Results tagged ‘ Matt Purke ’

Arizona Fall League, Week 5 (11.5–11)

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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 3 (10.22–28)

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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.

HARRIS IMPRESSED WITH YOUNG SOUTHPAWS

Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris sat down with Curly W Live to discuss the progress of left-handers Matt Purke and Sammy Solis, two of the top hurlers in the Arizona Fall League. Purke, a 2011 third-round pick, and Solis, a 2010 second round selection, completed their regular seasons with the High-A Potomac Nationals. Here are the highlights from that Q&A:

Curly W Live: Where are Matt Purke and Sammy Solis in their overall development?

Doug Harris: Both finished their regular seasons really well. Even though their innings were limited, their volume was fairly significant because they were doing a lot of work on their arms prior to them actually getting into a game. They had a nice break after the playoff run with Potomac, which freshened them up, so now they’re where they would be if they were coming down the home stretch of a regular season.

Matthew’s command is a little more crisp than it was during the regular season, which enables him to utilize his secondary stuff. You’re seeing some strikeouts and his walks are down. Sammy’s stuff has been really good out there. He’s gotten ahead of hitters very quickly, but he’s walked a few because he’s gone to his secondary stuff a little more than he’s needed to.

Sammy Solis continues to impress in the desert. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

Sammy Solis continues to impress in the desert. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

CWL: Are they both fully back on track from previous setbacks?

Harris: First and foremost, they have health. Both are very talented young men and have worked very hard to get themselves back to this point. Matthew, in particular, battled some ups and downs early on. He had a little clean-up that has enabled him to not look back and be more of the pitcher that we saw (in college). Sammy was moving really well through the system, had the Tommy John surgery, and now he’s right back on track.

CWL: They have put up excellent numbers in the Arizona Fall League. How much of an indicator are the statistics down there?

Harris: I think they’re somewhat of an indicator, but I don’t think they’re the gospel. With the Arizona Fall League, you look at each hitter day-to-day and each pitcher outing-to-outing. It’s somewhat of a scripted league, so you have to dissect things day-to-day a little more than you would in the regular season.

Matthew’s good fastball command has enabled him to get to his secondary stuff, which is why you’re seeing low hits-to-innings-pitched from him (three hits in 12 innings as of October 28).

CWL: What type of pitches are they throwing and how is their velocity?

Harris: Both have a very similar mix: a fastball, curveball and change. Sammy’s fastball is a tick more firm than Matthew’s at this point. Sammy, prior to Tommy John, was up to 96 and we’ve seen comparable velocity from him. During the regular season, Matthew was up to 94, but they both pitch in the 90-92 range. Both have good movement on their fastballs, and they’re both still developing their breaking ball consistency. Sammy’s change-up is ahead right now. Matthew is still learning how to throw it, when to throw it and developing trust in throwing it.

CWL: Do you have any goals for them for the rest of the Arizona Fall League season as they head into Spring Training?

Harris: The first thing is maintaining their health. They’re taking the ball every fifth day and they have a five-inning cap. After an abbreviated season, they’re increasing their volume, which will really allow us to expand their innings next year. That’s a critical thing for us. They’ll continue to work on fastball command and the quality of their secondary stuff. The most important thing is having them (arrive at Spring Training) healthy and ready to go into a strong 2014.

PURKE NAMED AFL PITCHER OF THE WEEK

In addition to earning rave reviews from Harris, Purke is beginning to pick up accolades for his work on the mound. The left-hander earned Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Week honors on Tuesday, following his five innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball against Scottsdale on October 23.

Purke will take the hill Tuesday evening in prime time, when the Mesa Solar Sox travel to Salt River to take on the Rafters.

OUTFIELDER GOODWIN SELECTED TO FALL STARS TEAM

Center field prospect Brian Goodwin will represent the Nationals in this Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, the league announced Monday. Goodwin, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday the day of the game, has compiled a .304 batting average with five runs scored and three RBI in 11 games with the Mesa Solar Sox this fall.

This will mark Goodwin’s second consecutive appearance in the Fall Stars contest, formerly known as the Rising Stars Game. MLB Network will broadcast the exhibition live at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday from Surprise, Arizona.

WEEKLY RUNDOWN

Here is a look at how each of the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League performed during the season’s third week (October 22-28):

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Prospect Robert Benincasa was Washington's seventh-round selection in 2012. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

Prospect Robert Benincasa was Washington’s seventh-round selection in 2012. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

Weekly Totals: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Season Totals: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Weekly Totals: .333/.353/.333, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB in 17 PA

Season Totals: .304/.347/.348, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB, 2 BB in 50 PA

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Weekly Totals: (1 SV), 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO

Season Totals: (1 SV), 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1.80 ERA, 0.60 WHIP

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Weekly Totals: .286/.375/.286, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB in 8 PA

Season Totals: .300/.423/.350, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 3 R, 5 BB in 26 PA

MATTHEW PURKE | LHP

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

Season Totals: (2-0), 12 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Weekly Totals: .000/.200/.000, 3 BB in 15 PA

Season Totals: .179/.410/.429, 2 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 6 R in 39 PA

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Weekly Totals: (0-1), 3.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Season Totals: (3-1), 15.2 IP, 18 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 16 SO, 2.87 ERA, 1.47 WHIP

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Weekly Totals: .571/.571/.571, 3 SB in 7 plate appearances

Season Totals: .400/.520/.450, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 3 R, 9 SB, 5 BB in 25 PA

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

Arizona Fall League, Week 2 (10.15-21)

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by Noah Frank

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 the Week 2 performances from the Valley of the Sun, where Mesa’s 8-2 record is easily the league’s best:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Weekly Totals: 3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Overall Totals: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO

After allowing a single run in each of his first two outings, the former Florida State Seminole has posted consecutive scoreless frames in his last two relief appearances. 

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Weekly Totals: .235/.235/.235, 1 R in 17 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .290/.333/.355, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 1 BB in 33 plate appearances

The top position prospect in Washington’s system hit safely in six of seven AFL contests so far. He’s teed up left-handed pitching in the early going (in, albeit, a very small sample size), going 4-for-8 with both of his extra-base hits against southpaws. Goodwin also stole a pair of bases in his second week with the Solar Sox.

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Weekly Totals: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Overall Totals: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

The 24-year-old right-hander continued to impress against right-handed hitters, who are 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against him. While Mirowski did allow his first run of the fall, he has yet to yield a walk through his first three outings.

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Weekly Totals: .143/.333/.143, 1 RBI, 2 BB in 9 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .308/.444/.385/, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 SF, 4 BB in 18 plate appearances

The switch-hitting Nieto continued to show an impressive eye at the plate, where he racked up four walks with just three punch outs so far. This should come as no surprise to fans of the Potomac Nationals, who saw Nieto draw 53 walks while fanning just 82 times in 452 plate appearances this season.

Purke dominated through four hitless innings last week.

Purke dominated through four hitless innings last week. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

MATT PURKE | LHP

Weekly Totals: (1-0), 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 7 SO

Overall Totals: (2-0), 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 HPB, 2 BB, 9 SO

Purke cruised to his second win in as many Arizona Fall League starts with four hitless innings of work last Thursday against Peoria. While he walked and hit a batter, the promising lefty fanned seven — half of the 14 batters he faced as Mesa cruised to a 6-1 victory. Nationals officials said Purke did well attacking hitters, showing good command of his fastball and his changeup.

After two outings, Purke is tied for second in the league in wins (2), third in WHIP (0.57), fourth in opponents batting average (.083) and tied for fourth in strikeouts (9).

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Weekly Totals: .375/.643/.875, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 6 BB in 10 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .313/.542/.750, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 8 BB in 24 plate appearances

Despite opposing pitchers’ best efforts to pitch around him, Skole managed hits in each of the three games he played last week, while also collecting six walks. He continued to display the dual ability to show great patience at the plate while also hitting for power, as he swatted his first double and second home run of the fall, striking out only once this week.

In his five games played, Skole has reached at least twice in four of them, so it should be no shock that his .542 on-base percentage  ranks second in the league. Skole, who spent much of the year rehabbing April Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow, also ranks among league leaders in walks (tied for third, 8) and slugging percentage (fifth, .750).

Solis earned two victories last week and leads the circuit with three wins.

Solis earned two victories last week and leads the circuit with three wins. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Weekly Totals:  (2-0), 9.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO

Overall Totals: (3-0), 12.2 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 SO

Solis may have had the most notable week of all the Washington prospects, starting twice and pitching Mesa to a win both times. His eight-strikeout performance in just four innings in a 7-4 win over Scottsdale stands out as a particularly good sign for how he’s progressing, as he fanned no more than five batters in any of his 14 regular season outings this year.

After missing the 2012 season, Solis entered 2013 ranked as  the 11th-best prospect in the Washington system by MLB.com. But the left-hander now leads the AFL with three wins and ranks second in both innings pitched (12.2) and strikeouts (14).

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Weekly Totals: .200/.500/.200, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 3 BB in 8 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .308/.500/.385, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 2 R, 6 SB, 5 BB in 18 plate appearances

Souza started just two games last week, but reached base twice in each contest. He walked twice, stole a base and scored a run on Saturday against Salt River. He is now a perfect 6-for-6 on the basepaths, sharing the league lead in steals.

Arizona Fall League, Week 1 (10.8–10.14)

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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 first week:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP
Weekly Totals: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO

Reliever Robert Benincasa made one appearance for the Solar Sox during the first week of the season, closing out the ninth inning of Mesa’s 13-3 victory over the Glendale Desert Dogs on October 9.

Despite allowing a leadoff home run to White Sox prospect Brandon Jacobs, Benincasa settled down to record the final three outs, including a strikeout of Reds farmhand Travis Mattair.

Brian Goodwin collected two doubles on October 14. (photo by Will Bentzel)

Brian Goodwin collected two doubles on October 14. (photo by Will Bentzel)

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF
Weekly Totals: .357/.438/.500, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB in 16 plate appearances

Brian Goodwin, rated the 65th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, got off to a quick start in his second appearance in the Fall League, after playing for the Salt River Rafters in 2012.

He collected two hits in the season opener on October 8, drove in a pair of runs on October 10, and went 2-for-4 with two doubles on October 14. His work at the plate helped Mesa to a league-best 4-0-1 record (the Solar Sox tied their opening contest against Glendale).

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP
Weekly Totals: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO

Former 45th-round draft pick Richie Mirowski earned one appearance during the first week of the Arizona Fall League campaign, a 1-2-3 seventh inning in the Solar Sox 7-3 victory over the Surprise Saguaros on October 11.

The right-hander stymied all three hitters he faced, including a strikeout of Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts ­– who fanned just 57 times against 81 walks during his impressive 2013 season at Single-A and Double-A.

ADRIAN NIETO | C
Weekly Totals: .500/.556/.667, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 SF, 2 BB in 9 plate appearances

Cuban-born backstop Adrian Nieto had a successful first week for Mesa, catching the team’s wins on October 9 and 14 over Glendale and Scottsdale.

He went 1-for-2 at the plate with a double, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the first of those two contests, then collected two hits and a walk in five plate appearances five days later. The 23-year-old had a slash line of .285/.373/.449 this season for the High-A Potomac Nationals.

MATT PURKE | LHP
Weekly Totals: (1-0), 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Pitching prospect Matt Purke cruised in his first appearance of the Arizona Fall League season, allowing an unearned run in three innings of work in an October 10 win over Salt River.

The 6-foot-4 southpaw surrendered two hits and a walk, striking out two, while throwing 30 of his 46 pitches for strikes. He was credited with the win in Mesa’s 8-1 victory.

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B
Weekly Totals:  .250/.400/.625, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB in 10 plate appearances

Corner infielder Matt Skole received the Opening Day nod at designated hitter on October 8, clubbing a game-tying, two-run home run as part of a 2-for-4 afternoon. He drove in a total of three RBI in the slugfest, which ended in an 8-8 tie between the Solar Sox and Desert Dogs.

Skole made an important step physically on October 10, getting the start at first base for the first time since an injury to his non-throwing elbow prematurely ended his 2013 campaign. He walked and scored a run in support of Purke in the Solar Sox 8-1 win.

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP
Weekly Totals:  (1-0), 3.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Sammy Solis earned a start and victory for Mesa on October 9, tossing three scoreless innings in 13-3 rout of Glendale. The 6-foot-5 left-hander threw 56 pitches in the effort, allowing three hits and a walk in 3.2 innings of work, striking out two batters.

Solis, a native of nearby Avondale, Arizona, threw 59.2 innings this season after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury.

Souza made the most of his two starts during the past week. (Diamond Images)

Souza made the most of his two starts during the past week. (Diamond Images)

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF
Weekly Totals: .375/.500/.500, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 5 SB, 2 BB in 10 plate appearances

One of the biggest stories of the Arizona Fall League’s first week was Souza’s performance on the basepaths. The big, physical athlete stole five bases in his two starts, giving him the league lead in the early going.

Souza’s most impressive individual performance came in a 7-3 win over Surprise on October 11, in which he went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double, three RBI and a trio of steals. He followed that up by representing the Nationals in the AFL’s inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge on October 12, a competition similar to a Home Run Derby. Souza was also a finalist for the Arizona Fall League Player of the Week.

Down on the Farm: Arizona Fall League

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Though the regular season has come and gone and the postseason has entered its second week, eight members of the Washington Nationals organization will have the opportunity to continue their development this year in one of baseball’s most talent-rich environments.

Pitchers Robert Benincasa, Richie Mirowski, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis will be joined by catcher Adrian Nieto, infielder Matt Skole and outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza in the Arizona Fall League, a self-described “finishing school” for top prospects. The Nationals players will compete for the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of Minor League stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers organizations.

Souza has slugged 38 home runs over the past two seasons.

Souza has slugged 38 home runs over the past two seasons.

Over the course of the six-week schedule, the Solar Sox will battle five other teams located throughout the greater Phoenix area – each featuring prospects drawn from five clubs – showcasing their talents in front of scouts, front office executives and fans of the game.

The Solar Sox open their season today at 3:30 p.m. ET when they take on the Glendale Desert Dogs. Center fielder Brian Goodwin has been penciled into the No. 2 spot in the batting order this afternoon for Mesa, while Matt Skole will hit eighth and serve as the designated hitter. Former Nationals farmhand David Freitas, now with Oakland, will do the catching for the Solar Sox, which will be opposed on the mound by Minnesota prospect Alex Meyer –  the former first-round pick for whom the Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span this past offseason.

The season’s midway point will be marked by the Rising Stars Game on Saturday, November 2, and will conclude with the Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday, November 16. Both November showcase games will be broadcast live on MLB Network.

Here is more a comprehensive look at the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Age: 23 (9.5.90) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 180 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University

Robert Benincasa has solidified his place as a dependable bullpen arm in the Nationals organization, saving 27 games between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac during the 2013 season. The 23-year-old right-hander showed a strong command of the strike zone, totaling 64 strikeouts against just 14 walks in 51.0 innings pitched across both levels.

The Florida State University product was also a closer at the college level, saving 16 games and compiling a 1.32 ERA as a junior with the Seminoles, earning first team All-ACC as well as first team All-American honors from Baseball America.

Brian Goodwin heads back to the Fall League for a second year.

Brian Goodwin heads back to the Fall League for a second year.

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Age: 22 (11.2.90) | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 195 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right

Selected in the first round (34th overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Miami Dade CC

Brian Goodwin, rated the 65th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is an energetic young outfielder who just completed his first full season with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He collected 40 extra-base hits (19 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs) on the year, adding 19 steals on the base paths.

“(Brian) is a rangy center fielder who gets good jumps,” said Nationals Director of Minor League Operations Mark Scialabba during the 2013 season. “He has the potential to play center field in the Major Leagues, and is a very athletic, dynamic baseball player who can show you flashes of all five tools.”

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Age: 24 (4.30.89) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 190 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the 45th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma Baptist University

Like Benincasa, Richie Mirowski is a talented right-hander who tallied eye-popping numbers out of the bullpen during the 2013 campaign. The 24-year-old breezed through High-A Potomac en route to Double-A Harrisburg, going a combined 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA, seven saves, and 88 strikeouts against just 15 walks in 68.2 innings of work. His 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 0.90 WHIP both ranked among the best in the organization.

Mirowski has emerged as a late-round steal from the Nationals talent-rich 2011 Draft. Selected in the 45th round out of Oklahoma Baptist University, the Nationals converted Mirowski from a college starter to his current relief role.

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Age: 23 (11.12.89) | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 200 | Bats: Switch | Throws: Right

Selected in the fifth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of American Heritage (FL) HS

Cuban-born catching prospect Adrian Nieto enjoyed the finest season of his professional career in 2013, contributing in the batter’s box and behind the plate for the Potomac Nationals. The 23-year-old switch-hitter slashed .285/.373/.449 in 452 plate appearances, with a career-high 11 home runs and 53 RBI. He also threw out an astounding 42 baserunners, giving him a total of 100 caught stealings since 2010.

Nieto, whose family defected from Cuba when he was a child, teamed up with future Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to win a Florida state championship in high school. The 2008 fifth-round pick participated for Team Spain in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

MATT PURKE | LHP

Age: 23 (7.17.90) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 205 | Bats: Left | Throws: Left

Selected in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Christian University

Talented left-hander Matt Purke will try to build on a successful – and healthy – 2013 campaign when he takes the hill for the Solar Sox this fall. Purke completed 90 innings between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac this season, hinting at the dominance that made him a consensus All-American during his freshman season at TCU in 2010.

Purke started six games for the Suns, striking out 41 and walking just seven in 29 innings, before earning a promotion to the P-Nats. He finished the year with a flourish in Woodbridge, going 5-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over his final seven starts of the regular season.

Skole was a non-roster invitee to Major League camp this spring.

Skole was a non-roster invitee to Major League camp this spring.

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Age: 24 (6.30.89) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right

Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech

Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole will have an opportunity to further his development in the Arizona Fall League, after suffering an injury to his non-throwing arm in the second game of the year and missing the entire 2013 season.

Skole, a physical specimen at 6-4, 220 pounds, is expected to play third base for Mesa after serving as a first baseman this spring. The Georgia Tech product hit an impressive .291/.426/.559 with 27 home runs and 104 runs batted in a season ago, earning an invitation to big league camp.

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Age: 25 (8.10.88) | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 230 | Bats: Right | Throws: Left

Selected in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of San Diego

Solis, the Nationals second selection in the 2010 Draft (Bryce Harper being the first), will continue his road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his 2012 campaign. The big left-hander completed 59.2 innings in 2013, going 2-1 with a 3.43 earned run average across 14 games for the Gulf Coast League Nationals and the Potomac Nationals.

The Avondale, Arizona native and University of San Diego star will pitch in the Fall League for the third time in his young career, after throwing 23.2 innings in the circuit in 2010 and 26.0 more in 2011.

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Age: 24 (4.24.89) | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cascade (WA) HS

Souza has come into his own during the past two seasons, hitting 38 home runs and stealing 34 bases in 174 games between Class-A Hagerstown, High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. In 77 games with the Senators in 2013, Souza compiled a .300/.396/.557 slash line, earning All-Star Game and Home Run Derby appearances at the Double-A level.

“(Steven) is a big, strong, physical presence with big-time raw power to all fields – and he can fly,” Scialabba said about the 24-year-old slugger. “He’s someone who has the potential to hit in the middle of the lineup and be a run producer.”

The Top 10 List

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Earlier today, Baseball America unveiled its annual Top 10 Prospect List for the Washington Nationals heading into the 2013 season. There has been a lot of movement since last season, with only four of last year’s prospects returning to the list. The reason for this is two-fold: some names, like Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi, have become fixtures at the Major League level, while others have been traded in deals for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, making the Nationals imminently more competitive in the present. In both senses, the farm system has done its job. But that hardly means it is now bereft of top-level talent.

The complete list, along with more information on each player, is listed below. We have already covered a good number of the prospects in our Down on the Farm reports this past season, and will pick up the rest during the 2013 campaign.

1. Anthony Rendon – INF | Last Year: 2

Considered by many to be the top bat in the 2011 Draft, the Nats snagged Rendon with the sixth overall pick. After dealing with an early-season injury, the Rice University product rebounded for a strong season, moving quickly through the system and finishing in the Arizona Fall League.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

2. Lucas Giolito – RHP | Last Year: N/A

Taken with the 16th overall selection, the Nationals went for upside with Giolito, who showcased some of the best raw talent of any hurler in his draft class. Though he missed the end of his senior year of high school with an injury and has since had offseason surgery, Mike Rizzo and company are very high on the young pitcher, as are industry insiders like ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DRAFT REPORT -

3. Brian Goodwin – OF | Last Year: 5

Another fast riser through the system, Goodwin crushed the South Atlantic League in the first half of his inaugural pro campaign to earn a two-level promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. He joined Rendon in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game, where he homered as part of a 2-for-5 performance.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

4. Matt Skole – INF | Last Year: 21

Skole opened eyes in his first full professional season. The Georgia Tech product clobbered 27 home runs in just 101 games at Low-A Hagerstown to earn South Atlantic League player of the year, even with a late-season promotion to Potomac. He showed tremendous patience, batting a combined .291/.426/.559, collecting 99 walks and 104 RBI. But despite the impressive display of power and run production, the biggest accolades for Skole within the organization came from as a result of his huge strides forward on defense at third base. That earned him Nationals Minor League Player of the Year honors.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

5. Nathan Karns – RHP | Last Year: N/A

The highest mover from last year’s list (from being unranked in a group that runs 30 deep), Karns improved upon an encouraging 2011 season by lowering his walk rate and increasing his strikeouts, yielding tremendous results. He fanned 148 batters in just 116.0 innings, winning 11 games over two levels en route to the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

6. Christian Garcia – RHP | Last Year: N/A

It seems that on every team, every year, there is a surprise Minor Leaguer who breaks out and makes the big leagues as a September call-up. Garcia was that surprise this year, though his talent was well documented. Fully recovered from a second Tommy John surgery, the righty flashed a high-90s fastball and devastating slider to a 0.86 ERA with 66 strikeouts in just 52.1 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. He impressed enough in his debut to earn a spot on the playoff roster, and will likely have an impact as a member of the Nationals pitching staff.

- READ OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEW -

7. Eury Perez – OF | Last Year: 22

A September call-up like Garcia, Perez was primarily used as a pinch-runner in the Majors in 2012, where the Nationals took advantage of his blazing speed. He actually posted better numbers in Triple-A than at Double-A last season, combining for a .314/.344/.361 line and 51 steals between three stops in the minors. Perez will still be just 22 on Opening Day, and will be in Major League camp come Spring Training.

8. Sammy Solis – LHP | Last Year: 8

Taken by the Nationals in the second round out of the University of San Diego back in 2010, Solis missed the 2012 season due to injury. Washington has high hopes for the lefty, who is on track to be fully healthy by spring after posting an 8-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in 17 A-ball starts back in 2011.

9. Matt Purke – LHP | Last Year: 7

A third-round selection out of TCU in 2011, Purke made just three starts at Hagerstown this year before being shut down. The 6’4”, 205-pound lefty pitched well in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 and got some time against Major Leaguers in Spring Training this past season. With at least two plus pitches, Purke will be worth keeping an eye on this year.

10. Zach Walters – INF | Last Year: 19

Walters was the return chip from the Jason Marquis trade in 2011 and has proven to be a consistent, heady player as he has moved through the system. With his athletic, strong body and a plus arm, he’s a switch-hitter whose solid defense profiles across the infield. He reached Triple-A by the end of 2012 and, at just 23 years of age, seems to have a bright future ahead.

- READ OUR COMPLETE DOWN ON THE FARM REPORT -

From The Desk Of Mark Lerner – Bags in Hand

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Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner will be blogging throughout the 2012 Grapefruit League Season from Viera, bringing his own unique perspective of the goings-on at Nats Spring Training.

Bags in hand, my wife Judy and I arrived yesterday evening in Florida.

This morning, I pulled into Space Coast Stadium very early. I was struck by the obviously warmer-than-DC temps, but honestly it was the optimism in the air that set this arrival apart from all my other spring visits.

Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson’s work began here almost two weeks ago. They officially put the pitchers and catchers through their paces for the first time on Feb. 21st. But, from all the reports I received from the ground, the vast majority of players reported to camp early and in great shape. It is obvious that their 2012 preparations had begun months earlier.

Games begin today at Space Coast Stadium, with an exhibition against Georgetown University.

Today at Noon, we host Georgetown University at Space Coast Stadium for the second time. What a great opportunity for the young Hoyas. I bet the memories of today’s contest last a lifetime. When this opportunity was raised to host the Hoyas, we accepted immediately. It was the perfect chance to give back and help grow, in our own small way, the game of baseball at the college level in the DC area.

As a baseball nut, I have always noticed some of the MLB-NCAA matchups at the beginning of the spring. Through the years, the Red Sox have often hosted Boston College and the same with the Marlins and the Miami Hurricanes.

I’m also excited that I’ll get to see Matt Purke pitch for the first time. For those of you who do not know, Matt was our fourth overall selection in last year’s Draft. A left-handed pitcher, Purke was a first-round pick the season prior by Texas, but chose to return to TCU for his sophomore season. I am anxious to see him in action, because he is quite talented, from what I understand.

Then on Saturday, the official Grapefruit League season begins with a road game against the Astros. In a true twist of fate, we will face Livan Hernandez, who signed with Houston in late January. I wanted to make sure that I crossed paths with Livan this spring. Not only is he an obvious favorite of mine to watch perform (it’s that changeup!), but I want to find him and thank him for his two terms of service with the Nationals. I don’t think any true Nationals fan will ever forget him. Livan threw our first pitch. He won more games than anyone in team history. And he did it with flair, charisma and most importantly, a smile on his face. I will truly miss him as a member of the Nats.

Until we next blog …

Ready For Launch

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John Dever is the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Washington Nationals. As a team employee in close contact with the players, coaches and front office throughout Spring Training, he will bring an inside look at the happenings in Viera in Dever’s (Almost) Daily Diary throughout February and March.

Friday was another beautiful, beautiful day here in Viera. If anything, it might have been a tad too hot. I think temps topped off at either 84 or 85 degrees. By sunset, it was perfect as a small-yet-comfortable breeze kept everyone company. And the sunset was something too.

We also enjoyed the blast off of a NASA Atlas V Rocket about 5 pm. Footage can be seen here: http://www.floridatoday.com/section/SPACE2011

With the Space Shuttle program newly retired, we are left with these impressive rocket launches to remind us why this area is known as the Space Coast.

*Matt Purke threw an impressive bullpen yesterday and afterwards Davey was asked about it. In reference to Purke, he spoke to the organization’s philosophy when it comes to integrating college pitchers, who regularly throw one game a week, into the professional game, which is obviously predicated (at present) on a 5-man rotations. Well, the man in charge of this integration is Spin Williams, and knowing him a bit, there is not a better person for the job.

As Davey explained, Spin takes all of our college starters and asks them to join 6-man rotations in the lowest levels of our system. They look at the 6-man rotation as a mid-way point. Then after that initial summer (3 months or so) as a pro, these starters begin to train for a 5-man rotation in the spring entering their first full season. This is where Purke is right now – the first week of his initial Spring Training as a pro.

*You have probably read that Edwin Jackson will get the start for the Nationals’ SPRING opener on March 3 at Houston. Definitely newsworthy. But Davey also mentioned that Edwin took his bullpen “up a notch” on Friday. That made me blink, because during his bullpen on Wednesday, I could have sworn he was throwing 93-94.

*Folks, this pitching staff’s collective talents, velocity and stuff is REAL. This is beyond hype. Let’s ground ourselves a bit, but sum it up this way. When talking about “stuff,” I think that the any our top four starters (Strasburg, Gio, J-Zimmermann, Edwin) would have been our Opening Day starter in any season from 2005-11. Think about that.

*Proof that baseball is full of changeups. Davey has decided to stage the final 3-4 days of camp back here at Space Coast Stadium and Field 5, which is located just adjacent to SCS. Traditionally, the club had worked out at the 4.5 cloverleaf fields located a quarter mile down the road at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. But Davey’s feeling is that the players need to get as accustomed to SCS and its various nuances ASAP. I like it.

*I hope you were able to see some of ESPN’s coverage of your Nationals as part of their Spring Training bus series. I had a couple of conversations with Tim Kurkjian and John Kruk and both apologized that the developing Ryan Braun storyline would squash some of their Nationals focus. They were not happy about it, but breaking news is breaking news. They did assure me that The Mothership (hat tip: Dan Patrick) is more than aware of our various storylines and steady assent as a franchise. Tim K. promised me (us!) they would be paying your Nationals more attention this summer than we’ve been accustomed to. Tim K. is a fantastic journalist, and it is an added bonus for us that is lives locally and is therefore exposed to our tales more so than others who don’t live in The DMV.

*Interesting glimpse into how your manager thinks:

“Anyone in this camp with us, I am under the assumption that they could help us this year.” – Davey, Feb. 24th

This soundbite caught my ear especially in reference to his recent comments that—outside of unforeseen injury issues (knock on wood)—there are only 3 roster spots available this spring. With all of the up-and-coming talent in that clubhouse, this seemed like a pragmatic approach. Every glimpse we see here in the Grapefruit League should not be taken solely in context to April 5 at Wrigley Field. If you are thinking along with our manager, you’ll be watching or reading with an eye on the not-too distant future.

*The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team began their Spring workouts on Friday at our complex. This group of soldiers/ballplayers are simply terrific human beings we should all be proud of. They will be touring our country this spring, summer and fall sharing their message and providing free jolts of inspiration. The Nationals are honored to be hosting the 2012 Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Classic at Nationals Park on Tue., April 3rd following the exhibition game against the Red Sox. For more information about the WWAST, please visithttp://www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org/

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

So This Is The New Year

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There is something refreshingly cathartic about the cycle of years and seasons. The end of the old always brings with it the beginning of a new era, another chance to be better than before. While this is true of every baseball season, it is no stretch to say that the buzz — the excitement, the energy, the hope — that is floating around the 2012 Nationals is unlike anything that Washington has seen since the team moved to The District in 2005.

This hope does not come without good reason. There is the prospect of a healthy Stephen Strasburg electrifying the top of the rotation every five days. He will be followed by two more dynamic, budding stars in Jordan Zimmermann and the recently acquired Gio Gonzalez, all three 26 years-old or younger. Solid, sturdy veterans Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan will be in the mix with the promising Ross Detwiler, bringing stability to the back end of the starting staff.

Drew Storen will look to follow up on a rookie season in which he saved 43 games.

From there, another set of power arms takes over in the bullpen, led by 2011 All-Star Tyler Clippard and anchored by closer Drew Storen, who in his rookie campaign became just the second National ever to notch 40 saves in a season. Add in flamethrower Henry Rodriguez, who regularly touches triple digits on the radar gun, and you’ve got three more exciting arms, again all under the age of 27.

In the lineup, the Nationals will look for a healthy year from Ryan Zimmerman. DC’s under-the-radar superstar began last season hot before suffering an abdominal strain that hampered his production throughout the year. Still just 27 years of age, the third baseman will look to return to his form of the previous five seasons, during which he averaged 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 89 RBI while playing in an average of 145 games.

Jayson Werth, meanwhile, will look to reestablish himself as the player who received MVP votes in each of his two seasons prior to joining the Nationals. While he reached the 20-home run plateau for the fourth consecutive season in 2011, a return to form across the board in his numbers would make the middle of the Nationals lineup that much more formidable to opposing pitching staffs.

Mike Morse was one of the National League's best hitters in 2011.

Joining that pair will be 2011’s breakout star, Michael Morse. The numbers don’t lie — Morse hit .303 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs, 95 RBI and a .550 slugging percentage. But to understand just how good Morse’s season was, consider the following: he had more doubles and home runs than Troy Tulowitzki, and a higher slugging percentage than Albert Pujols (see for yourself). In fact, besides the NL MVP, Morse was the only player in the National League to bat over .300 with 35 or more doubles, 30 or more home runs and a slugging percentage of .550 or better. The return of “The Beast” to the middle of the lineup should be a welcome sight for Nats fans everywhere.

Another returnee for 2012 who impressed last year was rookie infielder Danny Espinosa, who will look to build on the power potential he flashed during his 21-home run performance last season. Coupled with the slick glove work he often showed at second base, the former Long Beach State shortstop may just prove he owns that rare combination of being a versatile middle infielder with pop from both sides of the plate. Oh, and he won’t turn 25 until after Opening Day.

Even after trading four prospects to the Oakland Athletics in the Gonzalez deal, there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, ready to contribute in the future. Top prospects like lefthander Matt Purke and infielder Anthony Rendon are poised to join Bryce Harper in the years to come, but that discussion is for another time.

Bryce Harper headlines the next wave of Nationals prospects.

While the future remains very bright for this team, make no mistake, the window has officially opened. With the Gonzalez trade, EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo not only added one of the premiere left-handed power arms in the game, he announced that he is not waiting for some distant tomorrow to contend.

“Gio’s ample talents are well known and chronicled,” said Rizzo after inking the lefty to a five-year extension on Sunday. “Now both Gio and our fans can shift their focus and excitement to his debut in DC knowing that their relationship won’t be ending in the short term.”

Of course, the road will not be easy. With the flurry of acquisitions made by the new Miami Marlins, the NL East has improved to the point of challenging its American League counterpart as the toughest division in baseball. And speaking of that AL East, the Nats will draw the perennial powerhouse in Interleague Play this year, making the schedule that much tougher. The good news is, should Washington survive this gauntlet and (gasp!) force its way into the picture for the potentially expanding postseason field, this young Nationals squad will have already faced the toughest teams in the league.

If you’ve been following the Nats from the beginning, your best days certainly appear to be ahead of you. If 2012 marks the beginning of your fandom, then welcome. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

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