With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Nats squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?
WASHINGTON -- Even before the Nationals report to Spring Training, much of their 25-man roster appears to be set. Aside from a few position battles and openings on the bench and bullpen, cracking this roster for an unproven player will be difficult, barring an injury.
Still, there will be opportunities for players to impress, especially for the Nats' young starting pitchers. If healthy, the rotation is all but certain, however, health is far from a certainty for these starters. Max Scherzer is expected to have a full, normal Spring Training, but he was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic with a knuckle injury. Stephen Strasburg has not appeared in a game since he strained his pronator tendon in September, and he did not make 30 starts in either of the past two seasons. Joe Ross missed two months of the 2016 season, and he has yet to make it through a full season without injuries or fatigue.
So although teams rarely complete a season using just five starting pitchers, the Nationals will almost certainly have to rely on another starter at some point. That leaves the door open for one of their young prospects, and right-hander Austin Voth could be a player who surprises out of Spring Training.
Voth, the club's No. 6 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, will be trying to make it to the Majors for the first time. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and should be invited to attend his second Major League Spring Training after making strides with his curveball and changeup last season. Voth spent the entire 2016 season at Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 3.15 ERA in 25 starts (27 games), and after struggling initially in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, he tossed 15 consecutive shutout innings across his final three starts.
The Nationals will bring in a few veterans during Spring Training, and they have already signed Vance Worley and Jeremy Guthrie to go along with Voth and right-hander A.J. Cole -- the club's No. 10 prospect -- to provide insurance in case of injury. One of those players is likely to make the team as a long reliever and could potentially make spot starts.
That leaves an opening for Voth, even if the rest of the rotation remains healthy. With a productive spring that shows continued growth on the mound, he could be in position to make an impact from the start of the season.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.