Mar 312014
 

The Potomac Nationals unveiled its 2014 Opening Day this afternoon, which as per usual, will return quite a few familiar names. Without further ado, here’s the rundown (watchlist players in bold, notables in italics):

PITCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS CATCHERS
Dakota Bacus Kevin Keyes Brandon Miller Cole Leonida
Robert Benincasa
Mike McQuillan Justin Miller Pedro Severino
Ian Dickson Stephen Perez
Randolph Oduber
Brian Dupra Tony Renda
Piwnica-Worms
Pedro Encarnacion Adrian Sanchez
Bryan Harper Oscar Tejeda
Travis Henke
Nick Lee
Gilberto Mendez
Brett Mooneyham
Ronald Pena
Brian Rauh
Derek Self


This more in line with past Potomac rosters, where there are some prospects, but not many high-profile ones (two Top 20 guys per BA in Renda and Severino) and a sizable chunk of guys repeating or returning — nine by my quick count here, with three (Keyes, Oduber, and Sanchez) coming back for their third season.

Eyeballing it, we’re looking at a (alphabetically) rotation of Bacus-Dickson-Encarnacion-Lee-Mooneyham unless Rauh and Pena are returned to a starting role, which is entirely possible since Bacus and Dickson have switched between starting and relieving.

As is always the case, if the Hagerstown core can pick up where they left off last season, the High-A veterans should offset any hiccups and make for a contender. If they can win the first half — a big IF, as it’s only happened twice in the last six seasons — a wave of callups from Western Maryland (especially the pitchers) could make for another fun summer and perhaps another title run.

Mar 312014
 

Well, it has been a long cold lonely winter, so here come the Suns* for 2014 (watchlist players in bold, notables in italics):
* Yes, I’ve been waiting awhile for the chance to drop that one

PITCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS CATCHERS
Dixon Anderson Wilmer Difo Isaac Ballou Spencer Kieboom
Andrew Cooper David Masters Rafael Bautista Craig Manuel
Lucas Giolito Khayyan Norfork Estarlin Martinez
L.J. Hollins Drew Ward Wilman Rodriguez
Jake Johansen James Yezzo John Wooten
Nick Pivetta
Hector Silvestre
John Simms
Matthew Spann
Wander Suero
Justin Thomas
Austin Voth
Jake Walsh


Twenty of these 25 are on this site’s 2014 Watchlist, so by definition, this is a roster that will bear, um, watching — especially the pitchers. Headlined by Lucas Giolito, who it looks like I was wrong about (and happy for it) and will begin the season on the active roster, it would appear that he’ll be joined in the rotation by Jake Johansen, Austin Voth, and Nick Pivetta. Who the #5 guy will be appears to be the biggest mystery, with Hector Silvestre, Matthew Spann, and Dixon Anderson all candidates.

Silvestre will be joined by Wander Suero and Jake Walsh from the 2013 GCL Champs, with Rafael Bautista and Drew Ward bypassing Auburn. That’s perhaps not as many as some had hoped, but it’s roughly what I thought it would be (especially for Ward).

Busy day… finally, the P-Nats.

Mar 312014
 

Coming on the heels (i.e. roughly 29 minutes later) of the Senators announcement, the Syracuse Chiefs also announced its 2014 Opening Day roster (watchlist players in bold, notables in italics):

PITCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS CATCHERS
Xavier Cedeno Emmanuel Burriss Brian Goodwin Jeff Howell
Manny Delcarmen Brandon Laird Jeff Kobernus Jhonatan Solano
Christian Garcia Brock Peterson Tyler Moore
Taylor Hill Will Rhymes Eury Perez
Warner Madrigal Zach Walters Steve Souza
Ryan Mattheus
Omar Poveda
Tyler Roberston
Josh Roenicke
Danny Rosenbaum
Daniel Stange
Ryan Tatusko
Blake Treinen


As has become common in AAA, there are a lot of new faces on this team. Yes, there are 14 players who played here at some point last year, but only about seven of them had any significant playing time. Eight of these 25 were acquired this past offseason, and just nine of these players were drafted by the Nationals.

Last year, it was the infield. This year, all eyes will be on the (listed) outfield(ers), and on Brian Goodwin and Steve Souza in particular. Despite Perez being the superior fielder, he’ll most likely spend time in left field to give Goodwin developmental time, and all signs point to Souza continuing to work in right field (130 of 151 games in the OF).

Obviously, Moore and Kobernus will be plugged in at 1B and 2B respectively as well as LF and DH to keep them ready for a possible callup to DC where they’d most likely be used as bench players

The Chiefs have announced a starting rotation of Rosenbaum, Tatuskso, Treinen, Hill, and Poveda. If you’re wondering where Sammy Solis is, so am I — none of the affiliates have announced their DLs yet.

On to the Suns…

Mar 312014
 

As it has been historically, the Harrisburg Senators were the first of the four full-season affiliates to release their 2014 Opening Day Roster (2014 watchlist players in bold, 2014 notables in italics):

PITCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS CATCHERS
Gabriel Alfaro Justin Bloxom Destin Hood Mitch Canham
Colin Bates Cutter Dykstra Caleb Ramsey Sandy Leon
A.J. Cole Ricky Hague Michael Taylor
Rob Gilliam Jason Martinson Drew Vettleson
Matt Grace Sean Nicol
Tyler Herron Matt Skole
Neil Holland
Zach Jackson
Richie Mirowksi
Ryan Perry
Matt Purke
Felipe Rivero
Blake Schwartz


As it should be, this is a roster laden with the organization’s top talent — 17 of the 25 are on this site’s 2014 Watchlist along three of the Baseball America Top 10 prospects (Cole, Skole, & Taylor) and three more that were ranked in the Top 20 for the Nationals (Purke) and Tampa Bay (Rivero & Vettleson).

Busy day today, so I’m off to write up the next roster release…

Mar 302014
 

Transactions for NPP
While we patiently await the finalization of the four full-season rosters, here are few more transactions to pass along (H/T to Springfield Fan):

  • OF Wander Ramos released (Hagerstown)
  • UT Francisco Soriano released (Potomac)
  • LHP Christian Meza released (Hagerstown)

Obviously, the jettison of “Help Me” is a bit of a shock (though it could just be yet another misjudgement of a DR guy) but it’s hard to say the same of Soriano, who’d stalled at High-A, and Meza, who hit the wall at High-A.

I’m expecting another transaction post from BA today, so if there are any other notable moves this space will be updated.

UPDATE #1
Late Saturday afternoon, the Nationals signed lefty Aaron Laffey to a minor-league deal after the Cumberland, MD native was released by the Orioles. Late this afternoon, the Nationals acquired righty Omar Poveda from the White Sox for “cash considerations.”

Laffey, who turns 29 next month, has bounced around several organizations since being traded away from Cleveland to Seattle in the spring of 2011 and has surpassed 100 innings at the MLB level just twice (2009, 2012). He spent most of 2013 at the AAA level, pitching 110⅔ innings for the AAA affiliates of the Dodgers and Brewers, after getting released by the Mets after four lackluster appearances last April and the Blue Jays after one.

Poveda signed with Texas as a 17-y.o. in 2005 and rose to AAA by age 21 in 2009 before developing Nationals elbow and undergoing UCL replacement in 2010. He pitched for Florida’s AA affiliate in 2011, split time between Jacksonville (AA) and New Oleans (AAA) for the Marlins in 2012, and spent all of 2013 (164IP) pitching for Atlanta’s AAA farm club in Gwinnett. He turns 27 in September.

Both pitchers are candidates to pitch for the Syracuse Chiefs in 2014, the rosters for which are expected to be released Monday or Tuesday.

UPDATE #2
BA posted its latest transactions post, “End of Spring Avalanche,” which included the following releases that were previously unreported:

  • RHP Kelvin Perez (offseason pickup)
  • IF Mike Fontenot (offseason pickup)
  • IF Drew Rossi (offseason pickup)
  • OF Joe Dunigan (offseason pickup)
  • C Chris Snyder (offseason re-sign)
Mar 282014
 

Offline, it’s been a busy week, which has conveniently coincided with the last lull before the season starts up.

Folks are starting to ask when the rosters will be released, and the answer is… soon. Media Day is Tuesday, April 1 (no, really) for Potomac, Hagerstown, and Syracuse and the player lists are usually a day or two before that. Harrisburg is usually the first affiliate to release its roster, and it could be as soon as tomorrow if history repeats itself.

With the acquisition of Kevin Frandsen, the Nats optioned Jeff Kobernus to Syracuse and Sandy Leon to Harrisburg to whittle the camp down to 26 players. This, of course, was about as surprising as the DC Fox News station mistaking Fairfax County for Frederick County (well, they do both begin with the letter “F”) but reinforces the disturbing trend of position players having an especially hard time making the Opening Day roster.

Yesterday’s news that Doug Fister experienced tightness (don’t go there) pitching yesterday, which was reported as a lat strain. In the short term, no problem — Fister goes on the DL, both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan make the rotation. However, if the injury is more severe (like the torn lat muscle suffered by Cameron Selik that ultimately ended his career), we might see Ross Detwiler returned to the rotation, Jordan or Roark optioned, and a reliever from Syracuse (Mike Gonzalez or Xavier Cedeno) recalled to take Detwiler’s place as the second lefty that manager Matt Williams has said he wants.

That is long, roundabout way of saying: Don’t count on that injury possibly opening the door for a prospect (Aaron Barrett vis a vis Ryan Mattheus not withstanding) Let’s hope that it’s merely the Nats being overcautious and that Fister will merely miss April and be ready come May.

For the folks not on the Twitters, Zach Spedden of the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club has begun his series of interviews with the bloggers covering the affiliates, which began with some idiot covering Potomac and continues with Mick Reinhard of Mayflies and Big Flies, who covers the Senators.

Last but not least, for those following the fate of the Suns, you’ll be surprised to learn (no, you will not) that neither ground has been broken nor has land been acquired in Fredericksburg. Considering how long it takes to construct a ballpark properly, this is not a good sign for anyone rooting for a move for the Low-A affiliate from Maryland to Virginia. As previously (repeatedly) noted, the snail-like pace of this could lead to another extension of the Hagerstown PDC, unless, of course, some other facility were to become available and the Sally League would consider realignment (there are also NAPBL-standard facilities open in other cities, like Kinston, NC and Columbia, SC).

Mar 252014
 

Scenes From Scottsdale 6
The best slider in the Nationals organization just found a home in D.C.

Along with today’s cuts (Chris Young, Jamey Carroll) and options (Tyler Moore, Ryan Mattheus, and Xavier Cedeno) the Nationals announced that RHP Aaron Barrett will make the Washington Nationals Opening Day roster. Barrett, who was added to the 40-man last November, was considered a dark horse candidate to make the ‘pen but ultimately ticketed for Syracuse.

Instead, he got a couple of breaks (Mattheus injury, for one) and he simply just kept getting guys out. In nine appearances, the 26-year-old allowed just five hits, no walks, and fanned seven in nine appearances totaling 9⅔ innings.

It’s quite the journey for the 2010 ninth-round pick, who nearly flamed out in his first professional year, as chronicled last month by WaPo’s Adam Kilgore, when he posted 0-5 record with a 9.43 ERA in 10 appearances (four starts) while walking 22 in 21 innings (and striking out 25).

After repeating the SS-A level in 2011 with better but not stellar numbers, Barrett put together a career year in 2012. He went from Low-A at the beginning of season to the AFL at the end, spending just six weeks at High-A in between. He got another bump in 2013 and finished second in the Eastern League with 26 saves while striking out 69 in 50⅓ innings.

It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary move (i.e. until Mattheus gets more innings and back into form) but that should not diminish the achievement. Since this site has a fan component, I think I’m allowed to write “Congratulations.”

Mar 252014
 

Editor’s note: Ever wonder what it’s like at the minors camp? Well, so have I, so when site regular SoulDrummer offered to write a first-person narrative, how could I say no?

My brother and I recently had the pleasure of attending Nationals Spring Training this past Saturday. I love baseball. It has gotten me through one of the most challenging parts of my life. This “vacation,” however, will likely be a launchpad to greatness because I was so inspired by this beautiful game and the wonderful personalities that make up the Washington Nationals.

I had hoped to watch baseball on Friday and spend all day at Nats camp. Sadly, it was an off day for the boys. No games. No baseball after morning practice. I did go to the compound, picked up a free issue of Baseball America, the schedule, and plotted my revenge on the baseball gods for not having my favorite players available at my beck and call. I was going to get up early so I’d be able to watch the players practice.

Michael Taylor and Nats stafferMy brother and I woke up promptly and got to camp around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. We had resolved to hit minors camp in the morning and catch most of the big club’s game in the afternoon. Simply put, the day is a blur of baseball joy. Right away we got to watch some of the AA/AAA players getting on the bus to head to the away game against Detroit. I got a great pic of Michael Taylor and let him know that I’ve got him pegged for MVP of the Eastern League and an September callup this year.

I then hit the field and watched the players do their drills. You meet great, similar hardcore fans doing this. Antonio is a fabulous guy local who supports the Venezuelan minor-leaguers. He befriended and supported Alcides Escobar when he barely knew English and received the joy of watching Escobar play as a major-leaguer and thank him as a countryman for helping with a hand up not a handout. Got a great pic of the man’s Omar Vizquel autograph. He had gotten the autograph at Tigers game recently because Omar is now coaching for the Tigers.

TwinkletoesBut of course the Nats players were the best. Yes, I did stalk Giolito for about 20 minutes because I knew that you guys would be interested. I clowned him and called him “twinkletoes” for his footwork during the pitchers’ agility drills. He took it in good fun, though. I said that I was giving him a hard time because I know that he gets revenge on everybody else with his blazing fastball. I also let him know that I hope to see him in Harrisburg for my late summer trip and that I know he’s going to have a great year.

me and drew ward!Drew Ward impressed me the most. This kid looks like a man, but he just turned 19. And he is so, so, fan friendly. The pic to the right is me talking to him through a fence. Drew was thankful that I followed him, and I expressed how grateful I was to Mike Rizzo for taking a chance on this high school kid. I asked him what he would study if he had gone to college, and he said “baseball, baseball, baseball.” Imagine being his age, blessed with otherworldly talent, and getting to spend all of his time immersed in the culture of the game that he loves. We are blessed to have Drew Ward as a young prospect, and I am optimistic that he will build on his progress and “master the level” to warrant a midseason promotion. What a preternatural kid.

After failing to catch a home run ball at the fence during batting practice (it was low minors so the players didn’t have as much pop), I went to the central area where you can see several fields and hung out and waited for the game to start. The Detroit Tigers got there first so I decided to whip out my cell phone and play DJ with them for a couple of minutes. I played “Oye Come Va,” a country song by request that I can’t remember, “In the Stone” by Earth Wind and Fire, before regaling them with an impromptu karaoke version of “One In a Million You.” Baseball builds connections. Turns out my karaoke standard was the wedding song of one of the coaches. He’s been happily married for 30 years. What a blessing to meet such great people for the opposition.

Deion WilliamsThe game finally started and I got to watch Jake Johansen throw some smoke. But I didn’t really spend that much time watching the game. Other pitchers from the squad were hanging out, and I was eager to connect with Deion Williams. Deion is making the transition from shortstop to pitcher, and it was fascinating getting his impressions on Johansen’s work. I told him that I would try to make him a star on Nationalsprospects.com so here’s his pic!

After watching the game for an inning or two, I figured I should join my brother, the Mets fan, at Space Coast and we watched that game. Spinner hit a walk off homer and Bryce had two hits in a one-run victory!

What a day.

Mar 212014
 

So Long
As noted in the comments, the Nationals have released the following minor-leaguers:

• RHP Clay Hensley (offseason pickup)

• 2B Kyle Attl (GCL, Auburn)

• 2B Taylor Wrenn (offseason pickup)

• LHP Casey Selsor (Auburn)

• RHP Greg Holt (Potomac)

• RHP Martires Arias (Rule 5 Draftee, AAA Phase)

As was the case a year ago, there aren’t any real surprises here. Except that I believe there may be more coming because this is the earliest I’ve written this post the past three springs. Baseball America has already done a Transactions post for this week, which covered the week of March 6-12. Most of these releases were dated yesterday.

If not, the standard caveat applies… this is likely the end of the line for most of these guys, so remember that before commenting.

UPDATE: This afternoon Baseball America did indeed have more names in its weekly post, which were as follows:

• RHP Kelvin Rodriguez (GCL)

• C Kevin Flynn (GCL)

• LHP Joel Barrientos (Auburn)

• LHP Elliott Waterman (Auburn)

• OF Jordan Poole (Auburn)

• RHP Silvio Medina (Auburn)

• C Thor Meeks (Hagerstown)

• IF Wes Schill (Hagerstown)

• RHP Cameron Selik (Potomac)

• RHP Rob Wort (Potomac)

Kelvin Rodriguez becomes this year’s GCL surprise — a pitcher that put up decent numbers, which should remind us of the perils of scouting by boxscore. Most of the others, particularly the large contingent from Auburn, which was a major disappointment last summer, should not be considered a shock.

Mar 202014
 

Shifting-GearsWith the Nationals optioning of four players to Syracuse and reassigning three more to minor-league camp, that’s my sign that it’s time to shift gears away from spring training coverage.

This is not to state that I won’t be watching with some interest to see if one of “our guys” will buck the odds and make the Opening Day roster for the final spot on the bench or the last reliever out of ‘pen. I just won’t necessarily be writing every day unless there’s a strong minor-league angle to it.

So we’re back to the offseason mode, but instead of months to while away, it’s just a couple of weeks. “Our” opening day is April 3rd, with the Chiefs and Suns opening at home, and the Sens and P-Nats opening on the road. The daily “News & Notes” begin the following day, with the goal of giving you a summary and highlights from the games with a little style and a little snark.

Potomac — where I’m a season-ticket holder — starts on the 8th, and with it, comes game coverage via “Last Night In Woodbridge.”
Later on in April, “Good, Bad, Interesting” returns — the weekly feature that lists the highs and lows and the unexpected for each affiliate.

So hold on, spring has begun (officially today) and the 2014 season is almost here.