April 25, 2015

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats pound Verlander, tie Tigers

The Washington Nationals pounded Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander for three home runs — two from Michael Taylor — but the Tigers got to the Nats bullpen and the game ended in a 7-7 tie at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Taylor, one of the Nats top prospects and pegged to play center field while Denard Span recovers from abdominal surgery, homered in the third and fifth innings off Verlander. He finished the day 2 for 4 and is hitting .324 this spring. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats fall to Mets 11-9

Stephen Strasburg had a problem with an in-grown toenail, so the Washington Nationals starter stayed home to pitch in a simulated game rather than face the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie. He was better off, as A.J. Cole had a tough go of it early, then the Mets pounded the Nats bullpen in the eighth for nine runs and the Mets won 11-9 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Cole, the Nats No. 2 pitching prospect, had a rough go of it early against the Mets regulars.  He went 1 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks without a strikeout. He threw 47 pitches total, 27 for strikes. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training: 4-run sixth help Nats top Cards

The Washington Nationals upped their Grapefruit League record to 3-0, using a four-run sixth inning to top the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5 on Saturday in Viera.

Wilson Ramos led off the frame with a ground ball single and was replaced by pinch-runner Dan Butler. Michael Taylor followed with a line-drive single to left and Butler moved up 90 feet. After Cutter Dykstra was called out on strikes, Rafael Bautista’s line-drive single loaded the bases. Derrick Robinson struck out swinging, but Matt Skole followed with a single to center that plated Butler and Taylor, with Bautista going to third and Skole going to second on the throw.

Second base prospect Wilmer Difo then singled to right to score both Bautista and Skole.

The Nats picked up another run in the seventh when Dykstra’s triple scored Taylor, who reached on a fielder’s choice.

Stephen Strasburg started for the Nats and wasn’t particularly sharp. He went 1 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on three hits and two walks, striking out two. No. 2 prospect A.J. Cole followed and went 2 1/3 innings, allowing two runs — one earned — on two hits.

NATS NOTES:

  • Ryan Zimmerman joined Difo as Nats with two hits. Zimmerman was 2 for 3 but did not factor in any scoring.
  • Anthony Rendon was 0 for 3 and still looking for his first hit of the spring.
  • Bryce Harper was 1 for 2 before giving way to Clint Robinson.
  • Jerry Blevins, Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero all pitched scoreless innings in relief.
  • Danny Espinosa, Rendon and Difo all made errors.

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) [Read more…]

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.

THE ROTATION

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.

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