JUPITER, Fla. - We're in the fifth inning at Roger Dean Stadium, and the Nationals have a 5-0 lead on the Marlins. Jordan Zimmermann has given up just two hits, and Washington chased Ricky Nolasco from the game in the second inning.
I haven't been updating the blog much this afternoon because I went to sit in the stands with some scouts during the first few innings of the game. Here are a few observations from them:
* All of the talent evaluators watching the game are in love with Danny Espinosa. I'm not sure I can make that point any clearer. He's hitting .344 this spring, and was leading all National League players with 11 RBIs this spring heading into today. He also made a fantastic play in the third inning, ranging deep in the hole behind second base to stop a Bryan Petersen grounder and making a midair throw to nail him at first. After that play, one scout turned and repeated something he'd said about Espinosa earlier in the day: "Multiple All-Star Games." The same scout predicted Espinosa would be the NL Rookie of the Year. They just don't see many holes in his game, and love his makeup. Based at least on the scouts I talked to today, there's a strong opinion that Espinosa's a true five-tool player who could hit second in the Nationals' lineup as he grows into the role this year. He got hit in the head with a pitch in the first inning, but walked to first after staying down for a minute.
* Zimmermann's third outing of the spring was unquestionably his best. He allowed three hits and a walk in five innings, striking out two and looking as in command of his stuff as he has all spring. The Marlins hit a couple balls hard on pitches Zimmermann left up, but he had a strong showing overall. The one tweak for Zimmermann, from the scouts, is his changeup; they'd like to see him throw it a little slower to create more separation between it and his fastball. Lefties have hit him 21 points better than righties in his career, and a better changeup would help.
* Laynce Nix was attracting some attention - a couple scouts wondered why the Nationals would keep Matt Stairs over him when he can provide more versatility in the outfield.
* Rick Ankiel had a nice at-bat in the second inning, jumping on a fastball from lefty specialist Randy Choate and driving in a pair of runs with a double.
* The general impression I get from scouts continues to be that the Nationals should improve - and would be a wild-card darkhorse, if only they had a pitching staff with at least a few middle-of-the-rotation starters. "I love your depth at catcher," one said. "I love your infield. The pitching stinks." That's not a new opinion, but there's at least some buzz about some of the Nationals' position players. If Stephen Strasburg comes back healthy, that buzz will multiply in 2012.