What the Nationals Opening Day Roster Might Look Like
By Sam Holstine
The Nationals ended their exhibition season on a high note, taking down the AL East favorite New York Yankees 3-0 back at home in Nats Park yesterday. They finished with an above .500 record at 13-12, but of course that doesn't mean much as it was just spring training. Tomorrow, it's time for real baseball, as the Nats open the regular season hosting Max Fried and the Braves with a 1:05 EST start time.
With spring training officially in the rearview mirror and opening day right around the corner, it's time for Mike Rizzo and Co. to figure out who will crack the opening day roster. Injuries and various transactions can help us construe what that roster will most likely look like.
The Nationals seemed to be going into the season with a set rotation that included a trio of young and promising arms - Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, and Cade Cavalli. As most of us know, Cade Cavalli injured his UCL and will now miss the year recovering from Tommy John Surgery. On a more positive note, Josiah Gray added a cutter over the offseason which has so far looked like a game changer for him. He finished spring training with a sparkling 0.55 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 16.1 innings. Considering his fastball was one of the worst pitches in baseball in general last season, this new cutter could be a huge difference maker in Gray's development. MacKenzie Gore, who also finished on a high note with two scoreless outings against the Yankees, will also have a spot in the opening day rotation.
Joining Gray and Gore will most likely be three veterans in Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, and Chad Kuhl. Everyone knows the story with Corbin, and it looks like we'll just have to keep dealing with him for now. Any improvement from last year would be monumental for him and the Nationals organization. Williams and Kuhl are two free agent adds that appear likely to be asked to eat a lot of innings for the Nats. Williams is coming off a relief role with the Mets, and Kuhl is heading to DC after having to pitch in Colorado last season. Both have shown quality stuff this spring, so hopefully that can carry over into the regular season.
Unless any sudden changes, the Nationals 2023 opening day rotation looks like it will consist of Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Trevor Williams, and Chad Kuhl.
The fun circus that is the Washington Nationals bullpen looks like it won't be the worst aspect of the squad this year. The main group looks like it will consist of Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramirez, and Mason Thompson. These five shouldn't be too much of a shock, as all their roles in the 'pen were their jobs to lose, but they all pitched quality enough to cement themselves out there.
On the other hand, the Nats found themselves with three other relievers that now look poised to take a spot in the bullpen after strong springs. Former first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, Thaddeus Ward was essentially guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, but his 2.92 ERA and 16 Ks in 12.1 innings solidified that. The two more surprising pitchers were Anthony Banda and Hobie Harris, both of which have earned spots in the bullpen coming out of camp. Banda had an unattractive 5.56 ERA, but a much more appealing 1.06 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. He is a left handed arm, something the Nats don't really have, making him a potentially valuable asset for Davey Martinez. Hobie Harris capped off the spring with a 0.90 ERA and 0.50 WHIP across 10 innings, making him a pleasant spring training suprise.
To round things off, the Nats bullpen looks like it will built with Carl Edwards Jr., Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramirez, Mason Thompson, Thaddeus Ward, Anthony Banda, and Hobie Harris.
There isn't going to be any surprises here, as the infield the Nationals will likely elect to begin 2023 with has been set for some time now. CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia will handle things up the middle, with Jeimer Candelario getting the most playing time at the hot corner. It appears Dom Smith will get the nod at first base while Joey Meneses gets reps as the DH, but expect that area to be changing throughout the season. Fresh off his 8 year extension, Keibert Ruiz will once again handle the primary catching duties.
Hitting the bench will likely be backup catcher Riley Adams, utility man Ildemaro Vargas, and journeyman Michael Chavis.
This leaves the Nats with an overall infield of Keibert Ruiz, Dom Smith, CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia, Jeimer Candelario, Joey Meneses, Riley Adams, Ildemaro Vargas, and Michael Chavis.
After Stone Garrett was optioned to AAA, the outfield was essentially set. It will be a battle who gets starts where, but it will be between Corey Dickerson, Alex Call, Lane Thomas, and Victor Robles.
There isn't much to say about this outfield. Two of these guys are outperforming expectations in spring training, while the other two have been quite underwhelming. Call and Robles are hitting to the tune of a .867 and .871 OPS, respectively, and while those numbers are pretty unsustainable, they are good signs of what could be in stock this year. On the other hand, Dickerson has a .505 OPS and Thomas has a .598 OPS, both of which are well below-average. It'll be an interesting development to see how Davey navigates this outfield throughout the year to say the least, but hopefully we can get some pleasant surprises in Alex Call and Victor Robles.
A mix of Victor Robles, Alex Call, Corey Dickerson, and Lane Thomas will be patrolling the Nationals outfield in 2023.
To recap it all, look at this fun table that encapsulates what the 2023 Nationals opening day roster is looking like it will be:
Carl Edwards Jr.