The SportsTalk Shop: Nationals, Phillies Spring Training Issues

Spring Training baseball is underway, and the Nats and Phils have two opposite perspectives on what to watch for this month during the exhibition season as they get ready to accomplish distinct different goals in 2016.  Here’s a look at key issues for both teams as the pre-season unfolds.



 …continue to look for and add depth.


This, in my mind, was one of the biggest issues with the 2015 Nationals.  When injuries came, they had one or two “backup” plans, and when they didn’t pan out, there were major issues.  Acquiring players as the season unfolds, both quality bench personnel, along with high-character guys, are key for this team to make it to the next level.  Washington does not want to get painted into a corner where they have to make a move for someone like another Jonathan Papelbon out of necessity, but should be continuing to look for ways to add depth into and throughout the season.  Just ask the Phillies how important a “minor” addition like Matt Stairs turned out to be.


Speaking of depth, the Nats need to bring up at least one or two players from the minors that will contribute.  With the number of injuries players sustain today, it isn’t realistic to think that five, or even four, members of the starting rotation will make it through an entire year—no matter how good they are.  Plus, they need players to come up and challenge the veterans.  Guys like Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo, Lucas Giolito and others must continue to improve and push the more established players at the Major League level (both Difo and Giolito had nice performances last Friday).


Finding a couple players to contribute as the season wears on is key to driving this team forward–if, for the purposes of just this year, that role is simply to light a fire under a current player who’s underperforming.

 …the return of Rendon—the REAL Rendon.


Anthony Rendon was one of a number of injured players during 2015.  He did play last season, but he wasn’t the Rendon that people wanted…needed for the Nationals to play a legitimate playoff run.  Instead of building on a tremendous 2014 campaign, a string of issues (starting in spring training and lingering throughout the year) kept the third base-turned-second baseman from ever truly hitting his stride last summer.  This spring, following the acquisition of second basemen Daniel Murphy, he’s been returned to his natural defensive position and hopefully will lead the team offensively in the way the team needs him to be.  The Nationals have done a great job, in my opinion, building an offense around the core.  But Rendon is that special player that, if healthy, is the guy who can carry a team during team-wide struggles and also is the guy I’d want at the plate with the game on the line.


Getting him ready for the season is nice, but, perhaps more than any one position player, a healthy exhibition season and a clean, injury-free, path to Opening Day is one of the most important issues for Washington this month.




 Maikel Franco MUST continue improving.


Much like Rendon, Franco, right now, looks to be the centerpiece of the Phillies position players and will be looked to (until proven otherwise) as the team’s “go-to guy.”  The Phillies have done a great job of building a collection of great prospects, with the knowledge that, while some young players won’t live up to their potential, an increase in the number of blue-chip players in the organization strengthens the chances that SOME of these players make a significant impact.  The organization has been hedging their bets and not riding all their hopes on one player.  However, Franco—a home-grown entity—has been touted as the one key player to build around.  If he regresses, it won’t end the rebuild, but any lack of progress this summer will be tough for Phillies to deal with, especially from a PR-standpoint (see the 76ers situation).   Franco is the guy who Phillies fans can see–right now–in Philadelphia, and he’s shown flashes of amazing ability.  The fan base can be patient if they have some hope that they can see in close proximity.  Philadelphia’s starting third-baseman is off to a great start (he’s already hit as many home runs the first week of spring training as the two previous pre-seasons combined.)  As long as he continues to flourish at the Big League level this summer, it is easier to sell the fact that more players like him are coming down the pipeline.



…the pitching watch.


Through all the horrible 2015 baseball seen in the Delaware Valley…it was made dreadfully worse by poor pitching.  Again, new GM Matt Klentak has done a great job of building an abundance of low-risk, high-reward players, in the hopes that a few can be serviceable major league hurlers—either to be traded away for more prospects, or as veterans to help hold a future pitching staff together with experience.  There’s a number of pitchers to keep an eye on as spring training and the regular season unfolds, and a finding a few gems this season could really help the rebuilding efforts along.


Keep in mind, even the older veteran’s success—pitching or position players–can impact and have a significant influence on the future.  If one or more players is having a solid season heading into July (and approaching the trade deadlines), a contending team may be desperate to add a necessary piece (see the Nats’ with Papelbon a year ago).  Players that don’t figure in as regulars in the Phillies lineup two-to-three years from now (Carlos Ruiz, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Charlie Morton and others) might get you a diamond-in-the-rough prospect that helps Philadelphia in future seasons?



Join us on “RCN SportsTalk” in the coming weeks (Thursdays live, 7-8pm on RCN-TV or catch our podcasts here) as we get updates on the Phillies and Nationals’ spring training updates from the team’s beat writers.  We’ll also have discussions on this weekend’s Pennsylvania and Washington, DC high school playoff action on this week’s program.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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