December 22, 2014

Nats get Cabrera upgrade at second; Zimmerman insurance

The Washington Nationals acquired middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and cash considerations from the Cleveland Indians on Thursday in exchange for SS/LF Zach Walters.

Cabrera, 28, is hitting .246/.305/.386 with nine homers and 40 RBIs this season. He is a two-time All-Star with the Indians and is a .270/.331/.410 career hitter in over 900 MLB games.

Cabrera, a switch-hitter, will be a free agent following the 2014 season.

Walters, 24, hit .205/.279/.462 with three homers and five RBIs in 43 plate appearances for the Nats this season.

Cabrera is an instant upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base. While he isn’t the hitter Ryan Zimmerman is, he provides adequate relief while the Nats miss Zimmerman’s big bat in the lineup. Cabrera is a good fielder that should transition to second base easily, though he hasn’t played the position since 2009.

With reports that Zimmerman sustained a Grade 3 strain of his right hamstring, the timetable for his return to baseball activities is six to eight weeks, meaning he’ll miss most of — if not all — the remainder of the regular season.

Cabrera is a fulltime MLB veteran to replace Zimmerman in the lineup, with Anthony Rendon handling the third base duties, as he has while Zimmerman is on the shelf.

This also allows the Nats to slot Espinosa as a right-handed pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, a position he’s more qualified to fill than everyday second baseman at this point in his career.

Some might lament Walters and the appeal of his Triple-A power, but the Nats obviously didn’t see him as a long-term solution in the Nats infield. His glove and contact skills just don’t play at the Major League level. The Nats tried him at second base in Syracuse this season and just didn’t see him making the necessary adjustments to compete at the big league level.

Consider this: with Ian Desmond eligible for free agency following next season, the Nats didn’t feel the need to retain the 24-year-old Walters as insurance for Desmond departing. That, in itself, should explain what the Nats thought about Walters future in the big leagues.

Overall, this is a big win for GM Mike Rizzo, acquiring an everyday big league veteran with All-Star bona fides, and cash to pay his salary, for a very low-upside minor league hitter.

Syracuse Chiefs on impressive run in International League

The Syracuse Chiefs, Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, are on a remarkable hot streak of late. Per Kevin Brown, the team’s Director of Media & Public Relations, enjoy the following nuggets about the Chiefs’ surge in the International League.

The Syracuse Chiefs enter today’s homestand on a historic run of winning. Here’s a look at just how good times are for the Triple-A Washington Nationals…

  • Syracuse enters play Tuesday at 47-30. The Chiefs haven’t been 17 games over .500 since the final day of the 1998 season – September 7, 1998 – which Syracuse ended at 80-62.
  • Syracuse currently holds a 5.5-game lead on second-place Rochester in the I.L. North Division. That’s the Chiefs’ largest division lead since a six-game advantage on August 12, 1998.
  • Syracuse finished an eight-game season sweep of Durham yesterday, the first-place team in the South Division. Dating back to 1938, that’s the sixth time one International League team has swept the season series with another I.L. team, and first such occurrence in Syracuse history. It’s the first season sweep for an I.L. team since Rochester swept Toledo in 2012.
  • The Chiefs scored 40 runs in their four-game sweep of Durham which concluded yesterday. The Chiefs haven’t had that prolific of an output in a series since scoring 42 runs in the first four games of a five-game series with Pawtucket from August 29-September 2, 1996. (Syracuse scored 46 runs in total in the series.)

A few extra notes on Syracuse’s recent success…

  • Since May 1st, Syracuse’s 36-16 record is the best in professional baseball, one half-game ahead of 35-16 Hickory of the South Atlantic League.

  • Syracuse’s current seven-game winning streak is the Chiefs’ highest since a nine-gamer from June 18-26, 2012. Over the course of the streak, Syracuse has outscored its opponents 57 to 15 – an average score of 8.14 to 2.14.

  • Zach Walters returned to Syracuse from Washington on May 27th. Since that date, Walters’ 10 home runs rank tied for second in professional baseball, behind only Kris Bryant of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

  • Outfielder Steven Souza, Jr. currently leads the International League in all three slash-line categories: batting average (.363), on-base percentage (.456) and slugging percentage (.567). Souza’s batting average and on-base percentage with the Chiefs each rank second in professional baseball. No Syracuse player has led the International League in any of those categories since Kevin Barker posted a league-best .569 slugging percentage in 2005.

  • Syracuse hasn’t lost back-to-back games since May 17th and 18th, a streak of 34 consecutive games without back-to-back losses. While there’s no league record held for this streak, as a historical comparison, the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) had a season-long streak of 31 games without back-to-back losses.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 6 Zach Walters

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 6, shortstop Zach Walters.

6. Zach Walters
Bats: Both, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 2″, Weight: 210 lb.
Born: September 5, 1989 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, US (Age 24)
Draft: 9th Round, 2010 Arizona

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

Walters is finally enjoying wider recognition as a top prospect following his breakout 2013 season with the Syracuse Chiefs. He tore the cover off the ball, racking up 252 total bases and tying Mauro Gomez for the International League home run title.

Walters was a well-regarded prospect during his college career at San Diego, batting .312/.367/.437 in three seasons. He ended on a somewhat sour note though in 2010, watching his batting average fall to .245 after batting .377 as a sophomore in 2009. As a result, scouts cooled on him and he fell to the ninth round, where the Diamondbacks selected him. He put together a strong start to his pro career, batting .302 with four home runs and 26 extra-base hits in 275 at bats in 2010, and then following with a .302/.377/.485 triple-slash line with the Southbend Silver Hawks to open 2011. His performance was largely overlooked, but he still drew enough attention from Nationals’ scouts to get included in the Jason Marquis trade that summer.

Since arriving in Washington, Walters has become a favorite of the organization for his work ethic, athleticism and coachable personality. He spends his offseasons honing his game in winter ball, playing well in Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente  in 2012 before posting a .240/.321/.440 in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2013. He’s developed and filled out his once long and lithe frame with a lean muscle, and he has hit with much more power over the past couple of seasons.

After the Nationals Major League coaching staff urged him to hit with a more upright stance and tap into his power during spring training 2012, he’s re-discovered himself at the plate. He’s a much more dangerous hitter know, using an aggressive approach and his uncanny hand strength to lace balls with authority pitch after pitch. Naturally right-handed, Walters was a much better right-handed hitter earlier in his career, but now the switch-hitter has become a slugger from the left side of the plate. He carried the power he flashed during his stint with Harrisburg Senators in 2012 much more consistently with the Chiefs in 2013, putting a charge into nearly every ball he put into play. He hit 25 of his 29 homers with his tall, pull-oriented left-handed cut.

Walters is a big kid, with a long but powerful frame. He’s committed himself to grueling strength and endurance building exercise routines. His build is a mixture of power and athleticism, which gives him the opportunity to hit with power and field at a high level at shortstop in spite of his atypical size for the position. His upper-body has a high waist and sloped shoulders, steel pipe forearms and massive hands. His long legs are powerful, giving him a great base and outstanding balance in his swing and in the field. He has room to add more power, though more size will start to shorten his range in the field.

Walters is a good hitter from both sides of the plate. He has developed exceptional power from the left side, to go with an already thunderous right-handed swing. Despite his upright stance, he sees the ball well and is able to make hard contact on the outer half of the plate as well as down by his knees when batting left-handed. He’s not a dead pull hitter either, and is comfortable going straight away and even to left-center with his lefty swing. His power comes to all fields too, showing plus to his pull-side and to center, but also more than enough to loft pitches on the outer half. He’s very quick inside, and it’s difficult for opposing pitchers to exploit the hole under his hands. When he’s batting right-handed, his stance is still slightly different. He uses his leg and hand strength more with a quicker, more violent stroke that uses space to center and right field to rack up extra-base hits

Walters changed his approach to be more aggressive and hit with more power. As a result, his batting average has dropped from the plus range to fringe-average. He’s never been a disciplined, on-base guy either. He doesn’t see a lot of pitches during his at bats, and his willingness to extend and hit with power on the outer half can get him to trouble against crafty pitchers. He has the hitting tools and switch-hitting prowess to eek his average and on-base percentage to the MLB-average level with more development, while also keeping his above-average power. But now that he’s heading into his mid 20’s, it’s a stretch to project him to grow plate discipline that he’s not showing now. His impressive plate vision, which makes him very quick on pitches he likes, should help his pitch selectivity.

In the field, Walters is a mixed bag. He has a cannon arm that allows him to make any throw at shortstop and third base, and he shows nice extension and balance when moving to his glove side. At the same time, his size is becoming a stretch for shortstop, and his long legs and high waist give him a naturally higher center of gravity. His exceptional balance allows him to play low and move smoothly in and on plays to his glove side, but he doesn’t have the lightest feet or the flexibility to consistently make low, glove-side plays. His exceptional arm does make up for his so-so quickness and range, as he’s able to get carry and mustard on the ball while fading away from his target. He also turns the 4-6-3 double-play smoothly, with nice lateral footwork. The total package indicates a solid-average shortstop with more polish. He made too many errors last season, so he’ll have to sure-up his hands and work on his throw accuracy before he can be trusted with extended play at short in the big leagues.

Walters’s power is legitimate, but his approach will determine the kind of hitter he is ultimately. He has the tools to be a solid fielding shortstop with 20+ home run power, plenty of extra-base hits and enough batting average to make the power useful. If his plate discipline comes along, he could post a .260-.270 batting average and an average on-base percentage.  If it doesn’t, he might have to abandon his big cut for a more contact-oriented swing to stay in the lineup everyday. Regardless, he has an exciting profile and he’s a great teammate. The Nationals will give him some reps as one of the club’s utility infielders in 2014,  and he could be a member of the 25-man roster by the summer.

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: Nats fall to Yankees off Detwiler’s shaky start

After tossing a 1-2-3 first inning, Ross Detwiler gave up all the runs the New York Yankees needed in the second inning of the Washington Nationals’ 4-2 loss at George M. Steinbrenner Field Monday afternoon.

Detwiler retired Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Brian McCann in order in the first but gave up back-to-back singles to Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli in the second inning. It quickly became evident that Detwiler struggled with location, as several of his fastballs fell away from his inside targets.

The poor fortune continued when Kelly Johnson doubled in Roberts before Ichiro Suzuki reached on a throwing error by Nats’ shortstop Zach Walters. On the play, both Cervelli and Johnson scored to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead before an out was recorded.

Then, Zoilo Almonte hit a ground-rule double on a fly ball down the right-field line and soon after, Corban Joseph singled on a grounder that plated Suzuki.

Despite his struggles, Detwiler had no issues facing New York lead-off man, Gardner, as he struck him out a second time before the Nats called upon a replacement.

Detwiler finished his Grapefruit League debut in just 1 ⅓ innings of work, during which he allowed four runs, three earned, over five hits.

Left-hander Danny Rosenbaum stopped the bleeding, by simply forcing Yankee captain Jeter to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Tanner Roark took the mound for two uneventful innings, during which he allowed just two hits.

In fact, the Nationals’ relief corp prevented the Yankees from tacking on additional runs, from Xavier Cedeno and Christian Garcia to Aaron Barrett and Manny Delcarmen.

In the top of the fifth, the Nationals finally put a run on a board, via a home run by the red-hot Zach Walters. Walters is now 6-for-7 with two doubles, a triple and the solo home run this spring.

The Nats tacked on a second run in the sixth after Eury Perez and Denard Span led off with back-to-back singles. Danny Espinosa then reached on a fielding error by Jeter, which allowed Perez to score Washington’s second run.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part I: The Infield

Ryan Zimmerman gets Matt Kemp out in top of 5th (third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to first baseman Adam LaRoche) - Los Angeles Dodgers v. Washington Nationals, Game One of Doubleheader on September 19, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman is a key component to Nats playoff hopes. (stock photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page, Sept. 2012)

 

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.

With no further adieu… [Read more…]

NATS: Happy Birthday, Zach Walters

HAPPY 24th BIRTHDAY ZACH WALTERS! Hopefully, Walters can make his MLB debut on his birthday!

Washington Nationals infielder Zach Walters was born on 09/05/1989 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Walters was called up to the Nationals on Tuesday and he announced it on Twitter (after teasing with his followers that he was headed home after ending season with Syracuse).

 

He then posted after the game.


Follow Zach on Twitter (@Zwalters02) and be sure to wish #4 a Happy 24th Birthday.

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.

Washington Nationals Minor League Update and Prospect Report for June 17

SYRACUSE CHIEFS
AAA-INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE
Week: (1-4, 2 PPD) Season: (27-40, 6th in IL North, 12.5 GB)

Danny Espinosa, 2B: The Nats injured second baseman is on a rehab stint with the Chiefs. He’s gone 2-for-9 this week with no extra base hits, four Ks and two walks.

Tyler Moore, OF/1B: Since being sent down by the Nats, Moore has continued his season-long struggles. He went 3-for-19 this week but making his few hits count with a double, homer and seven RBIs. He has struck out five times and has not drawn a walk. Season: .158/.182/.368 with one home run and 7 RBIs.

Corey Brown, OF: The left-handed hitting outfielder went 2-for-18 this week with two doubles and three RBIs and a whopping six strikeouts against two walks. Season: .250/.319/.528 with 10 HRs and 28 RBIs. [Read more…]

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