Flying down to Florida

I’ve never been anywhere close to what you would consider a morning person, but I snapped out of bed at 4:45 this morning, terrified that despite spending a couple of hours packing for spring training yesterday, I had forgotten something crucial to my trip.

The time last season that I took a cab all the way to the airport for a flight to Atlanta only to realize I’d left my entire laptop bag back at home seems to have left lingering traumatic effects.

I’m off to Florida today, taking an 8 a.m. flight down to Orlando, where I’ll then hop in my rental car and drive straight to the Nationals’ spring training complex in Viera, Fla. Hopefully a number of players will be milling around the Nats’ facilities at Space Coast Stadium by the time I arrive and I can pass along a handful of notes throughout the afternoon, a day before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.

If you aren’t already, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@masnKolko), as I’ll be tweeting updates as well as plenty of pictures and videos from Florida. I’ll try not to make too many references to the weather, I promise.

It should be a fun and exciting spring, as Matt Williams tries to get his team in gear for the 2014 season. There is no shortage of intriguing storylines this spring, and here are five that I personally will be monitoring closely over the next six weeks:

1. How Williams takes to his new role

While we’ve learned a bit about Williams and the type of manager that he wants to be from chats with him at his introductory press conference in November, the Winter Meetings in December and NatsFest in January, we’ve yet to see him in action. How will Williams run workouts this spring, during what he has said will be a fairly regimented camp? How will the Nats’ new skipper relate to his players? Will he give the veterans plenty of freedom, as Davey Johnson did? Will he push the guys with less experience? How intense will he be, both on and off the field?

Williams is clearly a smart baseball man and has a passion for the game. Over the next six weeks, we’ll likely get a pretty good idea of what type of manager he’ll be in D.C., and I hope to give you all as clear a picture as I can into what I see and learn from Williams this spring.

rendon-fielding-red-sidebar.jpg2. The Rendon/Espinosa/Carroll battle

The Nationals have made it clear that their starting second base job is Anthony Rendon’s to lose this spring. Rendon comes into camp as the favorite to win the gig after a strong rookie season. But Danny Espinosa and veteran middle infielder Jamey Carroll will be right there with Rendon competing for spots on the roster, and the battle between these three (among others) should be fun to watch.

Espinosa had a terrible 2013 season, but should he put together a strong spring, he could challenge Rendon for the starting job. A utility infielder job is also a possibility for Espinosa, as it is for Carroll, who was signed to a minor league deal this winter. Rendon and Espinosa bring youth and potential. Carroll brings veteran experience and versatility. And we’ll get to watch those three battle it out for spots in the infield.

3. The fifth starter spot

While four Nats starters are set, barring injury, Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf and Nathan Karns have all been mentioned by general manager Mike Rizzo as options for the Nats’ fifth starter spot. Detwiler appears to have the best shot at winning the job entering camp, but he should have plenty of competition. It will also be interesting to monitor what happens to the other pitchers in this group that don’t end up getting the starting gig.

4. Can LaRoche bounce back?

Adam LaRoche had a 2013 he’d like to forget, as his offensive performance lagged well behind his career norms and he had trouble maintaining his weight throughout the summer due to a change in ADD medication. LaRoche has bulked back up this season and feels that he has a better grasp on what he needs to do to stay in prime condition health-wise, but the pressure will be on him over the first couple of months of the season to show that he can produce. Typically a slow starter, LaRoche would surely love to put up some big numbers in spring and carry some confidence into the early part of the regular season.

5. Can Zimmerman carry it over?

Ryan Zimmerman had offseason shoulder surgery leading up to spring training last year, a procedure that left him at less than full strength in the first few months of the season. His throwing was clearly affected, as he didn’t have the strength and accuracy on tosses across the diamond that he once did. As a result, Zimmerman needed to play in a couple of steps at third base, cutting down on his range. As the shoulder got stronger over the course of the season, however, Zimmerman’s throwing greatly improved, and he looked like his old self in September, making spectacular defensive plays and showcasing a stronger arm.

There’s been lots of talk in recent years about Zimmerman moving to first base at some point, but if he can show that he still has the ability to be a strong defensive third baseman, the Nats would be best off leaving him there for another couple of years. We’ll see if he can carry that strong defensive play late in 2013 into this spring.

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