September 19, 2018

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Outfielders

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 [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Game 142 Review: Nationals Out-Duel Braves in Victory

DOUG FISTER PITCHES SEVEN STRONG AS NATS TOP BRAVES

In front of 25,000-plus fans filled with “Natitude,” the Washington Nationals defeated the Atlanta Braves 2-1 to reduce their magic number to 12.

The Nationals gave Doug Fister an early run, and in return he gave them a seven-inning gem that earned him his 13th win of the year. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Minor League and Prospect Report for Week of June 29th

Another week of minor league baseball is in the books. Here is a look around the Washington Nationals’ farm system at some players making headlines. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part II: The Outfield

Jayson Werth high-fives Bryce Harper after gunning out Greg Dobbs in the ninth inning. - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Health and self-preservation are key for the Nats outfield this season. (Stock photo Sept. 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.

Josie’s on a vacation far away…

THE OUTFIELD

Jayson Werth, RF: Werth was a stealth candidate for MVP last season, and actually ended up 13th on the postseason award ballot. The .318/.398/.532 line he posted at age 34 had everything to do with that. Werth enjoyed one of his finest seasons in the bigs, despite missing 33 games due to injury, which has to be expected from the guy at this point in his career. There’s no way he’ll every live up to the immense contract he signed to come to D.C., but when he’s been in the lineup the past two seasons he’s outdone what could have reasonably been expected of him. How long does that production continue? His defense is already slipping greatly and he has four more seasons to his contract, so it becomes an important question as Werth enters the twilight of his solid career.

Denard Span, CF: Trivia: He’s the only player in Major League history by the name of Denard. Or Span. Anyway, Span rescued his season with a torrid seven weeks at the end of the season, which was along the lines of what GM Mike Rizzo expected when he traded pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins for him. Span bottomed out on Aug. 16 at .258/.310/.353, nowhere near what’s necessary in the top spot in the batting order. For the next 39 games, he hit .338/.375/.459, instrumental in the Nats late resurgence. It was too little, too late to save the Nats playoff aspirations, but the Nats have to get more near his career line (.283/.351/.387) on a more consistent basis to make this offense work.

Bryce Harper, LF: Bam Bam put up a .274/.368/.486 line his sophomore season at the age of 20. That’s at once hard to comprehend and easy to overlook. He’s doing remarkable things at such an early age. Unfortunately, he’s his own worst enemy right now with his “balls to the wall” approach at defense. At some point, self-preservation has to take hold. No manager or coach wants to tell Harper to slow down, but he needs to stay on the field – and healthy – to fulfill his promise. After crashing into the wall at Dodgers Stadium in May, he played all season on a knee that required surgery at the conclusion of the season, under the radar while many weren’t paying attention to baseball. He needs to figure out lefties (.214/.327/.321/ in 158 PAs) and breaking balls, but the talent is there. He just needs to stay on the field.

Nate McLouth, OF: Last season was the first time since 2009 McLouth played more than 90 games at the Major League level. His resurgence for the Orioles is nothing short of astounding, considering the trajectory his career was taking. In ’10 and ’11 with Atlanta he hit .190 and .228 with 10 homers combined. His first 34 games with Pittsburgh in ’12 were no better: .140/.210/.175, leading to his release. He rediscovered himself in Baltimore, hitting .26/.342/.435 and .258/.329/.399 the past two years. Now 32, McLouth will see plenty of at bats with the injury-prone Nats outfield and as a late inning pinch-hitter. By default, he becomes the leader of the Goon Squad.

Scott Hairston, Corner OF: Hairston is the right-handed hitting Ying to McLouth’s Yang. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. But Hairston’s overall numbers last year (.191/.237/.414) and age (34) – not to mention his paltry .214/.259/.484 against LHPs, who he’s supposed to “mash” – signal the end is rapidly approaching the once versatile and useful player. It’s true, all 10 of Hairston’s homers last season came against lefties, but as his slash line indicates, it was literally all or nothing for Hairston. 10 of his 27 hits in 140 plate appearances against LHPs were home runs. Against righties? .097/.147/.276. Can this actually be the Nats primary right-handed bat off the bench? With a walk rate of 5 percent and contact rate of 72 percent, this a guy whose skills aren’t declining, they’ve just about evaporated.

Jeff Kobernus, Corner OF: Kobernus made his MLB debut last year at the age of 25, past prospect status. His tryout lasted 36 PAs and resulted in a .167/.306/.267 slash as he played all three outfield positions. Small sample caveats abound, as the converted second baseman held his own in Syracuse, hitting .318/.366/.388, all minor league career highs. You like to see a player whose numbers rise as he goes up the ladder. He’s had 40+ steals each of the past three seasons in the minors and folks love his work ethic. But there’s not a lot of room in the bigs for a right-handed hitting speedster without obvious elite skills and no pop, especially in the outfield.

Eury Perez, CF: Did you see the last sentence I wrote about Kobernus? It applies even more toward Perez. His stolen base numbers have plummeted as he’s risen through the ranks, from 64 to 51 to 23. He’s always made good contact, as his lifetime .305 average will attest to. But there’s no power, less willingness to walk, and he’s only an average defender despite his speed – though he has a decent arm. Perez is destined for pinch runner/Quad-A status.

Steven Souza, Corner OF: Souza was a third round pick in 2007 out of high school, so he’s been in the system for-e-ver, toiling first in anonymity, then infamously due to his PED suspension in 2010. But Souza has blossomed a little bit the past two seasons and put himself back on the radar of the big club. He has an interesting pop/speed combo (15 homers, 20 SBs in 323 PAs for Harrisburg in ’13) with good plate discipline (.396 OBP) and had a nice appearance in the Arizona Fall League in October. The 25-year-old could have a chance to impact the big roster yet.

Brian Goodwin, CF: Goodwin is the heir apparent to the center field position at Nats Park. The 34th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Goodwin has an impressive arsenal of tools. He possess elite plate discipline, something that might actually hurt his counting numbers in the minor leagues, as he simply won’t expand his strike zone for inferior pitchers. When he does swing, he has a nice blend of pop to go along with squaring up on the ball. Goodwin is a fine defender in center, though his arm isn’t the greatest, and he’s still learning to use his speed on the bases (just 19 of 30 last season). He struggled at the start of last season in Double-A, but picked up as the season went on. There’s plenty of time for the 23-year old as Span plays in his walk year this season (barring Nats picking up Span’s $9M option for ’15).

Michael Taylor, OF: Scouts have been drooling over Taylor’s athleticism since being drafted in the sixth round of the ’09 draft. Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s never really been able to translate all that athletic ability into production on the baseball field. He’s still young (23 in March), so he’s got time to “put it together”, but in over 1600 minor league at bats, Taylor owns a .249/.319/.399 slash. He repeated High-A last season and tore it up on the base paths (51 of 60 on steals) and his slash went up a little bit across the board. Double-A this year will tell the story of whether he’s a baseball player or athlete.

Nats add five more with September roster expansion

The Washington Nationals added five more players to their active roster with September roster expansion, selecting SS Zach Walters from AAA-Syracuse and recalling OFs Corey Brown, Jeff Kobernus and Eury Perez and LHP Xavier Cedeno from Syracuse. All but Walters have been on the big league roster at some point in their tenure in the Nats system. Walters will make his MLB debut with his first appearance.

Walters hit .253/.286/.517  with 29 home runs and 77 RBIs in his first full season in AAA this year. The International League All-Star tied for first in the league in homers and led the league in extra-base hits.

Cedeno has been recalled by the Nats on three occasions so far this season, pitching a grand total of 1 1/3 innings with one strikeout. He’s 2-0 with four saves and a 1.31 ERA and 1.136 WHIP for Syracuse.

Brown, 27, hit .254/.326/.473  with Syracuse with 26 doubles, 19 home runs and 56 RBIs in 107 games. Kobernus, 25, hit .318/.366/.388  with one home run and 42 steals in AAA. Perez, 23, hit .300/.336/.442 with seven home runs and 23 stolen bases in 96 games for Syracuse.

NATS: Happy Birthday, Jeff Kobernus

HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY JEFF KOBERNUS!

Washington Nationals OF Jeff Kobernus was born on 06/30/1988 in San Leandro, California.

Happy Birthday #26! Follow Kobernus on Twitter and wish him a happy birthday!

 

Washington Nationals Game 70 Review: Nats fall two below .500 after 4-2 loss to Lee, Phillies

Ross Detwiler and Cliff Lee put on quite the pitcher’s duel Tuesday night, but the Washington Nationals failed to play catch-up yet again as the Philadelphia Phillies rounded out a 4-2 win.

Washington (34-36) has dropped three in a row and five of eight so far in their nine-game, three-city road trip, with one to play. The Nats fall to a season-worst two games below .500 and are tied with the Phillies (35-37) for second place in the NL East – seven games behind the Atlanta Braves (42-30).

The Nats had a golden opportunity to pick up as many as two games against the Braves, as Atlanta was swept by the New York Mets in a double-header, but Washington was not up to the task.

Detwiler (L, 2-5) looked sharp in his first five innings pitched, allowing just one run on three hits. But the Nats lefty, making just his second start off the disabled list, ran out of gas in the sixth inning, marring his final line. By the end of his night, Detwiler allowed four runs in 6.0 innings on seven hits — though he did not walk a batter and struck out four. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals and their second base conundrum

The Washington Nationals seem to be in a bit of a pickle with their second base situation. The incumbent, Danny Espinosa, has been miserable at the plate this season. On top of the torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder that we knew about dating all the way back to the end of last season, turns out he’s been playing since late April 14 with bone chips and a broken right wrist, sustained when the Braves Paul Maholm hit him with a fastball.

For now, the Nationals plan to rest Espinosa for a few days in the hopes that the swelling and discomfort lingering in his wrist will subside to the point that he can play again. They hope to avoid a D.L. stint for Espinosa. But here’s what we know: when Espinosa originally sustained the injury, the x-rays showed no break. Now, that might have been clouding due to the swelling associated with the injury, or there just could have been no break. After five weeks, after re-examination, a break with bone chips showed up.

The Nats had Espinosa sit for a couple days back in April, then when he felt better he was reinserted into the lineup. But he continued to play through the pain.

“It’s not getting worse,” Espinosa told reporters the other day. “But by no means has it  gotten any better. So I wanted to get it checked out.”

Turns out, he’d been playing with a broken wrist. Yet, the Nats at this point will go through the same procedure as the first time: a couple of days of rest, then see how he feels.

Why are the Nats so reluctant to put Espinosa on the disabled list and get his injuries fixed instead of trotting him out onto the field in a reduced capacity? The answer is multi-faceted.

First, Espinosa has an incredibly high pain tolerance and he’s willing to play at a reduced capacity. That’s honorable, but in cases such as this the player isn’t always the best judge of whether to play or not. We know he played almost two months at the end of last season when most guys would have just gotten the rotator cuff surgery and been ready for spring training. But that’s kind of the point here.

There’s a big difference between playing through pain and playing with an injury. And now Espinosa has two different injuries we know about. The shoulder might not be causing him much pain, so he felt like playing with it wasn’t that big of a deal. But the joint sustained major injury, and as such will have a reduced capacity, strength and range of motion. Now, he’s got bone chips floating around in his wrist area, to go along with the break site. Bone chips don’t heal, they need to be removed. So he’ll need surgery at some point.

It’s absolutely no wonder that Espinosa is hitting .163/.196/.291 this season.

So we’re left to consider the other options for second base right now, and it leads us to why the team hoped Espinosa could play through his injuries.

Steve Lombardozzi will get the first shot to fill in for Espinosa regardless of how long Espi’s out of the lineup. Lombardozzi is a fan favorite, much like Espinosa was last year before Ian Desmond’s career year (remember how many fans wanted to dump Desmond and have Espi to slide over to his natural position), and much like the backup quarterback for the Redskins is every year since the beginning of time. The promise of a younger, lesser known player is brighter than the player filling the position currently. Sometimes it’s the case that the promise bestowed by the fan base is justified. Usually it is not.

Lombardozzi is many things, but a full-time MLB starter is not one of them. He is defensively capable of playing several positions on the field at an average, or near-average level. That makes Lombo a valuable member of a National League bench, in that he can fill in for a night or two just about anywhere on the field. But his flexibility also masks the problem: but he is by no means an exceptional fielder at any single position, as Espinosa is.

At bat, Lombardozzi is even less qualified to be an MLB starter. His calling card in the minor leagues was his ability to slap singles and draw an occasional walk, as his career MiLB .298/.369/.411 slash line would attest to. He has no power. His speed is merely average, as his stolen base attempts per season have gone down as he rose through the organization. He is, in baseball vernacular, a grinder. He gets by on mediocre talent by his willingness to outwork others and play whatever position he’s asked to. He is, simply, his father.

Jeff Kobernus got the call today to make his Major League debut for the Nats, and will bide his time on the bench until a long range plan on Espinosa becomes apparent. Kobernus was drafted by the Nats in the second round of the 2009 draft, becoming the third player from that draft to don the Curly W, joining Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. He’ll be 25 in June, so he’s not really a kid anymore (for perspective, Chris Marrero is actually younger than Kobernus).

He was left unprotected by the Nats and selected by Detroit in the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers switched him from his natural second base position to outfield to take advantage of his elite speed. He took to the outfield, but couldn’t stick on the Tigers roster, so the Nats happily took him back and left him in the outfield for the most part (28 games in OF, 18 at 2B this season). Kobernus’ biggest tool is his speed. he’s stolen 141 bases in 333 minor league games at an 80.1% clip.

He’s a good defender at second, but not elite, and it looks like he can handle himself in the outfield, though there’s not nearly enough evidence to justify that claim. His hit tool is only average though, and his minor league career slash line (.286/.324/.364) suggests at the plate he’ll be no more effective than Lombardozzi. But he at least has one elite tool, in contrast to Lombo. He could have a future as a utility player in the bigs if he can hit enough.

One other option in the minor leagues is Will Rhymes. The 30-year-old was signed as a minor league free agent by the Nats and has been Syracuse’s full-time second baseman this season. He’s enjoying a productive season (.291/.361/.335), which is remarkably similar to his career slash line (.290/.356/.375). He’s had a couple of cups of coffee with the Tigers in 2010, ’11 and ’12 (449 plate appearances), but he’s a career minor leaguer, a last-ditch insurance policy at best.

The question on everyone’s minds is “What about Rendon?” Ever since Anthony Rendon was drafted by the Nats in the first round of the 2011 draft, everyone has wondered what position he’d play in the majors. Third base is covered by Ryan Zimmerman (at least, for now). Many speculated Rendon could move to second, left field or even first base. Rendon’s bat will play at third, second or left field easily. So why wouldn’t the Nats considered their prized prospect for the second base slot if they need a long-term replacement.

The answer is: they could. If Espinosa needs surgery to remove the bone chips, and they decided to go ahead and do the shoulder at the same time, they could consider Rendon. But they don’t want him learning the position at the Major League level. To this date, Rendon has played a grand total of five games at second base in his professional career, despite what some major media outlets would have you believe. The Nats think he’s a good enough athlete to make that transition, but not every left-side infielder can make the transition to playing with their back to the runner at second base. Also, Rendon is thought to have gold glove capability at third base, and it’s a different skill set and mind set to play third as opposed to second.

Can Rendon play second? I’m sure he can. But he’s a third baseman. For now, anyway.

I’ve spent about 1,000 words now trying to explain why the Nats are so willing to allow Espinosa to play through injury. Simply, it’s because the other options aren’t the greatest. Espinosa is this team’s second baseman, and if he’s to go down long-term, it will hurt this team’s chances to compete. It’s a big problem. Already, playing through these injuries he’s one of the least productive players in the league this season by WAR. How much further does he have to drop to consider replacing him?

Only Mike Rizzo can answer that.

Washington Nationals designate Maya for assignment, call up Kobernus

With Danny Espinosa out for at least a few days, and potentially much more, the Washington Nationals called up UTL Jeff Kobernus from AAA-Syracuse after Friday’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team designated for assignment RHP Yunesky Maya, who pitched one-third of an inning in Tuesday’s loss to the San Francisco Giants, serving up Pablo Sandoval’s massive two-run home run in the bottom of the tenth inning.

The right-handed hitting Kobernus, 25 in June, hit .333/.378/.420 in 193 plate appearances for Syracuse so far this season. He’s stolen 21 bases in 27 attempts this year. Last season for Harrisburg, Kobernus swiped 42 bases and 53 the previous year for Potomac in High-A.

Primarily a second baseman coming up through the system, Kobernus was a Rule 5 draft selection by the Detroit Tigers this past off-season and had him working in the outfield to take advantage of his natural speed. The Tigers decided to offer him back to the Nats, and they’ve kept up the experiment. He’s played 19 games for the Chiefs in left field, nine in center, 12 at second base and three games at third this season.

The Nats have decided for now that Steve Lombardozzi will get the bulk of the at bats while Espinosa tried to get the lingering soreness out of the break area in his right wrist, but Kobernus will give the team some flexibility to play second base and left field if needed.

Maya, 31, signed a four-year, $6 million contract in 2010, after he defected from Cuba and established residence in the Dominican Republic. The right-hander never lived up to the contract, floundering every time he’s been given a shot at the Major league level and only posting pedestrian numbers in AAA. In his big league career, Maya is 1-5 with a 5.80 ERA and 1.576 WHIP in 16 games (10 starts). Maya was 1-4 with a 5.07 ERA for Syracuse this season.

Washington Nationals injury updates: Mattheus no surgery; Espinosa with broken wrist

Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a couple of injury updates in his pre-game press conference Friday before taking on the Philadelphia Phillies. One injury we knew about was an update — Ryan Mattheus will miss a “couple months” but will not need surgery on his broken hand, sustained last Saturday after he punched a wall following his five earned run with a balk appearance.

The other injury news was a surprise, but not really considering the player. Johnson revealed 2B Danny Espinosa sustained a broken bone in his wrist when he was hit by a Paul Maholm fastball late in April and has been playing through the injury since. With Espinosa hitting .163/.196/.291, it’s not shocking to hear this news. Espinosa also has been dealing with a torn rotator cuff in his left (non-throwing) shoulder as well.

Johnson indicated that the team would make a move Saturday, returning a reliever to the minors (most likely Yunesky Maya) and calling up a position player from AAA. Johnson was specific that Anthony Rendon is not being considered for a recall. For now, it appears the Nats will allow Espinosa to sit for a few days to see if that will help with the pain in the wrist.

Among the candidates for recall are Will Rhymes (.299/.366/.344 in 178 PAs at AAA), Jeff Kobernus (.333/.378/.420 in 193 PAs) and Zach Walters (.215/.244/.436 with 9 HRs in 181 PAs). None of the three players are on the Nats 40-man roster.

If the Nats are content to allow Steve Lombardozzi play everyday until Espinosa either feels better or goes on the D.L., then most likely the move will be Rhymes, a player with Major League experience who is more capable of sitting on the bench and coming in as a pinch-hitter. Walters probably would have been at the top of this list coming out of spring training, but his mostly terrible first two months in AAA probably keeps him there for now.

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