Archive for the ‘ Author – Mike Feigen ’ Category

Nationals Magazine: Opportunity Knocks

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The following is an excerpt from the Spring Training issue of Nationals Magazine. To read the full story, visit nationals.com/publications to find out how you can subscribe. The Spring Training issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now, can be purchased online, or at Space Coast Stadium on gamedays.

by Mike Feigen

The Washington Nationals were already excited to get to Florida for Spring Training, with a loaded roster capable of making a run at an elusive World Series championship. Then they acquired the consensus top pitcher on the free agent market. Game on.

ST Cover socialBy now, as the Nationals celebrate their 10th Anniversary season, fans have surely discovered that baseball is a game that offers exuberant highs in the good times and tests one’s resolve in the down times. After a 162-game grind separates the best from the rest from April through September, 10 names are thrown into a hat and a champion is crowned. At least that’s the way it often seems in the Wild Card era.

In other words, nothing can be taken for granted. No amount of planning or preparation is guaranteed to produce the desired result. No team wins a World Series on paper. So even if President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo looked at his embarrassment of riches this offseason and saw a roster capable of earning the National League’s best record for the third time in four seasons, he wouldn’t rest.

For a team already loaded in the starting rotation, acquiring another quality arm would provide Rizzo cover for a variety of scenarios, including potential trades, free agent departures or injuries. It would also give the club yet another weapon to deploy during the regular season to try to help ensure it would find its way back into the unpredictable postseason tournament.

Max Scherzer isn’t just any pitcher, though. the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander boasts a resume more complete than any other pitcher in the vaunted Nationals rotation, including an American League Cy Young Award, 91 wins, 1,321 career strikeouts in 1,239.1 innings pitched and appearances in 12 postseason games. He demonstrated durability during his five seasons in Detroit, starting no fewer than 31 games or reaching less than 187.2 innings in any single year with the Tigers.

“Whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer’s ability level, character, and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between,” Rizzo said January 21 at Scherzer’s introductory press conference. “He fits all the criteria that we’re looking for in a Washington Nationals-type of player.

“He’s good between the lines, he’s a tough guy, he gets after it, he takes the ball (and) he attacks hitters. In the clubhouse (he’s a) magnificent teammate. In the community (he) does nothing but impress everybody he touches. He’s a guy who you can’t ask for more from. He’s the type of guy we’re looking for, and he’s the guy we went after very aggressively — and we strengthened a strength. Who wouldn’t want Max Scherzer on their club?”

ST Cover socialTo continue reading “Opportunity Knocks” on Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer, along with more great content from Nationals Magazine, please visit nationals.com/publications, or pick up a copy at the Main Clubhouse Team Store at Nationals Park or Space Coast Stadium, as well as inside Nationals Park on gamedays.

Spring Training Preview, Part VI: Non-Roster Invitees

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by Mike Feigen and Kyle Brostowitz

Every spring, teams from throughout Major League Baseball bring players to camp that are not part of the organization’s official 40-man roster. Known as non-roster invitees (NRIs), these players are often talented youngsters on their way to The Show, veteran Minor Leaguers looking for a breakthrough moment, or former Major Leaguers looking for a fresh start.

In all, 20 such players will head to Viera, Fla. with hopes of making it to Washington. That’s part of what makes their journey so special; should they impress the coaching staff, as Chad Tracy did in 2012, they could not only force their way onto the Opening Day roster but become household names on a championship-contending club.

Below is the final installment of our Spring Training Preview series: the non-roster invitees.

STARTING PITCHERS (4)

St Louis Cardinals v Colorado RockiesBruce Billings

Right-hander Bruce Billings is a veteran of eight Minor League seasons and brings with him experience as a starter and reliever. He has accumulated a 65-61 record while posting a 4.08 ERA in 217 Minor League appearances (145 starts). Billings made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2011 and appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2014, striking out seven batters in four innings.

Mitch Lively

Mitch Lively signed with the Nationals organization in July of 2014, after making the transition from reliever to starting pitcher over the last two seasons. As a reliever, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-hander was 22-19 with 14 saves and a 3.76 ERA in 212 career Minor League appearances. In 42 career starts, he is 16-9 with a 4.10 ERA. Last season, Lively reported to Triple-A Syracuse where he went 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine games/seven starts for the Chiefs.

Scott McGregor

A former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, right-hander Scott McGregor joined the Nationals in June of 2014 and reported to Double-A Harrisburg before earning a promotion to Syracuse in August. He went a combined 3-3 with 4.64 ERA in 12 games/10 starts between the two levels.

Matt Purke

Matt Purke, the Nationals’ third-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, appeared in eight games for Double-A Harrisburg before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow on May 28. The 6-foot-4 southpaw will enter his fourth camp as a member of the Nationals organization.

RELIEF PITCHERS (5)

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego PadresHeath Bell

Veteran reliever Heath Bell joins the Nationals after a 2014 season in which he appeared in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays before stints with Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees). The Nationals will be his eighth organization since signing with the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998. Bell was one of the premier closers in MLB from 2009-13, tallying 166 saves for three separate clubs, third most in MLB over that span. He appeared in three All-Star Games and took home the 2009 and 2010 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.

Manny Delcarmen

Manny Delcarmen returns for his second season with the Nationals organization. He went 4-4 with four saves and a 3.13 ERA in 46 games out of the Triple-A Syracuse bullpen. Delcarmen struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2.39, while surrendering just two home runs in 60.1 innings.

Eric Fornataro

Right-hander Eric Fornataro is a former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who came to Washington on a waiver claim following the 2014 season. He began his professional career as a starter, but has transitioned to a relief role over the last three seasons. As a reliever, he is 9-12 with 21 saves and a 3.40 ERA in 141 Minor League appearances. Fornataro made his Major League debut in 2014, posting a 4.66 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals.

Rafael Martin

Rafael Martin advanced through three levels of Washington’s Minor League system in 2014, going 3-2 with 11 saves and a 1.39 ERA while striking out 66 batters and holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average. He did not allow an earned run from May 16 to Aug. 17, a span of 46.1 innings over 29 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. His 11 saves were fourth among Nationals farmhands. Martin was named a MiLB.com Organization All-Star following the season.

Evan Meek

Evan Meek comes to Washington after spending the 2014 season with the Baltimore Orioles organization. The former All-Star (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2010) enjoyed five separate stints with the Orioles, going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in 23 appearances. He went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 1.94 ERA in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk. His 16 saves were tied for seventh in the International League.

CATCHERS (3)

Spencer Kieboom

Former Clemson Tiger Spencer Kieboom is coming off his most productive season, bouncing back from 2013 “Tommy John” surgery by hitting .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 61 RBI in 87 games for Single-A Hagerstown. He was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star and a MiLB.com Organization All-Star. Following the season, Kieboom hit .324 with two doubles, one home run, seven RBI and three runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

Steven Lerud

Left-handed hitting catcher Steven Lerud comes to the Nationals after playing in 60 games for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, batted .250 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and 19 RBI. The former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates has spent time in five organizations, including the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he briefly reached the Major Leagues in 2012 and 2013.

Pedro Severino

Pedro Severino is considered the best defensive catcher in the Nationals’ chain per Baseball America, and will enter the 2015 season rated as Washington’s top catching prospect and No. 13 prospect overall. The 21-year-old Bonao, Dominican Republic native advanced to Single-A Potomac for the first time in 2014, hitting .247 with 15 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 36 RBI in 94 games.

INFIELDERS (7)

Emmanuel Burriss

Emmanuel Burriss, a Washington, D.C., native and graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, returns for his second season with his hometown organization after spending the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse. He earned International League All-Star honors after hitting .300 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers, 46 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 80 runs scored. He ranked among IL hitters in runs scored (3rd, 80), triples (T-3rd, 7), batting average (T-7th, .300), and on-base percentage (9th, .377) while his .300 batting average was tied for fifth among Nationals farmhands.

Cutter Dykstra

A former second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Nationals’ return in the Nyjer Morgan trade, Cutter Dykstra advanced to Double-A for the first time in his career in 2014. He was named an Eastern League mid-season All-Star after hitting .297 with 15 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 43 RBI, 10 stolen bases and 39 runs scored in the season’s first half.

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila Ka’aihue returns to the United States after spending the previous season-and-a-half with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, where he hit .258 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs, 85 RBI, 77 walks and 56 runs scored in 156 games spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He has appeared in 126 Major League games over parts of four seasons with Kansas City (2008–11) and Oakland (2012).

Clint Robinson

Left-handed power-hitting first baseman Clint Robinson, a former teammate of Ka’aihue in the Kansas City Royals system, joins the Nationals after spending last year in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Robinson, 30, is a career .300/.381/.510 hitter in 921 games spanning eight Minor League seasons, including a Texas League Triple Crown in 2010. He appeared in nine games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014, going 3-for-9 with two RBI and three runs scored.

Matt Skole

Matt Skole returned to full strength in 2014 following 2013 Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, playing in 132 games for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit .241 with 29 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 68 RBI, 78 walks and 58 runs scored for the Senators. Skole ranked second in the Eastern league with 78 walks and was named an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com following the season.

Ian Stewart

A member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day roster in 2014, Ian Stewart played in 24 games before landing on the disabled list with a left-hand contusion. The power-hitting left-handed hitter has played parts of seven MLB seasons with three clubs, including Colorado (2007–11), Chicago-NL (2012) and Los Angeles (2014).

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia PhilliesDan Uggla

Dan Uggla joins the Nationals after spending the previous nine seasons with the Marlins (2006–10), Braves (2011–14) and Giants (2014). His 233 home runs as a second baseman lead all active players. Uggla, a three-time All-Star and 2010 Silver Slugger winner, is the only second baseman in Major League history to begin his career with six consecutive 20-plus home run seasons.

OUTFIELDERS (1)

Mike Carp

Mike Carp is a left-handed hitting slugger and versatile defender who has appeared in Major League games at first base (143 games/122 starts) and outfield (110 games/90 starts). In 2013, he set career marks in nearly every offensive category, starting 56 games for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The former Mets draft pick has also played for the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers during his six seasons in the big leagues.

In 10 seasons in D.C., 76 players (Ray King and Pete Orr twice) have played in at least one game with the Nationals despite entering that same Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. 21 times players have earned spots on the Nationals’ Opening Day 25-man roster (designated by [OD]). A closer look:

2005 (7) 2006 (12) 2007 (11) 2008 (10) 2009 (11) 2010 (7)
INF Carlos Baerga LHP Micah Bowie RHP Winston Abreu RHP Collin Balester C Josh Bard [OD] RHP Miguel Batista [OD]
RHP Hector Carrasco LHP Bill Bray LHP Mike Bacsik LHP Michael Hinckley LHP Jesus Colome C Jamie Burke
OF Jeffrey Hammonds SS Royce Clayton [OD] 1B/3B Tony Batista LHP Ray King [OD] INF Alex Cintron RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Sun-woo Kim OF Alex Escobar 2B Ronnie Belliard [OD] LHP Charlie Manning LHP Wil Ledezma [OD] RHP Joel Peralta
C Keith Osik C Wiki Gonzalez RHP Jesus Colome [OD] LHP Mike O’Connor RHP J.D. Martin RHP Drew Storen
INF Rick Short RHP Kevin Gryboski C/1B Robert Fick [OD] INF Pete Orr INF Pete Orr RHP Willy Taveras [OD]
OF Brandon Watson C Brandon Harper INF D’Angelo Jimenez LHP Odalis Perez [OD] OF Jorge Padilla
OF George Lombard LHP Ray King [OD] RHP Brian Sanches OF Corey Patterson
RHP Santiago Ramirez LHP Arnie Munoz RHP Steven Shell RHP Jorge Sosa
RHP Saul Rivera RHP Jason Simontacchi C Wil Nieves RHP Julian Tavarez [OD]
OF Mike Vento 1B Dmitri Young [OD] RHP Jordan Zimmermann
1B Daryle Ward [OD]
2011 (6) 2012 (7) 2013 (4) 2014 (1) 2015 (TBD)
INF Brian Bixler OF Rick Ankiel LHP Fernando Abad RHP Blake Treinen
INF Alex Cora [OD] OF Corey Brown RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Chad Gaudin [OD] OF Brett Carroll [OD] RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Ryan Mattheus C Sandy Leon INF Zach Walters
OF Laynce Nix [OD] C Carlos Maldonado
1B/OF Matt Stairs [OD] 1B/OF Xavier Nady [OD]
1B/3B Chad Tracy [OD]

Ten-Year Tuesdays

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by Mike Feigen

In honor of our 10th Anniversary season, the Washington Nationals are proud to announce 10-Year Tuesdays, a series of games that will highlight the history of Nationals baseball and celebrate our great fans.

B823fCcCMAAS9NROccurring one Tuesday each month, beginning in April, these designated 10-Year Tuesdays will feature special guests, pregame ceremonies and a collectible keepsake for the first 10,000 fans to enter Nationals Park each night. These six giveaway items will fit neatly inside the Commemorative Collectors Tin (pictured), which will be distributed to the first 25,000 fans on Opening Day.

The first of our 10-Year Tuesday items to be revealed, a Nationals bottle stopper, was announced earlier Wednesday by Jim Scanlon in Old Town, Alexandria as part the “10 Days of Teddy” campaign. Fans can get their own Nationals bottle stopper prior to the Nationals’ Tuesday, May 5 game against the Miami Marlins.

bottlestopperThis season’s 10-Year Tuesdays programming is part of a larger 10th Anniversary celebration, which will feature bobbleheads that depict Great Moments in Nationals History, full-park theme night takeovers and much more. Additionally, jerseys worn by Nationals players and coaches will be adorned with commemorative patches, while the official game balls, bases and lineup cards used at Nationals Park will also feature the iconic 10-Year logo.

To secure your place at all six 10-Year Tuesday games this season, become a Full Season NATS PLUS Member today. More information and deposit information is available at nationals.com/2015. Additionally, for a limited time, new NATS PLUS Members who purchase a Full Season Plan will receive an authentic, autographed 10th Anniversary jersey. Jersey options include Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, while supplies last.

Single game tickets will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, February 19 at 10 a.m. at the Nationals Park Box Office, by phone 888.632.NATS(6287) or online at nationals.com/tickets.

Highlights from Max Scherzer’s introductory press conference

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by Mike Feigen

The Washington Nationals agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer on a seven-year contract on Wednesday, followed by an introductory press conference at Nationals Park.

The event featured Scherzer, President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras. In addition, several members of the Lerner family, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth and Scherzer’s wife, Erica, attended the press conference.

If you missed any of the press conference, we’re here to fill you in:

Opening statement by President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo:

Well, it’s a big day here at Nats Park. It is my extreme pleasure to introduce to the Washington D.C. community one of the finest right-handed pitchers in all of baseball and a fine gentleman in his own right, Max Scherzer.

These opportunities don’t come up every day with players of this caliber and with an ownership group with the willingness to put themselves out there and acquire us a player of this ilk. It is my extreme pleasure to welcome Erica and Max to the Washington, D.C. family and to the Washington Nationals family. We couldn’t be happier to have Max in the fold.

Scherzer, on why he signed with the Nationals:

MS: It’s pretty easy. And it’s one (reason): winning. I think this team is capable of winning, and winning a lot. So when you look at the at the near term and long term, this is an organization you want to be a part of.

(Mike Rizzo) has been an architect here, creating a team that has been there at the bottom and has now created a team that is poised to be at the top. That’s something, as a player looking from afar, that I was able to see. Obviously, when the Nationals started knocking on your door, this is a team you want to be a part of. You start having conversations with the Lerner family and understand their commitment to excellence and their commitment to winning — that lines up great with what I want to do. I want to win and that’s why I’m here.

Rizzo, on why he wanted to improve an already strong rotation:

MR: I would say that whenever you can acquire a player of Max Scherzer’s ability level, character, and toughness on the mound, those opportunities are few and far between. We saw a player that we were extremely interested in. He fits all the criteria that we’re looking for in a Washington Nationals type of player. He’s good between the lines, he’s a tough guy, he gets after it, he takes the ball, he attacks hitters. In the clubhouse (he’s a) magnificent teammate. In the community, (he) does nothing but impress everybody he touches. He’s a guy who you can’t ask for more from. He’s the type of guy we’re looking for and he’s the guy we went after very aggressively — and we strengthened a strength. Who wouldn’t want Max Scherzer on their club?

Rizzo, on why Max is “the Nationals’ type of guy”:

MR: He’s everybody’s kind of guy. He’s got great ability, he’s got great work ethic, he’s a great teammate and he gets after it. He’s a winner. We like to think that we attract that type of player, and we certainly landed one in Max.

Scherzer, on when he knew the Nationals would be a good fit?

MS: For me, once January came around there were more teams in contact, and there were different opportunities that (arose). However, throughout the contact, when the Nationals started knocking on the door, that was the conversation I had with Scott; this is definitely a destination I want to play in. This is a team that can win now and can win in the future. That’s something that when you’re signing up for seven years that you want to be a part of. Winning cures everything, and this is definitely a type of organization I want to be a part of. I wanted to continue these type of negotiations with the Washington Nationals because I believe in the Lerner family and what they’re committed to.

Rizzo, on when he started pursuing Max:

MR: Well, ’06, he was on my radar, that’s when I started loving him. We have a grand plan coming into each offseason and there (are) different routes to get to where you want to be — we have different options and opportunities. The plan was laid at the beginning of the offseason and came to fruition in the last three, four weeks or so.

Scherzer, on his initial reaction to the contract offer:

MS: It was jaw dropping. You just can’t even fathom it sometimes. You work so hard to put yourself in this position. For me, it’s all about winning. I don’t play this game for money, but yet at the same time when you have an offer like that it just makes you go, “Wow.” I’m very fortunate to be in this position, that they wanted to commit that type of dollar amount to me.

Scherzer, on whether he called people up to tell them about the deal:

MS: (Scott Boras) told me, “You can’t tell anybody.”  So I had to keep it to myself and just tell my wife. It was a wild moment, so I was very happy.

Williams, on his starting rotation from a manager’s perspective:

MW: To put any of those names down every fifth day is a privilege for anybody. What it does is it just allows us to have a better chance of winning. As Max said, he wants to win, we desperately want to win, Jayson is with us today, he wants to win desperately. We’re glad to have (Max), we’re anxious to get to Spring Training and we know he is.

To give you an idea of the type of competitor Max is, (back in) 2007, he was a young Double-A pitcher and I was his manager. Every Minor Leaguer has a pitch count; his was 100. He was at 97 pitches and I went out to the mound and told him he’s got three pitches to get this last guy out and he was done. He reared back and went 97, 98, 99 (mph) to strike him out. So that’s the kind of guy you see up here. He hasn’t changed since then and he won’t change now. He’s a bulldog and we’re going to be happy to give him the ball every fifth (day).

Scherzer, on wanting the rest of the rotation stay intact beyond this season, including Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann:

MS: For me personally, of course you want to see guys like that. You always want good players on your team. When you speak of Fister and Zimmermann, those are highly talented pitchers. Of course you want to see them on your ballclub, but at the end of the day, Mike’s the architect here. He understands what pitchers he has coming on the way and what’s best for the team, so that’s where he’s going to make this type of decision.

Rizzo, on having the flexibility to add Scherzer without moving other pieces:

MR: With the acquisition of Max, ownership has allowed us to do our business in the best way you can, as far as the baseball side goes. They’ve given us all the ammunition that we need to put together a quality team. Nothing has changed with regard to any other player on the roster. We make good baseball decisions based on baseball evaluations and money does not come into play. We love the team that we have right now, we feel that it’s a really good, capable ballclub and we’re looking to better ourselves each and every day.

Scherzer, on talking to other Nationals players before he signed:

MS: After I signed, Fister reached out to me and sent me a couple of text messages. I was happy to rejoin him. He’s a really good pitcher — there (are) a lot of things you can learn from him. I was also working out with Matt Thornton as well … I was picking his brain the previous week, asking about the clubhouse, how are the different things throughout the year. I feel really comfortable about joining this clubhouse.

Rizzo, on what he remembered about Scherzer before the 2006 draft:

MR: I saw Max twice as an amateur, and the first time he didn’t fare that well, but loved the competitiveness, loved the way he attacked hitters and loved the demeanor on the mound. He was pouring fastballs into these right-handed hitters. His stuff was there, it was pretty evident that he had power stuff. But what really affected me in a positive light was I saw a guy that was struggling a little bit but made no excuses and just got after it. The second time when I went back to see him it was a 180 (degree change). It was a very easy game to scout and he was an extremely easy player to take at the No. 11 pick in the draft that year.

Rizzo, on having little concern about Scherzer’s age and duration of contract:

MR: He’s a durable pitcher. If I’m not mistaken, he’s never been on the Disabled List in the past five years. He takes the ball whenever he’s given it — he’s a horse. He’s got the makeup and character to take things deep into games, if asked to. For a 30-year-old pitcher, he’s thrown very (few) innings and pitches for a pitcher that’s had the success he’s had at the age that he’s at. I feel like we’ve got a young 30-year-old arm with a lot of mileage left on the tires and a guy that’s going to take us into competitive games for a very long time … he can really hit, too, by the way.

Spring Training Preview, Part I: Catchers

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by Mike Feigen

Over each of the next five weeks, we’ll break down the entire Nationals roster as the team prepares to take the field in Viera, Fla., to get to work on defending their NL East Division title. Beginning this week with catchers, we will look at the stockpile of talent acquired and developed by President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and their respective staffs.

We kick things off this week with catchers, including the two likely members of the Opening Day roster, a reliable backup and a recent addition to the 40-man roster.

WILSON RAMOS

2014 Season Totals: .267/.299/.399, 93 wRC+, 4.7% BB rate, 15.8% K rate, 2.0 fWAR in 361 PA

2015 Steamer Projection: .269/.316/.438, 109 wRC+, 6.3% BB rate, 14.9% K rate, 3.0 fWAR in 428 PA

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game TwoWhen we last saw Wilson Ramos in October, he had just completed all 44 defensive innings behind the plate during the Nationals’ four-game NLDS run against the San Francisco Giants. The winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award for spirit, determination and courage also caught 87 games during the regular season, his most games caught since 2011.

At the plate, “The Buffalo” belted 11 home runs and added 47 runs batted in on the year, solid numbers despite recovering from a hamate bone fracture suffered on Opening Day against the Mets and a hamstring strain in mid-June. Once his hand strength returned, so did his bat; Ramos slashed .196/.254/.250 with no home runs in his first 15 games of the season, then hit .319/.350/.490 with nine long balls over his next 52 games through late August.

Ramos also benefited from Williams’ emphasis on defending the running game, posting a career high 38 percent caught stealing rate (18-of-48), after nabbing just 25 percent (18-of-71) of runners the previous two years combined. He also was credited with the first four pickoffs of his career.

Using Steamer projections (located on FanGraphs.com), the 27-year-old backstop is due for a strong season at the plate, in which he should draw a few more walks and harness some of his immense power. Should that occur, it would go a long ways toward the Nationals finding themselves back in the postseason for the third time in four years.

JOSE LOBATON

2014 Season Totals: .234/.287/.304, 66 wRC+, 6.5% BB rate, 26.5% K rate, 0.6 fWAR in 230 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .234/.303/.340, 81 wRC+, 8.6% BB rate, 23.1% K rate, 0.2 fWAR in 116 PA

San Francisco Giants v Washington NationalsIn his first season, Jose Lobaton’s influence on the Nationals pitching staff was undeniable. The pitch-framing savant helped the Nationals to a 38-20 record during his 58 starts, including an 11-0 mark when Doug Fister was on the mound.

Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the start of Spring Training, Lobaton got off to a bit of a slow start at the plate before finishing with a .305 batting average in August and September. He belted two home runs during the season, including a line drive shot into the bullpen to kick start an April 23 walk-off rally against the Los Angeles Angels.

Although Steamer’s projections have Lobaton’s plate appearances dipping significantly in 2015, the switch-hitter should have plenty of opportunities to spell Ramos to keep his fellow countryman’s legs fresh throughout the year.

SANDY LEON

2014 Season Totals: .156/.229/.219, 27 wRC+, 8.6% BB rate, 28.6% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 70 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .213/.282/.309, 66 wRC+, 8.3% BB rate, 20.1% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 91 PA

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsLike Lobaton, Sandy Leon is a switch-hitting catcher with a strong defensive reputation. And while the 30-year-old Lobaton likely has the 25-year-old Leon blocked for the time being, the Nationals have used a No. 3 catcher on multiple occasions during the past three seasons.

Leon collected his first Major League home run on April 14 at cavernous Marlins Park in Miami, demonstrating good pop at the plate. He also has shown a tremendous eye throughout his Minor League career, including walk rates of 13.0 percent at Double-A in 2013 and 11.9 percent at Triple-A this past season.

Should he return to Syracuse this upcoming season, Leon could be tasked with the continuing development of an excellent Triple-A pitching staff featuring the likes of A.J. Cole, Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill and Blake Treinen, depending on who makes the Major League club out of Spring Training.

DAN BUTLER

2014 Season Totals: .211/.250/.368, 67 wRC+, 5.0% BB rate, 25.0% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 20 PA

2015 Steamer Proj.: .233/.299/.360, 83 wRC+, 7.7% BB rate, 20.8% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA

Boston Red Sox Vs. Baltimore Orioles At Fenway ParkWith the departure of Minor League catcher Jhonatan Solano following the 2014 season, the Nationals and Red Sox completed a deal that sent left-handed pitcher Danny Rosenbaum to the Red Sox and 28-year-old catcher Dan Butler to the Nationals.

In addition to having solid defensive skills, Butler showed flashes of power during his time in Boston’s organization, clubbing 14 home runs in 84 games for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013, while also posting a .350 on base percentage and a .479 slugging percentage.

Butler made his Major League debut at the tail end of the 2014 season, batting 4-for-19 at the plate with three doubles and two runs batted in for the Red Sox. While Steamer only projects him for one plate appearance in 2015, his projected rate stats are in line with both Lobaton and Leon, giving the Nationals flexibility should they need to use a third or fourth catcher.

Recapping a fantastic NatsFest

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The Nationals would like to thank all the fans, players and staff members who made this past Saturday’s NatsFest an overwhelming success. Re-live some of the best moments from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in this exclusive photo gallery and recap video from the event. We’re counting the days until spring!

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NatsFest gives fans an insider’s view

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by Mike Feigen

With Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings beginning this week in San Diego, the hot stove season is officially underway. Trade talks, free agent signings and the Rule 5 draft will dominate the conversation over the next few days, but fans of the Washington Nationals have extra incentive to pay close attention: NatsFest is coming this Saturday, from 11 a.m.– 5 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Washington Nationals 2014 NatFestEven if President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo makes no major splashes near the Southern California beach this week, he’ll have plenty to say when he greets Season Plan Holders during a “State of the Nationals” discussion on the Main Stage. Hosted during an exclusive Season Plan Holder-only session, Rizzo will be joined from 10:15–10:45 a.m. by Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and Nationals Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Valerie Camillo.

The quartet will discuss a wide range of topics, including recapping the 2014 season and looking ahead to what they hope will be an exciting and memorable 2015 campaign. They will also offer a sneak preview of the club’s 10th Anniversary celebration, which will kick off in full force on Opening Day, April 6, when the Nationals host the New York Mets.

Three other members of the Nationals’ executive team will also be on hand to interact with fans, as Assistant General Manager & Director of Baseball Operations Adam Cromie, Director of Baseball Research & Development Sam Mondry-Cohen and Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba will host “The Front Office” in the Nationals Q&A Room from 12–12:30 p.m. Each brings a unique perspective to the game, including the statistically-minded Cromie and Mondry-Cohen, whose backgrounds may resonate among the more sabermetrically-inclined crowd.

Throughout the event, fans will be able to interact with more than 20 of their favorite Nationals players. Additionally, broadcasters Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler, Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo will emcee various parts of the event and chat about the upcoming season.

Breakout sessions this year will include the ever-popular Player Story Time in the Jr. Nats Kids Forum, Player Photo Stations in the main convention hall, the game show “NatsFest Feud” and a special Player Instructional on the Youth Baseball Academy Field.

New at this year’s event, fans are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to NatsFest for the opportunity to benefit the Greater Washington Urban League and win a chance to meet a Nationals player. Gifts can be dropped off at the Toy Drive table near the Main Stage for contest entry. Donors will receive one entry form for each gift donated, and there will be no limit to how many gifts a fan can donate. Ten donors will be randomly selected to meet with a Nationals player, take pictures and receive autographs. The meet and greet will take place late in the afternoon and each winner may be accompanied by one guest.

For complete information on all things NatsFest, including the convention map, schedule, ticket information and more, please visit nationals.com/natsfest.

Wrapping up the Arizona Fall League

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by Mike Feigen

The Mesa Solar Sox, featuring seven members of the Nationals’ organization, wrapped up their Arizona Fall League schedule this past Thursday with a tie in the final game of the season. Catcher Spencer Kieboom went 2-for-5 at the plate in the contest, raising his average to .324, best among Nationals prospects on the club.

farm graphicMesa, which finished the year with a record of 15-14-2, was comprised of prospects from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Nationals. Washington provided catchers Pedro Severino and Kieboom, second baseman Tony Renda and four pitchers: Matt Grace, Neil Holland, Felipe Rivero and Derek Self.

The AFL gives future young stars a chance to showcase their skills following the conclusion of the regular season, with members of all 30 Major League organizations representing their parent clubs on six competing teams. The Salt River Rafters (ARI, COL, HOU, MIA and MIN) defeated the Peoria Javelinas (ATL, CLE, KC, STL, TB) in the league championship game Saturday.

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

Final stats: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.18 ERA, 1.324 WHIP

The big lefty out of UCLA compiled six scoreless relief appearances in his final seven appearances, holding right-handed hitters to a .167 average. His work against left-handed hitters could be the key to his success at the next level.

“I am working on throwing more off-speed pitches during my time here, especially my slider,” Grace said in a recent interview with Curly W Live. “I feel very comfortable with where my fastball is at right now, but I’m trying to have a more consistent slider. I know I will be facing a lot of left-handers out of the ‘pen, so I’m trying to do a better job of throwing sliders off my fastball, and vice-versa.”

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

Final stats: 11.2 IP, 20 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 8 BB, 8 SO, 10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP

Holland owns a career 23-10 record with a 2.49 ERA in 182 Minor League games pitched, but ran into some tough luck in Arizona. The 25-year-old former 11th round draft pick, featuring a deceptive sidearm delivery, could find himself in the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse during the 2015 season.

“There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age,” Holland said in a recent interview. “One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls.”

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

Final stats:.324/.390/.471 (11-for-34), 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 5 BB

One of the top offensive catchers in the Minor Leagues, Kieboom recovered from Tommy John surgery to have a big season in Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League. The 6-0, 200-pound backstop had a remarkable .852 OPS this season (.352 OBP, .500 SLG), setting the stage for what could be a promising season at Potomac or Harrisburg this upcoming year.

Kieboom said he was looking for big-picture experience in Arizona during an interview with Curly W Live earlier this AFL season.

“My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career,” he said. “There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.”

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

Final stats:.200/.233/.259 (17-for-85), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 12 R, 3 BB, 1 SB

Following a season in which he hit .307 with a .381 on-base percentage at High-A Potomac, Renda received valuable experience facing the league’s more advanced pitchers. The former second round pick was named to the AFL’s Fall Stars team and flashed promise at the plate.

“I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year,” Renda said. “Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

Final stats: 23.2 IP, 26 H, 18 R, 16 ER, 11 BB, 15 SO, 6.08 ERA, 1.563 WHIP

Rivero got off to a slow start in the AFL, but recovered in his final two starts to post solid numbers. The left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his final two starts, allowing just seven hits and two walks in 10 innings of work. The former Tampa Bay product held left-handers to a .231/.333/308 slash line, while righties hit a more robust .303/.387/.500 with a pair of home runs against him.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

Final stats: 15.0 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO, 1.20 ERA, 1.133 WHIP

Reliever Derek Self emerged as a pleasant surprise in Fall League play, completing six appearances of two or more innings in a relief role. The right-hander from Cave City, Ky. was accustomed to that role, with 21 such appearances between Potomac and Harrisburg in the regular season.

“I’m really working on my new change-up and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well,” Self said about his progress in the AFL earlier this month. “Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.”

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

Final stats:.250/.292/.341 (11-for-44), 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB

Severino, the third-youngest member of the Solar Sox roster at just 21 years of age, continued to impress as a part-time player in Arizona. The defensive-minded catcher played well above his age level this season at High-A Potomac, helping the P-Nats to a Carolina League Championship.

Nationals’ aces fill up NL Cy Young ballots

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by Mike Feigen

It came as no surprise that Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers earned the National League Cy Young Award Wednesday, unanimously capturing all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. After all, the southpaw led all of baseball in ERA, wins, complete games, WHIP and FIP (fielding independent pitching).

cyyoungHowever, down the writers’ ballots, another storyline emerged.

Three members of the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation — Jordan Zimmermann (5th), Doug Fister (8th) and Stephen Strasburg (T-9th) — finished in the top 10 of the voting, making them the only team in either league to achieve that distinction in the past three years.

Zimmermann, 28, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 199.2 innings in 2014, concluding the season with the first no-hitter in Nationals history. The 6-foot-2 right-hander added a brilliant first-round performance in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, surrendering just three hits in Game 2. In total, Zimmermann allowed a total of three hits to the final 62 batters he faced dating back to his September 20 start against the Miami Marlins.

Fister, acquired last offseason in a deal with the Detroit Tigers, lived up to his billing as a dynamic, big-game pitcher. Standing 6-foot-8, the lanky right-hander used his power sinker and array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance all season. Fister led the Nationals in ERA (2.41) and wins (16) during the regular season, then added a victory in Game 3 of the NLDS against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

If not for Zimmermann’s late-season heroics, Strasburg would have easily finished the season as the Nationals’ hottest pitcher. The 26-year-old righty went 7-2 in August and September, including a 3-0 record with a 0.00 ERA over his final three starts of the season. In those contests, the right-hander allowed 10 hits and three walks over 20.0 scoreless innings, striking out 19.

Including Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85) and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57), the Nationals owned one of the finest starting rotations in all of baseball, with all five primary members deserving recognition for their excellent 2014 campaigns. Factoring in the excellent bullpen performances from relievers such as Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, the entire staff led baseball in ERA (3.03), FIP (3.18), fewest home runs per fly ball (7.5%) and lowest walk rate (2.15 per 9 innings). The team also set a Major League record by striking out 3.66 batters for every walk issued, the best ratio in history.

With Zimmermann, Fister and Strasburg all earning BBWAA votes, the result doubled the number of times Nationals pitchers have received Cy Young votes since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Previously receiving tallies were Chad Cordero (5th, 2005), Gonzalez (3rd, 2012) and Zimmermann (7th, 2013).

Arizona Fall League: Midseason update

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by Mike Feigen

With 19 of the Mesa Solar Sox’s 30 games complete in the Arizona Fall League season, each of the seven representatives of the Washington Nationals has thrown at least eight innings or come to the plate at least 25 times during the top prospect “finishing school.”

farm graphicAmong the standouts thus far are a pair of catchers with intriguing skill sets. Spencer Kieboom, the Nationals’ fifth-round selection in 2012 out of Clemson University, hit .309/.352/.500 with nine home runs for Single-A Hagerstown  in 2014, brandishing his credentials as one of the top offensive catchers in the organization. Meanwhile, 21-year-old backstop Pedro Severino — who has one of the top defensive reputations in the Minors — led the Potomac Nationals to a Carolina League title. He also blasted nine homers during the 2014 campaign.

Former third-round pick Tony Renda earned the club’s selection for the annual Fall Stars Game, which will be televised live on MLB Network on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here’s a rundown of how the Nationals’ prospects have done in the AFL to this point:

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

8.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.38 ERA, 1.375 WHIP

After a bit of a slow start, Grace has turned in excellent numbers in his last four appearances for the Solar Sox. During that time he has fired 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three. The big southpaw has found success against hitters from both sides of the plate, holding righties to just two hits in 13 at-bats.

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

8.0 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO, 10.13 ERA, 2.125 WHIP

Though Holland has struggled in the hitter-friendly Fall League, his excellent contributions over the course of the regular season earned him plaudits within the Nationals organization. The side-arm throwing right-hander was a midseason All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League and finished the season with a 0.59 ERA in his final nine appearances of the year.

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

.400/.440/.650 (8-for-20), 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB in 25 PA

In limited playing time, the right-handed hitting Kieboom has flashed the type of offensive potential that makes him one of the Nationals’ top prospects. He has three multi-hit games in six starts behind the plate, and powered a three-run home run in the eighth inning on October 16 to clinch a 6-2 Mesa victory.

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

.226/.250/.321 (12-for-53), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 8 R, 2 BB, 1 SB in 56 PA

Renda is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak (12-for-37) after starting the AFL season 0-for-16 in his first five games. The former Cal-Berkeley standout received the Washington Nationals inaugural  “Bob Boone Award,” in 2013, which is given to the farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

13.0 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 8 SO, 9.00 ERA, 1.846 WHIP

Best known by Nationals fans as one of the players acquired in the deal that brought Jose Lobaton to Washington, Rivero has a live arm and the potential to develop into either a starter or reliever at the next level. In his four Fall League starts, Rivero has allowed no runs and one hit in the first inning of those contests.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

10.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0.90 ERA, 1.100 WHIP

After splitting time between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2014, the right-handed reliever has continued his success in the Arizona Fall League. Since allowing a solo home run in his first appearance on October 7, Self has been lights out since, completing eight scoreless frames. The Kentucky native was the Nationals’ ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft.

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

.280/.321/.360 (7-for-25), 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, in 28 PA

The aforementioned Severino, a highly-touted youngster out of the Dominican Republic, may be on the fast track to the Majors thanks to his elite glove work. He has also demonstrated improved bat control, including a four-hit game on October 22 during a rout of the Scottsdale Scorpions. The youngster won’t turn 22 until July, but could catch at the Double-A level in 2015.

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, stay tuned to Curly W Live or visit MLBFallBall.com.

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