Nov 202015

Drew-Ward-11-20-15The Salt River Rafters scored single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 7th innings and withstood a late rally from the Scottsdale Scorpions finish the 2015 campaign with a 4-2 win.

As you might have guessed, just one National got into yesterday’s game: Drew Ward (pictured).

The turns-21-next-week Oklahoman was the designated hitter but did not get a hit. He struck out three times in four plate appearances, but did draw his 11th walk in 12 games this fall (versus nine K’s). He finished with an average of just .097 (3-for-31), but had a respectable on-base percentage of .326.

Salt River finished the year 16-13, 1½ games behind Scottsdale. With that the 2015 season — the sixth this site has covered — officially comes to a close.

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In what now seems rather anticlimactic, last night the Nationals added three from this year’s AFL contingent to the 40-man roster: Christopher Bostick, Spencer Kieboom, and Nick Lee.

Bostick, who was originally drafted in the 44th Rd. by the Oakland A’s as a HS pick in 2011, and Kieboom (5th Rd., 2012) were both in their first year of Rule 5 eligibility. Lee, however, was in his second year of eligibility as an 18th Rd. 2011 pick (and drafted 38th but did not sign in 2010).

A common thread through all three picks is the shoring up organizational depth. With the departure of Ian Desmond and the continued fragility of Anthony Rendon, the Nationals will need a backup to the backup of Wilmer Difo for 2016.

Kieboom is also an addition to a catching corps that has been thinned by trades and the Rule 5 draft over the past few years. Like Bostick, he’s the backup to Pedro Severino.

Lee, of course, is a bit of a surprise given that he’s already been passed over for the Rule 5 and a good but not great 2015 regular season. But he’s still lefthanded and throws strikes (though he has yet to tame his tendency to issue walks) and will be the backup to Matt Grace as a situational southpaw.

As for projections, it might be safe to say that this trio will be teammates in Harrisburg next season with the players in front of them moving up (or returning) to Syracuse. But there’s a long offseason to go and Washington has a GM that “kinda, sorta” likes to make trades.

Nov 202014

For the first time since 2011, the Washington Nationals have added more than a couple players to its 40-man roster in preparation for next month’s Rule 5 draft. RHP A.J. Cole, IF Wilmer Difo, LHP Matt Grace, and OF Brian Goodwin were added this afternoon while RHP Ryan Mattheus (released) and IF Pedro Florimon (waived) were removed. Earlier this week, LHP Matt Purke was also released as was longtime backup backstop Jhonatan Solano.

Even F.P. Santangelo could have predicted the inclusion of Cole; that’s how obvious it was. A hard-throwing RHP is relatively easy to bury in an MLB bullpen, not to mention that GM Mike Rizzo traded for him in January 2013 some 13 months after dealing him away as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Cole figures to begin 2015 in AAA, but if history is any guide, a strong spring and/or injuries could have him making his MLB debut before Memorial Day.

Perhaps it’s more of an indictment against the other MI options than an endorsement of his future viability, though Wilmer Difo did about as much as a Low-A prospect could do in 2014, winning South Atlantic League MVP while earning the second annual Bob Boone award. The 22-y.o. posted a .315/.360/.470 line while showing both power (14HR) and speed (49SBs). Difo figures to begin next season in Potomac, though I’m sure his inclusion on the 40-man will spur speculation of a two-level promotion.

As noted in the previous post, Grace’s 2014 season earned him a place as a situational lefty and could be the next Aaron Barrett. He may not throw 95 mph but does generate a lot of ground balls (3.23 G/F ratio) and is tough on left-handed batters (just a .371 OPS). If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, look for him to return to Syracuse in 2015 and have a carry-on bag ready to go.

Brian Goodwin was once the heir apparent to Denard Span but now has Michael Taylor breathing down his neck. Injuries limited Goodwin to just 81 games last season, but having turned just 24 less than three weeks ago, it would seem that the Nats brass seem willing to let him get healthy in 2015 while also serving as insurance should Taylor falter. It will be interesting to see how the two (Goodwin & Taylor) will be used when they appear in the same outfield, though I’d be more surprised about seeing Goodwin in LF than Taylor in RF, given the latter’s cannon right arm.

Nov 212013

A couple of mild surprises this year as the Nationals dropped a pair of journeymen lefties in favor of adding RHP Aaron Barrett, LHP Sammy Solis, and OF Michael Taylor to the 40-man roster to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 draft next month.

Barrett was probably the lesser of the two surprises, given his age (almost 26) and function (reliever). As noted yesterday, Barrett seemed a possibility due to the precedent of Erik Davis a year ago, but with his merely average fastball velocity (low 90s) there was reason for doubt. His plus slider — rated as the best in the organization by Baseball America for two years’ running — was apparently deemed to valuable to risk losing.

Even without a strong AFL campaign, chances were Solis would have been protected. The question now is how much longer they’ll wait for him to develop into a starter, especially after not one but two lefthanded relievers were jettisoned. With zero AA experience, and only one year removed from Tommy John surgery, the odds are still good that he’ll pitch every fifth day in Harrisburg for at least a couple of months next season.

Taylor was a bit of a shock because there’s no question that his hitting tools are not major-league ready. It’s possible another team would have taken him, but it’s highly improbable they would have kept him. What now occurs to me — and should have previously — is that his addition gives the team leverage in any possible trade scenario involving either Denard Span or Brian Goodwin. Of course, Occam’s Razor also suggests that the team simply covets his skillset and wanted to eliminate any possible disruption to their plans for him in 2014.

Nov 012013

This morning, the Nationals officially confirmed what Steve Souza Jr. wrote to his followers on Twitter last night: The longtime Nationals farmhand has been added to the 40-man roster.

Of course, the move was more than a little telegraphed by his inclusion on the Mesa Solar Sox roster for the Arizona Fall League, but what was not known was whether he’d be added to the big club or if he’d made an agreement to re-sign as a minor-leaguer. Souza was due to become a six-year free agent on Monday. The move also protects the 24-y.o. from next month’s Rule 5 draft.

For those just joining us in progress, Souza has had a tumultuous ride through the minors, beginning as a 3rd-Rd. high-school pick out of Everett, WA in 2007 and seemingly hitting the wall in 2010 his third season at Low-A Hagerstown when he was suspended for PED use. As detailed in this long piece from the Seattle Times, Souza would actually fall further in 2011 before shedding the labels of (among others) draft bust over the past two seasons.

While for many there was a huge disconnect between the praise heaped upon Souza — by Nationals farm director Doug Harris in particular — it was evident, even in 2011, to folks who saw him play everyday that the five-tool tag was legitimate. Indeed, Souza has been a member of this site’s watchlist at three different positions: 3B in 2011, 1B in 2012, and in the outfield for 2013.
(Spoiler: He’ll prolly make it 2014, too)

Souza is currently posting a line of .360/.467/.400 with five RBI and nine SBs in seven AFL games. This past season, despite playing in just 77 of 142 games, he led the Harrisburg Senators in both SBs (20) and HRs (15) and was fourth in runs, walks and RBI.

Nov 212012

Waiting deep into the night to make the announcement, the Washington Nationals added RHPs Nathan Karns and Erik Davis to the 40-man roster in preparation for next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Karns, of course, was the expected selection — the Nationals Minor-League Pitcher of the Year, leader in minor-league wins, strikeouts, WHIP, and opponent batting average, not to mention the mustache. Injuries delayed the 2009 12th-Rd. pick’s ascent, with shoulder surgery sidelining him for 2010 and limiting him to 13 appearances in 2011, in which he went 3-2 with a 2.28 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and 59K in 55⅓ innings. This past season he went 11-4 between Hagerstown and Potomac with a 2.17 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and 148K in 116 innings. The Texan native turns 25 on Sunday.

Davis was the wildcard pick. Even with the benefit of hindsight (i.e. Rizzo’s habit of favoring guys that he acquired), this is still a mild shock. As many of the beat writers pointed out, Davis’s strong showing in the Dominican Winter League — 3-0, 0.56ERA, 16K in 16IP — was likely a predicating factor for the move. After finishing 2011 with a demotion from Harrisburg to Potomac (and even worse numbers in High-A than AA), Davis turned it around in 2012 with a 8-3, 2.71, 1.247 pitching line overall, with 40 appearances for Harrisburg and eight in Syracuse. The Stanford grad/native turned 26 last month.