WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Is there a happier place than Florida in February?
Women prancing around in bikinis; birds singing at the tops of their lungs; breaking a small sweat while tanning on the beach; the sight and sound of baseball's flying through the air. It's pretty much paradise.
The Nationals have become a prominent baseball club over night. No, they won't receive the same amount of attention as the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. No, they don't have the winning pedigree of the Giants, Cardinals or Tigers -- yet.
But behind Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the additions of Rafael Soriano and Denard Span, the Nats certainly seem like they have the brightest future in baseball.
As spring training is set to begin, here are the five players I'll be keeping an extra eye on.
1) Wilson Ramos
Knowing manager Davey Johnson's tendencies, I'd argue Ramos, 25, is not exactly a shoe-in to recapture his starting role behind the plate. Let's remember when the Nationals offense went sputtering last September, Kurt Suzuki performed at one of the highest levels of his career.
In the season's final month,the former Oakland Athletic batted .300, cranked four home runs and knocked in 18 RBI's. Opposing base runners ran buck wild on the Nationals before Suzuki's arrival, too. If Ramos has a so-so spring, we might see Suzuki in the lineup more often than not come April.
2) Gio Gonzalez
How will the Nationals media darling handle the ongoing PED investigation? Will he still be all smiles? Or will there be a breaking point for number 47? Until the investigation is solved, it's only fair for reporters to question Gonzalez's involvement -- even if he does appear to seem innocent.
You to have applaud Gonzalez for carrying on with business as usual. The lefty ace will be the Nationals only representative in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Maybe it's just me, but I'm having a hard time picturing Gonzalez replicating his dominance in 2013. I expect his numbers to slide a little closer towards his days in Oakland, now that the National League has had a year to adjust.
3) Drew Storen
How will Storen respond to his demotion? Read my full thoughts here on why this will be a career-defining year for the Nationals former closer.
4) Tyler Moore
You can group me in as a media member who was surprised the Nationals splurged the way they did in the offseason. I'm not arguing that wasn't the right strategy, it just didn't quite gel with what Mike Rizzohas done in years past.The 2012 squad was in large part defined by young players coming into their own; Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Ross Detwiler. Unfortunately, Tyler Moore may not get that same opportunity to shine in 2013.
My prediction: At some point, it's going to be awfully hard for Davey to keep Moore's bat on the bench. In his first big league season, the 26-year-old knocked 10 home runs in just 156 at-bats last season -- that pace would've ranked second in the National League. People also seem to forget it was Moore's pinch at-bat in St. Louis that led to the Nationals game one NLDS win. Don't be surprised to see Moore taking some reps at third base and right field as a way of getting him more at-bats.
5) Danny Espinosa
Danny Espinosa struck out 189 times in 2012. The next closest on the Nationals roster was Adam LaRoche with 138. Danny Espinosa batted .247 at the plate in 2012. No Nationals position player posted a worse average. In fact, Strasburg's average was much higher at .277. One last reminder of the second baseman's so-so season: he hit a laughable 1-for-15 in the NLDS, when he was obviously needed the most.
This offseason we did learn thatEspinosa was battling through a serious shoulder injury for the latter part of the season. But to me, his leash is shorter than any player's on the roster. Davey Johnson let Espinosa ride out his slump in 2012, but that was when capable backup Steve Lombardozzi was busy filling in at third base and left field. Another early season struggle from Espinosa can't be ignored in this "World Series or Bust" campaign.