There is uncertainty surrounding every industry imaginable right now due to COVID-19 and sports is no different. But one thing is for certain, there will be Major League Baseball at some point in 2020. We all just have to be patient while we wait for Opening Day to arrive.
Knowing that there will be baseball and that the season will likely start with little-to-no ramp-up period for players, let’s take a look at how the 26-man roster will look for the Washington Nationals in 2020. Multiple infield positions will either be platooned and/or a game of “Who’s Hot?”.
Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes
For the second-straight season, the backstop will be manned by veteran-catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki, 36, returned to the Nationals prior to last season and quickly became the go-to catcher for Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Offensively, he batted .264, smacking 17 homers and plating 63 runs during the regular season, but he struggled mightily in the postseason. He notched just three hits across 35 plate appearances.
Gomes, 32, came to Washington via a trade from the Cleveland Indians in December 2018. After winning the World Series, the team declined his option, but then re-signed him on a two-year contract. He was never able to get into a rhythm in 2019, as he hit just .223 with more than double the number of strikeouts then he had walks. However, he became the primary catcher for Patrick Corbin.
The Nationals will need Suzuki to get back to his regular-season form and for Gomes to find the rhythm he had in his 2018 All-Star season with the Indians. If both come out of the gate slow or are hindered by injuries, Washington may be forced to look outside of the organization for a replacement.
Ryan Zimmerman and Eric Thames
The Nationals first-ever draft pick, Ryan Zimmerman, returns to DC for his 15th season in the majors. Putting retirement off for at least one more year, Zimmerman signed a 1-year, $2 million contract for 2020, which many believe will be his last. There’s little left for Washington to expect out of Mr. Walk-Off, seeing he’s already the franchise leader in most offensive categories and is an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. He’s battled injuries and missed significant time in the past couple of years, including in 2019 when he played in just 52 regular-season games. If he can play in just 60 games this season, the front-office will be happy and Zimmerman will get a much-deserved farewell tour.
Zimmerman will be joined by former Milwaukee Brewers slugger Eric Thames, who was signed by the Nationals in January 2020. Thames, 33, was a staple in the Milwaukee lineup for three seasons, belting 72 home runs and collecting 161 RBIs in 383 games played. His biggest weakness in recent seasons has been his tendency to chase pitches out of the zone, which led to him striking out at a clip just over once per game. The lefty will need to have a better eye at the plate if the Nationals first-base platoon of Zimmerman and Thames is going to work.
Howie Kendrick and Starlin Castro
One of the heroes of the Nationals 2019 World Series run, Howie Kendrick, returns to Washington for his fourth season in the nation’s capital. Kendrick, 36, is defying age and is arguably in the best stretch of his career. Since joining the Nationals via trade from Philadelphia in 2017, Kendrick has been a thorn in the sides of opposing pitchers as he’s put up a .329/.367/.529 slash line in more than 700 at-bats. Defensively, he’s committed just six errors while playing an infield position in 213 games with the Nationals. Kendrick will likely see time at first base and potentially third base as well in 2020.
Splitting time at second will be newcomer Starlin Castro. Castro, 30, signed with the Nationals in January after spending the past two seasons in Miami, with previous engagements with the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees. Castro has been a middle-infielder for the entirety of his career but, has transitioned to play second base almost exclusively in recent seasons. He’s coming off of back-to-back seasons of more than 150 games played and played in all 162 of the Marlins games a year ago. The four-time All-Star has remained consistent despite calling multiple ballparks “home” in his career. He is coming off of a season in which he set new career-highs in home runs (22) and RBIs (86). Castro will likely see time at shortstop and third base as well in 2020.
Returning to the nation’s capital for his fifth full season in the majors is leadoff batter, Trea Turner. Turner, 26, battled through an index-finger injury that he suffered in early April a season ago, but had surgery to repair it this offseason. Despite the injury, Turner batted .298 and tied his career-high in home runs with 19, despite playing in only122 games. Back to full-strength, Washington will need Turner to take his game to the next level as the team looks to overcome the absence of All-Star Anthony Rendon. If Turner can pick-up where he left off in 2019, and continue to swipe bases and make jaw-dropping plays, he could be an early candidate for the 2020 Most Valuable Player award.
The Nationals brought Asdrubal Cabrera back to Washington for their push to the postseason in August 2019 and he didn’t disappoint as he quickly took Brian Dozier’s starting spot at second base from him. Cabrera, 34, re-signed with the Nationals in January on a 1-year deal that will see him be the team’s primary third baseman, at least at the start of the season, replacing Rendon. Much like Kendrick and Castro, Cabrera’s versatility to play anywhere in the infield will allow manager Dave Martinez to mix-up the lineup and move player’s around as needed.
At some point in 2020, rookie Carter Kieboom will likely arrive and split time with Cabrera at the hot corner. Kieboom’s natural position is at shortstop, but given Turner’s success and years remaining of club control, Kieboom will shift to third base. As long as minor league baseball is played in 2020, Kieboom will start the season in AAA-Fresno.
While some of the above will be utilized as utility-men this season, Wilmer Difo truly fits the bill. Difo, 28, has played in parts of five seasons with the Nationals and has played all three outfield positions and each infield position except for first-base. Across 2,119 innings played, he’s accrued just 16 errors in 907 defensive chances. Offensively, he’s a career .250 batter with 15 long-balls, 78 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Difo is a perfect late-inning replacement or pinch-runner in a tight game and can slot-in anywhere to spell a starter.
Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor
The outfield will look exactly the same in 2020 as it did when the Nationals won the World Series just six months ago. Juan Soto returns to man left field, Victor Robles will patrol center field and Adam Eaton will be in right. Since making his debut in May 2018, Soto, 21, has batted .287 with 56 home runs and 180 RBIs. The Nationals will need him to continue his offensive prowess and keep climbing to a superstar level.
Robles, 22, stole 28 bases in the regular season in 2019 and will look to give Turner a run for his money this season to be the team’s leading bag-swiper. He batted just .255 a year ago and was consistently sat down on strikes. While he’s one of the quickest on the base paths and most-skilled defensively, he’ll need to turn things around at the plate if he’s going to be effective.
Eaton, 31, could be entering his final year with the Nationals if his team option is not picked-up for 2021. That alone should push Eaton to the next level of his game as he wants to prove that he can still be an impact player. Since being traded to Washington before the 2017 season, Eaton has batted .288 with 22 home runs and 95 RBI but, has also missed significant time due to injury. He played in 151 regular-season games in 2019, the third-most in his career.
To give three starters a break and pinch-run occasionally for the Nationals will be Michael A. Taylor. Taylor, 29, lost his job in center field to Robles and has struggled when called upon since moving to a reserve role. He struggled so mightily in 2019 that he was sent to AA-Harrisburg to figure things out. Unfortunately, he never got into a rhythm and didn’t get called back up to the big leagues until September. Taylor will need to find himself in 2020 or the Nationals will likely look in a different direction.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez and Joe Ross/Austin Voth
Little needs to be said about the Nationals front-four of the rotation, all of whom are returning from the 2019 championship-winning team. Assuming all are healthy, the rotation should take the same shape as it did a year ago and should remain for the entirety of the season. As for the fifth spot in the rotation, it’s up to Joe Ross or Austin Voth.
Ross, 26, appeared in 27 games in 2019, starting nine of those and 48 in the four years previous. He has struck out 294 batters in his five-year Nationals career to the tune of a 4.29 ERA. Voth, 27, started eight games for Washington last season, striking out 44 in 43.2 innings pitched. Ross and Voth are both out of Minor League options, so whichever doesn’t win the battle for the fifth starter will likely move to the bullpen to begin the season. If all else fails, they could look to promote Erick Fedde or Kyle McGowin, who has two career MLB starts.
Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Roenis Elías, Ryne Harper, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero and Joe Ross/Austin Voth
It’s been documented hundreds of times already, but the Nationals bullpen was horrible in 2019. When the Nationals were a dismal 19-31 on May 24, the bullpen was the cause of most of the losses, and even blew multiple leads in the games that the Nationals did win. Rizzo made additions to the bullpen at the trade deadline that cemented Washington’s World Series run. Those above that are returning to DC will need to elevate their game to the next level, and do so from their first appearance in 2020.
Rizzo went out and acquired two pitchers that will make an immediate impact for the Nationals this summer. Will Harris, 35, comes to Washington after making 68 appearances for the Houston Astros in 2019, with a 1.50 ERA and a WHIP under one. Harris will join Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle as the trustworthy back-end of the bullpen arms. Ryne Harper, 31, will join the bullpen a year removed from his rookie campaign with the Minnesota Twins. Harper made 61 appearances in 2019, fanning 50 while walking just 10.
A 29 man roster
There have been rumors that Major League Baseball is considering a 29-man roster for 2020 to limit the number of injuries sustained by players. If approved, the following Nationals may get the nod to join the big-league squad:
– Austen Williams, RHP: Williams, 27, has made 12 appearances for the Nationals since 2018, all of which have come out of the bullpen. He has accumulated an ERA of 10.80 in 10 innings pitched.
– Andrew Stevenson, OF: Stevenson, 25, has played in 124 games in his career, all with the Nationals. In 2019, he batted .367 with two extra-base hits in 30 at-bats. He has one career home run and 14 RBIs.
– Aaron Barrett, RHP: Barrett, 32, has battled back from multiple injuries and surgeries and made his long-awaited return to the majors in 2019. Despite a shaky return to the nation’s capital last season, Barrett sports a career 3.86 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched.