September 17, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Catcher Effects on Pitching Pace

The job responsibilities of catching position can be very nuanced and many of the things that make a good backstop are attributes that rarely get noticed by fans. As an example, a recent ‘Fancy Stats‘ article by Neil Greenberg discussed the effect that Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton has on getting his pitchers extra strikes due to his pitch framing ability, a very subtle skill that is near intangible in contrast to abilities like hitting prowess or handling an opponent’s running game with your throwing arm.

A similar skill that can also often go unnoticed  from a pitcher’s perspective is pace—how quickly you are able to make a pitch, collect yourself, get the sign, and throw the next pitch. Given the effects of timing on the ultimate success of an at bat for a hitter and the need for a pitcher to disrupt this timing in order to get outs, pace can play an unheralded role in a pitcher’s performance.

Pace goes beyond a pitcher’s internal clock, with many factors based on the rapport a pitcher and catcher have with one another playing a role in the outcome and whether a pitcher’s pace is quick or slow; ultimately, there is a particular level of comfort that a pitcher has with a catcher with respect to pitch calling that can affect pace.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the Nats starting rotation’s pace stats look, with the trio of catchers used so far in 2014—Sandy Leon, Jose Lobaton, and Wilson Ramos—taken into consideration. First, let me briefly discuss the data. PITCHf/x data from Nats games through May 5th was collected to calculate pace between pitches, with careful curation of the data done in order to remove outliers.

Ultimately, curation involved removing data points that were longer than 60 seconds and less than 10 seconds. This was done to remove first pitches of an inning, pitches after a home run (in order to counter the various lengths of time it took for hitters to jog around the bases), pitches where replay was involved, and other data that was felt to be physically impossible, with the hope that this pruning would give us the best picture possible of the effects of catcher on pitching pace. With these considerations in mind, let’s look at some pace results:

Pitcher Catcher Pace (secs)
Gio Gonzalez Jose Lobaton 25.068
Gio Gonzalez Sandy Leon 24.174
Jordan Zimmermann Jose Lobaton 26.310
Jordan Zimmermann Sandy Leon 25.927
Stephen Strasburg Jose Lobaton 26.349
Stephen Strasburg Sandy Leon 25.975
Stephen Strasburg Wilson Ramos 27.075
Tanner Roark Jose Lobaton 25.621
Tanner Roark Sandy Leon 24.483
Taylor Jordan Jose Lobaton 27.286
Taylor Jordan Sandy Leon 26.603

For reference, here are each player’s average pace—note that these averages were calculated using the aforementioned criteria, for those who use FanGraphs’ pace statistic and find a roughly four second shift in the pitcher’s averages:

Pos Name Pace (secs)
C Jose Lobaton 25.841
C Sandy Leon 25.664
C Wilson Ramos 27.075
P Gio Gonzalez 24.906
P Jordan Zimmermann 26.077
P Stephen Strasburg 26.360
P Tanner Roark 25.259
P Taylor Jordan 26.898

Across the board, pitchers are a little quicker when Sandy Leon is behind the dish. With the pitchers, Taylor Jordan appears to be the slow poke, even slowing down Leon’s typically quicker pace with the staff by roughly a second. Overall, we do see some effects of the catcher on a pitcher’s pace.

Is this a significant effect? Let’s run an analysis of variance (ANOVA) to see if it is—for those numbers averse, feel free to skip to the pretty picture further down the page.

Using pace as our dependent variable and pitcher and catcher as our independent variables, the ANOVA results are as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.12.04 AM

Cutting to the chase, we find that catcher does not have a significant effect on pace, but (no surprise here) the pitcher toeing the rubber does (p=0.022). Briefly, a Tukey’s test to look at the average differences between catchers:

Difference Lower Upper p adj
Sandy Leon-Jose Lobaton -0.176 -1.262 0.908 0.923
Wilson Ramos-Jose Lobaton 1.234 -1.588 4.056 0.561
Wilson Ramos-Sandy Leon 1.411 -1.457 4.278 0.481

Regarding the statistically significant results between pitchers, this stat was driven by the differences in pace between Gio Gonzlaez and Taylro Jordan, the quickest and slowest members of the rotation, with a difference of roughly two seconds in average notching a p-value of 0.04, which is just satisfies the criteria for significance of a p-value at or below 0.05. Additional ANOVA modeling including pitch type and inning did not show any statistically significant differences in average pace.

For the numbers averse crowd, welcome back! Overall, we did not find any statistically significant effects of catcher on average pace (or inning or pitch type), but did with pitcher. For those who a little more visual, the scatterplots below show show pace across inning, broken down by both pitcher and catcher, confirming the first table of results showing Leon getting pitchers to work quicker than Lobaton or Ramos:

Pace Across Pitcher and Catcher

While we don’t see any statistically significant results, pace is nonetheless an important aspect of the pitcher-catcher battery, and while again not a significant result, the quicker a starter works, the more success he tends to have, using RE24 as our marker of success:

Data courtesy of FanGraphs

Data courtesy of FanGraphs

While statistically these results aren’t terribly robust, the effects of pace (and the catcher) on the game are innately important, not only in its potential to disrupt hitter timing and rhythm, but also on a pitcher’s teammates. The longer a pitcher takes to decide what to throw, the longer his defense sits in their crouches, awaiting the ball to be put in play. The longer they wait, the greater potential to lose focus on the game and become distracted.

Pace also plays a role in length of game. In a recent interview, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell discussed how starting pitcher pace can negatively affect game length. Like many things related to the position, the catcher’s role on pitcher pace will remain a potentially critical piece in a game’s outcome, despite its statistically small effects.

Washington Nationals Game 13 Review: Rendon, Leon Lead Nats Past Marlins

The power the Washington Nationals lacked Sunday against the Atlanta Braves returned, swing after swing, in the team’s 9-2 win over the Miami Marlins Monday.

Anthony Rendon and Sandy Leon each homered and combined for a total five RBIs to fuel the Nats’ offense against a Marlins squad that has now lost eight straight.

In a seemingly no-pressure situation, Jordan Zimmermann looked sharp, striking out seven and allowing two runs on six hits and one walk. And, he too, built on the Nats’ momentum at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two singles and a sacrifice bunt.

Left-hander Brad Hand (L, 0-1) lost control of the game quickly. In the first, Jayson Werth doubled with two outs and came home on a triple from Bryce Harper that put Washington on top 1-0 before the Fish came to bat.

In the second inning, Tyler Moore’s inexplicable luck in Miami produced once again as the outfielder led off the inning with a homer to right.

Danny Espinosa followed up with a double before advancing to third on a single by Leon. [Read more...]

2014 Washington Nationals Top 25 Prospects: Scouting Prospects 11-25

 

Nationals Top 25 Prospects Home

Scouting Reports on Prospects #1-10

 

 

Prospects #11-20

Matt Skole

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
35/45 65/70 55/60 65/65 35/35 40/40 40/45 35/35 55/55 40/50 MLB Starter

Skole’s plus raw power and hulking build got him drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, and he immediately made the Nationals look wise for signing him by mashing throughout his superb full-season debut in 2012. He hit a monster .286/.438/.574 for the Hagerstown Suns, and raked 27 homers. His performance earned him South Atlantic MVP honors and he was named the Nationals Minor League Player of the Year. There wasn’t an encore however, as he injured his elbow while fielding last spring and was forced to get reconstructive elbow surgery, wiping out his season.

Skole is now healthy and showing off his plus left-handed power and plate discipline in front of the big club’s coaching staff in spring training. Matt Williams likes what he sees, and even compared him to Jim Thome.

Skole’s bat is almost ready to do damage in the Majors, and his home-run power will translate. He’s a very disciplined hitter, showing superb pitch selection and feel for the strikezone. His power and batting eye might even be enough to make him an average or better hitter, though his long, pull-oriented swing makes that a stretch to project. His lack of other tools and poor fielding will be a tough sell until there’s an opening at first base, as he doesn’t have the tools to man any other position in the MLB effectively. He could carve out a nice career for himself as a Raul Ibanez  type player or a left-handed Mike Morse.


 

 

Matt Purke

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Cutter Slider Change Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
55/60 60/60 45/55 50/55 55/60 40/45 40/50 Poor Timing MLB Starter

Purke was a big name coming out of Klein High School in Texas. He posted a 12-1 record and a 0.37 ERA as a senior, dominated on the showcase circuit and with Team USA, and he boasted a 92 mph heater and vicious slider from the left side. The Rangers drafted him 14th overall in 2009 and offered him a whopping $6 million to sign, but the MLB vetoed the deal. He fulfilled his commitment to Texas Christian University, and ended up dominating his competition to the tune of a 21-1 record, a 2.61 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 169 college innings between 2010 and 2011. Unfortunately, shoulder problems killed his draft stock and injury problems have continued to hamper his production in the pro’s.

Purke is a smart pitcher and has a plan on the mound. When he’s at his best, he has solid fastball command to go with a deceptive delivery, a nice feel for pitching and plus stuff. His fastball velocity, which was consistently plus before his shoulder problems, was back up to the low 90′s in the Arizona Fall League this winter, and some of the bite on his slider returned. That’s obviously a good sign, and he showed the Nationals what he can do when he’s healthy during his AFL stint, taking home Player of the Week honors at the end of October.

Purke is tough to project. When he’s healthy, his stuff is elite for a left-hander. His fastball sits 91-94 mph with movement, and his slider is one of the best among southpaw prospects. The problem is though, that he’s rarely been healthy these past few years, and his stuff has fluctuated. In some of his starts last season his heater was clocking mostly in the high 80′s, and his slider was flat. Despite his ability to repeat his delivery, and throw with a nice slide step, his mechanics and his arm action has a serious red flags. These issues may keep him out of the rotation ultimately, but if he stays healthy, his stuff would make him a dominant back-end reliever.

Austin Voth

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Cutter Slider Change Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
55/60 55/60 45/60 45/55 40/50 35/40 40/50 Average MLB Starter

Undrafted out of high school, Voth improved steadily in each of his three seasons at the University of Washington. He posted a 5.19 ERA as a freshman, and then lowered his era to 4.28  over 69.1 innings in his sophomore season before putting together a sparkling 2.99 mark last spring. The muscular 6’1″ bulldog gained considerable muscle in his core and lower body during his college career, helping his fastball improve to the consistent 90-93 mph range. He ended up striking out 99 batters in 105.1 innings in 2013, second in the Pac-10 to Mark Appel. The Nationals in the 5th round of the draft, and watched him dominate opposing hitters in three stops between the rookie leagues and low-A ball later this summer.

Voth’s drop and drive delivery adds deception to his pitches, and his low 90′s fastball jumps at hitters as if it were even harder. He gets nice movement on his pitches and works low in the zone. He also throws a strong change and slurvy curveball. He has the stamina and efficient delivery to carry his velocity late into his starts. He’s not flashy, but he could be a very solid fourth or fifth starter. He may eventually be ticketed for bullpen, where he’s a potential Craig Stammen type, multi-inning guy.

Blake Treinen

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Slider Change Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
70/70 60/65 55/60 45/50 40/45 40/50 Average MLB Starter

Treinen–who came to the Nationals as a through-in via the Mike Morse trade–is an oddity. While he has one of the best fastballs in the minors and is a top-shelf talent, he is largely obscure as a prospect due to an extraordinarily short resume–even when compared to late-round draft picks and top college players.

Though he was an honorable-mention All-Area pick as a senior at Osage City high school (Kansas), Treinen was a non=prospect in high school and early college. He was in poor shape, with a short stature and as a type-II diabetic his non-existant weight training regiment kept his arm strength from developing. He played just two full seasons of varsity baseball in high school due to his health issues.

Treinen’s college baseball career started off similarly. By the time he was 18, he’d actually grown to over 6’1″, but he was actually cut to their JV team at NAIA Baker College. Very few pro players were cut from their  teams, especially as late as college and especially at a level where talent is so scarce. At the time though, Treinen’s fastball barely reached 80 mph, and when he transferred to Arkansas to play DI baseball, he was  passed over altogether.

Treinen set out to get in shape and get back to the game. He  re-tooled his delivery, committed himself to a rigorous weight-training routine and developed his mechanics under friend/coach Don Czyz, He was rewarded for his commitment, not only developing a powerful body and fluid delivery, but also growing nearly four more inches. Miraculously, Treinen stepped on the mound for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits a couple years later with a low 90′s fastball. The rest is history.

A couple of years after getting drafted by the A’s in the 7th round, Treinen has developed to the point where he’s looking like a future MLB ace or closer. He’s old for his development level, but Treinen performed nicely as a starter for Harrisburg last year–posting a 3.64 era, a 2.61 K/BB and a well above-average 3.22 G/F over 21 appearances. He simply keeps getting better and better, now pitching with a mid 90′s heater and excellent fastball command. He has already left a great first impression on new Nationals skipper Matt Williams in spring camp.

Treinen has electric stuff. His fastball sits firmly in the 93-95 mph range, touching 97 mph into the late innings, and he displays solid-average command of it. His best pitch is his heavy tailing 2-seamer, which grades out as plus-plus for velocity, movement and command. It’s a heavy bat-breaker, darting down and away to his arm side, and he trusts it enough to pound the strike zone with it.

While his sinker has developed into his go-to, Treinen isn’t a pure sinker/slider guy. He’s not afraid of straight balling. He likes to use his four-seamer to attack left-handed hitters by pitching them aggressively inside. Unfortunately, his tall, pop-and-drop delivery and heavy fastball reliance gives left-handed hitters a vastly better look at him. They’ve been able to pick up his arm and hit him like a vasty inferior pitcher throughout his pro career. His tendency to live on the white part of the plate limits his strikeouts, and lefties have shown the ability to punish his sinker as soon as he makes a mistake. To better neutralize southpaws that can turn on his velocity, he’s learning to make then uncomfortable–cutting his four-seam fastball on their knuckles, and then using his two-seamer and change off the outside to force them to slow their hands down.

Treinen’s off-speed stuff his most obvious improvement over the past two years. After relying almost solely on his fastball early in his career, he now has two decent off-speed pitches. He throws a fringy slider that shows above-average bite and depth when he’s feeling it. It has solid-average potential, clocking in the low-mid 80′s with disappearing break.  His command of the breaking pitch is behind his fastball and his tendency to under throw it makes it’s effectiveness inconsistent. His change remains below average despite the extra work he put into it last offseason, and there’s no telling how much he’ll trust it against MLB hitters. It’s clearly his third pitch, and he uses it mainly as a show-me against southpaws. But, it does have fastball arm-speed and it is good enough to round-out his game arsenal.

Treinen’s nasty power sinker is one of the best pitches in the minors. Now that he’s developed a strong breaking pitch and a game-worthy slider to go with it, Treinen projects well as a top shelf mid-rotation starter. He could’ve been an even better prospect if not for his lack of high-level competitive pitching and his (still) short off-speed repertoire. Regardless, the Nationals rotation depth means they’ll probably put him in the bullpen–where his power sinker-slider combo could play up to a special level. In that role, he could scrap his change-up and focus on what he’s good at–bringing the heat and killing right-handed hitters. His ground-ball rates and ability to keep the ball in the park are extraordinary, while his efficiency and command are excellent as well. The combination makes him a perfect fit for the late innings when the margin for error is tight. His strikeout rate, while somewhat low pitching out of the rotation will also likely increase as his stuff will have more power, and he won’t have to focus on keeping his pitch counts low. He could even end up as a closer, with a profile similar to Jim Johnson’s.

Jefry Rodriguez

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Curve Split Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
60/70 55/60 40/55 40/60 30/45 30/45 Very Good MLB Starter

Long, lanky and raw, Rodriguez impressed the Nationals last season as a part of a dominant young GCL staff.  A converted infielder, Rodriguez is only recently celebrated his 20th birthday and has only 90 innings of professional pitching under his belt. In those 90 innings however, he has shown tremendous potential.

Blessed with a long, lithe frame, he bears a strong resemblance to former MLB fireballer Jesus Colome. He whips fastballs like Colome, with a four-seamer that clocks 92-93 consistently and hits 97 mph on the radar gun. His delivery is loose, and so is his arm action–showing easy arm speed that indicates he has room for added velocity. He also spins a sharp downer curveball in the high 70′s that has nice potential. He also throws a low 80′s splitter that he has trouble releasing consistently. His delivery is fluid and he has remarkably consistent timing for his age, though his arm slot and release point waver.

Rodriguez has become a favorite of Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams–along with the rest of the organization–for his stuff and athleticism. He’s an aggressive pitcher with plus velocity and movement on his pitches, and his fastball has sink to it. The package is pretty much everything you need for a bright future on the mound, and though he has a long way to go, Rodriguez is the real deal.

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 III: The Catchers

Wilson Ramos "zooms" to first base on his walk-off single win over Phillies, May 4 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Wilson Ramos “zooms” to first base on his walk-off single win over Phillies, May 4 (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.

Donning the tools of ignorance…

THE CATCHERS

Wilson Ramos: Ramos enters his age 26 season on an upswing, having mashed 16 homers in 303 PAs last season. The second of those numbers is the troubling one, as Ramos has spent much of the past two seasons recovering from various injuries. When he was healthy in ’11, he amassed 435 PAs and slugged .267/.334/.445. In ’12 he was on pace for that again, but only played 25 games due to knee surgery. Last year, it was a hamstring that limited him to 78 games. You get the point by now. If the Nats can keep Ramos healthy, they have a potential 20+ homer, All-Star behind the plate. If not, they made a move right before spring training to act as insurance.

Jose Lobaton: Meet Wilson Ramos insurance. The Nats acquired Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays the day before pitchers and catchers reported, along with two minor league prospects, in exchange for pitcher Nathan Karns. Lobaton is a late bloomer, as the 29-year-old has just 191 games of big league experience. Last year in 311 PAs, the switch-hitter hit .249/.320/.394 with seven homers while taking over when Jose Molina got injured. He’s a good defensive catcher, adept at framing pitches, and is universally praised by pitchers that have worked with him, though he doesn’t have the strongest throwing arm. He is the quintessential backup MLB catcher.

Jhonatan Solano: The man they call “Onion” has a great story – riding in the back of an onion truck across country lines in South America in order to attend a big league tryout camp. But his playing career is a pretty typical story – adequate behind the plate but not exceptional, just “okay” plate discipline for the position (career .302 OBP in almost 2,000 minor league PAs), and no power. Solano, 28, will continue to toil as a minor league catcher, but the Nats trade for Lobaton says all one needs to know about Solano’s chances in the majors. This was his shot, and instead the Nats went outside the organization and gave up a legitimate asset for help.

Sandy Leon: Leon, 25, just can’t hit. He’s a quality receiver with a good arm, but his lifetime minor league .237/.325/.325 masks his dreadful ’13, as he hit just .177/.294/.252 in 374 PAs. He was enjoying a good 2012, hitting .322/.396/.460 in just 64 games when Ramos’ knee injury necessitated his emergency call-up to the bigs. Then, in his debut game, he was run over by Chase Headley on a play at the plate, suffering a high ankle sprain that robbed him of much of the rest of his season. Perhaps his 2013 numbers were stifled with regaining strength in the leg. But nothing he had done prior to his outburst in ’12 indicates any real long-term gain.

Chris Snyder: Snyder was signed as a non-roster invitee and will probably be Solano’s caddy in Syracuse, kept around in case of catastrophic injury behind the plate. He was once a very useful catcher with pop, but at 33 he’s just hanging on for now.

Koyie Hill: Hill, 35, was once a highly-regarded catching prospect, but that clearly was last decade. He’s never hit in the Majors (.206/.266/.287) and was signed principally as a spring training bullpen catcher with Major League experience.

Washington Nationals Minor League Update for the Week of 5/5/13

Welcome back to District Sports Page’s weekly Minor League Update. Throughout the regular season we will continue to post up-to-date stats and brief scouting reports on the hottest and coldest prospects in the Nationals’ minor league system. We also will track the progress of top-rated players in this columb, and give injury and suspension updates.

Here are some of the system’s notable performances from the first week of May:

[Read more...]

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:

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Washington Nationals make more cuts: Rendon, Perez, Skole & more

The Washington Nationals made another round of cuts Thursday morning before hosting the Houston Astros at Space Coast Stadium, bringing the spring roster down to 42.

The club optioned outfielder Eury Perez to AAA-Syracuse and right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, catcher Sandy Leon and infielder Anthony Rendon to AA-Harrisburg. Additionally, the Nationals re-assigned left-handed pitcher Pat McCoy and infielders Will Rhymes and Matt Skole to minor league camp.

Rendon put together a very impressive big league camp. The 22-year-old third baseman went 12-for-32 (.375/.412/.875) with four home runs, four doubles and 11 RBIs while with the Nats this spring. He accumulated 28 total bases in 13 games.

Perez, 22, went 8-for-23 (.348/.375/.348) with four runs scored, two stolen bases and no extra-base hits.

NATS: Happy Birthday, Sandy Leon

HAPPY 24th BIRTHDAY SANDY LEON!

Washington Nationals Catcher Sandy Leon was born on 03/13/1989 in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Happy Birthday #41!

Washington Nationals Catcher Sandy Leon during his MLB debut, 5/14/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals Catcher Sandy Leon during his MLB debut, 5/14/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Catchers

This week, District Sports Page has taken 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.

On Monday we broke down Nationals’ starters, Tuesday we evaluated the bullpen, Wednesday we looked at the outfielders. Thursday we previewed the infield. Here’s our final installment, The Catchers.

PROJECTED OPENING DAY CATCHERS: Kurt Suzuki, Wilson Ramos, Chris Snyder. First callups: Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Carlos Maldonado. Down on the Farm: Spencer Kieboom.

Kurt Suzuki: Suzuki, 29, came to the Nats in a deadline deal with the Oakland A’s for catching prospect David Freitas and became the Nats full-time catcher down the stretch. Reunited with Davey Johnson and Rick Eckstein, who coached the then-youngster with the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, Suzuki hit much better in D.C. (.267/.321/.404 in 164 PAs) than he did the first half in Oakland (.218/.250/.286 in 278 PAs). Suzuki is signed through this season (at $8.5M), with a team option at the same rate for 2014. [Read more...]

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