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Nats Top Braves in Spring Slugfest

In their second spring training game, the Washington Nationals (2-0) kept me warm on a 19-degree Providence day by winning an offensive showdown against the Atlanta Braves (1-2), 9-8.

Now, as we all know, spring training records don’t matter. But a recent article in the Economist seems to prove that an individual player’s spring training stats do have some predictive value. Armed with this knowledge, let’s overreact wildly respond measuredly to a few notable showings.

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Nationals Win In Scherzer’s Debut

On a day when most of their fan base was buried in six to eight inches of snow and huddled beneath blankets, the Washington Nationals went to work against the New York Mets in sunny Florida.

Baseball is back everyone, and with it all the joys and heartbreaks we’ve become so accustomed to. But this is Spring Training baseball, and to me, the unpredictability, experimentation and above all overreaction that comes along with it is almost better than the regular season.

So while you turn the heat up a few more degrees, take some time to digest my thoughts on the first action of the 2015 season. And try not to push the panic button.

1. Scherzer’s Outing

Max Scherzer’s first game as a National was the most highly anticipated event of Spring Training by far for Nats fans. His first pitch was a screaming strike, and he went 1-2-3 in his first inning. It was sublime. He seemed to be showing he was worth every penny of the contract he signed, and visions of World Series rings danced in our heads.

It all fell to pieces in a disastrous second inning when the highly touted ace gave up a homerun over the left-field fence to John Mayberry Jr. As the ball traveled out of play, it took all the hope and joy that had ignited in our hearts just an inning earlier. Scherzer’s final line for the day was two innings pitched, two hits, one run. Thankfully Roark took the heat off his new teammate, who came out of the game in the fourth with an ERA of 27.00.

In reality Scherzer’s first outing with the Nats did not tell us anything (good or bad) we didn’t already know about the newest member of the rotation. He gave up an unlucky homerun in his first inning of baseball since the fall, it happens. He also threw some spectacular strikes and showed just a glimmer of his capability in a limited 29 pitches. Stay tuned ladies and gentleman, you’ll be seeing a lot of awesome from Max this year.

2. Zim At First

Call Abbott and Costello and tell them to wonder no more, we have our man at first base. Ryan Zimmerman moved around a lot last season and couldn’t seem to find a permanent home after struggling with shoulder injuries. Anthony Rendon played very well at third in his absence and Adam LaRoche was clearly ensconced at first. Having Zim’s bat in the lineup was essential for the Nats, so Matt Williams found himself in a situation where his starting lineup was on a carousel, which caused a decent amount of drama in the dressing room.

However, LaRoche moved on to the White Sox in the offseason (best of luck there Adam!) which paved the way for Zim to make his move to first base. Now it’s time for me to practice what I preach and not overreact after one Spring Training game, but in my estimation Zim at first was the right move. Not only did he make a few striking plays in the four innings he played, but Rendon continued to look very comfortable at third as well.

3. New Kids on the Block

In the fifth inning Williams took a page out of the Capitals’ book and subbed the whole lineup. While most were serviceable if unspectacular in their debut for the squad, two in particular stood out to me.

Relief pitcher Heath Bell faced five batters, none of whom put the ball in play. He struck out three and walked two. The three time all-star signed a minor league deal with the Nats in December and if he keeps playing the way he did today, he might play his way into the bullpen.

As a journalist you always hope guys like Kila Ka’Aihue won’t stand out because, well, his name is hard to spell. But Ka’Aihue made sure I would be typing his name tonight when he sent a two-run bomb out of the park in the fifth inning to give the Nats a 5-4 lead and score what would eventually be the game-winning run. While one homerun does not a star make, he’s a guy we might see more of coming up from the minors this season.

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Federal Reserve: Top Five Prospects To Watch

When they take the field this evening, the Washington Nationals will begin Spring Training as a complete team that has very few positions to settle. While that could force some prospects back to the minors, a few of them stand out.

To preview Spring Training, the Federal Reserve presents five prospects to watch. Keep in mind that Spring Training statistics do not have predictive value, but these players should offer plenty of intrigue over the next few weeks.

1.) Michael Taylor—Centerfielder

Ranked third on The Nats Blog’s Top-10 Prospect List, Taylor has a chance to make the Opening Day roster. If leftfielder Jayson Werth’s shoulder surgery causes him to open the year on the disabled list, Taylor will be a young replacement option competing against a plethora of serviceable but not necessarily compelling veterans, including Nate McClouth and Kevin Fransden.

Taylor is the best option defensively, but his strikeout totals in the minors leave him with room to develop offensively. During the spring, he should be given an opportunity to show what adjustments he can make to open the season as at least a right-handed-hitting platoon option. For development purposes, Taylor is better off starting the year at Triple-A Syracuse if he cannot get regular playing time in the majors. However, if he outhits his competition, Taylor could ensure not only a roster spot, but regular at-bats.

2.) A.J. Cole—Right-handed Starting Pitcher

On most teams, Cole would enter camp with a shot at making the rotation, but the Nationals’ depth leaves no room for him on the 25-man roster. That said, he has shown the makings of a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter throughout his minor league career and is still working to develop his secondary offerings, including a slider and a curveball.

Cole, who ranked second on TNB’s Prospect List, will likely begin the upcoming season in Syracuse. Added to the 40-man roster in November, his debut is a question of when rather than if, meaning that a good impression would make Cole one of the Nationals’ first options when they go the minors for help.

3.) Matt Grace—Left-handed Reliever

After two inconsistent seasons as a starter, Grace moved to the bullpen in 2013 and has been dominant ever since. Last season was the best of his career, as he posted 1.17 ERA and a 7.2 K/9 over 77 innings between Double-A Harrisburg and Syracuse. That performance earned Grace a 40-man roster spot.

Considering the number of more experienced bullpen options the Nationals have, Grace is a dark horse candidate for the 25-man roster. He will have a role in the long run though, as his three-pitch repertoire allows him to generate groundballs and be effective against lefties and righties. While he has the durability for a long-relief role, Grace profiles as a mid-to-late inning option and should reach the majors this year.

4.) Pedro Severino—Catcher

As a non-roster invitee, Severino will have a chance to showcase the talent that makes him one of the organization’s best catching prospects. While he still has some way to go offensively, he is advanced for his age on defense and keeps runners in check with an excellent arm. Severino is slated to open the upcoming season at Harrisburg, but his time in major league camp could serve as a preview of what is to come.

5.) Wilmer Difo—Second Base and Shortstop

Difo soared up the prospect ranks last season with a stellar year at Low-A Hagerstown, earning him a 40-man roster spot. He has the athleticism to develop into a solid defender at second base or shortstop, while his speed, on-base, and fringe power skills could enable him to be a table setter in the major leagues. Ranked eighth on our Top-10 Prospect List, Difo will open 2015 at High-A Potomac, but his time in camp could be a showcase for his positive long-term value.

Minors Notes:

  • The Nationals added another option to their outfield mix by signing Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor league deal on Monday. The lefthanded-hitting Gwynn logged 127 plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, batting .152/.264/.190 while spending time at all three outfield positions.
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The PTBNL Problem: Analyzing Trea Turner’s Unusual Circumstances

Few minor league players will play under more bizarre circumstances during the season’s first two and a half months than shortstop prospect Trea Turner. By the middle of June, Turner will be with the Washington Nationals, the team that acquired him to bolster a weak area of its farm system and to potentially become the long-term replacement of Ian Desmond. Though his major league chances ultimately lie in their hands, Turner is required to begin the year with the team that traded him, the San Diego Padres.

On Tuesday the Padres revealed their plans for Turner, who will work through Spring Training as usual before opening the year with a minor league affiliate, most likely the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm (California League). Under major league draft rules Turner, whom the Nationals acquired along with right-handed pitching prospect Joe Ross in December’s three-team deal with the Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays, cannot be traded until the one-year anniversary of when he signed with the organization. San Diego selected him with the 13th-overall pick in last year’s draft and officially signed him on June 13.

Within days of its completion, this element of the trade became a source of controversy when Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), relayed his criticism to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Among other statements, Berry said in relation to the Padres handling of Turner, “the plan to ‘trust us’ is not enough when it comes to a player’s well-being and career.”

Considering what is at stake for Turner and the two clubs, trust is an imperfect but necessary solution. Other than placing him in Lake Elsinore or with another affiliate, the Padres only option is leave to him at their complex in Arizona for Extended Spring Training. While that would make it easier to monitor Turner’s health, that move would take him out of meaningful game action and cut into significant development time. The Padres could exploit a loophole by simply loaning Turner to the Nationals, but that scenario rarely plays out, and essentially never happens when the player to be named later is reported widely and implicitly stated by both teams.

There is in an inherent risk in allowing Turner to play every day in the Padres’ system, as a freak injury could squander the deal. What is important to remember is that the Padres, aside from the glaringly obvious responsibility to protect their own players, have a lot of reasons to keep him healthy. While Turner is not backed by union protection as a minor leaguer, having Berry and the powerful CAA in his camp is crucial. The practice of a front office alienating any large agency in baseball is ill-advised, but especially one that represents key major league players. According to MLB Trade Rumors’ Agency Database, CAA’s clients include three members of the Padres’ 40-man roster: starting pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielders Carlos Quinten and Wil Myers, the latter of whom was the centerpiece of the Padres’ return in the deal that sent Turner to Washington.

Also at stake is the relationship between two active general managers whose teams are on the upswing. Mike Rizzo has frequently turned to the trade market to keep the Nationals competitive, while A.J. Preller has remade the Padres with a busy offseason. If Preller is to establish himself as a reliable GM, it means assuring that a poor decision does not result in crossing another team, particularly one as prominent as the Nationals.

Considering what must be dealt with, allowing Turner to open the season on a full-season team is the best solution for everyone. He will receive regular playing time and avoid falling behind in his development, while a smooth transition will secure a comfortable relationship between the two teams. His health is crucial, but Turner can use this situation to make a seamless transition to the Nationals and claim his place among their best prospects.

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Will Rendon Have a Sophomore Slump?

Before he will even start his second full MLB season, Anthony Rendon has already usurped former Gold Glove winner and Face of the Franchise Ryan Zimmerman as starting third baseman, led the National League’s best team in WAR, and finished top 5 in MVP voting. He’s done this all while playing half of those games at a brand new position. The only question that seems to remain for Rendon is whether he will be able to sustain this extraordinary level of success or whether he will fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump.

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Washington Nationals Introduce Stephen Strasburg

How The 2015 Washington Nationals Came To Be

With spring training upon us, I thought I would take stock of the club’s roster and how they got here. Take a look below at the Washington Nationals starters and how they ended up  with the organization:

C Wilson Ramos - Traded for former closer Matt Capps
1B Ryan Zimmerman - No. 4 pick in the 2005 First Year Player Draft
2B  Yunel Escobar - Traded for set-up man Tyler Clippard
SS Ian Desmond - Drafted in the third round of the 2004 First Year Player Draft
3B Anthony Rendon - No. 6 pick in the 2011 First Year Player Draft
CF Denard Span - Traded for hard throwing pitching prospect Alex Meyer
RF Jayson Werth - Free agent, signed a 7-year, $126 million contract in 2011
LF Bryce Harper - No. 1 pick in the 2010 First Year Player Draft

SP Max Scherzer - Free agent, signed a 7-year, $210 million contract in 2015
SP Stephen Strasburg - No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 First Year Player Draft
SP Jordan Zimmermann - Drafted in the second round of the 2007 First Year Player Draft
SP Doug Fister - Traded for prospects Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Kroll, and Robbie Ray
SP Gio Gonzlez - Traded for prospect A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, and Brad Peacock
SP Tanner Roark - Traded for Cristian Guzman

Overall:

Six trades in which the Nats gave up Cristian Guzman, A.J. Cole (got him back), Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol, Robbie Ray, Alex Meyer, Tyler Clippard, and Matt Capps. The Nats are +24 in WAR cumulative in those trades.

Two free-agent acquisitions, totaling $336 million over 14 seasons.

Six draft picks, including two No. 1 overall, four top-10 picks, one second round pick, and one third round pick.

 

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Florida Governor Endorses Nats, Astros Proposal

Though far from official, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros’ proposed Spring Training complex in Palm Beach County received a major endorsement on Wednesday. In a letter on his website, Governor Rick Scott announced that he was pleased with the project’s terms and was happy to reach an agreement to keep the two teams in Florida. More from Scott’s statement:

“Florida is proud to be the home of fifteen spring training teams, and we are excited to announce that the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros have chosen to stay in Florida for the next 30 years. Spring Training has helped to bring Florida families together, create jobs in our communities, and drive tourists to our state. Florida is undoubtedly the best state for baseball, and we look forward to many more years of Spring Training attracting visitors and creating opportunities for Florida families.”

Now Palm Beach County’s Legislative Delegation must push the project through Florida’s House and Senate. As noted here on Tuesday, environmental concerns surround the project, as the its construction currently violates state law because of its proximity to Damn M, a drinking water supply. Previous reports indicate that it is expected to pass through the legislative process, with Scott’s announcement signaling that it already has his approval. If all of the pieces fall into place, the Astros and the Nationals new facility will open in 2017.

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Plans Move Forward For Shared Nats, Astros Spring Training Facility

Last week two major steps were taken to push the Washington Nationals’ and the Houston Astros’ proposed $135 million Spring Training complex in West Palm Beach toward becoming a reality. The first was the approval of a land swap between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County that allows the county to take control of the 160-acre property slated for the facility. Within a matter of days, the county’s Legislative Delegation agreed to propose a modification to a state law that would loosen restrictions on where development can occur near area water supplies.

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Washington Nationals 2015 Spring Training Broadcast Schedule (TV and Radio)

The Washington Nationals have released their 2015 Spring Training TV and Radio schedule, and it pretty closely mirrors what we saw in 2014. There will be seven games televised on MASN, one more than last year, with 10 games picked up by Charlie and Dave on the radio. Some of these broadcasts will overlap.

This list does not include games that are available from the opposing team’s broadcast affiliates. We will update the list with a new post and all that information when it is available for those that are MLB.tv subscribers who are interested in tuning into those broadcasts.

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Nats Talk On The Go: Episode 90

We rejoiced in the end of football season by digging into the Casey Janssen trade and the Nats bullpen. Then, we fought out who should win The Nats Blog’s writing competition to pick the best starting pitcher, and Craig talks about the exciting state of Nationals’ prospects.