Daily Wrap: Matt Williams’ option is picked up, the first workout is in the books & more

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by Amanda Comak

Welcome back to the Daily Wrap, a Spring Training feature that debuted last season.

We’re kicking things off early this year, jumping right into the thick of it with the first Pitchers and Catchers workout of the year. It was a busy day in Nationals land, even if it was just the first workout. So let’s jump right in.

News of the Day: Nationals exercise 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams

The Nationals were happy to announce they’d picked up the 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams’ contract Saturday morning, solidifying his spot in the dugout through this upcoming season and the next. Williams shared the organizational enthusiasm.

“I’m excited,” Williams told reporters in his first media session of the season. “I’m excited to be a part of the organization and the fact that (my option) got picked up. I’m honored to have that done. The organization is fantastic. They’ve supported all of us since the day I arrived here and I’m just very pleased and excited for the spring.

“I’m happy that I’ll be here through this year and next year. I look forward to the challenge every single day.”

Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said he felt it was important for the team to pick up Matt’s option in advance of the start of Spring Training.

“It’s always good to know the manager’s going to be around for a while,” Rizzo said. “I think the players respect him greatly.”

Images of the day:

Social Media of the Day: 

Friendly game of catch between #aces this morning! #Nats

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A little post-bullpen chat with the bossman. #Nats

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#Focus

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Quote of the Day: 

“He’s phenomenal. He doesn’t change — whether it’s starting or relieving, where he pitches in the rotation. Whenever we give him the ball, it’s his day to pitch and he’s excited and ready to pitch.” — Nationals Manager Matt Williams on do-it-all right-hander Tanner Roark.

Nationals exercise 2016 option on contract of Manager Matt Williams

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals exercised the 2016 club option on manager Matt Williams’ contract on Saturday, solidifying the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year’s spot in the dugout through the next two seasons.

“We are happy to pick up Matt’s option for the 2016 season,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It shows the great confidence we have in Matt to continue to lead this team on the field.

“During his rookie season, he helped us navigate through injuries and led us to our second NL East Division title in three years. His leadership has earned him the respect of our players, coaches and his colleagues around the league.”

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsIn his rookie season in the dugout, Williams led the Nationals to the 2014 National League East division title, as well as the best record in the National League with 96 regular-season victories. Working to strengthen a culture of accountability in the clubhouse and hard-nosed play on the field, Williams guided the Nationals’ talent-laden roster back to the postseason following a one-year absence.

“Matt’s accomplishments on the field speak for themselves,” said Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner.  “He takes great pride not only in how the game is played, but in our players.  We are fortunate to have Matt as our manager and look forward to him leading us to new heights.”

After stewarding the Nationals through early injuries and inconsistencies before their ascension to the largest divisional lead in Major League Baseball (17.0 games), Williams earned the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year award and the 2014 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year award.

He was the first rookie manager since 2006, and only the fourth first-year manager in history to earn the BBWAA honors.

The decorated former third baseman was named the fifth manager of the Nationals on Nov. 1, 2013, replacing Davey Johnson.

Six Nationals prospects among Baseball America’s Top 100

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by Kyle Brostowitz

farm graphicIndustry expert Baseball America released its 2015 Top 100 Prospect list on Thursday night and the Washington Nationals placed six prospects on that list. They were tied with the Cubs and Diamondbacks with six, and behind only the Mets (7) and Red Sox (7) for the most in Major League Baseball.

Below is a quick look at the Nationals prospects represented on this year’s Top 100 list:

No. 7 – RHP Lucas Giolito

Giolito jumped from No. 21 in the 2014 ranking all the way into the Top 10 thanks to a stellar 2014 campaign, and for the second straight season, he is ranked as the top prospect in the Nationals system. Giolito was named the 2014 Washington Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-2 with an organizational-best 2.20 ERA in 20 starts for Single-A Hagerstown. He was selected to represent the Nationals in the 2014 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis. His 110 strikeouts were fifth-best among Nationals farmhands.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game TwoNo. 32 – OF Michael A. Taylor

Taylor was absent from the 2014 Top 100 list but catapulted to No. 32 after a breakout 2014 season that included his Major League debut. He has always boasted advanced defensive skills, but showed his ability at the plate last season. He began the season with Double-A Harrisburg before being promoted to Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 2 and was summoned to D.C. on Aug. 12 for his big league debut. He posted his first hit (second-inning single off Rafael Montero) and home run (sixth inning, two-run, off Carlos Torres) in his MLB debut, Aug. 12 at New York. At the top two levels of Washington’s chain, he ranked among system leaders in batting (fourth, .304 AVG), home runs (second, 23) & stolen bases (third, 37). Following the season, he was ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Eastern League. Along with Giolito, Taylor was selected to play in the Sirius-XM All-Star Futures game in Minneapolis.

No. 49 – RHP Reynaldo Lopez

Like Taylor, Lopez was unranked prior to the 2014 season, but went 7-3 with a 1.08 ERA in 16 starts between Short-Season Auburn and Single-A Hagerstown to vault into the top 50 in all of baseball. From July 9 through the end of the season, a span of 10 starts (55.0 IP), Lopez allowed just one earned run (a solo home run) while holding opposing batters to a .126 average. Following the season, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the South Atlantic League and the No. 2 prospect in the New York-Penn League.

No. 90 – RHP Erick Fedde

Fedde was the Nationals’ first-round selection (18th overall) in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft after going 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA (15 ER/76.2 IP) and 82 strikeouts in 11 starts for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2014. He was named the 2014 Mountain West Pitcher of the Year. Fedde underwent “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery in mid-May, but remains ranked as the No. 4 prospect in Washington’s system.

Washington Nationals v St Louis CardinalsNo. 91 – RHP A.J. Cole

In his second season in the organization, after returning in 2013, Cole took the next step in his development, going 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 combined starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He ranked among Nationals farmhands in wins (tied, first), strikeouts (tied, third) and ERA (fourth), and his 13 wins marked a career high. Cole was a non-roster invitee to 2014 Spring Training and did not allow a run in three Grapefruit League contests (6.2 IP, 5 H, 7 K).

No. 96 – RHP Joe Ross

Ross came to the Nationals’ chain from San Diego in the three-way deal that sent OF Steven Souza Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa Bay. Prior to being traded to the Nationals, Ross was rated by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in San Diego’s chain. In 2014, he went a combined 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 23 games/22 starts between Single-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. While with Lake Elsinore, he was named a California League mid-season All-Star. He was promoted to Double-A in mid-July. Following the season, he was rated by Baseball America as the No. 6 prospect in the Single-A California League.

Pitchers and Catchers Report

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by Amanda Comak

The first “official” day of the spring arrived on Thursday morning as the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Fla. for Spring Training.

 

While it is certainly an official date, reporting is actually not as formal as it sounds. Pitchers and catchers just need to alert a team official that they have made it to the area by Thursday. Friday they’ll take their physicals, and the first workout for pitchers and catchers will begin bright and early on Saturday morning. That’s when the real action will get going.

Nonetheless, there were a lot of hugs, high-fives and smiles today as returning Nationals reunited with their teammates and new Nationals got acquainted with their surroundings.

#Repost from @mlb.
・・・
We missed baseball hugs. #BaseballBegins

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There were a few surprises, too. Like Danny Espinosa’s magnificent mustache.

And there was already plenty to talk about.

Spring Training Preview, Part VI: Non-Roster Invitees

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by Mike Feigen and Kyle Brostowitz

Every spring, teams from throughout Major League Baseball bring players to camp that are not part of the organization’s official 40-man roster. Known as non-roster invitees (NRIs), these players are often talented youngsters on their way to The Show, veteran Minor Leaguers looking for a breakthrough moment, or former Major Leaguers looking for a fresh start.

In all, 20 such players will head to Viera, Fla. with hopes of making it to Washington. That’s part of what makes their journey so special; should they impress the coaching staff, as Chad Tracy did in 2012, they could not only force their way onto the Opening Day roster but become household names on a championship-contending club.

Below is the final installment of our Spring Training Preview series: the non-roster invitees.

STARTING PITCHERS (4)

St Louis Cardinals v Colorado RockiesBruce Billings

Right-hander Bruce Billings is a veteran of eight Minor League seasons and brings with him experience as a starter and reliever. He has accumulated a 65-61 record while posting a 4.08 ERA in 217 Minor League appearances (145 starts). Billings made his MLB debut with Colorado in 2011 and appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2014, striking out seven batters in four innings.

Mitch Lively

Mitch Lively signed with the Nationals organization in July of 2014, after making the transition from reliever to starting pitcher over the last two seasons. As a reliever, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound right-hander was 22-19 with 14 saves and a 3.76 ERA in 212 career Minor League appearances. In 42 career starts, he is 16-9 with a 4.10 ERA. Last season, Lively reported to Triple-A Syracuse where he went 5-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine games/seven starts for the Chiefs.

Scott McGregor

A former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand, right-hander Scott McGregor joined the Nationals in June of 2014 and reported to Double-A Harrisburg before earning a promotion to Syracuse in August. He went a combined 3-3 with 4.64 ERA in 12 games/10 starts between the two levels.

Matt Purke

Matt Purke, the Nationals’ third-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, appeared in eight games for Double-A Harrisburg before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow on May 28. The 6-foot-4 southpaw will enter his fourth camp as a member of the Nationals organization.

RELIEF PITCHERS (5)

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego PadresHeath Bell

Veteran reliever Heath Bell joins the Nationals after a 2014 season in which he appeared in 13 games with the Tampa Bay Rays before stints with Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore Orioles) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees). The Nationals will be his eighth organization since signing with the Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1998. Bell was one of the premier closers in MLB from 2009-13, tallying 166 saves for three separate clubs, third most in MLB over that span. He appeared in three All-Star Games and took home the 2009 and 2010 NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.

Manny Delcarmen

Manny Delcarmen returns for his second season with the Nationals organization. He went 4-4 with four saves and a 3.13 ERA in 46 games out of the Triple-A Syracuse bullpen. Delcarmen struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings and improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 2.39, while surrendering just two home runs in 60.1 innings.

Eric Fornataro

Right-hander Eric Fornataro is a former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand who came to Washington on a waiver claim following the 2014 season. He began his professional career as a starter, but has transitioned to a relief role over the last three seasons. As a reliever, he is 9-12 with 21 saves and a 3.40 ERA in 141 Minor League appearances. Fornataro made his Major League debut in 2014, posting a 4.66 ERA in eight appearances for the Cardinals.

Rafael Martin

Rafael Martin advanced through three levels of Washington’s Minor League system in 2014, going 3-2 with 11 saves and a 1.39 ERA while striking out 66 batters and holding opposing hitters to a .171 batting average. He did not allow an earned run from May 16 to Aug. 17, a span of 46.1 innings over 29 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. His 11 saves were fourth among Nationals farmhands. Martin was named a MiLB.com Organization All-Star following the season.

Evan Meek

Evan Meek comes to Washington after spending the 2014 season with the Baltimore Orioles organization. The former All-Star (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2010) enjoyed five separate stints with the Orioles, going 0-4 with a 5.79 ERA in 23 appearances. He went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 1.94 ERA in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk. His 16 saves were tied for seventh in the International League.

CATCHERS (3)

Spencer Kieboom

Former Clemson Tiger Spencer Kieboom is coming off his most productive season, bouncing back from 2013 “Tommy John” surgery by hitting .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 61 RBI in 87 games for Single-A Hagerstown. He was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star and a MiLB.com Organization All-Star. Following the season, Kieboom hit .324 with two doubles, one home run, seven RBI and three runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

Steven Lerud

Left-handed hitting catcher Steven Lerud comes to the Nationals after playing in 60 games for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves, batted .250 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and 19 RBI. The former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates has spent time in five organizations, including the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he briefly reached the Major Leagues in 2012 and 2013.

Pedro Severino

Pedro Severino is considered the best defensive catcher in the Nationals’ chain per Baseball America, and will enter the 2015 season rated as Washington’s top catching prospect and No. 13 prospect overall. The 21-year-old Bonao, Dominican Republic native advanced to Single-A Potomac for the first time in 2014, hitting .247 with 15 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 36 RBI in 94 games.

INFIELDERS (7)

Emmanuel Burriss

Emmanuel Burriss, a Washington, D.C., native and graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, returns for his second season with his hometown organization after spending the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse. He earned International League All-Star honors after hitting .300 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers, 46 RBI, 22 stolen bases and 80 runs scored. He ranked among IL hitters in runs scored (3rd, 80), triples (T-3rd, 7), batting average (T-7th, .300), and on-base percentage (9th, .377) while his .300 batting average was tied for fifth among Nationals farmhands.

Cutter Dykstra

A former second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Nationals’ return in the Nyjer Morgan trade, Cutter Dykstra advanced to Double-A for the first time in his career in 2014. He was named an Eastern League mid-season All-Star after hitting .297 with 15 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 43 RBI, 10 stolen bases and 39 runs scored in the season’s first half.

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila Ka’aihue returns to the United States after spending the previous season-and-a-half with the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball, where he hit .258 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs, 85 RBI, 77 walks and 56 runs scored in 156 games spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He has appeared in 126 Major League games over parts of four seasons with Kansas City (2008–11) and Oakland (2012).

Clint Robinson

Left-handed power-hitting first baseman Clint Robinson, a former teammate of Ka’aihue in the Kansas City Royals system, joins the Nationals after spending last year in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Robinson, 30, is a career .300/.381/.510 hitter in 921 games spanning eight Minor League seasons, including a Texas League Triple Crown in 2010. He appeared in nine games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014, going 3-for-9 with two RBI and three runs scored.

Matt Skole

Matt Skole returned to full strength in 2014 following 2013 Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, playing in 132 games for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit .241 with 29 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 68 RBI, 78 walks and 58 runs scored for the Senators. Skole ranked second in the Eastern league with 78 walks and was named an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com following the season.

Ian Stewart

A member of the Los Angeles Angels’ Opening Day roster in 2014, Ian Stewart played in 24 games before landing on the disabled list with a left-hand contusion. The power-hitting left-handed hitter has played parts of seven MLB seasons with three clubs, including Colorado (2007–11), Chicago-NL (2012) and Los Angeles (2014).

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia PhilliesDan Uggla

Dan Uggla joins the Nationals after spending the previous nine seasons with the Marlins (2006–10), Braves (2011–14) and Giants (2014). His 233 home runs as a second baseman lead all active players. Uggla, a three-time All-Star and 2010 Silver Slugger winner, is the only second baseman in Major League history to begin his career with six consecutive 20-plus home run seasons.

OUTFIELDERS (1)

Mike Carp

Mike Carp is a left-handed hitting slugger and versatile defender who has appeared in Major League games at first base (143 games/122 starts) and outfield (110 games/90 starts). In 2013, he set career marks in nearly every offensive category, starting 56 games for the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The former Mets draft pick has also played for the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers during his six seasons in the big leagues.

In 10 seasons in D.C., 76 players (Ray King and Pete Orr twice) have played in at least one game with the Nationals despite entering that same Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. 21 times players have earned spots on the Nationals’ Opening Day 25-man roster (designated by [OD]). A closer look:

2005 (7) 2006 (12) 2007 (11) 2008 (10) 2009 (11) 2010 (7)
INF Carlos Baerga LHP Micah Bowie RHP Winston Abreu RHP Collin Balester C Josh Bard [OD] RHP Miguel Batista [OD]
RHP Hector Carrasco LHP Bill Bray LHP Mike Bacsik LHP Michael Hinckley LHP Jesus Colome C Jamie Burke
OF Jeffrey Hammonds SS Royce Clayton [OD] 1B/3B Tony Batista LHP Ray King [OD] INF Alex Cintron RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Sun-woo Kim OF Alex Escobar 2B Ronnie Belliard [OD] LHP Charlie Manning LHP Wil Ledezma [OD] RHP Joel Peralta
C Keith Osik C Wiki Gonzalez RHP Jesus Colome [OD] LHP Mike O’Connor RHP J.D. Martin RHP Drew Storen
INF Rick Short RHP Kevin Gryboski C/1B Robert Fick [OD] INF Pete Orr INF Pete Orr RHP Willy Taveras [OD]
OF Brandon Watson C Brandon Harper INF D’Angelo Jimenez LHP Odalis Perez [OD] OF Jorge Padilla
OF George Lombard LHP Ray King [OD] RHP Brian Sanches OF Corey Patterson
RHP Santiago Ramirez LHP Arnie Munoz RHP Steven Shell RHP Jorge Sosa
RHP Saul Rivera RHP Jason Simontacchi C Wil Nieves RHP Julian Tavarez [OD]
OF Mike Vento 1B Dmitri Young [OD] RHP Jordan Zimmermann
1B Daryle Ward [OD]
2011 (6) 2012 (7) 2013 (4) 2014 (1) 2015 (TBD)
INF Brian Bixler OF Rick Ankiel LHP Fernando Abad RHP Blake Treinen
INF Alex Cora [OD] OF Corey Brown RHP Ross Ohlendorf
RHP Chad Gaudin [OD] OF Brett Carroll [OD] RHP Tanner Roark
RHP Ryan Mattheus C Sandy Leon INF Zach Walters
OF Laynce Nix [OD] C Carlos Maldonado
1B/OF Matt Stairs [OD] 1B/OF Xavier Nady [OD]
1B/3B Chad Tracy [OD]

Spring Training Preview, Part V: Outfielders

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by Amanda Comak

Pitchers and catchers will report to the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla., in just nine days, so as our review of the Nationals’ 40-man roster hits the home stretch, we reach the outfield.

With the exception of swapping corner assignments, the Nationals’ outfield unit is once again one of the most stable in the Major Leagues. Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper will all return as the Nationals’ starting unit, with Nate McLouth, Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin rounding out the 40-man outfield talent. And that doesn’t even include Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Frandsen, Tyler Moore, and Jeff Kobernus, infielders on the Nationals’ 40-man who also have outfield experience.

We’ve already previewed the Nationals’ catchersrelievers, starting pitchers and infielders; now let’s review the 2015 outfielders.

*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.

Bryce Harper

Division Series - Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants - Game Four2014 Season Totals: .273/.344/.423, 115 wRC+, 9.6% BB rate, 26.3% K rate, 1.3 fWAR in 395 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .278/.363/.489, 137 wRC+, 11.4% BB rate, 20.4% K rate, 4.3 fWAR in 597 PA.

If the 2014 Postseason was any indication, Bryce Harper could be on the verge of posting a career season. Returning from a thumb injury on June 30, Harper hit .268 with a .342 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage in his final 78 games of the season, clubbing 12 home runs. In the Postseason, though, Harper was one of the Nationals’ best at the plate, slugging .882 in the four-game series (smacking three home runs, one double and driving in four runs). Putting injuries behind him, Harper is expected to move to right field on a primary basis this season, giving the Nationals the added use of his strong throwing arm in a new spot.

Denard Span

2014 Season Totals: .302/.355/.416, 117 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 9.7% K rate, 3.8 fWAR in 668 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .282/.338/.387, 104 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 11.1% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 637 PA.

Miami Marlins v Washington NationalsComing off a career year in many offensive categories, including 31 stolen bases, Denard Span returns to the top of the Nationals’ lineup as a consistent presence and one of the best leadoff men in the league. After securing the Nationals’ single-season record for hits (184) and leading the league in that category, the Nationals are looking for another solid season out of their slick-fielding outfielder. Span did spend the offseason rehabbing a core muscle injury but is working to be ready to go at full speed by the start of Spring Training. Entering his third season in Washington, Span’s comfort level with his surroundings, working with his fellow outfielders, as well as hitting coach Rick Schu should all bode well for the final year of his existing contract.

Jayson Werth

2014 Season Totals: .292/.394/.455, 141 wRC+, 13.2% BB rate, 18.0% K rate, 4.8 fWAR in 629 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .285/.374/.454, 134 wRC+, 11.8 % BB rate, 18.6% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 536 PA.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game OneConsistency has come to be Jayson Werth’s hallmark in a Nationals’ uniform, and as he enters his fifth season in the District, the expectation that he will remain a stalwart in the Nationals’ lineup remains. While Werth will be working to come back from arthroscopic surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder, his averages from the previous three years are telling: .303 BA, .394 OBP, .479 SLG, and his projections reflect another strong season. Moving to left field should allow him to rest his legs a little more throughout the season, and hopefully keep him fresh deep into October.

Nate McLouth

2014 Season Totals: .173/.280/.237, 50 wRC+, 9.9% BB rate, 21.6% K rate, -0.6 fWAR in 162 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .238/.312/.354, 88 wRC+, 8.7% BB rate, 17.6% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 164 PA.

Nate McLouth’s first season in the District was derailed by a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but while the surgery to repair the injury ended his 2014 season prematurely, the Nationals are hopeful he will bounce back well in 2015. The left-handed hitting outfielder gives the Nationals good depth as he can play all three outfield positions, and his bat off the bench should be a nice weapon for Nationals manager Matt Williams.

Michael A. Taylor

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game Two2014 Season Totals: .205/.279/.359, 80 wRC+, 7.0% BB rate, 39.5% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 43 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .226/.286/.354, 79 wRC+, 7.2% BB rate, 28.1% K rate, -0.3 fWAR in 368 PA.

Michael A. Taylor’s breakout season saw him post eye-popping numbers in Double-A Harrisburg (.313 BA, .336 OBP, .539 SLG, 17 2B, 22 HR, 34 SB), earn a midseason promotion to Triple-A Syracuse and the Major Leagues shortly thereafter with a debut that featured his first hit, as well as home run, at Citi Field. The offseason trade of Steven Souza Jr. pushed Taylor up on the Nationals’ depth chart. Taylor is considered one of the most athletic talents in all of Washington’s system, projecting as good insurance for the Nationals, particularly in center field, where he has the potential to develop into a plus defender.

Brian Goodwin

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: .225/.301/.331, 82 wRC+, 9.2% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA.

A first-round selection by the Nationals (No. 34 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Goodwin had a solid year at Double-A Harrisburg, made good progress in a late-season promotion to Triple-A and performed very well in the Arizona Fall League in 2014 (.296/.333/.444). That was enough to earn him a spot on the Nationals’ 40-man roster for the first time. The promising young outfielder figures to give the Nationals another good depth option as he projects mostly as a center fielder but can play left and right field as well.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: A look back, and forward

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Hello everyone,

Well, the month we’ve been staring at on the calendar all winter has finally arrived! It’s February, and that means our guys will be filing into our Spring Training complex in Viera soon and pitchers and catchers officially report in just two weeks.

— It has been great to watch Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff work this offseason to put together our team for 2015. We were confident in all of the talent we had returning, but once again we feel like we’re in a great position entering Spring Training with the additions Mike has made.

Washington Nationals Introduce Max Scherzer— The most significant addition we made this offseason, of course, was signing 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. What an exciting day it was here at the ballpark on January 21st as we introduced Max to D.C. We couldn’t be more ecstatic to have installed him in a rotation that – quite honestly – is just filled with aces. Moreover, we are enamored with Max’s entire package: the player he is and the immense talent he possesses is obvious, but the person he is in the clubhouse and in the community is a large part of what made him a fit for us, too. He is a very special player and person.

I think Jayson Werth said it best. After he listened from the front row of the press conference to why Max decided the Nationals were the team for him, he told the Washington Post: “It was a very proud moment for me. The team that I believed in and decided to play for, and all the reasons of why I wanted to come here, were all about winning. Here we are a few years later, we have attracted the No. 1 free-agent pitcher, one of the nastiest pitchers in all of baseball, and we’ve attracted this guy in probably the biggest year of the franchise, especially in my contract, and it made me smile. As soon as he said that, it hit home. It was so relevant to me. I’ve been through that. But not in the same context. It was a proud moment. I was proud to be a Nat.”

I think we all were.

— On the other side of the excitement we all have for our new additions, like Max, there were a few fond farewells we bid this offseason, too. It will be strange to see our players lineup on Opening Day without Tyler Clippard and Adam LaRoche among them. I am thrilled that both players will continue their careers in great situations – Tyler as a key reliever for the Oakland Athletics, and Adam playing first base and DH-ing for the Chicago White Sox – and I am so thankful for all that both players did for our team, our fanbase, and our community. When we discuss the ideal type of players that we’d like to shape our team Tyler and Adam check all the boxes. They, and their families, were wonderful contributors to our organization and they won’t soon be forgotten.

And we will no doubt miss the contributions of Drake LaRoche as well! A constant, smiling presence in our clubhouse, Drake was a great reminder to us all, every day, what it is about this game that we love. He’s a wonderful young man, and I’m certain we’ll be seeing his name on draft boards in the next few years!

TenDaysTeddy_Bobble1— I hope you all are looking forward to our 10th Anniversary season as much as I am. I am not exaggerating when I tell you we have some absolutely wonderful things in store as we celebrate a full decade of history here in D.C.

I’m sure you’ve all been keeping an eye on our 10 Days of Teddy initiative going on right now, with everyone’s favorite Racing President, Teddy, helping to unveil some of the fantastic 10-Year promotional items we’ll be giving away at the ballpark this year – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg on our plans. Stay tuned throughout the season as we look back, and revel in all that has transpired since baseball returned to our city.

— It was wonderful to see so many of you at NatsFest, which was held on December 13th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. NatsFest is hands down one of my favorite days of the offseason, getting to see and interact with so many of our great fans, as well as getting a chance to see the whole team together in the offseason. The excitement for baseball in this town is evident, and it’s especially nice to see on a cold winter day. This year’s event was no different, and as it seems every year, it topped everything that had come before it. Can’t wait to see what next year’s event will have in store for our fans!

IMG_2255

IMG_2135— Starting with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which was just a spectacular event from start to finish and a wonderful showcase of our ballpark (and the Caps won, 3-2!), 2015 has already been such an exciting year for the organization.

That continued on Wednesday as we were honored to have new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred visit our Partnership Summit at the ballpark and tour our Youth Baseball Academy. Youth baseball and softball is one of theinitiatives the new commissioner is most passionate about, and we are thrilled to be at the forefront of bringing the game to disadvantaged youths in D.C. We’re very proud of the Youth Baseball Academy, and look forward to all it can do for our community going forward.

It is, of course, a big change for baseball to have its first new commissioner in 22 years, but I look forward to what the commissioner will bring to the game as we all Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academywork toward keeping America’s pastime thriving.

— Well, it is certainly about that time. Soon my wife, Judy, and I will begin the trek down to Florida for what is one of our favorite times of the year: Spring Training. And it does appear that our favorite time of year may be taking place in a new location in a few short years. We are very happy with all the progress that has been made toward finding a new Spring Training site in Palm Beach County, along with the Houston Astros, and are hopeful we will be able to keep the longstanding tradition of Spring Training baseball on Florida’s east coast alive and well for many years to come. I look forward to showing fans what the facility will look like. Hint… It’s awesome!

I can’t wait to see what 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams has in store for his second camp. If the first was any indication, I know it will be a well-run, no-nonsense Spring and our players will be more than ready when Opening Day rolls around.

Until next time,
Mark

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

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by Kyle Mann

In his introductory letter to baseball fans, less than two weeks ago, new Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred made it clear that expanding youth baseball and softball programs, particularly in underserved areas, will be one of his core areas of focus.

As his January 25 letter stated:

“My top priority is to bring more people into our game — at all levels and from all communities. Specifically, I plan to make the game more accessible to those in underserved areas, especially in the urban areas where fields and infrastructure are harder to find. Giving more kids the opportunity to play will inspire a new generation to fall in love with baseball just as we did when we were kids.”

Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball AcademyCommissioner Manfred followed up on his promise by visiting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy on Wednesday afternoon. In town serving as the keynote speaker at the Nationals Partner Summit earlier in the day, the Commissioner made his way to Ward 7’s Fort Dupont Park to tour the Academy and visit with staff members and scholar-athletes.

The Youth Baseball Academy’s mission, to use baseball and softball as vehicles to foster positive character development, academic achievement, and improved health among youth from at-risk communities in D.C., dovetails with Commissioner Manfred’s key goal of making the game more accessible in those areas. With a high school dropout rate of more than 60 percent in Wards 7 & 8, the areas the Youth Baseball Academy serves, its focus on providing personalized academic attention and mentoring, along with baseball and softball instruction, address this issue head-on.

Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball AcademyIn a visit initially scheduled for his third day in office (which was postponed due to snow) the Commissioner received a tour of the facility from Academy Executive Director Tal Alter and scholar-athletes Duane Dargin and JaNia Jackson. Commissioner Manfred’s tour of the 18,000 square foot facility included stops in one of the seven classrooms, the facility’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, the observation deck that overlooks all three fields, and the one-of-a-kind multi-purpose training indoor/outdoor training space.

One of the cornerstone programs of the Washington Nationals Youth Dream Foundation — chaired by Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, one of the Nationals’ Principal Owners — the Youth Baseball Academy works with scholar-athletes in third through eighth grade. This structure enables scholar-athletes to start high school with the tools necessary not only to graduate, but to attend, and succeed, in college. The Youth Baseball Academy is focused on instilling a love of Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academyphysical activity and utilizes baseball and softball to teach the qualities of teamwork, determination and resiliency to help scholar-athletes overcome the challenges of poverty and reach their full potential.

This thorough and well-rounded approach was important to Tanenbaum when she developed the Youth Baseball Academy, and sets it apart from pure baseball academies. 

While in one of the classrooms, Commissioner Manfred spoke with Christine Jackson, one of the Youth Baseball Academy’s 90 mentors — each of whom volunteer two hours a week, 25 weeks per year. Jackson, a former teacher, struck a cord with the Commissioner when she spoke of how she focuses on creating an inter-generational connection between scholar-athletes and former Negro League baseball players to develop a love for baseball and education.

As he wrapped up his visit, Commissioner Manfred mentioned how he’s, “Always happy to be in Washington, a special market for us in the nation’s capital,” but, “This visit (to the Youth Baseball Academy) is really important to me.”

“What the Nationals have done here is unbelievable,” he said. “(It) promotes goals of participation and diversity. This is Major League Baseball and one of its teams at its best. I cannot commend the Nationals and Lerner family enough.”

Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visits the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy

Ten-Year Tuesdays

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by Mike Feigen

In honor of our 10th Anniversary season, the Washington Nationals are proud to announce 10-Year Tuesdays, a series of games that will highlight the history of Nationals baseball and celebrate our great fans.

B823fCcCMAAS9NROccurring one Tuesday each month, beginning in April, these designated 10-Year Tuesdays will feature special guests, pregame ceremonies and a collectible keepsake for the first 10,000 fans to enter Nationals Park each night. These six giveaway items will fit neatly inside the Commemorative Collectors Tin (pictured), which will be distributed to the first 25,000 fans on Opening Day.

The first of our 10-Year Tuesday items to be revealed, a Nationals bottle stopper, was announced earlier Wednesday by Jim Scanlon in Old Town, Alexandria as part the “10 Days of Teddy” campaign. Fans can get their own Nationals bottle stopper prior to the Nationals’ Tuesday, May 5 game against the Miami Marlins.

bottlestopperThis season’s 10-Year Tuesdays programming is part of a larger 10th Anniversary celebration, which will feature bobbleheads that depict Great Moments in Nationals History, full-park theme night takeovers and much more. Additionally, jerseys worn by Nationals players and coaches will be adorned with commemorative patches, while the official game balls, bases and lineup cards used at Nationals Park will also feature the iconic 10-Year logo.

To secure your place at all six 10-Year Tuesday games this season, become a Full Season NATS PLUS Member today. More information and deposit information is available at nationals.com/2015. Additionally, for a limited time, new NATS PLUS Members who purchase a Full Season Plan will receive an authentic, autographed 10th Anniversary jersey. Jersey options include Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, while supplies last.

Single game tickets will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, February 19 at 10 a.m. at the Nationals Park Box Office, by phone 888.632.NATS(6287) or online at nationals.com/tickets.

Spring Training Preview, Part IV: Infielders

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by Kyle Brostowitz

Entering Spring Training, Washington’s 2015 40-man infield unit is a careful mixture of stability (Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon), transition (Ryan Zimmerman), quality depth (Danny Espinosa, Kevin Frandsen and Tyler Moore) and newcomers (Yunel Escobar and Wilmer Difo). The 2014 unit boasted two Silver Sluggers while leading Major League Baseball with 91 home runs. The combination of power, speed and defensive versatility allows this unit to be one of the most reliable in Major League Baseball.

We’ve already previewed the Nationals’ catchers, relievers and starting pitchers; now, in alphabetical order, let’s review the 2015 infielders.

*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.

IAN DESMOND

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals2014 Season Totals: .255/.313/.431, 108 wRC+, 7.1% BB rate, 28.2% K rate, 4.1 fWAR in 648 PA.
2015 Steamer Projection: .258/.313/.416, 104 wRC+, 6.8% BB rate, 24.9% K rate, 2.9 fWAR in 619 PA.

The longest tenured member of the organization, Desmond is the unquestioned leader of this unit. He earned his third consecutive Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award in 2014 and was one of just three big leaguers to earn a Silver Slugger in 2012, 2013 and 2014, joining Andrew McCutchen (NL, outfielder), and Mike Trout (AL, outfielder) on this short list. Since the award’s inception in 1980, Desmond is the first National League shortstop to win back-to-back-to-back honors since Barry Larkin (HOF 2012) won five straight from 1988-1992.

Desmond was one of five “20/20” players in Major League Baseball in 2014 and his 24 home run/24 stolen base effort was his third straight dating to 2012.  He is as dependable as they come, appearing in at least 154 games in four of his five complete big league seasons.

WILMER DIFO

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: .219/.252/.300, 53 wRC+, 3.8% BB rate, 14.3% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA.

A speedy, switch-hitting middle infielder, Difo is a product of Washington’s revamped scouting efforts in the Dominican Republic. He was signed on June 3, 2010 and progressed steadily through the Nationals’ chain before exploding onto the scene in 2014, earning him recognition and inclusion on Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospect List for the Nationals (No. 7). He was added to Washington’s 40-man roster following the 2014 season.

Difo was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player after leading the league with 176 hits while ranking second in total bases (263), second in stolen bases (49), fourth in RBI (90) and fourth in runs scored (91). His 90 RBI were the most among Nationals farmhands, while his .315 average was good for second. He was the recipient of the Bob Boone Award, which is granted annually to the Nationals Minor Leaguer who best demonstrates the professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination and work ethic required to play the game the “Washington Nationals Way.”

YUNEL ESCOBAR

2014 Season Totals: .258/.324/.340, 95 wRC+, 8.1% BB rate, 11.3% K rate, 0.2 fWAR in 529 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .271/.333/.367, 98 wRC+, 8.1% BB rate, 11.8% K rate, 2.1 fWAR in 522 PA.

Escobar, a slick-fielding middle infielder (2013 AL Gold Glove Finalist) is a veteran of eight Major League seasons. He was acquired from Oakland in exchange for right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard on January 14, 2015. Escobar appeared in 137 games for the Rays in 2014, his fewest since 2011, due to right shoulder soreness that sent him to the 15-Day disabled list (June 30–July 11) and a left-knee sprain in mid-September that ended his season prematurely.

Escobar is expected to bounce back from those injuries and return to form in 2015 to provide stability to the Nationals infield. He will transition to second base while also providing depth at shortstop, when needed. When he takes the field for Washington in 2015, he will become the third Cuban-born player to play in the big leagues for the Nationals, joining pitchers Livan Hernandez and Yunesky Maya.

DANNY ESPINOSA

New York Mets v Washington Nationals2014 Season Totals: .219/.283/.351, 75 wRC+, 4.9% BB rate, 33.5% K rate, 0.6 fWAR in 364 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .218/.278/.348, 74 wRC+, 6.0% BB rate, 30.1% K rate, 0.2 fWAR in 181 PA.

Espinosa bounced back from a wrist injury that plagued his 2013 season. He started off strong in the month of April, hitting .291 (23-for-79) with five doubles, one triple, and three home runs in 25 games. He also hit left-handers hard in 2014, batting .301 (31-for-103) with eight doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI, posting an .859 OPS from the right side of the plate. Espinosa’s versatility and elite defensive ability at shortstop and second base allow him to be used in a variety of roles by manager Matt Williams.

KEVIN FRANDSEN

2014 Season Totals: .259/.299/.309, 72 wRC+, 2.5% BB rate, 11.0% K rate, -0.6 fWAR in 236 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .270/.309/.357, 86 wRC+, 3.6% BB rate, 10.8% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 173 PA.

Frandsen returns for his second season with the Nationals. He brings a strong bench bat and defensive versatility to Washington’s roster. Frandsen is a career .255 (38-for-149) pinch hitter, and his 25 pinch hits the last two years rank second in MLB behind only Reed Johnson (27).

In his first season in Washington, Frandsen led the Nationals with 11 pinch hits (T-10th in NL) and started 42 games at four positions (6 at 1B, 9 at 2B, 12 at 3B, 15 in LF). He hit .303 (23-for-76) vs. left-handed pitching and .298 (14-for-47) with runners in scoring position.

JEFF KOBERNUS

2014 Season Totals: .000/.250/.000, 4 wRC+, 12.5% BB rate, 12.5% K rate in 8 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .250/.302/.332, 77 wRC+, 6.1% BB rate, 18.3% K rate in 1 PA.

Kobernus began the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse, playing in two contests before sustaining a broken left hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch on April 7. He was placed on the 60-Day DL on April 12 and after several rehab assignments, was recalled on June 25 and reported to Triple-A Syracuse, where he would hit .269 with 13 doubles, one triple, two home runs, 22 RBI, 22 walks, 14 stolen bases and 27 runs scored in the final 56 games of the season.

He joined Washington when rosters expanded in September and appeared in four games for the Nationals.

TYLER MOORE

2014 Season Totals: .231/.300/.385, 94 wRC+, 7.0% BB rate, 29.0% K rate, 0.3 fWAR in 100 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .244/.305/.426, 104 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, 0.2 fWAR in 99 PA.

Moore was set to begin the 2014 season with Triple-A Syracuse, but was recalled to Washington on April 6 when outfielder Scott Hairston was placed on the 15-Day disabled list. Moore enjoyed three stints with the Nationals, appearing in 42 games. While with Syracuse he hit .265 with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, 44 RBI and 45 runs scored in 84 games. It marked the fourth time in the last five seasons Moore hit at least 10 home runs at the Minor League level.

ANTHONY RENDON

San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals2014 Season Totals: .287/.351/.473, 130 wRC+, 8.5% BB rate, 15.2% K rate, 6.6 fWAR in 683 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .279/.350/.454, 125 wRC+, 9.0% BB rate, 15.6% K rate, 5.0 fWAR in 643 PA.

In his first full big league season, Rendon posted MVP-level numbers, finishing fifth in the NL MVP voting en route to his first National League Silver Slugger Award. He ranked fourth in MLB (2nd in NL) in Wins Above Replacement (6.6), according to Fangraphs.com, and his 111 runs paced the National League (3rd in MLB). He also ranked among National League leaders in hits (T-5th, 176), total bases (3rd, 290), doubles (T-4th, 39), extra base hits (T-5th, 66) and times on base (10th, 239).

Although he appeared in 28 games at second base in 2014, Rendon has solidified himself as one of the top third baseman in the game and will man the hot corner for Matt Williams in 2015.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN

2014 Season Totals: .280/.342/.449, 120 wRC+, 9.2% BB rate, 15.4% K rate, 1.2 fWAR in 240 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .275/.344/.449, 122 wRC+, 9.2% BB rate, 18.5% K rate, 3.4 fWAR in 570 PA.

Houston Astros v Washington NationalsZimmerman’s 2014 season was marred by two extensive disabled list stints that limited him to just 61 games. He fractured his right thumb sliding head first back into second base on April 13 at Atlanta. He returned June 3 and, upon his return, selflessly shifted to left field to allow Matt Williams flexibility when filling out the lineup card. He suffered a strained right hamstring on June 23 in Colorado sprinting to first base to beat out a ground ball. He rejoined the Nationals active roster on September 20 and started four games, all in left field. Zimmerman played defensively in left field (30 games), at third base (23) and first base (1). He did not commit an error in left field while connecting on two outfield assists.

Zimmerman will again transition to a new position in 2015, making the full-time move across the diamond to first base. Zimmerman’s elite hands and instincts hope to prove valuable in making the transition as smooth as possible.

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