March 5, 2015

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Starters

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Max Scherzer
2014 AL: 33 games, 220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (6.0 WAR)

Scherzer, 30, led the American League in wins the past two seasons, winning the Cy Young in 2013 and placing fifth last season. He’s thrown more than 170 innings in each of the past six season, and 210-plus that past two. He is, arguably, one of the top half-dozen starters in the Major Leagues. With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister both free agents after this season, and Stephen Strasburg after 2016, the Nats wanted to make sure they had an “ace” under contract for a long time, and Scherzer is tied up until 2021 when he’s 36 years old.

Stephen Strasburg
2014: 34 games, 215.0 IP, 14-11, 3.14 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 (3.5 WAR)

Is Strasburg the least appreciated great pitcher in the game today? Even fans of his own team wanted to leave him out of the playoff rotation last season because he “didn’t know how to win.” The bottom line is this: Strasburg led the league in strikeouts and games pitched last season. He walked fewer than two batters per nine innings. His FIP was lower than his ERA. And he finally got over the 200 inning plateau. His BABiP against was above league average and that was the only thing keeping Strasburg from achieving a more impressive W/L record. But make no mistake, he’s got elite skills.

Jordan Zimmermann
2014: 32 games, 199.2 IP, 14-5, 2.66 ERA, 1.072 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 (4.9 WAR)

Here’s the thing. If Zimmermann had gone on the 15-day DL last season after the All-Star game with the biceps strain that caused him to miss the game, instead of pitching through it and allowing eight earned runs over 8.1 IP in two starts, Zimmermann’s numbers would look even better. As it was, he led the NL in fewest walks per nine as a starter and gave up just 0.6 HR/9 (13 homers). He’ll give up a few more round-trippers this season, but since he never walks anyone the damage is limited. Fans love his bulldog mentality, but he is destined to test free agency after the season and very unlikely to stay in the District.

Doug Fister
2014: 25 games, 164.0 IP, 16-6, 2.41 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 1.3 K/9 (4.5 WAR)

Fister missed all of April last season and still put up 16 wins, generating a result in 22 of his 25 starts. Was almost as stingy with free passes as Zimmermann, but has to be since his margin of error is so much smaller. Such is the paradox of the world’s tallest (6-foot-8) finesse pitcher. He threw a higher percentage of sinkers last season than previous with a better defense behind him and it worked. Still, he works fast and limits damage as well as anyone in the bigs. As with Zimmermann, Fister’s a free agent at season’s end. Of any of the potential free agents, one could envision Fister signing a sneaky quiet extension during the season at the right price. But all the classic warning signs are there: drop in velocity, K rate, ground ball rate and swinging strike rate.

Gio Gonzalez
2014: 27 games, 158.2 IP. 10-10, 3.57 ERA, 1.197 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 (2.3 WAR)

Gonzalez led the league in wins and was third in Cy Young voting two seasons ago. He’s now the Nats No. 4 or 5 starter. That’s less a reflection on the Nats sole lefty starter than the abundance of riches the Nats have at the position right now. Gonzalez saw his walk rate drop last season – even lower than his career year in 2012. His FIP was lower than his ERA, his HR/9 was low, BABiP right at league average…so why weren’t his final boxcar numbers better? The shoulder strain he battled though certainly played a part, but when he came back was same old Gio.

Tanner Roark
2014: 31 games, 198.2 IP. 15-10, 2.85 ERA, 1.092 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 (5.1 WAR)

In his first full season in the bigs, Roark shocked everyone. Ev. Ree. One. He had displayed some promise in the minor with a heavy sinker and competitive nature, but he had never produced along the lines of what we saw last season. Underlying those results, though, are some warning signs: he significantly outperformed his FIP, his homer rate belied his FB rate, and though he’s a sinker pitcher, his ground ball rate wasn’t elite. But he’s got great control and could really thrive in a bullpen role, which is where he’ll start out this season due to the signing of Scherzer. How about that? Win 15 games, get relegated to the bullpen.

Blake Treinen
2014: 15 games, 50.2 IP. 2-3, 2.49 ERA, 1.382 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (1.1 WAR)

Treinen stepped in admirably for 16 starts due to assorted injury stints last season. His K rate wasn’t spectacular, but he owns a career 7.6 K/9 in the minors and with his size (6-foot-5, 215) and velocity (97) he will generate some more swings and misses. He generated ground balls at a 59 percent rate, so he’s almost a prototypical Mike Rizzo bullpen guy. He should absolutely thrive in a one-inning role this season in the mid-to-late innings.

Taylor Jordan
2014: 5 games, 25.2 IP. 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 (-0.5 WAR)

Jordan only pitched in six games in the minors last season. He broke his ankle last offseason, rushed his rehab, altered his mechanics to compensate, lost velocity – an already precious commodity – and eventually had surgery in September to remove bone spurs in his elbow. He’s a Tommy John survivor already, so it doesn’t bode well for his long-term prognosis. He’s healthy this spring and will compete for innings in Syracuse, but the Nats have several better options should they need a seventh or eighth starting pitcher this year.

A.J. Cole
2014 AA-AAA: 25 games, 134.0 IP. 13-3, 3.16 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9

Cole is the Nats No. 2 starting pitcher prospect behind Lucas Giolito, and has rightfully earned his spot in the top 60 or so prospects in all of baseball. He throws three pitches for strikes, including a heavy fastball and is knocking on the big league door at age 23. Rizzo traded Cole to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, then got him back in the Michael Morse trade the following year. Cole was a little more hittable last season split between Double-A and Triple-A, but his excellent command and control will translate to the next level. Many teams would love to have Cole as their top pitching prospect.

Taylor Hill
2014 AAA: 25 games, 144.0 IP. 11-7, 2.81, 1.118 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Hill, 26, is a big, soft-tossing righty and as such has a very limited ceiling. He uses a four-pitch mix to fool minor league hitters and keep them off his upper-80s fastball. Now, if you see this profile and yell “DOUG FISTER,” I don’t blame you because they sound like much the same pitcher. But guys that succeed at the Major League level with this profile are few and far between. He gave up nine earned runs in nine innings for the Nats in three games last year.

Sammy Solis
2014 Rk-A-AA-AAA: 5 games, 18 innings. 2-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

Solis was once one of the Nats prized pitching prospects. But he was once again shut down by injury and may never realize the potential the Nats saw in him. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and back spasms started his season late last year, then in June he was shut down again due to elbow discomfort. He’s still on the 40-man, but now 26, unfortunately not everyone comes back from Tommy John surgery.

Washington Nationals’ Minor League and Prospect Report for Week Ending May 18th

As another week of minor league baseball comes to a close, here is an update on the Washington Nationals’ farm system. We’ll work our way around the organization, checking in with players that have already made this list, plus highlighting some new faces and prospects making headlines. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals’ Minor League and Prospect Report for Week Ending April 27

Syracuse Chiefs, AAA International League, 10-13

Brian Goodwin: In the Chiefs past 10 games, Goodwin has batted just .216. One of the fastest men in the clubs’ system, he’s stolen just two bags all season long. In the past 10 games, the 23-year old has 5 RBI, a triple and two doubles. This is his first season at triple-A, so it may take some time to adjust to the elevated level of play.

Ryan Mattheus: Once an important member of the Nationals’ bullpen, the right-handed Mattheus is off to a rough start in Syracuse. Through nine outings, he’s amassed a 5.40 ERA and opponents are hitting .275 against him.

Jhonatan Solano: If not for Sandy Leon, Solano would be the backup behind home plate. In triple-A, his season is off to a solid start. Through 54 at-bats spanning 15 games, Solano is hitting .333 with a .537 slugging percentage. He’s hit five doubles, two homers and 11 RBI.

Harrisburg Senators, AA Eastern League, 5-16

Destin Hood: In his second full season with the Senators, the outfielder leads the team with a .329 batting average. In the past 10 games, he’s collected at least one hit in six of them. On the season, Hood has stolen six bases, scored nine runs and has collected 5 RBI.

Matt Skole: Possibly the most powerful bat in the Nationals’ farm system, Skole is off to a rather slow start. In 74 at bats, he’s hitting .149 with a slugging percentage of .189. He has hit three doubles and 6 RBI, but is still waiting on his first long ball. Last year, an early season injury saw his season cut short; so it’s important to stay patient with him as he returns to action.

A.J. Cole: One of the brightest young arms in the system, Cole got off to good start, but has hit some tough times in recent outings. He started off 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, but went 0-1 in his next two games and gave up 17 hits and five runs collectively.

Potomac Nationals, High-Class A Carolina League, 14-8

Tony Renda: Before a quad injury sent him to the disabled list on April 11, second baseman Tony Renda got off to quite a start for Potomac. He put together a slash line of .375/.400/.438 with two doubles and eight RBI. On the base paths, he found success stealing three bags and scoring eight runs.

Bryan Harper: Bryce’s older brother, Bryan Harper has been pitching well out of the bullpen for Potomac. In 9.1 innings of relief work, Harper has given up just one earned run while striking out seven. The left-hander has been rather versatile as he’s been a solid option for 1-2 innings of work.

Brian Dupra: Another young arm available out of the bullpen, right-hander Brian Dupra has been just as solid as Harper. Over 17 innings of long-relief spanning five games, he’s allowed just one run across the plate and opponents are batting just .177 against him. He’s struck out 23 while walking just one.

Hagerstown Suns, Low-Class A South Atlantic League, 18-5

Wilmer Difo: Difo has spent time bouncing around the lower ranks of the Nationals’ farm system, but he’s beginning to bear the fruits of that hard work. In 22 games this season with the Suns, he’s batting .313 with eight doubles, two triples and 17 RBI. On top of that, he’s stolen nine bases and has at least three hits in three of his last five games.

Lucas Giolito: The Nationals’ first round pick in 2012, Lucas Giolito is off to a solid start in his first full season of action (last year he missed due to Tommy John Surgery). In five starts, he’s 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA. He’s struck out 24 batters and opponents are hitting just .192 against him.

Drew Ward: Difo’s biggest competition for most valuable player through the early part of the season, Drew Ward is off to just as good a start, if not better. Through 61 at bats, Ward is batting .311 with a slugging percentage of .508. The third baseman has hit four doubles, a triple, two homers and 21 RBI. He’s currently on an eight game hitting streak, as well.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 3 A.J. Cole

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza
No. 4 Drew Ward

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 3, RHP A.J. Cole.

3. A.J. Cole
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 5″, Weight: 200 lb.
Born: January 5, 1992 in Winter Springs, Florida, US (Age 22)
Draft: Fourth Round, 2010

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Power Curve Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
60/70 60/70 50/60 40/50 45/55 45/55 Very Good All-Star

After selecting Bryce Harper with the top overall pick of the 2010 Draft, the Nationals selected Cole in the fourth round (116th overall). Widely considered among the draft’s elite high school arms, Cole’s strong commitment to the University of Miami pushed him down draft boards some, but the Nationals still had to fork over a well over slot $2 million signing bonus to reel him in. His star was so bright though, that Washington was more than happy with their side of the bargain.

Though he was thin and wiry, Cole had dominated his opponents while pitching for Oviedo High, to the tune of a 0.93 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 60 innings during his senior summer. His fastball was already in the low 90’s, and his off-speed stuff and mechanics were advanced for his age. Needless to say, he had little trouble in the low minors, and was able to put together a superb season in the South Atlantic League in 2011. He got past a rocky start to the season to one-hit the Delmarva Shorebirds on April 13th. And from there he caught fire, combining for a 2.81 ERA during the remainder of his starts. He totaled a 4.04 ERA and a sparking 4.5 K/BB ratio on the season overall.

The following summer, the Nationals’ found themselves in the position to compete for  the playoffs for the first time since coming to Washington. Their surplus of young arms was a major asset on the trade market, and they ended up sending Cole to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade. After just one tough year with the Athletics, getting lit up in the home-run-launching California League, the Nationals got Cole back in the Michael Morse trade.

Cole got right back on track last season while pitching in much more forgiving Carolina League and Eastern League digs. He got his confidence back, and the (then) 21-year-old was able to dominate much older competition during the second half of 2013 while pitching with the Harrisburg Senators. Cole posted a quality start in each of his seven appearances in Harrisburg, striking out nearly five times more batters than he walked en route to a 2.18 ERA and 2.56 FIP.

Cole has outstanding pure stuff. His fastball velocity is exactly the kind of fire scouts want to see from a young arm, and he’s consistently out-gunned other top pitchers at his age and level. He sits in the 93-95 mph range throughout his starts, working batters in and out with solid command of the strike zone, and he can reach back for 97 mph. He uses his excellent athleticism and body control to generate velocity cleanly, consistently and smoothly. He pitches very well out of the stretch, and he’s very quiet in his release and follow-through, leading evaluators to believe he’ll carry plus command with him to the mound one day. On the downside, his thin, wiry frame isn’t the type that will hold muscle mass well. Like a young Phil Hughes, he’s somewhat slender and could risk tightening up if he focuses on bulk and power. Still, no pitcher needs more than the combination of plus velocity and plus fastball command.

Cole couples his razor-edged four-seamer with a heavy tailing two-seamer that has developed into a killer pitch. He gets huge sink and tail on it in the low to mid 90’s, so much so that it often resembles a splitter. The evolution of the pitch has seemingly helped him to miss more bats and create more soft contact recently, after having so many of his heaters get launched into the stratosphere in 2012.

Cole’s off-speed stuff and movement are both solid. He relies on his fastball as heavily as any 97-mph-hurler should, alternating between tailing two-seamers to his arm-side and cutting four-seamers that he likes to attack lefties with. But he’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

His mid 80’s changeup looks like his most reliable offspeed pitch right now, as he’s able to throw it for strikes consistently and take 7-10 mph off while throwing with his fastball effort. His release tends to over-pronate, possibly tipping the pitch to smarter batters and creating some unpredictable tumbling movement. Overall though, the pitch has a lot of promise, and his ability to throw it in any count is extremely valuable. It’s already fringe-average and should eventually be solid to plus as he builds up feel for it from continued use.

Cole also throws a potentially solid power curve. The pitch flashes late downward movement when he fires it as his chase, swing-over pitch. It has a ways to go though. He softens up on it more than many scouts would like, and his overall feel for it looks iffy. It tends to roll off to his arm-side with big, loose break.

Cole’s mechanics aren’t perfect. He throws across his body, wraps his arm and shows exaggerated up-hill shoulder tilt as he loads. He hides the ball well against right-handed hitters, but lefties see the ball much better, often handling his mid 90’s heat inside. On the bright side, the extra shoulder rotation in the backside of his delivery, when he shows the ball to the first baseman, doesn’t lead to any major timing flaws.

Cole leads with his hip and takes a big stride, lining up his front toe to his target with great hip-shoulder separation. The extra swing and stride allow his pitching arm to sync back up with his lower body, leading to nice timing. In fact, it’s hard to catch his arm out of position when his lead foot plants. He also repeats his mechanics and landing spot surprising well, considering he has such a healthy stride. He has the ingredients to be a 200-inning guy consistently despite a long, narrow-shouldered frame.

Overall, Cole has the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher like Matt Cain, and he’s a relatively low-risk arm. The back side of his delivery could be better, but there aren’t any major red flags and his mechanics are largely a plus. His biggest knocks are his difficulties beating lefties and his tendency to give up hard contact. Flyball tendencies aren’t such a big deal for hard-throwers in the National League, and Cole is making strides against southpaws.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats fall to Braves 8-4

For the Washington Nationals, spring training isn’t about winning games or even necessarily finding competition for the precious few spots that might be available for the last bench of bullpen spot. It’s primarily about getting their starting pitching ready, lined up and healthy for opening day.

Another step in that task was taken Tuesday, as Stephen Strasburg made his spring debut. Strasburg pitched two innings, allowing one hit and no walks, striking out one. He was followed by fifth spot candidate Taylor Jordan, who did not fare as well.

Jordan gave up two earned runs on five hits in two innings, He did not walk a batter and struck out three. A.J. Cole was next, and the prospect threw two perfect frames, striking out two.

Drew Storen, coming off an up-and-down 2013, had a rough go of it in his first appearance, allowing two earned runs on a hit and two walks — to the first two batters he faced.

On the other side of the ball, Ian Desmond went 3-for-3, including his first homer of the spring, with two runs and an RBI.

The Nats host the Mets Wednesday at 1:05 from Space Coast Stadium in Viera.

NATS NOTES: The Nats signed LHP Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal to compete for a spot in the bullpen.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats drop Mets 5-4 in Grapefruit League opener

Taylor Jordan looked good in his two innings of work as the Washington Nationals dropped the New York Mets 5-4, scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth, in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener.

Jordan, in a battle for the fifth spot in the Nats opening day rotation, threw 21 pitches, 16 for strikes, to seven batters in two innings. He gave up one hit and struck out two. He got one groundout and two flyouts in the outing.

A.J. Cole, one of the Nats’ top prospects, followed and struck out two in his two innings of scoreless work, though he did give up three hits in the process.

The Nats got on the board in the fourth inning, when Wilson Ramos doubled in Ian Desmond, who reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second base to get into scoring position.

In the bottom of the inning, the Mets put four up on Christian Garcia. Cesar Puello doubled down the left field line to drive in Juan Lagares and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, then Ike Davis clubbed a homer to right to clear the bases.

The Nats put up two in the seventh. Zach Walters scored on a Koyie Hill double, and Hill came home on a single by Steven Souza.

The Nats added a run in the eighth, as Walters doubled home Matt Skole.

In the ninth, Jeff Kobernus reached and Michael Taylor tripled to bring in the winning run.

The Nationals host the Atlanta Braves Saturday at 1:00 pm at Space Coast Stadium.


Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part IV: The Rotation

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg pitched five innings and earned his fourth win, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg delivers in May 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.


Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Some will look at his W-L record last year and decry Strasburg a bust. Au contraire. His ERA went down as his innings went up. His hit rate went down and his walk rate remained steady. He traded a few Ks for more ground balls (from 44% in ’12 to 52% in ’13), though he struck out just six fewer in 24 more innings, and his homer per fly ball rate stayed level. He’s the very definition of elite skills and getting better with age. This could be the season he puts it all together – dominance with patience, pitching not throwing, winning and leading a top-rate pitching staff. The only thing he needs now is to eclipse the 200 inning mark to finally establish him at the top of the hill, if you pardon the pun.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP: Gonzalez’ ’13 season wasn’t nearly as good as his breakout ’13, but so what? It’s not like he fell off a cliff. His ERA jumped 0.40, but that can largely be attributed to his home run rate popping back up to his career norm. It’s all about limited walks with Gonzalez, and he held the gains he made in ’13 when he came over to the N.L. He takes the ball every fifth day and has done the same job for the past three seasons. He’s as dependable an asset in the big leagues as there is in the game right now. It might not be upper-level, top-five-in-the-game elite production, but he’d be the staff ace on a LOT of big league teams.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP: Zimmermann was the same pitcher last season as he’d been for the previous two, only this time he was the beneficiary of league average run production and his win total exploded to lead the N.L. and garner enough Cy Young votes to finish seventh. Zimmermann had a rough July (7.18 ERA in five starts) but bounced back to post a 3.36 ERA the rest of the way. His walk rate (1.7 per nine) is elite and there are more Ks there if he wants them. But he’s steadily excellent as he is. He is scheduled to hit free agency following the ’15 season (as is Desmond), and he’s going to be expensive to sign to a long-term deal, as he’s already stated in the media he won’t settle for a “hometown” discount.

Doug Fister, RHP: Acquired in December from the Tigers for INF Steve Lombardozzi and LHP Robbie Ray, Fister has toiled mostly in anonymity for most of his career, first in Seattle, then in Motown. But Fister’s main skills are hardly those of a second fiddle. Fister is a command and control specialist who generates a ton of ground balls, almost never gives up home runs (0.6 per nine) and possesses an elite K/BB ratio. Fister should thrive in front of a defense that, while not quite elite itself, is far and above what he’s been used to in Detroit. He’s the No. 4 in D.C. only by default.

Ross Detwiler, LHP: Detwiler will be given the first opportunity to claim the No. 5 starter spot in Spring Training. The Nats would love to have a second lefty in the rotation, but it all depends on if Detwiler, not young anymore at 27, can stay healthy and show the gains he made in ’12 were real. His K rate, which has never been all that good, plummeted last season to 4.9 per nine innings, even though his walk rate was down too. The hip injury of two years ago robbed him of several miles an hour off the fastball, and he dealt with back and neck problems all last season. It’s incredible the amount of injuries this guy has gone through, but none to his arm. A move to the pen might help with velocity and longevity.

Taylor Jordan, RHP: Jordan took everyone by surprise last season, called up for an emergency start or two and ended up sticking around for nine starts to a 3.66 ERA and 1.355 WHIP. He’s another ground ball specialist with good control and middling strikeout rates, so he has a limited ceiling. But he certainly had the look of a big leaguer last season.

Tanner Roark, RHP: Ready for a stat? Roark threw 141 sliders to right handed hitters last season. The number of hits he gave up on that pitch: 0. As in zero. Roark is already 27, so the former 25th round pick is making up for lost time, but in 14 games and five starts he went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. That’s silly. He’s not going to repeat those numbers, obviously, but he’s stingy with free passes and keeps the ball on the ground. Noticing a pattern?

Ross Ohlendorf, RHP: Ohlendorf, he of the old-timey windup, resurrected his career last season. After consecutive years of ERAs over 7.50, Ohlendorf was probably on his last big league chance. He practically ditched his slider and relied on several different fastballs, changing speeds and locations enough to keep hitter honest most of the time. His “stuff” doesn’t compare to most of the arms the Nats have on staff, but he survived on the edges and got himself another shot this season. Is willing to work from rotation or pen and won’t be overwhelmed if the Nats have to plug him into any one of a variety of roles.

Sammy Solis, LHP: Solis, now 25, returned from Tommy John surgery to make 13 starts last season between the Gulf Coast league and Potomac. He was considered a fast riser with middle ceiling when drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, so Solis will need to show very quickly at Harrisburg to regain the luster of a mid-rotation starter. If not, look for the Nats to quickly convert him into a bullpen arm, a role that he could enjoy a long, healthy MLB career at. It’s all up to his K/9, which took a hit last year in the first year back after surgery.

A.J. Cole, RHP: Mike Rizzo loves A.J. Cole. He drafted him in the fourth round in 2010, traded him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, then traded back for him in the Michael Morse trade. Cole was okay at the start of the year in Potomac last season, but really took off upon his promotion to Harrisburg, where in seven starts he went 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 0.904 WHIP and 4.90 K/BB ratio. If Cole can get his breaking ball on par with his big, heavy fastball and MLB-average change, he could challenge for the rotation in 2015.

Matt Purke, LHP: Purke is still young, just 23. But he’s only made 21 starts in the past two seasons while dealing with the same impingement in his shoulder that cost him his last year at TCU and a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Purke’s issue is a lot like Detwiler, a cross-body action with his arm that generates a lot of torque, which in turn causes body parts to revolt and destruct. His fastball and changeup are both fringy right now and he needs innings to prove he’s still worth the effort, but it looks more and more like the Nats $4 million gamble on him in the third round of the 2011 draft will end up bust.

Chris Young, RHP: The 6’10” Young didn’t pitch in the Majors last season. Shoot, he hardly pitched at all, making just nine starts in the minors, including seven in Syracuse, where he went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA and almost walked as many (3.9 per nine) as struck out (4.5 per nine). So why is he listed here? I’m not sure. The Nats invited him to Spring Training again and since he’s a MLB veteran I’m giving him all due respect by listing him here, but at 35, he’s done. He never had much of a fastball to begin with, relying on guile and his impressive frame, but I’ll be shocked if Young makes it through Spring Training.

Washington Nationals Minor League Update for the Week of 4/14/13

With full-season teams now in to the second-week of their 2013 campaigns, clubs are starting to get a feel for their minor-league talent. Many re-buidling big league teams are preparing to call-up their top prospects in just a couple of more weeks, when arbitration rules will fall in their favor. Contending clubs like the Nationals are less inclined to make front-page moves so early in the season, but they too are keeping an eye on their young’ins. They’re trying to get a read on what these players are worth in preparation for a mid-season trade, and they’re definitely looking for someone who can contribute in the event they need to to patch a hole internally.

The Nationals, who are now 8-5 with their win over the Marlins on Monday night, are very comfortable with their Major League roster. Outside of a few bullpen/bench tweaks they might be preparing to make–like adding an effective left-handed relief pitcher for instance–they probably aren’t going to replace one of their veteran big leaguers with any of their prized prospects just yet. Of course, things will change quickly if one of their stars suffers a serious injury.

As Mike Rizzo proved last season with Bryce Harper, he isn’t afraid to call-up one of his young stars when the club needs a boost. There’s an outside shot that top prospects like Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin could be in the Majors by mid-summer, while other promising minor leaguers like Danny Rosenbaum, Christian Garcia, Eury Perez and Zach Walters could contribute earlier.

Two weeks in to the 2013 season, here are some of the notable performances from the Washington Nationals minor league system:

[Read more…]

NATS/P-NATS: Potomac Nationals Home Opener, April 5

Potomac Nationals Opening Day 2013 at Pfitzner Stadium is Friday, April 5th as the P-Nats host the defending Carolina League Champion, Lynchburg Hillcats (Atlanta Braves) at 7:05pm. Gates to The Pfitz will open at 6:00pm.

New P-Nats skipper, Brian Daubach, to lead 13 returning players and 15 newcomers

Woodbridge, VA—Enter the 2013 Potomac Nationals Opening Day Roster. With first pitch of the 36th campaign in Potomac franchise history less than one week away, the P-Nats have unveiled their official roster to begin the 2013 Carolina League season.

First-year Nationals field manager, Brian Daubach, a former World Series Champion with the Boston Red Sox, in his third year within the Washington Nationals Minor League system after the last two seasons leading the Class-A Hagerstown Suns, is tasked with mentoring 13 returning players and 15 fresh faces on the Potomac roster. Daubach led Hagerstown to winning records in each of his two seasons at the helm and took the Suns to a South Atlantic League playoff appearance for the first time since 2005.

Former Major League veteran, Chris Michalak, will oversee a 13-man pitching stable that includes potential starters: RHP A.J. Cole, LHP Robbie Ray, RHP Taylor Jordan, RHP Taylor Hill, and LHP Kylin Turnbull.

Cole (4th Rd., 2010) was signed for a MLB Draft fourth round record, $2 million bonus out of Oviedo High School in Florida, and showed flashed of brilliance (staff-best 108 strikeouts in 89.0 innings) with Class-A Hagerstown in 2011 before being packaged with C Derek Norris, RHP Brad Peacock, and LHP Tommy Milone in a trade to the Oakland Athletics that netted the Washington Nationals 2012 20-game winner, LHP Gio Gonzalez. Then, in the swap that shipped LF Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners this off-season, the Nationals re-acquired Cole in a three-team deal with the Oakland which instantly put Cole back on Washington’s prospect radar for 2013 (Baseball America and Prospect #4). When in sync, Cole dominates his opposition with a steady diet of mid to upper 90’s fastballs and a budding slider that he continues to refine.

Ray (12th Rd., 2010), an exciting southpaw slinger, who owned a 3.13 earned run average over 20 starts with Class-A Hagerstown in 2011, looks to rebound from an arduous 2012 ledger. Ray,’s #10 Washington Nationals prospect, who was signed away by Washington from a commitment to play college baseball at Arkansas, fanned 95 batters in 89.0 innings pitched just two seasons ago, and looks to build on his three-pitch arsenal and crafty potential.

Jordan (9th Rd., 2009) had a successful comeback season in 2012 following Tommy John surgery. Jordan was terrific for Hagerstown in 2011 with a 9-4 record and petite 2.48 ERA before his injury sidelined his track. The powerful right-hander went 3-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 9 starts last year to build his strength back and feel comfortable using his entire repertoire in preparation for the 2013 season. Jordan enters this year’s P-Nats slate as the 17th ranked Washington Nationals prospect by

Hill (6th Rd., 2011) found success in 2012 over both Class-A affiliates pitching to an 11-7 record and walking only 34 batters in 139.1 innings pitched. Hill pitched to contact but many of those balls were bounced on the ground and found the gloves per his 1.18 groundball-to-flyball ratio. Hill was promoted to Potomac in late August after going 10-6 over 24 appearances and 20 starts with the Suns. Hill saw action in three starts over 15.0 innings and finished the season 1-1 in the Carolina League. A true strike-thrower, Hill was honored by Baseball America with the Best Control designation with regards to all Nationals farm arms.

Turnbull (4th Rd., 2011) brings with him plenty of hype.’s 17th ranked Washington Nationals prospect signed late in 2012 and began his full-season MiLB career in Hagerstown after a four-outing stint with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. A projectable southpaw that throws flames, Turnbull covets consistency in 2013 after registering a 4-5 record and 5.16 ERA in 18 appearances, 17 of those starts, a season ago. The ceiling is high for Turnbull if he can exhibit control and command with his secondary pitches, a developing slider and emerging splitter combination that could prove deadly for Carolina League opposition if he can get them over for strikes. Turnbull has a big frame and will look to maximize his very live arm that pumps heaters as high up as the mid-90s.

Potomac’s lone returning right-handed bullpen arm is Robert Gilliam, a former Oakland farmhand exchanged in the Gio Gonzalez trade, who will begin his 2013 season inactive following 36.0 innings logged with the P-Nats in which he garnered 30 strikeouts.

Nationals returning left-handed pitchers in the bullpen feature Paul Applebee, who will begin the season inactive after earning a 2-1 record in 13 appearances in 2012, Matt Grace, winner of a team-high nine games last season for Potomac, and Josh Smoker, a 2007 compensation 1st round draft pick who will also start the season inactive after just two trips to the bump for the P-Nats in 2012.

Promoted to Class-A Advanced Potomac in 2013, RHP Colin Bates, will join the P-Nats ‘pen after tossing lights out in Hagerstown where he went 8-3 with a 2.79 ERA in 29 relief outings.

LHP Ben Hawkins was terrific pitching out of the Suns bullpen as he racked up 57 strikeouts in 58.1 innings pitched while maintaining a 3-3 record and a 3.55 ERA in 30 trips to the mound.

RHP Greg Holt was a model of consistency in Hagerstown with a 5-2 record while holding opposing batters to a stingy .233 batting average.

LHP Christian Meza was arguably the most dominant force out of the Hagerstown bullpen in 2012. Meza was tied for the ‘pen lead with 8 wins and sported an anemic 2.97 ERA in 33 relief appearances and three spot starts. Meza held opposing sticks to a tiny .208 batting clip while collecting 94 strikeouts in 88.0 innings pitched with just 37 walks. Meza only received a losing decision once in 2012.

RHP Richie Mirowski was a stud relief asset for Hagerstown going undefeated in 16 bullpen trips to the mound. Mirowski overwhelmed Sally League swatters to the tune of 28 K’s in 27.0 innings and finished the ’12 campaign with a 2.00 ERA.

RHP Tyler Herron joins the Washington Nationals after a 2012 tenure spent with the independent Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the American Association following an arm injury in 2011. Herron, a former 1st round MLB draft pick selected 46th overall in 2005 by the St. Louis Cardinals, last pitched in affiliated baseball in 2009 with the Double-A Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates) where he fanned 18 batters in 26.0 innings but held a 4.50 ERA in eight appearances and four stars. Herron, a former Baseball America Top-10 St. Louis Cardinals prospect, will look to regain the prominence that enticed the Cards to offer him a $675,000 signing bonus.

RHP Derek Self makes the springboard jump from the Short-season-A Auburn Doubledays to Potomac as a strong closer candidate after shutting down opposing New York Penn League hitters to a .260 batting average against to complement a whopping 14 saves in 15 save opportunities, which was tied for the most saves in the circuit. Self boasted a 3.27 ERA and a 3.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

P-Nats hitting coach, Mark Harris, back for his second season overall with the P-Nats, who led the Hagerstown hackers in 2012, will mentor a potent starting lineup this season with Potomac.

The human backstops for the P-Nats in 2013 feature former Baseball America top-25 prospect, C Adrian Nieto, who competed for Team Spain in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The Cuban-born switch-hitter bashed to a .257 batting clip with six home runs and 39 runs batted in over the course of 70 games for Hagerstown in 2012; results that yielded his best professional season. Nieto caught over 30 percent of would-be base stealers in the Sally League last season (20 caught stealing in 66 base swipe attempts) and returns to the Class-A Advanced level after a two-game stint with the P-Nats in 2011.

Also in competition for time behind the dish, C Cole Leonida joins the Nationals after displaying his pop on the South Atlantic League circuit. Platooning with Nieto in Hagerstown last year, Leonida ripped seven doubles, a pair of triples, and four long balls while producing 24 RBIs in 56 contests. Leonida cut down 24 runners in 86 stolen base attempts good for a punch-out percentage of 28%.

The Potomac infield is set for vast power potential and terrific defense. A converted outfielder-to-infielder, 1B Kevin Keyes returns to the Pfitzner Stadium diamond after cranking a team-high 21 homers while driving in a club-best 78 runs. Keyes’ imposing .459 slugging percentage and .749 OPS make him a premier power threat in 2013. Keyes will look to round up his .223 batting average while still squaring up balls that find the gaps as he belted 27 doubles last year.

2B Adrian Sanchez will return to man the right side of Daubach’s infield where he earned a .972 fielding percentage and committed only 10 errors in 76 games at second base. Sanchez owned a solid .269 batting average in 2012 over 101 games and his 101 hits ranked 2nd on the team. Finding real estate often, the durable speedster wreaked havoc on the basepaths stealing 25 bags in 41 tries for the 2nd most swipes in the Potomac clubhouse.

SS/3B Jason Martinson had a career season in 2012 splitting his time between Hagerstown and Potomac. Martinson,’s Nationals #20 prospect, hit .245 between the two Nationals affiliates with 123 base hits, 104 runs scored, 22 four-baggers, 106 RBIs, and Martinson stole 30 bases. Martinson’s 2012 .770 OPS swells his bam-box potential at The Pfitz and he projects to be a hallmark in the middle of Daubach’s lineup card.

SS/3B Blake Kelso brings his diverse skill set back to Potomac where he stole the most bases on the squad (27) and collected 107 total bases. Kelso was tied for 2nd on the club with 51 runs scored, and defensively owned a .976 fielding percentage in 100 games committing only 8 errors in 338 total chances while turning 32 double plays at second base, shortstop, and third base.

Infielder Cutter Dykstra, son of former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies great, Lenny Dykstra, and 2012 Organizational All-Star, ripped at a .291 pace last season in 110 games in Hagerstown, while connecting for 28 doubles, seven home runs, and 64 RBIs. Supplementing the fleet feet of the P-Nats roster, Dykstra took 32 bags in 35 attempts last season, good for 2nd most on the club.

Potomac Nationals veteran utility man, Francisco Soriano returns to The Pfitz to begin his fourth consecutive campaign with the P-Nats. Soriano, a fan favorite, served the Nationals well in 2012 with a consistent .270 batting average over 87 games with 44 runs scored, 11 doubles, six triples, 40 walks, and 12 stolen bases. Soriano made appearances at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, center field, and right field, and collectively, had a .961 fielding percentage (11 errors in 74 games).

Potomac is poised for a terrific outfield template with a unique combination of speed, power, on-base consistency, and rangy defense.

Outfielder Michael Taylor,’s #5 ranked Nationals prospect, who some have said is a future center fielder contender for the Washington Nationals, returns to Woodbridge following a well-rounded 2012. Taylor, the club’s everyday center fielder, led the team with 33 doubles, while drawing 40 walks (tied for the team lead), and 19 stolen bases. Baseball America has tabbed Taylor as the Nationals farmhand with the “Best Tools” in the categories of Best Defensive Outfielder and Best Outfield Arm. It is Taylor’s unique blend of speed, quickness, range factor, power, and a keen hitters’ eye that makes him a key piece of the Potomac Nationals’ arsenal.

LF Caleb Ramsey, who was a Sally League All-Star in 2012, served as the best all-around hitter with respect to contact and pop for the Hagerstown Suns in 2012. Ramsey batted .294 in 127 games, stomped on home plate 78 times and led the team with 136 hits. Ramsey’s southpaw stick got red hot with runners in scoring position and two outs as he logged a .314 batting average in that situation. Ramsey’s 66 RBIs were 4th best on the club, and he was also 2nd in the league with 10 triples.

CF Billy Burns had a breakout season in 2012 in the SAL posting a .322 batting clip, 3rd best in the league, in 113 games, while running circles around the basepaths with 38 stolen bases. Burns was on base all the time finishing with a .432 OBP, 2nd best in the SAL landscape. Baseball America has dubbed Burns as the Fastest Baserunner in Washington’s organization.

RF Randolph Oduber competed in the ’13 WBC as Team Netherlands embarked on an underdog run deep into the tournament. Oduber was injured for a portion of the ’12 campaign with Potomac but salvaged his season with a respectable .252 batting average in 80 games along with 13 doubles, four triples, five home runs, and 27 RBIs. Oduber also grooved station-to-station for 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts.



(Listed alphabetically by position)

Pitchers (13)
Colin Bates
A.J. Cole
Matt Grace
Ben Hawkins
Tyler Herron
Taylor Hill
Gregory Holt
Taylor Jordan
Christian Meza
Richard Mirowski
Robbie Ray
Derek Self
Kylin Turnbull

Catchers (2)
Cole Leonida
Adrian Nieto

Infielders (6)
Cutter Dykstra
Blake Kelso
Kevin Keyes
Jason Martinson
Adrian Sanchez
Francisco Soriano

Outfielders (4)
Billy Burns
Randolph Oduber
Caleb Ramsey
Michael Taylor


-Paul Applebee
-Robert Gilliam
-Josh Smoker

Potomac Nationals Opening Day 2013 at Pfitzner Stadium is Friday, April 5th as the P-Nats host the defending Carolina League Champion, Lynchburg Hillcats (Atlanta Braves) at 7:05pm. Gates to The Pfitz will open at 6:00pm.

For all three games of Opening Weekend from April 5th through Sunday, April 7th, the first 1,000 fans in attendance for each contest will receive a P-Nats 2013 Magnet Schedule presented by: Quinn’s Goldsmith. In addition, the best fireworks show in Northern Virginia will be on display following Saturday night’s 6:35pm game. Then, on Family Day at The Pfitz Sunday afternoon, a 1:05pm first pitch will usher in Kids Eat Free sponsored by: Little Caesars Team Dumfries & Haymarket as kids 12 and under will receive a free slice of pizza courtesy of Little Caesars. Kids Run the Bases will take place after the ballgame.

Washington Nationals trade Michael Morse in three-team deal


Michael Morse curtain call after his home run - Last Game of Regular Season-Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 3, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michael Morse curtain call after his home run – Last Game of Regular Season-Philadelphia Phillies v. Washington Nationals, October 3, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

It should come as no surprise that the Washington Nationals today traded OF/1B Michael Morse. The manner in which they did so — and return the received — is what makes the story that much more interesting.

Morse was send back to his original club, the Seattle Mariners, where he’ll be part of a logjam for playing time between left field, first base and designated hitter along with about 14 other players. The Mariners in turn sent catcher John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics and the A’s sent former Nats draft pick — and Baseball America’s No. 3 rated prospect for the A’s system — A.J. Cole, rigth-handed pitcher Blake Treinen and a player to be named later (most likely from this past season’s draft class) to the Nationals.

Morse, always a fan favorite, hit .291/.321/.470 with 18 homers and 62 RBIs in 430 plate appearances last season, as injuries limited him to 102 games. Now 31, he’s only had one season in the big leagues were he’s played more than 102 games. Morse’s power has never been in question, but his injury history and lack of defensive proficiency led the Nats to pursue a true center fielder this off-season. Once the Nats landed Denard Span — moving Bryce Harper to left field — the writing was on the wall for Morse to be moved.

Cole, 21, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 Amateur Draft by the Nats and quickly became one of their top prospects. He was ranked very high coming into the draft but was seen as next-to-impossible to sign as he had a strong commitment to the University of Miami. The Nats signed him right before the deadline for a reported record signing bonus for a fourth round player.

The 6’4″, 180 hard-throwing righty dominated batters in the South Atlantic League for Hagerstown in 2011, with 108 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 89 innings pitched. The Nats traded Cole, along with Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock to the A’s last off-season for All-Star starter Gio Gonzalez.

Cole started 2012 in High-A Stockton for the A’s and was pushed around. In his eight starts, he pitched to an 0-7 record and a 7.82 ERA, giving up a whopping 14.2 hits per nine innings. His strikeout rate was down just s tad, but his impeccable control never deserted him. He was demoted in mid-May to Low-A Burlington, where he dominated, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA with 102 Ks against a mere 19 walks.

The scouting report still stands on Cole. He has a big, heavy fastball at 94-95 MPH, a plus breaking pitch and a good feel for his changeup. He was considered to be one of the top five high school arms in his draft class and nothing he’s done as a pro, even his struggles in High-A last season, has changed scouts minds on him.

Treinen, 24, is another big bodied righty at 6’4″, 215. He spent last season at Stockton, where he went 7-7 in 24 appearances (15 starts) with 92 strikeouts and 23 walks in 103 innings. Treinen has been more hittable at each level of the minors as his career has progressed, as evidenced by the 10.1 hits per nine innings he gave up in 2012. Still, a player with a 4.00 K/BB ratio that throws 97 MPH is one that deserves more than just one look.

The player to be named later probably will come from Oakland’s 2012 draft class.

In trading Morse, GM Mike Rizzo took the opportunity to help restock the Nats farm system that has been depleted by the Gonzalez and Span trades. Getting a top-notch prospect like Cole in the deal, with another big arm to watch and a potential third player, seems like a coup. Morse is a defensive liability at this stage in his career, and combined with the fact that he has trouble avoiding injury, this return seems like the maximum that could have been expected for him. Sure, an MLB left-handed reliever would have been nice in the package, but Rizzo did a good job maximizing his assets in this deal, despite the nature of Morse’s relationship with the fans of D.C.

%d bloggers like this: