Results tagged ‘ Nathan Karns ’
While the Major League club continues to fight its uphill climb toward the fifth and final postseason spot in the National League, the Washington Nationals Minor League system has combined to compile quite a year. Four of the six stateside affiliates clinched postseason spots, with one already taking home its league title.
After cruising through the regular season, the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals swept through the postseason to claim the GCL Championship on Sunday.
The GCL Nats, who set a Minor League Baseball record for the best domestic regular-season winning percentage (49-9, .845), defeated the GCL Pirates in a one-game semifinal on Friday, 6-1, to reach the best-of-three championship. On Saturday, they snatched a 10-3, come-from-behind win over the GCL Red Sox at the Washington Nationals Training Complex in Viera, then followed that with a 7-2 win, in Game 2 on the road in Fort Myers to earn the title.
The pitching staff, which led the league in ERA, WHIP and shutouts this season, compiled a 1.67 ERA through the playoffs, led by righty Wander Suero and southpaw Hector Silvestre. Suero tossed five solid innings in the clincher, allowing just one run on one hit with seven strikeouts, while Silvestre shut down the Pirates in the semifinal with six shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit and struck out seven.
Offensively, the GCL Nats showed pop in all three playoff games, but impressively used an eight-run outburst in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the Championship Series to erase a 3-0 GCL Red Sox lead. Randy Encarnacion collected five hits, four runs scored and five RBI throughout the three-game postseason run, while Drew Ward added four hits, three runs and four RBI.
The Nationals have three other playoff-bound affiliates remaining, with the Low-A Hagerstown Suns, High-A Potomac Nationals and Double-A Harrisburg Senators and each headed for the postseason.
South Atlantic League First Half Northern Division Champion Hagerstown (80-57) will take on the West Virginia Power (Pirates) in a best-of-three series, where the Suns will have the home-field advantage for the final two games. The series opens Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., while the Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) and Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets) battle for the Southern Division title.
Two Hagerstown representatives earned SAL All-Star honors in second baseman Tony Renda and Manager Tripp Keister. Renda leads the league in games played (134), at-bats (517), doubles (43) and runs scored (99). Keister is in his first season with the Suns after helming the GCL Nationals last year. Both were also named as midseason All-Stars.
Potomac (84-55) claimed both first- and second-half Carolina League Northern Division titles and will face the Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves) in a best-of-three set starting Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at Pfitzner Stadium. By virtue of winning both halves, the P-Nats will enjoy home-field advantage for all three games of the series, should a third game be necessary. The winner will take on either the Salem Red Sox or Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Rangers) in the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship Series.
Potomac righty reliever Robert Benincasa and outfielders Michael Taylor and Billy Burns were chosen as year-end Carolina League All-Stars. The trio ties the P-Nats with the Carolina Mudcats (Indians) for most representatives on the roster. Benincasa has registered 25 saves in 26 chances between Hagerstown and Potomac this season, logging a 3.54 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28.0 innings since his promotion in June. Taylor leads the league in doubles (39) and extra-base hits (55) and has also fired 20 outfield assists this season. Burns, who was recently promoted to Harrisburg, led the Carolina league in batting average (.312) and steals (54) in 91 games.
Burns and Harrisburg (77-65) will face the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs, as the Senators wrapped up their Western Division title with a 1-0 shutout Monday. They will play in a best-of-five set starting Wednesday, and the winner will advance to the Eastern League Championship series for another best-of-five showdown with either the Binghamton Mets or Trenton Thunder (Yankees).
The Senators feature a dynamic starting rotation, headlined by righthanders Nathan Karns and A.J. Cole, and rising lefty Robbie Ray. Karns, who made his Major League debut in May, went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 132.2 innings this year for Harrisburg. Cole, acquired from Oakland prior to the season, had a terrific finish in Double-A after starting the season in Potomac. He went 4-2 in seven starts for the Senators, compiling a 2.18 ERA and 0.904 WHIP in 45.1 innings of work. The 21-year-old Ray capped off a breakthrough campaign with an 11-5 record across two levels, striking out a system-high 160 batters in 142 innings.
To catch all the Nationals Minor League postseason action streaming online, click here for gameday audio listings.
Stop us if this sounds familiar.
A promising young pitcher, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery in 2011, is raising eyebrows and rising quickly through the organization. Following the same path as Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, and more recently Nathan Karns, another powerful right-hander is looking to claim the title of “next.” His name is Taylor Jordan, and if you don’t know who is already, you will soon.
Jordan began the 2013 campaign at High-A Potomac, where he cruised for six starts, amassing a 2-1 record and a 1.24 ERA (5 ER/36.1 IP). He also showed impressive peripheral numbers, striking out 29 while walking just six over that span.
That earned him a promotion to Double-A, long considered the truest test for a rising prospect. Through his first seven starts at his new level, Jordan has passed with flying colors.
“The competition is better,” says Jordan of the Double-A level. “The hitters have a much better approach. If you miss a pitch, it seems like they all have a chance to capitalize.”
And while it may indeed seem that way to Jordan, few if any actually have done so against him. Despite getting shelved by a rain delay just one inning into one of his outings, Jordan breezed to four wins in his first six outings before compiling a masterpiece in his most recent start, a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. He is now 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA (3 ER/41.0 IP) and has struck out 39 against just six walks. He’s holding opposing batters to a .181 average and has yet to allow a home run, his WHIP an eye-popping 0.78.
The lack of power numbers against Jordan is no coincidence. Ranked the Nationals 13th-best prospect coming into the year by Baseball America, his repertoire begins with a heavy, sinking fastball in the low to mid-90s, very similar to that of Ross Detwiler’s.
“Ever since I was 11 years old, or younger, my coach told me that I was a little sinkerballer,” recalls Jordan. “I didn’t really understand that, didn’t know what it meant at that time. I always had one, whether or not I knew what it meant.”
His natural movement had translated into great success so far. Combined with a change-up that sinks and fades away from lefties and a slider with hard, late break away from righties, the rest of Jordan’s repertoire more closely mimics Zimmermann’s, one which all of baseball has seen just how effective it can be this season.
Following in the footsteps of those who have undergone the same surgery, the same long road to recovery, has helped Jordan see the light at the end of the tunnel, making his current success that much sweeter.
“It’s nice to see that hard work has paid off,” he says of Strasburg and Zimmermann’s returns to the big leagues. “It’s a good thing to see other people who’ve had surgeries do well as well. It gives me hope that I’ll get there as well.”
If Jordan continues to succeed at the level he has to this point in the season, it won’t be too long before he gets that opportunity.
Minnesota Twins (27-32) vs. Washington Nationals (30-31)
RHP Sam Deduno (2-1, 3.44) vs. RHP Nathan Karns (0-1, 6.00)
Jordan Zimmermann’s seven innings of scoreless, two-hit ball led Washington to a 7-0 victory in Game 1 of this split twin-bill. Ian Desmond hit safely in each of his first three at-bats and Anthony Rendon plated three to lead the offense. Nathan Karns will look to deliver a sweep of the doubleheader and a series win as he takes the hill in his fourth Major League start at 1:05 p.m.
1. Span CF
2. Bernadina LF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. Werth RF
5. LaRoche 1B
6. Desmond SS
7. Rendon 2B
8. Solano C
9. Karns RHP
GAME 1 NOTES
Anthony Rendon has now reached base safely in eight straight big leagues games, going 10-for-26 (.385) with six walks, three doubles, two runs scored and three RBI…Ian Desmond has hit safely in 11 straight games at a .349 clip (15-for-43) with a walk, three doubles, two homers, six runs scored and six RBI…the streak matches the longest of his career (June 5-17, 2011). Meanwhile, defensively Desmond has played a career-high 42 consecutive errorless games…Jordan Zimmermann has not lost since May 17 of last season, a span of 19 starts. Zimmermann is 11-0 over that stretch at home, and the Nationals have not lost a game he has started in his last 13 outings in D.C.
Enjoy this GIF of Anthony Rendon’s fist-pump from Game 1.
Minnesota Twins (26-31) vs. Washington Nationals (29-30)
RHP Kevin Correia (5-4, 4.09) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.64)
After two rainouts, the Nationals are ready to get back on the field as they welcome the Minnesota Twins to Washington for the first time since 1971 in the first of a three-game set. Exactly a week after his last start in Atlanta where he received a no decision, despite only allowing one run on three hits, Gio Gonzalez takes the mound again, looking to replicate his stellar performance.
1. Span CF
2. Werth RF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Rendon 2B
7. Bernadina LF
8. Suzuki C
9. Gonzalez LHP
YOUTH IS SERVED HERE
At the completion of play on June 4, the Nationals had the fourth-youngest 25-man roster in Major League Baseball with an average age of 28.11 years. When combining each team’s active roster and Disabled List, Washington is tied for the second-youngest MLB roster at 27.74 years. Of the 32 players either on the Nationals active roster or DL, nine are aged 25 or younger: Nathan Karns (25), Wilson Ramos (25), Drew Storen (25), Steve Lombardozzi (24), Stephen Strasburg (24), Jeff Kobernus (24), Anthony Rendon (23), Ian Krol (22), Bryce Harper (20).
THE NEWEST NEOPHYTE NATIONAL
Ian Krol struck out three (Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Lucas Duda) during a scoreless sixth inning in an impressive MLB debut for the Nationals on Wednesday. vs. NYM. Krol became the fifth Nationals to make an MLB debut this season. Krol joined Anthony Rendon (April 21 at NYM), Jeff Kobernus (May 25 vs. PHI), Nathan Karns (May 28 vs. BAL) and Erik Davis (June 2 at ATL) on this list. Only three teams in MLB have had more players make MLB debuts this season: Cardinals (7), Marlins (6), Twins (6).
Anthony Rendon was selected by the Nationals two years (June 6, 2011) with the sixth overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Rice University. During a pair of big league stints, Rendon has played in nine games for the Nationals this season. The only other position player from the ‘11 Draft to have played in more MLB games is Boston’s Jackie Bradley, Jr. (19).
Washington Nationals (28-28) vs. Atlanta Braves (33-22)
RHP Nathan Karns (0-0, 6.23) vs. LHP Paul Maholm (6-4, 3.74)
Washington sends rookie Nathan Karns to the hill in search of his first Major League win as the Nationals look to take the series in Atlanta. If recent history is any indication, Sunday’s finale should be a close contest. Six of the last seven games between these two teams have been decided by two runs or less, with each club winning three of those six.
1. Span CF
2. Lombardozzi LF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Moore RF
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Solano C
9. Karns RHP
RUBBER TO THE ROAD
The Nationals aim for the rubber match victory today before returning home (where they are 15-11 this season) for 20 of their next 32 contests. Washington has played 21 of its last 31 games on the road, compiling a 15-16 record during that stretch.
D, NO E
Washington has not committed an error as a team for a season-high five consecutive games. Up the middle, the defense has been particularly strong, with Ian Desmond playing 37 straight error-free contests, while Danny Espinosa has pitched in 22 straight outings without a defensive miscue.
THE POWER OF 3
When scoring three or more runs this season, the Nationals are 24-5, good for an .828 winning percentage. Conversely, the club is just 4-23 when scoring two times or less (.148).
When a team is looking to find its offensive stride, as the Nationals have been through much of the early part of the season, they will try just about anything to get going. As baseball is arguably the most superstitious of sports, lineup shuffles will give way to bizarre rituals, including – but certainly not limited to – beard growing. Even manager Davey Johnson has gotten in on the act, sporting an ever-lengthening gray goatee over the recently concluded five-game homestand.
And while Washington’s offense began to pick up a tad – the bats registering three straight double-digit hit totals during the Philadelphia series for the first time since doing the same against the White Sox April April 9-11 – the Nationals hadn’t put together a real breakout game yet. That task was even taller with four regulars – Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth – each out of the lineup nursing various injuries.
But the game finally came on a rainy Tuesday night in D.C., and against one of the more unlikely foes available, no less. All year long, the toughest opposing pitchers against the Nationals lineup have been of the young, flame-throwing variety. From the Mets Matt Harvey (who, admittedly, has shut down pretty much everyone) to Los Angeles hurler Clayton Kershaw and his 1.68 ERA, Washington’s bats had struggled to find their timing. All that changed against Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman, who was brushing 98 on the Nationals Park radar gun.
Denard Span lashed the first pitch of the game for a loud out, then Steve Lombardozzi and Ryan Zimmerman each singled to set the stage for the red-hot Adam LaRoche. After laying off the first two pitches out of the strike zone, LaRoche turned on an offering from Gausman and blasted it into the right-centerfield seats. Four batters in, 3-0 Nats.
“When you see a couple guys getting on him early, it boosts everybody’s confidence,” said LaRoche of the first-inning outburst.
For a team that had gone 19-4 when scoring first and 22-4 when plating at least three runs this season, it was a welcome early sign. But what followed in the next eight innings may have signified a much more profound change.
The Orioles came back to tie the game in the fourth against Nathan Karns, called up from Double-A Harrisburg to make his Major League debut. No sooner had Baltimore done so than Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina, two Nationals still looking to find their groove at the plate, went back-to-back off Gausman, each on a two-strike pitch, to reestablish the three-run lead.
And while four home runs (LaRoche would add another late) will pretty much always win you a game, it was the notable lack of another number that should have Washington fans excited.
In spite of the powerful swings and the high velocity pumping in from the opposing starter, Washington struck out just once Tuesday night. Compare that to the eight whiffs they had against Harvey and the Mets or the 12 against Kershaw in Los Angeles.
LaRoche’s second home run in the eighth inning provided mere icing on the cake of this game and his torrid month of May. After a slow April, the slugging first baseman has put on a display this month, batting .341/.422/.648 with seven homers and 19 RBI, with still three games to play before the calendar reaches June.
With temperatures projected in the 80s and 90s all week in Baltimore and Atlanta, perhaps the Nationals bats will follow the weather and heat up for good, just as they did last season. And despite Moore’s claim that he hopes Davey “looks like Santa by the end of the year,” if LaRoche and the offense can maintain anything close to their recent output amidst the rising temperatures, the skipper may shave his beard sooner rather than later.
Baltimore Orioles (28-23) vs. Washington Nationals (26-25)
RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 7.20) vs. RHP Nathan Karns (0-0, 0.00)
The bats never got hot as the Nationals dropped the first game of the 2013 Battle of the Beltways yesterday. Washington looks to turn it around in a clash of rookie pitchers in the final game of a five-game homestand. Right-handed prospect Nathan Karns will get the start for the Nats, while the Orioles will put 22-year-old Kevin Gausman, who is making his second big league start, on the mound.
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. Karns RHP
HERE’S TO A SWEET 16TH
Tonight, Nathan Karns will become the first pitcher to make a Major League debut for the Nationals in a starting role since Tommy Milone burst on the scene on September 3, 2011 vs. the New York Mets in a start that is likely best remembered for him homering on the first pitch he saw. Karns will be the 16th pitcher to debut in the big leagues in a starting role for the Nationals. The Nationals are 9-6 in these 15 debuts and the starters in those games are collectively 4-5 with a 5.40 ERA (45 ER/75.0 IP). The most recent of these 15 neophytes to pocket a debut win was Stephen Strasburg, June 10 vs. Pittsburgh.
LONG STREAK OF LONG BALLS
The Nationals have hit at least one home run in 72 consecutive series. The last time Washington played a homerless series was during a four-game set at Citi Field, September 12-15, 2011. As the Nationals did not homer in yesterday’s two-game series opener, the streak is on the line tonight.
STINGY WITH THE LONG BALL
Jim Lett’s bullpen has not allowed a home run at Nationals Park since April 12. Since then, Nationals relievers have tossed 46.2 homerless innings of relief at home, good for a 2.89 ERA over that span.
Before Monday night’s Nationals-Mets tilt in Port St. Lucie – the second between the two clubs in the same location in just over 48 hours – skipper Davey Johnson mused aloud that teams with good Minor League depth often posted strong Spring Training records. If the game itself was any indication, Johnson, who relishes the opportunity to see such players in person, must have liked what he saw.
Led by a bevy of rising stars, the Nationals impressed at the plate and on the mound as they notched their first Grapefruit League win, by a 6-4 final.
The logic behind Johnson’s reasoning stemmed from the heavy innings that non-regulars log during the Grapefruit League season, and never was that circumstance more on display for the Nats. With a starting nine featuring just one 2012 Opening Day roster member in Steve Lombardozzi (plus Gio Gonzalez pitching), Washington’s youngsters peppered New York pitchers all around Tradition Field to the tune of 17 hits in a victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.
Outfielder Eury Perez leaned on his strongest tool – his speed – to accumulate a trio of infield singles and a stolen base, scoring from first on a double in the third and from second on a single in the fourth. Anthony Rendon, vying for a home run for the second straight day, was robbed of a longball at the center field fence, but later lined a seed the opposite way for a single. Eight of the nine starters pitched in hits, with Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole demolishing a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat.
On the mound, Skole’s counterpart Nathan Karns – Washington’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year – turned in perhaps the most noteworthy performance. Following two hitless innings from Gonzalez in his first spring start, Karns fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and top Mets prospect Travis d’Arnaud, allowing only a David Wright flare single over two scoreless innings.
“He’s got a great future,” said Johnson of Karns, whom he saw live in game action for the first time Monday night. “He had an explosive fastball, threw first pitch strikes. Very impressive for the young man.”
Karns overthrew a couple of curveballs early, but settled in and spun a beauty to put away d’Arnaud. He attributed the early inconsistency on the pressure of facing Major Leaguers for the first time.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous in the ‘pen, I’m not going to lie,” Karns said of the experience, but he took Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s advice between innings. “Breathe, breathe. I guess I was a little red in the face, a little sweaty.”
Karns’ stuff played just fine, his fastball sitting 93-96 with great life. When asked if that was a normal velocity range, he was non-committal, but referenced his offseason conditioning program.
“I was around there last year,” he said of his fastball velocity. “This year I felt like I did a lot in the offseason to strengthen my lower body, give me some more endurance. So if I get a couple more ticks on the radar, that’s a bonus.”
One veteran in the clubhouse within earshot took notice.
“A couple more ticks?” interrupted Ryan Mattheus, who earned the save with a scoreless ninth, incredulously from the corner of the clubhouse. “What do you want, to throw 105?”
The radar gun at Tradition Field actually misfired and flashed 143 miles-per-hour after one high fastball out of the 25-year-old’s right hand.
“Yeah, I can say I threw 143,” Karns said nonchalantly.
It’ll be a story for the grandkids.
The Nationals hit the road again Tuesday afternoon, where they will face the division-rival Braves for the first time this spring at 1:05 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista.
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before we get too deep into our next Down on the Farm report, let’s explain the significance of the recent roster designation of a couple players. Both Erik Davis as well as Nathan Karns, who we profiled last week, were added to the Nationals 40-man Roster, guaranteeing them an invitation to Major League Spring Training in February. In the meantime, though, the moves had a more immediate purpose: they protected the two players from potentially being snagged away by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, an annual ritual which took place Thursday morning in Nashville.
For those not well versed in this process, allow us to explain how the process works, and why it can be a very big decision. The Rule 5 Draft stands in contrast to the Rule 4 Draft, which takes place in June and is more commonly referred to as the First-Year Player Draft. It is a process in which any Minor League player who was 18 years or younger when drafted who has accumulated four years of service time (or 19 and up at time of selection with three years service) becomes eligible to be taken by other teams. However, that team must keep said player in the Major Leagues for the entire season to follow, or else the player is returned to his original team. Due to that requirement, in the last 60 years, a range of just three to 24 players has been taken per year.
So why does all of this matter? Well, both Davis and Karns are Rule 5 eligible, so the Nationals added them to the 40-man Roster in order to protect them. That means they are safely in the farm system for another year, and each could be called up to the Major Leagues at any time without making a 40-man roster move. For Karns, who topped out at High-A last year, that possibility may seem more remote for the 2013 season. But for the 26 year-old Davis, who put up impressive numbers at Double-A in 2012, it could mean much more.
We spoke recently with Harrisburg Senators Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Terry Byrom, who shed some light on the skill set Davis brings to the diamond. A former starter who throws downhill with a great off-speed pitch and a solid curveball, he has drawn some comparison to current Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard. But Byrom had another member of the Washington bullpen in mind.
“I would say at this point that he and Christian Garcia are very similar,” he explained. “Garcia probably has better stuff, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a lot better. Erik’s stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues, absolutely, no doubt about it. He could make that roster out of Spring Training.”
Those are likely reassuring words for Davis, who saw Garcia’s ascent first-hand, both as a teammate and a roommate at various stops in the minors. And with Washington still sorting out its final bullpen spots for 2013, Byrom’s projection is not such a stretch. Given the organization’s track record of converting starters into quality relief arms once they reach higher levels of the Minor Leagues (see: Clippard, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke), there is no reason to believe Davis couldn’t follow the same path.
“I think that’s something that the Nationals have been incredibly successful at,” said Byrom, who has seen many of those pitchers make their way through Harrisburg. Especially the Minor League (instructors), they do a really good job of migrating guys from starting roles.”
Once a promising starting prospect in the Padres organization, Davis won 16 games for Low-A Fort Wayne back in 2008, and owns a career Minor League record of 45-24. The former 13th-round selection out of Stanford was acquired prior to the 2011 campaign for infielder Alberto Gonzalez, and ran into his first trouble as a starter, going just 5-12 between two levels of Washington’s farm system.
After that disappointing 2011 season, Davis moved to the ‘pen and rebounded with a very strong 2012 campaign. In 40 relief appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, Davis went 7-3 with five saves and a 2.52 ERA (18 ER/64.1 IP), striking out 69 while walking just 18 and stranding 20 of 25 inherited runners. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse for a short stint in August, but might have put up his most impressive showing in the Dominican Republic this fall. Pitching for Los Gigantes del Cibao, Davis went 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA, holding opponents to a .149 batting average while fanning 19 in 19.0 innings pitched. Davis credited a greater comfort in his second season with the Nationals as a reason for his improved numbers.
“When you go into a new system, obviously it’s a good thing because they traded for you, so that means they want you,” he explained. “But it’s tough not to put extra pressure on yourself to go out and do more than you’re capable of.”
Given a second chance to make a first impression, Davis has made the most of it. And despite a longer road than he may have initially expected, pitching in the Major Leagues is as close a reality as it has ever been before.
“I have the same goal with the Nationals that I did with the Padres,” he said. “I still haven’t really accomplished that goal of getting there and staying there.”
Byrom believes Davis’ continued improvement is certainly possible given his talent, and explained that if the pitcher can maintain his big league work ethic in 2013, it could very well lead to big league results.
“If he chooses to put the time and effort into it, I think that Erik Davis is going to be a guy that pitches for a long time in the bullpen in the Major Leagues.”