Highlights from Max Scherzer’s introductory press conference

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by Mike Feigen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scherzer, on why he signed with the Nationals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rizzo, on when he started pursuing Max:

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

Scherzer, on his initial reaction to the contract offer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nationals sign RHP Max Scherzer to seven-year contract

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by Amanda Comak

Solidifying their starting rotation as arguably the best assembled in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals agreed to terms with 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on a seven-year contract on Wednesday. Scherzer will be announced in a 2 pm press conference.

Scherzer_baseballcard_wasScherzer, 30, joins the Nationals after seven Major League seasons with the Detroit Tigers (2010-14) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2008-09) and on the heels of back-to-back All-Star campaigns.

“We are delighted  to welcome Max Scherzer to our organization,” said Theodore N. Lerner, Managing Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals. “An incredibly talented and widely-feared pitcher, Max brings even more depth to an already outstanding rotation. We are confident he will make significant contributions to our pursuit of winning a World Series championship.”

The right-hander is 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA in 207 career games (198 starts) during his seven year career. Since 2012, he has posted at least 10.0 strikeouts/9.0 innings pitched and has eclipsed the 200.0 inning barrier for two straight seasons (2013-14). Since 2009, his first full Major League campaign, Scherzer has made at least 30 starts each season while posting double-digit wins in five straight years (2010-14).

“We could not be happier to add a player of Max’s caliber to our stable of starting pitchers,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It’s not every day that a team adds a Cy Young Award winner to its roster. He is a playoff-tested ace, and we’re excited to call him a part of our family.”

While helping to lead the Tigers to four consecutive AL Central titles, Scherzer earned the 2013 AL Cy Young award after leading the American League in wins (21), while ranking second in strikeouts (240), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), quality starts (25), batting average against (.198), and fifth in ERA (2.90) and innings pitched (214.1). Scherzer followed that up by going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 2014, while posting a career-high 220.1 IP, striking out 252 batters (10.3 batters per nine innings), and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting.

During his five seasons in the American League, Scherzer has averaged 203 innings pitched per season, to go along with 216 strikeouts (1,081 total) and a 3.52 ERA.

The right-hander joins a rotation that includes three pitchers who finished in the top-10 in 2014 National League Cy Young voting: Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg, along with 15-game winner Tanner Roark, who posted the 12th-best ERA in the NL (2.85), and two-time All-Star Gio Gonzalez.

Before the acquisition of Scherzer, ESPN.com had already ranked the Nationals rotation as the best in the Major Leagues entering 2015.

Originally drafted by Rizzo, who was then the Diamondbacks’ Vice President of Scouting Operations, Scherzer was selected by Arizona  in the first round (No. 11 overall) of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of  Missouri.

Scherzer made his Major League debut on April 29, 2008, and since that time he has compiled the eighth-most strikeouts (1321) of any starting pitcher in the Major Leagues – putting him on a short list of strikeout masters with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw.

Spring Training Preview, Part I: Catchers

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by Mike Feigen

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

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

WILSON RAMOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOSE LOBATON

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

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

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

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

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

SANDY LEON

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

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

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

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

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

DAN BUTLER

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

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

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

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

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

Nationals acquire INF Yunel Escobar from A’s

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by Amanda Comak

Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay RaysAdding depth to their middle infield, the Washington Nationals acquired infielder Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, in exchange for right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.

Escobar, an eight-year Major League veteran, joins the Nationals after stops in Atlanta (2007-10), Toronto (2010-12) and Tampa (2012-14). He was traded to the A’s just four days ago (Jan. 10), along with INF/OF Ben Zobrist, in exchange for C John Jaso, INF Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and cash considerations.

The slick-fielding infielder is a career .276 hitter with a .347 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. A shortstop for the majority of his Major League career, Escobar has started 950 games at shortstop since 2008 – the most in the Major Leagues over that span. Escobar started 20 games for the Braves at second base in 2007 – a season after which he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting – and has experience at third base as well.

Escobar, 32, hit .258 with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 137 games for Tampa Bay in 2014. In his previous two seasons, both with the Rays, Escobar has averaged 145 games played and hit .257 with a .328 on-base percentage, 45 doubles, 16 home runs and 95 RBI.

Against National League opponents (472 games), Escobar is a career .291 hitter with a .366 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage.

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, Escobar was drafted by the Braves in the second round (No. 75 overall) of the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game TwoClippard, 29, went 34-24 with 34 saves and a 2.68 ERA in 414 games spanning seven seasons with Washington.

Acquired in Dec., 2007, from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, Clippard is the only reliever to appear in more than 70 games each of the last five seasons (2010-14). He went 7-4 with one save and a 2.18 ERA in 2014 and, for the second time in his career (also 2011), led Major League Baseball in holds with 40. His 2014 season was just the third 40-hold campaign in MLB history (TBR’s Joel Peralta 41 in 2013, SDP’s Luke Gregerson 40 in 2010).

Nationals acquire catcher Dan Butler from Red Sox

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by Amanda Comak

Boston Red Sox Vs. Baltimore Orioles At Fenway ParkAdding depth to their catching corps, the Washington Nationals acquired catcher Dan Butler from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, sending left-hander Danny Rosenbaum to Boston to complete the swap.

Butler, 28, joins the Nationals after six seasons in the Red Sox organization. The right-handed hitting catcher appeared in seven Major League games for Boston in 2014, starting five behind the plate and going 4-for-19 (.211). Three of his four hits went for doubles.

Over the course of six Minor League seasons, the reliable backstop is a career .256 hitter with a .349 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. In 2013, Butler caught 72 games for Triple-A Pawtucket of the International League and posted a .262 average with 14 home runs, 19 doubles and 45 RBI.

Butler, who is considered a strong defensive catcher, was a two-time Mid-Season Minor League All-Star (2010, South Atlantic League; 2011, Carolina League) and a four-time Minor League Player of the Week.

Rosenbaum was selected by Washington in the 22nd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH.

In six seasons in Washington’s Minor League chain, Rosenbaum went 34-36 with a 3.12 ERA in 121 games (116 starts). He is currently rehabbing from May, 2014, Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery.

Butler will be added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster, which is currently at 39.

Nationals announce 2015 Minor League staff

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by Amanda Comak

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati RedsThe Washington Nationals named their Minor League managers, coaches and coordinators for the 2015 season on Wednesday, including the addition of former Nationals player Rick Ankiel, who will fill a newly-created Life Skills Coordinator role.

The Nationals promoted Paul Menhart to Minor League Pitching Coordinator and named Spin Williams as Senior Advisor for Player Development. Menhart embarks on his 10th season in the Nationals’ Minor League system.

Menhart, who spent the 2014 season as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse, has overseen the development of many of Washington’s top pitching prospects. Additionally, Michael Barrett will take an increased role as Catching Coordinator, working with the catchers across all levels of Washington’s system. He will continue to serve as the Manager of the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

Washington is happy to welcome Bob Milacki and Tommy Shields to the organization. Milacki will serve as the pitching coach for Triple-A Syracuse while Shields joins the organization as a Co-field Coordinator.

Milacki comes to the Nationals after spending six seasons (2009-14) in the Philadelphia chain. Prior to joining the Phillies, he spent eight years as a pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization (2001-08). Milacki Appeared in 143 games, going 39-47 with a 4.38 ERA over parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues, with Baltimore (1988-92), Cleveland (1993), Kansas City (1994) and Seattle (1996). He was selected in the second round of the 1983 MLB Draft by Baltimore.

Shields, a native of Fairfax, VA, comes to the Nationals after spending three seasons as the manager of the Burlington Royals in the Kansas City Royals’ chain, earning Appalachian League Manager of the Year honors in 2012. Shields joined the Royals after spending six years as the Atlanta Braves’ minor league infield coordinator (2006-11), and from 2007-10 he served dual roles as the field and infield coordinator. He played parts of eight Minor League seasons in the Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago Cubs’ organizations. A left-handed-hitting infielder, Shields made his Major League debut in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles but earned his first MLB plate appearance with the Cubs in 1993.

Washington also welcomes back to the organization Ankiel, who will serve as the Life Skills Coordinator. Ankiel retired in 2013 after playing parts of 11 Major League seasons with six different clubs, including the Nationals (2011-12). He will draw on his vast experience as a player to help mentor Nationals farmhands.

The Nationals have also added Jerad Head, who will serve as a coach during Extended Spring Training and for the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League Nationals. Head played eight seasons in the Minor Leagues, including the 2013 season within the Nationals’ chain. Head appeared in 10 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and collected his first MLB hit in his big league debut, August 28 vs. Kansas City.

Here are the full Nationals’ Minor League coaching staffs:

Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs
[International League]
Manager – Billy Gardner Jr.
Pitching – Bob Milacki*
Hitting – Joe Dillon
Athletic Trainer – Jeff Allred
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Brett Henry
Double-A Harrisburg Senators
[Eastern League]
Manager – Brian Daubach
Pitching – Chris Michalak
Hitting – Mark Harris
Athletic Trainer – Eric Montague
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Tony Rogowski
Single-A Potomac Nationals
[Carolina League]
Manager – Tripp Keister
Pitching – Franklin Bravo
Hitting – Brian Rupp
Athletic Trainer – TD Swinford
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Mike Warren
Single-A Hagerstown Suns
[South Atlantic League]
Manager – Patrick Anderson
Pitching – Sam Narron
Hitting – Luis Ordaz
Athletic Trainer – Don Neidig
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Gabe Torres
Short-Season Single-A Auburn Doubledays
[New York-Penn League]
Manager – Gary Cathcart
Pitching – Tim Redding
Hitting – Amaury Garcia
Athletic Trainer – Darren Yoos
Strength & Conditioning Coach – RJ Guyer
Rookie-Level GCL Nationals
[Gulf Coast League]
Manager – Michael Barrett
Pitching – Michael Tejera
Hitting – Jorge MejiaCoach — Jerad Head
Athletic Trainer – Kirby Craft
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Edwin Jimenez
Rookie-Level DSL Nationals
[Dominican Summer League]
Manager – Sandy Martinez
Pitching – Pablo Frias
Hitting – Jose Herrera
Coach – Emiliano Alcantara
Athletic Trainer – Miguel Cabrera
Strength & Conditioning Coach – Santo Del Rosario
Coordinators
Co-Field Coordinator – Jeff Garber Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator – Gary Thurman
Co-Field Coordinator – Tommy Shields* Coordinator of Instruction – Gary Cathcart
Pitching Coordinator – Paul Menhart Rehabilitation Pitching Coordinator – Mark Grater
Sr. Advisor, Player Development – Spin Williams Medical and Rehabilitation Coordinator – Jon Kotredes
Hitting Coordinator – Troy Gingrich Strength and Conditioning Coordinator – Landon Brandes
Catching Coordinator – Michael Barrett Life Skills Coordinator – Rick Ankiel
Minor League Equipment Manager – Calvin Minasian

Nationals acquire RHP Joe Ross and a Player To Be Named from the Padres

The Washington Nationals acquired a former first-round draft selection in right-handed pitcher Joe Ross, and a player to be named, from the San Diego Padres on Friday in exchange for outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and left-hander Travis Ott. The deal was part of a three-team trade that included the Tampa Bay Rays, who will ultimately receive Souza Jr. and Ott.

Seattle Mariners v San Diego PadresRoss, 21, was 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 23 games (22 starts) between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio in 2014.

The 6-foot-4 righty struck out a career-best 106 batters and walked just 29 in 2014 — a 3.66 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best of his career. In four games (three starts) for Double-A San Antonio, Ross fanned 19 batters while walking just one. He went 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA (8 ER/20.0 IP) after his late-July promotion. He features a mid-90s fastball that induces groundballs to go along with an above average slider.

In the hitter-friendly Single-A California League, Ross went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 14 starts en route to being named a California League All-Star. In addition, he garnered California League Pitcher of the Week honors on May 5 after striking out nine batters in six innings of shutout ball, April 29 vs. Visalia (ARI).

Ross, who has improved his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings at each level of the Minor Leagues over the last two years, was considered by multiple industry experts to be one of the Padres’ Top 10 prospects. He was rated by Keith Law of ESPN.com as the No. 41 overall prospect in baseball during the 2014 season.

Ross was originally selected by San Diego in the first round (No. 25 overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He attended Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. and is the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross.

Souza Jr., 25, was selected by the Nationals in the third round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash. He spent seven seasons in Washington’s Minor League system before making his Major League debut on April 13 at Atlanta. Following the 2014 season, Souza Jr. was named Washington’s Minor League Player of the Year and earned International League Most Valuable Player honors for an outstanding season at Triple-A.

The athletic outfielder’s signature moment as a National came on the final day of the 2014 regular season when he sealed Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter, the first in Nationals history, with an outstanding leaping catch in left field.

Ott was selected in the 25th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Shippensburg Area (PA) High School. He was 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 23 minor league games (20 starts).

Barrett, Frandsen visit MedStar Georgetown University Hospital & Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

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by Kyle Mann

Washington Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett and utility man Kevin Frandsen made the most of their respective visits to D.C. for NatsFest last weekend, coming in a day early to brighten the spirits of local children.

Barrett and Frandsen started their day on Friday, Dec. 12 by visiting with patients battling life-threatening illnesses at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital at its annual Hope for Henry Foundation’s Winter Wonderland Holiday Party. They followed that up with a visit to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, located in Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park.

gingerbread nats park with barrett and frandsenDuring the hospital visit, the players, and their wives, visited patient rooms and took part in fun activities with the children, including participating in a photo station and decorating a gingerbread replica of Nationals Park — complete with Racing Presidents. The stunning detail put into the gingerbread Nationals Park illustrated the level of care Hope for Henry and MedStar Georgetown put forth in preparing the entire day for the children and their families.

Hope for Henry, a charitable organization founded by Laurie Strongin and Gingerbread nats parkAllen Goldberg in 2003 following the loss of their son Henry to Fancolni anemia, made the visit special for everyone. When going through years of treatments with Henry, they noticed how much visits, parties, and even cupcakes and pizza meant to Henry, so they decided to focus on lifting the spirits of other children suffering with life-threatening diseases and their families.

Frandsen spent the much of his time focusing on the siblings of patients during his visit.

As a child, he spent a lot of time accompanying his brother, DJ, who passed away in 2004, to the hospital. After DJ’s passing, Frandsen started ’19 for Life’ to honor his brother. For more on his foundation, visit www.19forlife.org.

Frandsen said he felt a connection with Henry’s brother, Joseph, who attended the holiday party.

“To see Henry’s brother, Joe — at 13 — put everything on and raise the money to do it all was a totally different experience,” Frandsen said. “What Joe did today was unbelievable.”

Barrett at YBA 2Later in the afternoon, Frandsen and Barrett visited the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Both players felt compelled to return after visiting the Academy this past summer and coaching scholar-athletes in the Summer Academy Program.

During the visit, the players provided some hands-on baseball instruction and each took part in a Q&A session. Based on the hard-hitting questions asked of Barrett, some of the Academy’s scholar-athletes may have a future as Nationals beat writers.

The “Bear” was asked to name the entire Nationals roster (he went position by position with aplomb), if he was friends with Ian Desmond (of course), and perhaps the toughest question of all, would he rather eat a toenail or dog food (he begrudgingly answered dog food).

Frandsen at YBADespite the good-natured ribbing, Barrett once again came away impressed by the Academy and its scholar-athletes.

“It’s a great facility — certainly the nicest I’ve seen,” Barrett said. “It was fun to interact with kids and teach them some things I was taught at their age. It’s wonderful how the Academy focuses on education and nutrition as well as baseball.”

Frandsen estimated it was the fourth or fifth time he’s visited.

“It’s always enjoyable coming here,” he said. “Some of the kids remember you and you can get to know their names, which has been great. I’ve been on a lot of teams (that focus on) kids in the community, but never with one central academy like this, in this Ward where they need it.”

Barrett at YBA 1The goals of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy are to use baseball and softball to foster positive character development, academic achievement and improved health among at-risk Washington, D.C. youth. Frandsen said the fact that it all can happen at one facility is one of the many standout qualities of the Academy.

“There is a common goal,” Frandsen said. “It’s a spot for education, tutors, they teach teamwork, eating right and all of this is accomplished at a common location to work together to help to achieve all of these goals.”

Recapping a fantastic NatsFest

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

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Doug Fister reflects on an incredible USO Tour

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by Doug Fister

Last week, Nationals right-hander Doug Fister took part in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey’s USO Holiday Tour. Below is his first-person account from an incredible week.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffAfter speaking with some of my teammates last year about the USO tour, I started to build some expectations about what we would be doing, where we would be going, and how the servicemen and women we would meet would react to our visit. I started wondering: What were their lives like?

After just a few minutes of being with the whole traveling party – the group of USO tour members and the military, those expectations went out the window.

There is really no way for me to describe my USO tour that would do it justice.

I can’t fully explain the incredible feelings and experiences that I was fortunate enough to have while on tour. From the travel, to the personnel involved, we were constantly soaking in something new. The excitement of ‘What’s around the next corner,’ was very real.

At the USO tour stop we made in the United Kingdom I was taken back to my childhood with my grandfather, who was a Chief Master Sergeant and a mechanic on B-52 bombers and KC-135 refuelers. RAF Mildenhall is the home for one of the KC-135 units, just like the ones my grandfather used to be a part of. To see that aircraft sitting in the hangar, and then to see it in flight, brought me back to him taking me to the flight line to watch them fly in.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite moment, because the trip as a whole was just overwhelmingly wonderful. But some of the moments that stand out most would start with the people  involved.

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The service men and women who make up the Chairman’s travel party were amazing individuals who exuded such great patriotism. They are what true soldiers, airmen, Marines, etc. are supposed to be.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffI am most grateful for General Dempsey, and the example he sets for all Americans. He shows the honor, character, valor, loyalty, and way to carry one’s self with the confidence needed to be successful in life. He has surrounded himself with such great individuals, which gives us, as a country, the best chances to succeed in everything we do. Whether that’s on the front lines, or the traveling stage of the USO tour.

Traveling with the Chairman was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He and his lovely wife are the most incredible and welcoming people. They are the epitome of a military family. Mrs. Dempsey has served her country, not just through supporting her husband, but as a military mother. She was constantly showing her appreciation to the service men and women, as well as to their families. She knows what it feels like to send sons and daughters off to war, as her own children have served. Despite what an unnerving experience that is, she has not only been a rock for them, but to the many families and military officials who have served under the General for all of his 41 years of service.

There was so much to learn from everyone I was on tour with, from those who work with the Chairman, to the “talent,” as they called us while on this USO tour. The patriotism that each of them shows — the way they carry themselves, the sacrifices they made in order to make the Chairman’s USO holiday tour as successful as it was — are just small parts of what we experienced together. The bonds that we created over the week are so tight. They are friendships that I will always be grateful for.

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USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffI had the opportunity to fly into Afghanistan with a crew on their C-17, in full garb — kevlar helmet, vest and all. Flying into a war zone doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did two weeks ago. Each and every flight that these young men and women take is a huge risk, and leaves them vulnerable to so many enemy opportunities. There we were, sitting on thick sheets of bullet proof metal — the same ones that line the walls of the cabin — all designed to prevent rockets and small arms from compromising our aircraft.

As we made the short four-hour flight from Turkey into Afghanistan, I was able to get to know my new pal, CD. I listened to his stories of where he’s been throughout his life, and learned about his family and how proud he is of his wife and children, who always support him and love him from so far away. He told me some of the many obstacles that he’s gone through, showing his toughness, both physical and mental, and his determination to succeed. It was such an inspiration to me. I will remember him, and our flight together. He and the flight crew treated me as if I was one of them.

To be a small part of that flight, to see what a true crew should be like, and to look over at CD and see the man that he is, made me appreciate the many stories and things he had shared with me earlier in the flight.

It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my life.

Going in, I thought that the visit to Afghanistan would be the ultimate stop on the tour. We’ve heard so much for so long about the many missions and activities there. But to go in with the crew and CD, it was so much more. While we could only be there for a short amount of time, we met with many men and women serving there.  I look forward to meeting some of those people in the future and to hearing what they’ve gone through.

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A few of the best moments of the tour were the times when I was able to sit down and get to know some of the servicemen and women who serve and sacrifice for us.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffListening to their stories and what had gotten them to that point — the way that they felt, the experiences that they had to overcome — it was very moving  for me.

It’s realizing the immeasurable amount of sacrifice that each of them chooses to give for all of us, whether physical or emotional. These men and women are incredible human beings, fulfilling such great and admirable tasks.

It’s Eric, the true warrior who fought on the battlefields beside his fellow soldiers, was injured by gunfire that nearly killed him, and spent months repairing and rehabilitating himself in order to be battle ready again. He joined us on the flight in order to be dropped back off with his troops. Meeting him and learning his story is something that I will never forget. The courage to go through battle and be attacked the first time is the epitome of sacrifice and giving of yourself for your country. But to be inserted back into the fight and take a helicopter to an unknown location in order to rejoin your troop is defining what it is to be an American Soldier.

Some of the men and women serving over there actually ripped patches off their shoulders and chests to hand them over to us as a ‘Thank you for showing you care and that we matter.’ To hear those words and to receive those items are huge tokens of my experience. They serve as reminders of each person and what he or she has sacrificed for me, specifically, and how grateful I am to have received such a gift.

The men and women who fight everyday just want to know that we care, that we remember them, and that we support them, regardless of the details. We are all Americans, and we all have the wonderful freedoms we do because of the things our service members do on a daily basis.

The Chairman USO holiday tour really opened my eyes to the world – and the war. The sacrifice, the threats, the teamwork and chemistry needed between individuals, are just a few of the many things that we were shown throughout this experience.

On the home front, we are always praying and thinking about our troops, knowing that they risk their lives each and every day, not only abroad but also here at home. Having the accessibility to go on to their bases, to actually see some of their installations and tools that they use, put those ideals into a whole new light.

I will never look at the U.S. flag the same way. There has been so much blood, sweat, and many tears given in order for that flag to fly the way  it does today.

USO Holiday Tour with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffAs a baseball player, I appreciate the experiences that I had getting mentally prepared to head into the war zone. I learned that each flight crew has their own rituals and superstitions when they go into battle. I was honored to take part in those rituals and learn the reasons they did them. This crew showed me what it really is to be brothers and sisters in battle. The way that they worked together, communicating and preparing for what lay ahead, was remarkable. Each member had his or her specific job in order to get the massive aircraft safely on the ground, and each person had just as many backup plans that serve them ‘just in case something happens.’

Of all my experiences while on tour, I will most remember the relationships I built in such a short amount of time.

Whether with the service men and women I had the honor of meeting and talking with, or the men and women that I was joined by on the tour. The talented men and women — actors, comedians, performers, people from all walks of life — joined together to show their patriotism and support for the military.

To see that they feel as I do, having so much pride in calling ourselves Americans, is such a grateful feeling and is such a true honor.

To learn more about the USO and ways you can help our nation’s troops and military families visit www.uso.org.

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