October 2012

Down on the Farm: Anthony Rendon

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Considering that our last Down on the Farm subject won Arizona Fall League Player of the Week after we featured him, we figured it was high time to pick another AFL’er to break down for you. As the headliner of Washington’s 2011 draft haul selected with the sixth overall pick, many considered Anthony Rendon to have the best bat of the class. And while a fractured ankle in just his second professional game at High-A Potomac derailed his 2012 season, since his return, the Texas-born infielder has shown the baseball world why he was so highly regarded coming out of Rice University a little over a year ago.

Rendon blazed through three levels of the minors upon his return from injury in mid-July, batting .308/.444/.585 with 11 extra-base hits (five doubles, three triples, three home runs) in 34 games before stalling a bit upon his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. But with less than 200 plate appearances under his belt for the season, the Arizona Fall League presented a perfect opportunity to see how he would fare against some of the brightest prospects in the Minor Leagues with less than a full season of pro ball under his belt. So far, so good.

Rendon’s first professional season continues in the Arizona Fall League.

The infielder is coming off of back-to-back multi-hit performances, stretching his hitting streak to four games. Overall, he is batting .271/.357/.375 through 13 games, reaching base at a solid clip. Another encouraging stat lies in the fact that he has stolen three bases in as many attempts, a good sign that his ankle is healed and holding up just fine. Beyond the box scores though, club officials have been particularly impressed with Rendon’s defense at third base, where he has made great strides this year. MLB.com ranks the prospect 33rd overall in the Minor Leagues, taking over the top spot among Nationals farmhands since the promotion of Bryce Harper back in April.

“When healthy, Rendon is a plus defender at third,” proclaims the site, but focuses more on his offensive prowess. “At the plate, he has the kind of advanced approach that should allow him to move quickly while hitting for average and power.”

Keep an eye on Rendon and the rest of the Nationals prospects with the Salt River Rafters throughout the AFL season. His performance the rest of the way in Arizona and in Spring Training in Viera (as a 40-man roster member, Rendon will start in Major League Camp) will go a long ways towards determining just how high this fast-moving talent will rise come Opening Day. Check him out as he spoke to us before the 2012 season began at his first camp back in February.

2012 Player Review: Tyler Clippard

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today, we continue our alphabetical romp with “the guy who wears goggles and pitches every day,” Tyler Clippard.

Clippard’s unorthodox delivery has served him well in his six-year Major League career.

Coming off an All-Star campaign in 2011, Tyler Clippard was one of the few Nationals to have gained a fair amount of national exposure before the 2012 season. After picking up an anomalous, team-leading 11 wins out the bullpen in 2010, Clippard proved that he deserved every bit of his Midsummer Classic selection last year by posting career bests in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.84), and K/BB rate (4.00). His ERA+ was a stunning 209, begging the question: what in the world could he possibly do for an encore?

Manager Davey Johnson both leaned on and spared Clippard throughout the 2012 campaign, throwing him for just 72.2 innings (compared to 88.1 in ’11, 91.0 in ’10), but still using him a team-high 74 times out of the bullpen. When Drew Storen opened the season on the Disabled List and Johnson was unable to find consistency at closer with the combination of Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez, Clippard stepped into the void with perhaps his most impressive stretch of the season. The right-hander converted 14 consecutive save opportunities, posting a 0.40 ERA and allowing just 16 baserunners while striking out 27 batters over a 22.1-inning span from May 18-July 15. That helped earn him the MLB Delivery Man of the Month award in June, where he logged a perfect 0.00 ERA and converted all 10 of his saves, including three straight at Fenway Park, capped by the one below.

While Clippard’s overall numbers couldn’t compete with those he posted the year prior, he adapted to new roles on the fly and was a crucial cog in the team’s success. After notching just one Major League save over the first five years of his professional career, the righty logged 32 of them in 2012, tied for seventh in the NL and just 10 behind the league leaders, despite only 37 total attempts.

As a “Super Two,” Clippard enters the second of his four years of arbitration in 2013, meaning he will remain under team control through at least the 2015 season.

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

2012 Player Review: Corey Brown

2012 Player Review: Sean Burnett

Some Golden Love

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The accolades began to roll in Tuesday night for the Nationals tremendous 2012 season. Rawlings announced that Adam LaRoche has been awarded the 2012 National League Gold Glove at first base. It is the first such award for the nine-year Major League veteran, who logged a .995 fielding percentage as the anchor of the Washington infield, committing just seven errors in over 1,320 innings played.

Perhaps LaRoche’s greatest defensive value lies in his ability to help his fellow infielders out by being a great defensive receiver on throws across the infield. Whether picking balls off the short-hop or crossing the bag into foul ground – as he does masterfully in the clip below – few are as solid and as smooth as LaRoche at helping their teammates.

However, LaRoche can also flash the leather on his own, as he showed on the play below in extra innings against the Braves back in August.

Congrats to Adam LaRoche for a well-deserved award, hopefully the first of many for Nationals players, coaches and executives following this historic season.

2012 Player Review: Sean Burnett

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We move to the bullpen for our first reliever on the list, Sean Burnett.

One of the most overlooked aspects of any Major League team is the bullpen, especially looking beyond the more defined “closer” role. Your standard relief corps includes seven pitchers at any given time, complementing the five-man starting rotation as part of a 12-member pitching staff. And while some of the six outside the closer may generally fit into certain roles, lefties like Sean Burnett often fill the void wherever and whenever they are needed.

The gregarious Burnett filled a number of bullpen roles this season.

To that end, Burnett served Davey Johnson’s bullpen in a number of different capacities in 2012. After using him more in situational spots that called for a lefty-lefty matchup early in the year, Johnson called upon Burnett as a closer for a pair of key saves, May 14 vs. San Diego and May 21 at Philadelphia. The southpaw then settled into more of a setup role, consistently pitching the full eighth inning in front of Tyler Clippard and then Drew Storen, upon his return from injury. And though Burnett’s 2.38 season ERA is certainly indicative of the type of year he put together, a deeper look into his numbers reveal an even more impressive performance.

Burnett posted an ERA below 1.75 in three of the season’s six months, including an April that saw him allow just five hits and two walks while fanning 10 over 6.2 scoreless frames. He held opponents scoreless 58 times in his 70 relief outings, the most appearances made without allowing a run of any hurler on the staff. For whatever reason, his pedestrian 4.26 daytime ERA (9 ER/19.0 IP) turned into a head-turning 1.43 (6 ER/37.2 IP) mark at night. Burnett’s other impressive splits came in his ability to limit lefties to a .211 average (19-for-90) with 28 strikeouts, and the fact that opponents batted only .169 (13-for-77) with runners in scoring position.

The lefty posted career-best walk and strikeout rates in 2012.

However, arguably his most valuable set of numbers were Burnett’s improvements to his strikeout and walk rates. After averaging 3.9 free passes and 6.2 punchouts per nine innings (good for a 1.60 K/BB rate) for his career, the southpaw allowed just 1.9 walks per nine in 2012 while striking out 9.1 (a 4.75 K/BB rate). For some perspective, no other regular bullpen member cracked a rate of 3.00, and even the most efficient members of the vaunted starting rotation checked in no higher than 3.56 (Jordan Zimmermann) and 4.10 (Stephen Strasburg).

Burnett and the team hold a mutual option for next season. It has been reported in the past week that Burnett may decline that option, but that the 30 year-old is interested in working out a longer-term deal here in Washington.

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

2012 Player Review: Corey Brown

Down on the Farm: Brian Goodwin

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Of all the names you may hear tossed around in association with the Nationals this offseason, one is of particular interest. In the midst of the potential free agent singings and the large number of returning players on the Nationals roster, few will have as much impact on the decisions made regarding the future of the Washington outfield as a young man who will not turn 22 for another couple of weeks. Perhaps you’ve already heard of Brian Goodwin, but it is safe to say that you will hear much more in the weeks, months and, hopefully, years to come.

Alex Meyer (left) and Anthony Rendon (center) with fellow 2011 draftee Brian Goodwin.

Most Nationals fans have only seen Goodwin once, as one of the two short-in-comparison draftees smiling in the shadow of Alex Meyer at a press conference at Nationals Park last summer. Goodwin is actually 6’1” and a shade under 200 pounds, a left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing outfielder with the defensive tools to project as a Major League-caliber center fielder. Goodwin began his 2012 campaign at Low-A Hagerstown before skipping a level and finishing at Double-A Harrisburg, a very advanced level for a 21 year-old position player. He swatted 26 doubles, launched 14 home runs and stole 18 bases in 100 total games, posting a combined .280/.384/.469 slash line in his first year of professional ball, showing the promise that made him the 34th overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

Now Goodwin is showcasing his talents in the Arizona Fall League with fellow farmhands like Anthony Rendon, the third member of that draft class photo. Goodwin blasted his team-leading third home run in just eight games for the Salt River Rafters, where he has posted an encouraging early line of .294/.368/.618 while playing against some of the premiere prospects in the game. He reached base four times in Tuesday’s game, thanks to three hits, including that third home run.

Baseball America had Goodwin ranked as the number five prospect in the Nationals system going into last winter, behind only Bryce Harper, Rendon, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. In fact, Aaron Fitt and the BA staff stated that Goodwin “has the tools to be an impact center fielder who hits in the top third of a big league lineup.” It was high praise for a player yet to appear in his first professional game, but he has done nothing to dissuade anyone of that projection to date.

With Harper’s ascension to the Major Leagues coupled with Peacock and Cole’s departure in the Gio Gonzalez trade, one figures Goodwin will find himself battling it out with Rendon (who missed a good portion of the 2012 season with an ankle injury) for the organization’s top prospect rank heading into next year. His continued success in the AFL would certainly help those chances, and offer him an opportunity to compete not just with the great talent in the Washington system, but the cream of the crop from around the game.

The Halloween NATITUDE Contest

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As promised, we’re back with another contest and another chance for you to win great prizes for Halloween! Just tweet at us (using the hashtag #NATITUDE) with pictures of Nationals pumpkins, costumes or decorations and you could win the grand prize, a commemorative NL East Champions plaque, or one of three Postseason Prize Packs, including a 2012 Playoff Hat, a Postseason #NATITUDE T-shirt, and a Postseason Magazine!

Feel free to use our Halloween stencils to design your own pumpkin creations, or come up with your own expressions of Halloween NATITUDE. The contest is open through Halloween night, and we’ll announce our winners the following day.

- HALLOWEEN NATITUDE CONTEST RULES AND REGULATIONS -

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: An Unforgettable Journey

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My intent was to post my own blog on the eve of hosting Game One of the NLCS. But the offseason came rather quickly, and in an especially cruel fashion.

I want to sincerely thank Nationals fans near and wide for their support during what was in so many ways a DREAM season. Your words and notes of support meant so much, not only to me, but my family.

Jayson Werth’s Game Four walk-off punctuated a thrilling season.

The roars heard in conjunction with Jayson Werth’s Game Four homer and the record crowd (45,966) for Game Five will long be remembered in these parts, but the 2012 season was so much more.

We, of course, began our journey together in the Grapefruit League. We survived an opener at Wrigley Field that appropriate for the Windy City. We Took Back The Park from the Phillies. We swept a series at venerable Fenway Park. We won The Pine Tar series from Joe Maddon’s Rays. We witnessed The Shark defy gravity in Houston.

We watched D.C.’s favorite teenager come of age right before our eyes. We watched our primary off-season acquisition exceed every expectation by winning 21 games and do it all with a smile. We watched our Opening Day starter win 15 games and provide us with the cushion needed to hold off Chipper’s 94-win Braves. And yes, in early September, we shut him down for all what we firmly believe to be the right reasons.

We won the NL East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.

We ended D.C.’s 79-year postseason drought.

Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo guided the Nationals to the NL East title.

We posted MLB’s best record.

We won 100 games.

We made a ton of history.

And, just as importantly, made a fleet of memories to keep us warm this offseason.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, our coaching staff and especially the players themselves. What a fantastic season from top to bottom!

Setting aside the outcome of the World Series for a moment, I can honestly say that there is not one franchise in our game that I would swap futures with.

The 2013 season will not be without its own unique challenges. We are quite aware that there are no guarantees in this game. But I like where we are standing as a ballclub.

Let’s talk again soon, perhaps during MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in early December.

Thanks again for an unforgettable journey…

Mark

October #NATITUDE Contest Winners

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Amidst the madness of the postseason, you may have missed our October #NATITUDE Twitter contest that ran throughout the NLDS. If you did, have no fear, we will have plenty more opportunities to win great prizes throughout the offseason and into next year through our various social media platforms. However, we’re here today to crown our winners, who will each receive a Nationals 2012 Postseason Prize Pack as well as tickets and on-field recognition prior to a 2013 Nationals home game.

First up is the Local Business category. While many DMV-area businesses ignited their NATITUDE with food and drink specials or decorations, this particular confection – inspired by Jayson Werth’s Game Four walk-off homer – caught many an eye around the District for its creativity and originality. Well done!

On the topic of Werth’s heroics, Nats fans may have saved the best meme of the year for last, as they began to interpret their own ideas of the iconic photo of Werth jumping into a sea of teammates at home plate. With a hat tip to @b_hartland for creating the Tumblr account that housed many of the finished products, this submission from @ampetersen99 was just one of his many creations the morning after Game Four and takes home our winner from the Fan category.

Finally, we have our School category winner. Despite their mascot being the Cardinals, the National Presbyterian School ignited their NATITUDE for Washington’s playoff run in a school-wide display of support (click on the “Showing our NATITUDE” gallery).

Thanks to all who participated, and keep your eyes open for our Halloween NATITUDE contest, coming soon!

2012 Player Review: Corey Brown

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We continue our list with a second straight outfielder, former first-round pick, Corey Brown.

Followers of the Nationals farm system already know about the tremendous year that Matt Skole put together in 2012 (and continues to, in the Arizona Fall League), but if there was an award for the best season at a high level of the minors, it would have to go to Corey Brown. We’ll take a look at his exploits during his short time in Washington in a moment, but for those who were unaware, here’s a quick look at his minor league numbers.

Brown impressed at Triple-A and had a couple big hits for the Nats down the stretch.

After batting just .232 with three homers in April at Triple-A Syracuse, Brown exploded for a May slash line of .359/.450/.772 with nine long balls and 23 RBI. All told, he posted a .285/.365/.523 line with 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases in just 126 games, despite having his playing time disrupted twice during the year by call-ups. Brown also added nine triples while playing mostly center field, showing the coveted combination of power and speed.

But Brown made significant contributions at the Major League level as well this year. After going hitless during his first two cups of coffee in Washington (September of ’11, May of ’12), sitting at 0-for-11 to begin his big league career, Brown homered off Randy Wolf to open the scoring on July 28 in Milwaukee, helping lead the Nationals to a 4-1 victory over the Brewers. The next day, he entered the game as a pinch-hitter and wound up delivering a pair of key hits that both turned into runs, including the game-tying score in the eighth inning of one of the most dramatic comebacks of the season.

But perhaps his biggest hit followed Jayson Werth’s game-tying home run in one of Washington’s more bizarre victories of the season. After a torrential storm delayed the September 8 game for nearly three hours, the Nationals tied it in the ninth only to se the game reach extra innings. With several hundred die-hard fans standing and yelling from behind the dugouts, Washington loaded the bases with one out for Brown. He needed just a medium-deep fly ball to bring home the game-winning run by either a sacrifice fly or a basehit. He may have thought he had the former, but was credited with the latter when his fly ball glanced with off the mitt of a running Giancarlo Stanton, one of just two outfielders on the play, due to the added infield alignment.

While it’s hard to say exactly how he will factor into the Nationals 2013 plans, the soon-to-be 27 year-old Brown’s versatility and mix of tools make him an intriguing piece of the puzzle moving forward.

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

2012 Player Review: Roger Bernadina

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. We begin the list with everyone’s favorite selachimorph, Roger “The Shark” Bernadina.

The Curacao-born outfielder played in parts of four seasons for the Nationals before 2012, compiling a slash line of .242/.304/.364 in just under 900 plate appearances. His athleticism and flashes of superior defense gave fans hope that he might progress into a steady Major Leaguer, an evolution that finally took form this season. Bernadina posted the best all-around numbers of his career, hitting .291/.372/.405 with 11 doubles and five home runs in just 261 plate appearances. A midseason switch to a lighter bat helped him go on a 41-game tear over which he batted .395 (32-for-81) from June 28-August 17, raising his average by 73 points.

However, he was at his best during the crucial four-game home set with Atlanta in mid-July (over which he went 8-for-13) and on the team’s season-long 10-game road trip in early August, where he turned in a four-hit game in San Francisco and this season-defining catch to win a game in Houston.

With his tremendous speed and range in the outfield, Bernadina offered the Nationals a versatile option as a left-handed pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement off the bench this year. He will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013, but remains under team control through the 2016 season.

Shark fans out there may not have to wait until Spring to see Bernadina play, as he is rumored to be taking part in the World Baseball Classic as part of Team Netherlands, the country that stakes ownership to the Antilles islands, including Curacao.

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