Nats' rotation, outfield, infield rates high

Nats' rotation, outfield, infield rates high
January 2, 2013, 1:30 pm
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ESPN's Buster Olney has been issuing top-10 lists the last few days, ranking what he believes are the best rotations, infields and outfields in baseball. (Note: You'll need an ESPN Insider subscription to read the full article.)

And it should come as no surprise the Nationals are prominently featured in those rankings.

Olney has both the Nats' rotation and outfield as the second-best units in the majors, behind only the Tigers and Angels, respectively. He currently has the Nats' infield ranking eighth, though he points out he'd bump them to the top-5 if they ultimately re-sign Adam LaRoche.

It's tough to dispute Olney's take on the Nationals' rotation. What was already one of the best -- if not the best -- quintet last season should be even better this season, with Stephen Strasburg free to pitch into October, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler each a year older and wiser and Dan Haren more likely to consistently dominate than Edwin Jackson did.

You could argue the Nationals' rotation deserves to be ranked No. 1, ahead of the Tigers' fivesome of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello (especially if they wind up trading Porcello).

The other rotations to make Olney's top-10 list: 3. Dodgers, 4. Phillies, 5. Reds, 6. Rays, 7. Blue Jays, 8. Braves, 9. Giants, 10. Athletics.

Olney's decision to rank the Nationals' outfield trio of Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Denard Span is perhaps a bit more surprising. Certainly that group is going to play superior defense, with any of the three capable of manning center field for prolonged stretches. And all three are capable of producing high on-base percentages, something that has obvious value.

The only knock on this particular outfield trio is a potential lack of power. That's not an issue for Harper, of course, who has every reason to believe he'll smash 30 to 40 homers this season. But Span is in no way a power hitter, owner of a career .389 slugging percentage that tops his OBP by only 32 points. And Werth isn't the power hitter he once was. Even if last year's low numbers were a result of his injured wrist, it's doubtful he'll ever come close to duplicating the .513 slugging percentage he posted during his three full seasons in Philadelphia.

Still, that's a small nitpick of an otherwise excessively talented unit.

The rest of Olney's top-10 outfield list: 3. Athletics, 4. Dodgers, 5. Cardinals, 6. Reds, 7. Brewers, 8. Braves, 9. Diamondbacks, 10. Orioles.

Finally, there's the Nationals' infield, which rates eighth-best in the majors right now according to Olney but would leapfrog several clubs if LaRoche re-signs. Honestly, I would argue this group deserves a top-5 billing even if LaRoche departs. Michael Morse may not own a Gold Glove, but his offensive prowess is second to few.

How many other infields can boast four members who each have hit at least 21 homers and 33 doubles in either of the last two seasons? Not the top-ranked Rangers, who project to open 2013 with a quartet of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland (though top prospect Jurickson Profar could force his way in there somewhere). And not the second-ranked Tigers, who may have as good a corner combo as there is in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder but aren't as impressive up the middle with Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante.

If LaRoche returns, the Nationals will have four Gold Glove-winning (or Gold Glove-caliber) infielders. And even if he doesn't, they'll still have three superior defensive players and four legitimate power threats. That's mighty impressive.

Olney's full top-10 infield list: 1. Rangers, 2. Tigers, 3. Reds, 4. Rays, 5. Yankees, 6. Braves, 7. Blue Jays, 8. Nationals, 9. Giants, 10. Royals.