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2011 Nats Preview: The Future Is Arriving

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

Most franchises, coming off seasons where they held consecutive first overall draft picks, would have their eyes focused firmly on the distant horizon. Not the Nationals though, and you can't really blame them. Their two top picks are once-in-a-generation talents (Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper) whose development can be measured in months and not years, and the organization features a host of other young talent who are either just reaching the majors or are not far away. The result is a roster whose best days are ahead but which could still make noise in the present, and that was excuse enough to open up the checkbook and throw an absurdly big contract Jayson Werth's way.

The money wasn't spent without purpose though. Signing Werth and Adam LaRoche, while letting Adam Dunn walk and trading Josh Willingham, was aimed at keeping the offense productive while improving the team's overall defense and maintaining roster flexibility, as LaRoche doesn't block anyone at the moment while Werth can easily slide over to left field once Harper is ready. As far as juggling acts go, GM Mike Rizzo balanced the team's immediate needs with those of 2013 about as well as could be hoped.

Strasburg's Tommy John surgery puts a big damper on the team's chances of making the playoffs in 2011 of course, but a lot would have had to go right anyway for the club to make a run even if Strasburg were whole. Once he returns, Harper and Derek Norris join Werth and Ryan Zimmerman in the heart of the order, and the young double play duo of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa hone their skills, this could be a very scary team to face. The future remains bright in Washington, but for the first time in a long time the present isn't too bad either.

Offseason Moves:

Signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract.

The Nationals had to overpay (and then some) to land a top-flight free agent, and while Werth won't quite replace Adam Dunn's raw power he's a far more well-rounded player and is just as potent an offensive weapon, although his defense in 2010 took a steep drop from its 2007-2008 peak. He still carries a rep as something of a fragile player but played at least 156 games in each of the last two seasons, and slotting in behind Ryan Zimmerman he should get plenty of RBI chances. There's no reason to think the Nats won't get solid value for their money, at least in the short term.

Traded Josh Willingham to the A's for Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown.

Willingham appeared to have broken through to a new level in the first half of 2010, but the seemingly inevitable injuries dragged his numbers back down to about his usual production. The Nationals dealt him away rather than paying full price in arbitration, and got back a reliever in Rodriguez who averages almost 99 mph with his fastball and is a potential future closer if he sharpens his command, and an older prospect in Brown whose broad skill set could allow him to be more than just a fourth outfielder.

Signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract.

LaRoche essentially replaces Willingham's bat and Adam Dunn's glove on the roster, and while he'll provide a slight downgrade on offense his defense at first base should more than make up the difference, especially with two young middle infielders in the starting lineup who may need a more forgiving target than Dunn for their errant throws.

Traded Michael Burgess, AJ Morris and Graham Hicks to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny.

Gorzelanny has had his moments but hasn't been able to flash much consistency in the majors, but he's a left-hander with a bit of upside to add to the Nationals' rotation competition. Burgess, the best of the three prospects dealt, still has potential but he became expendable with Werth ahead of him and Bryce Harper behind him on the right field depth chart.

Signed Rick Ankiel to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million plus incentives.

He can't stay healthy and can't hit lefties, but Ankiel still managed to get a major league deal from the Nats. An Ankiel/Mike Morse platoon in left field could end up being surprisingly effective, but more likely Ankiel will end up as a bench bat and reserve outfielder.

Signed Jerry Hairston Jr to a one-year contract.

He should provide a veteran presence on the bench and replace Willie Harris' waning defensive versatility, but the roster is deep enough now that he doesn't have a clear path to regular at-bats.

Signed Todd Coffey to a one-year contract.

Coffey should help stabilize the middle relief corps, and a hot streak could get him closer consideration in a bullpen without an established stopper.

Signed Matt Stairs to a minor league contract.

The veteran slugger will be given every opportunity to win a bench job, but won't see enough at-bats to have much value.

Selected Elvin Ramirez and Brian Broderick in the Rule 5 draft.

Ramirez is your prototypical raw power arm in the bullpen with control issues, while Broderick profiles more as a sinkerball specialist swingman. Both are long shots to win a spot on the 25-man roster.

Traded Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for Adam Olbrychowski.

Olbrychowski has the stuff to be a successful short reliever but has yet to harness his control or command in the minors. Maxwell has fallen out of favor even as a fourth outfielder candidate and was expendable.

Signed Tim Wood, Chad Gaudin, Michael Aubrey, Laynce Nix, Cla Meredith, Kevin Barker and Alex Cora to minor league contracts.

None are likely anything more than Triple-A depth, although Cora might have the best chance of sticking if the club decides they need veteran middle infield insurance.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH) 
 
1.Nyjer Morgan CF
2.Ian Desmond SS
3.Ryan Zimmerman 3B
4.Jayson Werth RF
5.Adam LaRoche 1B
6.Roger Bernadina / Mike Morse LF
7.Danny Espinosa 2B
8.Ivan Rodriguez C

The Opening Day starting lineup is fairly set, with only the left field situation (likely a straight platoon between lefty-masher Morse and a better defender in Bernadina, although Rick Ankiel could factor into the mix as well) to be resolved in the spring. One of the younger catchers, Wilson Ramos or Jesus Flores, will get more work behind the plate as the season progresses though, with Rodriguez relegated to mentor status.

As far as productivity goes the Nationals lineup should provide at least league-average run scoring if everyone stays healthy, but a bounce-back season at the top of the order from Nyjer Morgan would catapult them to the next level. Morse is also a wild card, as his bat could end up winning him the lion's share of work in left especially if Morgan and Werth prove good enough with the leather that the club decides to sacrifice a bit of defense in the third outfield spot.

Rotation 
 
1.Livan Hernandez
2.Jordan Zimmermann
3.Jason Marquis
4.John Lannan
5.Tom Gorzelanny / Yunesky Maya / Ross Detwiler / Chien-Ming Wang

Hernandez gets the Opening Day assignment but it's Zimmermann who's the key guy here. One year further removed from Tommy John surgery, he could emerge as the ace the club sorely lacks right now. Hernandez and Marquis can't be counted on to do anything but soak up innings, while Lannan's stumble last year makes him the risky proposition statheads have always said he was. Fortunately, the Nats have plenty of options if anyone falters from among the losers in fifth starter battle, all of whom offer some intriguing potential in one form or another. And of course in late august or September, there's always the possibility of a Stephen Strasburg return, although the team will likely have to be in a payoff race for them to take any chances with their franchise arm. At the very least, this is a much deeper pool of arms to draw from than the Nationals have had in recent years.

CL: Drew Storen

Storen was drafted to be the closer, but he's by no means going to be handed the job and the Nationals have assembled a solid group of alternate candidates if the youngster doesn't seem ready for the pressure. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett are the best of the returning relievers, while free agent Todd Coffey and former A's prospect Henry Rodriguez might also be in the mix if the job becomes up for grabs. There's also the possibility of a time share as well though, so you probably shouldn't invest too heavily in anyone until the situation becomes clearer.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

1. Is Jayson Werth worth it?

It's very easy to look at the contract the Nationals handed Jayson Werth, a good but hardly elite talent, and wonder if management have lost their minds. But there are extenuating circumstances here, primarily in the form of Stephen Strasburg's injury. The Werth signing wasn't just intended to improve the product on the field, but also to keep the attention of all the new fans the Double-S Express brought into the fold during his abbreviated rookie season. If Werth can help keep the turnstiles clicking while Strasburg recovers, then his salary starts to look a little more reasonable.

Attendance isn't a fantasy category, however. Werth goes from being a solid complementary player on a top-flight offense led by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, to being a vital cog in a lesser unit alongside Ryan Zimmerman, and while the RBI opportunities will likely balance out it's possible the pressure of his new role and massive contract could have an impact on his focus and comfort level. On paper he's as good an offensive player as the big bat he's replacing, Adam Dunn (Dunn has averaged a 136.3 wRC+ over the last three seasons; Werth's average is 136.0) but with a better glove. The Nationals will need him to at least maintain that level of production through the next few seasons, after Strasburg returns and prospects like Bryce Harper and Derek Norris join the roster, to have a hope of justifying Werth's contract.

2. How will the rotation handle the loss of Stephen Strasburg?

Strasburg was drafted in 2009 to be an instant ace, and until his elbow went kerplooey last year he was exactly that. With Strasburg now rehabbing after Tommy John surgery the Nationals will have to figure out how to survive without their rotation leader. They have an eclectic mix of less-than-reliable veteran innings sponges (Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis and John Lannan), home-grown top draft picks trying to establish themselves (Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler), big-name internationals trying to find or recapture success in North America (Yunesky Maya and Chien-Ming Wang), and a former top prospect trying to avoid becoming a journeyman (Tom Gorzelanny). While nobody there is a sure thing (Zimmermann's as close as it gets) there's enough aggregate talent and lottery tickets in the mix, not to mention support from a deep bullpen, that a fairly solid group could emerge and help keep an average-or-better offense and defense on the fringes of the playoff hunt. Of course with no sure things that group could also end up being a rotating cast of arsonists who lead the Nationals to yet another first overall pick, but at least for once the odds of a positive outcome on the mound are in Washington's favor.

Strengths: Improved infield and outfield defense. A balanced offense that lacks only a left-handed power threat. A deep collection of bullpen arms, although as yet they lack defined roles.

Weaknesses: A rotation full of question marks, with no exclamation points. An inexperienced and potentially mistake-prone middle infield.

Rising: Ian Desmond got to the majors first, but Danny Espinosa figures to put up more impressive fantasy numbers over the long haul. He's potentially a four-category threat, with batting average being the only weak spot in his offensive resume, and put up a 25 HR-25 SB season across three levels last season. For now, think of him as a poor man's Brandon Phillips at second base, but it may not be long before you can dispense with the qualified entirely.

Falling: It shouldn't need saying, but Livan Hernandez will not repeat his 2010 performance. What does need saying is how far the drop could be. An ERA in the 5.50 range and WHIP north of 1.500 would be more in line with his recent career than the numbers he pulled out of his… hat last season, with double digit strikeouts and an uphill climb to 10 wins to boot. As he was for the Nationals last spring, Hernandez should be a pitcher you turn to only out of abject desperation.

Sleeper: Part of the reason the Nationals were so willing to deal Josh Willingham is that they had a very similar player on the roster in Mike Morse. Morse dispelled any notion he was only a Quadruple-A guy with his .870 major league OPS last season, and while he likely won't begin the season with a starting job in left field it won't be long before he seizes the job if he keeps hitting like that. Even in a platoon he should provide value as an end-game buy, but the potential for much bigger profit is there.

Supersleeper: Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann hog all the pitching prospect attention in Washington, but not so long ago Ross Detwiler was a top draft pick too. His career so far has been plagued by control issues and hip problems, but he seems healthy now and some mechanical tweaks appear to have helped him find the strike zone more often. There's still a lot of upside in his left arm, and plenty of opportunities in the 2011 rotation if he takes a step forward.

Roster  

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:  

Rick Ankiel - Ankiel's career continued on a downward decline as he again struggled with injuries (missing two months with a quad injury) and poor plate discipline (71 strikeouts in just 211 at-bats) with too little offsetting power. Other than a game-winning home run in the playoffs, he was worse after being traded to Atlanta (.210/.324/.328) from Kansas City. While his overall numbers look poor and he hasn't been a major fantasy factor since 2008, he could be productive in a smaller platoon role as he can still hit righties (.801 OPS vs. right-handed pitchers last season). He'll likely work in a platoon role or off the bench after signing a one-year deal with the Nationals.

Collin Balester - Balester re-invented himself as a reliever, adding life to his fastball and relying more on his cutter, which resulted in a 28:11 K:BB ratio in 21 big league innings and, perhaps most important, a dramatic improvement in his G/F ratio. If he can keep the ball down and maintain a strikeout rate north of 9.0 K/9IP he can survive the shaky control, but it's a fine line to walk to stay effective.

Rogearvin Bernadina - Finally reasonably healthy, Bernadina managed 414 at-bats in 134 games but didn't provide much offense beyond modest power-speed numbers. His walk rate was better in the minors so there's a little reason for optimism, but overall he didn't do much to disprove the notion that he's best suited to be a major league bench player. Given how much money the Nationals threw at Jayson Werth, they would seem to agree.

Sean Burnett - The left-hander had his second straight very good season, improving his K/9IP, BB/9IP and G/F rates and cementing his spot in the Nationals' bullpen. The club's lack of a second portsider leaves Burnett stuck in a LOOGY role more often than not despite allowing an eye-popping .487 OPS to right-handed hitters in 2010. So, in theory, Burnett could still see his fantasy value improve with a better assignment even if last season proves to be his statistical high-water mark.

Tyler Clippard - To say that Clippard had a good fantasy season would be an understatement: 11 wins and triple-digit strikeouts for a reliever who probably lasted until the endgame of most drafts and auctions makes for a massive ROI. The increase in his workload is cause for a little concern, but barring injury his fastball/changeup/slider arsenal should keep him among the elite setup men in the game. Depending on how cautious the Nationals want to be in throwing Drew Storen into the ninth-inning fire, Clippard could even work his way into the closer picture. Those strikeouts and potential saves won't come as cheaply in 2011, however.

Todd Coffey - Coffey injured his thumb in May, missed a month and never returned to his 2009 form. His walk rate and home-run rate increased in 2010 and he also suffered from a little bit of bad luck. The Brewers declined to offer him arbitration and he's a free agent this winter. He'll likely find a team willing to give him a bullpen role and see if he can return to his pre-2010 form.

Ian Desmond - Desmond's first full season in the big leagues proved to be a tough one. The improvement in his plate discipline that he flashed the year before evaporated, and his 34 errors in the field were unacceptable by any standard. His steals give him fantasy value and there's still a little upside here, but a disappointing start to the year (especially with the glove) could see Danny Espinosa slide over to short and put Desmond at second base, or on the bench in a utility role.

Jesus Flores - 2009's shoulder injury cost Flores all of 2010, and led the Nationals to trade for Wilson Ramos as their new catcher of the immediate future. Flores appears to be finally healthy, but with 18 months of rust to shake off and Ivan Rodriguez still under contract to share the load with Ramos, Flores could be hard-pressed to see much big league action this season. If he proves he's all the way back though, his upside could make him an interesting trade chip for Nats general manager Mike Rizzo.

Tom Gorzelanny - Gorzelanny started 23 games at the back end of the Cubs' rotation last year and performed passably (119:68 K:BB ratio in 136.1 IP, 1.15 G/F). Gorzelanny features a 90 mph fastball, a slider and a changeup, modest stuff, despite his 7.9 K/9IP rate, and following a trade to the Nationals will fight for the number five starter spot.

Jerry Hairston Jr - Hairston collected 430 at-bats in 2010, his highest total since 2001, but he really wasn't that productive for fantasy owners. Speed is still his primary asset, but it never really surfaced last season as he battled through shin splints. His batting average was poor and he had trouble getting on base, so it's unlikely that even if he was healthy the entire time, he would have produced better results. One of his most attractive features coming into 2010 was his eligibility at almost any position, but going into 2011, he'll only be eligible in the middle infield. That fact, coupled with his age, make Hairston someone most owners will only look to when injuries hit.

John Lannan - After years of living on the edge and turning his marginal stuff into solid results, Lannan finally fell over that cliff, posting a miserable first half before getting demoted to Double-A to get straightened out. He put up better numbers after his recall with a 3.42 ERA and 47:14 K:BB ratio in 11 starts, and the Nationals are hoping he returns to being his old reliable self, but we'd be very wary about Lannan repeating his 2010 struggles rather than his 2008-2009 successes.

Adam LaRoche - Always a popular draft-day fallback option at first base, LaRoche churned out another 25-homer campaign in 2010 while driving in 100 runs for the first time in his career. It wasn't enough for the cost-cutting D-Backs to bring him back with a longer contract during the offseason, and he'll begin the 2011 season with his fifth organization after signing a two-year deal with Washington. Underneath the favorable rotisserie production are signs of decay, most notably a career-low 69 percent contact rate and a walk rate that fell (down to eight percent) for the second straight season. Although the power tends to come in waves from LaRoche, he should be good for another 20-plus long balls again this time around while his plate discipline and batting average continue to slowly erode.

Jason Marquis - No one really should have expected Marquis to repeat his 2009 numbers, but 2010 was an unmitigated disaster for the Nationals' big free-agent signing. His early-season struggles proved to be due to elbow trouble, however, and he pitched more like the Jason Marquis of the previous three seasons over his final 10 starts after he returned to the mound (4.29 ERA, 1.510 WHIP, 28:18 K:BB ratio). Given how much they're paying him, Washington will plug him back into their rotation to begin 2011, and he might yet prove to be a decent innings sponge for the club, but don't expect anything more.

Yunesky Maya - The Cuban was thoroughly unimpressive in his big league debut, but he didn't have much time to acclimate himself to the pros and in Livan Hernandez the Nationals have the perfect person to mentor him and help him adjust. He'll come into spring training in the hunt for a rotation spot, but given his lack of top-shelf stuff and reliance on the defense behind him, he's not someone you want to invest heavily in until he's had at least a taste of success on the mainland.

Nyjer Morgan - Morgan simply fell apart in 2010. He let an early-season slump at the plate and on the basepaths eat away at him, and eventually was suspended for eight games in September. He's still got the ability to be an asset in center field and the leadoff spot, and the Nationals don't really have any viable options to replace him, so the club will do what it can to help him maintain his focus when things don't go his way. Another season like 2010 though and Morgan will almost certainly find himself in another uniform.

Wilson Ramos - Defensively, Ramos is everything you could want in a catcher, with a big-time arm that should make any potential basestealer think twice or even thrice before taking off. At the plate, though, he's still a work in progress, with little plate discipline and a swing-for-the-fences approach. The Nationals will take a very long look at both Ramos and Jesus Flores in spring training, and there's no guarantee that Ramos is the one who will end up splitting time in the majors with the ghost of Ivan Rodriguez. Further complicating the backstop picture is the presence of Derek Norris in the system behind them, though he's at least a year away. By Opening Day, Ramos could be starting in the bigs, or at Triple-A, or learning the ropes backing up I-Rod, or in another organization entirely. The first two options seem the most likely, but don't expect much value in the short term even in the best-case scenario.

Henry Alberto Rodriguez - Rodriguez has begun to improve his control a bit, walking just 22 batters in 49 innings split between Triple-A Sacramento and the A's after walking 41 batters in 52.2 innings in 2009. His strikeout rate dipped a bit, but he still fanned 33 batters in 27.2 frames out of the A's bullpen last season. Traded to the Nationals as part of the Josh Willingham trade, Rodriguez won't be a threat to displace Drew Storen as the closer but could give the Nats a power arm for the later innings.

Ivan Rodriguez - The offense is long gone, and his fabled arm behind the plate hasn't been a factor since 2006. All that Rodriguez has left, really, is his reputation and the chase for 3,000 hits (he's 183 shy). With Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores both looking like they can be contributors, that chase may take him out of DC before it's done.

Doug Slaten - Slaten had a great 2010, dominating Triple-A and putting up very useful numbers as the second lefty in the Nationals' bullpen. At this point there's no way of knowing whether getting out of the desert was just what he needed to be an effective major league LOOGY, or if the season was as good as it gets for him, but either way he's still just a LOOGY and not worth making a fuss over.

Drew Storen - Storen might forever be known as the Nationals' "other" 2009 first rounder, but he did just fine on his own, riding his mid-90s fastball and slider to a solid 52:22 K:BB ratio in 55.1 big league innings. Although he's the club's closer of the future and was used in the role at the end of the season after the Matt Capps trade, Storen might not be handed the job right out of the gate in 2011. Tyler Clippard, especially, looms as the biggest threat to his save chances in the short term, but unless he falls flat Storen should get enough ninth-inning duty to deliver double-digit saves at least.

Stephen Strasburg - The Double-S Express did everything he could to make everyone happy in his rookie season. He graced a few minor league parks with his presence and put on a dominating show, sliced through big league lineups after his call-up like a 97-mph fastball through butter to prove that all the hype wasn't out of line, and then broke down to make all the naysayers who lobbed Mark Prior comparisons his way feel all full of themselves. Tommy John surgery wasn't the worst possible outcome as injuries go, though, and while he'll likely miss all of 2011 his projected future rotation-mate Jordan Zimmermann made it back in about a calendar year, so there's a chance Strasburg will be back on the mound in September. Don't fret too much if the Nats treat him with kid gloves in his rehab, though. This is a kid who posted an absolutely insane K/BB ratio of 5.41 in his first crack at the majors. In keeper leagues, he's worth waiting for.

Chien-Ming Wang - After an offseason filled with reports of Wang being ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, reality threw a big bucket of cold water on that enthusiasm, and Wang ended up not pitching an inning all season. He's as likely to continue his comeback with the Nationals as anybody, but given how long he's been out of action just making it back to the majors might be a best-case scenario.

Jayson Werth - Werth put together another solid year for the Phillies in 2010 and was rewarded in December with a seven-year, $126 million deal from the Nationals. The multi-talented Werth has power, speed, a good eye at the plate and plays good defense in right field. Unfortunately for Werth, the move to DC takes him out of a homer-friendly home park in Philadelphia to a more spacious ballpark this season. He is also joining a weaker lineup so it wouldn't be surprising to see his numbers dip a bit this year. Despite that, Werth figures to remain one of the more valuable outfielders thanks to his ability to contribute to all five standard rotisserie categories.

Ryan Zimmerman - Nagging injuries cost him a few games, but Zimmerman kept building on his skill set, as he inched his walk rate up a notch and set a career high in OBP. He's the cornerstone position player of the franchise, an asset both with his bat and with his glove, and swapping Adam Dunn out for Jayson Werth shouldn't hurt his counting stats. Zimmerman is a keeper, in every sense of the word.

Jordan Zimmermann - Zimmermann's return from Tommy John surgery was a resounding success, as other than a spike in his HR/9IP rate his numbers were remarkably similar in seven 2010 starts to what he put up before getting hurt. In short, the surgery just put his career on pause for 12 months and didn't appear to set back his development, which is excellent news for a team trying to build around its young rotation. With Stephen Strasburg taking his own turn under the knife, Zimmermann will likely be the Nationals' No. 1 starter in 2011, which means you should expect solid numbers everywhere but in the wins category.

Top Prospects

Corey Brown - After hitting .320 with a .916 OPS at Double-A through 90 games last season, Brown was promoted to Triple-A where he struggled mightily, hitting just .193/.253/.378 in 41 games. He has speed (22 steals) and exhibits decent power potential, but his propensity for striking out and his offensive woes at Triple-A are troubling.

A. J. Cole - Cole fell to the fourth round in the draft due to his bonus demands to get him out of a commitment to the University of Miami, but the Nationals took a chance and were able to get his name on a contract. The lanky righty may get a "projectable" label from scouts, but he's already capable of topping 94 mph with his fastball, has a nasty power curve when he doesn't overthrow it and has even shown a feel for a changeup, which is an excellent starting point for an 19-year-old. He's a long way from the majors, but if he fills out and refines his arsenal Cole will some day be a force at the top of the Washington rotation.

Bryce Harper - The first overall pick in 2010 did what he could to live up to the hype in a brief Arizona Fall League stint, hitting .343/.410/.629 in 35 at-bats, an impressive performance for an 18-year-old facing advanced competition. His 4:11 BB:K ratio gives a good indication of what Harper needs to work on when he begins his pro career in earnest at A-ball, but his mammoth power and uncanny hitting instincts could land him in Double-A before the season is over. The Nationals have no reason to rush him, of course, but the cocky youngster doesn't seem inclined to give them that option. A normal 18-year-old would be looking at something like a late 2013 big league debut, but with a once-in-a-generation talent like Harper we strongly suggest you bet the under on that.

Cole Kimball – While Drew Storen is the anointed Closer of the Future, Cole Kimball may have something to say about that before long. He broke out last season with a fastball that topped 95 mph with ease, a slider that flashed plus and an angry bulldog mentality that every manager secretly envisions when they picture who they'd like to send to the mound in the ninth inning. Barring a huge spring he'll head back to the minors to start the season, but he'll be knocking on the door for a call-up by midseason.

Chris Marrero - Marrero turned in another serviceable season at Double-A as a 21-year-old, and the Nationals' decision to part ways with Adam Dunn could open up a spot for him in the majors, but he has yet to do anything to really establish himself as the club's first baseman of the future. At best, he looks like a stopgap until someone better comes along.

Tyler Moore - The Nats are transitioning from Adam Dunn to Adam LaRoche at first base this season, but Moore could be an intriguing internal solution in a couple of years. His monster .346/.404/.716 second half at High-A opened a lot of eyes, and he refined his swing enough to be considered more than just organizational filler. At 23, he was old for the level, so he'll need another big performance at Double-A to cement his status, but if he keeps building on the development he showed in 2010 he'll put himself squarely in the team's future plans.

Derek Norris - The wrist injury Norris suffered at the end of 2009 was bad enough, but there's also no telling how long the concussion he suffered after a May beaning affected him through the summer. All in all it was something of a lost year for a player who is still supposed to be a big part of the Nationals' future, although his batting eye remained stellar even as his power evaporated, and idle musings about him moving to first base if his defense doesn't improve will have to wait until Norris re-establishes that he has a bat that can actually play at another position. His big showing in the Arizona Fall League (1.070 OPS) was an important first step towards putting the shine back on his top prospect status.

Brad Peacock - Peacock blossomed in 2010, ripping through High-A with a K/9IP rate north of 10.0 and establishing himself as a very intriguing arm. The Nationals used him out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, and his mid-90s fastball and nasty slider played very well in relief. But if his mediocre changeup catches up to his better offerings he may yet have a future in the rotation.

Eury Perez - Every organization has a minor league speedster who makes fantasy owners drool with his steal totals, and for the Nationals that player is Perez, who went 64-for-77 on the basepaths at Low-A in 2010. His game still needs a lot of refinement, both in terms of his patience at the plate and his route-running in center field, but with Nyjer Morgan looking less like a long-term answer than he did this time last year there's an opportunity for Perez to move up quickly if he smooths out the rough edges in his game.

Sammy Solis - The Nationals accumulated an awesome amount of long-term potential in last year's draft in the form of Bryce Harper and AJ Cole, but Solis is likely to be the first member of the class to reach the majors. An extremely polished college lefty, his large frame doesn't generate huge velocity but he touches 93 mph with his fastball and can put it exactly where he wants it. Add in a very good changeup and Solis just needs to refine his breaking pitches a little more before he'll be knocking on the door of the big league rotation. He won't be an ace, but he should be able to munch innings with the best of them.