Mar 032011
 

OK, so maybe I’m a day late on the Dr. Seuss peg, but the Nationals were most definitely a dollar short on Thursday, falling to the St. Louis Cardinals 7-5 for their first Spring Training loss in 2011.

Derek Norris’s solo HR in the top of the 8th was the highlight on the prospect front, taking a bit of the sting off an ugly fourth inning that saw Garrett Mock serve give up five runs in two-thirds of an inning on two hits and three walks.

Danny Espinosa’s error helped prolong the five-run fourth, as he started again at 2B and went 1-for-3 with a stolen base. Wilson Ramos was the DH and went 2-for-3 with a runs scored and an RBI.

Other notable prospects…

  • Bryce Harper went 0-for-2, lowering his batting average to .143
  • Jhonatan Solano went 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter for Ramos.

With the loss, the Nats drop to 3-1 for the spring. They return to Viera for a split-squad game against the Braves tomorrow. Over the weekend, the Nats travel to Tampa to visit the Yankees and then rematch against the Braves on Sunday, which will also be the first MASN telecast. The first round of cuts is expected after Saturday’s game, setting up the possibility for Harper to be sent to minor-league camp.

Speaking of which, minor-league pitchers and catchers are due to report tomorrow while position players are scheduled to report on Tuesday.

Mar 022011
 

Yunesky Maya, one of several candidates for the back end of the Washington Nationals rotation, made his case with two scoreless innings as the Washington Nationals doubled up the Florida Marlins, 8-4.

Maya struck out three and allowed two hits, featuring his curveball and throwing 23 pitches, 16 for strikes. He also started a 1-6-3 double play in his second inning of work (the fifth) and was credited with a hold.

Offensively, the Nationals were paced by another four-run outburst, this time in the second inning and highlighted by a three-run blast by Roger Bernadina.

No prospects got the start, as projected bench player Jerry Hairston Jr. manned 2B instead of  Danny Espinosa and non-roster invitee Michael Aubrey took 1B as Adam LaRoche once again was the DH.

Other notable prospects…

  • Bryce Harper drew a walk and scored a run while pinch-hitting for Laynce Nix in his first at-bat and flew out to deep LCF in his second at-bat.
  • Wilson Ramos followed Jesus Flores as the team’s backstop and went 0-for-1. No baserunners attempt to steal against him.
  • Atahualpa Severino threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning and finished the inning with a caught-looking strikeout.

Tomorrow, a split-squad team travels to Jupiter, Florida to visit the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mar 012011
 

The beauty (and agony) of baseball is that every day is a new chance to forget yesterday. After striking out twice yesterday, Bryce Harper buried his inglorious two-K debut and served up an opposite-field single in his first at-bat today as the Nationals escaped a shaky 9th to beat the New York Mets, 5-3. Harper went 1-for-2 overall and fielded two doubles, the second of which was not fielded cleanly according to NatsNQ (via Twitter).

Danny Espinosa started again at second base, with Chris Marrero at first base, filling in for DH Adam LaRoche (shoulder soreness). Espinosa knocked in two with a two-run HR in the bottom of the Nats’ four-run fourth inning and laid down the tag on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out DP in the previous half-inning. Marrero singled twice in two at-bats out of the #9 hole and did not make an error.

Other notable prospects…

  • Corey Brown once again spelled Nyjer Morgan in CF, rapping an RBI single in the bottom of the 7th, but left the game after a collision at home plate while trying to score on an grounder to 1B by Harper.
  • Derek Norris replaced Ivan Rodriguez and went 1-for-2, popping to short in his first at-bat and singling to 3B in his second AB
  • Cole Kimball pitched a scoreless sixth inning, walking one and striking out one. The stadium’s radar gun was inoperative so no word on how hard he was throwing.

The Nationals remain in Viera tomorrow for an afternoon tilt against the Florida Marlins.

Feb 282011
 

The Nationals #1 draft pick Bryce Harper made his 2011 Spring Training debut and as the pic and the headline says, twice the phenom went down on strikes — swinging at a breaking pitch in the dirt the first time on an 0-2 count and missing a 1-2 fastball in his second AB. He had come into the game as a pinch-runner for DH Matt Stairs.

The Washington Nationals won the game 9-3, highlighted by a pair of two-run home runs by Michael Morse in the 7th and 9th innings, both of which preceded Harper’s strikeouts.

Wilson Ramos got the start behind the plate and went 2-for-2 with a double and two runs scored, while Danny Espinosa went 1-for-2 with HBP while playing 2B. No baserunners tried to steal against Ramos while Espinosa started a 4-6-3 double play in the second inning.

Other notable prospects…

  • Corey Brown replaced Nyjer Morgan in CF and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
  • Brian Broderick pitched the 6th inning and allowed one hit while striking out one.
  • Adam Carr finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning and also struck out one.

The two teams play each other tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. in Viera.

Feb 232011
 

Yes, I know you’re shocked, but the 18-year-old Bryce Harper, the #1 overall pick in the 2010 First Year Player draft, has topped the 2011 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects.

Joining Mr. Harper on the list are Danny Espinosa (#66), Derek Norris (#72),  and Wilson Ramos (#96).

Harper, who has had the Natmosphere atwitter since his arrival earlier this week, is expected to come off the bench in the first Spring Training game against the Mets this coming Monday, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson.

Last year, the Nationals planted three farmhands onto the Top 10o, with Stephen Strasburg (#2), Norris (#38), and Drew Storen (#92) in 2010 while in 2009, Jordan Zimmermann was the sole National on the list at #41 overall. Previous Top-100’s include Collin Balester (#95, 2007; #86, 2008), Ross Detwiler (#51, 2007), Chris Marrero (#27, 2008), Ryan Zimmerman (#15, 2006) and Mike Hinckley (#29, 2005).

Harper is expected by most to begin 2011 in Low-A Hagerstown; Norris is expected to be the backstop in AA Harrisburg; Espinosa is expected to be the team’s starting second baseman and Wilson Ramos is reportedly competing with the Nats’ 2006 Rule 5 pick Jesus Flores for the backup catcher’s job behind incumbent Pudge Rodriguez.

Feb 222011
 

So let’s get it out of the way, shall we? The Nats brass has been hinting at Hagerstown for Bryce Harper’s regular-season debut since last fall, but I’m not buying it. Why? Because the same thing was said about Strasburg last year and Potomac, but also because it will make for a move that’s part PR, part psychological ploy.

What I believe will happen is that Harper will play much like he did in the AFL and he’ll “earn” his first promotion right out of Spring Training. The spin will be that “He proved to us that it would just be a waste of time,” or something to that effect. But the reality is if they want him to “pay his dues,” slotting him one level below where he belongs instead of two will suffice.

Now before folks accuse me of self-interest, let me remind you that I was actually relieved that Strasburg didn’t come to Potomac last year. Sure, I missed out on seeing one of the great ones up close, but I also missed the throngs of overgrown fanboys. If you infer any animus, it’s to those folks, not young Mr. Harper.

Now enough waxing Oblio, let’s get back to the point. Here’s my take on the position players that will begin in Potomac this year:

CA – Sandy Leon
1B – Justin Bloxom
2B – Jeff Kobernus
SS – Rick Hague
3B – Steven Souza
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Eury Perez
OF – Bryce Harper
DH – J.P. Ramirez
BCA – Sean Rooney
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BIF – Stephen King
BOF – Chris Curran
BOF – Brett Newsome

I’m much less confident about this group versus yesterday’s. Kobernus and Hague could just as easily start at Hagerstown, but I’m slotting them here because of their age. Organizational guys like Sean Rooney and Brett Newsome may not break camp… or even go. Ramirez and Hood both need playing time in the OF, but I’m projecting that they’ll split time until Harper is promoted. This is generally the last roster to be set, but I anticipate very few holdovers from last season.

As always, let’s discuss in the comments.

Feb 212011
 

Now that we know who’s in the best shape of their life, who’s reported early, and who’s having visa problems, we can start to think about the minors and who’s going to end up where.

There’s an interesting dichotomy early in the 2011 Washingtion Nationals Spring Training — plenty of competition for pitchers, but supposedly less so for position players, with only LF and possibly CF up for grabs. While I’m not sure if I agree with that (particularly with Riggleman’s proclamation that Pudge Rodriguez is the starting catcher), I’ll reserve judgment until they actually play some games.

As folks have noted in the comments, the high minors (Harrisburg and Syracuse) are going to be very difficult to guess. It’s nearly a given that predicting pitchers is a fool’s errand, and looking over our watchlist, I can only honestly place six position players at Syracuse and Harrisburg. That’s Chris Marrero and Corey Brown (sorry, Peric) in New York and Steve Lombardozzi, Josh Johnson, Tyler Moore, and Derek Norris in Pennsylvania.

But I do think we can throw darts in terms of the position players in the low, full-season minors.

With that in mind, here’s my preseason gander at the Hagerstown, starters first (“B” before traditional positional abbreviations = Bench):

CA – David Freitas
1B – Mills Rogers
2B – Adrian Sanchez
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Blake Kelso
OF – Randloph Oduber
OF – J.R. Higley
OF – Wade Moore
DH – Russell Moldenhauer
BCA – Wilfri Pena
BIF – Justino Cuevas
BIF – Michael Taylor
BOF – Justin Miller
BOF – J.R. Higley

Are there arguments to be made here? Of course there are. Moldenhauer might finally be put at 1B and Rogers could be used as a super-sub. Higley might not lose his job. Taylor might go to XST to get a little more seasoning (he turns 20 late in March). And of course the bluster about Bryce Harper opening the season in Rome on April could actually turn out to be true, but as you can see, I’m not fiddling nor is Georgia on my mind.

As always, discuss in the comments. Next up, a guess at Potomac.

Feb 072011
 

Last week, the estimable Brian Oliver graced us with his thoughts about the state of the Nationals Farm system, citing the recently arrived Baseball America Prospect Handbook and the #14 organizational ranking for the Nationals. This week, I’d like to take some time discussing some of the other highlights from the book.

While I still think BA is a bit of a cheerleader, and that Sickels remains the gold standard, I’ve come to the conclusion that the handbook is a lot like the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” issue: You can berate its status, lament its influence, but you just can’t ignore it. I may not always agree with them, but I will say that my opinion of BA has changed for the better.

The book ranks the Top 30 prospects. Two of the 2011 Top 30 were traded away with the acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny (Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris). As the headline suggests, I’m breaking up the list to have multiple posts and discussion fodder . But before I do that, let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 30:

Graduated (6) — Stephen Strasubrg, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Justin Maxwell, Luis Atilano, Roger Bernadina

Lost On Waivers (3) — Aaron Thompson, Juan Jaime, Marco Estrada

Traded (3) — Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris, Graham Hicks

Retired (1) — Will Atwood

Dropped Out (5) — J.R. Higley, Jack McGeary, Atahualpa Severino, Adrian Nieto, Jeff Mandel

If you’re following the parenthetical numbers and doing the math, then you know that 14 of this year’s Top 30 prospects are holdovers (12 if you exclude Burgess and Morris) and there are 16 new names on the list. For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the two organizations that were above and below the Nationals #24 organization ranking last year. The #23 Chicago White Sox (this year’s #27) also had 14 holdovers from 2010 to 2011 while the #25 New York Mets (this year’s #20) had 18 holdovers.

Clearly, the newcomers Nats’ Top 30 are the difference, but I think it’s fair to say that’s not just simply the addition of a certain 18-year-old phenom. As Baseball America put it: “Last year, the Nationals system consisted of Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond and a few other contributors. This year’s system is Bryce Harper, Derek Norris, Danny Espinosa and the 2010 draft class [italics mine], but the top is heavy enough to put the Nats in the first half of the rankings.”

Tomorrow, I’ll break down the 16 “new guys” in terms of how they were acquired, but without further ado, here’s the first 15 of the Baseball America Top 30 Prospects for the Washington Nationals…

  1. Bryce Harper, OF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Wilson Ramos, C
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Cole Kimball, RHP
  8. Eury Perez, OF
  9. Chris Marrero, OF
  10. Brad Peacock, RHP
  11. Yunesky Maya, RHP
  12. Destin Hood, OF
  13. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  14. Rick Hague, SS
  15. Robbie Ray, LHP
Jan 262011
 

As the pic suggests, that would be #19, like Paul Hardcastle’s sole U.S. hit single. Maybe that’s not something to get all that excited about… until you consider that just two years ago Mr. Law had Washington at #29 and last year, it was #23.

Law describes this as “a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM,” pointing to spending beyond the top pick, as our guest columnist Marcus Wyche wrote yesterday. My point in dedicating a post to this is that the folks that believe Law “has it in for the Nats” — much like the Lieutenant Dans — need to reconsider their prejudices.

Tomorrow, Law ranks his Top 100 prospects, which may get some play here tomorrow. Bryce Harper getting ranked #3 by MLB.com for its Top 50 didn’t because quite frankly it felt like I’d done a post like that recently.

Jan 212011
 

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post like this, but the usual “filler stories” have been wanting. The past two BA transaction updates have been wanting, either reporting no news or news that we already had reported. Given that it took nearly two full weeks for the J.D. Martin move to make room for Adam LaRoche, I’m not holding my breath to find out who else will be cut or outrighted (but props to SpringfieldFan to keeping the Big Board up to date).

Since we’re not quite at the point where I can jump into parent-club fray under the guise of spring training — in a more perfect world, I’d be going to Viera for a week, but the budget (both monetary and spousal tolerance) isn’t there — I thought I’d pass along a few links with some commentary.

All three books have been ordered, so the anticipated posts of what the experts think are forthcoming. But it’s useful to see what other online folks think outside our little bubble, even if it’s under the dreaded auspice of rankings.

Fangraphs listed its Top 10 Nats prospects, with only one real surprise: J.P. Ramirez as its #10 pick. Our spies will feel some validation when they read this:

His ticket to the Majors is definitely tied to his bat. He’s not a speedy player by any means, which hampers him on the base paths and in the field. His arm is also average-at-best and he’ll be limited to left field.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Bryce Harper as the #2 OF prospect, which thus far has raised a couple of hackles, but is a good example of the hair-splitting that I can’t stand about rankings. Why wouldn’t you rank a five-tool guy with 800+ professional PAs ahead of a kid that has less than 40 (counting the AFL as official, which it isn’t)? I took that to mean: Wow, that must mean Mike Trout is pretty damn good.

Finally, the folks over at www.prospectjunkies.com have been making their Top 10’s, and guess what? They rank Harper the #1 OF prospect. Derek Norris comes in as their #7 catching prospect. (For those of you wondering, they’ve been sour on Ramos as a hitter, which is fair as you can see they value offense more than defense) while Danny Espinosa comes in as their #9 shortstop

Now, if history is any guide, now that I’ve done a post-to-keep-the-site-fresh, naturally something else will happen today…