Jun 272013
 

Bryce Harper steps to the plate in the bottom of the 1st

Perhaps it was the season in microcosm — minus the rehab appearance by Bryce Harper, of course — as the P-Nats got good starting pitching, uneven bullpen work, and timely hitting in a 6-5 win over Myrtle Beach.

All eyes of course were on the 20-year-old Bryce Harper and he did not disappoint, launching a towering flyball in his second at-bat that hit the first level of signage above and beyond the right field wall. He was originally scheduled to play LF, but switched to DH shortly before gametime as storms swept through the region, though it did not appear as if any significant rainfall had accumulated.

Harper’s HR was the second of the evening. The first was Adrian Nieto’s, a solo blast that cleared all three tiers of signage in the second inning.

Brian Rauh got the spot start in place of Taylor Hill, and filled in admirably with four innings of one-hit ball, walking none and striking out three. He was to be followed by Brian Broderick, who warmed up in the bottom of the 4th and took the mound in the 5th but left during warmups, clutching his right forearm.

David Fischer was summoned on short notice to take over and seemed none the worse for wear in his first inning of work, walking two and striking out two but allowing no hits. The second inning, however, was another story as a hit batsmen, a generously scored single, a walk, a triple, and another single sent him to the proverbial showers with no outs.

Greg Holt let in the runner he inherited with an errant pickoff throw and a sacrifice fly to finish the 6th and pitched around a leadoff single and one-out double — thanks in no small part to Nieto gunning down the leadoff hitter — in the 7th for two scoreless innings.

Down 5-2 in the 8th, the P-Nats began one of their patented runs. Three straight singles by Michael Taylor, Nieto (who went 4-for-4), and Caleb Ramsey cut the deficit to 5-3. Following a Cutter Dykstra strikeout, Adrian Sanchez beat out a double-play ball while Mike Gilmartin drew the two-out walk to load the bases.

Francisco Soriano tied the game with a two-run single up the middle while Billy Burns plated the go-ahead run with a double to left, with Soriano getting thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

Richie Mirowski, who had taken over for Holt in the 8th, set ‘em down 1-2-3 in the 9th to get his 6th win of the season.

The series and homestand concludes tonight with a matchup of Ivan Pineyro (0-0, 9.64) vs. Victor Payano (5-4, 4.41)

Mar 022013
 

Highlighted by a three-run double from Carlos Rivero, the Nationals rallied for five runs in the top of the 8th and held off the Braves in 9th for a 6-5 win on Friday night.

Five straight batters reached base, starting with a Jhonatan Solano single, a Eury Perez single, a walk from Anthony Rendon, an RBI single by Will Rhymes, and an RBI walk from Steve Souza. After a Zach Walters popup, Rivero emptied the bases with a shot off the fence in left-center. [Insert out of options mention here]

The outburst made a winner out of Fernando Abad, who pitched the seventh and gave up a hit but no runs while striking out two. Cole Kimball tossed his third shutout inning of the spring for the “H,” giving up a walk but setting down two on strikes. Jeremy Accardo was knocked around for four hits in the 9th but allowed just a run, thanks in no small part to a great stop from Rhymes with two out that kept the tying run on third.

Jordan Zimmermann made his second start and gave up two runs on five hits over three innings. Working on his changeup, Zimmerman threw 29 of 35 pitches for strikes and walked none. Bryce Harper went deep for the first time this pring, while Jason Heyward swatted his third big fly to give the AP copy editor the easy headline.

Back to “our guys.” Four of ‘em got the start — Eury Perez (1-for-4, R, K) in right field , Chris Marrero (1-for-3) at first base, Cory Brown (0-for-2, K) in left field, and Sandy Leon (0-for-2, K) at catcher. Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did:

  • Rendon 0-for-1, R, BB at SS
  • Souza 0-for-0, BB, RBI as PR-RF
  • Walters 0-for-1 as PH-DH
  • Rivero 1-for-1, 2B, 3RBI as PH-3B
  • Skole 0-for-1, K as PR-1B
  • Jimmy Van Ostrand 0-for-2 at LF
  • Solano 1-for-2, R at C

It’s back to day play for the Nats as they visit the Cardinals this afternoon at 1 p.m.

Feb 102013
 

Like a year ago, I’m anticipating a spring training that’s going to have very little drama in terms of the minor leaguers.

As for (melo)drama overall? Well, the heightened expectations coming off a 98-win season, Davey Johnson’s “World Series or Bust” proclamation, the revelation of Danny Espinosa playing with a torn rotator cuff, and of course, the whole cloud of suspicion hanging over Gio Gonzalez

Yeah, there might be a few instances in which the game played that day will be an afterthought.

So what does this mean for us?

Unlike last year, there’s no Bryce Harper madness. Oh, I’m sure if Anthony Rendon has a hot start there will be a drumbeat for him, perhaps even the suggestion of him replacing Espinosa as the incumbent second baseman, but I think the best that his fans can hope for is a ticket to Syracuse instead of Harrisburg. That is possible, of course, especially if Carlos Rivero is traded away (likely) or makes the 25-man roster as a reserve (less likely) because he is out of options.

There will be some interest, of course, in how and where Christian Garcia will pitch this year. Inside the Natmosphere, there’s been blather talk of him becoming a starter; outside of it, most folks seem to be aware that the track record for multiple-TJers is much more favorable towards relievers. In either case, someone might want to have a chat with him:

I have no idea. Wherever they want to put me to play I am okay with it. Whatever I can help the team, any spot they need help with I would love to help in any way I can. So if it is starting, relieving, whatever it is.

Unfortunately for Garcia, he has options left (three) which could lead to something perverse like being him sent down in favor of Henry “What’s That White Thing In Front of the Catcher?” Rodriguez. Likewise for Erik Davis (three), Cole Kimball (two) and as we discovered last November, Ryan Perry still has one option left. Obviously, much of the excitement for 2013 stems from how strong and deep the Nationals pitching staff looks like on paper, never mind the whole Stephen whatshisname thing.

Corey Brown and Eury Perez are going to have a tough time beating out Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore for an OF spot, unless Chad Tracy gets hurt or shows sign of decline. Given his support from Johnson, his status as a Rizzo draftee, and his contract, it’s probably safe to bet Tracy won’t get cut in March. Still, with his multiple sports hernias, Brown and Perez do have youth and health on their side.

The signing of Chris Snyder as an insurance policy for Wilson Ramos does not bode well for Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano. While Snyder reportedly has an “out” clause if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, he’s also an Article XX-B free agent — essentially, he has enough MLB service time to qualify for a $100,000 roster bonus if he begins the season with Syracuse and can still opt out June 1st.

Translation: If Ramos needs more time, the Nats are not going to start 2013 with a rookie as the backup.

Finally, whither Chris Marrero? There’s been chatter that he’ll be traded in Spring Training. With Tyler Moore ahead of him, and Marrero’s defensive limitations, it’s certainly possible that an American League club might be interested. There are contingencies at AAA if Marrero leaves (Mike Costanzo). But what kind of return he’d net for the Nats seems negligible at this point. Seems more likely that Marrero will start in Syracuse in the hopes of proving his health and productivity.

As always, my spring training focus is to post from the minors point of view for as long as it seems reasonable. Your mileage may vary ;-)

Dec 302012
 

12 from '12Thanks to our handy-dandy multiplication table, you can see that the finish of Year Three equals 36 months of NationalsProspects.com. It’s time for the annual look at the year that was, a staple of news during the end of the year no matter what the medium.

Last year in this piece, I remarked about how the system was in a state of transition, away from the outsized hopes of “The Coming Thing” and towards the more practical promise of steady player development, where the bets are hedged and the risks spread more evenly. Don’t get me wrong… there’s still some big names — Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito — but the expectations are lower* than they were for Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.
*Before you disagree, ask yourself if you’re depending on any of those guys to be playing in D.C. before next September.

Nope, things have changed when it comes to the pressure for the “baby Nats” to become “Big Nats.” Winning nearly a hundred games instead of losing more than a hundred will do that.

Speaking for myself, I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. I’d be lying if I claimed that I paid as close attention to the big boys as I do the kids… especially when all seven affiliates are in action. But it makes writing pieces like this easier to do, too.

With that, let’s delve into twelve (hey, that rhymes!) stories from the 2012 season in the Nationals minors.

Bryce Harper Comes to D.C.
There was never a question of whether — only when — Harper would get the call. The Lt. Dans (nee The Lerners Are Cheap) were sure that the Nats would wait until June to avoid “Super Two,” but were once again proven to have no legs to stand on when the promotion came in late April instead of late May or early June. Still late enough to ensure team control through 2018, mind you. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure if this was the plan all along or if injuries were indeed the reason for the early summons.

Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, too
In keeping with the theme of transition, it would seem that 2011 — when Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos made the club out of spring training as starters — was an exception. In 2012, the drama was whether or not a rookie could make the club as a bench player. Lombardozzi did just that, “proving” the narrative that versatility and fundamentals can be more valuable than the sum of the rest of his game. Unlike Harper, injuries were most definitely a factor in helping Moore make it after all. Of course, it helps to have a knack for getting the big hit off bench, too.

Sandy Leon Injured in MLB Debut
The Nats’ ballyhooed catching depth was put to the test in 2012. Not one but two injuries paved the way for Sandy Leon, who got hurt in the fourth inning of his major-league debut — two days after Wilson Ramos went down for the season and about three weeks after Jhonatan Solano went out with what turned out to be a neck injury. Thankfully, the chain of injuries stopped with Carlos Maldonado. The Nats would dip into that depth again in August, trading David Freitas to the Oakland A’s to get Kurt Suzuki.

Four Nats Nailed for Drug Violations
Perhaps it’s some small comfort that these were merely “drugs of abuse” instead of steroids, but the Nats have yet to go a year without a minor-leaguer being suspended. Zech Zinicola was suspended in January, Josh Wilkie in June, along with Josh Johnson and Rafael Martin, who were merely “disciplined.” The suspension ultimately “earned” Wilkie his release while Zinicola, who had spent 2011 in Syracuse, spent an abbreviated 2012 in Harrisburg.

Gambling On Injuries, Part One
The Nats were — and as we saw last week, still — praised heavily for spending big and gambling on talented players with health questions in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, neither Matt Purke nor Anthony Rendon were able to have the kind of season that would silence the doubters. Rendon would go down in April with an incomplete (read: not partial; there is no such thing) fracture in his left ankle, which he hadn’t hurt previously. Purke was held in XST until late May and made just three starts, only one at home (during the day) before disappearing. Rendon would eventually come back and play for both Potomac and Harrisburg and in the AFL, but Purke would be shrouded in mystery until October, when it was revealed he had indeed had shoulder surgery as feared and/or rumored.

Gambling On Injuries, Part Two
Despite the new CBA, teams still spent heavily on first-round picks. Picking 16th, the Nats spent $2.125M on HS pitcher Lucas Giolito despite what turned out to be the case some two months later: The 18-year-old would undergo elbow surgery and miss the rest of 2012 and most of 2013. Two anomalies: (1) Unlike Purke, the Nats did not wait months until admitting the obvious (2) Nats fans expressed dismay more than disappointment, which again is fodder for my argument that things have changes when it comes to the Nats fans and the farm.

The Fast and The Furious: Promotions
The new world order is a level per year, with some exceptions. Bryce Harper was one. Brian Goodwin turned out to be another. Both outfielders were jumped from from Low-A to AA, which prompted accusations of punishment for Potomac in 2011 due its field issues. With a brand-new field, the stagnation of Michael Taylor was the more plausible explanation in 2012. Meanwhile, Matt Skole was beating on Sally League pitchers like John Henry with a nine-pound hammer but was left behind until mid-August while several teammates moved up, which of course, made fans, followers, and commenters, well, furious.

Nathan Karns
For the first 18 months of this site’s operation, Karns was akin to something that went bump in the night: heard in the comments, but otherwise unseen. When he finally emerged in June 2011, he would blow away the GCL with 26K’s and two hits allowed in 18⅔ innings. He fell back to earth in Auburn (3.44 ERA, 6.63 BB/9), but made the 2012 Watchlist. After working out of the bullpen in April, the big, ol’ Texan finished the month of May with three straight quality starts and was bumped up to Potomac in June. After a couple of shaky starts against Frederick and Salem, Karns got into a groove — striking out 32 over a three-start stretch and eight QS in his last 11 appearances. He would lead the farm in ERA, WHIP, SO, and OBA.

Christian Garcia
Had he not been a former Yankees 3rd-round pick, Garcia’s signing in late July 2011 would not have warranted much more than a line item in a transactions post. Within three weeks, however, he made the GBI and had the category existed, would have probably made the 2012 watchlist as a “Notable Pitcher.” Fifteen months later, the 27-y.o. was pitching in the postseason and there’s talk (though unrepeated besides beat reporters, Nats bloggers, and the Washington front office) of Garcia joining the Nats rotation. While that still seems unlikely, the observation that the Nats were trying to catch lightning in a bottle seems apt (pat, pat ;-)

Multiple Affiliates Make Playoff Runs
While there’s only been one league championship during our tenure, we’ve been fortunate to have pennant chases from multiple affiliates in all three seasons. Some will snort that this is a natural byproduct of the lean towards collegiate players — and that’s fair criticism — but it’s fun nevertheless. The Auburn Doubledays held off a furious charge from the Batavia Muckdogs (winners of 19 of 21 in in late Aug./early Sept.), while the Potomac Nationals couldn’t replicate the run they made in 2011 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, thanks in no small part to an abysmal 22-47 mark on the road. The Hagerstown Suns fell 3½ games short in the first half despite a 42-27 record, but did nearly as well (40-28) in the second half and took the Sally North by three games. Both the Suns and Doubledays were bounced in the first round, with Hagerstown getting swept and Auburn falling hard (16-7) in the deciding Game Three.

Rizzo Finally Gets His Span
One of the more troubling aspects of following prospects is getting used to the idea that they may get traded. Now that the Nats are contenders, that means prospects tend to be going in exchange for major-leaguers instead of vice-versa. It happened again last month as top pitching prospect RHP Alex Meyer was traded for long-coveted OF Denard Span. For as long as the Nats have been in Washington (and even years before that), center field has been a soft spot in the lineup, enough that the Nationals were willing to put a 19-year-old rookie there. With that problem ostensibly “solved,” one or more the current crop of centerfielders (yes, even Goodwin) could be next if the right deal comes along to improve the parent club. (See “surplus of catchers,” 2010-2011)

Rosenbaum, Kobernus “Lost” To The Rule 5 Draft
The final reminder in the motif “we’re contenders, get used to this” was the removal of four farmhands earlier this month. In the “dark time” of 2008-2009, following 100+ loss seasons, there was (now, in retrospect) an almost-perverse delight in picking first in the Rule 5 draft, despite rule changes that have diluted it. Fast-forward three years and now it’s the wondering of who will leave, not who will arrive. It’s quotes on the subhead verb because the two players taken in the major-league phase — Danny Rosenbaum (Colorado) and Jeff Kobernus (Boston, flipped to Detroit) — have to stay on the 25-man rosters throughout 2013 and, historically, a significant percentage of draftees are returned.

Apr 232012
 

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Lost, 6-1;
Won 1-0
OFF DAY n/a
Harrisburg Postponed OFF DAY n/a
Potomac Postponed @ Winston-Salem,
7:00 p.m.
Applebee (1-0, 1.35) vs.
Rienzo (2-0, 1.00)
Hagerstown Postponed OFF DAY n/a

Buffalo 6 Syracuse 1 — GAME ONE
• Maya (L, 1-2) 5IP, 7H, 3R, 2ER, BB, 3K, HR, WP
• Pena 2IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 0BB, 2K
• Harper 2-3, R, HR, RBI
• Johnson 2-4

The long Nationals nightmare is over as Bryce Harper finally homered (above, video 1, video 2) at AAA, but the Syracuse Chiefs lost, 6-1. Yunesky Maya was in midseason form, giving up three runs on seven hits and a walk over five innings. He also committed an error. Josh Johnson and Harper both had two hits, but the Chiefs managed on six total as they dropped their sixth straight decision.

Syracuse 1 Buffalo 0 — GAME TWO
• Roark (W, 1-3) 6IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 4K, E (pickoff)
• Perry (SV, 2) 1IP, H, 0R, BB, 0K
• Brown 1-2, R, HR, RBI
• Moore 1-2

Corey Brown’s solo shot in the 4th was all the support that Tanner Roark would get, but with some help from Ryan Perry, it was all he would need as the Chiefs took the nightcap of the doubleheader, 1-0. Roark tosses six strong innings, alllowing just two hits and two walks (one intenional) while striking out four. He also worked around what could have been a critical error in the 6th, throwing to Brown in CF instead Johnson at SS on a pickoff attempt with one out. The error moved the runner up to third, but Roark painted the corner for a backwards K for the second out and got a grounder to second to end the threat. Perry also danced in and out of danger in the 7th by putting on the tying run with a walk and giving up a single before Tyler Moore pounced on the ensuing bunt for the 3-5 putout and then started the 1-6-3 DP to end the game.

HARRISBURG — PPD
The Senators took two of three from the Thunder in the rain-shortened series and have an off day today before a three-game, midweek set against Altoona. A makeup date for Sunday’s postponement is pending, with the two teams meeting again in Harrisburg in June (15-17) and the Senators visiting Trenton next in late July (26-29).

POTOMAC — PPD
Rain washed out both weekend games against the Salem Red Sox and will likely force some shuffling of the rotation as well. When the two games will be made up has not yet been announced, but the guess here is that one will be made up in Salem when the P-Nats visit May 8-10, and the other will be made up during the June 8-10. Absent another rainout, Potomac could go from May 8 to June 17 without a day off, which could mean as many as 44 games in 41 games.

HAGERSTOWN — PPD
The rain gave the Suns a 2-0 series win against the BlueClaws and a head start on their long bus ride to Georgia to face the Braves for four and GreenJackets for three before heading back and hosting Rome for three and Augusta for four. Makeup dates for the two missed games have not been announced, but with the half system, it’s probable that a pair of doubleheaders will be played when Hagerstown next visits Lakewood on May 24-27.

Apr 042012
 

The last of the four full-season rosters is out (H/T to Ben Meyers of the Auburn Citizen for heads-up), as the Syracuse Chiefs have released the initial roster for the 2012 campaign.

Aside from the presence of John Lannan, there were a few minor surprises:

…Chris McConnell was promoted from Harrisburg after two grueling days on paper for the Sens.
…Tanner Roark, who repeated AA in both ’10 and ’11, made it to AAA for the first time.
…”OG” favorites Erik Arnesen, Hassan Pena, and Cory VanAllen not only made the cut, but got the bump.
…Some kid named B. Harper is listed as a CF

The rundown (watchlisters in bold, 40-man guys in italics):

PITCHERS
Erik Arnesen
Mitch Atkins
Austin Bibens-Dirkx
Zach Duke
John Lannan
Rafael Martin
Yunesky Maya
Hassan Pena
Ryan Perry
Tanner Roark
Atahualpa Severino
Cory VanAllen
Josh Wilkie

CATCHERS
Carlos Maldonado
Jhonatan Solano

INFIELDERS
Seth Bynum
Jarret Hoffpauir
Chris McConnell
Tyler Moore
Carlos Rivero
Mark Teahen

OUTFIELDERS
Corey Brown
Bryce Harper
Jason Michaels
Xavier Paul

Starting on the DL are Mike Schultz, Waldis Joaquin, Jeff Fulchino and Adam Carr.

For the second year in a row, there are multiple pitchers that would have been in Washington in years past. The Chiefs continue to get older, which is also consistent with how contenders use their AAA teams (e.g. Lehigh Valley for Philadelphia position players, Pawtucket for Boston pitchers). Of course, the Mets are also among the oldest in IL for those two categories, so it may not necessarily be a function of contention (*rimshot!*).

As stated from day one, I know all eyes are on the team’s 19-year-old, but I’m not going to make him the focus of the daily News & Notes unless he actually, you know, does particularly well or particularly poorly — just everyone else (except maybe in the tags, can’t hurt with the ads, right?).

This isn’t a bad-looking roster on paper and it might make for a decent summer for the folks in upstate New York after all.

Mar 022012
 

It’s a shame that today’s game, albeit an exhibition against a NCAA D-I powderpuff, isn’t broadcast on radio or TV because it’s right in our sweet spot, a lineup of minor-leaguers and non-roster invitees:

Lombardozzi, 2B Paul, LF Moore, 1B Harper, RF Carroll, DH
Rendon, 3B Brown, CF Blanco, SS Leon, C

LHP Matt Purke is slated to start, followed by Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Rafael Martin, Waldis Joaquin, Jeff Fulchino and Atahualpa Severino (not necessarily in that order).

Bill “The Rocket” Ladson is reporting that Justin Bloxom, Destin Hood, Jeff Kobernus, Michael Taylor, and Zach Walters will come off the bench.

For the real geeks diehards, check to see if MLB will be warming up its interns with a GameDay broadcast at noon. As mentioned in the comments, @NatsJack will be tweeting from the game, which should include some pics.

Feb 132012
 

This may be the spring training with the least drama, if not the fewest players, of the eight spring trainings for the Washington Nationals. As of this writing, there are just 15 non-roster invitees — a far cry from the days when there were 70+ guys in camp.

For the most part, the drama appears to be more of the “normal” variety: who’s gonna man the bench, who’s gonna be the 5th starter, who’s gonna be the last man out of the bullpen, etc. Some of the beat guys are already making predictions on who the final 25 will be and it seems rather reasonable to me.

I’m not downplaying the Bryce Harper madness, which I know will play a big part of the 2012 story line, but I’m not going to feed that monster, either. I think the Nats brass will serve up all the usual bromides about “the best 25,” with perhaps even Davey Johnson playing the good cop and Mike Rizzo playing the bad cop. We’ll probably see some (breathless) stories comparing him to Ken Griffey Jr. and/or Alex Rodriguez in the past and Mike Trout in the present. Or perhaps we’ll get a cautionary tale about Jason Heyward, especially if the 2010 N.L. Rookie of the Year starts very fast or very slowly in Buena Vista.

What will change things in a hurry is if there’s a trade of an existing starter or two. It’s no secret that the Nats are hurting for a CF and that they have a perceived surplus of starting pitchers (pay no attention to those two guys that have had Tommy John surgery the past year or two). Perennial punching bag Ian Desmond is another trade option (as long as you’re convinced that Danny Espinosa will revert to first-half form). But I don’t anticipate such a trade happening any earlier than the last week of March (if at all).

Aside from Harper, I think most of the prospect drama this year will be whether or not Steve Lombardozzi makes the club as a bench player. The only potential wrinkle I can foresee is Johnson deciding on a platoon, which I can’t recall happening recently with two switch-hitters. I put it out there only because Espinosa’s splits finished so severely last season (.222/.312/.390 vs. RHPs; .283/.361/.496 vs. LHPs) while Lombardozzi was closer to the ideal of being even. The safer bet is to see Lombardozzi return to Syracuse so he can play everyday (and maintain trade value).

Of course, there’s an outside shot that Corey Brown can displace Roger Bernadina as a spare outfielder. Perhaps Mike Cameron will start too slowly again for the Nats to carry him. Or maybe Adam LaRoche won’t be fully healthy or effective after nearly a year off.

It’s also possible someone will shock us from the bullpen, but I think the lack of options for most will be the deciding factor. Dan Cortes and the Ryans (Perry and Mattheus) are your top candidates for the Syracuse-to-DC shuttle (formerly known as the Balester back-and-forth). Otherwise, we’re looking to see if anyone can move up from Harrisburg (Rafael Martin, Erik Arnesen, Pat Lehman).

As always, my hope is to dig up what I can while watching from afar and keep the conversation going until the minors start up on April 5th.

Feb 052012
 

It’s Super Bowl Sunday as this goes to virtual press, so if you’re reading this before Monday, thank you very much.

In an unsurprising move, the Nationals have signed Rick Ankiel to minor-league contract with an invite to spring training, according to multiple online reports. For the second year in a row, there will be a three-man race for the CF job, with veteran Mike Cameron joining the mix along with Roger Bernadina.

While this does not necessarily eliminate Bryce Harper from the OF mix, it does indicate that the talk of Jayson Werth playing in RF CF could just be that: talk. As mentioned previously and repeatedly, Harper has been playing LF more than RF since being recalled from Hagerstown last summer. It’s pretty clear that Harper will not win a battle with incumbent Michael Morse unless Morse is needed at 1B because LaRoche is not fully healthy and/or ineffective.

But, as is always the case with Mike Rizzo, the only inarguable thing to infer from this is that he will make sure he has as many options as possible. My money is still on Harper being sent down Syracuse to “work on his defense,” even if he outhits the veterans.

Baseball America is reporting via its Free Agent Tracker that the Nationals have signed RHP Gaby Hernandez. The 25-year-old has been mired at AAA since 2008, pitching for Seattle, Florida, Kansas City, Chicago (A), and Arizona. As you might imagine, Hernandez has been well-regarded for his tools, and his age relative to the league, but has had trouble translating them into results.

As always, if there any other notable moves made in the next 24-48 hours, it will be updated in this space.

Jan 292012
 

For the longest time, the knock on the Nats system was that they could develop pitchers, but not position players. Since the relocation from Montreal, there have been two — Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa. Even if you want to count Ian Desmond (drafted in 2004), that’s three. And how much credit can be taken for Zimmerman is questionable, given he was able to play in MLB the September after he was drafted.

As mentioned yesterday, there are 20 position players listed in this year’s book. It was 17 in 2011, 14 in 2010. But to illustrate my point about spreading the risk, nine of those 20 are 23 or older, and just three of those nine have played a full season of AA (Marrero, Moore, Lombardozzi). Just two of the remaining seven are expected to play in Harrisburg this season; both Justin Bloxom and Jeff Kobernus turn 24 during the season. Just something to think about.

Like the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

…Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

…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. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” in conjunction with Derek Norris the past two years, when he batted .210 and 235 but had secondary averages of .534 and .480 — higher than his teammate Tyler Moore both years (.515 in ’10, .424 last season).

…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.

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

Bryce Harper – A (A) Chris Marrero – C+ (C+) Jason Martinson – C (C)
Anthony Rendon – A- Michael Taylor – C+ Tyler Moore – C (C)
Brian Goodwin – B Justin Bloxom – C (C) Randolph Oduber – C (C)
Destin Hood – B- (C) Blake Kelso – C Eury Perez – C (C+)
Steve Lombardozzi – B- (C+) Kevin Keyes – C Matt Skole – C
David Freitas – C+ (C) Jeff Kobernus – C (C) Zach Walters – C (C)
Rick Hague – C+ (C+) Estarlin Martinez – C

Like yesterday, the bolded guys weren’t ranked by BA and all are on our watchlist. Sickels gave his “Sleeper” tag to David Freitas and Michael Taylor. This is significant because Sickels has a good track record for picking them. Brad Peacock, for example, was a “Sleeper” last year as was Danny Rosenbaum. For those wondering, Erik Komatsu was given a “C” grade and Sickels was not high on him: “Komatsu profiles as a reserve outfielder, with a line-drive bat, solid plate discipline, gap power, and slightly above-average speed.”

With the faster delivery, and one less book, that concludes the prospect book review this year — about 10 days sooner than last year. We can only hope that another trade is made that involves prospects, now that the Prince Fielder sweepstakes are over. I’m doubtful it will happen before Spring Training begins.

Unlike years past, it doesn’t appear that there will be a cattle call of 4A guys that might make the club. Absent a trade, the drama from the prospect angle might simply be whether or not Steve Lombardozzi and Corey Brown make the club as a reserves. Am I missing anyone else?

Naturally, I expect the uninformed and impatient fans (a redundancy, I know) to pound the drum for Bryce Harper. I’m sure there will be the “Davey Johnson and the kids” reminiscing from the 1984-85 era Mets, minus much discussion about his complicity in ruining the careers of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I’m not saying he hasn’t learned his lesson (though it’s telling that no other team has ever trusted Johnson with a young team since) but glossing over that part of the story is like reviewing “Mad Men” and not mentioning the misogyny.

Anyway, I’ll try my best to find the minors angles that I can glean from the beat guys’ coverage of what’s happening in Florida. No “This Afternoon In Viera” — it’s just not in the budget. Besides, the staff here doesn’t tolerate the heat very well.