|The young Nats should benefit from having Davey Johnson, 69, as their skipper. (Getty Images)|
VIERA, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Nationals:
• The excitement: There's nothing quite like the year that a young team starts believing it should win, and the Nationals think they're there now. Edwin Jackson says it's a little like the 2008 Rays team that he was part of, but I'm not sure that team believed in itself as much as this team does now.
• The kids: Bryce Harper is 19. Stephen Strasburg is 23. Wilson Ramos and Drew Storen are 24. Jordan Zimmermann is 25. Gio Gonzalez is 26. This is still a very young team, but it's a young team with loads of talent and with a lot of guys who already have some big-league experience. And there's more talent on the way. Anthony Rendon, last year's first-round draft pick, made a very good impression in the early days of camp.
• The manager: The players are young. Manager Davey Johnson turned 69 last month. But Johnson feels like the right fit for this team, even if none of them are old enough to remember even the very end of his playing career.
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• The future: Yes, the Nationals say it's about winning now, but they've also made sure that this group will be together for a while. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman signed an extension this spring that will keep him in Washington for basically the rest of his career, and Strasburg, Harper, Zimmermann, Werth, Storen and others are under team control for quite a few years to come. "The next 7-8 years should be phenomenal," Harper said. "We've got a lot of winning ahead of us."
• The division: The Nationals look to be much improved, and I don't blame them for talking playoffs. But can you pick them to beat the Phillies in the National League East? Are they better than the Braves? The Marlins? Perhaps they are ready to win, but this is a tough division to prove it in. Then again, as Johnson said, "If we can hold our own in this division, then we can hold our own against anybody." Joe Maddon always said he liked that the Rays were in the tough American League East. And when they won it for the first time in 2008, they went all the way to the World Series.
• The Strasburg limit: With the addition of Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, the Nationals rotation is much deeper than last year. But Strasburg is the best pitcher here, and since he's in his first full year after Tommy John surgery, the Nationals are saying he won't pitch an entire season in 2012. General manager Mike Rizzo refuses to put a number on it yet, but said, "He will be shut down during this season at some point."
• Who's in center field?: The Nationals have been searching for a long-term center field answer for several years right now, and they still don't have one. They're still looking, although if/when Harper is on the team, he'll play right field and Jayson Werth will move from right to center. Next year, though, Michael Morse likely moves from left field to first base (replacing Adam LaRoche), Werth moves to left and center field becomes a question once again.
• Who leads off?: Young shortstop Ian Desmond finished 2011 as the leadoff hitter, and it appears he'll begin 2012 atop the order. But Desmond still needs to prove he can do it. His on-base percentage, which wasn't great in 2010 (.308), was even worse last year (.298). So if that long-term answer they're looking for in center field can also be bat leadoff.