Archive for the ‘ Down on the Farm ’ Category

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.

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Neil Holland

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace,catcherSpencer Kieboom and right-hander Derek Self.

Next up: right-hander Neil Holland. 

Holland_NeilHolland appeared in a career-high 46 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA (29 ER/76.2 IP), including 63 strikeouts. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors for his efforts out of the Harrisburg bullpen in 2014.

Holland features a sidearm delivery that he started using during his junior year at the University of Louisville. He has appeared in eight games for the Mesa Solar Sox during this year’s Arizona Fall League season.

We recently spoke with the 2010 11th round pick about his season and experience in Arizona.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

My experience in the Arizona Fall League has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about it. The facilities, fields, the cities. Everything. It’s been a great experience.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel incredibly honored to put on the Nationals jersey out here. It just makes me realize even more that I’m close to my dream, and with a really good organization.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age. One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls. I’ve also worked on a new changeup, which is coming along pretty well, as well as a lower arm slot on my slider. These are all good, positive things to work on in the offseason.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I feel like it took everyone a few games to feel comfortable with the new rules implemented, but I seem to be getting used to it. It doesn’t bother me too much, anyways, because I work fast. But there are still some things about the rule I have a hard time getting on board with.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

I didn’t know exactly what to expect meeting all my new teammates and having to get to know each other so quick but it’s been surprisingly great! All the guys have been awesome, especially the bullpen guys.

What have you done on your off days?

I’ve gone golfing a few times on my off days and watched a lot of football, which is a new concept for us ballplayers, always having Sundays off each week. I enjoy playing, but definitely enjoy the off days just to relax.

Holland_Neil_actionWhere and when did you develop the sidearm delivery? 

I starting throwing side arm my junior year of college. I wasn’t having success at the University of Louisville my first two years throwing over the top and was getting ready to transfer.

Right before I was getting ready to transfer, my throwing partner (also one of our captains) suggested that I go side-armed because I would sometimes throw him some side-armed pitches that were really good and moved a lot. He told my pitching coach that I should try a bullpen that way, and it ended up working out better than we all imagined. I became the closer basically my whole junior year, and the rest is history.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks?

Both are amazing coaches who have taught me a lot since I’ve been out here. They are both laid back and approachable, with a lot of knowledge, and you can pick their brain at any time. I’ve had a lot of good talks with both Wise and Villone after a bad outing and they helped me out a lot. They’re great coaches who know the game and also know a lot about the mental side of baseball.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

My approach hasn’t really changed since I’ve been out here, despite the good hitters I’ve been facing. I’ve always been known for being a ground ball thrower so I’ve been doing that, as well as working on my changeup. I go at the guys just like I went at the hitters during the season in Double-A and Triple-A — just trying to keep the ball low and work fast.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Absolutely, the Nationals pitchers are pretty spoiled having our own catchers here in the Fall League, and I’ve gotten on the same page with them very quickly. I also feel very comfortable throwing to them because they always know what I want to throw. Both Kieboom and Severino have been great with that.

You, Matt Grace and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

I’ve known both Derek and Matt for a while through my baseball career. I played with Derek two years in college too, so we know each other very well and have had a lot of good times together. Derek and I know how to push each other’s buttons, so we do make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all in good fun.

I’ve known Matt all five years I’ve played and we’ve gotten moved up together each year. He’s one of my really good friends so it was pretty cool that he and I got invited out here, too. We’ve roomed with each other off-and-on each year, and we’re also living with each other out here. So, whether it’s going out to eat, golfing, or going to the field, we’ve basically done it for five years straight now. I’ll be excited to finally get away from that guy when the offseason hits!

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Derek Self

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace, and catcher Spencer Kieboom.

Self_DerekNext up: right-hander Derek Self.

A ninth-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Louisville, Self reached Double-A for the first time in his young professional career this past season. He went 5-4 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA (20 ER/66.2 IP) in 42 appearances between Single-A Potomac and Harrisburg. He struck out a career-high 61 batters and walked just 18 along the way.

His strong regular-season performance has carried over to the Arizona Fall League, where he has allowed just two earned runs in 14.0 IP (1.29 ERA) in eight appearances out of Mesa’s bullpen.

We recently caught up with the Cave City, KY native to talk about his 2014 season and his experience in the Arizona Fall League.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

It’s been great out here. A really cool experience. I’d been out here one time for college regionals, but to live out here for a month-and-a-half and get to play baseball every day is truly amazing.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

It’s an honor and privilege to wear that ‘W’ on my chest. Knowing every day I walk into the clubhouse I get to represent the Nationals and I intend to do that the best I can. But my goal is to soon put on that Nationals uniform every day in D.C.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I’m just learning how to pitch better in certain counts to better hitters. I’m really working on my new changeup and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well. 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.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

It really hasn’t affected me. I know with the time situation of delivering the pitch, but I’ve always worked pretty fast.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

It’s been great. It’s always nice to travel around and be on different teams. You get to know all these new players and you spend so much time with them that you become friends. I’ve made a lot of new friends out here and met a lot of great guys.

What have you done on your off days? Tony Renda said that he dominated you in a round of golf. Would you like to refute those claims?

Honestly, I have relaxed for the most part. My roommates and I will chill by the pool, get a little sun — because I know I’m not getting that when I go back to Kentucky. We hiked Camelback Mountain, which was a great experience.

And yes, I’ve played some golf and with Tony. He didn’t dominate me — he got me by one stroke. I think he may have kicked a ball out of woods and had a little help once or twice.

Did you cross paths with Neil Holland at all at the University of Louisville? If so, how has it been going on this journey with him?

Yes, I actually did. I got to play with him for two years — my freshman and sophomore seasons. It’s been great to share this season with him again, and also out in the Fall League. If you asked me in college if we both would be playing with the Nationals organization, let alone be in the Fall League at the same time, I wouldn’t think there would be a shot. So to be able to do this with him, it’s pretty cool.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned from working with them for a few weeks?

It’s an honor to be coached and have these two guys around you every day. They both have given me more knowledge about pitching, and suggestions to help me succeed in the big leagues. But just talking to them both, I’ve learned a lot more about the game and I’m appreciative to have them along my journey.

This was one of your better professional seasons. What were some of your keys to success this season?

Thanks. I feel like I had a pretty good season as well. I felt like I should’ve done a little bit better in Harrisburg, but it was a learning experience, also. I feel like when I was having success, I was doing a really good job of locating with the fastball and really mixing up my pitches. Not trying to strikeout everyone, just trying to get weak contact. That was huge for me. I also had more confidence in myself than I’ve ever had. That truly makes you a better pitcher, and it’s a big difference when it comes down to who wins the battle with the hitter.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that, and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

I wouldn’t call it a hitters league, because I’ve seen a lot of good pitching also. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good hitters here. But my approach really hasn’t changed that much. I go out there and pitch like I always do and not try to do too much.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Yes a lot. They know you better than any other catcher, so they know how you like to pitch. I’ve spent a good amount of time with both Spencer and Pedro, and it just makes things better when you’re out there with your fellow Nats catcher.

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Spencer Kieboom

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we’ll give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

So far, we’ve caught up with infielder Tony Renda and left-hander Matt Grace. Next up: catcher Spencer Kieboom, who we recently had a chance to chat with about the 2014 season, as well as his experience in the Arizona Fall League.

Kieboom_SpencerKieboom, a fifth-round selection in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson University, missed the 2013 season after undergoing “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned in 2014 to hit .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 61 RBI and 50 runs scored in 87 games for the Hagerstown Suns, en route to being named a 2014 South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star.

In addition to his contributions at the plate, the 23-year-old Kieboom was tasked with handling arguably one of the top pitching staffs in the South Atlantic League. It was a staff that boasted top prospects RHP Lucas Giolito (8th in MLB /1st in org), RHP Austin Voth (9th in org), RHP Nick Pivetta (18th in org) and RHP Reynaldo Lopez (20th in org). (Rankings per MLB.com)

That strong staff helped lead the Suns to an 87-53 record, a second-half South Atlantic League Northern Division championship and a runner-up finish in the South Atlantic League Championship Series.

Here’s what Kieboom had to say:

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

On and off the field it has been great. I live with Tony Renda and Derek Self. Both are great guys in the organization. The experience at the field is awesome — being around guys, listening to what they do, and comparing different approaches etc.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

It feels great to put on the uniform every night. Especially when I first arrived, seeing my name on the back of the jersey, that was special.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am using the AFL to get more at-bats and have the opportunity to face some of the best pitching. My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career. 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.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I’ve adjusted fine. Some of the rules, I’ve caught myself and had to move a little quicker or make sure I didn’t go out for a mound visit.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

These guys are a great group. I like having fun at the park and they all do as well, so when I get to the field it’s an instant pick-me-up, regardless of how my day has been going.

What have you done on your off days?

I went and hiked Camel Back Mountain one day. Other days have been very laid back — chill at the pool, grill, or just watch some football

You missed all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. That surgery isn’t as common for position players as it is position players. How was the rehab process for you? How did it feel to get back out and play a full season in 2014?

The physical part of the rehab was not difficult; the hard part was the mental aspect. Showing up every day and digging deep to get the things done that I needed to get done. It’s a long process, and to stay focused was my biggest challenge.

Kieboom_Spencer_actionThe Suns’ starting pitching staff had a lot of success this season and you were behind the plate for the majority of their starts. What did you see on your end as a reason for their collective success?

All of those guys can just flat out pitch. They’re all students of the game and want to perfect their craft. Those guys not only work hard on the field but also off it, to prepare for their starts. Their success was no surprise to me because they would be ready when the ball was given to them every time.

You lived with Lucas Giolito this season in Hagerstown. What is he like off the field? 

Gio is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I have a friendship with him that will last a lifetime. A lot of people don’t know, but Lucas and I roomed together in Florida when we were both rehabbing, too. Him being my roommate when I was going through that time and having someone to help me through the process (since he’d just gone through it) is something I’ll always appreciate.

As a hitter, you’re having success facing some of the top pitching prospects in baseball during the AFL. What has that adjustment been like, going from the South Atlantic League to the Arizona Fall League?

The one thing I try and do is simplify my thoughts. When I go to the plate, I look at it like he’s just another pitcher on the mound and not let myself make the moment bigger than it should be every at-bat, regardless of who is pitching.

You have a familiar face on this team in Patrick Anderson, your manager in Hagerstown. How is it going through this experience with him?

Patrick and I have a special relationship, I feel, from this past season. He’s someone I will talk to for the rest of my life for on- and off-field issues.

The Nationals Major League bullpen coach is fellow Clemson Tiger catcher, Matt LeCroy. Have you met Matt, and has he told you anything?

I’ve met Matt and I enjoy being around him every time I get the chance. He hasn’t told me anything in particular, except a ‘GO TIGERS!’ here and there. I have a lot of respect for him and his career as a professional.

Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Matt Grace

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Last week, we met infielder Tony Renda. Next up, meet left-hander Matt Grace, who is coming off his finest professional season.

Grace_MattGrace enjoyed a breakout year in 2014, going 5-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 50 appearances between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He tallied 62 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .211 average. He surrendered just one home run during the entire 2014 campaign. Featuring a heavy fastball, Grace produced a ground-ball rate of 69 percent this season. For context, the Major League average is usually around 44-45 percent.

Grace was selected in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA. He has appeared in five games for the Solar Sox out of the bullpen, a role he became very familiar with this season.

We recently caught up with the California-native and asked him about his experience:

How are things going for you in Arizona?

The experience in Arizona has been great so far. Playing in the Arizona Fall League has been a lot of fun. Away from the field, Mesa and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer, so it has been cool.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel very honored to have been selected to play here. Putting on the Nats uniform every day is very gratifying. It is a special set-up here in the Fall League. I think all the players representing the Nationals organization here have done a great job so far.

What have you, or are you planning to, use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am working on throwing more offspeed pitches during my time here, especially my slider. 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.

How have you adjusted to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

We haven’t experienced the game play rules too much yet – they’re only implemented at the Salt River facility. But, I’m pretty quick in-between pitches and don’t take too much time warming up. For me it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

What has it been like getting to know your Mesa teammates and other top prospects in the game?

It’s been great to get to know some of the other guys on the Mesa team. We have some highly rated prospects on our team and it’s cool to see some of young, talented players out there. Also, being in the bullpen has been a lot of fun. It is a great group of guys.

What have you done on your off days?

Having Sundays off during the fall league is perfect. I’ve golfed a good amount. The courses out here are amazing. Besides that, we’ve watched a lot of football, hoping my fantasy team gets a win!

You’re coming off your best minor league season, what do you think were a few keys to your success this past season?

I think the main reason for my success the past season was just remaining focused and trying to execute quality pitches as much as possible. I worked on a couple of things with both pitching coaches – Chris Michalak and Paul Menhart – and I was able to quicken up my time to the plate with runners on base, and started to work exclusively out of the stretch. Throughout the year I stayed aggressive and became a consistent strike thrower.

Has your mentality changed since shifting to the bullpen?

I think my mentality is better suited for the bullpen. I’m able to be aggressive and attack hitters. Also, I like the chance to play every day.

Grace_Matt_actionThere are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant big league experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks? Especially Villone, being left handed.

They’ve been really informative and helpful. Talking with Wise has been great. He’s helped me with my changeup a good deal, and Villone has also been helpful. Aside from his stories, I’ve learned a lot about how he approached the game and the little things he did to be successful in the big leagues for so long. I want to learn from those guys as much as possible.

You, Neil Holland and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

The three of us have a great relationship. I’ve gotten to know Derek better because of the Fall League. He’s great. Neil and I have been on the same team for parts of five seasons, so we do have some great stories. He really loves to dance. All the time. During games, in the bullpen, away from the field, too. He’s very talented, too.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that, and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

Being out in Arizona, the ball tends to carry a little more. The hitters are the same though. Quality pitches will get outs the majority of the time. I just try to focus on that and nothing else. The talent level is very high, but my approach doesn’t change.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, fellow Nationals, as your catchers in the AFL?

There is a little bit of a comfort level with Pedro and Spencer behind the plate. I didn’t throw to them during the season at all, but worked with them in Florida before coming out to the Fall league. Getting to know their style and becoming comfortable with that has been beneficial.

Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Tony Renda

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz 

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the fall season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Renda_TonyFirst up is infielder Tony Renda (2nd round, 2012, Cal Berkeley).

Renda turned in his second straight All-Star-caliber minor league season in 2014, leading the Carolina League and ranking third among Nationals Farmhands with a .307 batting average. He added 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI, 43 walks, 19 stolen bases and 75 runs scored (4th in the Carolina League) en route to being named a Carolina League post-season All Star.

In 2013, Renda earned South Atlantic League All-Star honors, in addition to being named the inaugural recipient of the Nationals’ “Bob Boone Award.”

Renda is hitting .226 (12-for-53) with a .250 on-base percentage and a .321 slugging percentage. He’s clubbed three doubles, one triple, driven in seven runs, scored eight, walked twice and stolen one base in 56 plate appearances in the AFL. He was recently selected to the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Saturday, November 1st at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be nationally televised by MLB Network and online via MLB.com with Paul Severino (play-by-play), Joe Magrane (game analyst) and John Manuel (game analyst) on the call.

We recently caught up with Tony and asked him about his experience in the AFL.

How are things going so far?

It’s been a really good experience so far. We get to play against the best talent in the game of baseball. We face top-notch pitchers every day. It has been a challenge, but it’s been great. Together, we’re grinding every day, working hard and trying to stay consistent.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every day?

It’s awesome. We are all fired up to see those jerseys hanging in our lockers every day. It’s great, but the ultimate goal is to put that jersey on in DC. For right now it’ll do, but our mission isn’t over. We want to wear it in Nationals Park.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year.  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.

You have to lay off the bad pitches and go after the good ones. I want to just stay consistent in my at-bats and approach and prepare myself the best I can to compete next year.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I haven’t really had to adjust much. At first, you’re confused. ‘When does the clock start? When do I get into box? Oh no…the pitch clock is running down, c’mon throw the ball.’ Eventually I ignored it and didn’t end up changing anything. I never felt rushed. Eventually it was like, ‘There’s a clock, who cares.’ As a team, our pace of play is quick enough. Get the ball, get in the box, throw pitch. You learn to ignore it.

What has it been like getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

It’s been awesome. We have a really good group of guys. Through our teammates, we get to learn about other organizations, about what they teach, what they stress, things like that. It has been fun getting to know new players and where they came from.

It’s funny. We’re on a team with players from the Oakland A’s and two players, Dakota Bacus and John Wooten came (to the Nationals) from the A’s via trade. I played with Bacus and Wooten in Potomac this year, so we have been trading stories about those guys. I remember some guys from playing against them in college. The baseball world is a small world, man. Everyone will eventually know everyone, somehow.

What have you done on your off days?

Relax. We stay in Scottsdale, and our complex is very nice. It has a pool so we’ve been laying by the pool a lot. We’ve golfed a little bit. Ask Derek Self about the last time he and I played golf. Crushed him.

Coming off Potomac’s championship season, to Instructional League and now to the AFL, have you been able to slow down and take in everything from this season, appreciate what you accomplished both individually and as a team?    

Not yet. I’m in season mode still. I haven’t had a chance to take a breath quite yet. I know I will appreciate it when we finish here and I can go home and relax. I’ll take about a week off and get back into offseason work and hit it pretty hard before Spring Training. I think it will hit me then.

Renda_Tony_actionWhat was your favorite moment from this year’s championship season?

Wow, there are too many to have just one. That whole championship series (has to be up there). We lost the first game, but it was nothing to us. We knew we had the team to win it. We came back out the next day and let them know we were here and weren’t going to roll over.

To win the next two, man, the feeling you get when the last out is recorded, it’s a hard feeling to explain. It’s so amazing. We’ve got a great Minor League system and the success that all the teams had has, and will continue to, paid off at the Major League level, I think. The feeling of champagne down your back never gets old.

There are so many talented players in the AFL, including fellow Nationals Farmhands. Do you pick the brains of other prospects on your team and from around the league?

A little bit. I’m not one to talk to people about their approach. I’m more of a watch, observe, see how you go about your business type of person. I think you can learn a lot by just observing.

Your Manager down there, Mike Mordecai, is a former big leaguer and World Champion. Like you, he played mainly infield over his 12-year career. What have you learned from him in your short time in the AFL?

Mordey has a lot of baseball knowledge. He sees things that others take for granted. He brings it to your attention and you’re like, ‘Hey you’re right, I should do that. You know what you’re talking about.’ Early in the Fall League, we went out to second base and worked on pivots and footwork. I really picked his brain on that. What he is teaching me adds to what I learn from (Nationals Infield Coordinator) Jeff Garber. I know that Garbs has us so locked in on the infield. He’s amazing. We have our routines and routes and he has us so well prepared to play. There isn’t really much that other people can give us, but Mordey is good at giving us little things that we can add on to what we already have learned from the coaches in our organization.

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.

Minor League Postseason Preview

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by Kyle Brostowitz

On Wednesday, three of the Washington Nationals’ minor league affiliates will kick off the 2014 postseason. Here’s a brief preview of each series:

farm graphicInternational League

Syracuse Chiefs (81-62), Northern Division Champion

vs.

Pawtucket Red Sox (79-65), Wild Card

Season Series: 8-8

Series Scoring: 66-56 (Syracuse)

Looking Lively

Game Three starter, RHP Mitch Lively, stymied the Red Sox late in the season, going 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA (4 ER/11.0 IP) with 17 strikeouts and just four walks in his final two starts of 2014. In his final outing, on Aug. 30, Lively struck out a career-high 11 batters to propel the Chiefs to the division-clinching 6-2 victory over the Red Sox.

Familiar Face

Former Nationals outfielder Corey Brown will face off against his former teammates in this best-of-five series.  Brown went 10-for-33 (.303) with two doubles, four homers, six RBI, three walks and 5 runs scored in nine games against Syracuse in 2014. Brown played 357 games for the Chiefs from 2011-2013.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Pawtucket, 7:05pm: RHP Taylor Hill vs. LHP Edwin Escobar

Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 4 at Pawtucket, 7:05pm:  RHP Scott McGregor vs. RHP Matt Barnes

Game 3: Friday, Sept. 5 at Syracuse, 7:00pm: RHP Mitch Lively vs. LHP Henry Owens

Game 4: Saturday, Sept. 6 at Syracuse, 7:00pm: LHP Aaron Laffey vs. TBD **If necessary**

Game 5: Sunday, Sept. 7 at Syracuse, 1:00pm: RHP Paolo Espino vs. TBD **If necessary**

Carolina League

Potomac Nationals (78-58), Northern Division Champion

vs.

Lynchburg Hillcats (68-71), Wild Card

Season Series: 12-7 (Potomac)

Series Scoring: 96-90 (Potomac)

Hot Stretch

Potomac enters the postseason having won 14 of its last 19 games to finish out the season. Moreover, the Nationals have won four straight against Lynchburg, including a three-game sweep of the Hillcats, Aug. 19-20.

Batting Champion!

P-Nats second baseman Tony Renda claimed the Carolina League batting title, hitting .307 with 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI, 19 stolen bases and 75 runs scored.  In 13 games against Lynchburg, Renda went 16-for-49 (.327) with a double, two RBI, three stole bases, four walks and 12 runs scored.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Potomac: LHP Hector Silvestre vs. TBD

Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 4 at Potomac: RHP Brian Rauh vs. TBD

Game 3: Friday, Sept. 5 at Potomac: RHP Ian Dickson vs.  TBD

South Atlantic League

Hagerstown Suns (87-53), Second Half Northern Division Champion

vs.

Greensboro Grasshoppers (87-53), First Half Northern Division Champion

Season Series: 6-5 (Hagerstown)

Series Scoring: 69-66 (Hagerstown)

Hot Hand

RHP Reynaldo Lopez enters the postseason having allowed just one earned run in his last 39.2 South Atlantic League innings pitched, going 4-1 with a 0.23 ERA, with opponents batting just .115 against him. In his lone start against Greensboro on Aug. 19, Lopez fired 6.0 scoreless innings, allowing two hits while walking one and striking out four.

Grasshopper Exterminator

South Atlantic League MVP, INF Wilmer Difo, hit .460 (23-for-50) with a double, three triples, two homers, 10 RBI, two walks, three stolen bases and 13 runs scored in 11 games against Greensboro in 2014.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1:  Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Hagerstown: RHP Wander Suero vs. Domingo German

Game 2:  Friday, Sept. 5 at Greensboro: RHP Reynaldo Lopez vs. LHP Chris Sadberry

Game 3   Saturday, Sept. 6 at Greensboro:  RHP Nick Pivetta vs. RHP Kyle Fischer

Wilmer Difo named South Atlantic League MVP; Lucas Giolito named Most Outstanding Pitcher & Top Prospect

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Amanda Comak

Two more Washington Nationals prospects earned end-of-year accolades on Thursday with the South Atlantic League announcing Single-A Hagerstown infielder Wilmer Difo as the league’s Most Valuable Player and right-hander Lucas Giolito the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Additionally, Suns center fielder Rafael Bautista was named to the SAL post-season All-Star team and Single-A Potomac manager Tripp Keister was named the Carolina League Manager of the Year.

Difo, a mid-season SAL Northern Division All-Star and post-season All-Star second baseman, currently leads or is tied for the league lead in hits (174) and total bases (257). Hitting .321 this season, good for sixth in the league among qualifiers, Difo has worked to a .366 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage for the Suns.

The 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is among the SAL leaders in RBI (88, third), stolen bases (49, second), runs scored (90, tied for second), extra-base hits (50, fourth) and most plate appearances per strikeout (9.55, fifth).

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game - World Team v United StatesGiolito, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in all of baseball at mid-season, went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA for the Suns in 20 games this season. Over 98.0 innings he allowed 28 runs (24 earned) on 70 hits, including seven homers. Giolito, the Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, walked 28 and struck out 110.

The 20 year old was named the SAL Pitcher of the Week on two occasions this season and represented the Nationals at the Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game, along with outfielder Michael A. Taylor, in Minneapolis in July.

Bautista, like Difo, was named to the mid-season Northern Division All-Star team as well. The 21-year-old currently leads the league in stolen bases (66), and is tied with Difo for second in runs scored. Bautista is hitting .283 this year with a .337 on-base percentage and .373 slugging percentage. His 66 stolen bases are a Suns single-season record since the team has been a member of the South Atlantic League.

Keister managed Potomac to the first- and second-half Northern Division titles, clinching the second-half crown on Wednesday night. With a 75-55 record this season, Potomac will host Game 1 of the Northern Division Championship Series on Sept. 3 at Pfitzner Stadium.

Nationals sending seven to Arizona Fall League

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League announced its rosters for the 2014 season on Tuesday and seven Washington Nationals farmhands, along with one manager and one trainer, will represent the organization as members of the Mesa Solar Sox during the 2014 season. The AFL, known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects, will begin its season, Tuesday, Oct. 7.

farm graphicMatt Grace – LHP – 2010 First-Year Player Draft (8th round, UCLA)

Grace, 25, began the year at Double-A Harrisburg before getting promoted to Triple-A Syracuse in mid-June. In 47 combined appearances out of the bullpen, Grace went 5-1 with a 1.22 ERA (10 ER/74.0 IP) while striking out 60 batters and holding opponents to a .211 batting average. He experienced a remarkable run in which he allowed just one earned run over 39.1 IP (0.23 ERA), spanning 24 appearances for the Senators and the Chiefs. A ground-ball machine, Grace posted a ground-ball rate of 69 percent this season. For context, the Major League average is usually around 44-45 percent.

“He’s had a terrific year at two levels,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris. “The opportunity to go to the Arizona Fall League for him is a chance to work on and develop the breaking ball.”

Neil Holland – RHP – 2010 First-Year Player Draft (11th round, Louisville)

Holland, an Eastern League mid-season All-Star, went a combined 7-4 with a 3.27 ERA (26 ER/71.2 IP) in 44 games/one start between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He was promoted from Harrisburg to Syracuse on July 7 and returned to Harrisburg 10 days later. Over his last nine appearances, the 26 year old has pitched to a 0.59 ERA (one ER/15.1 IP) while allowing 10 hits and striking out 15 batters along the way.

“Neil got a taste of Triple-A this year and got a chance to play at two different levels,” Harris said. “He’s a sidearm guy and we’re working with him on repeating his delivery, and repeating all three pitches from the same slot. The Arizona Fall League is a great venue for him to do that, against better hitters.”

Felipe Rivero – LHP – Acquired from Tampa Bay along with C Jose Lobaton and OF Drew Vettleson in exchange for RHP Nathan Karns.

Rivero was limited during the 2014 regular season due to injury, but returned to the mound in late July. In his last two starts for Double-A Harrisburg, the hard-throwing lefty has tossed 11.0 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and striking out 11. Rivero, 23, was originally singed by the Rays out of San Felipe, Venezuela, on July 8, 2008.

“We’re just trying to continue to build his innings,” Harris said of Rivero’s AFL assignment. “Continue to build his volume. Since he’s come back he’s pitched arguably as well as we’ve seen him, and our hope is just to continue that process.”

Derek Self – RHP – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (9th round, Louisville)

Self earned Carolina League mid-season All-Star honors after going 3-0 with three saves and a 1.69 ERA (5 ER/26.2 IP) with 30 strikeouts and just five walks in 17 appearances out of Potomac’s bullpen. He was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg in early-June and tossed 37.2 innings of relief for the Senators.

“Derek had a strong year at Potomac and got a chance to touch Double-A, where he continued to learn at a higher level,” Harris said. “The Arizona Fall League is an opportunity for him to face a more diverse offensive player. The AFL is a hitter’s league and we want to continue to expose him to a better offensive player.”

Spencer Kieboom – C – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (5th round, Clemson)

After his 2013 season was cut short due to injury, Kieboom hit .311 with 27 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 58 RBI and 47 runs scored in just 83 games for Single-A Hagerstown in 2014. Keiboom, 23, was a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star selection and will help anchor an all-Washington catching corps for the Mesa Solar Sox

“After missing the 2013 season following Tommy John surgery, Spencer had a terrific year in Hagerstown,” Harris said. “The AFL will give him a chance to play with some older players and continue to advance his development.”

Pedro Severino – C – Signed as a non-drafted free agent, December 13, 2010

Severino will join Kieboom behind the plate for the Solar Sox. Known mainly for his above-average defensive abilities, Severino hit .248 with 15 doubles, one triple, eight homers, 31 RBI and 39 runs scored in 89 games for Potomac. This season marked his first season in the Carolina League after earning All-Star honors with Hagerstown (South Atlantic League) in 2013.

“Severino really turned his season around offensively,” Harris said. “Going to the AFL gives him a chance to continue that progression. He’ll get to see a little different pitching and continue to develop offensively.”

Tony Renda – INF – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (2nd round, University of California-Berkeley) 

Renda, 23, led the Potomac Nationals and ranked among Carolina League hitters in batting average (3rd, 300) and runs scored (4th, 72). He also clubbed 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI and had 17 stolen bases in 100 games for Single-A Potomac.  Known as a slick-fielding middle-infielder, Renda committed just eight errors in almost exclusive action at second base. In 2013, as a member of the Hagerstown Suns, Renda received the inaugural Washington Nationals “Bob Boone Award,” given to farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”

“Tony has put himself in position to face the next challenge,” Harris said. “We feel like this is a good step in his preparation for that. He’s had a terrific year.​”

Patrick Anderson – Coach – Manager, Hagerstown Suns

In his second year in the Nationals’ chain, Anderson has guided the Suns to a 84-50 record and a potential playoff berth in the South Atlantic League playoffs. Anderson led the 2013 Gulf Coast League Nationals to a 49-9 (.845) record and a GCL Championship in his first season as a member of the organization.

T.D. Swinford — Athletic Trainer, Potomac Nationals

Swinford just completed his fourth season in the Nationals’ organization, but his first with the P-Nats. Swinford spent the 2013 season in Hagerstown, and served as the Athletic Trainer in Auburn for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

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