The Washington Nationals currently sit 4.5 games behind the Mets in the National League East and are 8.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Race. While they are by no means out of the pennant race, with impending free agents Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Matt Thornton likely set to hit free agency after this season, many are suggesting that the Nats’ window for competing is closing. This almost laughable idea could not be farther from the truth.
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Owning one of the best minor league pitching arsenals in all of baseball, the Nationals are better braced than anyone for the departure of major pieces like Zimmermann and Fister. Already a proven major league starter, rookie Joe Ross has shown he is ready to take over a rotation spot, putting up a 3.86 ERA in nine starts.
Waiting behind him ready to compete for the No. 5 spot are A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, and former starter Tanner Roark. Beyond 2016, the Nats have even more talent, sporting the consensus top pitching prospect in the MLB in Lucas Giolito. However, it doesn’t stop there, with other arms such as flame throwing Reynaldo Lopez, former first round pick Erick Fedde, and the surging Austin Voth as possible arms for the rotation
In the outfield, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are locked up through 2018 and 2017, respectively. With Span’s depature, rookie Michael Taylor looks ready to take over the role of starting center fielder, as he has already been forced to do for a majority of this season. Putting up a .241/.284/.375 slash line in 102 games in 2015, he gives the Nats’ lineup speed at the top of the lineup as well as power, bringing up conversations of possible 20/20 seasons in his near future. As an added bonus, he plays outstanding defense, making the highlight reel as much as any other player on the team.
Heading into 2017, the Nats infield may already be set with Yunel Escobar manning the hot corner, Danny Espinosa taking over at short, Anthony Rendon at second, and Ryan Zimmerman returning at first base. However, if Espinosa is not given the starting nod, or injuries once again plague the team, young studs Wilmer Difo and No. 9 overall prospect Trea Turner could be poised to take over their positions a year early.
Already in line to inherit second base and shortstop, respectively, in 2017, Nats fans have plenty to get excited about in these minor league stars. Difo, an international prospect signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 18, has spent time at High-A Potomac as well as double-AHarrisburg and has tore it up at both levels. The recently acquired Turner has dominated the field no matter what team he’s been playing for, spending half the season in the San Diego Padres’ system as a PTBNL. Now playing for triple-A Syracuse, the young shortstop has yet to slow down, posting a .302/.343/.412 slash line in 46 games.
As Wilson Ramos enters his free agent year in 2016, the Nats will be closely monitoring their top catching prospect Jakson Reetz, who is currently with short-season Auburn. However, with his estimated time of arrival not until 2018, Washington may have to look towards free agency for a short term solution.
However, with as stacked a farm system as they have, only having to make one free agency signing to fill a lineup is nothing short of a luxury. Even if they didn’t want to look at the market, they could throw around the idea of making Jose Lobaton a full time starter, as he is one of the best framers in the game, and will be playing in his free agent year.
In the bullpen, Drew Storen and Jonathon Papelbon will be hitting free agency after the 2016 season, as will Casey Janssen if the Nats do not decide to pick up his option for next year. Most likely facing a major overhaul after struggling for a majority of this season, plenty of new faces will be coming out of the ‘pen in upcoming seasons. Minor league starters who don’t make the rotation will either be converted into relievers or traded for them (just ask Ross Detwiler).
The 2015 Nationals have been an utter disappointment, stuck between injuries and underperformance from key players, Nats fans are understandably frustrated. However, the future is bright in Washington, and not just because of the upcoming election. This Nationals team has the foundation to be a competitor for years to come, and while fans may be disappointed now, they will have plenty to cheer about over the next few seasons.