Mar 222015

The Nats used the longball to score in five straight innings to build a 6-2 lead but the ‘pen gave it away with two in the 7th, and solo HRs in the 8th and 9th innings for a 7-7 tie.

A.J. Cole stepped in for Stephen Strasburg and shut down Detroit on the first turn through the lineup but was dinged for his fourth HR in four appearances with the big club, finishing with two runs allowed on the one hit and two walks with five strikeouts over three and 2/3rds.

Tanner Roark turned in his second clean outing in relief of Cole, getting the last out of the 4th and pitching around a pair of singles in the 5th.

Michael Taylor homered twice off Tiger ace Justin Verlander to lead off the 3rd and 5th innings and finished the afternoon at 2-for-3, which raised his spring batting average to .324 (11-for-34).

Out-of-options Sandy Leon also started and went 1-for-3 with an RBI. In ten appearances, he’s 6-for-19 with three RBI.

Coming off the bench were…

…Delta Cleary Jr., who struck out in his lone at-bat as Taylor’s replacement.
…Cutter Dykstra, who subbed for Dan Uggla at 2B and was 0-for-1.
…Randolph Oduber, who pinch-ran for Tyler Moore and scored and later singled and scored a second run.
…Matt Skole, who pinch-ran for Ian Stewart and drove in Oduber with an 8th-inning single. He was later caught stealing to end the 8th.
…Spencer Kieboom, who followed Leon and was 0-for-1.

The Nats return to Viera tomorrow to host the Yankees. The game will be broadcast live on MASN and on the radio at 1580 and 1500 AM.

Mar 212015

Split Doubleheader
The hometown fans left the park happy today, as the Nats doubled up the Marlins, 4-2 in Viera while the Braves followed the Disney fun mandate with a 5-2 triumph in Orlando.

At Space Coast, the Nats scored all four in the 3rd inning as Wilson Ramos plated two with a one-out single, then Dan Uggla homered to erase an early 1-0 deficit. Jordan Zimmermann went five innings total in his fourth spring start, scattering eight hits while walking none and fanning four.

The Marlins got their final run in the 9th off Rafael Martin, who issued a one-out walk and gave up a two-out double, but was credited with the save.

At Champion Stadium, a 2-0 lead vanished when journeyman reliever Evan Meek allowed the first five runners to reach base in the 4th and three of them came around to score. Taylor Jordan got the start and allowed just a hit and a walk over three innings.

Michael Taylor got the start in CF for the visiting Nats and went 2-for-3 with a run scored.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers fared in Viera:

  • Kevin Keyes subbed for Bryce Harper in RF and was 0-for-1 with a strikeout.
  • Shawn Pleffner followed Ryan Zimmerman at 1B and struck out in his lone at-bat.
  • Chris Bostick took over at 2B from Uggla and singled in the 8th inning.
  • John Wooten subbed for Danny Espinosa at 3B and was 0-for-1.
  • Cutter Dykstra grounded out to first as a pinch-hitter.

And in Orlando:

  • Rafael Bautista followed Taylor in CF and went 0-for-1 with a whiff.
  • Matt Skole was 0-for-1 in relief of Mike Carp at 1B.
  • Tony Renda went 0-for-1 as the sub for 2B Kevin Frandsen.
  • Sandy Leon was 0-for-1 as the replacement for C Jose Lobaton.
  • Drew Vettleson drew a walk as the second RF, following Clint Robinson.

The Nats make their second trip to Lakeland to visit the Tigers, with A.J. Cole getting the start in place of Stephen Strasburg. The game can be heard locally on 1580AM.

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In the latest transaction report from Baseball America, we learned that RHPs Richie Mirowski and Melvi Salazar joined Jeff Kobernus on the list of released players over the past few days. Mirowski was a 45th Rd. pick in 2011 and came into the 2014 season with much promise after a strong AFL campaign in the fall of 2013, but struggled in his second go ’round in AA, posting a 6.23 ERA in 10 appearances before dropping down to Potomac. Salazar, who turned 20 in December, hit the wall in the GCL with 25 baserunners allowed in 15⅓ innings. In 2013, he had been 4-0 with 13 saves and a 0.98 ERA in his second DSL season.

Mar 202015

Washington scored four times in the 1st and withstood a pair of late rallies by Houston to win, 7-5. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer was dinged for a solo HR but gave up just three hits total in his five innings of work to earn the win. He struck out six and walked none.

With the 25-man candidates playing longer, the Nats gave most of the veterAAAAn reserves time off the bench in preparation for the second and final split-squad doubleheader tomorrow. Just three watchlist players appeared in this afternoon’s game:

  • Cutter Dykstra, who was 0-for-2 with a strikeout while playing 2B in place of Dan Uggla
  • Sandy Leon singled twice in two ABs while subbing for C Jose Lobaton
  • Matt Skole struck out as a pinch-hitter for Scherzer

As aforementioned, the Nats will host the Marlins while sending a second team to the House of Mouse to visit the Braves. The Viera game will be broadcast locally on 1580 AM while the Orlando contest can be heard on MLB Radio.

Mar 192015

The Nats managed just five hits over 10 innings on offense while their pitchers gave up just seven to play the visiting Tigers to a ten-inning, 0-0 tie, the second of the spring for Washington.

Gio Gonzalez spun four innings of two-hit ball, walking one and striking out five in his third outing. Matt Grace and Rafael Martin were among the quintet of relievers to combine for the extra-innings shutout, with Grace pitching the 9th and Martin the 10th.

Despite his 0.00 spring ERA, Grace was optioned to Syracuse along with C Dan Butler while IF Wilmer Difo was optioned to Potomac after the game as the Nats continue to make roster cuts in small slices.

Michael Taylor struck out four times in four at-bats to lower his average to .250 and increase his K mark to 11 in 28 AB’s. Meanwhile, Tony Gwynn Jr. went 1-for-2 while playing LF.

Washington visits Houston tomorrow, a game which will be televised on MLB Network.

Mar 182015

Three in a row was too much to hope for as the Marlins rallied for two in the last of 8th to break a 3-3 tie and held on for a 5-4 win against the Nats.

Blake Treinen was unable to work around Cutter Dykstra’s error, which rendered both runs unearned though Treinen was dinged for three hits to take the loss. Treinen struck out two and walked none.

Doug Fister was strafed for six hits over his four innings of work and allowed two runs, no walks, and struck out one in his third spring outing.

Michael Taylor returned to the starting lineup and was 1-for-3 with a single and a stolen base while playing CF. The notable minor-leaguers to come off the bench included…
• Wilmer Difo, who subbed for Dan Uggla at 2B and was 0-for-1.
• Matt Skole, who homered in the 9th in place of Ryan Zimmerman at 1B.
• Dykstra was 0-for-1 in relief of Ian Stewart at 3B.
• Sandy Leon took over behind the plate for Jose Lobaton and went 0-for-1.

Prior to the game, RHP A.J. Cole was optioned to Syracuse as the Nats continue to make cuts in small drib and drabs, including the release of IF-OF Jeff Kobernus yesterday.

The Nats return to Viera tomorrow to host the Tigers. The game can be heard on MLB Radio and locally on 1580 AM.

Mar 182015

The whine for the longest time has been that the Nats don’t do enough in the International market. The 2011 CBA dramatically changed that avenue — read: spend your entire allotment *and* incur penalties for one (1) player — but the recent influx of Cuban players has brought that caterwauling back.

While it’s unlikely to appease the aforementioned folks, the Nats’ emphasis of scouting over spending is showing up on lists like Sickels’s. More than a A third of the seventeen 18 position players are from the Dominican Republic and obviously all of them have been acquired since the Rizzo regime began in 2009.

The distribution is better than last year, when nine of 15 were OFs, but still uneven: six OF’s, four C’s, two 2B’s, two 3B’s, one SS, one 3B, one 1B.

Before I list ’em out, a review of Sickels’s principles on hitters:

…Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

…Sickels likes to look at OPS+ and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power.

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

…Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability (which fielding percentage measures).

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Michael Taylor – B+ (B-) Brian Goodwin – C+ (B) Isaac Ballou – C (C)
Trea Turner – B Spencer Kieboom – C+ Stephen Perez – C
Wilmer Difo – B- Raudy Read – C+ Anderson Franco – C
Drew Ward – B- (B-) Jakson Reetz – C+ Victor Robles – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Tony Renda – C+ (B-) Matt Skole – C (B-)
Chris Bostick – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C+ (C) Drew Vettleson – C (C+)

Like yesterday, I’ve bolded the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Unlike last year, just one of these outliers is a Dominican making noise in the GCL. Perez and Ballou are more widely known in our little bubble, so it’s always nice to see some exposure elsewhere.

Now for some tidbits from the book…

…Jakson Reetz is “HIGH CEILING ALERT” which is a new feature that Sickels is trying to denote guys who have “a conservative formal grade but who also have particularly high upside.” Less than two dozen players were given this tag.

…Most of the Turner writeup was devoted to his “weird case,” but if folks are wondering why he wasn’t graded higher, it’s because Sickels is considering the scouts’ opinion that the bat might not match the glove.

…This ought to be familiar to folks who know Michael Taylor is a favorite of mine: “Even with the progress he made last year Taylor is not the type of hitter who will win batting championships, but he should provide enough OBP, power, and speed to keep himself in the lineup. Add in the defensive ability and you have a fine player.”

…Sickels is losing faith, as others have here, in Brian Goodwin’s ability to overcome his weaknesses (strikeouts, handling offspeed pitches, keeping his swing mechanics in gear). No mention of the injury, which the gut feeling here is far worse than anyone is letting on.

…After explaining the difference in opinions on Renda’s draft position and catchet today (overdraft, o.g. respectively), Sickels remains optimistic but concedes that the drop in power (.405 to .377) merits the drop from B- to C+.

…Sickels still hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s pronounced “key-boom,” but was impressed with Kieboom’s surge in offense at Low-A Hagerstown, conceding that he was old for the level. Nevertheless, he put the tag of “SLEEPER ALERT” on him, as he did with Osvaldo Abreu (oops) and Rafael Bautista (yup) last year.

That concludes my review of the Sickels book, which you can buy online here.

Mar 172015

The offense churned out 10 hits and the bullpen survived a late charge as the Nats defeated the Tigers, 6-4 to win consecutive games for just the third time this spring.

Stephen Strasburg struck out five over four scoreless innings to get the “W.” The 26-y.o. gave up three hits and no walks while lowering his spring ERA to 3.18.

A.J. Cole went the next three frames but gave up his third HR in as many appearances. He finished with one run allowed on two hits and no walks and struck out his first two batters of the spring.

Matt Skole was the sole (hey, that rhymes!) prospect to start, going 1-for-3 with an RBI and a strikeout while playing third base. The following players were among the notable minor-leaguers to come off the bench:
• Wilmer Difo subbed for Ian Desmond at SS and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the 7th. He was 0-for-1 overall.
• Isaac Ballou followed Bryce Harper in RF but was 0-for-1.
• Cutter Dykstra scored as a PR on Difo’s flyball in the 7th and went 0-for-1 in relief of 2B Kevin Frandsen.

Yesteday, the Nats sent southpaws Felipe Rivero and Sammy Solis and outfielder Brian Goodwin to minor-league camp. The next major cuts will most likely come after Saturday’s split-squad games.

The Nats stay on the road tomorrow with a trip to Jupiter, FL to face the Marlins. The game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Mar 172015

The John Sickels 2015 annual arrived last night in my inbox, which isn’t quite as satisfying as getting a package in the mailbox, but it’s faster and cheaper. As is my tradition, I’ll break up discussing the book into two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

For the second straight year, there are 18 pitchers ranked while the number of position players has risen to 17 18 (yes, including Trea Turner). As we’ll see shortly, more than half of them are Grade “C,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with Sickels. Just five pitchers earned an “A” in the 2015 book, for example.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

Here’s a look at the 18 pitchers that made this year’s book (2014 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A-) Austin Voth – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
A.J. Cole – B+ (B+) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Jake Johansen – C (C+)
Joe Ross – B (C+) Abel De Los Santos – C Gilberto Mendez – C
Erick Fedde – B- Robbie Dickey – C Nick Pivetta – C
Reynaldo Lopez – B- Matt Grace – C Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Felipe Rivero – C+ (B-) Taylor Hill – C Derek Self – C

The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America’s, and it’s the same number as last year (four). This overlap used to be less, which may mean many things. The two most obvious inferences: (1) Sickels is less likely to go out on a limb (2) Baseball America is getting better about incumbency based on draft position.

Some quick tidbits…

…Sickels is among those that believe that Lopez’s size may shift him to the ‘pen. While I’d agree he’s a “college” 6’/185 lbs., he also appears more solidly built than say Gilberto Mendez (listed at 6′ and 170).

…Fedde’s grade is mostly due to conservatism, which I applaud. Yes, the success rate for TJ is high – but it ain’t 100 percent.

…Likewise, Pivetta is “only” a Grade C because of how wildly inconsistent his secondary pitches have been (“from poor to plus”).

…Sickels points to the improvement in K/IP and K/BB ratios for Joe Ross moving from a C+ to B.

….Finally, Voth is still “sleeper” material, but obviously now the word is out

Next up: the batters.

Mar 162015

Clint Robinson’s two-out RBI triple was the difference in a 2-1 slugfest to secure the first Washington win in nearly a week.

The 7th-inning surge made a winner out of Felipe Rivero, who tossed two shutout frames with no walks and two strikeouts. Rivero was the second reliever to follow starter Jordan Zimmermann, who went the first innings. The Wisconsin native gave up an unearned run on three hits and a walk in his third spring outing.

Michael Taylor once again started in CF and led off the game with a triple and scored the first Nats run. He went 1-for-4 overall.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did today…
• Rafael Martin threw a scoreless inning following Zimmermann, allowing a hit, no walks, and striking out one.
• Mark Grace pitched around a double and a single in the 8th to preserve the 2-1 lead.
• Wilmer Difo subbed for Ian Desmond at SS but struck out twice in two at-bats.
• Matt Skole followed Ian Stewart at 3B and drew a walk in his only plate appearance.
• Cutter Dykstra reached base twice with a pinch walk and a single as the replacement DH.
• Sandy Leon went 0-for-1 as the substitute for backup backstop Jose Lobaton.

The Nats head back out on the road to face the Detroit Tigers tomorrow afternoon. The game can be heard on MLB radio.

Mar 152015

The bell did not toll for Heath as the Astros blasted the 37-y.o. non-roster invitee for all three of its runs in the 5th and held off a late rally for a 3-2 win over the Nationals in Kissimmee. The loss was the third straight and fourth in five games as the Nats have not won since last Wednesday.

Max Scherzer lowered his spring ERA to an even 2.00 with four shutout innings, allowing just a 1st-inning double to Luis Valbena and a walk to Andrew Aplin to lead off the 3rd. The 30-y.o. struck out three in his third Grapefruit League start.

Michael Taylor started in CF and led off but was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He was followed by FA pickup Delta Cleary Jr. who struck out in his lone at-bat.

Matt Skole began in the field at 3B and was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts. Cutter Dykstra was his replacement as a pinch-runner and at third, and also struck out in his only plate appearance.

With the loss, the Nats fall to 4-7-1 for the spring. They host the Astros in Viera tomorrow, a game which is slated for a live MASN broadcast and a tape-delay showing on the MLB Network.