The Nationals won a lot of games this week. Like, a lot. Which inarguably got pretty boring, so they spiced things up with these off-field endeavors:
Next week, the All-Star games will take place at the Low and High-A levels of the minor leagues. The Washington Nationals will be well represented at these games, as the Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals are sending intriguing groups of prospects to their respective contests.
Only a few months ago, large portions of the Nationals’ fan base were coming up with ways to ship Wilson Ramos out of DC and drawing up fictitious trade proposals for the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy to “upgrade” the catcher position. It’s hard to blame them. Although Ramos was finally able to stay healthy in 2015, he posted the worst offensive season of his career and one of the least valuable seasons from a catcher in all of baseball. I would assume that those disbelievers have now seen the light as Ramos has turned into one of the most potent players in the big leagues in 2016, including a game-tying single in the ninth in Wednesday’s win over the Cubs.
So far this season, he leads nearly every major offensive category for catchers. He’s first in batting average, on base percentage, slugging, wOBA, home runs and RBI. He’s second in FanGraphs’ WAR calculation (behind Lucroy). You would be hard pressed to find an offensive statistic where Ramos isn’t one of the top catchers in the league. The narrative as to why Ramos has rebounded so well isn’t hard to see: he got LASIK surgery this offseason. Ramos claims he is now seeing the ball better than he ever has before. But is it really that simple? Let’s eyeball the statistics and determine if we can see signs of a player seeing the ball more clearly.
Judging by Ramos’ control of the strike zone in 2016, it certainly appears that he can see the ball better. Ramos currently has the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 12%, down from his 20% rate last year. He’s no longer allergic to taking a walk as he’s now walking at a 7% clip, his highest rate since 2012. Those aren’t flukey changes, either. Ramos, formerly a free swinger, is now a more patient hitter. He’s majorly cut down on swings at pitches outside of the strike zone and has been slightly more selective at pitches in the zone. Those kinds of changes indicate that Ramos has been better about waiting for a pitch to hit. He hasn’t been missing those pitches very often as he’s swinging and missing only 8% of the time, a marked improvement over the 12% swinging strike rate from 2015.
A more selective Ramos is a much better hitter. In 2015, Ramos struggled against all types of pitches but the fact that he couldn’t hit a fastball was the most telling sign of his struggles, hitting only .250 against the pitch. He’s really turned that around this year, now walloping fastballs with a batting average over .355. On top of that, he no longer fails against sliders, now hitting .333 against the pitch after hitting only .187 last year. That’s a sight for sore eyes in DC.
By being selective, Ramos has been able to hunt out pitches to hit with power. He’s already launched 10 home runs and is only seven dingers away from setting a new career high in that category. The most encouraging sign for Ramos’ power may be that he has hit bombs to all fields. He has one to center field and three to right field, taking pitches in all parts of the strike zone out of the park.
If Ramos is now seeing the ball better at bat, which the stats appear to back up, then he should also be seeing the ball better from behind the plate. Ramos, despite his previous Gold Glove nomination, was not a good receiver. He consistently rated poorly by catcher framing metrics that measure the number of borderline strike calls catchers can earn for their pitchers. More often than not, Ramos was not only not getting extra strike calls but his movements behind the plate actually turned pitches in the strike zone into balls in the eyes of the umpire. Ramos now rates as a neutral pitch framer, a major improvement in an area of weakness for the Buffalo. That improvement would suggest that Ramos is also seeing the ball better as a catcher, which allows him to sync his movements up with each pitch to entice the umpire into calling more pitches as strikes.
To recap, Ramos is now laying off more pitches out of the zone and making better contact on pitches in the zone. He’s taking walks and punishing pitches he used to struggle with. He’s even improved his pitch framing abilities. All of those improvements can potentially be linked to better eye sight. Looks like there may be something to this LASIK storyline after all.
While Ramos has been playing at an All-Star level so far this season thanks at least in part to LASIK, the chances of him keeping this pace up are not so clear. That league leading batting average is propped up by a BABIP over .340, a not totally unreasonable BABIP but one that seems high for the not-so-fleet of foot Ramos. The new found power is also a cause for concern. Before Tuesday night’s game, Ramos was hitting groundballs 54% of the time. Finding a successful power hitter who hits most of his balls on the ground is hard to do. In fact, Ramos currently has the third highest groundball rate of hitters with 10 or more home runs in 2016. Only Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Eric Hosmer of the Royals have double-digit home runs to their name but higher groundball rates than Ramos. On top of that, only five of the 73 players to have surpassed the 10 home run mark this season have groundball rates over 50%. It’s not to say that Ramos can’t continue to succeed with this strange batted ball profile, but it would make him a very unique player.
Of course, Ramos has been a unique player this year. There are plenty of other ball players who have had LASIK without a huge bump in results (looking at you, Dan Uggla), but the numbers do seem to back up the narrative that Ramos is hitting better because he’s seeing better. For Nats’ fans, that’s an encouraging conclusion that implies Ramos may be able to keep this up for rest of the year. I don’t have the foresight to predict Mike Rizzo’s moves, but it’s certainly an argument for keeping Ramos around beyond 2016.
The three-day Major League Baseball draft concluded on Saturday, and the Washington Nationals came out of the proceedings with an intriguing crop of prospects. Overall, this class should give the Nationals some depth, particularly when it comes to the infield and pitching.
Early rounds saw the Nationals put a heavy emphasis on position players, headlined by top pick Carter Kieboom. Kieboom, the brother Nationals’ catching prospect Spencer Kieboom, came into his senior year as one of the more intriguing high school hitters in the class, and produced a strong year at Walton High School.
Currently a shortstop, Kieboom seems likely to add size to his 6’2,” 195 lb. frame, leading some to question whether he could move to third base down the road. However, scouting director Kris Kline has said that the Nationals drafted Kieboom with the belief that he could stay at the position long term.
Though the tops this year’s crop of position players, Kieboom is not the lone highlight. Sheldon Neuse, a third-rounder out of Oklahoma, possesses the basic skillset of a major league third baseman and should hit for above average power. Nick Banks and Daniel Johnson made for a pair of college outfielders to be selected in the top-10 rounds, while the Nationals also nabbed two college catchers in Tres Barrera and Joey Harris.
Right now, the Nationals have a fairly deep crop of players at catcher, but the justification and draft and perhaps signing both Barrera and Harris is evident. Firstly, the Nationals’ catchers at the full-season minor league levels — from Pedro Severino at Triple-A Syracuse to Low-A Hagerstown’s Jakson Reetz — come with their own question marks, and with the Nationals likely to add pieces to the major league team at the deadline, catcher could become a position from which they are able to leverage a deal. It remains to be seen if Barrera or Harris will develop enough offensively to emerge as bona fide prospects, but both should add depth to an already strong position.
Other position player prospects to watch include infielders Jacob Noll and Paul Panaccione, along with high school outfielder Jordan McFarland. Already listed at 6’4,” 225 lbs., McFarland’s size has raised some doubt about his long-term viability, but reports say that he could turn out to be an above average left fielder with a solid arm and good power. The Nationals will look to lure McFarland away from his commitment to Arkansas.
On the pitching front, the Nationals’ first choice was Florida right-hander Dane Dunning. A college junior, Dunning has intrigued observes with his fastball, which reports cite for its excellent movement in the 92-93 mph range, though it has hit 95 mph. His changeup has also received high marks, though some feel that his ceiling as a starter will be limited if he does not develop a quality breaking ball. If he does sign, which he said he intends to, Dunning could move quickly.
The pick that might have garnered the most buzz was Jesus Luzardo. The left-hander had Tommy John surgery this March, but has flashed a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s. The Stoneman Douglas High School product has a commitment to Miami, and it seems likely that the team will go over the $635,800 slot value for the pick.
In the 38th round, the Nationals tabbed Noah Murdock, a 6’7” high school right-hander who is committed to Virginia. As they will with McFarland, the Nationals will have to persuade Murdock to enter pro ball rather than try to boost his stock in the college ranks. Among the other pitch prospects to watch include Morgan Cooper, a 34th-round pick out of Texas who just finished his first season since having Tommy John surgery. Cooper should highly pursued by the Nationals, though as my colleague Andrew Flax has already noted, the team will have be resourceful to sign the right-hander.
Texas A&M right-hander Kyle Simonds generated headlines with a no-hitter against Vanderbilt in May, and may wind up providing good value for a 14th-round pick. NC State’s Ryan Williamson — the 15th round selection — may also emerge as a solid selection beyond the 10th round, though he is also set to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After the MLB Draft ended Saturday, the team and fans alike could begin getting excited about the Nationals’ selections and dreaming on their status as prospects. But the MLB draft is distinct from its NBA and NFL counterparts in that players don’t always sign. High schoolers have the leverage of going to college, and college juniors can go back for their senior year, so players only go pro if they get enough money. Bonus demands are why popular Nats target and potential first-round prospect Drew Mendoza got drafted in the 36th round, and why a number of the players the Nationals chose won’t be joining the organization this season.
So which of these players will or won’t wear a Curly W (or an Auburn Doubledays jersey) by the July 15th deadline? Who they are and where they were drafted can give us a pretty good idea.
I’ve been watching Stephen Strasburg with somewhat bated breath this season, hoping that at some point I would have the opportunity to write an article like this. If there was ever a time to do it, 10-0 seems like that time.
In the National baseball League, the Washington Nationals are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the players on the field, who win games; and those same players off the field, who spread joy and fun wherever they go. These are their stories:
Continue Reading Off-Field Recap: Free Styling, Draft Picks, and Job Changes
Ben Revere started off this season on the DL after he strained his oblique in the first game of the year. He returned after a month to assume the leadoff-man duties and has been, shall we say, less than effective for the Washington Nationals. When the calendar turned to June, Revere picked things up a bit hitting .286 and – more importantly – getting on base at a .375 clip, but let’s take a deeper look at what is ailing Ben Revere, otherwise known as the leadoff man not playing like a leadoff man.
The month of May brought about a few highlights from the Washington Nationals farm system, but two players in particular stood out for their performances. This week’s Federal Reserve recaps the success of these players with hitter and pitcher of the month awards.
Prior to the Nationals’ come-from-behind win over the White Sox on Tuesday night, Dusty Baker had to do something out of the ordinary: he had to put together a line up with a designated hitter. It’s a situation the Nationals find themselves in more now than in past seasons with the new interleague scheduling. But I’m still not used to it. Seeing Jayson Werth listed as the DH got me thinking: Who has gotten the nod at DH the most in Nationals’ history?
The top 10 list is a fun trip down memory lane. There are the usual suspects and then some names that make you stop and think. Continue Reading The History of the Nationals’ Designated Hitter