With Wilson Ramos having hit the disabled list and Sandy Leon called up to serve as the backup to Jose Lobaton, the Nationals have used 26 players. When Doug Fister returns at the end of April or beginning of May, that number will be at least 27. In 2013, the average National League club needed 45 players to make it through the season. The Nationals were right around average with 44. Injuries, underperformance and trades are going to happen during the course of the season, and this is going to cause a team to need more than a 25-man - or even a 40 man - roster to make it to the end of the 162-game season. With that fact in mind, who are some of the players the Nats could call upon to be those extra men?
The most obvious players are the ones freshest in mind. Those players that performed well in spring training and hung around until the last couple of round of cuts. Zach Walters is a switch-hitting, power-hitting shortstop who can also play second and third. If Kevin Frandsen hits like Mark DeRosa or Xavier Nady, then there is a high likelihood that the Nationals would look to upgrade their bench. Coming off leading the International League in home runs in 2013 and an impressive spring training in 2014, Walters would be one of the first calls if the Nationals find themselves in need of a middle infielder or third baseman.
Steven Souza Jr. is the prototypical five-tool player. He can play all three outfield positions, hit for power, hit for average, run the bases and rack up outfield assists. Physically, Souza is a freak, but his path to this point has not been an easy one. He almost quit baseball in 2011, but when he returned in 2012, he had the best season of his career at low Single-A Hagerstown and high Single-A Potomac. He followed that up with a second straight over-.900 OPS season at Double-A Harrisburg. Souza is on the verge of making the major leagues and with his ability to be an asset at the plate, in the field and on the bases, he is going to help the Nationals are some point in 2013.
While Souza and Walters impressed the Nats on the offensive side, Blake Treinen was doing so in the bullpen and could have made this team if he and not Aaron Barrett had been on the 40-man roster. With an increased velocity out of the bullpen in spring and success against major league hitters in exhibition games, Treinen proved that he deserved a shot and when a reliever either underperforms or suffers an injury, his name has to be at the top of the short list of relievers general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Matt Williams are ready to call up.
Moving away from players that impressed at spring training, but sticking with relievers, another couple of names to watch are Richie Mirowski and Robert Benincasa. Mirowski is coming off a great season at Harrisburg and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Last season in Double-A, he walked a measly 1.7 batters per inning pitched while striking out 12.6, and while not as impressive with the strikeout numbers in the AFL, he still only walked 1.5 batters per inning pitched.
Benincasa is younger than any of the aforementioned relievers and if he makes the Nationals in 2014, then either something has gone terribly wrong at the major league level or he has had an epic season in the minors. Benincasa profiles much the same as Barrett or Mirowski, with a high K/9 and a low BB/9. Starting a level below Mirowski at Potomac, Benincasa is going to have to have a great year to help the Nationals, but do not rule him out as a September call-up.
The final player who could help the Nationals in 2014 was an early cut from spring training, but could be more important than any of the players mentioned above. With major league starting pitchers dropping like flies, having pitching depth is extremely important, and while the Nats’ top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, is an extreme long shot to see the majors this season, their No. 2 prospect, A.J. Cole, is a near certainty. Whether it is due to the underperformance of Taylor Jordan or Tanner Roark, an injury later on in the season, or as the 26th man to pitch the back end of a doubleheader, Cole is going to make his major league debut this season.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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 regular roster of writers.