September 1, 2014

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats power past Houston 8-5

Home runs by Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos in the first inning led the Washington Nationals past the Houston Astros 8-5 on Friday in Viera, FL.

Both home runs came of Astros start Brett Oberholtzer, who allowed five runs total on six hits in two innings of work. Ramos finished 2 of 3 with 3 RBIs, Zach Walters continued his good spring by driving in two runs, and Adam LaRoche had a pair of base hits in three trips to the plate.

Tanner Roark started when Doug Fister was scratched with a sore elbow. The team indicated that it wasn’t an issue, but just normal soreness at his point in the spring. Roark pitched 2.2 innings and allowed one run on four hits, striking out three. The run came on a solo home run by minor league 1B Marc Krauss.

“He’s got a little inflammation in his elbow,” Williams said of Fister. “So we had an MRI taken of it yesterday and it shows a little inflammation in there, so we’re going to push him a couple of days just to make sure, get it out of there. But it came back good, he’s just go some inflammation.”

Christian Garcia, trying to earn a spot in the bullpen, allowed two runs — neither earned — on two hits and a walk in 1.1 innings. He struck out three. Rafael Soriano made his first appearance of camp and gave up two runs on three hits in one inning and struck out one.

Jerry Blevins, acquired in the offseason in a trade with Oakland for minor league speedster Billy Burns, threw 1.2 scoreless, hitless innings, though he did walk one.

The Nats host Atlanta tomorrow from Space Coast Stadium at 1:05 pm.

Washington Nationals Top 25 Prospects Overview

For the Washington Nationals, the flip-side of  a decade-long losing streak is their extraordinarily talented, affordable roster. Their poor records came at the perfect time, just as baseball scouting was expanding and implementing new analytics methods to assess performance, and the big league draft was still unfettered by a hard-slotting system. As a result, their savvy front office accumulated a bevy of high draft picks and used them to rake in a gluttonous share of the baseball’s best athletes.

The Nationals were able to heist the franchise talents of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Lucas Giolito, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, along with a bounty of other blue-chip prospects. The injection of young, affordable star-power led them to put together the franchise’s best stretch over the past three years, and they managed to snap a 31-year playoff drought in 2012.

Despite a step back in Major League production in 2013, the Nationals are still looking stronger than ever heading into the 2014 season. Healthy and more polished versions of Strasburg and Harper lead a stacked 25-man roster that is looking almost unbeatable following the addition of Doug Fister and the maturation of Anthony Rendon.

The franchise’s farm system isn’t what it was a couple of years ago. Naturally, promoting so many stud prospects to the Major Leagues and competing with homegrown talent comes with a price. Over the past few seasons, the club’s farm system has graduated starting pitchers Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, gifted relievers like Storen,  Stammen and Ian Krol (now with the Tigers), as well as a long list of position players that includes Harper, Zimmerman, Rendon, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris (with the Athletics). Two thirds of their projected opening day roster is comprised of homegrown players, or former prospects that spent their final seasons in the Nationals farm system.

Additionally, the cost of winning has dropped the club’s annual draft slot to the back of the line, and has forced the front office to play for the short term. They’ve traded away blue-chip prospects like Alex Meyer, Derek Norris and Robert Ray for short-run contributions, and have also parted ways with sure-fire contributors like Nate Karns, Tommy Milone, David Freitas and Steve Lombardozzi.

So, the Nationals don’t have the prospect starpower they normally do. A couple of years ago, they had the best system in the minors. Now, though they’re still strong, they’ve faded to the middle of the pack.

The Nationals savvy amateur scouting, particularly out West, has helped Mike Rizzo maintain a competitive farm system in spite of the organizations determination to put a winning roster on the field annually.

The farm system lacks balance. It doesn’t have a stand-out prospect at the upper levels at the moment, and the losses of Nate Karns, Alex Meyer and Robbie Ray have depleted a lot of their pitching depth.  Their lack of left-handedness was also exacerbated by the Doug Fister trade, which sent the extremely underrated Robbie Ray to Detroit along with Ian Krol–who’s poised to be an elite-level left-handed setup man. To get a southpaw in the bullpen finally — a void that killed their bullpen effectiveness last year as opposing managers were able to stack their lineups with lefty sluggers — the front office had to deal Billy Burns to Oakland for Jerry Blevins. While Burns isn’t a star, the little speedster looks like a superb fourth outfielder and pinch runner.

On the bright side, the lower levels of the system do sport many of the game’s most gifted athletes. 2013 first-round pick Lucas Giolito, now recovered from Tommy John surgery, is an elite-level arm when healthy, and has the stuff, intangibles and command to be an ace in a few years. Brian Goodwin, Harrisburg’s center fielder in 2013, has gotten stuck in double-A over the past two years after rising quickly through single-A ball. Though Goodwin’s five-tool profile pretty much makes him a sure bet to be a valuable player in the MLB.

The Nats didn’t have a first-round pick last June, but still made the most of their resources by grabbing a pair of high-ceiling stars from cowboy country. Former Dallas Baptist right-hander Jake Johansen largely flew under the radar in college, but his mid 90′s fastball and NFL tight end frame bless him with intriguing upside. And farmboy Drew Ward, taken in the third round last year, profiles as a left-handed version of Nolan Arenado.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll post detailed scouting reports on the players that made District Sports Page’s list of Top 25 Prospects in the Nationals organization. Below, though, are the names of the Nats’ top prospects to watch this season.

Top 25 Prospects

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP

13. Blake Treinen, RHP

2. Brian Goodwin, OF

14. Austin Voth, RHP

Robert Ray, LHP

15. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP

3. AJ Cole, RHP

16. Tony Renda, 2B

Nate Karns, RHP

17. Felipe Rivero, LHP

4. Drew Ward, 3B

18. Christian Garcia, RHP

5. Steven Souza, OF

19. Sandy Leon, C

6. Zach Walters, SS

20. Drew Vettleson, OF

7. Michael Taylor, OF

Adrian Nieto, C, 

8. Sammy Solis, LHP

21. Cody Gunter, 3B

9. Jake Johansen, RHP

22. Nick Pivetta, RHP

10. Eury Perez, OF

23. Rafael Bautista, OF

11. Matt Skole, 3B

24. Brett Mooneyham, LHP

12. Matt Purke, LHP

25. Pedro Severino, C

Billy Burns, OF 

Honorable Mention: Dixon Anderson, Aaron Barrett, Cutter Dykstra, Randy Encarnacion, David Napoli, Travis Ott, Raudy Read, Danny Rosenbaum, Hector Silvestre, Maximo Valerio

________________________

Ryan Kelley is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He’s a web application developer by day and an aspiring sports journalist living in the D.C. area. He has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has past experience working within Minor League Baseball and for Team USA. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in scouting prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. A life-long ballplayer himself, he enjoys hitting home runs with his writing and scouting reports. You can follow him on Twitter @BBNewsHound and @Ryan_S_Kelley.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part V: The Bullpen

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard in action of 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 BULLPEN

Rafael Soriano, RHP: The saves were there last year, the elite skills were not. Soriano’s ERA and WHIP were their highest in any season he’s been a team’s top closer. On top of that, his K rate went down precipitously as he transitioned from a pitcher with a slider out pitch to a fastball pitcher, one who’s lost velocity each of the past four seasons. He lowered his walk rate, which obviously is good, but his hit rate jumped. His ground ball rate has dropped the past three seasons as his line drive and fly ball rates have risen, more evidence of him abandoning anything but the fastball. If the walk rate goes back to his normal seasonal allowance, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, the velocity and strikeout rate drops are a big warning sign for a 34-year-old pitcher who hates not closing.

Tyler Clippard, RHP: Clippard turned in another exceptional season for the Nats with a 2.41 ERA and ridiculous 0.859 WHIP. All was bolstered by an incredibly unsustainable 4.7 H/9 rate and .172 BABiP, which completely mirrored his 2011 All-Star campaign. Those types of numbers are just unheard of, so he’s unlikely to repeat them, but he’s a funky pitcher. He succeeds with high fastballs and a changeup that almost impossible to identify out of his unusual and, frankly, weird delivery. The strikeout and ground ball rates were down just a tick but not alarmingly so. Clippard should be just fine in his established role. The big thing to worry about him is the price tag. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.88 million contract and he isn’t a free agent until after 2016, so the price tags is just going to keep going up. That’s a lot for a non-closer reliever — albeit one of the best in the game.

Drew Storen, RHP: Oh boy. Where do we start? Storen was fairly terrible in the first half, pitching to a 5.95 ERA, fueled by a .355 BABiP and outrageously high hit rate. The walks were fine, the Ks were fine, he was just simply unlucky as to balls finding their way into green space. He was sent to the minors on July 26 after wearing a the final inning of an 11-0 drubbing by the Mets on a day that he ran a 103 degree fever. When he came back Aug. 16, he was the same old Storen. Well, not really. He ditched the silly straight leg kick for a more conventional one that allowed him to have a more consistent delivery, but the results were more attributable to normalization. He held batters to a .200/.263/.214 line upon his return.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: Obtained from the A’s for Minor League Player of the Year Billy Burns, Blevins is more than a typical lefty specialist — he actually owned better numbers against righties than lefties last season. Overall, a 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP were solid. He has a four-pitch repertoire and faced four or more batters in more than half of his appearance last season. Blevins won’t overwhelm with his fastball, and his K rates will keep him in a set up or LOOGY role, but he knows how to pitch. Has improved his walk rate each of the past three seasons.

Xavier Cedeno, LHP: Want the good news? Cedeno enjoyed his career year last season at age 26, earning a 1.50 ERA and 1.000 WHIP for the Nats. He struck out 9 per nine innings and walked just 1.5. Want the bad news? He also suffered his worst season as a big leaguer last year, as he allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in 6.1 innings for Houston before they cut him in April. Am I being dramatic? You betcha. But Cedeno’s numbers for the Nats came in just 6.0 over 11 games. Against lefties, Cedeno provided a .231/.333/.269 slash. Against righties, that jumped to .391/.517/.522. Granted, we’re talking 29 and 31 plate appearances here. Call me skeptical, but I just don’t see Cedeno coming anywhere near approaching his numbers for the Nats last season again. He’s not a kid, and nothing in his history indicates this was anything more than a couple of good appearances in a row against limited competition.

Craig Stammen, RHP: Stammen could start for half the teams in baseball. His stuff is that good. All his peripherals continue to go in the right direction and his traditional numbers are solid across the board. Is this a pitcher that has found his spot? Or are the Nats hiding a gem, either intentionally or not. Either way, Stammen has proven to be an absolutely invaluable arm in the long role that he’s occupied the past two season for the team. His walk rate dropped by 0.7 this year over last — if that holds, he should earn higher leverage late innings if Clippard gets too expensive.

Ryan Mattheus, RHP: On the other hand… Mattheus was unlucky, sure. His BABiP of .405 screams it. But look at the rest. Rising walk rate. K rate less than 6 per nine. Lost velocity on his sinker. Punching a locker, breaking his hand and being completely and utterly lost once he returned. The hit rate is going to stabilize somewhat, but how much is luck and how much is just erosion of skill? He’s 30, not a youngster that needs to figure things out. He needs to prove health and competence or there are plenty of arms that will push him out of a job.

Josh Roenicke, RHP: Roenicke is famous for being the son of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and also being Ian Desmond’s brother-in-law. Roenicke the pitcher, however, is mediocre at best. He was brought in as an NRI and will provide depth in Syracuse most likely. He walks way too many (5.2 per nine in 62 IP last season) without the high K rate (just 6.5/9) that allows you live with it.

Erik Davis, RHP: Davis made his MLB debut last season at age 26, compiling a 1-0 record, 3.12 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 8.2 innings, striking out 12 while walking just one. This was after going 3-7 with 15 saves, 3.10 ERA and 1.433 WHIP in AAA, so small sample caveats abound. Davis was slated to compete for a role in this year’s pen, but was placed on the 60-day D.L. with an “elbow strain” on the same day the Nats traded for Jose Lobaton. It’s quite possible he never throws a pitch to Lobaton.

Christian Garcia, RHP: “If only Garcia could stay healthy…” Any Nats fan that knows more than just Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will cite Garcia as their secret weapon. He’s got the stuff, he knows how to pitch, and he’s still young enough (27) that he could impact the MLB roster. Unfortunately, that part of staying healthy just keeps eluding Garcia. He’s already had two Tommy John’s while he was property of the Yankees and last season he was limited to 13.1 innings in the minors after suffering a torn wrist tendon, which triggered shoulder soreness and hamstring injuries. He owns four quality MLB pitches, he just needs to get on a mound to show them off. Problem is, he can’t.

Manny Delcarmen, RHP: Delcarmen, 32, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010 with the Rockies. Why is he here? Well, he’s always had good stuff and has had several full seasons of downright goodness at the big league level. In 07-08 with the Red Sox he was a quality righty in their pen and some thought he had closer written all over him. Problem is, his walk rate was always high and got higher the older he got and his K rate plummeted after he hit 27. When he should have been in the peak of his career, he busted. Read into that however you want. Last year in AAA, he went 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.222 WHIP in 54 innings, so there might be something left. At the triple-A level, anyway.

Aaron Barrett, RHP: Barrett was drafted four times: by the Dodgers in the 44th round of the ’06 draft, by the Twins in the 20th round in ’08, by Texas in the 27th round in ’09 and finally by the Nats in the 9th round in 2010 after his eligibility ended for the University of Mississippi. Barrett, at age 25, dominated AA last year for Harrisburg, going 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 1.093 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and outrageous 12.3 K/9. In fact, in 149.2 IP in his minor league career, Barrett owns a 12.0 K/9 rate. He does this all with an average fastball, but a slider that Baseball America deemed best in the Nats’ system. At 6’4″, 215 he has a big league build. He needs to pitch against players his own age this year but his arm is definitely intriguing.

Clay Hensley, RHP: Hensley is a slight (5’11″, 190) righty that for the past few seasons has been able to fool enough batters to keep getting chances in the big leagues. But at 33 now, he’s running out of gas. Last season for San Francisco in 50.2 IP he walked 5.3 per nine and his ERA (4.62) showed it. Coupled with a 5.19 ERA for Florida in ’12, Hensley’s hanging on to the end of his rope.

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Bullpen

This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

Monday, we looked at the starting pitchers. Today, it’s the bullpen.

PROJECTED OPENING DAY BULLPEN: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez/Christian Garcia [Read more...]

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Starters

by Dave Nichols and Alyssa Wolice

This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

Today, we evaluate the Nats’ candidates at starting pitcher. As they prepare to report for Spring Training, the Nats will look to lay the Strasburg Shutdown debate to rest once and for all in the months ahead. The team – which ranked first in ERA and third in strikeouts in the National League in 2012 — boasts a talented Top 5 that can match any on baseball, But injury — or suspension — could put them in a precarious position due to the lack of top-end options in the minor leagues. [Read more...]

NATS: 2013 NatsFest Details

Washington Nationals fans should check the website for updated information as all player appearances and activities are subject to change.

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS ANNOUNCE 2013 NATSFEST DETAILS

Event to take place Saturday, January 26 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at
Washington Convention Center

The Washington Nationals today released new details about 2013 NatsFest, taking place for the first time at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

More than 25 Nationals players and prospects are expected to attend the fun-filled baseball festival, including but not limited to*: Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood will also be in attendance. In addition, Nationals fans will have the first opportunity to meet two of the team’s latest additions, Dan Haren and Denard Span. Please note that all autograph vouchers are SOLD OUT; autograph voucher holders are encouraged to visit nationals.com/natsfest for important information.

Open to fans of all ages from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., NatsFest will offer a variety of activities including:
o Q & A sessions with players and coaches on topics including ‘Preparing for Games’ and ‘Life on the Road’

o Opportunities to take photos with players and team mascots

o A special Jr. Nats Kids Forum featuring Player Story Times and Kids Press Conferences

o The chance to learn about the team’s innovative virtual ticketing system

o Games, interactive events and surprises

The event will also feature:
o Live broadcast by 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official flagship radio station

o Opportunities to purchase the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia

o Batting cages, inflatable games and 2012 trophy display

o D.J. Stylus Chris spinning music throughout the day

o Concessions for purchase

NatsFest will also offer fans the first opportunity to purchase individual and group tickets to see the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in a special preseason exhibition game on Friday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. Tickets for NatsFest are currently on sale for Season Plan Holders at $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and for the general public at $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased at nationals.com/natsfest.

Fans planning to utilize Metro’s Red Line to attend NatsFest are encouraged to add at least 20 minutes to their planned travel time due to scheduled weekend track maintenance. For directions and parking, visit the Convention Center website at www.dcconvention.com.

*All player appearances are subject to change

PHOTOS: 2012 Washington Nationals Rookies

Thankfully, Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez tweeted photos of the Washington Nationals rookies! After Sunday’s game, the tradition continued of dressing up the rookies in costumes to leave Nationals Park and take the train up to New York (Nats face the Mets tomorrow through Wednesday).

Last year it was Smurfs.

Meet the Nats Super Seven “Olympians” that didn’t quite make the cut for London.

Left to Right: Tyler Moore, Corey Brown, Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Christian Garcia, Steve Lombardozzi with Bryce Harper in front as the flag bearer. Good work by the veterans.

Washington Nationals Rookies 2012 in clubhouse before heading to NYC, 9/9/2012 (Photo tweeted by Gio Gonzalez)

Washington Nationals Rookies 2012 by train before heading to NYC, 9/9/2012 (Photo tweeted by Gio Gonzalez)

 

 

Washington Nationals Arizona Fall League recruits: Prospects, intriguing older players and head-scratchers

The Washington Nationals will once again be sending some top prospects and high draft picks to the Arizona Fall League. This year, however, they are also sending a couple of intriguing players with a little more experience and a couple of head-scratchers. They also plan to send one more as yet unnamed position player according to MASNSports.com’s Byron Kerr. But one player that won’t be going is top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, who was shut down last week after reaching his innings limit for the season in his first year of pro ball. [Read more...]

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