Results tagged ‘ Jhonatan Solano ’

Nationals acquire catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson from Tampa Bay

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. – The Washington Nationals shored up their catching corps and added more talent to the upper levels of their Minor League system on Thursday, acquiring catcher Jose Lobaton, left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson from the Tampa Bay Rays.

In exchange, the Nationals sent right-handed starter Nathan Karns to the Rays. To clear space for Rivero on the team’s 40-man roster, right-hander Erik Davis was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain.

Lobaton, 29, hit .249 with a .320 on-base percentage and .394 slugging percentage in 311 plate appearances with the Rays in 2013. Splitting time with veteran Jose Molina, Lobaton — who is considered an above-average defensive receiver — helped guide the vaunted Tampa Bay pitching staff to the fifth-lowest team ERA in the American League.

The Venezuela native joins countrymen Wilson Ramos and Sandy Leon, along with Jhonatan Solano, as catchers on the Nationals’ 40-man roster and gives Manager Matt Williams a strong layer of depth behind Ramos.

He became an October hero in 2013, crushing a walk-off home run for the Rays off Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Rivero, 22, went 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA in 25 games/23 starts for Charlotte of the Florida State League in 2013. Rated by FanGraphs.com as the No. 10 prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, Rivero’s fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph. His nine wins paced Single-A Charlotte, as did his 127.0 innings pitched.

He participated in the 2012 XM All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City and earned Midwest League mid-season All-Star honors while with Single-A Bowling Green.  Rivero was signed by the Rays on July 30, 2008 and is a native of San Felipe, Venezuela.

Vettleson, originally selected by the Rays in the first round (42nd overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Central Kitsap (WA) High School, was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Rays’ organization entering the 2014 season by Keith Law from ESPN.com.

The 22-year old spent the 2013 season with Single-A Charlotte, hitting .274 with 29 doubles, six triples, four home runs, 62 RBI and 50 runs scored.  During the 2012 campaign in which he played 132 games for Single-A Bowling Green, Vettleson set a Bowling Green franchise record with 139 hits and his 15 home runs and 69 RBI were both in the top five among Rays minor leaguers.  In two of his first three professional seasons, Vettleson also stole at least 20 bases.

Following the 2012 season, he was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a Midwest League All-Star and Bowling Green’s Most Valuable Player.

Vettleson, a native of Bremerton, Washington, was cited by Baseball America as being the Best Pure Hitter among high school talents entering the 2010 Draft.

Karns, 26, was the Nationals 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and made three starts for the Nationals in 2013.

In 54 Minor League starts, from the Gulf Coast League up through Double-A Harrisburg, Karns has a career Minor League ERA of 2.66. The hard-throwing right-hander was selected in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Tech University.

Davis, 27, went 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 games with the Nationals last season, his first in which he appeared in the Major Leagues.

What to Watch for: 9.17.13 – Game Two

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Atlanta Braves (89-61) vs. Washington Nationals (80-70)

RHP Freddy Garcia (1-1, 1.32) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (6-0, 1.30)

(Note: Garcia is 4-6, 4.86 overall on the year)

In Game One of today’s twin bill, the Nationals jumped out to an early lead, only to watch Atlanta storm back to take a 5-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the ninth. Winless in six tries at home against the Braves this season, the Nationals put themselves in a position where they needed at least two runs to keep the game alive. Instead, they got three, becoming the first team in 225 tries to do as much damage against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.

Adam LaRoche led off with a walk and Wilson Ramos followed by grinding out an eight-pitch at-bat, fighting back from 0-2 to drive a ball up the middle that second baseman Elliot Johnson got a glove to, but could not flip accurately to second base for the force. Jeff Kobernus ran for Ramos at first and Anthony Rendon drew another walk to load the bases with no outs for pinch-hitter Chad Tracy. The left-handed hitter pulled a hard chopper to first base, allowing LaRoche to score and cut the lead to one, the runners moving up to second and third.

Enter, Denard Span.

The center fielder had already extended his hitting streak to a career-high 27 games earlier in the afternoon, matching the longest streak in baseball this season. After taking ball one, he hit a grounder back up the middle, where the Braves defense was not playing in – playing not to lose, rather than to win. While the tying run would have scored on the play regardless, shortstop Andrelton Simmons pulled up on the ball, as it skipped through his legs untouched. Rendon motored around third to score behind Kobernus, and the Nationals snagged an enormous, 6-5 victory.

“I knew when I hit the ball, the game was tied for sure,” said Span after the raucous celebration on the Nationals Park infield. “For us to be able to get a win like that against their closer, and on our home field, it just felt really good.”

The win improved Washington’s record to 80-70, putting the Nats 10 games above .500 for the first time all season. It also staved off Atlanta’s chance to clinch the division title for another day, the NL East Magic Number remaining at four and the Reds second Wild Card elimination number still at eight.

Right-hander Tanner Roark will take the hill against veteran Freddy Garcia in the nightcap of the doubleheader.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Jayson Werth RF

4. Bryce Harper LF

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Adam LaRoche  1B

7. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

8. Jhonatan Solano C

9. Tanner Roark RHP

HEAR ME, ROARK

Tanner Roark has been brilliant since his call up from Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 6-0 record in 11 appearances. Roark has won each of his first two starts, allowing two earned runs in 12.0 innings of work. He sports a 1.30 ERA overall (5 ER/34.2 IP) with 26 strikeouts and just eight walks.

WE’RE GOING STREAKING

Denard Span extended his career-best hitting streak to 27 straight games in Game One, matching Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer for the longest in Major League Baseball this year

Meanwhile, Wilson Ramos will see his stretch of consecutive starts behind the plate come to an end a 24 games with Jhonatan Solano in at catcher in Game Two. The streak is two games longer than the next closest in baseball this season (Yadier Molina, 22).

Getting Defensive

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To this point in the season, Denard Span’s diving grab in deep left-center field at Nationals Park with two on and two out in the ninth on August 14 has been the signature defensive moment of the year. But Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Nationals made not one, but two game-saving plays, with each coming from unlikely sources.

The Nationals had just scratched out a run in the top of the eighth to take a 3-2 lead, when, in the bottom half of the frame, the Phillies put runners at first and second with two outs. Speedy leadoff man Cesar Hernandez chopped a ball to the right side of the infield, which Adam LaRoche made a play for, but could not reach. Steve Lombardozzi was shifting to his left at a deeper angle and tracked the ball down on the lip of the outfield grass, but with LaRoche moving away from first, the only person left to cover the bag was pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. As the footrace to the base began, it became clear that if Washington couldn’t get the final out of the inning, John Mayberry Jr. was going to score the tying run from second. Zimmermann and Hernandez converged at first, as Lombardozzi’s throw came in low. The pitcher simultaneously found the bag with his right foot and picked the ball on a short-hop out of the dirt, beating the runner by a fraction of a step to end the frame.

“I was just hoping Lombo was going to hit me in the chest,” explained Zimmermann after the game, then took the chance to rib his teammate. “Instead, he threw it at my feet and made it interesting.”

As for the dig out of the dirt, Zimmermann credited the one man on the right side of the infield not in on the play, tongue still in cheek.

“I’ve gotta give a lot of credit to Rochey. He taught me everything I know.”

Even Zimmermann that he wasn’t looking at the ball all the way into his glove on the play, as the replay showed his head was “in the third deck” as he made the play. Craig Stammen, who would play a role in the second defensive gem of the night, wasn’t about to let his teammate off the hook so easily.

“I told him, ‘Nice play, you should have seen it,’” joked the right-hander, who came on to get the final two outs of the eighth.

Those two outs would come on the same play, but in truly unique, bizarre fashion. In fact, with all the baseball he’s seen in his 70 years on the planet, this one was new even to manager Davey Johnson.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a double play that way,” he said.

With one out and runners at the corners, Stammen bounced a two-strike slider to Darin Ruf, who swung and missed for strike three. With a runner at first, Ruf could not attempt to advance, marking the second out of the frame. But the ball skipped away to catcher Jhonatan Solano’s left, with the runner, Chase Utley, breaking for home. Solano raced to corral the ball, in foul territory slightly up the third base line, but when he glanced up to see if Stammen was at the plate in time for the tag, he elected instead to try to make the play himself, diving towards Utley – who was diving toward the plate – and applying the tag to Utley’s midsection just before the runner’s hands crossed the plate.

Together, they formed two tremendous, non-traditional defensive gems, the first saving the go-ahead run from scoring and the second preventing the game-tying run from crossing the plate. They added up to a crucial victory, giving Washington the road series win in Philadelphia as they continue this crucial, three-city September road trip.

Highlights: 9.4.13

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9.4.13 – Nationals 3, Phillies 2

Stat of the Game: The Nationals used a pair of sparkling defensive plays to keep the Phillies from taking the lead in the seventh and tying the game in the eighth to win the series.

Under-the-Radar Performance: Jordan Zimmermann earned his National League-leading 16th win with the victory.

It Was Over When: Jhonatan Solano cut down Chase Utley at the plate with a diving tag to end the bottom of the eighth.

What to Watch for: 8.23.13

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Washington Nationals (63-64) vs. Kansas City Royals (64-62)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-6, 3.38) vs. LHP Bruce Chen (5-1, 2.20)

Coming off a 3-1 series win over the Chicago Cubs, the Nationals continue their 10-game road swing with a trip to Kansas City for three games against the Royals. The Interleague series will mark Washington’s first visit to Kauffman Stadium since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005, and the first game in Kansas City for a D.C.-based team since August 22, 1971 – 42 years and one day ago.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Denard Span CF

2. Ryan Zimmerman 3B

3. Bryce Harper RF

4. Jayson Werth DH

5. Ian Desmond SS

6. Wilson Ramos C

7. Adam LaRoche 1B

8. Tyler Moore LF

9. Anthony Rendon 2B

Gio Gonzalez LHP

MOVING DAY:

The Nationals announced a pair of roster moves Friday, as the team dealt catcher Kurt Suzuki to the Oakland Athletics and outfielder David DeJesus to the Tampa Bay Rays.

In return for Suzuki, Washington acquired pitcher Dakota Bacus, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who was a ninth-round selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.  The 22-year-old was 9-5 with a 3.56 ERA for Beloit of the Class-A Midwest League this season, after going 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA, 12 hits, five walks and 35 strikeouts in 30 innings during his Rookie League campaign a year ago. Bacus will report to Hagerstown of the Class-A South Atlantic League.

Tampa Bay will send Washington a player to be named later or cash considerations in exchange for DeJesus, who was picked up in a deal earlier in the week from the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals recalled catcher Jhonatan Solano and left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno to replace Suzuki and DeJesus on the 25-man roster.

GOON SQUAD COMES ALIVE:

Despite a slow start to the season, the Nationals bench provided a spark in the series win over the Chicago Cubs. Scott Hairston gave the Nats a huge lift with a go-ahead, three-run homer on Wednesday, while Tyler Moore (four hits in the series), Steve Lombardozzi (double and home run Thursday) and Chad Tracy (game-winning RBI Thursday) came through in key situations.

200 CLUB

Washington Manager Davey Johnson earned his 200th victory with the Nationals Wednesday night, the third team he has piloted to 200 wins. He went 595-417 with the New York Mets, 204-172 with the Cincinnati Reds and is now 201-171 with the Nationals. He also tallied 186 victories for the Baltimore Orioles and 163 more for the Los Angeles Dodgers during his illustrious managerial career.

 

The Fresh Grind

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There’s no other way to put it. This was a game the Nationals needed to win.

Especially after scoring just once behind Gio Gonzalez the night before, with the Indians winning in the bottom of the ninth. Especially with the offense responding for five runs, including three homers, through the first three innings behind Jordan Zimmermann. Especially after Zimmermann couldn’t hold that early advantage, the Indians chipping away and finally pushing ahead with a half-dozen two-out RBI.

And then, the hit that always seemed to be there in 2012, but seldom thus far in 2013, came to save the day. With two outs in the eighth, on an 0-2 pitch, pinch-hitter Chad Tracy smoked a rocket to the right of dead center field, the ball escaping the reach of a leaping Michael Bourn over the wall for a game-tying, solo home run.

Anthony Rendon's first Major League home run was a big one, giving the Nationals a crucial road win.

Anthony Rendon’s first Major League home run was a big one, giving the Nationals a crucial road win.

Then, again, the Nationals saw something they had seen precious little of to this point in the season. The baseball gods smiled down upon them, as with two outs in the ninth, Anthony Rendon skied a pop-up behind first base in foul territory. Nick Swisher backed up to make the play, but stopped as he seemingly expected to be called off by second baseman Jason Kipnis at the last moment. The ball dropped between them in foul territory, breathing new life back into the Nationals rookie’s at-bat.

Two pitches later, Rendon cashed in, sending a line shot to the opposite field for what would turn out to be the game-winning home run. As anyone who follows the game closely knows baseball has a funny way of doing that, of making teams pay for giving the opposition extra opportunities.

“(Jhonatan) Solano and I were calling it after the miscue on the pop-up,” said Tracy of Rendon’s blast. “We could have easily put our heads down and folded up. But that’s the makeup of this team, (even though) we may not have showed it a lot so far.”

The Nationals still needed to survive the bottom of the ninth, though, which included a two-out double, followed by a bullet off the bat of Bourn right at Adam LaRoche for the final out. A night after the first baseman’s throw to the plate was a hair late to cut down the winning run, he secured the game’s final out in his mitt.

Instead of another setback for Washington, it was a step forward, a return to a winning record. With Stephen Strasburg rejoining the club and taking the hill Sunday, the Nationals can set their sights on winning a third consecutive series.

Even in just his 16th Major League game, Rendon recognized the importance of that single result, of what it means to any team, in any season.

“It’s great to have the comeback win,” he said. “Especially when we had a pretty good lead at the beginning of the game. (The Indians) fought their tails off to come back. We never gave up, though. We kept going out there and kept grinding.”

It’s a win the Nationals needed, but on a larger scale it is the exact type of win the Nationals needed to prove to the rest of the league, and to themselves, just what this team is capable of accomplishing.

What to Watch for: 5.27.13

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Baltimore Orioles (27-23) vs. Washington Nationals (26-24)

RHP Jason Hammel (6-2, 5.37) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-2, 3.66) 

After a slow start to yesterday’s game, the Nationals posted their highest single-inning output this season when they scored five times in the seventh. With Gio Gonzalez on the mound today, the Nats look to keep their bats hot as they face the Orioles in the first game of the 2013 Battle of the Beltways.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Lombardozzi 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Moore LF

7. Bernadina RF

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

SUNDAY BEST

Washington topped the Phillies, 6-1, in the rubber game of a three-game set on Sunday at Nationals Park as Stephen Strasburg tossed 8.0 innings of one-run ball to out duel fellow-San Diego native Cole Hamels. In their first career matchup, Strasburg and Hamels matched zeros through six innings, but the Nationals broke the scoreless seal as Michael Young’s throwing error (at home plate) on Jhonatan Solano’s bags-loaded, 60-foot dribbler begat a five-run uprising in the seventh. Strasburg helped his own cause with two hits, including a double.

THE AMERICAN WAY

The Nationals are a perfect 5-0 this season against the American League (2-0 vs. Detroit, 3-0 vs. Chicago). Washington is also 23-15 in interleague play since the beginning of 2011 and the corresponding .605 winning percentage paces National League clubs (fifth in Major League Baseball) in that two-plus year span.

10 AGAIN

With 10-, 11- and 10-hit efforts the last three days, the Nationals have tallied three straight double-digit hit totals for the first time since sweeping a three-gamer from the White Sox, April 9-11 in D.C. (13, 11, 10).

Spin City

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Unbelievable. That’s a word often thrown around the English language, when really we mean incredible, or spectacular, or amazing. There’s a difference. Unbelievable literally means, as the great Jack Buck so famously put it, that we don’t believe what we just saw. There are incredible, spectacular, amazing games all the time around the game of baseball. What transpired Tuesday night between the Nationals and Mets in eight innings of pure, efficient, low-scoring baseball and two innings of sheer insanity, was hard to grasp.

Detwiler is now 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 14 K in 14.0 IP vs. the Mets this season.

The Nationals played the type of game we’ve become accustomed to seeing them play all season long – close, low-scoring, and well-pitched. Following seven shutout innings from Ross Detwiler (who has dominated the Mets, allowing just one run over 14 innings against them this season), the bullpen was set up perfectly with a 2-0 lead for Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard.

Burnett twirled a scoreless eighth, and then everything went bananas. Clippard, who had not blown a save since being inserted into the closer’s role in mid-May, gave up singles to the first two batters, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. After a big strikeout by Scott Hairston, Mets Manager Terry Collins made the unthinkable, yet totally logical decision to pinch-hit for struggling, high-priced slugger Jason Bay with a rookie who had only 77 Major League at-bats under his belt. That rookie, Jordany Valdespin, belted a ball deep to right-center field that would video replay would confirm to be a home run, putting the Mets ahead, 3-2, and seemingly dealing the Nationals a crushing blow to open the second half of the season at home.

Danny E-SPIN-osa’s two-out, two-strike game-saver negated Jordany Valde-SPIN’s late heroics.

But the Nats weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. With two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Washington was down to its last strike, as Danny Espinosa stood in against Mets closer Bobby Parnell. After surviving five straight breaking balls from the righty, Espinosa ripped a 98 mile-per-hour fastball right past Parnell and into center field for a base hit, tying the game at 3-3 and sending the affair to extra innings.

The pendulum of momentum swung again in the top of the 10th as Josh Thole put the Mets ahead once again, driving a two-out, opposite field double to make it a 4-3 game. But that only set the stage for an even more remarkable finish.

The Nationals sent three rookies to the plate to start the inning with the game on the line: Jhonatan Solano, Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper. Solano, pinch-hitting, roped a single over the shortstop to open the frame. Lombardozzi dropped a percet sacrifice bunt, easily moving the runner into scoring position. Then it was Harper’s turn. He wasted no time, lacing a shot to the wall in right-center field to score Solano and tie the game once more, belly flopping into third base with a game-changing triple.

From there, the Mets intentionally walked both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond to load the bases with one out, setting up the force. Collins was once again rewarded for his decision-making – at least initially – as Adam LaRoche bounced a ball to first base, which Ike Davis turned into a force out at home, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for yet another rookie, Tyler Moore, who had homered earlier in the game. As it turned out, Moore never needed to take his bat off his shoulders in his final at-bat.

Zimmerman and company celebrate another walk-off Curly W.

Pedro Beato, the reliever summoned specifically to face the right-handed slugger, bounced a 1-2 breaking ball in front of home plate. The ball took a high, soaring carom off the catcher, allowing Zimmerman – who stalled initially – to almost jog home from third with the winning run.

It was the Nationals eighth walk-off win of the year, and arguably the most exciting game of the season. In all the madness, it was almost enough to forget the most unbelievable story of the entire night: Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win in the first game of the second half of the season. Why is that significant? Those who attended the 2012 home opener can certainly tell you, as that game ended the exact same way: with Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win.

Considering the way the first half of the season played out, if you believe in omens, there could not have been a better one to begin the second half at home.

The Iron Man In The Mask

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There is a rather crass saying around the game of baseball, for those players sitting in the Minor Leagues, next in line behind big league starters: they’re just a slip in the shower away from the Show. The point is not to make light of injuries, but to emphasize just how fragile any player’s hold on his position really is.

Flores has been a rock behind the plate for the Nationals this year.

Three years ago, Jesus Flores learned just how tenuous his own claim to the Nationals starting catching job was. After respectable half-seasons worth of time in Washington in both 2007 and ’08, Flores had his breakout year in 2009, batting .311/.382/.522 with four homers and 15 RBI in 26 games before a torn labrum cost him the rest of his year. Following offseason surgery, the backstop missed the entire 2010 season, and found himself back at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, watching veteran Pudge Rodriguez and rookie sensation Wilson Ramos split time in Washington. He made it back to the big leagues late in the season, but hit just .209/.253/.314 in 30 games, and seemed poised to be, at best, the backup for Ramos in 2012.

Of course, nobody could have predicted the injury woes that would befall the Nationals catchers this season. First, Ramos twisted his knee while trying to chase down a passed ball on Sunday, May 13 in Cincinnati, tearing his ACL and ending his season. The very next day, Sandy Leon – Ramos’ replacement – was barreled over at the plate by San Diego third baseman Chase Headley and suffered a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for weeks. With Jhonatan Solano, the only other prospective catcher in the minors, on the Disabled List himself, that led to the Nationals summoning Carlos Maldonado from Triple-A and thrusting Flores into the starting role that he had not filled in nearly three years.

Some fans may have forgotten that it was Flores who caught Edwin Jackson’s two-hitter in April.

While his numbers have not approached those he posted earlier in his career, Flores has been a sturdy presence at a crucial position that dearly needed one. He has handled the game’s best pitching staff, while blocking breaking pitches in the dirt and taking foul ball after foul ball off the mask, the pads, even his meat hand, seemingly every night.

He has had his moments with the bat, too, though they have largely gone unnoticed. His first home run of the year broke a 3-3 tie in the final home game of the Baltimore series, but was quickly upstaged by Stephen Strasburg’s first career blast, which followed as the back end of back-to-back shots. His next roundtripper snapped a scoreless tie against then-NL ERA leader Brandon Beachy and the Atlanta Braves, but again it was Strasburg’s seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball with nine strikeouts that would dominate headlines following the 2-0 Nats victory.

And while Solano has healed from his injury and has filled in nicely as the backup for the Nationals, batting .294/.333/.559 in limited time prior to the break, there is a good reason that Flores continues to be the Nationals iron man, starting the lion’s share of games behind the plate. After all, he leads all Major League catchers with at least 50 games played with a 3.12 catcher’s ERA entering play on July 17. With a team whose fortunes will be dictated by their pitching, that’s more than enough evidence for manager Davey Johnson to know that his staff – and their blazing fastballs – is in good hands.

Down on the Farm: Tyler Moore

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Ed. Note: Here at Curly W Live, we will be taking a closer look at some of the top up-and-coming prospects in the Nationals farm system throughout the 2012 season. Make sure to vote in our poll at the end of this article to help determine which player we will profile next.

There have been plenty of heralded prospects making their way up the ranks of the Nationals farm system over the last few years. Strong, talent-rich drafts have stocked Washington’s minor league affiliates to the point that prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade – which sent four of the club’s top 13-rated prospects to the Oakland AthleticsBaseball America had the Nationals ranked as the top overall minor league system in the game heading into 2012. Even after that deal, there are plenty of big names left, led of course by Bryce Harper. Those who keep their eyes on the minors will get their first glimpse of the likes of Anthony Rendon and the first regular season action for Matt Purke, who made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League. These few will dominate the headlines, but we begin this season’s slate with one of the most promising power hitters in the system, Tyler Moore.

Moore sizes up a blast while with Potomac in 2010. (Steve Mihelerakis)

At the minor league level, where seasons are shorter and younger players are still filling out their athletic frames, large power totals are rare. In fact, only 15 minor leaguers hit 30 or more home runs in 2011, and only two have turned the trick in each of the last two years. The first name may ring a bell: Paul Goldschmidt. He was the rookie phenom who, after swatting 35 longballs for Double-A Mobile, was called up in September and played a key role in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ run to the National League West crown. The other player was Moore, a soft-spoken first baseman who, even after such an impressive two-year run, still does not appear in Baseball America’s top 10 prospect list for the Nationals.

Ranking or no ranking, that kind of power will earn you some respect and, in Moore’s case, some investment from the organization. The slugger was added to the 40-Man Roster in November, along with Eury Perez, Jhonatan Solano and the recently traded Derek Norris, to prevent him from being selected by another club in the annual Rule V Draft.

“This was his protection year,” explained Doug Harris, the Nationals Director of Player Development. “With power being a premium in today’s game, we felt like it was an easy decision for us.”

While Harris was not yet with the organization back when Moore first came into the system, he saw him as an opposing player while Harris was with the Cleveland Indians and Moore was at Low-A Hagerstown in 2008.

“As an opposing scout watching him, he was a guy that could always impact the baseball,” recalled Harris. “When he was in Hagerstown, it was really pole-to-pole power. Really his best power was to right-center, which is a true indicator of a guy who has a chance to come into bigger power down the road. So you saw glimpses of it, and I think a lot of the doubles he hit in Hagerstown got turned into home runs over the last couple of years.”

Moore slides feet first into second. (Steve Mihelerakis)

After hitting 30 two-baggers but just nine home runs in 111 games at Hagerstown in 2009, Moore got off to a rough start his next season at High-A Potomac. In 79 games through July 12, he had collected 47 RBI, but was batting just .191. Moore made an adjustment, though, and turned his season around completely. Over his final 50 contests, he went a staggering 76-for-193 (.394) with 21 home runs and 64 RBI. He would go on to lead the Carolina League in home runs (31), RBI (111), doubles (43), slugging percentage (.552), extra-base hits (77) and total bases (277), earning both league MVP honors and the Nationals Organizational Player of the Year. Moore put together another impressive campaign last year in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, where he matched his home run total of 31, and again lead the league in RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

In fact, in 189 games played since his remarkable turnaround, the 6’2”, 210-pound righty has swatted 52 home runs and driven in 154.

“When you break down the 2010 season that he had at Potomac…he really came into his own in the second half,” explained Harris. “It’s a credit to him. He’s a tireless worker, he never wavered in his approach or his intent day-to-day, and it really speaks volumes about who he is.”

Like many sluggers with such impressive power numbers, Moore also racks up his fair share of strikeouts, averaging 125 K’s over the past three seasons. However, he has also batted a very respectable .277 over that same stretch and it’s hard to argue with the run production.

Clearly, the Nationals have seen something in Moore’s potential ever since he was just a prep player at Northwest Rankin High School in Brandon, Mississippi. They actually drafted him on three separate occasions: in the 41st round straight out of high school in 2005, in the 33rd round after a year at Meridian Junior College in 2006, and finally in the 16th round after two years at Mississippi State in 2008. Moore signed at last, and has spent each of the last four seasons at a different level of the farm system, slowly playing his way up to Double-A in 2011. Now, as he enters his first big league camp in Florida, Moore will face new pressures and expectations from the Nationals staff. So, just how high is Moore’s ceiling?

Moore's power continued at Harrisburg in 2011. (Will Bentzel)

“I think a lot of that is really up to Tyler,” said Harris. “He’s obviously put together two very productive years back-to-back. He’s going to be given an opportunity at a higher level and a chance to continue to show what he’s capable of doing. I know that our Major League staff is excited to get a glimpse of him in Spring Training.”

As for how Moore will respond to the challenge, Harris is not worried.

“Tyler is a very high-character young man, a tremendous teammate,” said Harris. “He’s an early-to-the-ballpark kind of guy. He blends with every mix of player. He’s a quiet leader, not a big-time vocal leader, but he’s got a great presence and he’s very well-liked amongst his teammates.”

Those traits should serve him well, as Harris suggested that the coaching staff may try Moore out at several defensive positions to see where he can best fit into the Nationals’ future plans. Originally drafted as a third baseman, he has played exclusively at first base (or been a designated hitter) in his 448 career minor league games. Harris said the staff has tried him in the outfield a bit as well, and that they will continue to “kick the tires” on that experiment moving forward. Either way, it will just be one more adjustment, something Moore has shown that he’s good at making.

“There’s an adjustment period going to a new level each year,” said Harris. “I know that he’s preparing himself to be ready to go out of the gate this year. He’s a kid that’s had to earn everything he’s got.”

While Moore seems destined for Syracuse in April, if he is able to find similar success at the Triple-A level in 2012 as he has the past two years, fans in the District may get a glimpse of him before the year is out.

Video: Moore goes deep for Harrisburg

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