Mar 072011
 

Bryce Harper came to bat twice in the eighth inning and twice he delivered a double to right field as part of a nine-run eighth as the Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros 14-9 this afternoon.

The second double of the inning gave Harper his two RBI and extended the Nationals lead from 11-8 to 13-8. He would attempt to steal third with two outs on the very first pitch to the next batter, coming around to score after a wild pitch and Kevin Barker double. Harper is now batting .308 for the spring.

Other notable prospects…

  • Danny Espinosa once again got the start at second base and went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI and a strikeout.
  • Derek Norris struck out in his lone plate appearance.
  • Yunesky Maya started, but struggled in his 2⅔ innings, allowing a run on a home run (five hits total), walking one and striking out one.
  • Cole Kimball went 2 innings and allowed a hit but struck out three
  • Ryan Mattheus allowed a run on two hits while pitching the ninth inning. He struck out one.

With the win, the Nationals improve to 5-3 and travel to Port St. Lucie tomorrow to face a split-squad Mets team. Brian Broderick, Atahualpa Severino & Adam Carr are expected to pitch in relief.

Mar 062011
 

Former prospect Ross Detwiler will be the talk of an otherwise abysmal game for the Nationals, who were shut out by the Atlanta Braves 5-0 on Sunday. Detwiler struck out five in his three innings of work and allowed one unearned run on one hit, all of which make a strong case for the 25-year-old as the #5 man in the rotation.

Just three Nats reached base — Michael Aubrey on a third-inning walk, Laynce Nix on a fifth-inning single, and Brian Bixler on a ninth-inning single. All three are longshots to make the Opening Day roster.

Danny Espinosa got the start again at second base but went 0-for-3 with strikeouts. Wilson Ramos also started at catcher and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. Defensively, Espinosa was the key cog in an 8-4-2 relay to gun down Jason Heyward.

Bryce Harper came off the bench and struck the ball well, but his sinking liner to left field was snagged by Martin Prado. Harper fielded both singles hit his way but had no official defensive chances.

With the loss, the Nationals drop to 4-3 for the spring and host the Astros tomorrow.

Mar 042011
 

Thanks to NatsNQ, we get a little vicarious visual while the rest of us are peering at the MLB.com GameDay app and our Twitter Feeds to follow the game today, which was a good one until the 9th inning when Atlanta broke open a 3-3 tie with three runs off Drew Storen to go up 6-3, eventually winning 6-4 over the Nationals.

As the headline suggests, what struck me today was the number of tweets mentioning Chris Marrero, who went 2-for-2 with a double to LF and an RBI single to RF, and praising him for more than just his bat. Put down your beverage before you spray your monitor…

Chris Marrero doesn’t look half bad at first base. He’s made a couple nice plays on unassisted grounders.

That’s MASN’s Ben Goessling, who also noted Marrero’s leaner/meaner physique by virtue of seeing a nutritionist this offseason. For the spring, Marrero is a perfect 4-for-4. Sure, it’s early, and it’s just a couple of games, but it’s good news nevertheless.

Other notable prospects…

  • Wilson Ramos got the start at catcher and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
  • Danny Espinosa started again at 2B and went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. He also helped turn a 4-6-3 DP.
  • Bryce Harper came off the bench and went 0-for-1 with a strikeout. Defensively, he threw out a runner at 2B but also misplayed a ball during the 9th.
  • Brian Broderick was the first man out of the bullpen, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out two while allowing one hit.

With the loss, the Nats fall to 3-2 for the Grapefruit campaign and travel tomorrow to Tampa to face the New York Yankees.

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.

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.

Nov 292010
 

The people have spoken, so here’s our obligatory Top 10 list of the Nationals batting prospects. Next will be the Top 10 Arms, and then a revisit to the watchlist. I don’t have the chutzpah to do letter graders or stars, so this is just my opinion on the ten hitting prospects that folks are watching and talking about. I’ll even throw in my Nigel Tufnel to answer the usual question, “Who just missed the list?”

Without further ado…

  1. Bryce Harper — Biggest question: How will he handle the adjustments that will be made to him, especially if he gets the Barry Bonds treatment.
  2. Derek Norris — Complaints about his defense are overblown because he can readily shift to another position if need be, but made significant improvements despite being hurt.
  3. Danny Espinosa — Two spring-training questions: Will the parent club tolerate his strikeouts? Will he get a chance to win the SS job?
  4. Wilson Ramos — Let’s hope he’s given the chance to win the job outright from Rodriguez, but a platoon is probably more likely.
  5. Chris Marrero — Rated this high because I think he’s viable trade bait and appears to be capable of hitting at the MLB level.
  6. Steve Lombardozzi — Steady, solid and reliable. Capable of leading off, but more likely to hit second or eighth.
  7. Michael Burgess — Will probably never hit for average, but the power potential, the OF arm, and the option to platoon him is something to consider
  8. J.P. Ramirez — Concerns about his foot speed, but both our Hagerstown contributors liked his power potential and I liked his tendency to post a good month following bad month all season long.
  9. Eury Perez — It’s no secret that I like the guys that can run and play small ball, and there are doubts about him being able to hit at the upper levels, but he’s the youngest of that prototype in full-season minors.
  10. Tyler Moore — Like Sickels, I’m concerned about what AA pitchers will do to him once they find his weaknesses, but his power is undeniable.

And, the Nigel Tufnel goes to… Rick Hague. That’s who I’d rank #11.

I’m sure folks will have lots to say in the comments…

Nov 202010
 

Too much to report before Monday, so it’s a weekend offseason special. Let’s dish on the Nats News…

RULE 5 DRAFT
As expected, the Nationals protected Chris Marrero. A little less expected, both Adam Carr and Cole Kimball were added to the 40-man. A mild shock: Brad Peacock was not. While the folks at NationalsArmRace overlooked Carr and favored Jeff Mandel and Brad Meyers, their rundown (linked) is still worth a look.

AFL CHAMPIONSHIP
This afternoon at 3 p.m. is the Arizona Fall League Championship. Michael Burgess is expected to start in RF, while Bryce Harper is slated to come off the bench — I’d expect Harper to pinch-hit for Burgess after he gets two at-bats, unless there’s a rally in the middle innings where Harper could come up and deliver a killshot. Sammy Solis will be the starting pitcher. Yours truly has set the DVR and will write up what he sees.

PROPS FROM MAYO
That would be from Jonathan Mayo from MLB.com, not the clinic. Harper, Derek Norris and Solis made the cut. And to shift away from the AFL momentarily, here’s a story about Danny Espinosa in case folks may have missed it.

Nov 162010
 

It’s been said that AAA is no longer where you’ll find the best prospects. As alluded to last week, some of this is because major-league teams now use AAA as an extension of its 40-man roster, i.e. it’s a taxi squad. But the 40-man roster has been in place since 1968, which begs the question: Why has this changed in the last decade or two? Unfortunately, there’s no pat answer.

My personal theory is that it stems from three developments that all happened in the 1990s: expansion (which created four more teams), the rebirth of independent baseball (which froze the number of affiliated teams at 160), and the advent of a three-man arbitration panel (which made it somewhat easier for players to “win” their cases).

Thus, it might be a little unfair to chastise the Syracuse Chiefs for having fewer prospects than an old maid. The landscape has changed such that there’s a financial incentive for teams to keep marginal major-leaguers (a.k.a. 4A’s) on board to fill holes and keep prospects down until they’re “really needed.” It’s become an annual rite of spring to discuss which prospects will be sent to AAA to avoid “Super Two” status, resulting in some rather comical attempts to deny it.

Thus, in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, I’m going to focus on the players that were league-average age or younger and were also among the upper third or so in terms of usage. But first, let’s do our look at the team as a whole against the rest of the league…

HITTING

TEAM AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Syracuse 4715 595 1190 110 487 1089 .252 .327 .387 .244 161
Lg. Avg. 4847 648 1274 127 455 1024 .263 .330 .410 .251 111

Italics = League Trailer
Bold = League Leader

PITCHING

TEAM IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1255⅔ 3.84 4.17 1.337 115 440 932 8.9 3.2 6.7 2.12
Lg. Avg. 1261⅔ 4.15 4.51 1.370 127 455 1024 9.1 3.2 7.3 2.25

Italics = League Trailer

A very similar pattern to the Harrisburg Senators in terms of hitting and pitching: upper-third for the latter, lower-third for the former, middle-of-the pack on defense in the biggest categories (runs scored, runs allowed, errors committed). Syracuse actually outperformed their pythagorean projection by five games. It’s not hard to pinpoint where that may have come from, as you’ll note that the Chiefs led the league in steals (and caught stealing) which is a hallmark of Trent Jewett’s teams: He likes to run (something to remember very shortly).

Unlike the Senators, the Syracuse Chiefs faded in the second half, as one might expect from a pitching staff that was tapped for injury replacements by the parent club. But in the new world order, that’s its purpose. It’s also fair to state that most of the players that were called up from the lower levels were either sent right back down (i.e. filling in) or were of the marginal variety that could, would, and were used interchangeably at AA and AAA.

That said, let’s look at the players that fit the mold of not-the-oldest (under league-average), and used a fair amount (roughly: 100PA, 30IP, with two exceptions). The full team statistics can be found here.

Name Age Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err PA GPA
Boomer Whiting 26 LF/CF 59/34 1.000 0 375 .246
Leonard Davis 26 LF/RF/3B/2B 47/30/13/8 .981 4 361 .256
Justin Maxwell 26 CF/RF 59/5 .966 5 272 .285
Pedro Lopez 26 SS/2B/3B/P 43/7/4/1 .960 8 170 .208
Danny Espinosa 23 SS/2B 17/7 .979 2 108 .273
Wilson Ramos 22 C 18 1.000 0 82 .277

With possible exception of Pedro Lopez, most of these names are quite familiar to followers of the Nationals farm system. The one that was probably the biggest surprise was obviously Boomer Whiting, who made the jump from A+ to AAA while taking up switch-hitting at the same time. As aforementioned, Jewett likes his guys to run and Whiting thrived in a situation where he was asked to do what he does best.

On to the pitchers, in our abbreviated format..

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Shairon Martis 23 27/27 8-7, 0 4.09 152 156 60 99 1.421 2 2
Erik Arnesen 26 21/18 6-8, 0 3.95 107 107 31 70 1.290 7 8
Jeff Mandel 25 25/15 5-6, 0 4.75 94⅔ 120 33 60 1.616 6 1
Josh Wilkie 25 53/1 4-4, 8 2.45 69⅔ 57 22 62 1.134 2 3
Collin Balester 24 35/5 3-3, 0 5.87 69 74 32 52 1.536 3 7
Atahualpa Severino 25 54/0 6-3, 1 3.34 67⅓ 60 29 46 1.322 5 1
Stephen Strasburg 21 6/6 4-1, 0 1.08 33⅓ 18 7 38 0.750 0 1
Adam Carr 26 16/0 0-1, 9 2.08 21⅔ 16 10 19 1.200 0 1

Stephen Strasburg and Collin Balester are the outliers among this bunch. Strasburg is one of those “Super Two” cases discussed previously. Balester may very well prove to be that rare case of a kid that was rushed up too soon but didn’t actually kill his career. But the rest are career minor-leaguers that are on the cusp of a cup of coffee.

Atahualpa Severino is already on the 40-man roster, and it would appear that Adam Carr and Cole Kimball are auditioning in the AFL for inclusion as well. Josh Wilkie is a very dark horse, but given the Joe Bisenius experience, it would appear that hard-thrower has the edge over the soft-tosser, even one that gave up just two home runs this past season, and five over his last 202 innings (since 2008).

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LIST

The singular is no accident; I’m plucking five out of the total of 11 bats and arms above that still have rookie status (the site does have “prospects” in the name after all). As the name suggests, it’s a list of five guys that I think could possibly “get the call” and/or get put on the 40-man roster. Without further ado:

1. Wilson Ramos
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Adam Carr
4. Atahualpa Severino
5. Josh Wilkie

Nov 092010
 

In the upper minors, there is no half system, which makes the 2010 Harrisburg Senators playoff run even more impressive. At the halfway mark, their record stood at 34-37, more than a dozen games back and in fourth place. Down the stretch, they would go 43-28 and shave that lead to five games to earn the Eastern League’s Western Division wild card, beating out Bowie and Akron by a game and two games respectively.

The Senators would lose to the eventual Eastern League champions, the Altoona Curve — a team that featured several players with playoff experience in winning the 2009 Carolina League championship with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Like Potomac, this team gelled at just the right time, and got some significant help with the addition of two starters — Ryan Tatusko and Tanner — that would become known as “The Guz Two” because they were acquired from Texas in the Christian Guzman trade.

You know the drill: Let’s look at how the Senators compared to the Eastern League…

HITTING

TEAM AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Harrisburg 4726 598 1188 121 398 948 .251 .314 .390 .239 86
Lg. Avg. 4755 656 1232 113 470 1008 .259 .332 .397 .249 97

Italics = League Trailer

PITCHING

TEAM IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Harrisburg 1252.0 3.51 3.94 1.255 102 400 1108 8.4 2.9 8.0 2.77
Lg. Avg. 1244.0 4.21 4.63 1.370 113 470 1008 8.9 3.4 7.3 2.14

Bold = League Leader

As we just saw from our most recent World Champions, great pitching can carry mediocre-to-poor hitting and the Senators were no different. Offensively, the Sens were in the bottom third of the league for runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, SBs, walks, OBP, and SLG percentage. They were middle of the pack for HRs and triples, and surprisingly for a team that was dead-last in BBs, they stuck out the third-fewest.

What this team could do well, however, was pitch. They managed to lead the league in ERA despite their #2 pitcher (in terms of IP, of course) sporting a 5.80 ERA. Seven of the Top 16 pitchers had ERAs below 3.00. As you can see from the bolded categories, they led the league in some of the most important ones: runs allowed, earned runs allowed, and ratio, and were second in baserunners allowed (WHIP) and walks, and third in strikeouts. In fact, we almost had a microcosm of Harrisburg vs. the Eastern League on the same staff, with Jeff Mandel as the former and Jason Jones as the latter.

In terms of batters, the stalwarts of the 2009 Potomac Nationals — Chris Marrero, Danny Espinosa and Jesus Valdez — were the top three batters in terms of plate appearances, runs, and RBIs. But beyond that it was the usual mix of formers, might-haves, were-it-nots (whatever euphemism you’d prefer for the “other guys” on the team) that were complementary parts, of which the best can be said is that they played league-average defense, with the exception of the catchers, who led the league in baserunners caught and worked with the pitchers to tie for the fewest stolen bases allowed.

As in previous season reviews, let’s look at the Top 16 (in terms of Plate Appearances or Innings Pitched) which puts the cutoff at 100PA and 32⅓ IP. The full team statistics can be found here.

Name Age Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err PA GPA
Chris Marrero 21 1B 129 .984 18 577 .270
Jesus Valdez 25 RF/LF 67/58 .990 2 569 .242
Danny Espinosa 23 SS 98 .964 15 434 .266
Brad Coon 27 CF 107 .996 1 413 .232
Michael Martinez 27 2B/OF/SS 83/17/3 .969 14 387 .234
Marvin Lowrance 25 LF 61 .978 2 357 .283
Jhontan Solano 24 C 89 .993 5 345 .225
Tim Pahuta 27 3B/1B 50/12 .956 9 303 .208
Edgardo Baez 24 RF/CF/LF 52/22/7 .983 3 300 .235
Josh Johnson 24 SS/2B/3B 35/19/17 .977 6 258 .280
Ofilio Castro 26 3B/2B 57/10 .981 3 225 .197
Adam Fox 28 3B/2B/LF 36/5/1 .875 13 171 .175
Leonard Davis 26 OF/IF 27/8 .952 4 123 .243
Steve Lombardozzi 21 2B 27 .971 3 118 .299
Sean Rooney 24 C 30 .982 14 109 .165
Devin Ivany 27 C/1B 24/1 .988 3 100 .297

Believe it or not, the average age of the batters (24.7) wasn’t that far off from the league average (24.3) nor were they the oldest in the league. With three 22-year-olds (Norris, Lombardozzi, and Burgess) expected to begin the season in 2011, that number may trend downward unless more than one of them gets the bump to Syracuse. Just six of these sixteen were above the league-average for GPA, as you’d expect for team as a whole being in the bottom third of the league. But the good news was the pitching…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Tom Milone 23 27/27 12-5 2.85 158 161 23 155 1.165 4 7
Aaron Thompson 23 26/26 4-13, 0 5.80 136⅔ 164 53 95 1.588 5 5
Andrew Kown 27 15/15 6-4, 0 3.83 84⅔ 83 19 47 1.205 3 1
Hassan Pena 25 48/0 2-2, 1 4.29 71⅓ 73 30 64 1.444 6 8
Rafael Martin 26 21/14 5-4, 0 3.61 67⅓ 55 26 58 1.203 1 6
Cole Kimball 24 38/10 5-1, 12 2.33 54 33 31 75 1.185 5 13
Jack Spradlin 25 39/1 1-1, 1 4.09 50⅔ 51 18 49 1.362 4 2
Adam Carr 26 36/0 6-1, 5 3.04 50⅓ 43 14 48 1.132 1 3
Chuck James 28 21/2 8-0, 2 1.59 45⅓ 28 7 50 0.772 6 3
Erik Arnesen 26 13/5 2-2, 2 2.81 41⅔ 36 7 35 1.032 1 1
John Lannan 25 7/7 1-4, 0 4.20 40⅔ 49 10 28 1.451 4 0
Jeff Mandel 25 7/7 1-4, 0 3.82 40 37 13 27 1.250 2 1
Brad Peacock 22 7/7 2-2, 0 4.66 38⅔ 33 22 30 1.422 0 0
Ryan Tatusko 25 6/6 3-1, 0 1.72 36⅔ 30 13 36 1.173 1 1
Tanner Roark 23 6/6 1-1, 0 2.50 36 35 9 33 1.222 0 0
Ross Detwiler 24 7/7 2-2, 0 2.48 32⅔ 38 7 31 1.378 2 1

There’s not much that I haven’t said already about the top dog on the pitching staff, Tom Milone. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Sickels, BA, and the scouts at MLBA rate him this time around, now that he’s put up the numbers at the level that commands attention outside the prospect universe. Aaron Thompson was his counterweight in terms of affecting the team’s numbers as a group, and is likely to repeat this level in ’11, along with Brad Peacock and Tanner Roark.

Ryan Tatusko is the best candidate to join Milone at Syracuse next season, but beyond that is guessing game. Given the modern usage of AAA as a taxi squad, much will depend on the FAs that get signed between now and this spring. As mentioned in the comments, we’re still not at the point where the AA team has more prospects than organizational guys. While that will improve next year with the influx from Potomac, I expect to look over the ’11 Opening Day Roster and see a fair number of ’84s and ’85s in the DOB column.

Obviously, there’s some overlap with Potomac and some AFL bias in these lists. And like last week, naming a fifth bat is perfunctory. Johnson gets the nod because he’s versatile and handles the bat well. It’s no secret that next week will be even more of a, um, crapshoot when it comes to this part of the review.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS

Batters
1. Danny Espinosa
2. Chris Marrero
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Michael Burgess
5. Josh Johnson

Pitchers
1. Tom Milone
2. Cole Kimball
3. Brad Peacock
4. Adam Carr
5. Tanner Roark

Oct 082010
 

Not surprisingly, just one Nationals farmhand made the cut for Baseball America’s Top 20 Prospects of the Eastern League: Danny Espinosa.

What did surprise me was this characterization of Espinosa’s defense in the scouting report:

Though Espinosa played exclusively shortstop at Double-A, scouts and managers agree he fits better at second base, where he mostly played in the majors. His infield actions aren’t quite good enough for a big league [sic] shortstop, but he has a chance to be a plus defender with a strong arm at second.

Whether this is kowtowing to the Nats’ decision to play the superior shortstop out of position or not is subject to debate. What’s more pleasing to read is that while the scouts still believe he’s a candidate to strike out frequently, they’re liking the power that first came on the scene in ’09, surprising nearly everyone.

Going into 2010, Espinosa’s task was to prove his power surge at Potomac was not a fluke, and clearly he’s succeeded. Now the scouts are predicting that he’s capable of hitting .260 to .270 with 15-20 HRs. Fun fact: Espinosa was one of three 20/20 players in the minors this past season.

As always, I’ll pass along any Nats-related comments I spot in the BA chat.

UPDATE: Here’s the lone Nat question in the BA chat…

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess make your short list? Your thoughts on both at this point?

John Manuel: I asked one scout who’s better defensively at 1B, Adam Dunn or Marrero, and he answered Marrero, but he had to think about it. That tells you what you need to know on Marrero’s defense. As my son would say, he’s a 5 for strat-o-matic purposes. Burgess didn’t qualify, but I’d be leery of his big hack-no contact approach anyway.