THIS WEEK'S DEBATE: WHICH MEMBER OF THE NATIONALS' FARM SYSTEM WILL MAKE HIS MLB DEBUT IN 2014 AND BECOME A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTOR?
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Unlike the last two seasons, there isn't an obvious, slam-dunk choice here. There's no Bryce Harper or Anthony Rendon in the pipeline, poised to make an immediate impact in the big leagues. But the Nationals do have several under-the-radar prospects who might just fit in and take on key roles this year. From that group, I'll take Sammy Solis. The left-hander is fully recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery and pitched well last season at Class A Potomac. He'll open 2014 at Class AA Harrisburg, and given his advanced age (25), I think the Nats will try to move him up the ladder with some speed. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Solis is a member of the Nationals' bullpen by June and makes several spot starts for them while one or more of the regular rotation members is injured. This seems like a guy who could make a difference very soon, both because of his ability and because of the Nats' need for more lefties.
CHASE HUGHES: This is a tough question because if you look at the Nationals' depth chart, there's very little room for a guy to break in. Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza would both be good choices, but the Nats have plenty of outfielders. With that in mind, I'll go with corner infielder Matt Skole. Yes, I know he only played two games in 2013. But I think Skole could find himself in the right place at the right time. He plays first base — or at least that's the long-term plan — and the Nats may want to see what they have in him. When healthy, he hits home runs and holds a high on-base percentage. He also bats left-handed. Those factors should at least earn him an opportunity; we'll see what he does with it. If I had to guess, I'd say he comes up around the All-Star break and makes a decent case to be the starting first baseman in 2015.
MZ: Skole is an intriguing guy, and one who probably deserves a look this year, but I just don't see an opportunity opening up for him in D.C. in 2014. The only way it would happen would have to involve Adam LaRoche either being hurt or woefully ineffective. And even if either of those scenarios played out, you'd think Tyler Moore would get first shot at the job. I could see Skole getting a September call-up — and maybe an opportunity to play if the Nats are out of the race — but it's tough to see him getting more than that. Solis, on the other hand, seems to have a better chance of seeing action this year because there are seven jobs in the bullpen, and there's always turnover with injuries and poor performances. Maybe a left-handed reliever isn't as significant in the long run as a starting first baseman, but in this case I've got to think Solis has a better chance to turn heads in 2014 than Skole.
CH: I can't disagree with the fact Solis will probably get the first shot. He fits a need as a lefty and is already 25. But I see several scenarios where Skole could get his chance, at least a few months into the season. Injuries to either LaRoche, as you mentioned, or Ryan Zimmerman could in turn open up a spot on the bench. Or, if Moore is injured or ineffective, Skole could establish himself as the next man up. It all depends on how Skole begins the year, but with his potential on offense he could definitely force the issue. The fact he projects as a first baseman, given LaRoche's contract, almost ensures he will get an opportunity at some point. It may come in September, but I think he will make the most of it.