WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Two weeks from today, the Nationals will be taking the field in D.C. to face the Braves in the 2023 season opener.
That means there’s still two weeks for things to happen, two weeks for things to change and two weeks for club officials to make decisions on which 26 players will take the field March 30.
But with a full month of spring training now complete, some matters have begun to come into focus. Between the cuts that have already taken place and a few unfortunate injuries that have occurred, we have some clarity at some positions.
With a night game on tap this evening against the Mets, let’s take the opportunity this morning to look at who’s still in big league camp, with a position-by-position breakdown of the players who appear to be locks to make the team, those who are unlikely to head north and those whose fates are still up in the air. …
Locks: Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams
Unlikely: Israel Pineda
Comment: This one is pretty much locked up, barring some kind of late-camp injury. Pineda actually is dealing with an injury, still recovering from getting hit by a pitch on his right hand two weeks ago. Ruiz is the established No. 1 catcher with the big contract to match now. Adams is the established backup, though he’ll need to start hitting a little more consistently to hold that job long-term.
Locks: Dominic Smith, Luis García, CJ Abrams, Jeimer Candelario, Ildemaro Vargas
In the mix: Michael Chavis, Jeter Downs
Unlikely: Leonel Valera
Comment: The starting quartet has been set for some time, and Vargas is set to be the primary backup at second base, shortstop and third base. Chavis and Downs are competing for the final spot on the bench, along with others. Chavis can play everything but shortstop. Downs can play the middle infield positions and is learning the outfield. Valera is an intriguing-but-inexperienced 23-year-old who has yet to reach Triple-A.
Locks: Corey Dickerson, Victor Robles, Lane Thomas
Likely: Alex Call
In the mix: Stone Garrett
Comment: The three regulars are set, for better or worse, with Robles getting yet another opportunity to realize his rarely found full potential. Camp opened with Call and Garrett competing to be the fourth outfielder, but Call has all but seized that job with a strong spring at the plate. Garrett, though, could still make it if the Nats decide to keep a fifth outfielder instead of a sixth infielder.
Locks: Joey Meneses
In the mix: Matt Adams
Comment: There’s no reason to worry about Meneses losing his stroke while playing in the World Baseball Classic; he’s been tearing it up in Phoenix, becoming an international sensation in the process. Adams is trying to make it back after spending last season in independent ball. He’s still a longshot, but he’s still trying to convince the Nats to keep him as an extra slugger on the bench.
Locks: Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Trevor Williams
Likely: Chad Kuhl
In the mix: Paolo Espino, Wily Peralta
Comment: The starting five was supposed to be set, but then Cade Cavalli departed Wednesday’s start against the Mets with an elbow injury, leaving the Nats to hold their breath while they await results of his MRI. Even in a best-case scenario, the rookie probably will have to begin the season on the injured list, so that opens the door for Kuhl, a 30-year-old veteran who struggled last year in Colorado. Espino and Peralta could be fallback options, but the team seems to prefer them as long relievers instead of fifth starters.
Locks: Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, Erasmo Ramirez
In the mix: Mason Thompson, Thaddeus Ward, Paolo Espino, Wily Peralta, Anthony Banda, Alex Colomé, Hobie Harris, Andres Machado
Unlikely: Jose Ferrer
Comment: This was the most open competition of camp at the outset, and it remains that way with two weeks to go. The top four are set, but there are still nine guys in major league camp fighting for the other four slots. Thompson has the brightest future of the bunch but has options. Ward is trying to make the team as a long reliever, but the Nationals have to decide if they’re willing to keep the Rule 5 draftee on their roster the entire year or offer him back to the Red Sox. If Ward stays, it might be tough for the team to keep Espino and Peralta as fellow right-handed long relievers. Colomé has the best track record but hasn’t impressed much this spring. Machado and Harris are trying to force their way in on minor league contracts. Banda and Ferrer are the two remaining lefties; Banda has experience, while Ferrer has a bright future, but neither has looked great.
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