April 17, 2014

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...]

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:

[Read more...]

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...]

Washington Nationals 2012 Roster Review: The Catchers

The Washington Nationals finished the 2012 season with the best regular season record in their short history since the relocation in 2005 at 98-64 and a bitterly disappointing loss in the best-of-five National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. In this series, we’ll take a look at each of the 43 players that appeared for the Nats in this historic season, grade them, and evaluate their position going forward. Age listed is 2013 Opening Day; grades are relative to expectation.

Today, we look at the catchers.

Jesus Flores (28): 296 plate appearances. .213/.248/.329. 12 doubles, 1 triple, 6 homers, 26 RBIs. 59 Ks/13 BBs. Flores proved his health this season, but showed little at the plate and struggled throwing out base runners (9-of 60, 15%), though that’s symptomatic of all Nats catchers due to the pitchers’ problems with holding runner. Flores is third-year arbitration eligible so his salary will bump up from his $850 base last season, though probably not appreciably enough to warrant letting him go for that reason alone. He’ll stand third on the depth chart however entering spring training, so it’s not out of the question the team does not offer him arbitration and allows him to leave as a free agent. Grade: C-

Kurt Suzuki (29): 164 plate appearances. .267/.321/.404. 5 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 25 RBIs. 20 Ks/11 BBs. Acquired in a mid-season trade, Suzuki did everything the Nats hoped he would upon arrival. He mightily struggled in Oakland this season after several years on 15-homer power. Reunited with Davey Johnson and Rick Eckstein, who had him with the U.S. Olympic team, Suzuki cut down his stroke and made better contact in the N.L. Threw out 5-of-33 (15.1%) of base stealers in N.L. after nabbing 23-of-60 (38.3%) in A.L. in first half speaks to Nats pitchers complete ineptitude of holding runners. Under contract through 2013 for $5.21M with team option in ’14. Will enter spring as No. 1 catcher. Grade: B

Wilson Ramos (25): 96 plate appearances. .265/.354/.398. 2 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBIs. 19 Ks, 12 BBs. Ramos remains the Nationals best long-term fixture at the position, but after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in May and the subsequent surgeries June 1 and July 18, Ramos might not be ready to start catching in spring training. Even then, they will want to take an abundance of caution not to put full-time stress on that knee until he’s in full baseball shape. Threw out 4-for-23 (17.3%) base stealers in limited time. Will be backup and work his way back into the lineup as the season progresses and he gets stronger. Ramos is not arbitration eligible until 2014. Grade: incomplete-injury

Jhonatan Solano (27): 37 plate appearances. .314/.351/.571. 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 6 RBIs. 5 Ks/2 BBs. The man they call “Onion” made his Major League debut at age 26 this season and didn’t look overmatched at the plate at all. But he’s a career .250/.306/.339 hitter in seven minor league seasons, so Solano isn’t a real prospect. He’s thrown out 33 percent of base stealers in the minors though, so he has some proficiency behind the plate. Still, he looks more like organizational depth than a player looking to get a chance in to prove himself in the big leagues. Battled an oblique injury all year that limited him to just 141 total plate appearances across Majors and minors.  Grade: A, in extremely limited duty.

Sandy Leon (24): 36 plate appearances. .267/.389/.333. 2 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 2 RBIs. 11 Ks/4 BBs. Leon was the unfortunate catcher that was called up, started, and injured in his first game. He came back later in the season for a few at bats after the roster expanded. He hit .322/.396/.460 across three levels in the minors this season, mostly for AA-Harrisburg so he looks like he has a pretty good idea of what to do at the plate. Not eligible for arbitration. Grade: B

 Carlos Maldonado (34): 12 plate appearances. .000/.182/.000. 1 RBI. 4 Ks/2 BBs. Maldonado has amassed 74 plate appearances in parts of four Major League seasons. He’s a AAA catcher, only to be used at the Major League level in the most dire of circumstances. He could return as a minor league free agent to catch at Syracuse.

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)

 

 

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