Nov 122011
 

Bryce Harper extended his hit streak to 16 games as Scottsdale defeated Phoenix, 3-2 in a scheduled seven-inning contest.

Harper went 2-for-3 with an RBI double while playing left field. The two hits pushed his batting average to .321 while the RBI was #25, which is third-best in the AFL. Defensively, he had two putouts and no assists.

Derek Norris was the only other National to appear in the contest, but had a dismal 0-for-4 game with no walks or strikeouts. It was the first time he failed to reach base this fall. Defensively, it wasn’t any better: Error #6 on a throw following a wild pitch, allowing the runner on first to reach third.

Scottsdale finishes up the week this afternoon with a game against Surprise.
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Thankfully, there will be no references to either Thurman Munson or Lyman Bostick Bostock as Wilson Ramos was rescued from his kidnappers yesterday afternoon by Venezuelan authorities. Cheryl Nichols has the pics and the human-interest angle on District Sports Page.

As you might have guessed, Ryan Tatusko will remain in Venezuela despite the incident. And for the haters (e.g. Chris Needham and Kevin Reiss), Tatusko won’t be going home anytime soon on account of his pitching, either. In his fourth outing last night, the 26-year-old righthander tossed six shutout innings and struck out five while allowing just one hit and walking two.

Mar 212011
 

With another two sold innings of work in a 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Brian Broderick continues to make his case for sticking with the club.

The Rule 5 pick allowed two singles in the sixth, but got the key grounders when he needed them (four in total) and tossed a 1-2-3 seventh inning to earn his fourth hold of the spring. His ERA is now 0.77 after seven appearances, totaling 10⅔ innings.

The win broke the Nats’ seven-game losing streak in a game that featured a bit of a beanball war after (guess who?) Nyjer Morgan collided with Albert Pujols. Former National Miguel Batista was ejected after hitting Ian Desmond with one out and nobody on in the top of the 7th, which prompted the benches to clear.

Former Potomac Nationals manager Trent Jewett prevented Morgan from reaching the infield during the scuffle, in which no punches were thrown, though he was pinch-hit for in the top of the 8th.

Danny Espinosa started the game and went 1-for-4 with 2 RBI while Wilson Ramos came off the bench to pinch-run for Ivan Rodriguez and caught the final three innings.

The Nationals return to Viera tomorrow afternoon to host the Astros. The game can be heard (Houston broadcast) online via MLB.com Gameday Audio.

Mar 122011
 

Going into the bottom of the ninth, there was a good chance that a top prospect might end the game with a walkoff. After all, Bryce Harper was the third batter due. An error and a sacrifice, brought up the chosen one with a runner on third and one out. Three pitches later he was walking down the line, courtesy of an 0-2 fastball to the right tricep.

Alberto Gonzalez would be intentionally walked when he wouldn’t bite on the first two offerings. After the two managers changed the matchup, up came Derek Norris, who took a strike then blasted the next pitch to the warning track for a very long game-winning single and a 6-5 Nats win.

The knock made a winner out of Yunesky Maya, who pitched the final four innings, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and three walks. He also struck out three, the last coming on nice, sharp curve.

According to multiple tweets from the beat writers, Washington announced that Harper had been sent to minor-league camp, officially optioned to Hagerstown. That, of course, does not necessarily mean that that’s where he’ll start the regular season. Also sent down were Atahualpa Severino, Tim Wood and Ryan Mattheus.

Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos started the game at their usual positions, but both went hitless in three at-bats. Espinosa helped turn a double play while Ramos did not have any baserunners attempt a steal against him.

Chris Marrero drove the ball to the wall the opposite way (the first I’ve seen in a very long time) in his sole plate appearance for a double, the wind aiding it but not causing it. He was then pinch-run for by Destin Hood, who chased down a long foul fly to left to end the top of the ninth.

With the win, the Nats improve to 9-5 for the spring and return to Jupiter to face the Florida Marlins tomorrow afternoon. The game will be televised via MLB.tv and can be heard on MLB Gameday and XM Radio.

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.

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.

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 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