Could the Nationals be getting serious about a youth movement?
It's looking more and more possible that Justin Maxwell and Ian Desmond will make the team this year out of spring training. If they do, here's a breakdown of the potential new lineup defensively:
- Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan and Justin Maxwell in the outfield.
- Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy and Adam Dunn in the infield.
- Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen as the bookend pitchers (June 1).
- Pudge Rodriguez giving way to a healthy Jesus Flores.
Keeping Maxwell and Desmond with the big club allows guys like Mike Daniel and Danny Espinosa a chance to move up and get Triple-A experience on a full time basis.
I liken this to the college basketball coach who has a ton of freshmen and plays them to the detriment of that season.
Look at Richmond: Seven freshmen four years ago and they were 8-22. Fast forward to this year, they challenge for the A-10 title, get all those freshmen as juniors and seniors, garner a Top-25 ranking and finish with the best record in school history at 26-9. (Okay, I didn't see them getting upset by St. Mary's Thursday, but focus, people.)
It is time to get these young guys valuable playing experience right now. September call-ups are nice, but a full season will pay dividends for years to come.
"Baseball Prospectus" says the Nats would be "settling" if they give Maxwell a full time OF job. I respectfully disagree.
My example is Maxwell's battle with Francisco Rodriguez and the Mets at the end of last year. He had a double-digit pitch at-bat that would have made Dave Winfield proud. He never relented. He never backed down. He waited for Rodriguez to finally give him a pitch he could really drive.
Every Nats fan remembers that September night. On 3-2 with the bases loaded, that pitch arrived and Maxwell cranked it over the Nats Park left center field fence for a grand slam and a very rare and very dramatic Nats comeback 7-4 win, the first time in 2009 the Nats had come back when trailing after 8 innings. That was a big-time at-bat for a player who is ready now.
Ian Desmond went to the Dominican to fine tune his game. He worked all winter to be ready. He told me that this offseason he always wanted to be the first person at the park in the morning. He never wanted to be outworked.
He doesn't want anyone to tell him he has made the team or is the starting shortstop until the end of camp so he can remain hungry. That is what has driven him his entire six-year career. He is ready now. This spring he's been the best hitter in the starting nine. He is tearing up the Grapefruit League. Give him 162 with the parent club.
Stephen Strasburg is the best prospect in the last 20 years and will be ready to go in say May or June.
Drew Storen has worked since his June 2009 signing to make the club and is getting ever closer to being the Nats' future closer.
Yes, you want to build up your minor league system. The Nats will continue to do so. I don't believe moving Maxwell and Desmond up permanently will injure the system too much, it will just give the rookies and second-year players a chance to get to Harrisburg and Syracuse that much faster.
So with the Elijah Dukes release, let's go all in. Promote Maxwell to the outfield and Desmond to shortstop and make them starters. Ryan Zimmerman is 25. Justin Maxwell is 26. Ian Desmond is 24. If they all can stay, the Nats will be able to build a solid base for seasons to come even if it means a small sacrifice in 2010.
I would much rather go young this year and next year than rely on past-their-prime veterans who have a diminishing upside just to keep the dam from breaking for one more year. Experience at the big league level is irreplaceable for Maxwell and Desmond and they have proved they are ready for the long haul now.
No more waiting.