VIERA, Fla. - When a team makes six cuts in a day this late in spring, leaving just 27 guys remaining in big league camp, you would think that nearly all the roster questions have been answered and that there isn’t much work left for the team to do before opening day.
And in a sense, that’s true. We learned yesterday that right-hander Aaron Barrett will make the Nationals’ opening day bullpen, which locks up the team’s final relief spot. Barrett making the ‘pen is a bit of a surprise given that he had never pitched above high Single-A prior to last year, but that’s not to say the 26-year-old didn’t earn his spot.
Barrett closed at Double-A Harrisburg last year, posting a 2.15 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings, and he wowed talent evaluators this spring with his mid-90s fastball and biting slider. He hasn’t allowed a run or walked a batter in 9 2/3 spring innings, and he’s struck out seven.
So we can now write Barrett’s name down for the final bullpen slot. But there are still two open roster spots left here in the final days of spring, and it will be interesting to see how things play out on those fronts.
The Nationals appeared poised to choose between veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, first baseman Tyler Moore and utility man Jeff Kobernus for their final bench job. That was before they released Carroll and optioned Moore yesterday, leaving Kobernus and catcher Sandy Leon as the two non-pitchers left in camp without a roster spot.
Carroll’s release surprised me, given how much manager Matt Williams had raved about the 40-year-old’s professional approach to the game this spring, as well as Carroll’s strong career pinch-hitting numbers. But with the final guy on the bench unlikely to get much playing time and Danny Espinosa poised to serve as the backup middle infielder, the Nats didn’t feel Carroll was the right fit for this team.
Moore also wasn’t the right fit, given that Ryan Zimmerman will likely play some first base against tough left-handed starters, giving Adam LaRoche a day off from time to time. That would have eaten into Moore’s possible playing time, and the Nats didn’t want Moore just wasting away on the bench, getting only a couple at-bats a week.
Kobernus has great speed and is versatile, in that he can play second base and in the outfield. Leon would give the Nats three catchers, freeing up Williams to use Wilson Ramos or Jose Lobaton as a pinch-hitter. The Nats might end up going with one of those two options, but I wouldn’t be surprised if general manager Mike Rizzo hopes to add someone else to the mix, someone currently outside of the organization.
All along, it’s seemed that the Nats have a need for a proven corner infielder, someone who could back up both LaRoche and Zimmerman if need be, and also offer some experience coming off the bench.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Nats have expressed interest in former Phillies infielder Kevin Frandsen, who has strong numbers against left-handed pitching, led the majors last year with 14 pinch hits and can play first, second and third.
No offense to Kobernus or Leon, but someone like Frandsen seems like much more of a fit given the way the Nats roster is currently structured. Leon would likely be used only on rare occasion, and Williams indicated he isn’t the type of manager to do much pinch-running early in the season, so Kobernus’ speed wouldn’t play a major factor.
As for the Nats’ final open rotation spot, it’s officially down to Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan after Chris Young was released yesterday.
It had previously seemed to me that if Jordan was the Nationals’ choice, Roark would likely be moved to the big league bullpen. But with Barrett now taking the final ‘pen spot, it’s clear that won’t be the case. Roark and Jordan are batting for one spot and one spot only, and the guy who loses that competition will end up at Triple-A, as long as Doug Fister is healthy and can make his first regular season start.
Who gets that final rotation spot? It’s really tough to say at this point. I might lean towards Roark just because Jordan has so little experience above high Single-A and might benefit from some more seasoning, but this move really could go either way.
The Nats might hold off on announcing their decision between Roark and Jordan until after Fister’s minor league start on Thursday, just to make sure the tall right-hander comes out healthy. This is a decision that we might not be made for another couple days.