Results tagged ‘ Arizona Fall League ’

Wrapping up the Arizona Fall League

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by Mike Feigen

The Mesa Solar Sox, featuring seven members of the Nationals’ organization, wrapped up their Arizona Fall League schedule this past Thursday with a tie in the final game of the season. Catcher Spencer Kieboom went 2-for-5 at the plate in the contest, raising his average to .324, best among Nationals prospects on the club.

farm graphicMesa, which finished the year with a record of 15-14-2, was comprised of prospects from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Nationals. Washington provided catchers Pedro Severino and Kieboom, second baseman Tony Renda and four pitchers: Matt Grace, Neil Holland, Felipe Rivero and Derek Self.

The AFL gives future young stars a chance to showcase their skills following the conclusion of the regular season, with members of all 30 Major League organizations representing their parent clubs on six competing teams. The Salt River Rafters (ARI, COL, HOU, MIA and MIN) defeated the Peoria Javelinas (ATL, CLE, KC, STL, TB) in the league championship game Saturday.

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

Final stats: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.18 ERA, 1.324 WHIP

The big lefty out of UCLA compiled six scoreless relief appearances in his final seven appearances, holding right-handed hitters to a .167 average. His work against left-handed hitters could be the key to his success at the next level.

“I am working on throwing more off-speed pitches during my time here, especially my slider,” Grace said in a recent interview with Curly W Live. “I feel very comfortable with where my fastball is at right now, but I’m trying to have a more consistent slider. I know I will be facing a lot of left-handers out of the ‘pen, so I’m trying to do a better job of throwing sliders off my fastball, and vice-versa.”

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

Final stats: 11.2 IP, 20 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 8 BB, 8 SO, 10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP

Holland owns a career 23-10 record with a 2.49 ERA in 182 Minor League games pitched, but ran into some tough luck in Arizona. The 25-year-old former 11th round draft pick, featuring a deceptive sidearm delivery, could find himself in the bullpen at Triple-A Syracuse during the 2015 season.

“There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age,” Holland said in a recent interview. “One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls.”

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

Final stats:.324/.390/.471 (11-for-34), 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R, 5 BB

One of the top offensive catchers in the Minor Leagues, Kieboom recovered from Tommy John surgery to have a big season in Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League. The 6-0, 200-pound backstop had a remarkable .852 OPS this season (.352 OBP, .500 SLG), setting the stage for what could be a promising season at Potomac or Harrisburg this upcoming year.

Kieboom said he was looking for big-picture experience in Arizona during an interview with Curly W Live earlier this AFL season.

“My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career,” he said. “There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.”

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

Final stats:.200/.233/.259 (17-for-85), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 12 R, 3 BB, 1 SB

Following a season in which he hit .307 with a .381 on-base percentage at High-A Potomac, Renda received valuable experience facing the league’s more advanced pitchers. The former second round pick was named to the AFL’s Fall Stars team and flashed promise at the plate.

“I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year,” Renda said. “Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

Final stats: 23.2 IP, 26 H, 18 R, 16 ER, 11 BB, 15 SO, 6.08 ERA, 1.563 WHIP

Rivero got off to a slow start in the AFL, but recovered in his final two starts to post solid numbers. The left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his final two starts, allowing just seven hits and two walks in 10 innings of work. The former Tampa Bay product held left-handers to a .231/.333/308 slash line, while righties hit a more robust .303/.387/.500 with a pair of home runs against him.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

Final stats: 15.0 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO, 1.20 ERA, 1.133 WHIP

Reliever Derek Self emerged as a pleasant surprise in Fall League play, completing six appearances of two or more innings in a relief role. The right-hander from Cave City, Ky. was accustomed to that role, with 21 such appearances between Potomac and Harrisburg in the regular season.

“I’m really working on my new change-up and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well,” Self said about his progress in the AFL earlier this month. “Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.”

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

Final stats:.250/.292/.341 (11-for-44), 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB

Severino, the third-youngest member of the Solar Sox roster at just 21 years of age, continued to impress as a part-time player in Arizona. The defensive-minded catcher played well above his age level this season at High-A Potomac, helping the P-Nats to a Carolina League Championship.

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Neil Holland

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace,catcherSpencer Kieboom and right-hander Derek Self.

Next up: right-hander Neil Holland. 

Holland_NeilHolland appeared in a career-high 46 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA (29 ER/76.2 IP), including 63 strikeouts. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors for his efforts out of the Harrisburg bullpen in 2014.

Holland features a sidearm delivery that he started using during his junior year at the University of Louisville. He has appeared in eight games for the Mesa Solar Sox during this year’s Arizona Fall League season.

We recently spoke with the 2010 11th round pick about his season and experience in Arizona.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

My experience in the Arizona Fall League has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about it. The facilities, fields, the cities. Everything. It’s been a great experience.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel incredibly honored to put on the Nationals jersey out here. It just makes me realize even more that I’m close to my dream, and with a really good organization.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age. One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls. I’ve also worked on a new changeup, which is coming along pretty well, as well as a lower arm slot on my slider. These are all good, positive things to work on in the offseason.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I feel like it took everyone a few games to feel comfortable with the new rules implemented, but I seem to be getting used to it. It doesn’t bother me too much, anyways, because I work fast. But there are still some things about the rule I have a hard time getting on board with.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

I didn’t know exactly what to expect meeting all my new teammates and having to get to know each other so quick but it’s been surprisingly great! All the guys have been awesome, especially the bullpen guys.

What have you done on your off days?

I’ve gone golfing a few times on my off days and watched a lot of football, which is a new concept for us ballplayers, always having Sundays off each week. I enjoy playing, but definitely enjoy the off days just to relax.

Holland_Neil_actionWhere and when did you develop the sidearm delivery? 

I starting throwing side arm my junior year of college. I wasn’t having success at the University of Louisville my first two years throwing over the top and was getting ready to transfer.

Right before I was getting ready to transfer, my throwing partner (also one of our captains) suggested that I go side-armed because I would sometimes throw him some side-armed pitches that were really good and moved a lot. He told my pitching coach that I should try a bullpen that way, and it ended up working out better than we all imagined. I became the closer basically my whole junior year, and the rest is history.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks?

Both are amazing coaches who have taught me a lot since I’ve been out here. They are both laid back and approachable, with a lot of knowledge, and you can pick their brain at any time. I’ve had a lot of good talks with both Wise and Villone after a bad outing and they helped me out a lot. They’re great coaches who know the game and also know a lot about the mental side of baseball.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

My approach hasn’t really changed since I’ve been out here, despite the good hitters I’ve been facing. I’ve always been known for being a ground ball thrower so I’ve been doing that, as well as working on my changeup. I go at the guys just like I went at the hitters during the season in Double-A and Triple-A — just trying to keep the ball low and work fast.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Absolutely, the Nationals pitchers are pretty spoiled having our own catchers here in the Fall League, and I’ve gotten on the same page with them very quickly. I also feel very comfortable throwing to them because they always know what I want to throw. Both Kieboom and Severino have been great with that.

You, Matt Grace and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

I’ve known both Derek and Matt for a while through my baseball career. I played with Derek two years in college too, so we know each other very well and have had a lot of good times together. Derek and I know how to push each other’s buttons, so we do make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all in good fun.

I’ve known Matt all five years I’ve played and we’ve gotten moved up together each year. He’s one of my really good friends so it was pretty cool that he and I got invited out here, too. We’ve roomed with each other off-and-on each year, and we’re also living with each other out here. So, whether it’s going out to eat, golfing, or going to the field, we’ve basically done it for five years straight now. I’ll be excited to finally get away from that guy when the offseason hits!

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Derek Self

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by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

We’ve already caught up with infielder Tony Renda, left-hander Matt Grace, and catcher Spencer Kieboom.

Self_DerekNext up: right-hander Derek Self.

A ninth-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Louisville, Self reached Double-A for the first time in his young professional career this past season. He went 5-4 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA (20 ER/66.2 IP) in 42 appearances between Single-A Potomac and Harrisburg. He struck out a career-high 61 batters and walked just 18 along the way.

His strong regular-season performance has carried over to the Arizona Fall League, where he has allowed just two earned runs in 14.0 IP (1.29 ERA) in eight appearances out of Mesa’s bullpen.

We recently caught up with the Cave City, KY native to talk about his 2014 season and his experience in the Arizona Fall League.

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

It’s been great out here. A really cool experience. I’d been out here one time for college regionals, but to live out here for a month-and-a-half and get to play baseball every day is truly amazing.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

It’s an honor and privilege to wear that ‘W’ on my chest. Knowing every day I walk into the clubhouse I get to represent the Nationals and I intend to do that the best I can. But my goal is to soon put on that Nationals uniform every day in D.C.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I’m just learning how to pitch better in certain counts to better hitters. I’m really working on my new changeup and throwing it not only to lefties but right-handers as well. Also, making my slider sharper and working on having better control of it. Some of my main goals are just go out there and give it all I’ve got, become a better, sharper pitcher to carry over to the 2015 season.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

It really hasn’t affected me. I know with the time situation of delivering the pitch, but I’ve always worked pretty fast.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

It’s been great. It’s always nice to travel around and be on different teams. You get to know all these new players and you spend so much time with them that you become friends. I’ve made a lot of new friends out here and met a lot of great guys.

What have you done on your off days? Tony Renda said that he dominated you in a round of golf. Would you like to refute those claims?

Honestly, I have relaxed for the most part. My roommates and I will chill by the pool, get a little sun — because I know I’m not getting that when I go back to Kentucky. We hiked Camelback Mountain, which was a great experience.

And yes, I’ve played some golf and with Tony. He didn’t dominate me — he got me by one stroke. I think he may have kicked a ball out of woods and had a little help once or twice.

Did you cross paths with Neil Holland at all at the University of Louisville? If so, how has it been going on this journey with him?

Yes, I actually did. I got to play with him for two years — my freshman and sophomore seasons. It’s been great to share this season with him again, and also out in the Fall League. If you asked me in college if we both would be playing with the Nationals organization, let alone be in the Fall League at the same time, I wouldn’t think there would be a shot. So to be able to do this with him, it’s pretty cool.

There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned from working with them for a few weeks?

It’s an honor to be coached and have these two guys around you every day. They both have given me more knowledge about pitching, and suggestions to help me succeed in the big leagues. But just talking to them both, I’ve learned a lot more about the game and I’m appreciative to have them along my journey.

This was one of your better professional seasons. What were some of your keys to success this season?

Thanks. I feel like I had a pretty good season as well. I felt like I should’ve done a little bit better in Harrisburg, but it was a learning experience, also. I feel like when I was having success, I was doing a really good job of locating with the fastball and really mixing up my pitches. Not trying to strikeout everyone, just trying to get weak contact. That was huge for me. I also had more confidence in myself than I’ve ever had. That truly makes you a better pitcher, and it’s a big difference when it comes down to who wins the battle with the hitter.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that, and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

I wouldn’t call it a hitters league, because I’ve seen a lot of good pitching also. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good hitters here. But my approach really hasn’t changed that much. I go out there and pitch like I always do and not try to do too much.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?

Yes a lot. They know you better than any other catcher, so they know how you like to pitch. I’ve spent a good amount of time with both Spencer and Pedro, and it just makes things better when you’re out there with your fellow Nats catcher.

Get to know the Nationals in the AFL: Spencer Kieboom

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we’ll give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

So far, we’ve caught up with infielder Tony Renda and left-hander Matt Grace. Next up: catcher Spencer Kieboom, who we recently had a chance to chat with about the 2014 season, as well as his experience in the Arizona Fall League.

Kieboom_SpencerKieboom, a fifth-round selection in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson University, missed the 2013 season after undergoing “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned in 2014 to hit .309 with 28 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 61 RBI and 50 runs scored in 87 games for the Hagerstown Suns, en route to being named a 2014 South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star.

In addition to his contributions at the plate, the 23-year-old Kieboom was tasked with handling arguably one of the top pitching staffs in the South Atlantic League. It was a staff that boasted top prospects RHP Lucas Giolito (8th in MLB /1st in org), RHP Austin Voth (9th in org), RHP Nick Pivetta (18th in org) and RHP Reynaldo Lopez (20th in org). (Rankings per MLB.com)

That strong staff helped lead the Suns to an 87-53 record, a second-half South Atlantic League Northern Division championship and a runner-up finish in the South Atlantic League Championship Series.

Here’s what Kieboom had to say:

Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?

On and off the field it has been great. I live with Tony Renda and Derek Self. Both are great guys in the organization. The experience at the field is awesome — being around guys, listening to what they do, and comparing different approaches etc.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

It feels great to put on the uniform every night. Especially when I first arrived, seeing my name on the back of the jersey, that was special.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am using the AFL to get more at-bats and have the opportunity to face some of the best pitching. My goals from this experience have been to take something away from this that I can use to further my career. There are a lot of talented players around me. Seeing what someone else does or how they prepare could help me as well down the road.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I’ve adjusted fine. Some of the rules, I’ve caught myself and had to move a little quicker or make sure I didn’t go out for a mound visit.

What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

These guys are a great group. I like having fun at the park and they all do as well, so when I get to the field it’s an instant pick-me-up, regardless of how my day has been going.

What have you done on your off days?

I went and hiked Camel Back Mountain one day. Other days have been very laid back — chill at the pool, grill, or just watch some football

You missed all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John Surgery. That surgery isn’t as common for position players as it is position players. How was the rehab process for you? How did it feel to get back out and play a full season in 2014?

The physical part of the rehab was not difficult; the hard part was the mental aspect. Showing up every day and digging deep to get the things done that I needed to get done. It’s a long process, and to stay focused was my biggest challenge.

Kieboom_Spencer_actionThe Suns’ starting pitching staff had a lot of success this season and you were behind the plate for the majority of their starts. What did you see on your end as a reason for their collective success?

All of those guys can just flat out pitch. They’re all students of the game and want to perfect their craft. Those guys not only work hard on the field but also off it, to prepare for their starts. Their success was no surprise to me because they would be ready when the ball was given to them every time.

You lived with Lucas Giolito this season in Hagerstown. What is he like off the field? 

Gio is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. I have a friendship with him that will last a lifetime. A lot of people don’t know, but Lucas and I roomed together in Florida when we were both rehabbing, too. Him being my roommate when I was going through that time and having someone to help me through the process (since he’d just gone through it) is something I’ll always appreciate.

As a hitter, you’re having success facing some of the top pitching prospects in baseball during the AFL. What has that adjustment been like, going from the South Atlantic League to the Arizona Fall League?

The one thing I try and do is simplify my thoughts. When I go to the plate, I look at it like he’s just another pitcher on the mound and not let myself make the moment bigger than it should be every at-bat, regardless of who is pitching.

You have a familiar face on this team in Patrick Anderson, your manager in Hagerstown. How is it going through this experience with him?

Patrick and I have a special relationship, I feel, from this past season. He’s someone I will talk to for the rest of my life for on- and off-field issues.

The Nationals Major League bullpen coach is fellow Clemson Tiger catcher, Matt LeCroy. Have you met Matt, and has he told you anything?

I’ve met Matt and I enjoy being around him every time I get the chance. He hasn’t told me anything in particular, except a ‘GO TIGERS!’ here and there. I have a lot of respect for him and his career as a professional.

Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Matt Grace

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Last week, we met infielder Tony Renda. Next up, meet left-hander Matt Grace, who is coming off his finest professional season.

Grace_MattGrace enjoyed a breakout year in 2014, going 5-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 50 appearances between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He tallied 62 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .211 average. He surrendered just one home run during the entire 2014 campaign. Featuring a heavy fastball, Grace produced a ground-ball rate of 69 percent this season. For context, the Major League average is usually around 44-45 percent.

Grace was selected in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA. He has appeared in five games for the Solar Sox out of the bullpen, a role he became very familiar with this season.

We recently caught up with the California-native and asked him about his experience:

How are things going for you in Arizona?

The experience in Arizona has been great so far. Playing in the Arizona Fall League has been a lot of fun. Away from the field, Mesa and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer, so it has been cool.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?

I feel very honored to have been selected to play here. Putting on the Nats uniform every day is very gratifying. It is a special set-up here in the Fall League. I think all the players representing the Nationals organization here have done a great job so far.

What have you, or are you planning to, use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am working on throwing more offspeed pitches during my time here, especially my slider. I feel very comfortable with where my fastball is at right now, but I’m trying to have a more consistent slider. I know I will be facing a lot of left-handers out of the ‘pen, so I’m trying to do a better job of throwing sliders off my fastball, and vice-versa.

How have you adjusted to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

We haven’t experienced the game play rules too much yet – they’re only implemented at the Salt River facility. But, I’m pretty quick in-between pitches and don’t take too much time warming up. For me it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

What has it been like getting to know your Mesa teammates and other top prospects in the game?

It’s been great to get to know some of the other guys on the Mesa team. We have some highly rated prospects on our team and it’s cool to see some of young, talented players out there. Also, being in the bullpen has been a lot of fun. It is a great group of guys.

What have you done on your off days?

Having Sundays off during the fall league is perfect. I’ve golfed a good amount. The courses out here are amazing. Besides that, we’ve watched a lot of football, hoping my fantasy team gets a win!

You’re coming off your best minor league season, what do you think were a few keys to your success this past season?

I think the main reason for my success the past season was just remaining focused and trying to execute quality pitches as much as possible. I worked on a couple of things with both pitching coaches – Chris Michalak and Paul Menhart – and I was able to quicken up my time to the plate with runners on base, and started to work exclusively out of the stretch. Throughout the year I stayed aggressive and became a consistent strike thrower.

Has your mentality changed since shifting to the bullpen?

I think my mentality is better suited for the bullpen. I’m able to be aggressive and attack hitters. Also, I like the chance to play every day.

Grace_Matt_actionThere are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant big league experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks? Especially Villone, being left handed.

They’ve been really informative and helpful. Talking with Wise has been great. He’s helped me with my changeup a good deal, and Villone has also been helpful. Aside from his stories, I’ve learned a lot about how he approached the game and the little things he did to be successful in the big leagues for so long. I want to learn from those guys as much as possible.

You, Neil Holland and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?

The three of us have a great relationship. I’ve gotten to know Derek better because of the Fall League. He’s great. Neil and I have been on the same team for parts of five seasons, so we do have some great stories. He really loves to dance. All the time. During games, in the bullpen, away from the field, too. He’s very talented, too.

The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that, and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?

Being out in Arizona, the ball tends to carry a little more. The hitters are the same though. Quality pitches will get outs the majority of the time. I just try to focus on that and nothing else. The talent level is very high, but my approach doesn’t change.

Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, fellow Nationals, as your catchers in the AFL?

There is a little bit of a comfort level with Pedro and Spencer behind the plate. I didn’t throw to them during the season at all, but worked with them in Florida before coming out to the Fall league. Getting to know their style and becoming comfortable with that has been beneficial.

Getting to know the Nationals in the AFL: Tony Renda

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Kyle Brostowitz 

The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the fall season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.

Renda_TonyFirst up is infielder Tony Renda (2nd round, 2012, Cal Berkeley).

Renda turned in his second straight All-Star-caliber minor league season in 2014, leading the Carolina League and ranking third among Nationals Farmhands with a .307 batting average. He added 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI, 43 walks, 19 stolen bases and 75 runs scored (4th in the Carolina League) en route to being named a Carolina League post-season All Star.

In 2013, Renda earned South Atlantic League All-Star honors, in addition to being named the inaugural recipient of the Nationals’ “Bob Boone Award.”

Renda is hitting .226 (12-for-53) with a .250 on-base percentage and a .321 slugging percentage. He’s clubbed three doubles, one triple, driven in seven runs, scored eight, walked twice and stolen one base in 56 plate appearances in the AFL. He was recently selected to the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Saturday, November 1st at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be nationally televised by MLB Network and online via MLB.com with Paul Severino (play-by-play), Joe Magrane (game analyst) and John Manuel (game analyst) on the call.

We recently caught up with Tony and asked him about his experience in the AFL.

How are things going so far?

It’s been a really good experience so far. We get to play against the best talent in the game of baseball. We face top-notch pitchers every day. It has been a challenge, but it’s been great. Together, we’re grinding every day, working hard and trying to stay consistent.

How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every day?

It’s awesome. We are all fired up to see those jerseys hanging in our lockers every day. It’s great, but the ultimate goal is to put that jersey on in DC. For right now it’ll do, but our mission isn’t over. We want to wear it in Nationals Park.

What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?

I am using the AFL to get ready for the next level and prepare me to make the jump to Double-A next year.  Getting to face top-notch pitching every day is going to prepare me for that. My swing was long when I got here, and you can’t be long vs. high velocity, which is pretty much every guy here.

You have to lay off the bad pitches and go after the good ones. I want to just stay consistent in my at-bats and approach and prepare myself the best I can to compete next year.

How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?

I haven’t really had to adjust much. At first, you’re confused. ‘When does the clock start? When do I get into box? Oh no…the pitch clock is running down, c’mon throw the ball.’ Eventually I ignored it and didn’t end up changing anything. I never felt rushed. Eventually it was like, ‘There’s a clock, who cares.’ As a team, our pace of play is quick enough. Get the ball, get in the box, throw pitch. You learn to ignore it.

What has it been like getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?

It’s been awesome. We have a really good group of guys. Through our teammates, we get to learn about other organizations, about what they teach, what they stress, things like that. It has been fun getting to know new players and where they came from.

It’s funny. We’re on a team with players from the Oakland A’s and two players, Dakota Bacus and John Wooten came (to the Nationals) from the A’s via trade. I played with Bacus and Wooten in Potomac this year, so we have been trading stories about those guys. I remember some guys from playing against them in college. The baseball world is a small world, man. Everyone will eventually know everyone, somehow.

What have you done on your off days?

Relax. We stay in Scottsdale, and our complex is very nice. It has a pool so we’ve been laying by the pool a lot. We’ve golfed a little bit. Ask Derek Self about the last time he and I played golf. Crushed him.

Coming off Potomac’s championship season, to Instructional League and now to the AFL, have you been able to slow down and take in everything from this season, appreciate what you accomplished both individually and as a team?    

Not yet. I’m in season mode still. I haven’t had a chance to take a breath quite yet. I know I will appreciate it when we finish here and I can go home and relax. I’ll take about a week off and get back into offseason work and hit it pretty hard before Spring Training. I think it will hit me then.

Renda_Tony_actionWhat was your favorite moment from this year’s championship season?

Wow, there are too many to have just one. That whole championship series (has to be up there). We lost the first game, but it was nothing to us. We knew we had the team to win it. We came back out the next day and let them know we were here and weren’t going to roll over.

To win the next two, man, the feeling you get when the last out is recorded, it’s a hard feeling to explain. It’s so amazing. We’ve got a great Minor League system and the success that all the teams had has, and will continue to, paid off at the Major League level, I think. The feeling of champagne down your back never gets old.

There are so many talented players in the AFL, including fellow Nationals Farmhands. Do you pick the brains of other prospects on your team and from around the league?

A little bit. I’m not one to talk to people about their approach. I’m more of a watch, observe, see how you go about your business type of person. I think you can learn a lot by just observing.

Your Manager down there, Mike Mordecai, is a former big leaguer and World Champion. Like you, he played mainly infield over his 12-year career. What have you learned from him in your short time in the AFL?

Mordey has a lot of baseball knowledge. He sees things that others take for granted. He brings it to your attention and you’re like, ‘Hey you’re right, I should do that. You know what you’re talking about.’ Early in the Fall League, we went out to second base and worked on pivots and footwork. I really picked his brain on that. What he is teaching me adds to what I learn from (Nationals Infield Coordinator) Jeff Garber. I know that Garbs has us so locked in on the infield. He’s amazing. We have our routines and routes and he has us so well prepared to play. There isn’t really much that other people can give us, but Mordey is good at giving us little things that we can add on to what we already have learned from the coaches in our organization.

Arizona Fall League: Midseason update

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

With 19 of the Mesa Solar Sox’s 30 games complete in the Arizona Fall League season, each of the seven representatives of the Washington Nationals has thrown at least eight innings or come to the plate at least 25 times during the top prospect “finishing school.”

farm graphicAmong the standouts thus far are a pair of catchers with intriguing skill sets. Spencer Kieboom, the Nationals’ fifth-round selection in 2012 out of Clemson University, hit .309/.352/.500 with nine home runs for Single-A Hagerstown  in 2014, brandishing his credentials as one of the top offensive catchers in the organization. Meanwhile, 21-year-old backstop Pedro Severino — who has one of the top defensive reputations in the Minors — led the Potomac Nationals to a Carolina League title. He also blasted nine homers during the 2014 campaign.

Former third-round pick Tony Renda earned the club’s selection for the annual Fall Stars Game, which will be televised live on MLB Network on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here’s a rundown of how the Nationals’ prospects have done in the AFL to this point:

MATT GRACE | LHP | 6-4 210 | 12.14.88

8.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 SO, 3.38 ERA, 1.375 WHIP

After a bit of a slow start, Grace has turned in excellent numbers in his last four appearances for the Solar Sox. During that time he has fired 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out three. The big southpaw has found success against hitters from both sides of the plate, holding righties to just two hits in 13 at-bats.

NEIL HOLLAND | RHP | 6-0 190 | 8.14.88

8.0 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO, 10.13 ERA, 2.125 WHIP

Though Holland has struggled in the hitter-friendly Fall League, his excellent contributions over the course of the regular season earned him plaudits within the Nationals organization. The side-arm throwing right-hander was a midseason All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League and finished the season with a 0.59 ERA in his final nine appearances of the year.

SPENCER KIEBOOM | C | 6-0 220 | 3.16.91

.400/.440/.650 (8-for-20), 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB in 25 PA

In limited playing time, the right-handed hitting Kieboom has flashed the type of offensive potential that makes him one of the Nationals’ top prospects. He has three multi-hit games in six starts behind the plate, and powered a three-run home run in the eighth inning on October 16 to clinch a 6-2 Mesa victory.

TONY RENDA | IF | 5-8 180 | 1.24.91

.226/.250/.321 (12-for-53), 3 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 8 R, 2 BB, 1 SB in 56 PA

Renda is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak (12-for-37) after starting the AFL season 0-for-16 in his first five games. The former Cal-Berkeley standout received the Washington Nationals inaugural  “Bob Boone Award,” in 2013, which is given to the farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”

FELIPE RIVERO | LHP | 6-2 196 | 7.5.91

13.0 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 8 SO, 9.00 ERA, 1.846 WHIP

Best known by Nationals fans as one of the players acquired in the deal that brought Jose Lobaton to Washington, Rivero has a live arm and the potential to develop into either a starter or reliever at the next level. In his four Fall League starts, Rivero has allowed no runs and one hit in the first inning of those contests.

DEREK SELF | RHP | 6-3 205 | 1.14.90

10.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, 0.90 ERA, 1.100 WHIP

After splitting time between Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2014, the right-handed reliever has continued his success in the Arizona Fall League. Since allowing a solo home run in his first appearance on October 7, Self has been lights out since, completing eight scoreless frames. The Kentucky native was the Nationals’ ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft.

PEDRO SEVERINO | C | 6-1 180 | 7.20.93

.280/.321/.360 (7-for-25), 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, in 28 PA

The aforementioned Severino, a highly-touted youngster out of the Dominican Republic, may be on the fast track to the Majors thanks to his elite glove work. He has also demonstrated improved bat control, including a four-hit game on October 22 during a rout of the Scottsdale Scorpions. The youngster won’t turn 22 until July, but could catch at the Double-A level in 2015.

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, stay tuned to Curly W Live or visit MLBFallBall.com.

Down on the Farm: Souza’s Patience Pays Off

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

November 1 was a significant day in the history of the Washington Nationals. Matt Williams was welcomed to Nationals Park and introduced as the club’s fifth manager since baseball returned to The District. It was a day of celebration.

But earlier that morning, the Nationals made a less heralded move – one that signaled redemption for a young player who hopes to play for Williams in the near future.

Souza_StevenSteven Souza, Jr., drafted by the Nationals in June of 2007 – the 100th-overall player selected and the sixth pick in the first three rounds by Washington – was added to the 40-man roster. Two of the players taken before him, Ross Detwiler (sixth overall) and Jordan Zimmermann (67th overall) are already household names in D.C., while Souza’s path to the Majors remains a work in progress.

Unlike the aforementioned college pitchers, Souza, an outfielder, came to the Nationals straight from the prep ranks. He bypassed a college scholarship to sign out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., a program that had sent former third-round pick Grady Sizemore to the big leagues just a few years earlier. Upon signing, Souza headed across the country to Viera, Fla., where he hit four home runs and added four stolen bases in 44 games for the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) Nationals.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-handed hitter split time between Short Season-A Vermont and Class-A Hagerstown in 2008, then repeated at Hagerstown in 2009 and 2010, hitting a combined .235 with 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases in 207 games with the Suns. At the age of 22, after being sidelined for 50 games, he advanced to High-A Potomac, where he hit .228 but improved his on-base percentage – posting a .360 mark – while adding 11 homers and 25 steals.

At that point, with five seasons of professional baseball under his belt, the young outfielder found himself at a crossroads.

The setbacks had been difficult, the progression through the Nationals system had been slow, and he’d made his own mistakes to compound the situation. Souza contemplated walking away from his dream.

***

Souza will join his Mesa Solar Sox teammates in the quest for an Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday (MLB Network, 3 p.m. ET). It’s been two years since he reconsidered his place in the game, and in that time he has developed into a legitimate five-tool threat. Most recently, he’s become one of the top performers in the prospect-rich AFL circuit – all while playing less than most of his AFL counterparts.

Designated a “taxi squad” player, restricted to two games per week, Souza has maximized his opportunities in limited at-bats. While he wants to play every day, Souza said he’s learned that any chance to play is a blessing.

“Playing on the taxi squad has taught me a lot about coming off the bench,” Souza said.  “You have to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Souza hit .357/.426/.476 with eight runs, eight RBI and 10 stolen bases this fall, while hitting safely in 10 of his 11 games for the AFL East Division Champion Solar Sox. Twice he stole three bases in a game, showing off his explosive speed.

Down on the Farm_StevenSouza“As a bigger guy, speed is what separates me from some other bigger guys,” Souza explained. “I’ve worked a lot on agility and footwork. I owe everything to (Nationals first base coach) Tony Tarasco. He’s taught me everything I know about baserunning, and it’s translated well on the field.”

Souza’s AFL performance is coming on the heels of an All-Star showing at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, where he hit .300/.396/.557 with 39 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in just 77 games. In 2012, with renewed enthusiasm for the game, Souza compiled an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .938 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases across two levels.

The transformation has been striking; after hitting no better than .237 at any of his primary stops in his first five years, Souza has hit no worse than .290 in the two seasons since.

Doug Harris, Washington’s Director of Player Development, has been thrilled to see Souza’s career blossom.

“Steven has really come into his own over the last two years,” Harris said. “He has a broad skill set with the ability to impact a game in a variety of ways. Not only has he performed at a high level during that span, but also exhibited many intangibles that have earned him a 40-man roster spot.”

For Souza, being added to the Nationals 40-man roster was a validation for all of the hard work he put in to revive his career.

“I was really honored and humbled,” Souza said of receiving the call from the Nationals. “I’m thankful to be in such a great organization.”

When offered a chance to look ahead, Souza was reluctant to set goals, saying instead that he would let his faith guide him. He made it clear, however, that he’d love to have an opportunity to play at Nationals Park in the near future.

“Honestly, if Matt Williams wants me to come in and help the team win, I’ll do that in any way I can,” he said. “If I don’t make it this year, I’ll work hard and play wherever they send me. I just want to contribute somehow – either to a win or two, or winning a championship. I’d be happy to fit in somewhere and just fade into the background.”

***

Mesa experienced a symmetrical season, racing out to a 7-0 record (plus one tie), dropping 11 of 17 games in the middle of the year, and then rallying to win its final six contests to finish with a 19-11 record. The furious finish was just enough to edge Salt River for the East Division title by a half game, as the Rafters ended their year with seven consecutive wins.

Saturday’s AFL Championship Game will be broadcast live on MLB Network at 3 p.m. ET, with the Solar Sox taking on the West Division Champion Surprise Saguaros.

Arizona Fall League, Week 5 (11.5–11)

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen 

Each week, we will recap the performances of the eight members of the Nationals organization participating in the Arizona Fall League, a “finishing school” for top prospects.

The eight Nationals players are members of the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of young stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers farm systems. The Solar Sox will battle the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros during the six-week season, with each team made up of players from five MLB organizations.

Richie Mirowski continued his successful fall campaign.

Richie Mirowski continued his successful fall campaign. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

The Solar Sox enter the final three days of the Arizona Fall League season with a half-game lead over the Salt River Rafters in the East Division, with each team vying for a spot in the AFL Championship Game this Saturday.

Mesa (16-11-1) will host Peoria (10-18) and Glendale (13-13) Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to Glendale on Thursday for the season finale. Left-hander Sammy Solis (4-2, 2.25 ERA) is tentatively scheduled to make Thursday’s start, which could potentially put fellow Nationals southpaw Matt Purke (3-1, 3.91) on the mound for the Championship Game.

That contest, which will feature the champions of the East and West Divisions, will be televised live on MLB Network at 5 p.m. ET from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here is a look at how each of the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League performed during the season’s fifth week (November 5–11):

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Weekly Totals: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO

Season Totals: 9.0 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO, 4.00 ERA, 1.667 WHIP

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Weekly Totals: .235/.263/.353, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 BB in 19 PA

Season Totals: .299/.329/.442, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R, 3 SB, 3 BB, 1 SAC, 1 HBP in 83 PA

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Weekly Totals: 4.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO

Season Totals: (1 SV), 11.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO, 1.64 ERA, 0.818 WHIP

Catcher Adrian Nieto turned in another solid week.

Catcher Adrian Nieto turned in another solid week. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Weekly Totals: .250/.250/.500 in 12 PA

Season Totals: .275/.348/.350, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 4 R, 5 BB, 1 SF in 46 PA

MATT PURKE | LHP

Weekly Totals: (1-0), 4.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO

Season Totals: (3-1), 23.0 IP, 20 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 9 BB, 17 SO, 3.91 ERA, 1.261 WHIP

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Weekly Totals:  .091/.167/.091, 1 BB in 12 PA

Season Totals: .152/.350/.370, 1 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 14 BB in 60 PA

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Weekly Totals:  (1-0), 4.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO

Season Totals: (4-2), 24.0 IP, 26 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 7 BB, 25 SO, 2.25 ERA, 1.375 WHIP

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Weekly Totals: .444/.444/.556, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 SB in 9 PA

Season Totals: .368/.442/.421, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 7 R, 10 SB, 5 BB in 43 PA

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, visit MLBFallBall.com.

Arizona Fall League, Week 4 (10.29–11.4)

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Mike Feigen

Each week, we will recap the performances of the eight members of the Nationals organization participating in the Arizona Fall League, a “finishing school” for top prospects.

The eight Nationals players are members of the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of young stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers farm systems. The Solar Sox will battle the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros during the six-week season, with each team made up of players from five MLB organizations.

Here is a look at how each of the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League performed during the season’s fourth week (October 29–November 4):

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Weekly Totals: 2.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Season Totals: 8.0 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO, 4.50 ERA, 1.625 WHIP

Benincasa tossed two innings in Arizona Fall League play this past week, allowing one run in two appearances. The 6-2 right-hander has excelled when pitching ahead in the count in the Fall League, holding opposing batters to a .200 batting average.

Goodwin had a solid week and earned a start in the Fall Stars Game.

Goodwin had a solid week and earned a start in the Fall Stars Game.

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Weekly Totals: .357/.357/.857, 1 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB in 14 PA

Fall Stars Game: 1-for-5

Season Totals: .317/.349/.467, 3 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R, 3 SB, 2 BB, 1 SAC, 1 HBP in 64 PA

Goodwin put together an excellent week at the plate, blasting a pair of home runs and driving in six runs for the Solar Sox. He went 2-for-4 with a home run, three RBI and a stolen base on November 4, helping Mesa to a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory. He also represented the Nationals in the Fall Stars Game, batting second and playing center field for the East squad. He ripped a clean single into right field in his first at-bat, displaying a compact stroke from the left side of the plate.

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Weekly Totals: 2.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Season Totals: (1 SV), 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO, 1.29 ERA, 0.857 WHIP

Mirowski continued his stellar fall, firing two scoreless innings in relief on October 30 to lower his ERA to 1.29 for the Solar Sox. The former 45th-round draft pick went 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, winning the fans’ choice “MiLBY” for Minor League Baseball’s best reliever.

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Weekly Totals: .250/.250/.500, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 R in 8 PA

Fall Stars Game: 0-for-1, 1 R

Season Totals: .286/.382/.393, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 4 R, 5 BB, 1 SF in 34 PA

Nieto had a solid week, starring in an October 29 contest in which he went 2-for-4 with a triple, RBI and run scored. That performance helped earn the 23-year-old backstop a spot in the Fall Stars Game, during which he entered the game as a reserve and scored a run for the East team.

MATT PURKE | LHP

Weekly Totals: (0-1), 7.0 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO

Season Totals: (2-1), 19.0 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 7 BB, 14 SO, 3.79 ERA, 1.158 WHIP

One week after earning the AFL’s Pitcher of the Week designation, Purke battled through two starts for Mesa and gave up his first earned runs of the fall campaign. The 6-4 southpaw will try to finish the fall league campaign strong, likely earning one final start during the season’s last week.

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Weekly Totals:  .143/.333/.571, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB in 9 PA

Season Totals: .171/.396/.457, 1 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 13 BB in 48 PA

Skole, just getting back into baseball shape after missing nearly the entire 2013 season, has shown excellent discipline throughout the AFL season for the Solar Sox. The slugging corner infielder blasted his third home run of the fall, while drawing his 12th and 13th walks – tied for second best in the circuit.

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Weekly Totals:  (0-1), 4.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

Season Totals: (3-2), 19.2 IP, 21 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 20 SO, 2.29 ERA, 1.373 WHIP

Now a three-time AFL participant, Solis has emerged as one of Mesa’s top pitchers during the 2013 AFL season. He suffered a tough-luck defeat in his only appearance of the week on November 1, allowing just two unearned runs when right fielder Tyler Collins misplayed a first-inning fly ball. Despite the loss, Solis lowered his ERA to 2.29 with the effort.

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Weekly Totals: .222/.222/.222, 2 R in 9 PA

Season Totals: .345/.441/.379, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 5 R, 9 SB, 5 BB in 34 PA

After making headlines by stealing a league-high nine bases during the first three weeks of the AFL season, Souza was in the news off the field this week when he earned a spot on the Nationals’ 40-man roster. The 2007 third-rounder has demonstrated power, speed and an advanced eye at the plate over the past two seasons in the Washington organization.

For more information on the Arizona Fall League, visit MLBFallBall.com.

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