Difo provides important insurance with Murphy out

Nationals prospects for their early minor league camp arrive Saturday at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. I expect to get that full roster to you as early as next week.

One of their former up and coming stars, shortstop Wilmer Difo, now could see a serious look as an everyday player, especially the first month of the season.

BaseballReference.com projections have Difo reaching 389 plate appearances, which would be up from 365 in 2017. The prediction believes Difo can get to 14 doubles, three triples, nine homers and 33 RBIs with nine stolen bases in 2018.

difo-throw-spring-training-white-sidebar.jpgDifo played in 124 games and, more amazingly, at five different spots on the diamond plus one game as designated hitter: second base and shortstop for a combined 82 games, 65 of which were starts. He also played third base (six) and in left (two), center (one) and right field (one) during the 2017 season.

The diversity of ability that the 25-year-old Difo provides will be critical to the Nats’ success throughout the season. But his worth elevates in March, April and May because of the unknown health of second baseman Daniel Murphy, who is returning from microfracture knee surgery.

Murphy told reporters Wednesday that he wants his return from the disabled list to have to happen only once during the season. So that means Murphy would prefer to be 100 percent recovered from the surgery and be good to go for the rest of the season when he returns. It’s obvious the Nats will not rush back their All-Star second baseman. They would prefer to have Murphy healthy and string for those final months like August, September and October.

What is also so good about Difo is his Wins Above Replacement number (WAR): 1.9 in 2017. Murphy’s was 2.8. You are not losing much with Difo. You could predict that because of the talent Difo offers, that number could easily reach Murphy’s number while he fully rehabs the off season knee surgery.

So Difo is extremely valuable as an infielder for the club, helping in Murphy’s absence, but also giving Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner days off during the rigors of an 162 game campaign.

Programming Note: Look for my insight on the Nats this week on CBSsports.com spring training report with Matt Yurus. I will talk about the status of Murphy and whether or not you know who, Bryce Harper, will be with the Nats after 2018.

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