Plenty of new faces competing for bench roles in 2014

Super Bowl Sunday might be the biggest day of the football calendar, but to me, it always serves as a reminder that baseball is just around the corner.

There’s just one more football game remaining this winter, one more major sporting event left before pitchers and catchers report to spring training and we start the transition towards the warmer-weather sports.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the heck out of Super Bowl Sunday and all that comes with it (except that the NFL forces various companies and media outlets to call the Super Bowl “The Big Game,” which really annoys me for some reason), but it just means we’re getting even closer to baseball season.

When the Nationals’ position players show up to Viera, Fla., in a couple of weeks, we’ll have what will be almost a completely new crop of guys in line for spots on the bench.

Over the last couple seasons, a group of players including Steve Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, Roger Bernadina and Kurt Suzuki, occupied the Nats’ bench roles. Over the last handful of months, all four of those players have found new teams, leaving a new crop of guys left to compete for backup jobs on Matt Williams’ roster.

Part of this - a large part of it, really - is due to the struggles of the Nats’ bench in 2013.

Nats pinch-hitters put up a paltry slash line of .208/.250/.358 in 212 at-bats last season, which just won’t get the job done. Tracy and Bernadina both had down years after putting up solid numbers off the bench in 2012. Suzuki wasn’t able to maintain the level of play that he put up late in the 2012 season.

The Nats needed to make some changes, and to Mike Rizzo’s credit, he’s done so.

Rizzo added Scott Hairston midway through the 2013 season to serve as a right-handed power bat. He signed Nate McLouth as a versatile, left-handed outfielder. He brought in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll (among others) to compete for a backup middle infield job. Chris Snyder is back with the Nats and will battle to serve as Wilson Ramos’ backup behind the plate.

Other moves to improve the bench might still be out there. Jeff Baker interests the Nats as a corner infielder who crushes left-handed pitching, and Baker is mulling over his options. I still think that the Nats could end up landing another catcher who will compete with Snyder, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon for the backup catching job.

Some of the same faces are around and will compete for bench roles again. Tyler Moore hopes to prove that he’s worthy of an opening day roster spot. Solano and Leon will vie for a job. Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez have gotten cups of coffee in the big leagues in past seasons and hope to make their way back. But largely, the Nats’ bench has been remade of late.

This, of course, isn’t to say that we’re guaranteed to see improvements with the bench in 2014. Just because there are new faces on board doesn’t mean those guys will deliver in big spots when given the opportunity. But knowing that improvements to the bench were needed, Rizzo made that a priority this offseason, and as a result, we’ll get to see a handful of new guys battling for jobs this spring.

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