The Nats have conquered the NL East three times in the past five years, but have never have made it beyond the Division Series. Perhaps there are still questions about whether the Nats did enough during an uneventful offseason to separate themselves from the other contenders in the NL.
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Still, they are coming off 95 victories last season and held a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers in the NLDS before falling short of making the NL Championship Series. They only lost two everyday players from that team -- Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa -- and replaced them with Adam Eaton, who has been one of the best outfielders in baseball recently, and Derek Norris. They begin camp with an unanswered question about who will pitch the ninth inning, one that has lingered all offseason after failed attempts to acquire a veteran closer. But this Nationals team has a chance to boast one of the best lineups in team history and will enter as a favorite to repeat as division champs.
• Hope abounds at dawn of Spring Training
Here is a glance at the Spring Training picture for the Nationals as camp opens:
Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday
Position players report: Friday
First Cactus League game: Feb. 25 vs. Mets in Port St. Lucie
The biggest and most notable acquisition of this offseason is Eaton, who will take over in center field and is expected to be the piece that gets the Nats over the hump. They traded away three top pitching prospects to acquire Eaton, whom they believe has been an under-the-radar star during the past three seasons. It will be nearly impossible for Eaton to fly under the radar this season, considering he is the biggest addition for a team with such lofty aspirations. Manager Dusty Baker will likely use Spring Training to figure out how to incorporate Eaton into the lineup -- where he will likely hit near the top of the order along with Trea Turner. They could form a dynamic combo that potentially scores a lot of runs with Harper and Murphy hitting behind them. Norris returns to the organization that drafted him, taking over as the starting catcher while trying to bounce back from the worst season of his career.
Interesting non-roster invitees:
The Nats have promoted at least one non-roster invitee out of Spring Training the past few seasons and have a few players to keep an eye on this season. The bullpen figures to hold the most opportunity -- with at least three spots up for grabs and a few low-cost, low-risk veterans invited to camp. Vance Worley pitched in a number of different roles for the Orioles last season, so his versatility could make him a good fit. He could provide some rotation depth and work as a long reliever, while also filling in for shorter stints out of the bullpen, as well. Joe Nathan and Matt Albers are also a pair of veterans with late-inning experience who could add an interesting mix to the Nats' bullpen.
Prospects to watch:
This will be the first Major League Spring Training for right-hander Erick Fedde, the team's No. 2 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline and No. 75 overall. He completed his first season in professional baseball in 2016 and advanced to Double-A Harrisburg. If he continues to progress and impress this season, there is a chance that he makes it to Washington as early as this season -- with the Nats lacking in proven starting-pitching depth. A few prospects will have a chance to make the roster on Opening Day, too, including Austin Voth (No. 6), Koda Glover (No. 9) and A.J. Cole (No. 10).