MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Nationals open camp with 3 key questions

Nationals open camp with 3 key questions

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals pitchers and catchers officially reported on Thursday, but there were already a handful of players working out at their Spring Training facility on Wednesday.

Position players are not required to arrive until Tuesday, but Clint Robinson, Reed Johnson, Trea Turner, Michael Taylor and Matt Skole were seen taken batting practice. All five players looked like they were in midseason form.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also spotted at the facility watching his players at work. Baker will formally address the media on Friday. Catcher Jose Lobaton said he can't wait to start working with the new manager.

"I heard a lot of good things about [Baker]," Lobaton said. "A lot of friends said, 'Oh my God, you are going to have a good year. You are going to see a lot of good things.' I know he is a friendly guy. That's good for us. We need to be together. I know he's that guy. We are going to do well this year. He is a fun guy. He has a lot of energy. We need that on the team."

Prospects | Newcomers | Bounceback candidates | Shortstop

Left-hander Gio Gonzalez looked like he is ready to go. He started the day by playing catch on flat ground before signing autographs for fans.

Right-hander Tanner Roark arrived in Florida this past weekend. He is expected to be back in the rotation this season, and he hopes to get back to being the pitcher who won 15 games for Washington in 2014. Last year, Roark spent most of the time in the bullpen and had his worst season as a member of the Nationals.

"It was crazy year last year," Roark said. "It was a learning experience and a big mental year. I have to be myself. I'm ready to go. I'm excited. I feel like I'm a starter. I feel like I will always be a starter. I feel like I'm best suited for the starting role."

Lucas Giolito, who is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the Nationals' No. 1 prospect, is at camp and will be with the big league team during the Grapefruit League season. He hopes to be a big surprise and open the year as part of the Nats' rotation.

Top Prospects: Giolito, WSH

As camp gets underway, here are the big questions that must be answered in the coming weeks:

1. Can the Nationals stay healthy?
Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon were not on the Opening Day roster in 2015 because of serious injuries. When it was all said and done, 17 Nats players spent time on the disabled list last year. Will it be a different story in '16? After the season ended, the Nationals transformed their medical and training staff. The club will focus more on injury prevention, using modern analytics to drive a proactive rather than a reactive approach.

2. Who will play shortstop?
Turner, Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew will compete for the job. There is no question that all three players can do the job defensively, but they have to show consistency at the plate, especially Espinosa and Drew, who strike out often. Turner has proven he can hit with consistency in the Minors, but he can't afford to get off to a slow start like he has when reaching each new level in professional baseball.

3. Are the Nationals better than the Mets?
Besides staying healthy, the Nationals also need to do better offensively. For example, who is going to protect Bryce Harper? On paper, it looks like Ryan Zimmerman is going to be the guy, but he hasn't played a full season since 2013. General manager Mike Rizzo revamped the bullpen by adding Trevor Gott, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit, but he won't know how good this bullpen really is until the games start.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.