Dave Nichols: A few of my favorite things

It’s Friday, the Nationals had had a bit of a tough week, and I’ve brought enough gloom and doom in my first four posts this week to last for a while. If you’ve read all of my previous posts here, or follow my blog or my Twitter account, some of you may even wonder if there’s anything about this team I actually do like.

Well, with apologies to Oprah and Julie Andrews (how’s that for obscure references in a baseball blog)?, let me share with you some of my favorite things about the 2011 Nationals.

Danny Espinosa: I’m totally in the tank for this kid. Count me among those that have gone on record saying if he gets 500 plate appearances this year he may contend for a gold glove at second base. He’s a converted shortstop out of Long Beach State, so he’s obviously got the arm, but he has terrific range and great instincts already around the bag. Some shortstops are squeamish about playing with their back to the runner but Espinosa’s taken to it like he’s been doing it his entire life. Espinosa may never hit for a big average with his propensity for striking out, but he hit .270/.365/.455 in 275 minor league games, so he’s shown good plate discipline, a fair amount of pop, and good base running skills. He was one of three professionals at any level last season to hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases. He’s a keeper.

Drew Storen: He’s been training to be a closer since his days at Stanford. He has a 95 mph fastball, a late-breaking slider and a bulldog mentality on the mound. It’s a quiet, controlled rage really, completely contrary to his affable, media friendly personality off the field. He may have lost a little of manager Jim Riggleman’s confidence with a couple of late-season breakdowns in 2010, but so far this season, he’s been downright filthy. He and Sean Burnett will be a tough duo at the back of the ‘pen this season and for many years to come.

Derek Norris: OK, so he’s not quite here yet. But he’s on his way, trust me. This guy has an elite command of the strike zone already, and he’s just playing Double-A ball for the first time this season. Watching him in spring training was a pleasure. Whether he was facing fellow minor league pitchers or more seasoned veterans, he simply waited them out for a ball he could crush or was happy to take his base. Norris’ minor league numbers at the plate make scouts drool. In four seasons and 327 games, he carries an on-base percentage of .414 and slugging of .462. He still needs work receiving the ball, but he’s got a cannon of an arm and as a bonus, he runs well - and not just for a catcher.

Jordan Zimmermann: Like Norris, a product of the 2007 amateur draft, Zimmermann is finally healthy and fully recovered from the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery that robbed him of almost all of 2010. He’s back to throwing 94-95 mph again with ease. He put up great K/BB rates in the minors (career 9.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9) and has shown flashes of that both pre- and post-surgery. He still has work to do to regain that elite control and command on a consistent basis, but it’s in there. In his first start this season he gave up two earned runs on just four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out three. Give him time. He should form a formidable one-two punch with Stephen Strasburg next season, if all things go well for both pitchers.

Of course, I’d be remiss without mentioning Bryce Harper. Do yourself a favor and get out to Single-A Hagerstown, or maybe later this season down at Single-A Potomac, and see this kid for yourself.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Nichols’ Nationals observations this week have appeared here this week as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. Next week, Rachel Levitin of We Love D.C. joins the lineup to share her thoughts on the home team. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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