Now that the offseason has started, let the speculation begin. This is the 4th annual “Nationals of the future” lineup, and it’s something I really enjoy thinking about. I have decided to go with Nats 4 seasons ahead instead of 5, just because 5 is so far out, 4 seems more reasonable. Of course, I’m judging prospects and predicting that there are no free agent acquisitions, both ridiculous for me to do. Here’s my team based on the current farm system, and alot of  guessing:

The Position Players

C –Wilson Ramos – Last year, I had Derek Norris here. The year before that, it was Flores in this place. Ramos did pretty well with the major league club this year, and although his lack of patience is worrisome, he is still only 22, so his .250/.283/.364 must be taken with that in mind. He’ll probably have a full season to really prove himself, and a slight improvement on the average and the patience could suddenly make him look like a starting catcher. As it his, he can probably hit better than any of the backups they’ve had in the last few years.

1B – Chris Marrero – He spent all year in AA, after splitting time there and in high-A in 2009. His numbers this year were very close to last years, hitting .294/.350/.450 with 18 homers and 105 Ks. He isn’t much of a fielder out there, but I guess we’re used to that at first base. He could be ready as soon as mid-2011, but at only 22 years old, the Nats aren’t in a rush, and will probably sign someone to man his position for another year or two anyway.

2B – Danny Espinosa – Alright, at this point he’s the starter of the future, and while I’m not totally sold on his ability to hit for a full season, he sure is fun to watch play. He is a great fielder, and if he is gonna be a middle infielder that can hit 15 homers a year, with his glove, it’s not awful. His lack of patience is worrisome, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts next season.

3B – Ryan ZimmermanStill only 26 years old, Zimmerman ranked 4th in the majors in WAR, the overall measure of a player’s value. His OPS of .899 ranked him first among NL third basemen, and his fielding was again spectacular, despite a few too many errors. He continues to be the keystone position player in this franchise and has turned into one of the top players in the league. He was even mentioned as a top 3 MVP candidate by ESPN’s Rob Neyer and Keith Law. If this team starts winning, he’ll get some votes in the coming years.

SS – Ian Desmond – Desmond hit .269/.398/.392 this year, but most of his second half was more impressive. He hit .306/.339/.443 from July 1 through Sept 5, when he entered into a slump until the end of the season. 296 PAs in that stretch is half of a season, so it is promising. There are also no questions about his range or his arm, which appears to have gunpowder sprinkled in. Of course, there are the problems with the errors. I’m heartened by his second half performance, of his 34 E’s, 21 of them were in the first half, this is a significant improvement. Less heartening is his ability to take a walk, which may improve with experience, but it will never be great.

LF – Micheal Burgess – Still raw, but he’s got a ton of raw power, Burgess had a decent year in high-A Potomac, hitting .263/.351/.430 before being called up to AA Harrisburg. There, in only 74 ABs, he hit 6 homers and batted .284/.357/.465. It’s limited time, and since he didn’t destroy in A ball he definitely has more to prove. But I like where he’s going, especially with reducing his strikeouts and walking more.

CF – Roger Bernadina –  I don’t have alot of confidence in Nyjer Morgan being around in a year, let alone 4. Bernadina seems more promising of a hitter, and he can field the position well enough. Roger had a very strong start to the season, and still had an OPS of .760 at the end of August. September was a mess for him, and his .458 OPS after Sept 1 dragged down his numbers significantly. That could be chalked up to a rookie getting worn down by the grind of his first full major league season. The Nats will find out next year if he can keep up his early numbers. If he can, a center fielder with an OPS approaching .800 is a great thing to have.

RF – Bryce Harper – What’s amazing is that this time last year, I had Elijah Dukes in this spot. Harper will be here eventually, if you don’t know about him yet then you probably stumbled on to the wrong site. He’s got incredible raw power, seems to have a very strong work ethic, and I contend that he may be in the majors before he’s 20, some time in 2012.

The Pitchers

SP #1 – Stephen Strasburg – Obviously, he’s gotta come back from injury as strong as he was when he left. But even if he’s 90% of the man he was, it’s still pretty impressive. He was absolutely dominant in 68 major league innings pitched, with a 2.91 ERA and 92 strikeouts to only 17 BBs. That 12.2 K/9 puts him 6th in the league for pitchers with more than 40 IP, behind 5 closers. The only other starter on that list above 10 K/9 is Brandon Morrow, only 15 starters in the majors, including those 2, had a K/9 above 9.00. Here’s hoping for quick and strong recovery.

SP #2 – Jordan Zimmermann – He wasn’t great in 2010, but that fact that he pitched at all was pretty impressive. He did have some good starts, and he recovered from TJ surgery quickly, and was back with a mid-90s fastball in September. He’s the most talented starter in the organization other than Strasburg, and the Nats will try to build on that duo over the next couple of years. Depending on what they do in the offseason, they Jordan could be the de facto #1 for the team until 2012.

SP#3 – John Lannan – I don’t know what Lannan found in the minors, but whatever it is it gave him the best control of his career, raising his K/BB to 3.35, the best of any equal game stretch in his career. He still isn’t going to be a true ace, because he doesn’t strike out a ton of guys. But with an ability to induce grounders, if he can keep down the walks, he can become a great pitcher. With mant more strikeouts, you’d get a Brandon Webb circa ’04-’08. That’s beyond Lannan’s ability, but what about Chien-Ming Wang circa ’06 and ’07? It doesn’t seem impossible.

SP #4 – Ross Detwiler – What is the deal with Detwiler? He was, first of all, hurt for much of the year. But mimicking last season, he was so so until September when he’s been great, mostly out of the bullpen. Until his last start which was one of the worst I’ve seen from anyone all year. I was thinking of flip flopping him and Lannan, mostly based on ceiling. But after that last start, I’m less confident that Detwiler will pan out. If he does, though, he’s got a high potential to be a #3 type pitcher.

SP #5 – Tom Milone – He won’t impress anyone with his fastball, he isn’t one of those highly rated prospects, and he was a 10th round pick, but he’s really good. And he was finally rewarded by being named the Nats Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He’s a lefty who’s fastball tops out in the mid-to-high 80s, yeah you read that right, 80s, but all he does is strike guys out. As you can imagine, he has good offspeed stuff (very strong changeup and good breaking ball). Encouragingly, his number improved from a very good 2009. In 2009, in 151 1/3 IP, he had 106 K and 36 BB, finishing with a 2.91 ERA at high-A. In 2010, in 158 IP, he had 155 K to only 23 BB, and a 2.85 ERA. That’s right, going up a level, the 23 year old improved his K/9 from 6.3 to 8.8, and improved his K/BB from 2.94 to 6.74. He might have to do the same in AAA to convince people, but I’m already sold.

CL – Drew Storen – He’s the presumptive closer for 2011, and I think he’s got the stuff and the head to stick it out. His 2010 had some ups and downs, but way more ups, including his first two months, where he had a 1.59 ERA from his debut on May 17 through July 3. He finished the year with 49 K to 22 BB in 53 IP and a 3.74 ERA. If he keeps improving, the 22 year old should be a strong closer for years to come.

Other Players of Note

C – Derek Norris – Make no mistake, Norris had a strange year. His average was .235 while his OBP and SLG were both .419, showing he had patience and hit with power. He’s still a few years away, and his defensive abilities don’t match with Ramos. But he has the potential to be a very good hitter, and the Nats may need to find a way to get him into the lineup in a few years, regardless of who else they have.

2B – Steve Lombardozzi – I want to highlight him, and not solely based on my doubts about Espinosa’s ability to be a full time hitter in the majors.  He has played very well this year, spending most of the time in high-A where he hit .293/.370/.409 in 440 ABs, and also looked great after 105 ABs in AA hitting .295/.373/.524. He doesn’t probably have the power that Espinosa does, but the 19th round pick is encouraging scouts with his ability to hit for average and get on base. He’ll likely start in AA next season, at only 22 years old, he may have a bright future ahead.

RP – Josh Wilkie – He’s probably not ever gonna be a closer, but Wilkie can pitch. BA said he has the best changeup in the organization. All he did in 2010 was spend the entire year at AAA Syracuse, pitch 69 2/3 innings, strike out 62 and walk 22, while posting a 2.45 ERA. It was another great minor league season for a guy who has now had 3 great ones in a row, I expect him on the major league roster early next year.

By Charlie