Archive for the ‘ Down on the Farm ’ Category

Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Matt Grace

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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.

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

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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 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 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

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


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


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


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

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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.

Steven Souza Jr. named IL MVP and Rookie of the Year; Billy Gardner Jr. named Manager of the Year

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by Amanda Comak

The finest season in recent memory for the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs produced several accolades on Tuesday as the International League announced its year-end award winners and post-season All-Star team.

Steven Souza Jr., who led the International League in almost every statistical offensive category, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player as well as its Rookie of the Year, and Chiefs manager Billy Gardner Jr. was honored as the International League’s Manager of the Year. Additionally, infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Brandon Laird were named to the International League’s post-season All-Star team, along with Souza Jr.

Washington Nationals vs Houston AstrosSouza Jr. was called up to the Major Leagues three times this season, including most recently on Aug. 4. But in 91 games at Triple-A, Souza Jr. hit .354 with a .435 on-base percentage and a .601 slugging percentage — all of which lead the International League. The 25-year-old is on track to take home the International League batting title at year’s end.

While clubbing a team-high 18 home runs, Souza Jr. stole 24 bases and was selected as a starting outfielder at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, North Carolina.

Souza Jr. is the sixth league MVP in Syracuse history, and the first since Chad Mottola in 2000. He’s also the franchise’s seventh International League Rookie of the Year, and first since Shawn Green in 1994.

Souza Jr. was also the first Syracuse outfielder selected to the International League’s post-season All-Star Team since Corey Brown in 2012.

This is the second consecutive season in which a player won the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, following Rochester’s Chris Colabello in 2013. Souza Jr. is the first Syracuse player ever to win both honors in the same season.


In his first season in the Nationals organization, Gardner Jr. has the Chiefs on the verge of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1998, bringing the Chiefs back to contention after a lengthy postseason drought.

Syracuse struggled early and was in last place in the North Division as late as May 21, but the Chiefs played the best baseball in the league in May and June, surging to the top of a tight IL North Division race. The Chiefs have scored the second-most runs in the league and allowed the second-fewest. Their pitching staff also leads the IL with 15 shutouts this season.

Gardner, who is in his 20th season managing in the Minor Leagues, becomes the fifth IL Manager of the Year from Syracuse, following Frank Verdi (1970), Vern Benson (1979), Doug Ault (1985), and Bob Bailor (1989). Gardner is the son of Billy Gardner Sr., who managed the Minnesota Twins from 1981-1985 and the Kansas City Royals for part of the 1987 campaign.


Emmanuel Burriss: While being among the International League leaders in batting average (.307), on-base percentage (.383), runs scored (79), and triples (7), Burriss has struck out fewer times per plate appearance than any hitter in the league. The 29-year-old, who played in 282 Major League games with the San Francisco Giants from 2008-2012, signed with the Nationals as a free agent this past December. Burriss follows Zach Walters to give the Chiefs two straight seasons claiming IL post-season All-Star shortstop honors.


Brandon Laird: Laird, 26, is one of just two players in the International League to tally 80 or more RBI this season. He is also among the league leaders in slugging percentage (.486), batting average (.303), and OPS (.839). Laird is in his first season with the Nationals after coming over in a March trade. The infielder has played 53 games in the Major Leagues since 2011, with the Yankees and Astros and his older brother, Gerald, is a catcher for the Atlanta Braves. The last Syracuse third baseman on the IL post-season All-Star Team was Carlos Rivero in 2012.

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.

Here are the top headlines:

TOP PERFORMER: LUCAS GIOLITO —  In four starts dating to July 25, RHP Lucas Giolito is 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA (3 ER/22.0 IP). He has tallied 24 strikeouts while allowing just 12 hits and three walks, with opponents hitting just .160 against him over that stretch. Following his start on July 25 vs. Kannapolis (CWS), Giolito was named South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week, the second time he’s earned the honor in 2014. Despite making just 19 starts this season, Giolito ranks second among Nationals farmhands and fourth in the SAL with 105 strikeouts. All told this season, the 2012 first-round pick is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts, all for Single-A Hagerstown. He falls just short of qualifying to be among the SAL leaders in ERA, WHIP (0.98) and AVG (.188).

LAIRD LEADS — With the promotions of Steven Souza Jr., and Michael A. Taylor3B Brandon Laird has stepped up to lead the Triple-A Syracuse offensive attack. Laird is 14-for-34 (.412) with seven doubles, three home runs, 13 RBI and six runs scored over the last eight games. Syracuse has gone 6-2 over that stretch. On the season, the 26-year-old is hitting .316, second-best among Nationals farmhands and fifth-best in the International League. He also leads Syracuse’s active roster with 29 doubles and 14 home runs.

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


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.”


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.