Outfielder Taylor shines early in Spring Training; Difo talks about which infield spot he prefers
By Teddy Cahill
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, while others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates throughout the team's system. MLBPipeline.com is visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Washington Nationals.
VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals, with their veteran-heavy roster and lofty expectations for 2015, would appear to have fewer opportunities for their prospects entering the season. But the farm system keeps humming along, ready to send players to the Major League team when needed, both this year and into the future.
"We're trying to maximize the potential of each player," Nats director of player development Mark Scialabba said. "It's OK to have five third-base prospects even if you have Anthony Rendon at third base. It's still a very important thing."
One opportunity for a young player has already arisen, as center fielder Denard Span underwent surgery on Monday to repair a right core muscle. With Span out, Michael Taylor, ranked No. 42 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, is expected to get most of the action in center field.
Scialabba knows this won't be the last time this year that a young player is called upon to help the Nationals as they try to win their third National League East title in four years.
"You never know when you're going to need players to come from the Minor Leagues," Scialabba said. "You want to build depth. Especially when you're contending, depth is extremely important. It's not just the 25-man roster. It's the 40-man roster and also the Minor League players you hope can step up and help us. There's going to be opportunity."
Taylor has played well this spring as he tries to earn a full-time role in the Major Leagues. He is coming off a breakout season that saw him hit 23 home runs and steal 37 bases in the Minor Leagues, play in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and make his big league debut.
Infielder Wilmer Difo, the 2014 South Atlantic League MVP Award winner, has also impressed the Nats' officials. The 22-year-old also had a breakout 2014, as he began to better understand his strengths as a player and how to deal with the day-to-day grind of a baseball season.
"Both guys are doing well," Scialabba said. "I think our Major League staff is very pleased and excited to have them in camp and what they're seeing on a daily basis from both players."
Raudy Read, C: Playing for Class A Short-Season Auburn in 2014, Read set career highs in nearly every offensive category. But there's still room for improvement for the 21-year-old, especially behind the plate. The Nationals have worked with Read extensively this spring on his defense, and they are eager to see how those efforts translate to the field.
"I think he's a player that certainly has the tools and the makeup, where down the road I think he can be a front-line catcher," Scialabba said. "So we're looking for him to make some strides this year."
Jefry Rodriguez, RHP: After taking a step forward in 2013 in the Gulf Coast League, Rodriguez was limited to just 33 1/3 innings in 2014 due to a wrist fracture that kept him out the final two months of the season. He moved to the mound late in his amateur career, but has already impressed with his powerful arm. Rodriguez's fastball reaches 98 mph and he pairs it with a good curveball.
Three questions with Wilmer Difo
After a tough start to his professional career, Difo broke out in 2014. The infielder was named the South Atlantic League MVP Award winner after hitting .315/.360/.470 with 14 home runs and 49 stolen bases for Class A Hagerstown.
MLBPipeline.com: What allowed you to have such a good season last year?
Difo: Work. A lot of work in the morning, after the practice. And consistency. The same routine, no change.
MLBPipeline.com: Has being in Major League camp been a different experience for you?
Difo: It's the same. For me, it's the same baseball. Big league, [Minor Leagues], it's the same baseball.
MLBPipeline.com: You played about as much shortstop as second base last year. Which position do you prefer?
Difo: I like shortstop more. Although, I don't care. Whatever they want me to play, second base or shortstop, I will play.
Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.