Archive for the ‘ Down on the Farm ’ Category

Nationals well-represented in South Atlantic League & Carolina League MiLB All-Star Games

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farm graphicThe first half of the minor league season came to an end on Sunday for the Single-A Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League) and the Advanced-A Potomac Nationals (Carolina League).

Potomac claimed the Carolina League Northern Division first-half title with a 38-31 record, besting Lynchburg (ATL) by 4.5 games. Hagerstown finished in a tie with Greensboro (MIA) for their division crown, however Greensboro was granted the title via tiebreaker.

Team success often garners individual honors, and, as such, both Hagerstown and Carolina will be well-represented in each team’s league All-Star Games.

A quick look at the players and coaches representing their clubs, as well as the Nationals organization, is below:

South Atlantic League

All-Star Game: June 17, 2014 at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, North Carolina (Hickory Crawdads)

Patrick Anderson – Manager

  • Led Hagerstown to a 44-26 first-half record.

Sam Narron – Pitching Coach

  • Suns hurlers posted a 3.78 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP (5th in the SAL) through the season’s first half.

Luis Ordaz – Hitting Coach

  • Suns hitters rank in in the top four in the SAL in stolen bases (1st, 118), triples (T1st, 24), runs scored (3rd, 359), hitting (3rd, .272), and RBI (4th, 318).

Spencer Kieboom  – C

  • Hit .319 with 12 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 23 RBI and 24 runs scored in 37 games. At 2.2 plate appearances/team game, he falls just short of qualifying to be amongst the SAL leaders (2.7 PA/G).

Wilmer Difo – 2B

  • Leads the Suns in batting average (.308), doubles (tied, 16), triples (4), home runs (7) and RBI (54). His 31 stolen bases lead the South Atlantic Leaguer and are tied for fifth-most in all of Minor League Baseball.

John Wooten — UTIL

  • Hit .288 with 16 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 39 RBI and 36 runs scored in 60 games for the Suns.

Nick Pivetta — RHP

  • Tied for the South Atlantic League lead with eight wins, he is 8-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 12 games/11 starts for the Suns.

Austin Voth — RHP

  • Voth is second in the the SAL in WHIP (1.05) and ranks among SAL pitchers in ERA (6th, 2.45) and strikeouts (3rd, 74). He has posted a 4-3 record in 13 starts this season.

Jake Walsh — LHP

  • Has posted a 1.80 ERA (5 ER/25.0 IP) and a 1.00 WHIP in 19 appearances out of the Suns’ bullpen.

Carolina/California League 

All-Star Game: June 17, 2014 at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Delaware (Wilmington Blue Rocks)

Stephen Perez — INF

  • Leads the P-Nats in runs scored (42, 6th in Car. League) and stolen bases (18, 6th in Car. League) while ranking second on the club with 16 doubles. Perez is hitting .299 (7th in the Car. League) with one triple, one home run and 30 RBI in 64 games this season.

Shawn Pleffner — INF

  • Leads qualified Potomac Nationals and ranks fifth in the Carolina League with a .312 batting average. Pleffner has clubbed 14 doubles and two home runs, while driving in 21 and scoring 23 runs for the Nationals this season.

Derek Self — RHP

  • Is 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA (5 ER/26.2 IP) in 17 appearances out of the bullpen. Self has recorded 30 strikeouts and posted a 0.90 WHIP along the way. He was recently promoted to Double-A Harrisburg.

Nationals Select UNLV’s Fedde

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by Mike Feigen

The Washington Nationals finished off a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday afternoon, then added to their deep farm system with the selection of pitcher Erick Fedde with the 18th overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

Fedde, a 6-foot-4, 180 pound right-hander out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, compiled an 8-2 record with a 1.76 ERA in 11 starts for the Rebels in 2014, striking out 82 batters and walking just 21 batters in 76.2 innings pitched. He was named to the All-Mountain West First Team and also earned 2014 Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year honors.

“We’ve scouted him intensely over the last three years,” Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said, noting Fedde’s competitiveness on the mound. “He’s got two plus-plus pitches, and his third pitch, a change-up, is on the come. We think that’s going to be an above average pitch.”

The 21-year-old, who played at Las Vegas High School with Bryce Harper in 2009, underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on Tuesday. Rizzo said that the team is excited about Fedde’s potential, despite the injury.

“[Erick is a] big, physical guy — we had him toward the top of our draft board,” Rizzo said. “We felt that the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick.”

Assistant General Manager & Vice President of Scouting Operations Kris Kline was also sold on Fedde’s pedigree and repertoire.

“I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV and it was really, really good,” Kline said. “I walked out of there thinking that we’ve got no shot at getting this player, because he was a top-five type guy. He doesn’t throw anything straight … a lot of life, very heavy, above average slider up to 88 [miles per hour] and the makings and flashes of an above-average change-up.”

Following a year in which the Nationals did not have a first-round selection, the Nationals will look to extend their impressive run of successful first round picks since Rizzo was promoted to the team’s GM post in 2009. Fedde joins Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Harper, Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito as first-round draft selections in Washington during Rizzo’s tenure.

Rizzo said the Nationals’ medical team has been in touch with the doctors who performed Fedde’s surgery, and assuming Fedde signs with the organization this summer, the team will at that point take over the rehabilitation process.

“We’ll put him in the Viera [Fla.] rehab mode,” Rizzo said. “We’ll have our really talented rehab coordinators get after it and allow him to hopefully be pitching at this time next year somewhere.”

[UPDATE]

With their second round selection at No. 57 overall, the Nationals tabbed Andrew Suarez, a 6-foot-2 left-hander out of the University of Miami. Suarez, 21, went 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 2014, walking a minuscule 15 batters in 109.2 innings of work for the Hurricanes.

The draft is set to continue with rounds three through 10 on Friday and rounds 11 through 40 Saturday.

Nationals Minor League Report

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Welcome back to the 2014 Minor League Report, a comprehensive collection of notes from the Washington Nationals PR staff that highlights the outstanding performers in the Nationals’ Minor League system through the last few weeks.

To view this report on your full screen, please click the icon in the bottom right corner of the notes.

Enjoy!

Previous Minor League reports:

April 23, 2014

Nationals Minor League Report

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Welcome to the 2014 Minor League Report, a comprehensive collection of notes from the Washington Nationals PR staff that highlights the outstanding performers in the Nationals’ Minor League system through the season’s first few weeks.

To view this report on your full screen, please click the icon in the bottom right corner of the notes.

Enjoy!

Minor League Report; April 23, 2014

Nationals Named in Top 5 Under 25

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by Amanda Comak

Spring Training is the season of prospect lists. Industry insider Baseball America comes out with theirs, ESPN.com with their own, Baseball Prospectus chimes in, and MLB.com posts their updated rankings of the best up-and-coming talent in baseball in their Top 100 prospects, as well as organizational rankings.

farm graphicAs has been the case for the previous several years, the Washington Nationals are often viewed very favorably in those rankings as they continue, under President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, to stockpile top young talent through the First-Year Player Draft and various trades.

But those lists usually focus on the still-developing talent in the Minor Leagues.

This week, Baseball Prospectus released its list of “25-and-under talent rankings,” a compilation of each organization’s best talent born after March, 1988 and a fascinating look at an organization’s youth and depth — even when that talent has already reached the Major Leagues.

“It’s hard enough to analyze immature and still-developing talents in their own context, but it’s even more demanding to compare those future Major Leaguers with the models they are aiming to become,” wrote Jason Parks in his introduction to the rankings. “It’s a thankless task that can get lost in the shuffle of the team prospect fury, but the compiled Under-25 lists are excellent snapshots of organizational health, at least as far as young, promising talent is concerned.”

The Nationals were ranked No. 2 in all of Major League Baseball.

From the article:

1. Stephen Strasburg (25)
2. Bryce Harper (21)
3. Lucas Giolito (19)
4. Anthony Rendon (23)
5. A.J. Cole (22)
6. Brian Goodwin (23)
7. Taylor Jordan (25)
8. Michael Taylor (22)
9. Jake Johansen (23)
10. Jefry Rodriguez (20)

Made MLB Debut? 4
Farm System Ranking: 18
Top 10 Prospects: RHP Lucas GiolitoRHP A.J. Cole, CF Brian Goodwin, CF Michael Taylor, RHP Jake Johansen, RHP Jefry Rodriguez, 1B Matt Skole, C Pedro Severino, RF Drew Vettleson, 3B Drew Ward
Prospects on the BP 101: 3
Top Prospect: Lucas Giolito
Summary: While the Nationals’ U25 list isn’t as deep as the Cardinals’, it offers an intriguing package of star power. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper might be the best tandem in baseball for the next 10 years, and each offers an elite ceiling. Lucas Giolito is far from reaching his massive promise, but the trio of potential 8-grade ceilings at the top of Washington’s list is unmatched in baseball. For good measure, Washington has a potential all-star in Anthony Rendon and some solid role-5 guys at the back of its top 10. –Jordan Gorosh

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, still just 29 despite the fact that he is about to appear in his 10th Major League season, often jokes that people think he’s old because he’s been around for so long. But in reality, 24 members of the Nationals’ projected 40-man roster will be under the age of 30 on Opening Day, 2014.

The rest of the rankings are fascinating in their own right, with the St. Louis Cardinals coming in just above the Nationals at No. 1 and the Atlanta Braves at No. 3, followed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins. The bottom five (No.’s 26-30), according to these rankings: Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers.

To read the full article, click here.

Nationals Invite 18 Non-Roster Players to Major League Spring Training

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by Amanda Comak

With Pitchers and Catchers set to report to Viera, Fla., in just three weeks, the Washington Nationals released their list of non-roster invitees on Friday – a list that includes players recently signed to Minor League deals as well as some of the organization’s top homegrown talent.farm graphic

The Nationals announced their deals with right-hander Gabriel Alfaro, infielder Jamey Carroll, right-hander Manny Delcarmen, infielder Mike Fontenot, right-hander Clay Hensley, right-hander Daniel Stange, infielder Brock Peterson and catcher Chris Snyder, who all signed Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training.

In addition, the Nationals extended invitations to Major League Spring Training to right-hander A.J. Cole, left-hander Tyler Robertson, left-hander Danny Rosenbaum, right-hander Blake Treinen, right-hander Chris Young, catcher Brian Jeroloman, infielder Josh Johnson, infielder Will Rhymes, infielder Matt Skole and outfielder Brian Goodwin.

Here’s a bit more about the new additions to the Major League clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium:

  • Cole and Goodwin, both top prospects, will take part in their first Major League Spring Training.
  • Cole, the No. 2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, went 10-5 with 3.60 ERA in 25 starts between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. He tallied 151 strikeouts, third-most among Nationals farmhands, and his 102 strikeouts with Potomac were the most on the club, despite his promotion to Harrisburg on July 23rd. 
  • Goodwin led the Double-A Eastern League with 11 triples and was third in the league with 82 runs scored in 122 games for Double-A Harrisburg.  He tied for the team lead with 115 hits and paced qualified Senators in on-base percentage (.355) and slugging percentage (.407).  On the season, he hit .252 with 19 doubles, 10 homers, 40 runs batted in. The Rocky Mount, N.C. native is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the Nationals’ organization.
  • Alfaro, 30, struck out 12.0 batters per nine innings in 2013 while pitching for Guerreros de Oaxaca of the Mexican League. He went 4-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 26 saves in 63.0 IP (53 games).
  • Carroll, a career .272 hitter, spent the 2013 season with Minnesota before being traded to Kansas City on August 11th.  The 39-year old was selected by the Montreal Expos in 1996 and spent his first four Major League seasons (2002-05) with the Montreal/Washington franchise before stints with Colorado (2006-07), Cleveland (2008-09), Los Angeles-NL (2010-11), Minnesota (2012-13) and Kansas City (2013). An original member of the Nationals, Carroll is one of six members of the 2005 Nationals who are still active. The others: Marlon Byrd, Endy Chavez, John Rauch, Luis Ayala and Ryan Zimmerman.
  • Delcarmen has spent parts of six MLB seasons pitching for Boston and Colorado, amassing an 11-8 record to go along with a 3.97 ERA in 298 games.  The 31-year old spent the 2013 season in Baltimore’s chain, appearing in 48 games for Triple-A Norfolk, going 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA.
  • Fontenot, 33, spent the 2013 season in Tampa Bay’s organization, playing 120 games for Triple-A Durham. He hit .264 with 32 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 42 runs batted in and 53 runs scored for the Bulls. Fontenot last appeared in the Major Leagues with Philadelphia in 2012 and previously spent time with San Francisco (2010-11) and Chicago-NL (2005-10).
  • Hensley has spent parts of seven Major League seasons pitching for San Diego (2005-08), Miami (2010-11) and San Francisco (2012), going 28-34 with 10 saves and a 4.00 ERA in 271 big league games.  The 34-year-old went 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA in 33 relief appearances with Triple-A Louisville (CIN), Triple-A Nashville (MIL) and the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent League last season.
  • Stange, 28, struck out 73 batters in 65.2 innings between Triple-A Tucson (SDP) and Triple-A Salt Lake City (LAA) in 2013.  He went 5-1 with a 4.52 ERA in 52 games between the two organizations last season, appearing in three games for Los Angeles (AL).
  • Peterson led the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 25 home runs and was second in the league in slugging percentage (.531) and OPS (.895) in 2013.  He hit .296 with 30 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, 86 RBI, 44 walks and 69 runs scored in 122 games for St. Louis’ top affiliate.  The 30-year old made his Major League debut on July 20th vs. San Diego and appeared in 23 games for the Cardinals.
  • Snyder, 32, returns to the Nationals after spending the 2013 season in the Los Angeles (AL) and Baltimore organizations. He combined to hit .273 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 45 RBI and a .330 OBP in 73 Triple-A contests with Salt Lake (Pacific Coast League, 21 games) and Norfolk (International League, 52 games).

Pitchers and catchers are slated report to the Nationals’ Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla., by Thursday, Feb. 13. Position players must report by Feb. 18, and the first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Down on the Farm: Nationals announce Minor League Coaching Staffs

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals announced their minor league managers, coaches and coordinators for the 2014 season on Friday, welcoming two new managers to the chain and promoting three complete staffs within the system.

farm graphicFormer Triple-A Syracuse manager Tony Beasley, and hitting coach Troy Gingrich, have been promoted to minor league co-field coordinator and hitting coordinator, respectively. And among the new faces, the Nationals have added former players, Michael Barrett, Joe Dillon and Tim Redding to their minor league coaching and managerial ranks.

Nationals Vice President of Player Personnel Bob Boone, Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris and Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba made the joint announcement.

The Nationals promoted manager Brian Daubach, pitching coach Chris Michalak and hitting coach Mark Harris from Advanced-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg. Manager Tripp Keister, pitching coach Franklin Bravo and hitting coach Brian Rupp moved from Single-A Hagerstown to Advanced-A Potomac. Patrick Anderson was promoted to Single-A Hagerstown after serving as manager in the Gulf Coast League, and is joined on his staff by pitching coach Sam Narron and hitting coach Luis Ordaz.

Additionally, the Nationals promoted Paul Menhart from pitching coach of the Harrisburg Senators to the same position with the Syracuse Chiefs, Amaury Garcia from the Gulf Coast League to Single-A Auburn and Jorge Mejia from the Dominican Summer League to the Gulf Coast League.

Billy Gardner Jr. will manage the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and Barrett will lead the Gulf Coast League Nationals, the two new managerial additions to the Nationals’ staff this season.  In addition to those changes, Dillon will serve as the hitting coach at Triple-A Syracuse, and Redding will serve as the pitching coach at Single-A Auburn.

Barrett, Dillon and Redding join the coaching ranks after successful professional careers, while Redding and Barrett also have ties from their playing days to the organization.

Redding spent two years pitching for the Nationals, working to a 4.53 ERA in 48 starts between 2007 and 2008, and posted a 4.95 ERA in parts of eight major league seasons. This will be the right-hander’s first season transitioning from playing to coaching.

Barrett, a first-round selection by the Montreal Expos in 1995, spent parts of 12 seasons in the major leagues, including six in an Expos uniform. In over 1,000 Major League games, Barrett posted a career .263 average, .320 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage, while starting 820 of those games behind the plate. In 2005, while with the Chicago Cubs, Barrett won a Silver Slugger Award.

Over the course of a 12-year professional career as a utility infielder, Dillon spent parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues with Florida, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay. He is a career .263/.344/.378 hitter in 137 Major League games.

Beasley will replace Bob Henley, who was recently named the Nationals’ third-base coach.  Gingrich fills the position of hitting coordinator made vacant by the promotion of Rick Schu to Nationals’ hitting coach last July.  Jon Kotredes will move to the position of medical and rehab coordinator after spending the 2013 season as Harrisburg’s athletic trainer.

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs                                       Short-Season Single-A Auburn 
[International League]                                           [New York-Penn League]
Manager – Billy Gardner Jr.                                Manager – Gary Cathcart
Pitching – Paul Menhart                                       Pitching – Tim Redding
Hitting – Joe Dillon                                                 Hitting – Amaury Garcia

Double-A Harrisburg Senators                          Rookie-Level GCL Nationals
[Eastern League]                                                      [Gulf Coast League]
Manager – Brian Daubach                                    Manager – Michael Barrett
Pitching – Chris Michalak                                    Pitching – Michael Tejera
Hitting – Mark Harris                                             Hitting – Jorge Mejia

Single-A Potomac Nationals                               Rookie-Level DSL Nationals
[Carolina League]                                                    [Dominican Summer League]
Manager – Tripp Keister                                       Manager – Sandy Martinez
Pitching – Franklin Bravo                                    Pitching – Pablo Frias
Hitting – Brian Rupp                                              Hitting – Jose Herrera

Single-A Hagerstown Suns
[South Atlantic League]
Manager – Patrick Anderson
Pitching – Sam Narron
Hitting – Luis Ordaz

Coordinators
Co-Field Coordinator – Tony Beasley
Co-Field Coordinator – Jeff Garber
Hitting Coordinator – Troy Gingrich
Pitching Coordinator – Spin Williams
Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator – Gary Thurman
Coordinator of Instruction – Gary Cathcart
Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator – Jon Kotredes
Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Landon Brandes
Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator – Mark Grater
Minor League Equipment Manager – Calvin Minasian

Down on the Farm: The Rule 5 Draft

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by Noah Frank

One of the most confusing and misunderstood of all of baseball’s annual traditions took place last week at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando. The Rule 5 Draft, the unofficial closing to baseball’s Winter Meetings, is a function of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement that helps give players a chance with a new club if they meet certain eligibility requirements. Unlike the Rule 4 Draft (more commonly known as the First-Year Player Draft, which takes place each June), players are picked from other organizations in both a Major League and Minor League phase. You can learn more about the intricacies and minutiae of the proceedings in this handy FAQ.

farm graphicThe Nationals’ 40-man roster was already full heading into the draft, so they did not procure anyone in the Major League phase (though they saw catcher Adrian Nieto taken by the White Sox). They did, however, make a couple of acquisitions in the Minor League portion of the event, selecting outfielder Theodis (Theo) Bowe from the Cincinnati Reds and right-handed pitcher Martires Arias from the New York Mets.

Aside from his terrific name, Bowe brings both speed and defense as a center fielder. In essence, he helps replace Billy Burns, recently traded to Oakland for left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins. Bowe is one season removed from a 70-steal campaign, and at just 23 years of age, Nationals Director of Player Development Mark Scialabba hopes to get a look at what he might provide moving forward.

“Bowe is still a young, left-handed outfielder that possesses two plus tools in his speed and defense,” explained Scialabba. “We had good information on his makeup, skill set and the way he played the game. He will compete for a spot at Double-A Harrisburg.”

Finding Arias is a credit to Nationals Director of Player Procurement Kasey McKeon, who scouted him in the Dominican Republic earlier this year and recommended him for the Rule 5 Draft. Also 23 years old, the 6-foot-7 hurler reaches the mid-90s with his fastball, giving Scialabba and the Nationals’ staff another pitcher in the mold of many the organization has drafted in recent years.

“He’s another tall, power arm that we can add to our inventory and take on as a project,” Scialabba said. “We would like to see if we can make some adjustments to maximize his ability.”

Nationals Add Solis, Taylor, Barrett to 40-Man Roster

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by Amanda Comak

Three Washington Nationals Minor Leaguers took big steps in their path toward the Major Leagues on Wednesday, when left-hander Sammy Solis, outfielder Michael Taylor and right-hander Aaron Barrett were added to the team’s 40-man roster.

In order to clear space for the three players on the roster, the Nationals designated left-handers Fernando Abad and Tyler Robertson for assignment.

Solis, Taylor and Barrett, all well-regarded prospects within the organization, will now be included in Major League Spring Training this upcoming February, the first such opportunity for all three players.

Sammy Solis turned in a dominant campaign in the Arizona Fall League before being added to the Nationals' 40-man roster. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

Sammy Solis turned in a dominant campaign in the Arizona Fall League before being added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

The Nationals’ second-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of San Diego, Solis recently led the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League in wins (5) and strikeouts (29) en route to a 2.17 ERA in seven starts in 29.0 innings. Solis, 25, is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 33 games (32 starts) spanning three professional seasons. Solis was recently rated by industry-insider Baseball America as the Nationals’ No. 6 prospect.

The 22-year-old Taylor hit .263 with a career-high 57 extra-base hits (41 doubles, six triples, 10 home runs), 87 RBI and 51 stolen bases in 133 games this season with Potomac of the Single-A Carolina League. Taylor’s RBI and stolen base totals ranked second among Nationals farmhands and earned him a spot on the Carolina League’s postseason All-Star team. Regarded as the Nationals’ top defensive outfield prospect, Baseball America recently rated Taylor as Washington’s No. 7 prospect and the system’s “top athlete.” He was the Nationals’ sixth-round pick in the 2009 Draft from Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Taylor is currently second in the Puerto Rican Winter League with a 1.029 OPS (.378 AVG/.451 OBP/.578 SLG).

Barrett, a power right-hander out of the bullpen, fanned 12.3 batters per 9.0 innings this season for Double-A Harrisburg. Barrett’s 26 saves ranked second in both the Eastern League and Washington’s system and he earned a spot on the Eastern League’s midseason All-Star team. Baseball America credited the 25-year-old Barrett with the system’s “best slider.” Barrett was the Nationals’ ninth-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Mississippi.

Abad, 27, posted a 3.35 ERA in 39 relief appearances for the Nationals in 2013. He signed with the Nationals as a minor league free agent on January 15, 2013.

The 25-year-old Robertson picked up four wins and two saves and worked to a 3.04 ERA in 47 Triple-A games (one start) for Syracuse and Rochester in 2013. He was claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Twins on June 7, 2013.

By adding Solis, Taylor and Barrett to the 40-man roster, the Nationals are protecting them from being selected in the Dec. 12 Rule 5 Draft. Unprotected players may be plucked by another organization and given a chance to make that team’s Major League roster out of Spring Training in 2014.

Down on the Farm: Souza’s Patience Pays Off

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by Mike Feigen

November 1 was a significant day in the history of the Washington Nationals. Matt Williams was welcomed to Nationals Park and introduced as the club’s fifth manager since baseball returned to The District. It was a day of celebration.

But earlier that morning, the Nationals made a less heralded move – one that signaled redemption for a young player who hopes to play for Williams in the near future.

Souza_StevenSteven Souza, Jr., drafted by the Nationals in June of 2007 – the 100th-overall player selected and the sixth pick in the first three rounds by Washington – was added to the 40-man roster. Two of the players taken before him, Ross Detwiler (sixth overall) and Jordan Zimmermann (67th overall) are already household names in D.C., while Souza’s path to the Majors remains a work in progress.

Unlike the aforementioned college pitchers, Souza, an outfielder, came to the Nationals straight from the prep ranks. He bypassed a college scholarship to sign out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., a program that had sent former third-round pick Grady Sizemore to the big leagues just a few years earlier. Upon signing, Souza headed across the country to Viera, Fla., where he hit four home runs and added four stolen bases in 44 games for the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) Nationals.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-handed hitter split time between Short Season-A Vermont and Class-A Hagerstown in 2008, then repeated at Hagerstown in 2009 and 2010, hitting a combined .235 with 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases in 207 games with the Suns. At the age of 22, after being sidelined for 50 games, he advanced to High-A Potomac, where he hit .228 but improved his on-base percentage – posting a .360 mark – while adding 11 homers and 25 steals.

At that point, with five seasons of professional baseball under his belt, the young outfielder found himself at a crossroads.

The setbacks had been difficult, the progression through the Nationals system had been slow, and he’d made his own mistakes to compound the situation. Souza contemplated walking away from his dream.

***

Souza will join his Mesa Solar Sox teammates in the quest for an Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday (MLB Network, 3 p.m. ET). It’s been two years since he reconsidered his place in the game, and in that time he has developed into a legitimate five-tool threat. Most recently, he’s become one of the top performers in the prospect-rich AFL circuit – all while playing less than most of his AFL counterparts.

Designated a “taxi squad” player, restricted to two games per week, Souza has maximized his opportunities in limited at-bats. While he wants to play every day, Souza said he’s learned that any chance to play is a blessing.

“Playing on the taxi squad has taught me a lot about coming off the bench,” Souza said.  “You have to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Souza hit .357/.426/.476 with eight runs, eight RBI and 10 stolen bases this fall, while hitting safely in 10 of his 11 games for the AFL East Division Champion Solar Sox. Twice he stole three bases in a game, showing off his explosive speed.

Down on the Farm_StevenSouza“As a bigger guy, speed is what separates me from some other bigger guys,” Souza explained. “I’ve worked a lot on agility and footwork. I owe everything to (Nationals first base coach) Tony Tarasco. He’s taught me everything I know about baserunning, and it’s translated well on the field.”

Souza’s AFL performance is coming on the heels of an All-Star showing at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, where he hit .300/.396/.557 with 39 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in just 77 games. In 2012, with renewed enthusiasm for the game, Souza compiled an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .938 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases across two levels.

The transformation has been striking; after hitting no better than .237 at any of his primary stops in his first five years, Souza has hit no worse than .290 in the two seasons since.

Doug Harris, Washington’s Director of Player Development, has been thrilled to see Souza’s career blossom.

“Steven has really come into his own over the last two years,” Harris said. “He has a broad skill set with the ability to impact a game in a variety of ways. Not only has he performed at a high level during that span, but also exhibited many intangibles that have earned him a 40-man roster spot.”

For Souza, being added to the Nationals 40-man roster was a validation for all of the hard work he put in to revive his career.

“I was really honored and humbled,” Souza said of receiving the call from the Nationals. “I’m thankful to be in such a great organization.”

When offered a chance to look ahead, Souza was reluctant to set goals, saying instead that he would let his faith guide him. He made it clear, however, that he’d love to have an opportunity to play at Nationals Park in the near future.

“Honestly, if Matt Williams wants me to come in and help the team win, I’ll do that in any way I can,” he said. “If I don’t make it this year, I’ll work hard and play wherever they send me. I just want to contribute somehow – either to a win or two, or winning a championship. I’d be happy to fit in somewhere and just fade into the background.”

***

Mesa experienced a symmetrical season, racing out to a 7-0 record (plus one tie), dropping 11 of 17 games in the middle of the year, and then rallying to win its final six contests to finish with a 19-11 record. The furious finish was just enough to edge Salt River for the East Division title by a half game, as the Rafters ended their year with seven consecutive wins.

Saturday’s AFL Championship Game will be broadcast live on MLB Network at 3 p.m. ET, with the Solar Sox taking on the West Division Champion Surprise Saguaros.

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