Feb 282014
 

2-28-14 Taylor TripleMichael Taylor lived up to the hype this week, smacking an RBI triple to right-center in the top of the 9th to complete Washington’s comeback for a 5-4 Nats win over the Mets in the 2014 Grapefruit League opener.

The three-base knock gave Manny Delcarmen the win for a scoreless 8th in which the bullpen hopeful struck out two and allowed a hit. Tyler Robertson set the side down in order to close out the game and earn the save.

It also took Christian Garcia off the hook for a rough sixth inning that saw New York’s N.L. entry score four times on four hits, including a two-run blast by Ike Davis.

Taylor Jordan got the starting nod and laid two goose eggs, allowing just a hit and no walks while fanning two. A.J. Cole followed with two zeroes on the board, but gave up two doubles and a single and was saved from allowing a run by a ground-rule double in the 4th.

As is often the case with road spring training games, the “scrubs” outnumbered the regulars. Here’s a rundown of how the minor-leaguers fared:

• Eury Perez started in CF and went 1-for-2, making a spectacular catch in the 2nd inning to rob Lucas Duda of extra bases.
• Taylor took over duties from Perez and walked in his first plate appearance
• Steve Souza came off the bench and played RF, going 1-for-3.
• Mike Fontenot spelled Danny Espinosa at 2B but was 0-for-3.
• Matt Skole took over for Adam LaRoche at 1B and went 1-for-2 with an RBI double and made a pick to complete a 4-B-3 DP.
• Zach Walters replaced Ian Desmond at SS and was 2-for-2 with an RBI double that tied the game in the 8th.
• Jhonatan Solano followed Wilson Ramos behind the plate but was 0-for-2 while standing in the box.
• Koyie Hill pinch-hit for Tyler Moore as the DH and drove in a run with an RBI single while going 1-for-2 overall.
• Jeff Kobernus subbed for Scott Hairston in LF and scored the game-winning run after his one-out single in the 9th and was 1-for-2 for the game.
• RHP Aaron Barrett allowed a hit but walked none and struck out none in his lone inning of work.

The Nationals make their home debut tomorrow afernoon versus the Barves Atlanta. Jordan Zimmermann is expected to make the start. The game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Feb 282014
 

LetTheGamesBegin2Finally. Unlike football, it never feels like this has begun too soon.

I don’t believe expectations this year for the big Nats are as outsized as they were a year ago, but the enthusiasm remains the same. I’d like to think that 2013 may have parsed the 2012 bandwagon fans, but then I read some of the MASN comments and realize they’re just less vocal.

For me, it’s a chance to re-establish routine and have something to write about every morning (or afternoon) versus the litany of lists and previews that the minors offseason requires (though predicting rosters and pitching staffs isn’t so bad, is it?).

As I wrote earlier this month, the best chances for “our guys” are on the edges of the 25-man roster. Unfortunately, that was before the Karns-for-Lobaton trade, which indicates to me that this team isn’t going to go with a rookie if it doesn’t have to. Naturally, I’d love to be wrong about that, but I am New England-born and bred.

But not so puritanical as to pretend otherwise for about three weeks. First pitch at 1:10 p.m. on 1500 or 1580 AM.

Feb 262014
 

Bulldog-Hates-SnowFolks, just a quick note to assure you that we’re still here, hating on the weather and waiting for the games (and spring) to start on Friday.

There’s not much for me to pass along that I’m not sure that you’ve already seen. This is the week where the beat writers discover the guys we’ve known about for months, if not years, as they must file stories and fill time. Of course, I don’t begrudge them that — I’ve long known that their job is tougher than most people realize.

As previously noted, we’ll post about spring training from the minors perspective for about three weeks, which is usually how long it takes before the majority of the minor-leaguers are sent down. We hope to be surprised, have one of “our guys” outplay the veteran NRIs, but I think the conventional wisdom — and trades of Nathan Karns and Robbie Ray — is spot-on that the Nats are unlikely to have any rookies make the Opening Day roster.

Feb 232014
 

Transactions for NPP
The Lobaton trade aside, it’s been a pretty quite month for minor-league transactions, but let’s get caught up anyway. Since the end of January, the Nats have signed the following players to minor-league contracts:

  • C Koyie Hill
  • RHP Luis Ayala
  • RHP Josh Roenicke
  • 2B Drew Rossi

Hill spent part of 2012 with Syracuse, batting .163 in 31 games before getting released in early August. The almost-35-y.o. was also invited to Spring Training and remains in camp as one of several catchers perhaps now vying for the backup spot with the Chiefs or Senators.

Ayala returns to Washington after pitching for the Mets, Twins, Marlins, Orioles and Braves from 2009 to 2013, spending all of 2010 in the minors. He was also invited to Spring Training and reportedly has the delusion impression he’ll make the club.

Roenicke has twice been waived in the past three seasons by Toronto and Colorado, spending all of 2013 with Minnesota where he went 3-1 with a save and line of 4.35/4.64/1.60 in 63 appearances. The 31-y.o. Maryland native is married to Nikki Desmond, sister of Ian, and is also in camp as a non-roster invitee.

Rossi is a non-drafted free agent with one season of professional experience, batting an even .300 over 20 games in 2011 as a 22-y.o. with Washington (PA) in the Frontier League. The now-25-y.o., who twice cut from Can-Am League teams in 2012 and 2013, is the son of veteran scout Phil Rossi.

Feb 212014
 

Well, if you insist…

With eight days to go before spring training games begin, I’ll pass along couple more top prospect lists that were issued this week to help pass the time.

The first comes from MLB Draft Insider, a site run by Chris Crawford, who also writes for ESPN:

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
2. A.J. Cole, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF
4. Pedro Severino, C
5. Sammy Solis, LHP
6. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
7. Michael Taylor, OF
8. Drew Vettleson, OF
9. Steve Souza, OF
10. Austin Voth, RHP
11. Eury Perez, OF
12. Felipe Rivero, LHP
13. Jake Johansen, RHP
14. Drew Ward, 3B

Frequent commenter Todd Boss nailed it when he wrote that Severino and Jefry Rodriguez were daring picks (1st comment on the article), but it turns out that Crawford’s admiration is not unique. This morning, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus unveiled his Top 10 (warning- paid content):

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
2. A.J. Cole, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF
4. Michael Taylor, OF
5. Jake Johansen, RHP
6. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
7. Matt Skole, 1B
8. Pedro Severino, C
9. Drew Vettleson, OF
10. Drew Ward, 3B

It’s no secret that Taylor is one of my favorites, but even I have my doubts that the bat will ever catch up to his glove or his legs. Still, Taylor is another prospect that’s getting a lot of attention this offseason.

What’s also interesting is who’s not on these lists: Skole on Crawford’s, Solis on Parks’s. A clue may be found in the fantasy angle that Parks includes in his article from Bret Sayre, BP’s fantasy guy (nah, too easy):

Skole is far more interesting from a fantasy perspective than in real life because if he is able to be a .270 hitter with 20-25 homers, he’ll be owned in nearly all leagues, regardless of eligibility.

The exclusion of Solis can be inferred by extension: He’s not likely to be a starter or a closer for Washington anytime soon, and fantasy baseball — to be blunt — doesn’t give a s!@# about relievers who don’t get saves (if you’re new here, then you know I’m with the late Dick Radatz when it comes relief pitching).

I strongly encourage folks to read Crawford’s article because it’s useful to see how folks view the Nats from outside our little bubble, particularly for his take on their drafting since I don’t write much about the draft before it happens (and not much after, either).

Feb 202014
 

lucas-giolito-2
The lovefest for the Nationals’ top pick in 2012 continues as Lucas Giolito was named as the No. 21 prospect on Baseball America’s 2014 Top 100 Prospects List.

As you might have already guessed, Giolito was the sole National to make the list. Last year, it was three as Anthony Rendon (30), Giolito (67), and Brian Goodwin (70). In 2012, Bryce Harper topped the list for the second time with Rendon coming in at No. 19.

The 19-year-old Californian returned to action last summer after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2012, struggling with his command early on, getting lifted twice in the first inning in his first four starts. After bottoming out with a four-run outing to the GCL Mets in his fifth appearance, resulting in a loss, Giolito got his bearings and strung together three solid starts to earn a bump up to the New York-Penn League in mid-August.

Giolito went 1-0 with 14K in 14IP in three starts for the Auburn Doubledays, giving up his only HR of the season in his last start against the Batavia Muckdogs. BA broke from its previous pattern of double-dipping and only named him to one (1) of its postseason league Top 20 lists, the Gulf Coast League’s No. 2 prospect.

MASN’s Byron Kerr has reported that Giolito will begin 2014 in Low-A Hagerstown, insisting in the comments that he’ll be there for Opening Day. History strongly suggests otherwise as previous HS pitchers (A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray) were held back until May, though there is the counter example of Taylor Jordan, who underwent TJ in July 2011, came back to action with Auburn and Hagerstown in the June 2012, and was sent to Potomac in April 2013.(Can we both be wrong and have him debut in Woodbridge in mid-May? ;-)

Giolito features a 80-grade fastball that can hit triple digits from a high arm angle created in part by his 6’6″ frame, though scouts noted he tended to work best when it was around 95 to 97 mph. He also boasts a 12-6 curve (clocked in the 84-86 range) that could reach the 80 mark, but alas his changeup only figures to reach 70 mark, making it merely plus, not plus-plus (for the velo whores, it comes in around 82-83).

With less than 39 innings total as a pro, the folks at BA believe this season will be a matter of demonstrating he can handle the workload of full-season ball and peg his MLB debut at possibly late 2015 but more likely in 2016.

Feb 192014
 

accelerated-camp
While we await the games to begin, the Nationals — via Byron Kerr of MASN — have revealed the minor-leaguers coming into Florida early, a.k.a. “accelerated camp” with a reporting date.

In essence, this is the analog to the Instrux of the fall, where prospects are given extra time for instruction and a chance for the coaches to make sure everyone’s moving in the right direction.

As much as you might want to draw inferences from who’s been selected and who hasn’t, you can’t. It nearly goes without writing that almost all of these guys are on the 2014 watchlist. After the list, I’ll break it down…

PITCHERS CATCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS
Dakota Bacus Spencer Kieboom Osvaldo Abreu Isaac Ballou
John Costa Cole Leonida Wilmer Difo Rafael Bautista
Matt Derosier Raudy Read Cutter Dykstra Theo Bowe
Ian Dickson Pedro Severino Cody Gunter Destin Hood
Pedro Encarnacion Jason Martinson Narciso Mesa
Wirkin Estevez David Masters Brandon Miller
Lucas Giolito Stephen Perez Drew Vettleson
Taylor Hill Shawn Pleffner
Jake Johansen Tony Renda
Nick Lee Drew Ward
Warner Madrigal John Wooten
Brett Mooneyham
R.C. Orlan
Ronald Pena
Nick Pivetta
Jefry Rodriguez
Blake Schwartz
Hector Silvestre
John Simms
Deion Williams
Wander Suero
Austin Voth
Deion Williams

First, let’s address the unfamilar names…

…Costa was the Nats 13th Rd. draft pick out of Palm Beach State JC last June but did not pitch, having had TJ surgery in March 2013.

…Derosier was a 24th Rd. Pick out of Southwestern JC who made 10 of 11 appearances for the G-Nats (he retired eight of nine batters faced in a middle-relief outing in July for Auburn)

…Madrigal is returning to the U.S. after having been sold to the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer. He made 31 appearances and had a 2-0 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.

Now, for a few random thoughts…

…Wooten is listed as an infielder, but that does not necessarily mean a shift to 1B. Example: Justin Miller, who the Nats tried to convert to catcher in the 2012-13 offseason but ultimately did not catch.

…While it would be nice to see GCLers Abreu, Read, and Bautista in full-season ball, Read was also invited to this shindig last year without spending time north of Florida.

…The presence of Kieboom and Estevez, however, is hoped to mean that their recoveries from Nationals elbow have progressed enough to appear in games before mid-June.

Feb 182014
 

Having received word via e-mail from Jeri Sickels, wife of John, that his 2014 Baseball Prospect Book remains behind schedule due to a concussion he suffered this offseason, I decided to finish off the player reports rather than wait. The hope is that I can still revise some of the player reports on guys that I was hoping Sickels might write about that BA didn’t.

But my fear is that once spring training games begin, it’ll slide… not to mention get lost in the shuffle as all eyes (and some drones) are focused on Viera. The watchlist is conceived while doing the season reviews in October-November, set after the Rule 5 draft in December, with the writing begun in early January with a focus on the guys I’ve seen (and the ones I’m sure won’t be written up), and usually finished in late January after I’ve received and reviewed the major prospect books.

So if you’ve got some extra time — say, because you’re at home with your kids because schools have been delayed a couple hours by less than a centimeter of snow — take another gander and feel free to discuss in the comments here or on the player pages.

Feb 162014
 

The last of our predictions is finally here with the forecast of the Hagerstown pitchers.

If I’m right about the composition and wrong about the timing, this is arguably the most exciting starting five of the four full-season affiliates*, with four of the team’s Top 30 pitching prospects per Baseball America, including the #1 overall, Lucas Giolito.
* Tickets, I’ve heard, are readily available.

But before we get too far down that road, let’s look at my choices for the 2013 Suns:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Blake Schwartz Dixon Anderson Leonard Hollins
Brian Rauh David Fischer Cody Davis
Nick Lee Derek Self
Blake Monar Robert Benincasa
Pedro Encarnacion Michael Boyden
Brett Mooneyham


That’s more like it. After only getting one or two wrong in parts one through three, missing on four serves as a reminder that this is still a guessing game. Plus, a reminder that short-season ball is fickle and inferences suspect.

Case in point: Michael Boyden, who was bumped up from the GCL to Auburn after six scoreless appearances in 2012. Not only did he not make it to Hagerstown in 2013, he didn’t return to Auburn, repeating the GCL and was ultimately released.

So maybe I’ll be very wrong on the two swingmen below, but I still feel like somebody from the GCL is going to skip Auburn, and it seems more likely that it’d be older guys used in relief (and a lot) than teenagers like Jefry Rodriguez.

Without further ado, the final set of picks:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Lucas Giolito Hector Silvestre David Napoli
Jake Johansen Wander Suero L.J. Hollins
Austin Voth Cory Bafidis
Nick Pivetta Jake Joyce
R.C. Orlan Derek Self


Before you ask, “What about__________?” a reminder that I’ve purposefully excluded guys that I know or believe were hurt. Besides, information regarding players’ health and/or injuries is sparse and the Nationals kinda sorta have a history of being less than truthful when they do release such information.

Also, I don’t know precisely who’s been released yet or who’s retired. In part, because I do know the players, their friends and families, and their agents are reading, I’m not keen on predicting or speculating on those two outcomes. If someone’s not mentioned, take it face value: a guess at who the 12 pitchers will be this year at a given level.

Now, we return to the wait-and-see mode until the games begin (and the fluffing of Matt Williams stops).

Feb 152014
 

While this is third in our series, it’s the fourth staff to be set at the end of spring training, which often leads to some disappointment for the fans… and the players. At least at the outset. Thanks to the half system — and a steady stream of pitchers working their way back from injury — top picks do pass through in the second half of the season.

I personally like to think of High-A as a proving ground for prospects. Maybe I’m biased as a season-ticket holder for the level, but it sure seems like this is where wheat gets separated from the chaff.

On that somewhat dischordant note, let’s review how I picked the 2013 P-Nats pitchers:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Christian Meza Aaron Barrett
Robbie Ray Matt Swynenberg Colin Bates
Taylor Hill Richie Mirowski
Taylor Jordan Greg Holt
Kylin Turnbull Ben Hawkins
Matt Purke


In what’s becoming a pattern, I got a lot right… but just barely. Meza and Turnbull were demoted, Hawkins was released, and Purke made six starts for Hagerstown, twelve for Potomac. This reinforces another mantra which I’m sure will be repeated again in six weeks: It’s not where a guy starts, it’s where he finishes (see: Jordan, Taylor).

Recall that yesterday I picked six starters for Harrisburg. Now one of those guys might start in Syracuse, but it’s also possible that one of them will start here, too. If I’m right about Lucas Giolito being held back like A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, then it’s not hard to envision the odd man out in Harrisburg beginning here until he’s ready, then the board is reset — happened last year with Purke/Schwartz/Jordan (not precisely, but close enough for this anecdote) and to a lesser extent in 2012 with Purke and Nathan Karns (Cameron Selik was bumped up instead of a starter).

Of course I want to wrong about Giolito… I’d rather see him pitch two months from now instead of four or six (or not all), but the Nats track record says otherwise.

With that, I give you my guess for the 2014 Potomac pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Brett Mooneyham Ian Dickson Matt Spann
Pedro Encarnacion Ronald Pena Gilberto Mendez
Kylin Turnbull Cody Davis
Dakota Bacus David Fischer
Nick Lee Greg Holt


Next up: The 2014 Hagerstown Suns