by Amanda Comak
Jerry Blevins had been to Japan before. Back in 2012, when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics, the lefty traveled to the country as part of their season-opening series vs. the Seattle Mariners. He’d seen some of the iconic sights and had some unique experiences – like putting on a clinic for soldiers’ children at an army base and getting a chance to fly around that base in a helicopter.
He soaked in as much as he could in the week or so that the A’s were there.
And when the Major League Baseball Players Association put out an inquiry during the 2014 season for players interested in participating in the 2014 Japan All-Star Series, Blevins didn’t hesitate to throw his name into the ring.
Then he waited, and hoped.
“I put my name in a long time ago,” Blevins said last week as he packed for the trip that would take him to Los Angeles for two days, and then to Japan through Nov. 20. “As you can tell from the talent on the roster, there are a lot of guys who wanted to do this. I’m just so honored my name was picked.”
The Nationals’ versatile lefty spoke excitedly of what was ahead of him: a chance to play with former teammates again and an opportunity to meet new ones, to soak in another international experience and sightsee while representing MLB, and to go through it all with his fiancée, Whitney.
“For the most part, I’m just excited to be in Japan and experience that culture from a different standpoint,” Blevins said. “(Whitney) has never been, and we’re really excited to go. I’ve been almost more excited for her to go over there, and have her share that experience with me, than I am for myself, really.”
The Japan All-Star Series will begin Wednesday and run through Nov. 18, but the MLB All-Stars will play an exhibition game on Tuesday (4 a.m. ET), and on Nov. 20. MLBNetwork will broadcast all seven games.
Here’s a breakdown of the schedule:
Before Blevins left for Japan, we caught up with him about a host of topics. Here’s some of what the affable lefty had to say:
What do you know about the Japanese style of baseball?
They’re very business-like, in a good sense of the phrase. They go about batting practice and make sure they’re trying to get better with every swing. They take the game very seriously, but they also have fun playing it and they play it in a positive manner. You can see that with a lot of the Japanese players who come over.
Their hitters put the ball in play. They put pressure on the defense. They’re not always trying to swing for power. There’s a lot of finesse in their game. Facing Ichiro Suzuki, like I have a lot in my career, that guy can put the ball in play from any different angle. He basically could, where I could throw a ball and hit a spot in the outfield right behind shortstop, he could do that with a bat. It’s just something that they take pride in, being able to have that kind of control.
Do you know any Japanese?
No, not really. I know ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye.’ In 2011, Hideki Matsui was on my team and whenever we were on the road our lockers would be really close. His translator, Roger, had the locker right next to mine so I talked to him all the time.
I consider myself a fairly intelligent person who learns well – but the Japanese language did not come easily to me. I got frustrated and gave up early, even with him trying to help me out. It’s very complex. There’s a lot of pitch and tone and inflection. If there was an alphabet for me to learn off of, that would be easier but they don’t have that.
What has the process been like to get ready to pitch in a competitive situation in November? Did you have to look at your shut down period after the season differently? What have you been doing to prepare your body for that and are you concerned it will affect your offseason routine?
I’m not worried at all that it’s going to affect my preparation for next season, but I did have to make some adjustments because after our season ended — prematurely, in my eyes — there was a gap between when I knew I was going to be on this team or whether I was still in limbo because they were finalizing the roster. So I had to keep throwing just in case. Nothing super intense, but if I had to ramp it up, I could.
When they decided I was going to be on the team I talked to the pitching coach about what my role was going to be and what I need to be prepared for. So, because I had planned on pitching through October with the Nationals, that was easy for me. My body was in shape to do that and my arm is pretty resilient just throwing year round. Being from a cold-weather place, I throw more in the offseason than most guys do anyway, I’ve come to find out. So, this will not affect me for next year in my preparation, but I did have to adjust and be ready for this.
Is there anyone going who you’re excited to play with again or get to play with?
I played with Evan Longoria with Team USA after the season in 2007, we went to Taiwan. I’m excited to be his teammate again. There’s just a full roster of guys who I’ve admired in baseball who I get to play with. It should be fun.
Are you bringing the amazing CATS sweater (purchased at the Mall of America) to Japan with you?
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) November 5, 2014
I will not be bringing it to Japan… It’s a purchase that I’m proud of and I break it out probably once a year. The back of it has little paw prints so it’s pretty nice. I don’t know if you can tell, there are yarn balls the little cats are playing it. The string that connects that is an actual string.
Was it cool for you to find yourself listed on Sports Illustrated’s Twitter 100?
Yeah, so cool! Completely shocked by that because I do tweet, but I don’t tweet a ton. But I admire the Twitter world,and to be mentioned by Sports Illustrated was very cool. I think there were only three ballplayers on there, so I’m pretty honored to be a part of that.
A little pressure going forward. But, no, that’s what I love about Twitter. There’s no pressure to perform. It’s just your personality. If people don’t like it they can unfollow me. That’s what’s great. That’s what I love about it. I’m glad the people over at SI understood my sense of humor and get what I do with it.
I asked for the Jayson Werth BEARD for the playoffs and got this instead. pic.twitter.com/mgPU4tEojy
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) September 30, 2014
— Jerry Blevins (@JerryBlevins_13) September 17, 2014
When the Washington Nationals and New York Mets open the 2015 campaign on April 6 at Nationals Park, the occasion will mark the 10th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s return to the nation’s capital.
Throughout the season, the Nationals will commemorate the top moments of the past 10 years — from Livan Hernandez’s historic first pitch in 2005, to the final out recorded in Jordan Zimmermann’s season-ending no-hitter in 2014.
As part of that greater celebration, the Nationals are also honoring their longest-tenured fans — those who have remained loyal to the team from the very beginning. Those fans have cheered along with the entire career of Ryan Zimmerman, witnessed the opening of a state-of-the-art new ballpark, supported the team through a rebuilding process, experienced the thrill of Stephen Strasburg’s debut and danced in the aisles after Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run in the 2012 NLDS.
Exclusive to 10-year Season Plan Holders, the Nationals are rolling out 10 Moments of Thanks, a series of 10 giveaways and experiences for those who have been with the club since Day One. These Moments include:
- A chance to register for the opportunity to purchase tickets to the 2015 Bridgestone Winter Classic
- An exclusive parade on the warning track prior to a game during the 2015 season
- A special 10 Year Season Plan Holder logo pin
- In-park signage featuring the names of all continuous 10 Year Season Plan Holders
- Authenticated dirt from the field used on Opening Day 2015
- A chance to win one-of-a-kind pregame on-field experiences
- An exclusive opportunity to run the bases after a game during the 2015 season
- A commemorative Opening Day 2005 printed game ticket
- Access to special eCash campaigns featuring exclusive in-game concession and merchandise discounts and offers
- A pregame VIP batting practice viewing from dugout box seats with front office executives and team officials
In addition, the Nationals will provide all fans with a multitude of memorable giveaways, theme nights and unique experiences throughout the home schedule, as the team defends its 2014 National League East Division Championship.
For more information on the 10 Moments of Thanks program, visit nationals.com/10moments.
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, 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.
The 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.
by Amanda Comak
Desmond and Rendon were honored as Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award winners, voted as the best-hitting shortstop and third baseman, respectively, in the National League.
“Our entire organization is exceptionally proud of Ian and Anthony,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo. “These awards confirm what we already knew: that they are two of the best offensive infielders in the game, and we consider them equally talented defensively. After the seasons each of these homegrown players put together, we’re honored that they did it with our uniform on their backs.”
This is the third such honor for Desmond, who notched his third consecutive 20-home run, 20-stolen base campaign this past season, and the first for Rendon, who established himself as one of the best young talents in the game during his sophomore season in the big leagues.
This is just the second time in the Nationals’ short history that they’ve had multiple players earn the National League’s top offensive award in the same season (also 2012).
“I’m extremely humbled and blessed to have won this award for the third straight year,” Desmond said. “It’s a testament to my teammates, who surround me in the lineup, the trainers – Lee Kuntz, Steve Gober and John Hsu – for keeping me on the field, and obviously the coaching staff for bringing out the best in me every day.
“As much of an honor as this is, I still feel like there are a lot of things I can improve on, and will improve on. I’m going to continue to work hard so I can be better next year.”
Leading all NL shortstops with 154 games played, Desmond hit .255 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .430 slugging percentage in 2014. He also led all NL shortstops in home runs (24) and RBI (91), while finishing second in hits (151), runs (73), and placing among the top 10 in doubles (T-4th, 26), triples (10th, 3), and walks (7th, 46).
As this is the third consecutive season in which Desmond has been named a Silver Slugger Award winner at shortstop — making him the first Nationals player ever to take home three such awards – he now finds himself in elite company. Since the inception of the award in 1980, Desmond is the first National League shortstop to win back-to-back-to-back honors since Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin won five straight from 1988-1992.
Desmond also joins Edgar Renteria and Larkin as the only NL shortstops to win the award at least three times.
Adding 24 stolen bases to his 24 home runs this season, Desmond became just the fourth shortstop in Major League history to notch a 20/20 season at least three times in his career.
“It is that package,” manager Matt Williams said after Desmond hit the milestone. “It’s speed and power… He’s got the ability to do a lot of things. When he puts it together, it’s speed and power, and he’s shown that this year.”
Rendon, who established himself as one of the league’s best infielders in a breakout season, played both second and third base for the Nationals in 2014.
“While I don’t play this game for the individual accolades, I’m incredibly honored to receive this award and to be mentioned in the same breath as these great players — especially my teammate and friend, Ian Desmond,” Rendon said.
“I would like to thank all of the coaches, trainers and teammates who I’ve been with along the way. Without them, I wouldn’t be in a position to accept this.”
Rendon hit .287 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage. Leading the National League in runs scored with 111, Rendon clubbed 21 home runs as part of 66 extra-base hits, while walking 58 times and stealing 17 bases.
Exclusively as a third baseman, where he played 134 of his 153 games, Rendon hit .288 with a .353 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage. Nineteen of his 21 home runs came while he was playing the hot corner, as did 53 of his 66 extra-base hits, 72 of his 83 RBI and 89 of his 111 runs scored.
“He’s a very, very impressive player,” Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels told The Washington Post late in the 2014 season. “I put him up with the [Troy] Tulowitzkis and the David Wrights when they first came up, those impact players you don’t normally see at such a young age. You know they’re only going to get better, and you’re like, ‘Great.’ He’s that type of guy — one of those superstars that’s going to be around forever.”
Rendon, who earned himself the nickname ‘Tony Two Bags’ because of his penchant for doubles, finished the year with 16 three-hit games – tied for the third-best mark in the NL with Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.
According to Fangraphs.com, Rendon’s 6.6 Wins Above Replacement for the 2014 season was tops among all NL infielders, and second only to Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (6.8).
NATIONALS TO WIN LOUISVILLE SILVER SLUGGER AWARDS (2005-2014)
2006 OF Alfonso Soriano
2009 3B Ryan Zimmerman
2010 3B Ryan Zimmerman
2012 SS Ian Desmond, 1B Adam LaRoche, P Stephen Strasburg
2013 SS Ian Desmond
2014 SS Ian Desmond, 3B Anthony Rendon
The Washington Nationals’ 2015 Spring Training schedule will conclude on April 4 with an exhibition game vs. the New York Yankees at Nationals Park.
Just two days later, on April 6, the Nationals will begin the 2015 regular season by hosting the New York Mets at Nationals Park on Opening Day.
This will mark the Yankees’ fourth trip to Washington, D.C., including a previous exhibition contest in 2013, and regular-season visits in 2006 and 2012.
With the Nationals facing American League East teams this season in Interleague play, New York will return to D.C. for two regular-season contests on May 19 and 20. The Nationals will then travel to Yankee Stadium for two games on June 9 and 10.
Tickets for the April 4 exhibition game are included in all 2015 regular season full, half and partial season ticket packages. For more information, or to purchase a NATS PLUS membership, visit nationals.com/2015. Information on single-game tickets for this game will be disseminated at a later date.
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 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.
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? 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.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals welcomed Bob Miller to their front office staff today, naming him Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
Miller, who will assist in all facets of baseball operations, comes to the Nationals after nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, serving most recently as Vice President and Assistant General Manager to Reds’ President of Baseball Operations and GM Walt Jocketty.
In that role, Miller had a hand in all aspects of baseball operations, including arbitration cases, contract negotiations, rules, player evaluations, and departmental budgeting.
Joining the Nationals for his 33rd season in professional baseball, Miller reunites with Rizzo for the first time since the two worked together for seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. There they helped build the 2001 World Series championship team, and take Arizona’s Minor League system from No. 29 (as ranked by Baseball America) to No. 1 in five years.
Miller, who initially joined the Reds in Feb., 2006, as Director of Baseball Administration under then-GM Wayne Krivsky, quickly moved through the ranks in Cincinnati. He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in June of 2006 and in Dec., 2006, was named Vice President and Assistant GM.
During his time with the Reds, the team improved from a sub-.500 club to win two division championships and earn three playoff appearances. In 2012, the Reds were also named Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.
Prior to joining the Reds, Miller spent seven seasons with the Diamondbacks — first as Assistant Director of Scouting, then Director of Baseball Operations, and the final three as Assistant General Manager, where he oversaw the organization’s Minor League player development from 2004-05. In 2005, the Diamondbacks were named TOPPS’ Minor League Organization of the Year.
Miller joined the Diamondbacks with 16 years of Minor League experience on his resume, including 14 years at the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and stops as Vice President of Baseball Operations in the independent Texas-Louisiana League office, along with serving as executive GM of that league’s Amarillo Dillas club.
Miller, 50, graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in finance.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals exercised their option on Denard Span’s contract on Thursday, securing the center fielder’s services for the 2015 season, which will be Span’s third in the District.
In exercising the option, the Nationals answered one of their first offseason questions, and ensured that the talented leadoff man will remain atop their lineup and patrolling center field for at least one more season.
“We knew when we acquired Denard from the Minnesota Twins two years ago what type of player we were getting,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo. “And he’s done nothing but bear that out the last two seasons.
“Denard was arguably our most consistent offensive player in 2014, keying so much of our offensive production, and his defense in center field is Gold Glove-caliber on a nightly basis. We’re excited to keep him in the fold for the 2015 season.”
Span is coming off perhaps his finest professional season, finishing the 2014 campaign batting .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, a .415 slugging percentage and a career-best 31 stolen bases. He set a Nationals (2005-present) record for hits in a season with 184, and reeled off a 36-game on-base streak from June 28 – Aug. 12 that jumpstarted both his season and the Nationals’ offense.
Over the course of the streak, Span hit .396 with a .463 on-base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage. It seemed almost every time he made contact the ball found a hole and the 30-year-old found a way to get on base. His BABIP during the stretch: a ridiculous .442.
The Nationals went 21-15 in that stretch, catapulting themselves from a tie with the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East Division to a five-game lead over them by the time the streak ended.
“I couldn’t be more excited to return for another year in D.C,” Span said after he was informed his option was exercised.
For the second consecutive year, Span is a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, the winners of which will be announced on Nov. 4.
Additionally, the Nationals declined to exercise their options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander Rafael Soriano. They will become free agents. Asdrubal Cabrera, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz became free agents upon the conclusion of the 2014 World Series.
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 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.
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.
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.”
Among 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.