Nationals Infield: Potency Without A Pill

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

The Nationals are presently projected as the best team in the National League. Much of that can be attributed to their outstanding rotation and strong outfield. However, a potent starting infield also adds to the equation.

One issue for the club is depth. A few key personnel are flirting with the injury prone label. If anybody hits the disabled list, the fall back options appear to be questionable.

Catcher

Wilson Ramos
Jose Lobaton
Sandy Leon

Speaking of injury prone players, Ramos is intimately familiar with the disabled list. The catcher has exceeded 400 plate appearances only once – his 2011 rookie campaign. A career .269/.317/.432 hitter, Ramos could be a valuable second catcher for fantasy owners. He spent the offseason working on leg strength in an effort to offset the past injuries.

Beyond Ramos is a fantasy black hole. Neither Lobaton nor Leon offer any offensive upside.

First Base

Ryan Zimmerman
Tyler Moore
Kevin Frandsen

Zimmerman missed most of last season with thumb and hamstring injuries. The former third baseman will move to the cold corner to accommodate his suddenly flaky throwing arm. Zimmerman is a career .286/.352/.476 hitter. Last season, he provided similar offense in 240 plate appearances. A healthy Zimmerman can be a useful four-category contributor.

If he hits the shelf again, the club will need to turn to the trade market. Moore seems like he should be a useful platoon bat, but he’s actually shown modest reverse platoon splits. Moore’s power has declined over the last two seasons, which eats into his already marginal profile.

Frandsen is a useful utility man. He’s somebody who factors on the first base depth chart purely because he can play first base. He won’t hit like one. The same goes for his other positions – even second base.

Second Base

Yunel Escobar
Danny Espinosa
Kevin Frandsen

The Nats swapped reliever Tyler Clippard for Escobar in order to solve a sketchy situation. Escobar is a roughly league average hitter in the most unexciting way possible. He doesn’t hit home runs, steal bases, or drive in runs. For fantasy purposes, he’s only useful in extremely deep leagues. The move to second base should help him to restore his defensive value.

The acquisition of Escobar pushes Espinosa into a super utility role. This is the best way for the club to deploy the former prospect. As a switch-hitter, Espinosa has performed terribly against right-handed pitchers. Last season, he managed a miserable .183/.241/.291 line (.287 BABIP). Against lefties, he hit a stout .301/.374/.485 (.373 BABIP).

In an effort to turn his career around, Espinosa will hit purely right-handed this season. Since he’s not used to hitting same-handed pitching, I wouldn’t expect an immediate leap in value.

Shortstop

Ian Desmond
Danny Espinosa

In some ways, Desmond is baseball’s best shortstop. Fantasy owners certainly appreciate his contributions. Last year, he hit 24 home runs and stole 24 bases. Atop the Nationals lineup, Desmond offers plenty of run production too. His strikeout rate has crept upwards in recent seasons (28 percent in 2014). If he can edge that back down to his career rate of 22 percent, his average will be more attractive too.

Third Base

Anthony Rendon
Ryan Zimmerman
Kevin Frandsen

When Rendon was drafted, he was already considered an injury risk. Since reaching the majors, he’s remained both healthy and effective. The 25-year-old is coming off a breakout season, and there is room for even more improvement. He’s a potential five-category monster capable of a .300 average, 20 home runs, 15 steals, and plenty of run production. Going forward, he could trade some of his contact for more power. Already very good, Rendon is on the cusp of superstardom.



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Cory S.
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Cory S.

Does Rendon completely shake his “injury prone” label? Could be a huge bust if he reverts back to getting hurt ever-so-often.

I understand that can be said for anyone, but his health seems a little too automatic given his history.

Brian
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Brian

I for one think the ankle injuries were random, and don’t agree that he is particularly “injury prone”.