After last week’s post about the dire state of the Washington Nationals bullpen, I was hoping to write a positive article this week. However, that plan was short-lived as Michael A. Taylor was injured in a Spring Training game on March 14. Taylor left the game early and a later MRI showed that he sprained both his left hip and knee. Manager Davey Martinez said that Taylor will miss “a significant amount of time.” The diagnosis is better than expected, but the news was still unwelcome.
With fewer than 10 days until Opening Day, this is bad, bad news. Without Bryce Harper in right field and Taylor in center field, 20-year-old Juan Soto is left to lead the outfield. The Nats do not have much depth in the outfield right now, and they might have to go shopping again.
I’m a fan of Andrew Stevenson, but his offense can be lacking at times, most notably with 23 strikeouts in 75 at-bats last season. Hopefully, he has fixed some of the issues that were causing him to strikeout often last season. He was a center fielder in college, so he could take Taylor’s spot, but he has primarily played in the corners with the Nats. Taylor isn’t a great hitter, but the Nats need him in the lineup for his speed.
Highly touted prospect Victor Robles has been taking Taylor’s place in the lineup in the past few days, and looks to be improving. He is the inverse of Stevenson right now. Robles has been hitting well, but his defense is not as strong. Many expected him to start the season in AAA or on the bench, but now it looks like he will start the season in center field for the Nats.
Veteran Adam Eaton is returning to the outfield after missing most of 2017 and 2018 with ankle and knee injuries. He is known for his speed in the outfield and on the basepaths, but it remains to be seen how the 30-year-old will handle a return to a full season. Eaton and shortstop Trea Turner are expected to bat leadoff and second in the lineup, but in order to make those contributions count, the rest of the lineup will have to hit them in, and the outfield will have to provide a strong defense.
An untested outfield of Soto in left, Robles in center field, and an Eaton/Stevenson platoon in right field is not exactly what the Nats wanted to start the season which, but it looks like they will have to make it work. Jack-of-all-trades Howie Kendrick is still injured, and other utility players may not be available for the outfield, and certainly not center field to open the season.
The good news is that as of March 17, Taylor was beginning light baseball activities. He was running in the pool and throwing a baseball. He isn’t shut down, which means that he won’t lose all of his baseball strength, but running in a pool and throwing from 90 feet is a far cry from manning an MLB outfield, especially at Nationals Park with that funky triangle in straightaway center. Not everyone is comfortable with that and his replacements are running out of time to practice.