Mar 012014
 

The only true contest in this game was determining which was worse — the sloppy play on the field or the unseemly call on the radio.

Somehow, the Nationals didn’t lose despite committing a week’s worth of errors in one inning while the Braves scored nine times to take a 14-6 lead at the game’s midpoint.

Thanks in large part to the Atlanta relievers issuing 11 walks*, Washington made the most out of its 12 hits and a pair of sacrifice flies to erase the eight-run deficit with a pair of five-spots in the 5th and 6th innings.
* Jim Powell and Don Sutton, too busy trolling the DC fans, failed to notice this while wondering how the Nationals were scoring so many runs while being outhit, 25-11

The win went to newly acquired Felipe Rivero, who gave up a run on three hits in the 6th with no walks and no strikeouts. Luis Ayala earned the save by stranding two runners with an inning-ending double play in the 8th and worked around a hit in the 9th.

Jordan Zimmermann got the start and threw two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and fanning one. Matt Purke, Blake Treinen, and Josh Roenicke were touched (torched?) for 14 runs in the 3rd, 4th, 5th innings on 16 hits combined, including five doubles.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers fared at the plate:
• Brian Goodwin, 0-for-1, 3R, RBI, 2BB
• Jeff Kobernus, 0-for-2, RBI
• Matt Skole, 1-for-1, R, BB, RBI
• Sandy Leon, 0-for-1, 2R, 2BB
• Steve Souza, 1-for-2, R, 2B, RBI, SB
• Michael Taylor, 0-for-3, R

Taylor was charged with two of the five Nats errors, both coming on the same play as the 22-y.o. Floridian missed a catch and air-mailed the subsequent throw while playing right field as part of the disastrous 5th inning.

The Nationals will send Doug Fister to the hill tomorrow for Game 3 of the Grapferuit slate against the Marlins, which will also be the first MASN telecast.

Feb 282014
 

2-28-14 Taylor TripleMichael Taylor lived up to the hype this week, smacking an RBI triple to right-center in the top of the 9th to complete Washington’s comeback for a 5-4 Nats win over the Mets in the 2014 Grapefruit League opener.

The three-base knock gave Manny Delcarmen the win for a scoreless 8th in which the bullpen hopeful struck out two and allowed a hit. Tyler Robertson set the side down in order to close out the game and earn the save.

It also took Christian Garcia off the hook for a rough sixth inning that saw New York’s N.L. entry score four times on four hits, including a two-run blast by Ike Davis.

Taylor Jordan got the starting nod and laid two goose eggs, allowing just a hit and no walks while fanning two. A.J. Cole followed with two zeroes on the board, but gave up two doubles and a single and was saved from allowing a run by a ground-rule double in the 4th.

As is often the case with road spring training games, the “scrubs” outnumbered the regulars. Here’s a rundown of how the minor-leaguers fared:

• Eury Perez started in CF and went 1-for-2, making a spectacular catch in the 2nd inning to rob Lucas Duda of extra bases.
• Taylor took over duties from Perez and walked in his first plate appearance
• Steve Souza came off the bench and played RF, going 1-for-3.
• Mike Fontenot spelled Danny Espinosa at 2B but was 0-for-3.
• Matt Skole took over for Adam LaRoche at 1B and went 1-for-2 with an RBI double and made a pick to complete a 4-B-3 DP.
• Zach Walters replaced Ian Desmond at SS and was 2-for-2 with an RBI double that tied the game in the 8th.
• Jhonatan Solano followed Wilson Ramos behind the plate but was 0-for-2 while standing in the box.
• Koyie Hill pinch-hit for Tyler Moore as the DH and drove in a run with an RBI single while going 1-for-2 overall.
• Jeff Kobernus subbed for Scott Hairston in LF and scored the game-winning run after his one-out single in the 9th and was 1-for-2 for the game.
• RHP Aaron Barrett allowed a hit but walked none and struck out none in his lone inning of work.

The Nationals make their home debut tomorrow afernoon versus the Barves Atlanta. Jordan Zimmermann is expected to make the start. The game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Feb 282014
 

LetTheGamesBegin2Finally. Unlike football, it never feels like this has begun too soon.

I don’t believe expectations this year for the big Nats are as outsized as they were a year ago, but the enthusiasm remains the same. I’d like to think that 2013 may have parsed the 2012 bandwagon fans, but then I read some of the MASN comments and realize they’re just less vocal.

For me, it’s a chance to re-establish routine and have something to write about every morning (or afternoon) versus the litany of lists and previews that the minors offseason requires (though predicting rosters and pitching staffs isn’t so bad, is it?).

As I wrote earlier this month, the best chances for “our guys” are on the edges of the 25-man roster. Unfortunately, that was before the Karns-for-Lobaton trade, which indicates to me that this team isn’t going to go with a rookie if it doesn’t have to. Naturally, I’d love to be wrong about that, but I am New England-born and bred.

But not so puritanical as to pretend otherwise for about three weeks. First pitch at 1:10 p.m. on 1500 or 1580 AM.

Feb 262014
 

Bulldog-Hates-SnowFolks, just a quick note to assure you that we’re still here, hating on the weather and waiting for the games (and spring) to start on Friday.

There’s not much for me to pass along that I’m not sure that you’ve already seen. This is the week where the beat writers discover the guys we’ve known about for months, if not years, as they must file stories and fill time. Of course, I don’t begrudge them that — I’ve long known that their job is tougher than most people realize.

As previously noted, we’ll post about spring training from the minors perspective for about three weeks, which is usually how long it takes before the majority of the minor-leaguers are sent down. We hope to be surprised, have one of “our guys” outplay the veteran NRIs, but I think the conventional wisdom — and trades of Nathan Karns and Robbie Ray — is spot-on that the Nats are unlikely to have any rookies make the Opening Day roster.

Feb 192014
 

accelerated-camp
While we await the games to begin, the Nationals — via Byron Kerr of MASN — have revealed the minor-leaguers coming into Florida early, a.k.a. “accelerated camp” with a reporting date.

In essence, this is the analog to the Instrux of the fall, where prospects are given extra time for instruction and a chance for the coaches to make sure everyone’s moving in the right direction.

As much as you might want to draw inferences from who’s been selected and who hasn’t, you can’t. It nearly goes without writing that almost all of these guys are on the 2014 watchlist. After the list, I’ll break it down…

PITCHERS CATCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS
Dakota Bacus Spencer Kieboom Osvaldo Abreu Isaac Ballou
John Costa Cole Leonida Wilmer Difo Rafael Bautista
Matt Derosier Raudy Read Cutter Dykstra Theo Bowe
Ian Dickson Pedro Severino Cody Gunter Destin Hood
Pedro Encarnacion Jason Martinson Narciso Mesa
Wirkin Estevez David Masters Brandon Miller
Lucas Giolito Stephen Perez Drew Vettleson
Taylor Hill Shawn Pleffner
Jake Johansen Tony Renda
Nick Lee Drew Ward
Warner Madrigal John Wooten
Brett Mooneyham
R.C. Orlan
Ronald Pena
Nick Pivetta
Jefry Rodriguez
Blake Schwartz
Hector Silvestre
John Simms
Deion Williams
Wander Suero
Austin Voth
Deion Williams

First, let’s address the unfamilar names…

…Costa was the Nats 13th Rd. draft pick out of Palm Beach State JC last June but did not pitch, having had TJ surgery in March 2013.

…Derosier was a 24th Rd. Pick out of Southwestern JC who made 10 of 11 appearances for the G-Nats (he retired eight of nine batters faced in a middle-relief outing in July for Auburn)

…Madrigal is returning to the U.S. after having been sold to the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer. He made 31 appearances and had a 2-0 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.

Now, for a few random thoughts…

…Wooten is listed as an infielder, but that does not necessarily mean a shift to 1B. Example: Justin Miller, who the Nats tried to convert to catcher in the 2012-13 offseason but ultimately did not catch.

…While it would be nice to see GCLers Abreu, Read, and Bautista in full-season ball, Read was also invited to this shindig last year without spending time north of Florida.

…The presence of Kieboom and Estevez, however, is hoped to mean that their recoveries from Nationals elbow have progressed enough to appear in games before mid-June.

Feb 162014
 

The last of our predictions is finally here with the forecast of the Hagerstown pitchers.

If I’m right about the composition and wrong about the timing, this is arguably the most exciting starting five of the four full-season affiliates*, with four of the team’s Top 30 pitching prospects per Baseball America, including the #1 overall, Lucas Giolito.
* Tickets, I’ve heard, are readily available.

But before we get too far down that road, let’s look at my choices for the 2013 Suns:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Blake Schwartz Dixon Anderson Leonard Hollins
Brian Rauh David Fischer Cody Davis
Nick Lee Derek Self
Blake Monar Robert Benincasa
Pedro Encarnacion Michael Boyden
Brett Mooneyham


That’s more like it. After only getting one or two wrong in parts one through three, missing on four serves as a reminder that this is still a guessing game. Plus, a reminder that short-season ball is fickle and inferences suspect.

Case in point: Michael Boyden, who was bumped up from the GCL to Auburn after six scoreless appearances in 2012. Not only did he not make it to Hagerstown in 2013, he didn’t return to Auburn, repeating the GCL and was ultimately released.

So maybe I’ll be very wrong on the two swingmen below, but I still feel like somebody from the GCL is going to skip Auburn, and it seems more likely that it’d be older guys used in relief (and a lot) than teenagers like Jefry Rodriguez.

Without further ado, the final set of picks:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Lucas Giolito Hector Silvestre David Napoli
Jake Johansen Wander Suero L.J. Hollins
Austin Voth Cory Bafidis
Nick Pivetta Jake Joyce
R.C. Orlan Derek Self


Before you ask, “What about__________?” a reminder that I’ve purposefully excluded guys that I know or believe were hurt. Besides, information regarding players’ health and/or injuries is sparse and the Nationals kinda sorta have a history of being less than truthful when they do release such information.

Also, I don’t know precisely who’s been released yet or who’s retired. In part, because I do know the players, their friends and families, and their agents are reading, I’m not keen on predicting or speculating on those two outcomes. If someone’s not mentioned, take it face value: a guess at who the 12 pitchers will be this year at a given level.

Now, we return to the wait-and-see mode until the games begin (and the fluffing of Matt Williams stops).

Feb 152014
 

While this is third in our series, it’s the fourth staff to be set at the end of spring training, which often leads to some disappointment for the fans… and the players. At least at the outset. Thanks to the half system — and a steady stream of pitchers working their way back from injury — top picks do pass through in the second half of the season.

I personally like to think of High-A as a proving ground for prospects. Maybe I’m biased as a season-ticket holder for the level, but it sure seems like this is where wheat gets separated from the chaff.

On that somewhat dischordant note, let’s review how I picked the 2013 P-Nats pitchers:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Christian Meza Aaron Barrett
Robbie Ray Matt Swynenberg Colin Bates
Taylor Hill Richie Mirowski
Taylor Jordan Greg Holt
Kylin Turnbull Ben Hawkins
Matt Purke


In what’s becoming a pattern, I got a lot right… but just barely. Meza and Turnbull were demoted, Hawkins was released, and Purke made six starts for Hagerstown, twelve for Potomac. This reinforces another mantra which I’m sure will be repeated again in six weeks: It’s not where a guy starts, it’s where he finishes (see: Jordan, Taylor).

Recall that yesterday I picked six starters for Harrisburg. Now one of those guys might start in Syracuse, but it’s also possible that one of them will start here, too. If I’m right about Lucas Giolito being held back like A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, then it’s not hard to envision the odd man out in Harrisburg beginning here until he’s ready, then the board is reset — happened last year with Purke/Schwartz/Jordan (not precisely, but close enough for this anecdote) and to a lesser extent in 2012 with Purke and Nathan Karns (Cameron Selik was bumped up instead of a starter).

Of course I want to wrong about Giolito… I’d rather see him pitch two months from now instead of four or six (or not all), but the Nats track record says otherwise.

With that, I give you my guess for the 2014 Potomac pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Brett Mooneyham Ian Dickson Matt Spann
Pedro Encarnacion Ronald Pena Gilberto Mendez
Kylin Turnbull Cody Davis
Dakota Bacus David Fischer
Nick Lee Greg Holt


Next up: The 2014 Hagerstown Suns

Feb 142014
 

Well, nothing like a trade on the first day of Spring Training to [fudge over] this series of posts.

Anyway, to pick up where we left off yesterday (and staying in format)… the 2014 Senators just got a whole lot more interesting, but before we take a look at this year’s guess, let’s see how well I picked last year’s staff…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Nathan Karns Adam Olbrychowski Paul Demny
Trevor Holder Blake Treinen Marcos Frias
Brian Broderick Neil Holland
Rob Gilliam Rob Wort
Tyler Herron Cameron Selik
Matt Grace


Much like Syracuse, I was only completely wrong on one, but missed the roles on several… and was just barely right on a few more (Wort, demoted; Herron and Grace began in Potomac, but spent the lion’s share of 2013 here). I’m not arrogant enough to think that maybe I’m getting good at this, just lucky.

As aforementioned, yesterday’s trade changes things. At least I think it will. In the most optimistic scenario, Taylor Hill benefits by rounding out the Chiefs rotation instead of the Senators. In the most pessimistic, Matt Purke is held back for another few weeks in Potomac. And if you’re cynical, he’ll be put on the DL again for the month of April again (quite frankly, if that were to happen, it would raise some unsettling questions).

Thus, I’ll name six starters to reflect the trade and its uncertainty. Here’s who I think will make up the Nats’ AA pitching staff in 2014 (40-man guys in bold):

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Paul Demny Richie Mirowski
Sammy Solis Brian Rauh Tyler Herron
Blake Schwartz Robert Benincasa
Felipe Rivero Matt Grace
Taylor Hill Colin Bates
Matt Purke


I feel fairly confident in getting the starters mostly right, but aside from Mirowski and Benincasa, I don’t feel as good about how I picked the rest of the staff. Mostly because I fear that one or two of these guys will not go to either Potomac or Syracuse.

The P-Nats’ playoff meltdown not withstanding, if this collection of arms does live up to its billing and the hitters don’t start slowly, it should be another contender at City Island this summer.

Feb 132014
 

Now that we’ve taken a swag at the position players, it’s to time to project the four full-season pitching staffs. This is only the third time I’ve attempted this and I’m reminded every time I work the board why I resisted trying this in the first place: It’s really difficult.

The previous two times, I hedged by “overpicking” — naming more guys than the typical 12-man staff. This year, I decided just to go with the gut and stop at 12. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I think a guy at given level will be released (though that’s always a concern with picking the “A” teams) it just means I’m on the fence about where he fits in the organization’s plans, which I’m not privy to (and if I were, it wouldn’t be guessing!)

I also skipped anybody coming off surgery or that I believe has had surgery or was hurt. This is simply prudent: The only way we know a guy is healthy is when he pitches. Thus, by exension, I’m not designating anybody on the D.L. as I did a year ago.

With the caveats spelled out, let’s review how I picked the 2013 Syracuse pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Yunesky Maya Ryan Tatusko Erik Davis
Ross Ohlendorf* Fernando Abad* Pat Lehman
Tanner Roark Pat McCoy
Jeff Mandel Hassan Pena
Matt Torra* Cole Kimball
Ryan Perry
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’12-’13 MLFA


Missing on roles doesn’t bother me much because pitchers are moved in and out of the bullpen all the time in the minors, which is part of what the farm is for — finding a role that suits a pitcher so he can contribute when the big club calls him up.

One of the two that I got entirely wrong started at AA (Lehman) and never made it up, the other was released (Pena). All things considered, this is probably as good as it gets for an exercise like this. Still, I’m aware of some the ones I got right were just barely… McCoy and Perry, for example, were demoted in April and June respectively; Cole Kimball was in Viera until late June.

Finally, here’s my projection for the 2014 Syracuse staff, without the cushion of extra picks or the track record of spring training usage:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Taylor Jordan Ryan Tatusko* Aaron Barrett
Nathan Karns Matt Swynenberg Tyler Robertson*
Danny Rosenbaum Daniel Stange*
Chris Young* Zack Jackson*
Blake Treinen Neil Holland
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’13-’14 MLFA


Obviously, I feel the least amount of confidence in the starters… Taylor could win the #5 starter’s job in DC… Young could be released before the Ides of March… Rosenbaum could be converted to relief in an effort to buy more time for Sammy Solis to develop… not to mention any number of possibilities resulting from how the “Big Nats” pitching staff is constructed.

Next up: The 2014 Harrisburg Senators.

UPDATE: Karns was traded literally while this was being written. Given the nature of such a post (a speculative prediction), I’m leaving it as is until more details of the trade are available.

Feb 102014
 

For the third straight spring, I think we’re looking at a spring training with not much drama for the minor-leaguers.

This, of course, is a good thing in the bigger picture of the organization. Contenders don’t come into camp raving about how their kids are going to make this season a championship run. It also feels good to use the word “contender” without a hint of snark or sarcasm.

No, we’re looking at the mundane vernal ritual of seeing if one of “our guys” can snag a spot on the bench, challenge for the #5 starter’s job, or wedge their way into the bullpen.

Where could I potentially be very wrong*? . One rather obvious “X” factor is new manager Matt Williams, who has reportedly mapped out every day of Spring Training. This implies that Williams will be more of a taskmaster than his predecessor, and would seem to make sense as teams often change manager’s style if they don’t clean out the clubhouse, so to speak.
* That’s rhetorical question; besides, I’ve been married for more than 18 years and can get that answer without asking at any time.

On paper, that might mean a better chance for the younger players, particularly (especially?) if any veterans come into camp in less than stellar form or start slow. But we’re not going to “know” for at least a couple more weeks (and even then, it’ll be filtered through the lens of the beat writers).

What can be potentially more interesting for us is what might happen if there are any position battles that might result in a trade. Danny Espinosa showing he’s healthy and in second-half 2012 form… Sandy Leon continuing to hit the way he did in the VWL… Eury Perez outplaying Nate McLouth and/or Scott Hairston for a backup outfielder’s spot.

Unfortunately, almost any pitcher scenario seems to involve guys with multiple options left (with the notable exception of Ryan Mattheus), though it’s possible for GM Mike Rizzo to do a Perry-for-Balester trade in reverse. Still, that doesn’t jibe with his obsession with preference for options and flexibility.

As in years past, I’ll post about Nationals Spring Training from the minors perspective for as long as feasible and/or reasonable — probably until mid-March — before stepping back and doing semi-daily posts for the rest of March until the minors rosters are announced and the games begin in early April.