With Spring Training coming to a close, the Nationals have sent several players down to minor league camp in the last week. During the stretch of March 20-26, they optioned Jhonatan Solano, Zach Walters, Christian Garcia, Ryan Mattheus, Xavier Cedeno, Tyler Moore, and Jeff Kobernus to Triple-A Syracuse, while sending Sandy Leon to Double-A Harrisburg. In addition, they have reassigned Manny Delcarmen, Will Rhymes, Brock Peterson, and Blake Treinen.
Syracuse is featured at length this week, because both Walters and Treinen impressed during their time in major league camp. Although he concluded with a 0-for-7 skid, including a 0-for-5 performance against the Astros on March 16, Walters still had a good spring, batting .379/.455/.621 in 33 plate appearances. Over the course of his career, the switch-hitter has solid power numbers—including 29 home runs with Syracuse last year—but has struggled to get on base. His OBP in 1840 minor league plate appearances is .322, and he had just a .286 mark last year.
Walters is blocked from the Nationals roster by Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, and Kevin Fransden. In order to stand out among that group, he needs to get on base more consistently and cut back on the strikeouts after fanning 129 times in 2013. Improving in these areas could separate him from his competition, particularly Espinosa, who has a career .303 OBP. Walters could be back in Washington at some point to provide a power-hitting option off the bench and versatility in the field.
Treinen, meanwhile, made an excellent case for a spot on the roster. The righthander posted a 4.66 ERA in 9 and 2/3 innings pitched with a 9:3 K:BB ratio. Though he threw exclusively in relief this spring, Treinen has more experience as a starter in the minors and made 20 starts for Harrisburg last year. Despite the numbers he showed in camp and the velocity readings he can generate—Baseball America says he hits 91-95 and can top out at 97—his K/9 rate was lower than usual last year, at 6.5 over 118 and 2/3 innings pitched.
In ranking him the 23rd-best prospect in the Nationals’ system, Baseball America said that many within the industry expect Treinen to be a middle reliever in the long run as questions remain about whether he can develop a good enough offspeed repertoire to complement his fastball. It is hard to see him making the Nationals rotation anytime soon because of their depth. As I said last week, however, Treinen could be the 2014 version of Tanner Roark, who pitched well enough in Syracuse to earn a place on the 40-man roster and a late-season call-up.
As Dan Kolko of MASN pointed out on Wednesday, the Nationals now have 26 players in camp. Either Roark or Taylor Jordan will earn the fifth starter spot, while the other will be sent to Syracuse in the aftermath of Aaron Barrett earning the final bullpen spot. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said that Roark is expected to start Saturday’s exhibition game against the Tigers, while Jordan will pitch in relief. A decision will be made following the game.
- The complexion of Syracuse’s roster changed after the releases of Michael Gonzalez, Chris Snyder, Jamey Carroll, Chris Young, and Clay Hensley. Ross Ohlendforf, who had been optioned to Syracuse, was placed on the 60-day DL with a right lumbar strain.
- Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day is a week from today. Both Low-A Hagerstown and Syracuse will open at home, while Potomac and Harrisburg begin their respective seasons on the road. Harrisburg, however, will be in the DC area as they play the Bowie Baysox (Orioles).