Norris Knock Takes A Little Sting Off Mock Getting Rocked

Nats suffer first ST loss

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.

Maya Tosses Two Scoreless Innings

Nats win their third straight ST game

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.

A Couple of Minor Pitcher Signings

Nats sign an indy closer and a former ’06 draftee

As mentioned in the comments by NFA Brian, the Nationals have signed a couple of pitchers to minor-league contracts.

Most notably, one of those signed was Sam Brown, who was drafted in the 7th round by the Nationals out of high school in 2006 but did not sign. He was drafted again in 2008 by Arizona in the 18th round but did not sign with his drafting team until 2009 by the Texas Rangers. Brown appeared in 31 games and posted a 3.45 ERA (all in relief) for Spokane in the short-season Northwest League that year. He repeated briefly last year before getting promoted to Hickory in the Sally League, but pitched poorly (6.45 ERA, 1.917 WHIP) in 19 games. He released this past January.

Also signed was Scott Mueller, another thrice-drafted pitcher that finally signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. He rose as high as Frederick in 2008, but was released following a dismal 2009 season with Delmarva. He pitched last season in the independent Frontier League, making the All-Star game as a closer for the Traverse City Bums with a 2-0, 2.04 ERA mark and 14 saves in 38 games.

Should they make the cut, Hagerstown would appear to be the most likely destination for the 23-year-old Brown and the 24-year Mueller (both have June birthdays), given their lack of success or experience at High-A (the Frontier League is a middle-tier indy, roughly equivalent to Low-A). It may also be a signal from the front office that there will be fewer pitchers making the leap from the GCL and the New York-Penn League than usual.

Harper Singles As Nats Win Again

Harper singles in two at bats as Nats win their second ST game

The beauty (and agony) of baseball is that every day is a new chance to forget yesterday. After striking out twice yesterday, Bryce Harper buried his inglorious two-K debut and served up an opposite-field single in his first at-bat today as the Nationals escaped a shaky 9th to beat the New York Mets, 5-3. Harper went 1-for-2 overall and fielded two doubles, the second of which was not fielded cleanly according to NatsNQ (via Twitter).

Danny Espinosa started again at second base, with Chris Marrero at first base, filling in for DH Adam LaRoche (shoulder soreness). Espinosa knocked in two with a two-run HR in the bottom of the Nats’ four-run fourth inning and laid down the tag on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out DP in the previous half-inning. Marrero singled twice in two at-bats out of the #9 hole and did not make an error.

Other notable prospects…

  • Corey Brown once again spelled Nyjer Morgan in CF, rapping an RBI single in the bottom of the 7th, but left the game after a collision at home plate while trying to score on an grounder to 1B by Harper.
  • Derek Norris replaced Ivan Rodriguez and went 1-for-2, popping to short in his first at-bat and singling to 3B in his second AB
  • Cole Kimball pitched a scoreless sixth inning, walking one and striking out one. The stadium’s radar gun was inoperative so no word on how hard he was throwing.

The Nationals remain in Viera tomorrow for an afternoon tilt against the Florida Marlins.

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,
MLB
Fri. Mar. 11 6:00pm Astros MASN
Sat. Mar. 12 1:00pm,
7:00pm*
Yankees MASN,
MLB
Thu. Mar. 17 6:00pm Braves MLB
Sun. Mar. 20 1:00pm,
11:00pm*
Tigers MASN,
MLB
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.