Feel The Breeze

Harper strikes out twice in his Spring Training debut

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

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

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

Other notable prospects…

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

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

Morning Reading

Some stories to read before 2011 Spring Training *finally* starts…

Today’s the first game of Spring Training, which means we’ll have box scores to look at tomorrow and 234 tweets about Bryce Harper this afternoon. Tomorrow night, the tape-delayed game will be shown on the MLB Network, and for a preview, here’s a story by Bill “The Rocket” Ladson.

In between, a few stories of note that appeared from the rest of the beat guys over the weekend…

MASN’s Ben Goessling posted the roster of the mincamp, a.k.a. accelerated minor-league camp, a list of names we’re rather familiar with as 18 of the 22 pitchers, three of the five catchers, nine of the 10 infielders, and all six of the outfielders are on our watchlist. Goessling also had a nice post about the reuniting of college teammates Corey Brown and Adam Carr.

Steve Lombardozzi is among the infielders (oversight, note that there are nine names but “10” in the subhead), so perhaps the most notable omission is Tanner Roark. Cameron Selik, Mitchell Clegg and Hassan Pena are three pitchers that weren’t sent to the FIL (almost all the position players were), leading to the inference that they had been shut down for the year (that’s almost certain with Clegg, who was sent to the GCL for a stint). Otherwise, as noted in the comments, it appears that Michael Taylor is being converted to the outfield.

CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman filed one of the great staples of spring-training sportswriting, the upbeat teammates piece, profiling the Nats’ double-play combo of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, proclaiming they’re a “duo with ‘swagger.'” No word on whether father-to-be Desmond will be rockin’ the swagger wagon.

Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore gave us a rundown of Rule 5 pickup Brian Broderick’s faceoff against Bryce Harper, which ended with the 18-year-old going down on strikes just as he did when the two matched up in the Arizona Fall League. As I remarked in the comments, I think he’s going to see a steady diet of offspeed and breaking pitches until he proves he can hit them. In some ways, getting carved up like this a few times may prove beneficial, as it’s clear Mr. Harper is unlikely to be demoralized and more likely to accept his failure a la Pedro Cerrano as a challenge.

Spring Training TV Broadcast Update

Updates look at which Nats games will be televised

Picking up where we left off a couple of weeks ago, MLB Network has announced its slate of Spring Training games. While most of the games overlap with MASN, and some are on tape delay, here’s a revised schedule for your reference:

Day Date Time (ET) Opponent Network
Mon. Feb. 28 9:30pm* Mets MLB
Sun. Mar. 6 1:00pm Braves MASN,
Fri. Mar. 11 6:00pm Astros MASN
Sat. Mar. 12 1:00pm,
Yankees MASN,
Thu. Mar. 17 6:00pm Braves MLB
Sun. Mar. 20 1:00pm,
Tigers MASN,
Thu. Mar. 24 8:00pm* Tigers MLB
Fri. Mar. 25 6:00pm Cardinals MASN

* = Tape Delay

As previously reported, the March 11th game is a split-squad affair, which is our best chance to see the prospects. The MLB Network “30 Clubs in 30 Days” will feature the Nationals on Wednesday, March 23 at 10 p.m.

Nationals Announce Signing Of 16 IFAs

Three Venezuelans and Thirteen Dominicans Join The Nationals Organization

This morning the Washington Nationals announced the signings of 16 International Free Agents, highlighted by catcher Raudy Read and outfielder Randy Novas; both are 17 years old and are right-handed batters.

Read and Novas were previously mentioned in Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore’s profile of the Nats’ Dominican Republic Baseball Academy earlier this month.

Here’s what the official press release had to say about Read and Novas:

Read was signed out of the Dominican Republic and has great instincts behind the plate, including exceptional hands, feet and arm strength. The 17-year-old right-handed batter has demonstrated a powerful bat with superior plate discipline. Novas, a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic, possesses advanced tools. His speed and instincts translate to superior range in the outfield, and the right-handed batter has consistently demonstrated power to all fields.

Eleven of the other 14 signings were also from the Dominican Republic. Here’s a look at them by position, age in parentheses:

LHP – Joel Barrientos (17), Brian Escolastico (18) and Hector Silvestre (18)
RHP – Gilberto Mendez (18) and Felix Moscat (20)
CA – Pedro Severino (17)
1B – Arialdi Peguero (18)
SS – Yewri Guillen (18)
3B – Diomedes Eusebio (18)
OF – Wilman Rodriguez (19) and Dioncio Rosario (17)

The three remaining signings were from Venezuela:

RHP – Anderson Martinez (18)
CA – Jorge Tillero (17)
OF – Juan De Los Santos (17)

Updates to come if I am able to find anything else about these players.

Unlikely. Thus far, searching on the names has been like the Grinch in his lair.

Bryce Harper Tops The 2011 BA Top 100 Prospects List

Four Nats Make The List Altogether

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.

Guessing The Rosters, Part Two

A look at which prospects will fill the Potomac roster in ’11

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, let’s discuss in the comments.

Guessing The Rosters, Part One

Which position players are playing where in the low minors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40-Man Moves: Atilano Designated For Assignment

Luis Atilano is dropped from the 40-man roster

Today, the Washington Nationals designated RHP Luis Atilano for assignment. The NationalsPR twitter feed is claiming this is directly related to the signing of Adam LaRoche.

Atilano was 6-7 with an ERA of 5.15 in 16 starts from May to July before being placed on the DL with bone chips in his elbow on July 23, 2010. He was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2003 draft and acquired by Washington in a 2006 trade for Daryle Ward.

Atilano spent the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery before pitching for three Nats affiliates in 2008 (Hagerstown, Potomac, Harrisburg), which earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. With two surgeries on the same elbow, he is unlikely to be claimed despite turning just 26 in May.

UPDATE – Sunday, February 20

Like Martis before him, Atilano has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Syracuse. He will report to the major-league spring training camp as a non-roster invitee.

Morning Reading

A few stories to look at after you’ve read about who’s in the best shape of their life

Today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training for the Washington Nationals. Instead of linking you to an obligatory “those are the greatest four words” (apparently not considering “tests came back negative” or “s/he’s not pressing charges”) column, take a look at this take, which manages to have it both ways in terms of insight and sentimentality.

January and February are all about Top 10/20/50/100 lists in the Prospect World (believe it or not, I didn’t post about every one I came across). Yesterday, I came across an interesting analysis about the correlation between Success and Failure Rates of Top MLB Prospects. There’s a lot to look at but kudos has to go to Scott McKinney for putting in the time to do this. My favorite conclusion, BTW:

The success rate of prospects (both position player and pitchers) is nearly flat and relatively undifferentiated for players ranked 41-100, and especially those ranked 61-100

Why do I like that so much? Because it supports my belief that any idiot can pick the Top 50, but the real test is beyond the cream of the crop.

My last pick for something to read comes from a blog in New York. As lawyer-turned-blogger Craig Calcaterra puts it: “There’s so much stuff written about the Yankees, but much of it is either insane hype or unwarranted pessimism.” This blog, he goes on to say, is one of the few that doesn’t veer in either direction.

It’s the latter part of that quote that I can relate to, because it reminds me of something that I was told about complaints back when I was a graduate teaching fellow in J-school: It’s a reverse Bell curve, the A-minuses campaigning for A’s or F’s campaigning for a D-minus. Reading this column, I’m starting to wonder if that theory may also apply about the fans of teams as they approach 100 wins or 100 losses.

A Couple Of Broadcast News Items

MASN to televise five games, Nats get an FM radio partner

It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but MASN will televise five Nationals game and for the second year in a row, not one of them will be a Nationals-Orioles game!

Circle your calendar for these five dates:

Sunday, March 6th vs. Atlanta

Friday, March 11th vs. Houston*

Saturday, March 12th vs. New York Yankees

Sunday, March 20th vs. Detroit

Friday, March 25th vs. St. Louis

* Split-squad = Best chance to see prospects

ESPN, as you might imagine, is not planning to broadcast any Nationals games. MLB Network has not announced its slate for March yet, but best bets would be for one of the Nats-Mets matchups on March 8th and 15th.

The second item probably only matters to you if you don’t live within 10 miles of DC or if you’re not an XM Radio subscriber, but in all likelihood the Nationals’ new broadcast partner will be 106.7FM. For those of you who insist on listening to a crappy AM signal, you’ll be glad to know that WFED 1500AM will be retained for broadcasting to North of DC, and gives the Nationals an alternative for whenever there’s a conflict with (regular-season, obviously) Wizards broadcasts.

Dan Steinberg also notes that non-holiday midweek day games will be broadcast on 1580 AM, the CBS-owned sister station to WJFK, noteworthy to those who don’t subscribe or cannot access Gameday Audio.

Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler are expected to return for their sixth season together.