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2016 Nats roster outlook: An important year for Wilson Ramos

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2016 Nats roster outlook: An important year for Wilson Ramos

Age on Opening Day 2016: 28

How acquired: Trade with Twins, July 2010

2016 salary: $5.35 million

2015 stats: 128 G, 504 PA, 41 R, 109 H, 16 2B, 0 3B, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 0 SB, 21 BB, 101 SO, .229 BA, .258 OBP, .358 SLG, .616 OPS, 64 OPS+, 6 E, 0.8 WAR

2016 storyline: There is no question this is an important year for Wilson Ramos, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He is due to make $5.35 million in 2016 before becoming eligible for free agency for the first time in his career.

Last season Ramos proved he could stay healthy and catch a full season. Now he needs to show he can not only stay on the field, but reach his potential as an offensive player as well.

Ramos' numbers in 2015 were a disappointing considering the talent he displayed in previous years. His .229 average, .258 OBP, .358 slugging percentage and .616 OPS were all career-lows. They were all far below the .268/.318/.434 slash-line and .752 OPS he posted from 2011 through 2014 with the Nats.

Ramos was durable and played good enough defense to be a Gold Glove finalist in 2015, but he will likely need to improve his offensive numbers to earn a new contract with the Nationals. And whether he ends up staying in Washington or signs elsewhere, this next season will be very important in determining his MLB future.

Best-case scenario: This one is quite simple. Ramos could earn himself a lot of money next offseason if he stays healthy like he did in 2015, but produce with the offensive numbers he put up in the four years before that. 

If Ramos could hit .270 with an OPS north of .740 or so, with somewhere close to 20 homers, he would rank among the best catchers in baseball. There is generally so little offense coming from that position, that he could really separate himself and set up for either a lucrative long-term deal in Washington or in another city. Good, power-hitting catchers don't grow on trees and Ramos has the ability to be one of the best of them.

Worst-case scenario: Let's set health aside for this because if he misses 100 games again due to some injury, then obviously that's a worst-case scenario. But what could be just as damaging for Ramos is if he stays healthy, but sees his offensive numbers dip even lower.

If Ramos hits below .229 and creeps towards the Mendoza line, and if his OBP falls below .250 or so, he could raise questions about his viability as a starting catcher altogether. That would not be good for him considering the timing of his contract.

Most-likely scenario: Assuming Ramos can stay healthy again - he says he's working three times as hard this offseason to prepare for 2016 - one has to expect his offensive numbers to go up. As much as him staying off the DL this past season was an aberration in his career, so were his prolonged slumps at the plate.

Ramos is more likely to see his average go up to or over the .250 mark with his OPS eclipsing .700. Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project that for him in 2016, with BR having him set a career-high with 17 homers. 

Now, whether that is enough to keep in D.C. long-term is hard to tell at this point.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper gives emotional acceptance speech for MVP award]

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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USA Today Sports

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals' phenom Juan Soto finishes as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.

Despite a surprising, impressive and historic start to Juan Soto's career in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals' young star finished as the runner-up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Ronald Acuña Jr. and ahead of finalist Walker Buehler, the league announced Monday.

For the Nationals' rising star who didn't shed his teenager status until after Washington's season ended, finishing second behind another similarly impressive player doesn't diminish his record-breaking accomplishments throughout the 2018 season -- so many of them related to being a 19-year-old rookie.

After the Nats called Soto up in the spring, he made his debut in the majors on May 20, quickly becoming famous for both his power and consistency and drawing countless comparisons to teammate Bryce Harper. He broke or tied too many records to list here -- but you can find them on NBC Sports Washington -- so we're highlighting the biggest.

He finished his rookie year with a .292 batting average, slugging at .517 and racking up 22 home runs, 70 RBI and 79 walks -- the most by a teenager in MLB history which also made him the only teenager with more than 60 walks in a single season.

Both the highest for a teenager in MLB history, Soto finished with a .406 OBP -- he's also the only teenager to break .400 -- and a .923 OPS, which put him second and third, respectively, among all NL hitters. He became the first teenager to finish with a slash line of at least .290/.400/.500 and the first rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 to do it, according to MLB.com.

His three multi-home run games are the most by a teenager in MLB history, as are his multi-walk games (16). Soto also racked up 22 home runs this season, which tied Harper for second by a teenager, behind Tony Conigliaro with 24.

Soto started the 2018 season with the Class A Hagerstown Suns before getting bumped up to the Potomac Nationals (Class A-Advanced) and the Harrisburg Senators (Double-A) on his way to the majors.

With the Braves playing in the postseason before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, 20-year-old Acuña finished his rookie year with a slash line of .293/.366/.552, having a slight advantage over Soto in both batting average and slugging percentage. He also had the edge over the Nats rookie in home runs (26) and hits (127 vs. 121).

Winning the NLCS with the Dodgers before falling the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, Buehler was the lone pitcher in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The 24-year-old right-hander finished his first season with a 2.62 ERA on an 8-5 record. He struck out 151 batters and gave up 12 home runs.

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