3 Optimistic Takes For The Nationals This Year
The Washington Nationals are in for another bad season, and all Nats fans know that. FanGraphs currently projects them to finish last in the NL East with a 66-96 record. That's also good enough for the second worst record in the league as whole, only one game better than the Colorado Rockies. I previously wrote about how this franchise could optimistically look down the line, but let's take it slow and look at this season with the same state of mind. There will be a lots of ups and downs throughout the 2023 season, but as Nationals fans, it's important for us to hold on to those ups and see what these players can turn into. Here is three optimistic and realistic takes for the Nationals 2023 season.
1. The Nationals Find Themselves With Multiple All Stars
Every team is guaranteed at least one player representing their squad at the annual All Star festivities in July. Many of the rebuilding and weaker squads find themselves with only one All Star, something that's only possible because of that rule. For those kinds of teams, typically their best player is the one that gets the nod to the accomplishment. For the Nats however, it is entirely possible we get to see multiple of our favorite players in the Midsummer Classic. While I entirely hope that players like CJ Abrams and Josiah Gray play at an All Star caliber level, it is more than likely they won't yet cross into that territory yet. Two Nationals that can come into their own and reach that level are Keibert Ruiz and MacKenzie Gore.
For Ruiz, it's gonna be a matter of if he can get his bat going. His defense is already established, nabbing 28% of the batters attempting to steal on him last season. His pop time isn't all too great, but his accuracy when delivering the baseball to whoever is covering 2B is outstanding.
To switch over to his offensive season, Keibert finished 2022 slashing .251/.313/.360, adding up to a lackluster .673 OPS. Two big components of his offensive game that he can improve upon are his walk rate and power. Keibert finished in the 33rd percentile when it came to his chase rate last year, a number that if increased, would certainly help his entire offensive output. He also ranked in the 11th percentile for both hard percentage and barrel percentage, aligning with his low 22.8 line drive percentage. The key to unlocking Keibert Ruiz's offensive potential is improving his aggressiveness at the dish and getting him to hit the ball harder with more consistency. He has shown his power throughout his minor league career, but now it is time for him to transfer it to the big leagues. If Ruiz is able to accomplish that and cement himself as one of the better all around backstops in the National League, a trip to the All Star festivities in Seattle will be in the picture for him.
MacKenzie Gore, barring any injuries, could accompany Keibert Ruiz in Seattle come July of this season. MacKenzie's last name is fitting, as his pitch mix and ability to make batters miss is nasty. In his first nine appearances with the Padres last season, Gore threw 48 innings, striking out 57 batters while only allowing 34 hits, 17 walks, and 8 earned runs. That's good enough for a 1.50 ERA, 10.69 K/9, and 1.06 WHIP. Those numbers are almost certainly unsustainable for a full season, and Gore did struggle through his last seven appearances before landing on the injured list for the rest of the year. Given his initial success in the big leagues, if Gore is able to stay healthy and keep his arm in check, he can go on a run similar to the one he started his career with and find himself being named an All Star.
If Gore and Ruiz are able to go to the All Star game together, Nats fans and the entire league would be shown the potential power battery for years to come being stored in the nation's capital. Those two are the most likely All Stars on the Nationals initial roster, but other players like Joey Meneses, Mason Thompson, and Josiah Gray all have the potential to play well enough to become All Stars. Overall, this Nationals roster has enough talented players that saying the Nats will find themselves with multiple all stars isn't an outlandish take.
2. CJ Abrams Wins a Gold Glove
CJ Abrams is an entertaining player to watch and I can not wait to continue to watch him develop for years. His speed and bat-to-ball skills with developing power aid him towards the high upside prospect status he holds. For this segment however, I am looking more at his defensive upside. As previously mentioned, his speed is off the charts. He ranked in the 91st percentile in sprint speed last season, and he is able to advantageously utilize his speed in a way that allows him to get to ground balls many other shortshops can't. Some of his advanced metrics don't particularly like him, such as his -8 OAA last year at shortshop. Regardless, we all know stats don't show the full story, and in only 90 games for the Padres and Nationals last year, Abrams was able to put together a collection of highlight plays. As he gets more and more experience in the field, his defense will continue to improve. Multiple gold gloves look like they are part of CJ Abrams future, so why not start your career with your new organization with a gold glove caliber season.
3. The Nationals End the Season With a Top-15 Bullpen
I've alluded to this in previous articles, but the Nationals bullpen coming into 2023 looks like one of the stronger components of their roster. We'll obviously have to see who slides into each role and how they perform as a unit, but it isn't too far fetched to say this team could end up with an above average bullpen. As it currently stands, FanGraphs projects the Nationals bullpen to consist of; Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, Victor Arano, Sean Doolittle, Alex Colome, Erasmo Ramirez, and Thaddeus Ward. Players not currently projected to be a part of the opening day 'pen but could easily find themselves out there at some point include Mason Thompson (who should definitely be out there), Jordan Weems, and Paolo Espino. Nats fans have gotten to watch most of these guys before, as they all were either on the roster last year or are longtime vets like Alex Colome. The only thing missing from this group is a bonafide lefty, in which the Nationals have a couple internal options in Matt Cronin and Jose A. Ferrer. Nevertheless, this squad consists of a bunch of solid guys that can together build a strong 'pen. Mason Thompson and Thaddeus Ward have both shown glimpses of elite potential to become future assets to this franchise. Kyle Finnegan has been a consistent reliever for the Nationals for three years now. Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, and Erasmo Ramirez all put together really strong 2022 campaigns in Washington. All in all, Davey Martinez could find himself with some reliable options to his disposal throughout the year, helping the Nationals close down some much needed wins. As ironic as it is, it is so like this franchise to have the best bullpen it has had in years when the team as a whole is the worst it has been in years.
With the Nationals first spring training game happening this afternoon against the St. Lous Cardinals, it's officially baseball season. As Nationals fans adjust their expectations for this year, it is still fair to expect a number of positive outcomes to come out of this year with. All three of the things mentioned above are entirely realistic for the Nationals, and as a fanbase with not much to look forward to besides the future, outcomes like these would be heavily appreciated by the fanbase.