What we made too big a deal about and what we glossed over

And just like that, spring training has ended. Opening day is 24 hours away. And then off we go.

We tried to touch on all the pertinent subjects over the last three weeks, and perhaps we touched on some a little more than others. It’s only natural; you want to make sure you’re covering the most interesting or most important stories surrounding a club, especially in a short camp like this.

But did we spend the right amount of time on the right subjects? Did we pay too much attention to certain things that didn’t need that much attention? Did we ignore other topics that really should have been addressed?

We’ll attempt to resolve that problem today, with a semi-serious examination of the coverage of the last three weeks. What did we make too big a deal about, and what did we gloss over altogether? Let’s see ...

Obviously, the first big league camp for the organization’s top prospect was going to get a lot of attention. The Nationals have invested a lot of their long-term future in this guy, so of course every one of his spring training outings was worth obsessing over, right? Maybe not. While some in the organization were intrigued enough to consider Cavalli for the opening day rotation, it was probably never going to happen. Nor was his performance in a handful of Grapefruit League games a fully accurate assessment of his current readiness for the big leagues. In the end, Cavalli had some good moments and had one really bad one in which he was rocked by the Cardinals for 10 earned runs. But in reality, none of it probably had anything to do with the timing of his eventual call-up. Cavalli needs to have some success at Triple-A. He needs to have his innings closely monitored. And then at some point - probably during the first half of the season - he’s going to make his major league debut.

The pitching prospect we should’ve been talking about all along was the one who actually did make the opening day rotation. I’ll admit, I didn’t devote much time or column inches to Adon through the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp. I just figured he was too inexperienced to deserve serious consideration for a roster spot. Not until Davey Martinez revealed the 23-year-old would get a start in one of the final exhibition games did it occur to me he could actually have a chance. And then once you started actually listening to the manager gushing about the young right-hander, you realized: Hang on, he might really make the team!

It’s only natural to ask a manager at the beginning of spring training who is going to pitch the ninth inning for him on opening day. Especially when there’s no clear-cut answer to that question. Except in this case, there really was no answer. Martinez may say he hopes Tanner Rainey becomes the Nationals’ closer, but he’s still going to need to earn the job once the season actually begins. Besides, it’s not all that important for this rebuilding club to have defined bullpen roles from day one. Rainey, Steve Cishek, Sean Doolittle, Kyle Finnegan and Tyler Clippard (once he gets a little more prep work with Triple-A Rochester) should offer enough different looks to get the Nats through the late innings when they hold a lead. Eventually, one of them will probably emerge as the closer. Until then, it’ll just be based on matchups. Nothing wrong with that approach.

The Nationals have an exceptionally young catching corps right now, with Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams on the big league roster and Tres Barrera in Rochester. Ruiz looks like a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter already, and Adams has shown a lot of promise at the plate as well. But what about their work behind the plate? We kind of tend to gloss over the importance of experience at the position from a defensive perspective. And not just when it comes to throwing out basestealers or pitch-framing. What about the little matter of calling a game? Credit for much of the Nationals’ pitching success over the last decade had to be given to the veteran catchers who knew how to approach good hitters, how to sequence pitches, and who knew how to avoid being too predictable. Ruiz and Adams may learn how to do it someday, but they’re probably not there yet. And that could cost their pitching staff, especially the young guys who don’t know any better than to shake them off in critical moments.

It happens every spring: So many of our stories are focused on which 26 players (28 this year) are going to make the opening day roster. When someone on the fringe makes it, we make a big deal out of it. When someone surprising gets sent down late in camp, we make a big deal out of it. Guess what? The opening day roster really doesn’t mean much of anything. The list of players over the years who have been introduced before a sellout crowd in early April only to be gone and forgotten by late April is long. Anyone remember Brett Carroll? Xavier Nady? Miguel Montero? Jake Noll? Hernán Pérez? All were on opening day rosters previous seasons. None stuck around for long. So while Dee Strange-Gordon, Lucius Fox and Victor Arano made for nice spring stories, let’s see if they actually contribute and become permanent members of the roster or not.

On a rebuilding team, this really is more important. The 28 players on the roster in April may not be an accurate reflection of who the 2022 Nationals really are. The 26 players who will be on the roster come July may tell us a whole lot more about how successful or unsuccessful this season will be. Will Stephen Strasburg be there? Joe Ross? Cavalli? What about Luis García or Carter Kieboom? Will Victor Robles still be the starting center fielder? That matters far more. Cheer the guys who are introduced to the crowd Thursday afternoon. But pay closer attention to the guys who on are the field making a difference during the dog days of summer.

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