Spring Training Preview, Part II: Relief Pitchers

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by Kyle Mann

Over each of the next few 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. Continuing this week with relief pitchers, we’ll take a 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 already reviewed the catchers, so now let’s delve into some of the arms they’ll spend their time catching: the relievers.

*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.

Miami Marlins v Washington NationalsDREW STOREN

2014 Season Totals: 2-1, 11 saves, 1.12 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 7.35 K/9, 1.76 BB/9, 0.9 fWAR in 56.1 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-3, 33 saves, 3.37 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 7.89 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 65.0 IP

Since being drafted No. 10 overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, right-hander Drew Storen has been a steady contributor in the Nationals bullpen. After the toughest year of his young career in 2013, Storen came back with a vengeance last season, posting an N.L best 1.12 ERA (min. 50 innings pitched). Coming off such a strong year, Storen is being counted on to build off his great 2014 campaign and lock down the ninth inning for the defending NL East Champions.

MATT THORNTON

2014 Season Totals: 1-3, 0 saves, 1.75 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 7.00 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR in 36.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 2 saves, 2.96 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 8.33 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 0.5 fWAR in 55.0 IP

An 11-year veteran, Matt Thornton was acquired by the Nationals from the Yankees last August to provide a veteran left-handed presence in the bullpen. Thornton responded with 18 scoreless appearances for the Nationals while also stranding 100 percent of inherited baserunners. Signed through 2015, Thornton is projected to continue his success in the back-end of the Nationals bullpen in 2015, which will likely include a significant late-inning load again this season.

CRAIG STAMMEN

2014 Season Totals: 4-5, 0 saves, 3.84 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 6.94 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR in 72.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-3, 3 saves, 3.46 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 7.53 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 65.0 IP

Craig Stammen has proven to be Mr. Everything for the Nationals since making his Major League debut in 2009. A starting pitcher in 2009 and 2010, Stammen has since established himself as a solid, versatile reliever for the Nationals the last four seasons, posting an ERA under 4.00 each year. While Stammen’s ERA rose from 2.76 in 2013 to 3.83 last season, his FIP and underlying peripherals indicate his performance was much closer to his outstanding 2013 than his ERA showed. With a career best 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season, thr right-hander should be in line for another solid season in 2015, no matter which role he occupies in the Nationals’ bullpen.

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsAARON BARRETT

2014 Season Totals: 3-0, 0 saves, 2.66 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 10.84 K/9, 4.43 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR in 40.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 2-2, 1 save, 3.21 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 9.20 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 45.0 IP

Whether you count securing the win in his Major League debut on Opening Day, or taking down the Rockies Brandon Barnes in a July 23rd anthem stand-off among the highlights, there’s no doubt that Aaron Barrett proved himself as a bullpen force during his rookie season. Finishing the year with an outstanding 2.66 ERA and extremely impressive 10.84 K/9 mark, Barrett provided plenty of reasons for Nationals fans to be excited about his second MLB season. Barrett has the ability to pitch in a right-handed set-up role for the Nationals in 2015, and if he can improve upon last season’s 4.43 BB/9, it seems the sky is the limit for him.

JERRY BLEVINS

2014 Season Totals: 2-3, 0 saves, 4.87 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 10.36 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR in 57.1 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 1 save, 3.11 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR in 55.0 IP

A teammate of Stammen’s at the University of Dayton, Jerry Blevins joined Stammen as a key bullpen contributor during his first season in the Nation’s Capital. The left-hander’s 4.87 ERA from last season may be a bit misleading, but if you dig a bit deeper you’ll see that he had an outstanding 10.36 K/9 and 2.77 FIP, plus some impressive performances out of the bullpen during the postseason. Blevins’ strong peripheral stats lead to a rosy 2015 projection for the international traveler where he should combine with Thornton to provide solid left-handed contributions in the Nationals’ bullpen.

XAVIER CEDENO

2014 Season Totals: 0-0, 0 saves, 3.86 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 6.43 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 7.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 1 save, 3.11 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR in 55.0 IP

While Cedeno has only pitched 13 innings for the Nationals since being acquired from the Houston Astros early in the 2013 season, he has performed well at the Major League and Triple-A levels during his time in the Nationals organization. In 74 appearances for Triple-A Syracuse, Cedeno has a 1.84 ERA with 102 strikeouts in only 73.2 innings. As a left-hander with great numbers in the Minor Leagues and several solid stints with the big league club, Cedeno is a great option as a third lefty out of the ‘pen for the Nationals in 2015.

ERIK DAVIS

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 3.52 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 7.87 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 15.0 IP

Davis, a college teammate of Drew Storen’s at Stanford University, underwent Tommy John surgery last season and is due back during 2015. Davis impressed during a call-up in 2013 with 12 strikeouts in 8.2 innings pitched for the Nationals. With a 3.10 ERA in Triple-A Syracuse in 2013, Davis could be another option for the Nationals bullpen as soon as he returns to full health.

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis CardinalsERIC FORNATARO

2014 Season Totals: 0-0, 0 saves, 4.66 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 4.66 K/9, 3.13 BB/0, 0.0 fWAR in 9.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 4.44 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 5.70 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR in 20.0 IP

Acquired from the Cardinals this offseason, Fornataro is known for premium velocity and posted a 2.57 ERA for Triple-A Memphis last season. Fornataro had a 4.66 ERA in eight MLB appearances with the Cardinals last season and the 27-year-old provides solid right-handed depth for the Nationals bullpen. 

MATT GRACE

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 4.24 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 5.86 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR in 25.0 IP

Grace, a 2010 selection in the First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA, has excelled in the minors since a move to the bullpen. After posting a 1.17 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, the 6-foot-4 left-hander was selected to attend the Arizona Fall League, regarded as a finishing school for Major League prospects. Grace posted a 3.18 ERA in the hitter-friendly league, showing that he is ready should the Nationals call on him to provide left-handed depth in their bullpen in 2015.

Step Up To The Plate: Inspiration Comes in Small Packages

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By Margaret “Marg.” Clark
YBA Mentor

With a trio of “scholar-athletes,” I spent my Wednesday evenings last fall at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy reading, writing and talking about baseball heroes and their inspiring legacies. If we completed our weekly lesson early, we’d head to the YBA training room to play tag, do pushups and compare muscles. (The young men were much impressed with my willingness to run the gym with them and show off my toned 64-year-old biceps!)

Marg with Scholar AthletesWhen I signed up to serve as a mentor, I worried that my young charges would not find an “old white woman” to be very relatable, and might be jealous of groups that got cool young guys as mentors. If that is the case, it is not apparent to me. From the very beginning, Rocco, Daniel, and Joshua greeted me with hugs, smiles and enthusiasm, and openness to both learning and getting to know each other.  And for 10 weeks or so, we did exactly that.

Rocco, all focused attention, Daniel, clever and quick, and Josh, alert to everything going on around him—all third graders, all scholar-athletes and each uniquely himself—left it all out on the baseball diamond and in the classroom, week after week.

After a long holiday break, I decided to spend our first meeting of 2015 making collages about a person who inspired us. I saw it as a way to revisit some of the material we had had covered and get reacquainted as we drew, cut and pasted.

Who would I depict as my inspiration? No question: my scholar-athletes. Here are some of the cutout words I pasted into my collage to describe them:

  • Energy
  • Courage
  • Confidence
  • Special
  • Love to talk
  • Leave ordinary behind

During a mentor training session on cultural competency, we were encouraged to view ourselves not as benevolent givers, but as partners in a rewarding two-way relationship. Good advice!  But even if I hadn’t been so instructed, it was quickly obvious to me that I was getting every bit as much or more than I was giving.

YBA - Entrance

January is National Mentorship Month, a great opportunity to highlight the work of theWashington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy – a new, state of the art education and recreation facility in Southeast D.C. – where Nats players and community volunteers alike have forged strong mentoring relationships with youth from at-risk communities.

For more information on how you can serve as a mentor at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy please visit: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/youthbaseballacademy/getinvolved.jsp

Step Up To The Plate: Celebrating National Mentorship Month at the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy

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by Tal Alter

Over 20 years ago, Charles Barkley kicked up a national debate about the impact of professional athletes in society.  “I am not a role model,” he famously quipped.

While the indirect effect of professional athletes on kids might be up for debate, what’s absolutely clear is the meaningful difference a direct and consistent mentor can make in the lives of kids who need positive influences.

January is National Mentorship Month, a great opportunity to highlight the work of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy – a new, state of the art education and recreation facility in Southeast D.C. – where Nats players and community volunteers alike have forged strong mentoring relationships with youth from at-risk communities.

Tal Alter pic for mentoring blogAt the Academy, we call these young people our “scholar-athletes” – a term that reflects our two-fold commitment to helping them become physically fit and develop baseball skills, but also achieve academic success, enhanced confidence, and – ultimately – become young men and women of character.

All of our scholar-athletes live in either Ward 7 or 8, neighborhoods experiencing the challenges of high crime and poverty rates.  In these areas, fewer than 30% of elementary school students receive proficient test scores in math and reading, with astonishing high school dropout rates. Of youth who complete the 8th grade in these two Wards, 60% have vanished from the system by 10th grade.

These harsh realities can seem overwhelming and disheartening. But with a mentor at their side, our scholar-athletes are empowered to triumph over these statistics. At-risk youth who have a mentor in their lives are 81% more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities.  They’re more than twice as likely to hold a leadership position in a club or team.  They’re more than 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who don’t have a mentor.

But approximately 9 million at-risk youth will reach age 19 without ever having a mentor, thus missing out on a relationship that could positively change the arc of their future.

We’re helping to close that gap at Nats Academy, where community volunteers turn out every night to serve as coaches, tutors and mentors for our scholar-athletes. They are dedicated to being a real, consistent and positive presence.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to introduce you to some of these remarkable individuals. People who’ve made the decision to stand-up and declare “I am a role model,” and are putting those words into action.   They’ll be guest bloggers here on the Curly W blog – giving their first-hand perspective on the Nats Academy and the role they play in the lives of the young men and women we serve.

We hope their stories inspire you to become a mentor – at the Nats Academy or wherever you have a chance to make a positive difference in the life of a young person.

For more information on how you can serve as a mentor at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy please visit: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/youthbaseballacademy/getinvolved.jsp

 

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).

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