Prior to the start of Spring Training, there wasn’t much to talk about with regards to Spring Training competitions for the Washington Nationals. The roster appeared to be all but set, with the exception of a couple of spots on the bench and in the bullpen.
But one storyline that we knew would be important early on was whether or not Tyler Moore, who was out of minor league options, would make the Opening Day roster. Most fans and analysts alike agreed that Moore would have to put up impressive numbers this spring to even have a chance at a spot on the bench.
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But baseball is an unpredictable game, and here we are, on Opening Day, with Moore pencilled in as the starting left fielder. How exactly did we get to this point? Well, that’s easy: injuries. Injuries not only changed the entire dynamic of Spring Training for the Nationals, but they also forced the team to adapt on the fly and rely on players that weren’t even supposed to be on the team this year.
For the Nationals, the injuries are an important test that the team will have to overcome early in the season as it looks to bring home another NL East title. For Moore, the injuries were a blessing in disguise.
Before I go any further, I should point out that Moore earned his spot on the roster and the Opening Day left field job. The 28-year-old performed very well with the bat this spring, hitting .305 with 10 extra-base hits, a home run and eight RBIs. But the injuries definitely helped his cause, and the real test for Moore is only getting started.
For a while many expected Moore to develop into the team’s first baseman or outfielder of the future. Unfortunately for Moore, inconsistency in his offense has drastically lowered his stock with the team in recent years and has led many to wonder if the Nationals should release him or, at the very least, trade him.
Moore only played in 42 games for the Nationals last season and spent 84 games at Triple-A Syracuse. When he was playing for the big league club, Moore played well but he didn’t exactly light it up. In 92 at-bats, the outfielder hit .231 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. But Moore’s biggest problem last season was that there simply wasn’t room for him on the big league club. That should change this year, and Moore needs to take advantage of the opportunity.
With uncertainties surrounding the health of outfielders Nate McLouth, Jayson Werth and Denard Span, Moore should have a solid shot at getting decent playing time this season—at least early on. And given his offensive struggles in recent years, it’s imperative that Moore starts the season with a hot bat if he wants to cement a permanent spot on the team.
When productive, Moore can be extremely valuable for the Nationals. His raw power alone can help the team substantially, whether he’s in the starting lineup or coming off the bench late in games. Moore can play first base, which is important considering current first baseman Ryan Zimmerman‘s injury history.
One aspect of Moore that is often overlooked is that he is under team control until 2019. With Denard Span and Nate McLouth set to hit free agency next winter and a lack of depth in the outfield, the Nationals may turn to Moore for an outfield job or for a key bench role next season. But in order for that to happen, Moore has to show he can produce at the big league level this year.
He may have survived Spring Training with relative ease, but the test is only getting started for Moore. He’ll likely be the starting left fielder until Werth returns, which shouldn’t take too long. He needs to take advantage of every start he makes and every at-bat he gets off the bench early in the season, because those opportunities may not be around forever.
Moore may have a spot on the team on Opening Day, but the Nationals will get healthy. Eventually, the team will likely have to decide between Moore and fellow outfielder Reed Johnson for a permanent spot on the bench. If Moore wants to be a part of the future of this team, he’ll have to produce early and hope that they choose him.