Results tagged ‘ Potomac Nationals ’

From The Desk of Mark Lerner: Meetings Complete

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Hello everyone. I am back in D.C. after a successful stay in Nashville for MLB’s annual Winter Meetings.

Obviously, our biggest strike came with the signing of right-hander Dan Haren. When word of the signing began to leak out on Monday, there was a palpable buzz resonating from Nashville. Everywhere I turned at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center (and trust me, there are a lot of twists and turns due to its EXPANSIVE layout), there was someone from the media or from another club complimenting the signing. Most commented on the ideal length and quality of our rotation.

Haren fits and he really wanted to be here. He was born just outside of Los Angeles and played the vast majority of his career on the West Coast. He had other offers, but in the end, he saw an opportunity to win with us here in D.C. That really closed the deal.

Mike Rizzo and company strategize in the Nationals team suite at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Mike Rizzo and company strategize in the Nationals team suite at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

There is a belief that Stephen, Gio, Jordan and Ross will really learn something about pitching from watching Haren. He is a three-time All-Star and pitched in two postseasons. And at the same time, Haren might just benefit from the jolt that comes with keeping up with our four young guns.

- I had the opportunity to have breakfast with Bo Porter while in Nashville. Both personally and organizationally, we are so proud of Bo. He is obviously very excited about the opportunity with the Astros. He knows that they have some work to do and the switch to the AL will present its own unique challenges. But the Astros picked the right man, in my opinion. And he’s a hometown manager to boot.

- I very much enjoyed our annual Affiliates Reception on Tuesday night. Most don’t know this, but Minor League Baseball’s 150-plus affiliates actually account for the vast majority of the 3,000 that annually attend the Winter Meetings. I enjoyed chatting with our extended family from Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown and Auburn. The Nationals are very thankful for their warmth, kindness and professionalism in welcoming players as they migrate through our system.

- Unofficially, most in baseball view the Winter Meetings as the offseason’s midpoint. So, take note … Spring Training is coming quick.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!! (CLICK FOR VIDEO)

Down On The Farm: Nathan Karns

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If you follow the Nationals Minor League system at all, the name Nathan Karns probably sounds familiar. Often the subject of our in-park Down on the Farm reports during the 2012 season, the tall right-hander worked his way from the bullpen to the starting rotation, then impressed enough to earn a mid-season promotion to a higher level, where he continued to succeed. When the dust had settled on his campaign, he was awarded the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts.

Karns was promoted mid-season and continued to shine at High-A Potomac. (Gary Dize/MiLB.com)

Karns was promoted mid-season and continued to shine at High-A Potomac. (Gary Dize/MiLB.com)

As a result, Karns was one of two players (along with fellow hurler Erik Davis) that the Nationals added to the 40-man roster last week. We will get into more detail about the particulars of that designation next week in advance of the Rule V Draft, but suffice it to say that the organization has liked the early returns from Karns thus far in his professional career.

At 6’5”, 230 pounds, Karns has the big, projectable pitching body type that makes scouts drool. Originally drafted in 2009, Karns fell to the 12th round and got hurt before ever pitching as a professional, requiring labrum surgery in his throwing shoulder that cost him his entire 2010 season. As a result, he did not begin his journey into the professional ranks until 2011 at age 23, where he put up some silly numbers in Rookie Ball (two hits, six walks and 26 strikeouts in 18.2 scoreless innings pitched) and continued to find success despite some wildness following a promotion to Short-Season Auburn.

Karns visited Nationals Park to receive his Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

Karns visited Nationals Park in September to receive his Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

The Texas Tech product, who turned 25 earlier this week, expanded upon the success he found at the lower levels of the system in 2011, enough to earn Baseball America’s designation as the number 15 prospect in the Carolina League this season. This year, Karns amassed an 11-4 record and a 2.17 ERA (28 ER/116.0 IP) over 24 appearances (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. While many numbers pop off the stat sheet – anything from his 1.01 WHIP to his 148 strikeouts in just 116 innings – perhaps the most impressive one has been the Texan’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. In 171.1 total innings as a professional, Karns has allowed just three home runs, or less than one for every 57 innings of work. Even Gio Gonzalez, who was the best qualifying starter in the Majors at limiting the longball, allowed nine in 199.1 innings, a rate more than two-and-a-half times as great as Karns.

The good news is that even areas of potential weakness improved this season for Karns. There were concerns about his control in college, where he averaged about 6.0 walks per nine innings over his last two years in Lubbock. The right-hander improved slightly in his first season as a pro (5.4 BB/9.0 IP), then lowered his walk rate to 3.6 – a 33 percent drop – this season. Factor in higher strikeout totals, and Karns made a significant jump from a modest 1.79 to a commendable 3.15 K/BB rate.

Karns’ strength lies in his best two pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 96, complemented by a swing-and-miss, plus breaking ball which he will showcase at his next likely stop, Double-A Harrisburg. He will need to continue to develop his off-speed pitch there to give himself three plus pitches, the full arsenal to progress to the highest level of the game in a starting role.

Spanning The Future

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After much speculation about how they would handle center field for the foreseeable future, the Washington Nationals answered that question today, acquiring Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. In exchange, Washington sent Minor League right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer back to the Twin Cities.

“He fits very well for us,” said EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo of Span. “His skill set is something we have been looking for for some years now. He’s a front-line defensive center fielder and a consumate leadoff type hitter.”

Span, after hitting a walk-of single last season with the Minnesota Twins.

Span is expected to lead off and play center field for the Nationals in 2013, allowing Bryce Harper to shift to a more natural corner outfield spot and Jayson Werth to return to the middle of the lineup. Rizzo cited the Nationals wealth of defensive outfielders, mentioning that all three were capable of playing center field at a Major League level.

“I’m definitely excited, I’m very excited to be coming to Washington,” said span of his trade to the Nats, specifically singling out Harper and Werth. “I’m ready to be coming to a team that is already in place to win. They’re definitely going to elevate my game, just playing alongside them.”

Rizzo also said on Thursday that he has had his eye on Span for a while now, and even saw him play as a prepster at Tampa Catholic High School. He explained that discussions with the Twins have been ongoing for the past three to four weeks, but that they accelerated at the General Managers Meetings in Indian Wells earlier this month.

Span has compiled a career .284/.357/.389 Major League slash line playing almost entirely in center field over the last five seasons for the Twins. He has also stolen 90 bases over that time, including 17 in 128 games last year. Rizzo believes that speed may develop even farther with Span’s move to the more small ball-oriented Senior Circuit.

“We think he’s really going to come into his own as a base-stealer here in the National League,” the GM said, also noting Span’s strong ability to make contact. “He’s one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out.”

Span is expected to lead off and play center field for the Nats.

The 28 year-old whiffed just 62 times in 568 plate appearances in 2012 while drawing 47 walks. Born in D.C., the Tampa, Florida native was originally selected 20th overall by Minnesota in the first round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. After spending his first 10 years as a professional with Minnesota, Span said his change of scenery makes him a little nervous, but more so excited.

“That’s the greatest feeling any ballplayer can have is know they’re wanted,” said Span of Washington’s – and particularly Mike Rizzo’s – desire to acquire him. “I could hear it in his voice, how excited he was to have me.”

With the trade, the Nationals do not give up any Major League talent while acquiring a player in Span who is under contract for the next two seasons with a team option for 2015. Meyer, the return in the trade, just finished his first professional season, which he split between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac.

“To get a good, established Major League player at Denard’s age with the contract that he has, you have to give up a quality player,” said Rizzo, explaining that it is always a tough decision to part with young prospects, but that it was the right time for the move. “We feel that we have great depth in the Minor League system.”

With tonight’s trade, the Nationals have filled the first missing piece of their 2013 puzzle.

Down on the Farm: Anthony Rendon

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Considering that our last Down on the Farm subject won Arizona Fall League Player of the Week after we featured him, we figured it was high time to pick another AFL’er to break down for you. As the headliner of Washington’s 2011 draft haul selected with the sixth overall pick, many considered Anthony Rendon to have the best bat of the class. And while a fractured ankle in just his second professional game at High-A Potomac derailed his 2012 season, since his return, the Texas-born infielder has shown the baseball world why he was so highly regarded coming out of Rice University a little over a year ago.

Rendon blazed through three levels of the minors upon his return from injury in mid-July, batting .308/.444/.585 with 11 extra-base hits (five doubles, three triples, three home runs) in 34 games before stalling a bit upon his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. But with less than 200 plate appearances under his belt for the season, the Arizona Fall League presented a perfect opportunity to see how he would fare against some of the brightest prospects in the Minor Leagues with less than a full season of pro ball under his belt. So far, so good.

Rendon’s first professional season continues in the Arizona Fall League.

The infielder is coming off of back-to-back multi-hit performances, stretching his hitting streak to four games. Overall, he is batting .271/.357/.375 through 13 games, reaching base at a solid clip. Another encouraging stat lies in the fact that he has stolen three bases in as many attempts, a good sign that his ankle is healed and holding up just fine. Beyond the box scores though, club officials have been particularly impressed with Rendon’s defense at third base, where he has made great strides this year. MLB.com ranks the prospect 33rd overall in the Minor Leagues, taking over the top spot among Nationals farmhands since the promotion of Bryce Harper back in April.

“When healthy, Rendon is a plus defender at third,” proclaims the site, but focuses more on his offensive prowess. “At the plate, he has the kind of advanced approach that should allow him to move quickly while hitting for average and power.”

Keep an eye on Rendon and the rest of the Nationals prospects with the Salt River Rafters throughout the AFL season. His performance the rest of the way in Arizona and in Spring Training in Viera (as a 40-man roster member, Rendon will start in Major League Camp) will go a long ways towards determining just how high this fast-moving talent will rise come Opening Day. Check him out as he spoke to us before the 2012 season began at his first camp back in February.

Not So Minor Accomplishments

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The Nationals announced their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year Awards prior to Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, and the names should come as no surprise to those who follow the Washington farm system closely. Infielder Matt Skole – who tore up the South Atlantic League before a late-season promotion to Potomac – and right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, who largely did the same, took home the honors.

Matt Skole put up prolific numbers all season.

Skole was tremendous all season long, batting .292 with 28 doubles, a league-leading 27 home runs, 83 runs scored, 104 RBI and a .438 on-base percentage in just 118 games for Low-A Hagerstown while playing third base. After we profiled him here on Curly W Live, he went on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, despite his mid-August promotion to the Carolina League. He continued to show his abilities at the next level, posting a slash line of .324/.356/.500 including seven multi-hit performances in 17 games heading into Monday’s season finale.

Karns, meanwhile, posted an organizational-best 2.17 ERA and an 11-4 record in 24 games (18 starts) for the Suns and P-Nats. His promotion came earlier in the season, after just 11 games with Hagerstown, that saw him go 3-0 with a 2.26 mark. He continued to impress at Potomac, twice winning Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors. Karns led all Nationals farmhands with 148 strikeouts, and posted an eight-game winning streak over a nine-start span, logging a 0.94 ERA from June 15 to August 2.

Skole follows Tyler Moore (’10) and Steve Lombardozzi (’11) as a recipient of this award. Other notable former Minor League Pitchers of the Year include John Lannan (’07) and Jordan Zimmermann (’08). The pair will be honored for their accomplishments during an on-field ceremony prior to Friday’s 7:05 p.m. contest against Miami.

Down on the Farm: Zach Walters

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One of the names flying under the radar a bit in the Nationals Minor League system is switch-hitting infielder Zach Walters. Rated as the organization’s 12th-best prospect by MLB.com entering the season, Walters was acquired straight up from Arizona for right-hander Jason Marquis shortly before the 2011 non-waiver trade deadline. Originally a ninth-round selection from the 2010 First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks, the infielder had not played above the Low-A Midwest League until coming over to the Nationals organization. That didn’t stop Washington from immediately promoting Walters to High-A Potomac, where he finished out the year with solid numbers, earning himself a call to the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase.

Walters had moved up two levels in the Nationals system this year.

That performance earned him a couple of auditions as an extra man, joining the big league club for a few Spring Training games this March. On one notable occasion, Walters accompanied the club on a trip to St. Lucie to play a night game against the New York Mets. After entering the game off the bench in the late innings, Walters made a highlight-reel diving stop up the middle, capturing the attention of the press corps. However, shortly afterward he broke the hamate bone in his right hand, costing him the end of his spring and the first couple weeks of his season.

“It’s been a struggle,” explained Walters of the injury that stalled him early in the year. “Being hurt, you want to get back on the field as quickly as possible, even when you aren’t ready sometimes.”

The Cheyenne, Wyoming native got off to a slow start as he rehabbed from the injury, opening the year just 1-for-22 with 10 strikeouts at Potomac. But he recovered nicely and had a nine-game hitting streak going when he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg in mid-June. The infielder continued to produce with the Senators, posting a .293/.326/.518 slash line with 21 of his 48 hits going for extra bases in his 43 games played, all at shortstop. That was enough to earn him a second in-season promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, where he is currently playing. Once he processed his time on the Disabled List, Walters was able to make the most out of the experience.

Walters’ versatility compares to Steve Lombardozzi, while his athleticism is reminiscent of Ian Desmond.

“I feel like it was a blessing in disguise,” he says of his early-season speed bump. “I got a chance to go over some little things and really appreciate being out here on the field.”

Still just 22 years of age, Walters does not have any one particular skill that jumps off the page, but he is solid across the board. Standing an athletic 6’2” and just under 200 pounds, the University of San Diego product’s best trait might be his maturity, both on and off the field. While his skill set and versatility profile more like Steve Lombardozzi’s, his build and athleticism are more evocative of that of current Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. That combination of a solid work ethic, combined with an appreciation for his new organization have helped Walters move quickly through the system and raise his stock as a prospect.

“I’ve been thankful for everything this year,” said Walters. “It hasn’t been ‘work’ at all.”

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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