miss the start off the season after undergoing shoulder surgery this winter, which makes Nate McLouth the likely Opening Day starter in left field. Earlier today the Nationals announced that outfielder Denard Span underwent surgery on his right core muscle and will almost certainly miss the start of the regular season. As of right now, Michael Taylor would likely take Span’s place in center field on Opening Day.
With players such as McLouth and Taylor – who likely would’ve taken bench roles it it weren’t for the injuries – set to be Opening Day starters, the window of opportunity is wide open for players such as Uggla, whose chances of making the bench looked slim just a few weeks ago. For Uggla, the rest of camp will not only give him a good shot at making the Opening Day roster, but there’s also a chance he’ll make the team as the Opening Day second baseman.
Yesterday, the Nationals announced that second baseman Yunel Escobar has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 oblique strain and will be shut down for 7-10 days. Obviously, the injury is not good news. Escobar was in the process of transitioning to a new position and the time off will undoubtedly slow the transition and his overall preparation for the 2015 season. Furthermore, oblique injuries tend to linger if players are rushed back into action too soon, so Escobar’s 7-10 day timetable may very well change if his symptoms do not subside with rest.
Of course, none of this guarantees Uggla the Opening Day second base job or even a spot on the bench. What it does show, however, is that the Nationals’ roster – specifically the bench – is not set in stone.
The Nationals entered Spring Training with virtually no holes in their roster. But with the recent injuries that the team has suffered in the early days of camp, there are suddenly several concerns surrounding the ball club with Opening Day less than a month away. For Uggla, those concerns may be a blessing in disguise. It’s up to him to make the most of the opportunity.