It's finally spring training, and the Nationals have a few players with something to prove. While the better parts of the Nationals spring training crew are young, hungry guys with bright futures, there are several older players in big league camp who need to prove their worth this March — or risk reaching an end to their baseball careers.
1. Sean Doolittle
A fan favorite and perhaps the Nationals' most recognizable face, Sean Doolittle was electric at the beginning of 2022, giving up just one hit all season. The catch is, of course, that he only faced 17 batters before being shut down to undergo elbow surgery.
Most pitchers face injury at one point or another in their careers, but Sean Doolittle is 36 years old. If Nationals fans have learned anything from the Stephen Strasburg debacle, it's that older pitchers have a harder time recovering from repeated trips to the IL. Doolittle had a similarly short 2020 season, also a result of injury.
The Nationals signed Doolittle to a minor league contract back in November, but he seems likely to make the opening day bullpen if he can show in spring training that he's healthy and pitching like normal. The Nats' pitching staff is sorely in need of left handed arms to pitch in relief, and Sean Doolittle is capable of being a more-than-passable option if his brief 2022 is any indication (which it very well might not be).
In 2021, his last full season since 2019, Doolittle had a 4.53 ERA between Cincinnati and Seattle. It isn't hard to imagine that if this season doesn't go right for him, he may be forced to hang it up for good. If Sean Doolittle wants his career to last a few more years, he'll have to start by making the Nationals 'pen out of spring training.
2. Yadiel Hernández
This Nationals slugger spent the 2021 season as a 30-year-old rookie, slashing .273/.329/.413 with 9 home runs. The Cuban outfielder posted similar stats in 2022, but was nonetheless booted from the roster this offseason. Yadiel Hernández will have to put up a strong spring training performance if he wants to make it back on the Nationals roster, one of the weaker lineups in baseball.
Yadiel is a player I've really enjoyed watching over the past two years, but it's hard to see where a replacement-level player of his age fits into the young Nationals lineup in 2023. And as much as I hate to say it, if you can't make the 2023 Nationals, what Major League club can you make? Will Hernández prove that he belongs in the MLB by commanding the batter's box in Palm Beach? Only time will tell.
3. Patrick Corbin
While the reigning MLB loss leader is pretty much a lock for the Nationals 2023 rotation because of his hefty contract, Corbin needs to have a good start to the year if he wants to be remotely relevant at any point in the future.
The Patrick Corbin that pitched his way to a six-year, $140 million contract and a World Series ring has been M.I.A. for the past three seasons, leaving in his place a starter who clearly only has a spot on the rotation because he's too expensive to DFA. Corbin occasionally shows signs that the all-star starter he once was is still in there someplace, but he hasn't been capable of sustaining solid play since the 2019 campaign drew to a close.
Corbin recently told Jessica Camerato of MLB.com that he was "excited" for the season and expressed confidence that he could return to form in 2023.
If Corbin really plans on turning his disastrous tenure in Washington around, he needs to begin with promising results at Spring Training. If he stumbles in the weeks leading up to opening day, it will be a message to fans, and most importantly to himself, that the issues he has struggled with since 2020 are still bogging him down. Baseball is a mental game, and Patrick Corbin needs to prove to himself that he belongs on a Major League mound every fifth day before he can prove it to the fans, at that starts at Spring Training.