Washington’s Opening Day Roster is Coming into Fruition

Veteran infielder Jordy Mercer is among the surprising additions to Washington’s roster ahead of Opening Day. (Photo: Zimbio/Getty Images)

Shortly after writing about – among other topics – likely roster activity that would take place in the next few days, the Nationals made a flurry of transactions. In all likelihood, their roster is completely established at this point, or at least very close to it.

  • Selected from Minors: Infielder Jordy Mercer and INF/OF Hernan Perez
  • Optioned to AAA Rochester: LHP Sam Clay, RHP Kyle McGowin, infielders Luis Garcia and Carter Kieboom, and outfielder Yadiel Hernandez
  • Reassigned to Minors: RHPs Aaron Barrett, Paolo Espino, Javy Guerra and Todd Peterson; catchers Welington Castillo, Brandon Snyder and Blake Swihart; infielder Adrian Sanchez; and outfielders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Tocci
  • Designated for Assignment: Infielder Jake Noll
  • Released from Minors: LHP T.J. McFarland and outfielder Yasmany Tomas

This leaves 29 players remaining in big-league camp, and three of them (LHP Seth Romero and RHPs Rogelio Armenteros and Will Harris) are expected to begin the season on the Injured List. In other words, the remaining 26 are presumably making the Opening Day roster – unless any players are added from other organizations.

Assuming the Nationals are going with the 26 in-house options, here’s what the Opening Day roster will look like.

  • Starting Pitchers (5): Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester and Joe Ross
  • Relief Pitchers (8): Brad Hand, Tanner Rainey, Daniel Hudson, Wander Suero, Kyle Finnegan, Luis Avilan, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth
  • Catchers (2): Yan Gomes and Alex Avila
  • Infielders (7): Josh Bell, Starlin Castro, Josh Harrison, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordy Mercer and Hernan Perez
  • Outfielders (4): Kyle Schwarber, Victor Robles, Juan Soto and Andrew Stevenson

The one remaining hiccup to overcome is that Avilan still has to be purchased onto the 40-man roster, which would require someone else being either designated for assignment or transferred to the 60-day IL – the latter of which is widely speculated to be the more likely remedy.

Who Will Do What?

The roles for each player seem pretty clear at this point. Each position group should be prioritized in roughly the order detailed above – except for infield and outfield; but the first four and three, respectively, are the projected starters.

For the sake of some bullpen clarity, Avilan (if selected) would be the team’s left-handed specialist, while Fedde and Voth would presumably be multi-inning relief options or lower-leverage alternatives in late innings.

Catcher is rather straightforward – and I’ve discussed their splits previously – and the outfield is also set in stone, aside from Schwarber possibly requiring a right-handed platoon partner – which Stevenson, a lefty, inherently cannot serve as. Stevenson, however, does provide first-in-line backup capabilities at all three outfield spots, as well as proven success as a pinch-hitter.

The Dudes on the Dirt

The interesting group is the infield. Here’s what we knew – or at least thought we knew – entering Spring Training.

  • First Base: Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman
    • Either with Bell as the traditional starter or as part of a platoon with Zimmerman
  • Second Base: Starlin Castro
    • Unless Luis Garcia had an extremely strong spring and looked like a starting-caliber player
  • Shortstop: Trea Turner
  • Third Base: Carter Kieboom in some capacity
  • Utility: Josh Harrison

A lot has changed during the last month. There were question marks about first base, particularly whether Bell could bounce back after a down season and if Zimmerman was over the hill. But now it looks like it might be Washington’s best position.

Shortstop was never a question, and even second base barely was one. But third base has been flipped on its head. Kieboom had a brutal spring, leading to a demotion to AAA. Garcia didn’t have a spectacular spring, either, and the result is a cast of veterans being forced to take over the hot corner. It’ll likely be Harrison, but since Schwarber might need a right-handed counterpart in left field – a position Harrison can play – and since the Nationals don’t have a great option among their true outfielders, they need a steady backup third baseman. They chose to let veterans Jordy Mercer and Hernan Perez battle for that role to open the season.

Meet the New Guys

Mercer has logged nearly 7,000 innings at shortstop, but he’s also played a good bit at second base and played more third base than anywhere else this spring. Perez played everywhere this spring, which is consistent with the rest of his career, but his most experience is at third base. The biggest issue is that neither of them are great hitters. Mercer is essentially a singles hitter who only has a .257 career batting average, and Perez has never recorded a better than league-average OPS in a single season.

Also, for those keeping score at home, here are the numbers the newest Nationals will be wearing this season, as well as a couple number changes amongst returning players.

  • No. 3: Hernan Perez
  • No. 6: Alex Avila
  • No. 12: Kyle Schwarber
  • No. 13: Starlin Castro (was No. 14 last season)
  • No. 19: Josh Bell
  • No. 27: Jordy Mercer
  • No. 34: Jon Lester
  • No. 40: Rogelio Armenteros
  • No. 52: Brad Hand
  • No. 56: Seth Romero (was No. 96 last season)
  • No. 70: Luis Avilan

The Future Forecast

In all likelihood, neither Mercer nor Perez will play much. In some respect, that’s why Kieboom and Garcia were sent to AAA – allowing them to get consistent play time and truly develop. Mercer and Perez are low maintenance, but they also probably won’t be around for long. Once either of the youngsters get hot at the plate, they’ll presumably be recalled and handed semi-starting reps at either second or third base – there’s a chance that Castro shifts to third base at some point.

One out of the box option would also be to play Zimmerman – who’s been red hot this spring – play time at a position other than first base, perhaps left field (where he played 30 games in 2014). Maybe even Josh Bell, who played 16 games in right field in 2016, could play in left if/when Schwarber has to sit. Or perhaps they’ll have to hit the free agent or trade market to acquire a bat or two at some point. But that’s to be decided down the road.

The roster is incomplete. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The bullpen is somewhat questionable, and infield depth is clearly lacking. But for now, the Nationals will look for their starting pitching and top hitters to carry them to wins – and continued success from Robles would be extremely helpful.

Two games remain, and then Washington will head back up north for the regular season.

Keep up with the latest Nationals news by following @stephen_newman1 and @CapitalNewsman on Twitter.

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