What can be expected of McLouth in 2015?

Last year right around this time, the Nationals were penciling in the newly signed Nate McLouth as their fourth outfielder, confident that he would be able to play all three outfield positions at a high level and give Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper somewhat regular days off in order to keep those three fresh.

The Nats inked McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million contract last December - a hefty sum for a reserve, but a deal that the club felt would pay off thanks to McLouth’s versatility, speed, defensive ability and left-handed pop.

The 2014 season for McLouth obviously ended up being mostly a disappointment. The veteran hit just .173/.280/.237 in 162 plate appearances, notching just one home run and stealing four bases, this after he had put up a .720 OPS, 12 homers and 30 stolen bases in 146 games with the Orioles the year prior.

His 2014 season then ended prematurely when he needed shoulder surgery in August to repair a torn right labrum.

nate-mclouth-bubble-white.jpgMcLouth did play very solid defense when he got the chance, making multiple diving catches and proving to be a capable defensive replacement late in games. But the offensive production was lacking, making it tough for Matt Williams to give McLouth the type of playing time he had insinuated would be possible after McLouth signed.

So what can we expect from McLouth in 2015? Well, he told reporters at NatsFest that his rehab has been going well and all indications are that the 33-year-old will be healthy and ready to go in spring training. Even if he is healthy, he’ll have some work to do to re-establish his stock and prove he’s worthy of semi-consistent playing time.

The Nationals still are in need of a fourth outfielder who can give Werth, Span and Harper days off from time to time. Werth especially could use a rest maybe once every week or two; he’s still very productive and will move to a less-demanding position next season, switching from right field to left field, but is entering his age-36 season and has suffered a number of injuries over the last few years.

Can McLouth be that productive fourth outfielder? He’s still the same guy that the Nats envisioned filling that role effectively, but will need to stay healthy, adjust to inconsistent at-bats and still find a way to produce offensively.

McLouth will be competing with the likes of Michael A. Taylor and even Kevin Frandsen for playing time (Frandsen proved to be an effective option in left field last season), and don’t be surprised if the Nats add another couple of veteran outfield options to the mix who can battle for a roster spot in spring.

McLouth is still owed $5 million for 2015, so he’ll likely be given the first crack at the fourth outfielder job. But it could be a big spring for him in terms of needing to show he’s healthy and that he can get the job done at the plate.

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