Washington Nationals Opinions: Who Should Hit Lead Off?

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On Friday afternoon, manager Matt Williams put out the regular lineup against the New York Yankees down in Tampa, Florida. For the Washington Nationals, they come into 2015 after having an offense that was third in all of baseball in runs scored a season ago. However, with injuries to regulars Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, and with Jayson Werth still a question mark to play Monday. Without Span in the lineup for the first month due to core muscle surgery, who should be the player that sets the tone early in the order?

For me, it comes down to two players. Michael Taylor, the top position player prospect in the Nationals organization and the new second baseman, Yunel Escobar, who has recently played games at third base. I don’t think Williams could go wrong with either guy, since Washington is deep at other positions in the lineup. However, the Nationals saw in the second half how important a leadoff man can be when they saw Span hit .346, had a .403 on-base percentage, and stole 16 bases in 21 attempts.

The one stat that couldt separate Taylor and Escobar in finding a leadoff hitter is the strikeouts. Yes, Escobar’s spring training was cut short due to an oblique strain at the beginning of camp. However, the veteran only had one strikeout in 22 at-bats.

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As for Taylor, despite the great spring training he had, one of the things you still notice in his game is the high volume of strikeouts. In fact, Taylor was third on the team in strikeouts this spring (14), behind Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond. While the 24-year-old hit .313 in double-A Harrisburg last year and had a .396 on-base percentage, he still recorded 130 strikeouts and that was out of the leadoff spot.

If you had to picture an ideal leadoff hitter, you would want a player with speed, which Taylor has, but not as many strikeouts. When you look at Escobar career’s numbers, he is a career. 290 hitter out of the leadoff spot (according to Baseball Reference). It is clear, judging by Friday’s lineup, that Escobar will hit in the top two of the order. If you go by the veteran’s career number, those splits of batting first and second are his two highest averages compared to any other spots in the order.

It is a spot that Matt Williams can’t go wrong by putting either one of these players in the leadoff spot. While it looks like Taylor will get the first crack, this is a spot where, in my opinion, Williams needs to be flexible and try each one of them out. That being said, with some of the key injuries early, players like Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Desmond will need to be at the center of the order.

For Taylor and Escobar, they don’t need to put up the power numbers. They just need to find a way to get on base and set up those run scoring opportunities. Right now, it should be Taylor, but don’t rule out a lineup switch if the young center fielder gets off to a rocky start.

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