Washington Nationals 26 man roster projections for opening day of the 2020 season
The Washington Nationals are set to defend their 2019 World Series Championship with a mixed bag of returning players and new additions to their roster. Major League Baseball has increased the total roster size to 26 players from opening day until roster expansion on August 31. Here is how the Nationals roster projects to shape up.
Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki
Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki return to split time behind the dish in 2020. Suzuki will likely serve as Max Scherzer’s primary catcher and Gomes will work directly with Patrick Corbin, while they platoon with the rest of the staff. The duo was decent in 2019 but not spectacular. Nationals catchers finished 15th in WAR and 7th in home runs in all of baseball last season. “Rowdy” Raudy Reed and Tres Berrera will serve as insurance at the position in the minor leagues.
Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman
Eric Thames was signed in the offseason as a left-handed power hitter. The Nationals have seen players like Clint Robinson, Adam Lind and Matt Adams serve in a similar capacity in recent years, but Thames’s addition feels more significant. Robinson, Lind and Adams hovered around 300 plate appearances in each of their seasons. Whereas I project Thames to be closer to the 450 PA’s he saw last season with the Brewers. Thames is legit. Last season he had 25 homers and a slugging percentage of .505. He will add pop to a lineup that is sure to need it after Anthony Rendon’s departure. Ryan Zimmerman re-signed late in the off-season on a one year $2 million contract with incentives. The career National will try to stay healthy, as he has had over 400 Plate Appearances only twice in the last six seasons. Zim will provide leadership and defensive stability at first, while trying to build off of his offensive productive during the 2019 postseason.
Trea Turner returns to his spot on the diamond for the 2020 season. Turner toughed out a broken finger through much of the 2019 season. A year removed from playing in all 162 games, Turner played in 122 in 2019, but his production was still strong. He hit 19 home runs and had a .298 batting average during the 2020 campaign. Turner has stolen at least 33 bases in all four of his big league seasons. Davey Martinez is bouncing around the idea of hitting Turner third in the order this season, which could increase his offensive numbers hitting in front of Juan Soto.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo
Much of the focus during the spring will be spent on infield alignments, with everyone mentioned above getting at least some looks at second and third base. Davey Martinez will try to use the depth of his roster to make up for much of the production lost after Anthony Rendon departed during free agency. The obvious exclusion on this projection is prospect Carter Kieboom. I fully expect Kieboom to play a significant role with the Nationals in 2020, but I suspect he will start the season in the minor leagues. Wilmer Difo is out of minor league options and the club could elect to have Kieboom get additional reps and at bats in the minor league level before he joins the big league club sometime in May or June. Keep in mind, Kieboom has only played 10 professional games at third base. Unless he has a break out spring training, I suspect Cabrera plays third, Castro and Kendrick (who will also see time at first base) split time at second and Difo serves as a bench option.
Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor
The core outfield group from the Nationals championship run will return in 2020. Soto, Eaton and Robles each played in at least 150 regular season games last season and that stability was key in the Nationals run. Robles and Soto look to expand on their production last season, as both are extremely young and hold immense potential. Adam Eaton’s first two seasons in Washington we marred by injuries but he proved to be a solid addition as a pesky number two hitter last season. Andrew Stevenson gets bumped down to the minor leagues after Michael A. Taylor received a $3.325 million contract with the Nationals during the offseason.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Joe Ross
The Nationals starting rotation will look very similar to last season with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez locked into the first four spots. The fifth starter is still up for debate (as it is most years with the Nationals). Joe Ross, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde will compete for that spot this spring. Fedde has one remaining minor league option, meaning Ross and Voth are the only realistic options. I am giving the edge to Joe Ross simply because of experience. He has started 57 major league games over five seasons compared to only ten for Voth. Austin was the better pitcher last season with a 3.30 ERA, but Joe Ross was called on to start for and injured Max Scherzer in game five of the World Series. Flip a coin, whoever isn’t the fifth starter should end up in the bullpen.
Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias, Austin Voth, Ryne Harper
The achilles heel for the 2019 Nationals was the bullpen. Doolittle and Hudson return to serve as a right and left handed closer option and “Yes that” Will Harris signed in the offseason after several highly successful seasons in Houston. Mike Rizzo has done his due diligence to sure up the pen but there are certainly still questions. The Nationals hope that Tanner Rainey can continue the progress he demonstrated during the second half of 2019. Hunter Strickland hopes to find his form after a challenging 2019 season. The most surprising absence from this projection is Wander Suero who appeared in 78 games for Washington in 2019. My bold prediction for the bullpen is that Ryne Harper, who was a late free agent acquisition, has a terrific spring and earns a spot on the 26 man roster. In that situation, Suero is likely the odd man out as Elias and Voth (or Ross) are each out of minor league options.