Gio is Pitching Better Than Ever Right Now

Gio+Gonzalez+Cincinnati+Reds+v+Washington+R3n_v3VO1Byl

There’s been a lot of debate about whether Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark deserve to be the Nats’ 4th starter during the playoffs this year.  After all, Roark has much better season stats (2.85 ERA and 15 Wins vs. 3.57 ERA and 10 Wins for Gio), and Gio seemed to let the pressure get to him and didn’t pitch all that well in the 2012 NLDS, his only other postseason appearance.  Not to take anything away from Roark’s fantastic season, but I discovered something surprising yesterday when looking over Gio’s 2014 statistics: right now the big lefty is pitching better than he ever has.

For while it is true that Gio’s ERA this year is the worst he’s ever put up in a season in which he’s made over 20 starts, his 1.197 WHIP is actually his second BEST, behind only his terrific 2012 campaign.  In addition his K/9 rate of 9.2 is also his second best mark behind 2012, and get this–his BB/9 rate of 3.2 is actually his best ever, even trumping 2012.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover something else that’s interesting.  Gio was out of the rotation due to injury from May 17th to June 18th, and the reports were that the ailment in question had been bothering him for several weeks before he went on the disabled list.  Well, it just so happens that if you throw out the two starts he made right before going on the DL as well as his first post-DL stint start, his season ERA drops all the way down to 2.89 in his 24 other starts, which would be the BEST mark of his career.

Those who are more into traditional stats might hear all of this and be inclined to point to Gio’s seemingly mediocre 10-10 record as proof that his tendency to have high pitch counts and not pitch deep into games doesn’t give his team the best chance to win.  To which I have to reply: au contraire.  The Nats’ record in Gio’s starts this year was 16-11, and was 15-9 if you throw out those same three starts sandwiched around his DL stint.  Meanwhile, the team’s record in Roark’s starts is 18-13…in other words about the same in terms of winning percentage despite his lower ERA and better personal win-loss record.

Still haven’t convinced you?  How about the fact that in Gio’s last 7 starts of the season his ERA was 2.36, and he struck out 41 batters while walking only 9?  Then there’s the added fact that during that same time opposing hitters batted only .191 against him.

Add of this up and it makes much more sense why Gio Gonzalez will likely be named to the Nats’ playoff rotation over Tanner Roark, and why with a pitcher of Roark’s ability available in the bullpen this team should be VERY tough to beat in the playoffs.

Future Shutdown Candidates: Harvey and Fernandez

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals

Okay, Strasburg shutdown haters, you’re about to have to step up your game if you don’t want to appear to be a bunch of hypocrites.  Because in the next two years, two teams and two ace pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery may well find themselves exactly where the Nats and Strasburg were in 2012–and amazingly they hail from the Nats’ own division.

There’s no doubt that had Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez been healthy for all of this season, that Nats would not coasted to the NL East after the Braves collapsed.  Not to say that either the Mets or Marlins would have had the horses to beat them out for the division title–neither team did–just that they would have no doubt won quite a few more games and kept things a bit more interesting.  In fact, if Giancarlo Stanton could also have avoided that beanball the Marlins might have had a chance to slip into the playoffs as a wild card team.

The fact is that the Mets and Marlins are both teams that feature a handful of decent veterans and a number of up-and-coming players, particularly good young pitchers–in other words they look an awful lot like the Nats did circa 2011.  By as early as next season, the Mets with Harvey leading their rotation along with young guns Zach Wheeler and Jacob deGroom could easily become contenders for at least a wild card spot.

For his part, Harvey is already predicting a Mets 2015 Opening Day victory, presumably with him getting the win.  But what happens if the Mets are in the hunt come September and decide the prudent thing is to do what the Nats did two years ago?  Will the New York sports media tear them apart?  Or how about if the Mets do let Harvey keep pitching (he threw a career high 178.1 innings in 2012 before blowing out his elbow), and the wear and tear of going well over 200 innings on a recently repaired elbow becomes painfully obvious in the NLDS (kind of like Robert Griffin’s knee in that 2012 Redskins’ playoff game)?  Does that same media then start screaming for Harvey to be immediately shut down?

The same scenario could play out for the Marlins in 2016 (though with Fernandez being injured earlier in the season than Harvey was last year, he might be able to log some a half-season or so worth of innings next year).  Their window to win before Giancarlo Stanton becomes free agent eligible (assuming they don’t trade him or convince him to sign an extension) will be down to exactly that one year.  Knowing that, do they ride the super talented Fernandez like a horse until his arm is ready to fall off hoping to become one-year championship wonders for the third time in team history?  Would you trust sleaze bag Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to NOT do that, especially knowing there is no way he’ll want to pay Fernandez what he is worth when the time comes?

The point is that with the number of players undergoing Tommy John surgery skyrocketing these days this issue is going to come up over and over again with young stud pitchers needing multiple years to get back to full strength while their teams desperately need their services NOW in order to take a shot at winning that elusive championship.  Teams are going to have to decide whether to risk those valuable young assets or be patient and hope they can win in the playoffs anyway.  By ripping on the Nats for the Strasburg shutdown, the haters have boxed themselves in to a position that may be rapidly becoming untenable.

What Will It Take To Get The “Strasburg Shutdown” Haters to Finally Shut Up?

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For the record, I was on board with GM Mike Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 (though as a season ticket holder who experienced the soaring high of  Werth’s Game 4 home run and the crushing disappointment the very next day, I’ll admit I wasn’t especially happy about it).  Not only was Strasburg coming back from Tommy John surgery, but his 160 innings pitched was ALREADY nearly 40 more than he had thrown in any season as a professional.  Stras was also showing signs of wearing down as September rolled around that year–in his last three starts he posted an ERA of 6.43.

Would the Nats have beaten the Cardinals has Stras been in the rotation?  Well, say he wins Game 1, and then Game 2 follows the same script–Gio walks the whole stadium but the Nats somehow pull out a win.  Then Z-nn and Jackson would have had their own bad outings in Games 3 & 4 instead of Games 2 & 3 (Detwiler would have been in the pen), so the series likely would have gone to Game 5 anyway.  Is a way-overextended Stras then better able than Gio was to hold the Cardinals down after getting the early 6-0 lead?  Does Z-nn throw smoke in the 7th inning as he did in 7th inning of Game 4 of the real series?  Does that then mean Clippard and Storen (or maybe even somebody else) get to protect a 7-1 lead instead of a 7-4 lead, resulting in an easy win instead of a crushing defeat?  We’ll never know.

What we do know is that the Nats chose not to risk re-injuring Strasburg, and subsequently he was available to be a horse this year, starting 33 games so far and throwing 209 innings already.  His 235 Ks lead the NL and his recent dominance (1.34 ERA, 33 Ks, 2 BBs in his last 5 starts), suggest an evolving ace who could match Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright pitch for pitch in the NLCS, assuming the Nats reach the second round of the playoffs.

The haters claimed that championship chances come along so rarely that a team needs to go “all in” every time one comes along.  As it has turned out, the championship “window” for this current group of Nats’ players is likely to be framed at 2012-2015 before free agency defections begin to force some retooling (not to say they won’t still have enough talent to at least contend in Strasburg’s “contract season” of 2016, assuming he’s not traded).  They are now in year 3 of that window and so far have two divisional titles to show for it (which, BTW, is one more outright division title than the franchise had won its first 42 years of existence).  The shutdown haters piled on last year when the team missed the playoffs, but as October 2014 approaches the Nats are right where GM Mike Rizzo likely figured they would be when he made the decision to protect his most important asset two years ago–not only division title winners, but a favorite to get to the World Series.

Though it still isn’t really fair, I believe nothing short of a World Series appearance with Strasburg having a dominant postseason run will finally quiet those critics down.   And if the Nats win it all, Rizzo would then be within his rights to go around to every sportswriter and teevee shouting head who dog piled on him for the shutdown and yell, “in your FACE!”

Tomorrow I’m going to discuss two other teams who soon could possibly face the very same dilemma the Nats did in 2012.  If so, will the “debate” be so heated then?

How the East Was Won: Mike Rizzo’s Top 8 Trades

Tanner+Roark+Milwaukee+Brewers+v+Washington+ZzI5vYjhAaBl

Every MLB general manager has their strengths and weaknesses.  While Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo’s track record on free agent signings has been something of a mixed bag, the overall quality of his trades have been outstanding in his five years in the top job, and his ability to “win” at the trading game that has been a big factor in the team’s recent success.

Even before ownership removed the “interim” from his title back in 2009, he had hijacked slugger Mike Morse from Seattle for the piddling price of light hitting 4th outfielder Ryan Langerhans.  That’s not to say every trade he’s made has been completely one-sided–they don’t necessarily have to be in order to be considered a success–but often the results have reflected the efforts of a general manager and his staff who clearly are doing their homework ahead of time.

And so as the Nats prepare for their triumphant return home and their last set of tuneup games before the playoffs, here are NE’s list of the Top 8 Mike Rizzo trades:

8.  Joe Beimel (LHP) traded to Colorado for Ryan Mattheus (RHP), 2009.  

Veteran reliever Beimel was signed to a one-year contract during spring training in 2009 as newly elevated GM Mike Rizzo desperately attempted to head off what was going to be an absolute bullpen trash fire left behind for him by just-fired predecessor Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden.  Beimel pitched decently for the Nats, but he alone wasn’t enough to dampen the relief corps explosion that sunk the Nats’ ship of state all the way to the bottom of the standings by the July trading deadline.

Taking his first ever gamble on an injured player, Rizzo flipped Beimel to the Colorado Rockies for a minor league reliever who was just about to undergo Tommy John surgery.  Ryan Mattheus recovered fully and pitched well enough to be recalled to the big club in 2011.  During the 2012 playoff run Mattheus became a bullpen mainstay, putting up 1.3 Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) and elevating his two-year Nats’ bWAR at that time to a total of 1.8.  Beimel, meanwhile put up a bWAR of only 0.2 for Colorado before the remainder of his one year, Nats-originated contract expired at the end of the 2009 season.

7.  Alex Meyer (RHP) traded to Minnesota for Denard Span (CF), 2012.

Prior to this season, the trade that brought Denard Span to Washington looked like it might be a bust (and I will admit that I was a Span hater last year).  Centerfield and leadoff hitter were two areas in which the Nats had been sorely deficient during their first eight seasons in DC.  Rizzo tried to rectify both issues by trading prospect Alex Meyer, part of the huge talent haul the Nats drafted in 2011, for Span, who was then the Twins’ starting centerfielder.

Span looked lost for much of his first season wearing the Curly W.  Despite a late season 29-game hitting streak that greatly elevated his overall season numbers, Span still only managed to slash .279/.320/.380, score only 75 runs and steal just 20 bases–fairly paltry numbers a for a leadoff hitter on a supposed pennant contender.  In 2014, however, Span has blossomed, becoming a key contributor to the offense.  Not only does he currently lead the NL in hits, but his OPS of .765 is nearly 60 points higher than it was last year.  The Nats also hold Span’s relatively inexpensive $9 million option to bring him back next season if they so wish, and based on his recent level of performance and the need to give CF heir apparent Michael Taylor a bit more seasoning as a hitter, they almost certainly will.

Meyer, on the other hand, while he remains a top pitching prospect for the Twins has yet to appear in a major league game.  He may eventually prove to be a top starting pitcher, but a team with its playoff “window” wide open needs to fine tune for the immediate future without worrying so much about three years down the road, and by that measure the Span trade has been a big success.

6.  Ryan Langerhans (OF) traded to Seattle for Mike Morse (OF), 2009.

Though he had spent parts of 2007 & 2008 with the big club, by 2009 Ryan Langerhans had become excess baggage–banished to AAA all season despite the Nats being mired in their second consecutive 100-loss campaign.  On June 28th, Rizzo pulled off a little-noticed trade, sending Langerhans to Seattle for Mike Morse, who was already 27 and similarly languishing in the Mariners’ minor league system.

Given a September call up that year, Morse bashed 3 home runs and hit 3 doubles in just 52 at bats, setting himself up to make the team out of spring training in 2010.  Given a chance as a 4th outfielder, Morse then hit 15 home runs in a half season’s worth of at bats.  When Josh Willingham was then traded that offseason, Morse finally got his chance to be a starter at age 29, and he rewarded the Nats by slugging 31 dingers, driving in 95 runs and putting up a .910 OPS that led the entire team by more than 100 points.  He also became a fan favorite, and his combined bWAR in four seasons as a Nat was 5.8.

Langerhans, on the other hand, was called up immediately by Seattle and had a completely forgettable two and a half seasons with the Mariners.  During that time, he TOTALED a mere 9 home runs and 20 RBIs and had a paltry 0.8 bWAR.  In exchange for a light-hitting defensive fourth outfielder the Nats were not even using at the time, Rizzo obtained a middle of the order slugger who would loom large both literally and figuratively during the team’s first playoff run.  Not to mention that Morse was also a big part of another shrewd Rizzo trade:

5.  Mike Morse (OF) traded to Seattle for Blake Treinen (RHP), Ian Krol (LHP) and A.J. Cole (RHP), 2013.

Perhaps miffed that he’d let Morse get away only to see the slugger blossom in DC, four years later Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik apparently decided he needed to have him back.  Meanwhile, Morse only had a year remaining with the Nats before he became eligible for free agency, and with his terrible defense he had never really been Mike Rizzo’s type of player.  So right after the New Year in 2013, the two executives engineered a three-way deal with the A’s Billy Beane in which the Mariners got Morse for a second go-around while the Nats received a haul of pitching prospects from the A’s in return.

Key to the deal on the Nats’ end was prospect A.J. Cole, who Rizzo had sent to the A’s the year before as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Cole disappointed during his one season in the Oakland farm system, but righted the ship upon returning and is now listed by MLB.com as the Nats’ overall Number 2 prospect.  Ian Krol was promoted to the Nats in 2013 as a lefty reliever, and acquitted himself well as a rookie before being sent to the Tigers as part of the Doug Fister trade.  And lastly, Blake Treinen made his MLB debut in 2014 and has looked good as both a reliever and a starter, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in his first 46 MLB innings.

Meanwhile, Morse started off hot his first month in Seattle before tailing off and then getting hurt (again).  He ended the season with only 13 home runs and 27 RBIs while posting a career low OPS of just .651.  Particularly ghastly was his performance after a late August trade to Baltimore.  Morse put up a stretch run slash line of .103/.133/.103 with just 3 hits (none for extra bases) and no RBIs in 29 ABs.  And though he has rebounded a bit with the Giants this season, it comes after he would likely been allowed to leave the Nats via free agency anyway.

4.  Derek Norris (C), A.J. Cole (RHP), Tommy Milone (LHP) and Brad Peacock (RHP) traded to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez (LHP), 2011.

Now here is a trade that worked out great for both teams.  After a long process of rebuilding the worst farm system in baseball that was the legacy of when MLB own the franchise, GM Mike Rizzo traded a large part of his first bounty of MLB-ready prospects to Oakland for young All Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez.  In the process, he convinced Gonzalez to sign a very team friendly contract extension that will keep him wearing the Curly W through 2018 if the Nats elect to pick up the last two option years.  Gio has been excellent for the Nats from the start, in 2012 becoming the first-ever Nats’ pitcher to win 20 games and strike out over 200 batters while finishing second in the NL Cy Young award balloting.  His second and third seasons with the club haven’t been as strong, but he remains a rotation mainstay at a relatively cheap cost and was a big factor in the Nats’ surprising playoff run of two years ago.

Meanwhile the biggest benefit the A’s received was catcher Derek Norris, a former Nationals’ minor league player of the year who has blossomed into an All Star himself.  Tommy Milone gave the A’s a couple of solid years in their rotation before being traded to Minnesota this summer.  Brad Peacock was dumped off on Houston, where he is still trying to put things together, and youngster A.J. Cole, as I’ve already written above, was traded back to the Nats in the second Mike Morse deal.

3.  Robby Ray (RHP), Ian Krol (LHP) and Steve Lombardozzi (UT) traded to Detroit for Doug Fister (RHP), 2013.

So what exactly was Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski thinking when he shipped pitcher Doug Fister to the Nats for Mike Rizzo’s pocket change?  We may never know, but there is no doubt that this was the trade that made the Nats’ 2014 season.  Despite missing the first month, Fister has already matched his career high in bWAR (4.1) while leading an outstanding Nats’ rotation in wins (15, a career high) and ERA (2.55, a career low).

Meanwhile Robbie Ray, who was never listed as being higher than the Nats’ 3rd or 4th best pitching prospect, failed in his first call up to the Tigers, sporting a ghastly 7.16 ERA in only 26 innings over 8 appearances (6 starts).  Even at AAA this year, Ray’s ERA was a pedestrian 4.22 in 100.1 innings.  Ian Krol regressed in the Tigers’ bullpen, as his ERA ballooned to 4.96 in 45 appearances, and they thought so little of Steve Lombardozzi that they flipped him over to the Orioles, where he spent much of the season in the minors.

What made this trade even worse for the Tigers is that losing Fister ultimately necessitated their costly midseason trade with Tampa Bay for David Price.  And even if Ray, the centerpiece of the deal for the Tigers, rebounds and eventually becomes a decent starter this trade will still be a huge win for how much it has helped the Nats in this pivotal second playoff season.

2.  Matt Capps (RHP) traded to Minnesota for Wilson Ramos (C) and Joe Testa (LHP), 2010.

Closer Matt Capps was one of several low cost free agents brought in by Mike Rizzo before the 2010 season in an effort to end the team’s string of two consecutive 100 loss campaigns.  Capps helped the Nats that year by solidifying their wretched bullpen and saving 26 games, which got him his first (and only) All Star nod.  He then helped the Nats even more in future seasons by being the commodity Rizzo was able to flip over to the Twins at the trading deadline for rookie catcher Wilson Ramos (and Joe Testa, who pitched only 5 games above A ball before being released in 2012).

Though he’s had his injury issues, when healthy Ramos has been a top notch catcher both defensively and offensively and his presence on the roster gave Rizzo the flexibility to use top catching prospect Derek Norris to help land Gio Gonzalez.  Ramos has banged out 46 home runs and driven in 171 runs in 314 games played for the Nats.  Best of all, Ramos is still only 26 and health permitting could remain the Nats’ starting backstop for many years to come.

Capps meanwhile, finished the 2010 campaign well and then stuck around Minnesota for two more seasons, pitching progressively worse until injuries derailed his career in 2012.  Getting an above average starting catcher (even if he was blocked from starting in Minnesota by the presence of All Star Joe Mauer) for a middling relief pitcher was a true Rizzo heist.  But it was not even his best one.  For that, I humbly present:

1.  Cristian Guzman (IF) traded to Texas for Tanner Roark (RHP) and Ryan Tatusko (RHP), 2010.

When not injured, Cristian Guzman was for better or worse the Nats’ starting shortstop for their first five seasons in DC (not counting his lost 2006 season).  By year six, however, he was clearly on the decline and had been bumped over to second base in favor of rookie Ian Desmond.  By the time the 2010 trading deadline was rolling around, Mike Rizzo was likely hoping he could just get a little more than the proverbial “bag of baseballs” for Guzman.  He found a taker in the Rangers, who agreed to accept the quickly aging Guzman in exchange for two unheralded righty minor league starting pitchers who had originally been drafted in the 18th and 25th rounds respectively.

For Texas, Guzman did literally nothing, collecting only 7 hits (1 double) and 1 measly RBI in 15 games before disappearing from the majors for good.  No doubt Texas chalked the whole trade up to “very little ventured, very little gained,” but little did they know that Rizzo had actually gotten a least a little bit of revenge for former Rangers owner Bob Short’s decision to steal away the old Washington Senators in 1971.

For a couple of seasons after the move, Nats fans might be forgiven for having forgotten all about it.  Roark and Tatusko bounced around the higher levels of the Nats’ farm system while putting up the kind of numbers that tagged them as “organizational guys”–in other words roster filler never destined to make it to the majors.  Roark was particularly bad in 2012, going 6-17 for AAA Syracuse while sporting a 4.39 ERA.  Tatusko was released this season so he could go pitch in Japan, and Roark might have suffered a similar fate had the “light” not suddenly gone on for him.

In 2013, Roark lowered his Syracuse ERA to 3.13 while upping his record to 9-3.  He also became a “swingman,” pitching as both a starter and a reliever, which had the effect of maximizing his chances of getting a big league call up.  As it turned out, the call for a bullpen arm finally came on August 7, 2013, and Roark has never looked back.  As a reliever, Roark made 9 appearances with a nifty 1.19 ERA before being asked to step into the rotation as an injury replacement.  There he had nearly equal success, finishing up 2013 by pitching 31 innings in 5 starts and an ERA of 1.74.

Still, fans and even Nats management had a hard time believing that a former 25th round draft pick who had never been anything special in the minors could suddenly be so good.  Roark entered spring training this year behind fellow 2013 rookie but actual prospect Taylor Jordan on the rotation depth chart.  Only an early injury to Doug Fister allowed both to make the Opening Day rotation, and when one of the two flamed out, to nearly everyone’s surprise it wasn’t Roark, who fired a complete game 3-hit shutout at the Padres in late April just as Fister was getting ready to return to the rotation and Jordan was about to be shipped back to AAA.

As the season draws to a close, Roark has been nothing short of amazing, making every start while putting up a 14-10 record and sporting a nifty 2.85 ERA.  Meanwhile, the last place Rangers, who lost nearly every starting pitcher save Yu Darvish to injury this year, can only shake their heads and wonder how they could have let such a valuable commodity get away for practically nothing.

The NE Top 30 Nats’ Prospects List: 10-1

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would use some early posts here at Nate EXPOSed by publishing my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  On Saturday, I posted prospects number 20-11.  Today, we get down to the really big guns as it is numbers 10-1 (forgive me missing my promised posting date of yesterday.  I’m still getting used to working with WordPress).  Feel free to argue with me, or agree with me if you will, in the comments.

10.  Taylor Hill, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (6th Round) 2011; Age 25.

There was a time not all that long ago when a young starting pitcher who put up the kind numbers Hill did early in the season at AAA would have found himself called up to DC with a chance to immediately become a rotation mainstay for a depleted Nats team for whom good starting pitching was a rare commodity.  For Hill in 2014, however, all starting the year 9-2 and having a scorching month of May ERA of 0.95 in 38 innings got him (other than being named to the International League All Star team) was a brief cup of coffee in the Nats’ bullpen that amounted to 2 appearances and 4.1 innings pitched.  Hill didn’t even get a September call up to the big club, likely because the Nats wanted to protect his arm.  With the Nats’ rotation already five deep going into next year, and with Blake Treinen, A.J. Cole and possibly still Taylor Jordan ahead of Hill on the starting pitching depth chart, don’t be surprised if this young pitcher ends up being part of a trade this coming offseason.

9.  Sammy Solis, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2010; Age 26.

Solis’s Nats’ career has been one of extreme frustration, as injuries, including the dreaded Tommy John surgery in 2012, have significantly held him back.  During this past offseason, however, things were looking up as despite being a career starter Solis was being mentioned as a potential lefty bullpen arm for the big club in 2014.  Another injury delayed the start to his season, and he was just getting going when he was shut down yet again in early June with what was described as elbow discomfort.  Solis would not again return to the mound.  Though his career minor league ERA is excellent at 3.32, it unfortunately reflects only 178.2 innings pitched in five seasons as a starting pitcher.  Solis will be 27 next year, and he must finally get healthy if he is ever going to be a contributor at the MLB level.

8.  Brian Goodwin, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2011; Age 23.

Among the Nats’ elite prospects going into the 2014 season, no player saw his stock sink faster than Goodwin.  Part of that amazing 2011 draft haul that also brought Anthony Rendon, pitcher Alex Meyer (traded for Denard Span) and Matt Purke to the organization, Goodwin was tagged from day one as the team’s centerfielder of the future.  Goodwin started off very well in 2012, showing both speed and power while getting bumped up from Low A Hagerstown to AA Harrisburg at the tender young age of 21.  Though he regressed some last year playing a full season at AA, he retained his top prospect status.  This season, however, the bottom fell out as Goodwin slashed only .212/.342/.328 at AAA Syracuse.  Even worse, he managed only 4 home runs and 6 stolen bases in 81 games before being shut down with a mysterious injury in early July.  In the meantime, Michael Taylor leapfrogged past Goodwin on the CF depth chart, and is now considered the heir apparent to Denard Span, likely in 2016.  Where this leaves Goodwin will depend on his production (or lack thereof) next season.

7.  Erick Fedde, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Injured; How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2014; Age 21.

GM Mike Rizzo’s latest injury gambit was using the Nats’ top 2014 draft pick on Fedde the very same week the pitcher went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.  Once again, as with Anthony Rendon, Luke Giolito and Matt Purke, it was a matter of getting a player lower in the draft than he would have otherwise been picked and hoping he can overcome his injury.  Fedde will likely return to action in the middle of next season and be brought along slowly for his first couple of years.  Assuming all goes well, that would put him on track to join the big club’s rotation circa 2018 or so.

6.  Wilmer Difo; IF; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2010; Age 22.

Difo was without a doubt the biggest surprise in the organization in 2014.  A former graduate of the DSL, prior to this year Difo looked like a typical light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielder.  His HIGHEST previous annual home run and RBI totals had been 4 and 21 respectively.  So how did it go for Difo in 2014?  Well, all he managed to do was win the South Atlantic League MVP award while hitting 14 home runs, driving in 90, scoring 91 runs and stealing 49 bases.  Additionally, his OPS of .831 was nearly 130 points higher than his previous career high.  Splitting his time nearly equally between shortstop and second base, Difo instantly vaulted to the top of the heap of Nats middle infield prospects.  Now all he has to do is go out next year and prove this season wasn’t a fluke.

5.  Austin Voth, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2013; Age 22.

Voth (rhymes with “both”) was the fastest riser among Nats’ prospects in 2014, leaping from Low A Hagerstown (where he was a mid-season All Star) to AA Harrisburg with just 6 starts at High A Potomac in between.  In his first five Potomac starts, Voth allowed an incredible 1 single run in 33 innings while striking out 36 batters and walking only 5.  I was lucky enough to catch one of those starts live, and I must say he was really popping the ol’ catcher’s mitt with his pitches.  Unfortunately, Voth was overmatched once he reached Harrisburg–or maybe it was the bad atmosphere on a club in the middle of a truly wretched season that did him in–and his ERA ballooned to over 6.00 in his last five starts of the season.  Still, his dominance at both Low and High A ball at a relatively young age combined with his high strikeout rates are reasons to be optimistic that Voth could be a future piece of the big club’s rotation.

4.  Steve Souza, OF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2007; Age 25.

It’s been a long, hard road to the majors for Souza, one that included a PED suspension and once leaving his minor league team after an argument with the manager.  There was also a lot of underachievement for the former 3rd round pick until things finally started to come together in 2013.  Then in 2014 came the explosion–an amazing 1.022 OPS at AAA Syracuse (more than 100 points higher than the next highest International League batting title qualifier) coupled with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases that made him the overwhelming choice for league MVP.  Souza’s stat totals might have been even more impressive, but he got called up twice to Washington as an injury replacement, and the second time he injured himself running into the outfield wall while trying to make a catch.  Unfortunately for Souza, the Nats’ outfield will likely have no open slots next year, and at age 26 to start the new season he deserves a shot at being a starter.  That chance may come if GM Mike Rizzo decides to trade him for the right deal in the offseason.  Otherwise, a spot as the Nats’ fourth outfielder next year seems virtually assured.

3.  Michael Taylor, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (6th Round) 2009; Age 23.

For several years, the Nats have been waiting for Taylor’s production to catch up with his outstanding raw ability.  As it turned out, 2014 was the year he would put it all together.  Already known for being a top notch defender, Taylor went 20+ (home runs)-30+ (stolen bases) playing mostly at Harrisburg before getting his first taste of the big leagues and hitting his first big league homer in August.  One of two Nats selected for the MLB All Star Future’s Game in 2014, Taylor’s overall minor league slash line was a robust .304/.390/.526.  If there is any knock on his game, it’s his high strikeout rate (144 in 493 PAs), but if he can keep hitting home runs and stealing bases at the major league level, he could eventually be the CF version of Ian Desmond.  Expect Denard Span’s contract option to be picked up in 2015, but expect the Nats to be looking at Taylor as Span’s potential successor beyond next season.

2.  A.J. Cole, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (4th Round) 2010/Trade 2012; Age 22.

Oakland’s Billy Beane is generally considered one of the best GM’s in baseball, but Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo might just have gotten the better of Mr. Moneyball in two trades involving A.J. Cole.  Cole was initially shipped off to Oakland as part of the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to DC.  But then, after Cole had a disappointing 2012 minor league season, Beane sent Cole back to the Nats along with fireballer Blake Treinen and lefty Ian Krol (later part of the Doug Fister trade) in a three way deal that cost the Nats exactly one year of popular slugger Mike Morse’s services.  At any rate, since returning to the Nats’ organization, Cole has steadily marched up the minor league chain and with his excellent combined numbers at Harrisburg and Syracuse this year (13-3, 3.16 ERA, 111 Ks in 134 IPs), is knocking on the door asking for admission to the big club’s rotation.  With that rotation apparently set again in 2015, Cole will likely have to bide his time at Syracuse, likely to be used as the team’s 6th starter in anticipation of getting his big chance in 2016.

1. Luke Giolito, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2012; Age 20.

No Nats’ rookie pitcher will ever come close to having the kind of hype Stephen Strasburg had before ever throwing a big league pitch, but by the time he is ready for The Show a couple of years from now Luke Giolito may just come close.  The triple-digit throwing Giolito was, like Strasburg, set to be a near consensus overall number one draft choice when he injured his elbow his senior year of high school.  Tumbling all the way down to the Nats with the 16th pick, GM Mike Rizzo took a risk that Giolito wouldn’t opt to go to college and that his elbow was salvageable.  Though he ended up needing Tommy John surgery after throwing only two professional innings, Giolito has bounced back strong.  Despite being held to an innings limit of just 98 this year, he still won the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher award courtesy of a stellar 10-2 record, a 2.20 ERA and racking up 110 strikeouts.  With his surgery now more than two years behind him, expect Giolito to move quickly up the Nats’ chain, and possibly join Strasburg in the rotation by 2016 where if he continues to dominate, he’ll give the Nats one heck of a one-two punch.

The NE Nats’ Top 30 Prospects List: 20-11

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would start some of the initial posts here at Nats EXPOSed by publishing my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  Yesterday, I posted prospects number 30-21.  Today, it is numbers 20-11.  Feel free to argue with me, or agree with me if you will, in the comments.

20.  Felipe Rivero, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Trade 2014; Age 22.

After being part of the trade last offseason in which the Nats acquired backup catcher Jose Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hurler Nate Karns, Rivero has taken the injured Matt Purke’s place as the organization’s top lefty starting pitcher prospect despite missing half the year due to injury himself.  For Rivero, it wasn’t so much the pedestrian overall numbers he put up for the Harrisburg Senators (2-7, 4.12 ERA) but how he finished the year, giving up only one earned run in his last three starts, that provides some hope that he may still develop into a serviceable major league starting pitcher.

19.  Reynaldo Lopez, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2012; Age 20.

Another “graduate” of the Nats’ Dominican Summer League team (or the D-Nats, as I call them), Lopez came out of nowhere this season to challenge top Nats’ prospect Luke Giolito as the best pitcher on a very good Hagerstown squad.  Coming off an injury that cost him most of his first stateside campaign in 2013, Lopez started late this season but quickly made up for it, going 7-3 in 16 starts split between Auburn and Hagerstown while posting a blistering cumulative ERA of 1.08 and WHIP of 0.816.  As with any player who makes a huge sudden jump in his level of performance, however, Lopez will have to prove that he isn’t just a one season wonder.  If he shows next season that he really does have the right stuff, he’ll be yet another great young arm added to a organization that’s already well stacked with them.

18.  Nick Pivetta, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (4th Round) 2013; Age 21.

With top prospect Luke Giolito on a tight post-Tommy John surgery innings limit, and Reynaldo Lopez not joining the team until late in the season, Nick Pivetta was the horse of the 2014 Hagerstown staff both in terms of stature (6′ 5″, 220 lbs) and innings pitched (132.1, not counting the playoffs).  Neither Pivetta’s ERA (4.22) nor his strikeout rate (6.7 per 9 innings) really jump out at you, but being able to handle such a heavy workload at a fairly young age certainly tags him as a potential future lower in the rotation innings eater at the MLB level.

17.  Matt Grace, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (8th Round) 2010; Age 25.

A failed starter, Grace could be next season’s left-handed version of Aaron Barrett, the rookie reliever who makes the team out of Spring Training and ends up becoming a bullpen mainstay.  After making good progress in 2013 in his first full year in the pen, Grace had his breakout year in 2014, posting a sizzling combined ERA of 1.17 and WHIP of 1.104 in 77 combined innings at Harrisburg and Syracuse.   Even more important for a lefty reliever, left handed batters managed only a paltry .144 average and only 3 XBHs (all doubles) against him in 112 PAs.  That kind of dominance in the high minor leagues is what gets a player his shot at making The Show.

16.  Jeff Kobernus, IF-OF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2009; Age 26.

Kobernus is currently enjoying his second September callup with the Nats thanks to his good speed and his ability to play both infield and outfield.  In a way, he resembles a poor man’s Steve Lombardozzi.  Both came up through the system as second basemen, both hit the ball well (but not for power) and showed good base stealing ability in the minors (Kobernus has actually been better in that latter category) and both were turned into “super-utility” type players as they reached the major leagues.  The difference is that while Lombardozzi was a “surprise” as a 19th rounder to make the bigs, as a 2nd rounder more might have been expected of Kobernus.  With one more minor league option remaining, Syracuse seems to be Kobernus’s likely destination again to start next season.

15.  Tony Renda, 2B; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2012; Age 23.

What is it about the Nats and how they keep drafting natural second basemen who hit around .300 every year in the minors (.307), can steal some bases (19) but have virtually no power (zero home runs).  First it was Steve Lombardozzi, then Jeff Kobernus and now the latest such player is Tony Renda.  I actually have a soft spot for Renda.  Standing a mere 5’8″ and weighing in at 180 lbs soaking wet, when he plays (I saw him at Potomac) he looks like someone’s kid brother was allowed out onto the field.  Nevertheless, Renda DOES show good on base skills, and is what they call a “grinder” out in the field, so a future as an MLB utility player does not seem out of the question.

14.  Pedro Severino, C; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: IFA 2011; Age 20.

Catcher is one position in which the Nats’ system is loaded with prospects.  Scouts have been raving about Severino’s defensive prowess ever since he arrived stateside last year from the D-Nats.  All Severino needed, it was said, was for his bat to develop.  Well, there were signs this season that it is doing just that.  At the tender young age of 20 playing at Potomac (fun fact: when Bryce Harper played some rehab games in Woodbridge this year, Severino was the only P-Nat player younger than him), Severino bashed 9 homers and got his OPS over .700 for the first time in his career.  He still has two or three more development years ahead of him before he’ll become MLB-ready, but don’t be surprised if Severino eventually sets himself up as Wilson Ramos’s potential successor.

13. Jackson Reetz, C; Highest 2014 Level: Gulf Coast Nationals (Rookie); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2014; Age 18.

High schooler Reetz was the Nats’ highest position player draftee in 2014, and he rewarded their confidence in him by putting up a .276/.429/.368 slash line for the organization’s Gulf Coast team (or the G-Nats, if you will).  It’s that amazing OBP that really jumps out.  Though among the youngest players in U.S. professional baseball this year, Reetz’s command of the strike zone was such that he almost had more walks (26) than strikeouts (30).  He even added six stolen bases to his stats, showing surprising agility on the base paths for a catcher.  Granted, he plays a position that takes many years to learn properly (which is why the Nats never seriously considered keeping Bryce Harper behind the dish after drafting him), but Reetz looks like he will be fun to watch as he moves up through the system in the coming years.

12. Drew Ward, 3B; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A): How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2013; Age 19.

Right now, Ward probably projects as the best pure hitter in the lower portion of the Nats’ minor league system.  Though still listed as a third basemen, scouts have said the his poor range will eventually necessitate a move across the diamond to first base.  Should that happen, it will be a question of whether Ward can hit well enough to play every day at the MLB level.  The last similarly talented high school draftee the Nats’ had such hopes for was Chris Marrero, who ultimately couldn’t hit well enough to stick with the big club.  Ward is off to a good start, however.  His .269/.341/.413 slash line with 10 dingers and 73 RBIs represents strong progress for a 19-year old already playing in full season A ball.

11.  Matt Skole, 1B; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA, playoffs only): How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2011; Age 24.

Speaking of hard-hitting former third basemen who made the switch across the diamond, we have the example of Matt Skole, who set the world on fire by bashing 27 round-trippers at Hagerstown in 2012 and collecting more than 100 RBIs between there and a short end-of-season stint at Potomac.  Then Skole was bizarrely sidelined for nearly all of 2013 after being that rare position player needing Tommy John surgery.  Unfortunately, he did not come back strong in 2014, putting up a relatively modest .241/.352/.399 slash line during Harrisburg’s trash fire of a season and collecting only 14 deep flies in the process.  The Nats did think enough of Skole to promote him to AAA Syracuse for the playoffs (after starting Syracuse first baseman Tyler Moore was called up to the big club), but that doesn’t obscure the fact that he had a disappointing season and that bouncing back next year will be critical if he hopes to get a crack at The Show someday.

The NE Top 30 Nats’ Prospects: 30-21

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would use some early posts here at Nate EXPOSed to publish my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  No, I’m not a professional or amateur scout or anything…just a fan who follows the Nats minor league system almost as closely as I do the big club.

Funny thing about baseball prospects lists, however–no matter who is responsible for assembling them they typically manage to be wrong more often then they are right.  Nobody, and I mean not even the Nats’ own scouting staff, had former 2008 25th round draft pick and Cristian Guzman trade throw-in Tanner Roark on their prospect radar prior to the 2013 season.  Yet as it now stands, Roark has had more success than any player who WAS on those lists at that time other than Anthony Rendon.

To be eligible for this list, a player must have finished the 2014 season with their “rookie” status intact, meaning that they have fewer than 130 MLB at bats or 50 innings pitched, or have been on the 25-man roster fewer than 45 days (which excludes September call ups).  As of this writing, MLB.com still lists Blake Treinen on its list of Top Nats’ prospects, while Treinen has pitched 46.1 innings so far for the big club with 10 games to go in the season.  I’m going to assume he reaches 50 by season’s end, and am thereby leaving him off of my own list.

And so, with all that in mind, below is the bottom third of my Top 30 list in reverse order (the second and third portions of the list will follow over the next two days).  Feel free to argue with my selections and/or analysis, or agree with me if you like, in the comments.

30.  Anderson Franco, IF; Highest 2014 Level: DSL Nationals (Rookie); How Acquired: IFA 2013; Age 16.

Franco was last year’s International Free Agent (IFA) “bonus baby,” the only non-U.S. player to whom the Nats gave a significant bonus to sign (though it was still less than $1 million, or less than 1/68th of what the White Sox gave to Cuban slugger Jose Abreu).  Nevertheless, Franco held his own as one of the youngest players in the Dominican Summer League, slashing .272/.346/.379 in 237 PAs, and hitting 4 home runs in a league not known for huge totals in that department.  In the field Franco split time between third base and shortstop, and it is unclear as to which position will ultimately become his primary position going forward.  Either way, assuming he develops into a MLB-quality player it will be four or five seasons before this youngster will be ready to play in DC.

29.  Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (22nd Round) 2009; Age 26.

For the first few seasons after he was drafted, Rosenbaum looked like he was going to follow in the footsteps of fellow soft-tossing lefty starters John Lannan and Tommy Milone by maximizing his limited natural talent and making it to the majors as a lower part of the rotation innings eater.  In 2011, Rosenbaum sparkled between Potomac and Harrisburg, throwing an impressive 171.1 combined innings with a 2.52 combined ERA.  Rosenbaum showed enough promise, in fact, that the Colorado Rockies plucked him away in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, only to return him at the end of spring training.  Since then, Rosenbaum’s career has been on a downward trajectory as his ERA has climbed each of the last two years while his already low strikeout rate has sunk even further.  In 2014, he bottomed out, making only four starts before being shelved with an injury for the rest of the season.  Rosenbaum has one more year with the organization before he becomes a six-year minor league free agent, so he’ll have to quickly prove he’s worthy of a 40-man roster spot next season–possibly as a future LOOGY reliever–or he’ll likely be moving on.

28.  Spencer Kieboom, C; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2012; Age 23.

Kieboom came into the 2014 season something of a forgotten man, as injuries had limited him to four games last year.  He made his mark this season as an offense-first catcher who slashed .309/.352/.500 while bashing 9 home runs and driving in 61.  His .852 OPS led a Hagerstown lineup which was blessed with some pretty good offensive players, including South Atlantic League MVP Wilmer Difo (more about him later), who was a fellow South Atlantic League All Star.  The concern with Kieboom, as it is with many Nats’ prospects, is that he was quite a bit older than the league average player, and must replicate his batting success as he moves up the minor league chain.  Defensively, Kieboom was solid, committing only two errors all season while throwing out 40% of potential base stealers.

27.  Brett Mooneyham, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2012; Age 24.

Mooneyham was one of the biggest disappointments in the Nats’ farm system in 2014.  After scorching the South Atlantic League to the tune of a 10-3 record with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts at Hagerstown last year, the wheels fell off for Mooneyham after being promoted to Potomac this season.  How ugly was it?  A 7.36 ERA with a 2.121 WHIP ugly.  While control was always an issue for Mooneyham, his 35 walks against only 18 strikeouts in a mere 33 innings showed a ghastly lack of control.  Pushed back to Hagerstown in the 2nd half of the season, he recovered somewhat, but he’ll be 25 next season and his time as a prospect is already rapidly running out.

26.  Jake Johansen, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2013; Age 23.

Because the Nats lost their 1st round draft pick for 2013 by signing Rafael Soriano as a free agent (don’t get me started), Johansen was their de facto top pick last year.  Well, he sure didn’t pitch like it in his first full season in the minor leagues.  Like Mooneyham, Johansen is a hard thrower with control issues.  In just over 100 innings this season he managed to strike out a decent 89 batters, but that production came at the cost of 55 walks, which helped balloon his ERA up to 5.19.  By the second half of the year, he’d been moved to the bullpen, where his results were inexplicably even worse (6.38 ERA in 11 relief appearances vs. 4.92 as a starter).  Still, there’s too much raw talent there for the Nats to give up on Johansen too quickly.

25.  Erik Davis, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Injured; How Acquired: Trade 2011; Age: 27.

Acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade that sent infielder Alberto Gonzalez packing (boy, THERE is a name that dredges up bad memories for Nats fans), Davis converted to relief pitching and finally got his call to the show last year, throwing 8.2 innings in 10 appearances with a decent ERA of 3.12 and WHIP of 1.269.  Better yet, he struck out 12 batters, for a sizzling K/9 rate of 12.5 in an admittedly very small sample size.  Unfortunately, Davis was injured prior to this season and missed the whole year, and at age 28 going into next season may face the same unfortunate fate as Cole Kimball before him–another promising young reliever who got a brief cup of coffee with the Nats in his mid-20s a few years ago before injuries ultimately derailed his career.

24.  Robert Benincasa, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (7th Round) 2012; Age 23.

Many of any team’s top relief pitching prospects are usually failed starters.  Benincasa, on the other hand, has never started a game as a professional but nevertheless has been steadily moving up the ladder since the Nats picked him out of Florida State in 2012.  His year actually got off to a rocky start at Potomac with an ERA north of 5.00, but he settled down upon being promoted to AA Harrisburg, where he put up some pretty good numbers (3.10 ERA, 1.241 WHIP) for a team that had quite a dismal year.  Most importantly, his K/9 rate rebounded to above 9.0 (30 Ks in 29 IPs), which should keep him on track to someday surface with the big club as a middle reliever.

23.  Rafael Bautista, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2012; Age: 21.

One of a slew of “graduates” from the Nats’ Dominican Summer League squad playing stateside in 2014, Bautista’s 69 steals led the entire organization.  Better yet, he got on base at a decent clip (.290 BA, .340 OBP) and even hit for a little power (20 doubles, 5 home runs), which was good enough for him to be named to the South Atlantic League All Star team.  In order to become a top prospect, however, Bautista will have to increase his walks rate going forward (only 33 BBs in 543 PAs) so that he can make the most of his speed on the base paths. Still, he’ll only be 22 next season and has a lot of time yet to develop as a hitter.

22.  Stephen Perez, SS; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (8th round) 2012, Age 23.

The switch-hitting Perez was a midseason Carolina League All Star for the Potomac Nationals and instantly became the top shortstop prospect in a system sorely lacking at that position.  Perez then tailed off a bit in the second half to finish with a slash line of .253/.364/.339.  Though he walked plenty as indicated by his high OBP, he only managed to hit two home runs all year and his speed (27 stolen bases) is decent but not spectacular for a player at this level of the minors.  Perez also committed 25 errors, and when I saw him play in person his range did not appear to be all that great.  Given that he is right now the same age that Ian Desmond was when he made his MLB debut, Perez looks to project more as a future utility player than as Desmond’s eventual replacement.

21.  Matt Purke, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2011; Age 23.

Nats fans are well aware of GM Mike Rizzo’s willingness to take a chance on injured players with talent, especially if he can obtain them for a relative bargain.  Sometimes, as with Anthony Rendon and Luke Giolito, it works out.  Then there is the contrary example of Purke, who was signed for 1st round money back in 2011 when teams could still vastly overpay for lower draft picks without being penalized, and was given a coveted 40-man roster spot in anticipation that he would get healthy and quickly join the Nats’ rotation as a hard throwing lefty.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out as expected.  Purke, who was injured his final year of college, causing his draft status to drop precipitously, has been hurt a couple of times as a professional, but no more disastrously than this year.  After posting a ghastly 8.04 ERA in just eight starts at Harrisburg, he was shut down for the season to have the dreaded Tommy John surgery.  Because he was placed on the 40-man roster right away, he’ll be out of options next season unless the Nats get a fourth option year for him.  Either way, it’s not certain he will even be able to pitch next season and given that he has yet to be truly effective as a professional his career is currently in jeopardy.

Nats DFA Eury Perez, Claim Twins’ SS Pedro Florimon Off Waivers

Eury

As a fan, one of the few disappointments about the Washington Nationals’ current player development process is that they have not been terribly active in the market for International Free Agents (IFAs).  They started out in the IFA arena by getting burned signing supposed 16-year old shortstop “Smiley” Gonzalez, nee Carlos Alvarez, out of the Dominican Republic back in 2006, only to later find out that rather being barely old enough to drive, he was actually nearly old enough to vote.  That particular blunder ultimately cost former GM Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden his job (hey, I didn’t say it was ALL bad), and may have made the organization a little gun shy.

In 2010, the Nats made their one “big” IFA move under the Mike Rizzo regime, signing Cuban defector Yunesky Maya to a 4 year/$8 million deal after missing out on the much higher priced (and far more talented) Cuban flamethrower, Adrolis Chapman.  Maya, fans were assured, could be another Livan Hernandez, and the Nats even brought Livan back into the fold around that same time, possibly in part to be a mentor for his fellow defector.  Unfortunately, Maya never worked out either.  Given several chances to crack the big squad, he posted an ugly 5.80 ERA in just 59 innings over parts of three seasons.  As his atrocious 1.576 WHIP would indicate, Maya did little more in his brief time than throw batting practice to the opposition.

Since then, the Nats have been pretty quiet on the IFA market.  They maintain a team in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) where they field Latin American signees–most of whom receive only small bonuses–hoping to find the proverbial needle in the haystack while other teams are putting out eight and nine figure financial commitments for the likes of instant All Stars Yu Darvish, Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka.

Of the recent Nats DSL “graduates” now playing stateside, Eury Perez has been the most accomplished.  Signed as a 17-year old in 2007, Perez sports what appears to an impressive .305 career minor league batting average to go along with 268 stolen bases while playing mostly centerfield in eight seasons.  Look more closely, however, and you’ll see a player without much power (20 HRs in those eight seasons) who rarely walks.  In other words, a light hitter whose lack of command of the strike zone will likely keep him from getting on base much at the MLB level, thereby negating his biggest weapon: his speed.  Indeed, after being called up each of the past two Septembers, Perez managed only two singles in 13 at bats.

At any rate, suddenly blessed with the emergence of a couple of superior young MLB-ready outfield prospects in Michael Taylor and Steve Souza, the Nats evidentially decided that despite only being 24-years old, former prospect Perez is now expendable.  This was not completely unexpected, as he would have been out of minor league options next year and would have had to make the major league roster out of spring training or be DFA’ed at that time.

Either way, some other team will almost certainly pick him up, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Perez play a few years elsewhere as a reserve, being used primarily as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement.  This is what happens when your team finally gets good–it’s your roster expendables who get plucked away rather than you being the one doing the scavenging.

As for Pedro Florimon, he was the Twins Opening Day shortstop this year, but got demoted after batting a horrific .092 in 33 games.  Since he’s already 27, with a career average of .204 in 624 at bats, Florimon represents little more than middle infield depth for an organization that currently lacks MLB-ready prospects in that area.

A New Blog Enters the Natmosphere

I note with a bit of sadness that this past week, Luke Erickson, who for the last several years has run the fantastic Nationals Prospects blog, is taking a break and may or may not return.  Luke’s departure leaves very few independent blogs left dedicated to the Washington Nationals at exactly the time when the team is enjoying its greatest success.

So just exactly who am I to step in and try to fill the void?  Well, I’m a federal employee who just retired from his job and suddenly has a lot of time on his hands.  I’ve also been with the Nats since the beginning, having had season tickets in 2005 and also since the new stadium opened in 2008.  I’ve lived and (almost) died with this team, including attending all three home games of that heartbreaking 2012 NLDS.

I also follow the Nats’ minor league system pretty closely and even before retirement tried to attended at least a few Potomac Nationals games every year.  Down in Woodbridge, I’ve seen the likes of Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Ross Detwiler, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore play over the years, and now that I’m retired I hope to get out and see even more games.  Just this month, I saw the P-Nats take the Mills Cup and saw Game 3 of the Hagerstown-Ashville championship series.

So I hope you like my blog.  And please remember when commenting to be civil.  After all, I’m not charging you to read it.