Five Storylines to Watch at Washington Nationals Spring Training


Credit: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images North America

Credit: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images North America

The Battle for the Final Rotation Spot

Rotation stalwart Jordan Zimmermann is gone, off to the Detroit Tigers for five years and $110 million. With plenty of talent waiting in the wings, the Nationals could feel comfortable in letting the right-hander go without much pursuit. There had been some red flags beginning to emerge, making Zimmermann’s future somewhat cloudy. Baseball’s number-one pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, is still likely a year away from cracking the rotation.

Tanner Roark is currently penciled in as the number-five starter for the Nationals, but expect an open competition to commence. Roark is more of a pitch-to-contact type, and his excellent 2.85 ERA in 2014 appears to be somewhat fueled by good fortune. In 2015, splitting time between the bullpen and rotation, Roark pitched to a 4.38 ERA over 111.0 innings. His home run rate doubled year-to-year, and his FIP rose from 3.47 to 4.70. In 2014, Roark’s BAbip was .273, but it rose to .297 a year ago, regressing closer to the league average. The 29-year-old right-hander enters spring training expecting to start, but he will face some internal competition.

A.J. Cole is a prospect who is even closer to reaching the big leagues than Giolito. The Nationals initially drafted him in 2010, traded him to the Oakland A’s for Gio Gonzalez in 2011, and then traded back for him in 2013 (someone forgot to call ‘No tradebacks’). Cole had a 3.15 ERA at Triple-A last year, limiting hitters to a .227 batting average. Over the past two seasons, Cole is 18-9 with a 3.15 ERA in 46 games between Double- and Triple-A. He made his debut with the Nationals last season. With a good spring, Cole could win the number-five role. There are a few other names in camp who could contend for the job, but it will come down to Roark and Cole.

Leave a Reply