Day 13 in Viera: Grapefruit League Opener Eve

Grapefruit League Opening Day Eve here on the Space Coast.

My name is John Dever and I’m the Baseball PR contact for your Nationals. To write this blog, I get lots of guidance and observations from Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, my PR confidants, so I thank them for their contributions.

Lots happening… so let’s get started.

* Today’s high will reach 86 degrees. Almost toasty, yes, but comfortable thanks to a gentle breeze. So, the perfect spring continues. Last year, it may not have hit 70 degrees during the February workouts. This year, at least since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 15, the temps have not dipped below 70, with temps comfortably in the high 70s during the late-morning workouts.

* Jim Riggleman brought up a good point this morning during his session with the assembled media. This spring’s perfect weather to date has allowed the Nationals to get everything that they needed in. Every drill that Jim Riggleman and Spring Training Coordinator Bobby Henley scheduled went off without a hitch. Every one. That NEVER happens. And this should give the Nationals a sense of comfort heading into the Grapefruit League schedule, which begins tomorrow. The team is ready. [VIDEO: More Riggleman]

* Rick Ankiel is an interesting guy. Most know his story. A stud-pitcher-turned-outfielder who signed with the Nationals in December without a guaranteed starting spot. Well, one of the drawing cards for Ankiel was likely his preexisting relationship with Nationals hitting guru Rick Eckstein. After retiring as a pitcher, Ankiel immediately jumped back into St. Louis’ Minor League system in the hopes of becoming an outfielder. Ankiel and Eckstein worked together in Triple-A Memphis in 2008, things “clicked” and the results were phenomenal. Ankiel hit 32 home runs in 102 Pacific Coast League games before being summoned by the Cardinals on August 9, 2008. The hot streak did not end there, as Ankiel hit 11 more bombs in 43 games with the Cardinals. In fact, that summer, Ankiel’s 43 homers led the Cardinals entire organization, as Albert Pujols only (only?) hit 37. So, here’s hoping things “click” again for Ankiel and Eckstein and that they can regain their momentum from the summer of 2008.


91010-202 danny espinosa.jpg* We’ve “talked” a lot about Danny Espinosa’s conversion from shortstop to second base. Which begs the question: who made a similar conversion early in their career? The two best-case scenarios for Nationals fans to salivate over are Alfonso Soriano (a shortstop in the Yankees’ organization, converted to second base in 2001) and Brandon Phillips (a shortstop in the Expos’ organization, converted to second base in 2003). Now, both are All-Stars and Espinosa is not yet at that level, but it does go to show that this type of position change has occurred before and the results have been favorable both offensively and defensively (especially in the case of Phillips).

* With Davey Johnson in camp as an advisor to Mike Rizzo, it’s hard to believe that this is the 25th Anniversary of the iconic 1986 Mets. Where has the time gone. Well, actually, Nationals fans and Beltway baseball junkies likely best remember Davey for his playing days and later his successful managerial stint with the Orioles.

* Today’s “Four Questions” victim will be first baseman Chris Marrero, but before we channel our inner-Marrero, let’s take a look at his career. Marrero, as most know, was the Nationals’ first-rounder in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. His assent through Washington’s system has not been as rapid as some outsiders would like, but it has been steady. He has averaged a long ball every 29.6 at-bats in five seasons as a pro. That is not a number to sneeze at. Yes, the level is dramatically different, but here are three National Leaguers who averaged a homer every 29-or-so at-bats last season: Jason Heyward (28.9), Justin Upton (29.1) and Casey Blake (29.9). All three are very good ballplayers, and in the case of Heyward and Upton, two of the great young players in the game. Marrero, who had Lasik surgery in the offseason, has immense power and his career is trending in the right direction. Alright, back to “Four Questions”…

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Marlins, Frank Thomas (wonder if he knows that Mike Rizzo signed Big Frank?)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Deal or No Deal (he attended a taping of this show a few years back)

Favorite Superhero?: Spider Man (might help him with some errant throws at first base)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: None of the above. My favorite show is re-runs of “Vegas” on TNT (with all of the bad shows on network TV, why was this show canceled. Seriously perplexing).

OK, that’s a wrap for today. Tomorrow, look for Mark Lerner to jump into the blogging fray as the Nationals travel to St. Lucie to take on the Mets. He will be your primary blogger going forward, but I may jump back in here and there. Thanks for your interest in the Nationals and see you at the ballpark. Oh, you can also follow us on Twitter (@NationalsPR).

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