Nationals MLB News

Major league and minor league news on the newest MLB franchise written and maintained by professional newspaper journalists.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Top 15 position players (Part 3 of 3)

Here is the final installment of the Nationals’ Top 15 position players, which wraps up the look at the Nationals top minor league players. In March, Nationals MLB News will take a look at each of the team's four full-season minor league affiliates and project the rosters for each.

11. Josh Labandeira, SS, 26
2005 destination: triple-A

At 5’7’’ Labandeira will never be projected as a starting player, although he could have a Frank Menechino-type career. His feisty, sparkplug attitude makes him a favorite of not only managers, but fans as well. Labandeira has a strong arm and some pop in his bat, although he does not hit for a great average. He also has patience at the plate and knows what he is doing on the base paths. At worst, Lanbandeira figures to be a solid triple-A player and injury fill-in.

12. Ian Desmond, SS, 19
2005 destination: short season ball

Desmond is young and athletic but possesses very raw skills, which could result in him starting 2005 in short season ball so he can concentrate on fundamentals. He has flashed the potential to have all five tools, although he needs to concentrate on making solid contact at this point. His power is likely to be the last tool to develop. In the field, Desmond has an above-average arm that is inaccurate and he must learn to repeat his release point on throws across the diamond.

13. Marvin Lowrance, OF, 20
2005 destination: low-A ball

Lowrance possesses limited power at this point. Once he fills out a little more, though, he could hit with more authority. He also strikes out too much but will take a walk. Currently he projects as a fourth outfielder but he has lots of time to develop his game and fill out physically.

14. Luke Montz, C/1B, 21
2005 destination:

If Montz can become competent enough behind the plate to be a second or third string catcher he could greatly improve his chances of playing in the major leagues. He could be destined for a Matt LeCroy-type career. His best tool at this point is his bat and the power it generates. Montz has also shown that he could develop into a patient hitter who isn't afraid to take a walk.

15. Brandon Watson, OF, 23
2005 destination: triple-A

Watson was once considered a top prospect but his inability to get onbase to utilize his speed has hurt him. If he could become a more patient hitter, he could project to be a starting centerfielder. As is, however, Watson projects as a fourth or fifth outfielder with plus speed and Gold Glove defensive skills. He is also an accomplished bunter.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nationals announce radio voices

The Washington Nationals named Charlie Slowes and David Shea as the radio voices of the Washington Nationals on Jan. 24. Shea and Slowes will broadcast all 162 games, plus nine weekend Spring Training contests, of the Nationals' inaugural season on WFED-AM 1050 and Z104-FM (a total of 122 games will be broadcast on Z104, all being late afternoon and night games, with the exception of three holiday games and the season finale).

Slowes joins the Nationals after spending the previous seven season as a play-by-play voice of Tampa Bay on the Devil Rays Radio Network. Slowes, who joined the Devil Rays for their inaugural season in 1998, returns to the Washington, DC market, where he served as the play-by-play voice of the Washington Bullets from 1986-97. During his tenure with the Bullets, Slowes did two seasons of television simulcasts and enjoyed serving the Bullets in a variety of community-relations functions. Slowes also worked in St. Louis for three years (1984-86), where he was exposed to broadcasting greats Bob Costas and Jack Buck while working in a variety of on-air functions for, among others, St. Louis University, the St. Louis Blues, the St. Louis baseball Cardinals and the St. Louis football Cardinals.

Shea spent four seasons as the New England Sports Network's play-by-play voice of the Boston Bruins before joining the Nationals. Like his new partner, Shea also brings inaugural season experience, as he served as the radio voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves for their first NBA season in 1989. During a two-plus decade broadcasting career, Shea has served in a variety of radio and television broadcasting posts with the Boston Red Sox, the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, Big East basketball, ESPN/ESPN2's NCAA Frozen Four hockey, Harvard and Boston College hockey, Harvard football, Yankee Conference football, Georgia Tech basketball, NASL soccer (Atlanta Chiefs) and Boston Breakers USFL football. While working Bruins' games in 1995, Shea won a New England Emmy Award for best play-by-play coverage.

Reader Question: 2005 Draft

Question From Scot Brown:

I noted with interest the Nationals' GM comment regarding the Nationals - #4 overall - first round pick position in the upcoming amateur baseball draft. He stated that three smaller market teams would pick ahead of the Nationals and, it was possible that the Nationals could land the #1 prospect in the draft with the #4 pick.

How likely is it that this could happen? Are there any super-duper pitching prospects among the 2005 draft prospects? Thank you.


Reply from Baseball Guru:

Thanks for stopping by Scot! I’m not convinced Arizona and Seattle consider themselves smaller market teams, but Kansas City certainly does. It would be a huge shock if high school position players Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin were not the top 2 picks of the June draft.

Seattle will be an interesting story because they have not been big players in the amateur draft in recent years, preferring to focus their time and money on major league free agents. They will likely take a high school player.

Arizona, which owns the first overall pick, has favored college players in recent years, but it will be hard for them to turn down B.J. Upton’s little brother.

Last year the Royals showed a preference for high school bats and college pitching and might not have the money to sign Upton or Maybin, but Arizona and Seattle are unlikely to be able to turn down such impressive talents.

The best high school pitchers available, at this point, are likely Zach Putnam, Bradley Clark, Sean O’Sullivan, Brett Jacobson, Chris Volstad and two-way player Justin Bristow who could get picked as a shortstop. Personally though, I just think high school pitchers are too much of a risk for the Nationals at this point. They need someone with star potential, but also someone closer to the major leagues.

College pitchers, which the Nationals should seriously consider, include starters Mike Pelfrey and Luke Hochevar as the best bets to get picked early, with Mark McCormick, Ryan Mullins, Ricky Romero, Mich Owings, as well as relievers J. Brent Cox and Craig Hansen all offering intriguing upside.

Personally I would take RHP Pelfrey, who stands 6’7’’. In his sophomore year, he went 11-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 115 innings with 86 hits allowed, 24 walks and 125 strikeouts. The Nationals could use a pitcher with No. 1 starter potential.

College outfielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Tyler Greene and catcher Jeff Clement could also receive consideration among the top 5 picks in the draft.

If they do not sign soon, 2004 first round picks RHP Jared Weaver and SS Stephen Drew could also re-enter the draft in 2005, along with RHP Wade Townsend.

High school outfielder Jordan Danks, brother of Texas’ top pitching prospect John Danks, is a power-hitting outfielder with some speed who could get picked early in the draft.

Overall, aside from Upton and Maybin, I do not think there will be many players with super star potential available in the draft but the Nationals should receive a player capable of being an excellent major league ball player. To highlight this point, here is a quote from a Baseball America 2005 draft article published on Jan. 31: "This might not be the year to pick in the top five," an AL scouting director said. "There’s not an elite guy. But from 20 to 30 or 35 even, there’s a chance you’ll be able to draft a college player you feel pretty good about. From the five spot to 25, there is a lot of the same caliber of players with some upside, and in a variety of positions."

The loss of the club’s second and third round picks for signing Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman will hurt the overall impact of the GM Jim Bowden’s first draft.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Top 15 Position Players (Part 2 of 3)

Below is the second of three looking at the Nationals Top 15 position players.

6. Devin Ivany, C, 22
2005 destination: low-A

Supposedly a better hitter than San Pedro, Ivany hit a measly .170 last season in low-A ball after signing out of the University of South Florida. He may have been tired after a long college season but a sub-.200 batting average is never a good sign. Ivany projects to hit for power, but he is currently a line-drive hitter with gap power. Defensively Ivany possesses a good arm for neutralizing the running game and he is athletic behind the plate.

7. Erik San Pedro, C, 21
2005 destination: low-A

San Pedro is an excellent defensive catcher, but his bat is questionable. If San Pedro can get competant enough with the bat to hit .240-.250 in the major leagues, his could be an everyday catcher. He probably won't hit for a lot of power.

8. Edgardo Baez, RF, 19
2005 destination: low-A

The Expos rushed Baez a bit last season and he struggled mightily in low-A ball as a teenager. Baez could turn out to be a special player though and he projects to be a power-hitting right fielder with a cannon arm. His lack of speed is the only thing preventing him from being mentioned as a five-tool prospect. Like many of the Nationals’ players in the low minors though, he is raw. He must improve his pitch recognition and ability to hit breaking balls. Baez is said to have excellent work habits, which bodes well for his future.

9. Tony Blanco, IF/OF, 23
2005 destination: double-A

Blanco has always possessed a boatload of talent, but he did not really tap into it until last season. His power is impressive and he is going to need it to succeed as an everyday corner outfielder in the Major Leagues. He hit 29 home runs between two levels in 2004, but his batting average dropped 60 points after a promotion to double-A. Blanco does not possess enough defensive ability to play third base in the majors but he could also end up at first base. With the Nationals’ outfield depth, as a December Rule 5 draft pick, he is likely to get caught in a numbers crunch and be sent back to Reds organization.

10. Josh Whitesell, 1B, 23
2005 destination: high-A

Whitesell possess a lot of raw power, which he is still trying to translate into home run power. He has the potential to hit for a respectable average as well and he has shown promising plate discipline. Right now his defence is no better than average, after spending most of his college career as a designated hitter. Whitesell is a player to watch this season and could be poised for a breakout season.

Look back Friday to see the final installment of the Nationals’ Top 15 position players.

Nationals announce 2005 accelerated program

The Nationals director of player development, Adam Wogan, announced the team’s 2005 accelerated development program roster.
Invitations to the accelerated program are reserved for top prospects not already in the club’s big league spring camp. A total of 37* players received invitations.
A few spots were also given to veteran minor league players (Brain Powell, Matt White, Ramon Castro, and Matt Cepicky) with major league experience, who did not receive invitations to the Nationals major league spring training camp.
By viewing the list, one can get an understanding of the players the Nationals view as most likely to help the big league club at one point or another.


*Shortstop prospect and 2004 draftee Ian Desmond was originally invited to this program before being added to the major league spring training roster to provide infield depth. Desmond is still considered a top prospect within the organization.


Pitchers:
Collin Balester, Jason Bergmann, William Bunn, Jon Felfoldi. Armando Galarraga, Jim Henderson, Alex Morales, Ricardo Morales, Anthony Pearson, Brian Powell, Brett Price, Brett Reid, Chris Schroder, Gabriel Sosa, Jason Stevenson, Daryl Thompson, Matt White, Aaron Wideman


Catchers:
Jason Belcher, Devin Ivany, Salomon Manriquez, Luke Montz


Infielders:
Kory Casto, Ofilio Castro, Ramon Castro, Jose Contreras, Steve Mortimer, Shawn Norris, Trey Webb, Josh Whitesell


Outfielders:
Edgardo Baez, Rogearvin Bernadina, Matthew Cepicky, Ender Chavez, Frank Diaz, Marvin Lowrance


Minor league statistics for all these players can be found at www.thebaseballcube.com. During the month of March, Nationals MLB News will be taking a look at each of the Nationals’ four full season minor league affiliates.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Nationals ink former three-time All Star

The Washington Nationals agreed to terms Monday on a non-guaranteed contract with former All Star Carlos Baerga, according to Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden.
Baerga, an infielder and pinch hitter, batted .235 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 79 games for Arizona in 2004.
The 36-year-old is a .292 hitter with 132 home runs and 755 RBI in 1,537 games spanning 13 big league seasons with Cleveland, New York (NL), San Diego, Boston and Arizona. Baerga represented the Cleveland Indians in a trio of All Star Games (1992, '93, '95).
He will attend the organization's major league spring training and compete for a spot on the Nationals bench.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Top 15 Position Players (Part 1 of 3)

The Nationals, unfortunately, have one of the weakest crop of minor league hitters of any Major League ball club. That said, they do have a few promising youngsters who could turn into slightly above average major leaguers. There are also a few players in the low minors that have a lot of promise but are very raw and will need a lot of time to develop.

1. Larry Broadway, 1B, 24
2005 destination: triple-A

Broadway put together a good season in 2004 and possesses nice power potential, which he will need as a first baseman. His left-handed swings could produce a .270-.280 average with 25-30 homer runs in the majors. He is also an above-average defensive player at first baseman. With incumbent first baseman Nick Johnson’s history of injuries, Broadway could see time in the majors sooner rather than later.

2. Ryan Church, OF, 26
2005 destination: triple-A

Getting Church and Maicer Izturis (now with the Angels) from the Cleveland Indians for reliever Scott Stewart was a huge steal for the Expos. Izturis was used to obtain right fielder Jose Guillen. Church is above average in most offensive categories, although he may not produce enough home runs to play full time at a corner position and he lacks the range for full-time duty in centre. Church, a left-handed hitter, has more offensive upside than current left fielder Terrmel Sledge, although at the age of 26 time is running out to prove himself.

3. Brendan Harris, 2B/3B, 24
2005 destination: triple-A

Harris is currently blocked at the Major League level by both Vinny Castilla and Jose Vidro. Should either be traded or get injured, Harris should be first in line to fill in at either position. Offensively, he has a line-drive swing with occasional home run power. His power potential is below average for a third baseman and a little above average for a second baseman. Harris does not have the greatest range, but he makes up for it with a strong arm.

4. Kory Casto, 3B, 23
2005 destination: high-A

Casto’s biggest problem is his defence, which might necessitate a switch in position. On the plus side, Casto works hard and has shown improvement. He has enough power potential to try out a corner outfield position. At the age of 23 and still in the low minors, Casto needs to get on the fast track pretty soon if he wants to become an impact major leaguer. A more patient approach at the plate could help speed up his arrival time in The Show.

5. Rogearvin Bernadina, OF, 21
2005 destination: high-A

Bernadina is probably the most talented position player in the system but he is a long way from making the Nationals Major League club. He is quite inexperienced, even though he has played three professional seasons, because he played limited baseball growing up in the Netherlands. Bernadina showed promise in low-A ball in 2004 by taking a fair number of walks and stealing 24 bases in 26 attempts. He has the potential to be a five-tool center fielder and invokes memories of Vladimir Guerrero.

Come back on Wednesday to see the next five players in the Nationals’ Top 15 position players list.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Top 15 Pitching Prospects (Part 3 of 3)

This is where things get interesting. It’s no secret that years of MLB control have stripped the Nationals franchise of most of their prospects so the last five pitchers represented on the Top 15 list can best be described as "sleepers." Pitchers with potential, but they still have a lot to prove and are likely a ways away from contributing in the major leagues. With that said, here are the last five of the Nationals’ Top 15 pitching prospects:

11. Gabriel Sosa, LHP, 19
2005 destination: low-A ball

Sosa is extremely small (5’9’’) for a pitcher but he is a cocky lefty who gets the most out of his ability. He has a good, live fastball and a solid breaking ball. He is extremely tough on left-handed batters and struck out 63 batters in 51 rookie ball innings. He could have a career as a lefty specialist in the Nationals’ bullpen.

12. Shawn Hill, RHP, 24
2005 destination: rehabbing from Tommy John surgery

Another representative of Ontario, Canada, Hill was one of the Expos’ best pitching prospects before his career was put on hold by surgery. He throws a 90-91 mph sinker, an above average curve and a changeup. Hill also possessed excellent control of his offerings before he was injured, but time will tell if the year off will affect that or not. Without his signature solid command, Hill could be destined for a future middle relief role.

13. Devin Perrin, RHP, 23
2005 destination: high-A

Perrin, who stands 6'7'', averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings in low-A ball last year and power is the name of his game. Unfortunately Perrin also walked almost five batters per nine innings and it remains to be seen whether Perrin's future lies in the starting rotation or the bullpen.

14. Rich Rundles, LHP, 23
2005 destination: triple-A

The 6'5'' 180 lbs lefty has always put up intriguing numbers but he could never stay healthy. 2004 was no different in the injury category, but Rundles had a 3.43 ERA in double-A. This season he should be ready to pitch in triple-A and be only a phone call away should an injury occur on the major league roster. Rundles - who throws an 87-91 mph fastball, a plus changeup and an OK curveball - would probably be best suited for the bullpen given his lack of durability.

15. Chris Lugo, RHP, 18
2005 destination: short season ball

Lugo was a 28th round pick out of high school in 2004 but put up solid numbers (1.67 ERA) in his debut and was only 17-years-old. He also allowed only two home runs in 43 innings. His ultimate role, like Perrin's, is still up in the air but he is likely to see time in the low-A ball rotation.

Other pitchers to watch: Jason Bergmann, Jon Felfoldi and Anthony Pearson.

Look back Monday to see Part 1 of the Nationals Top 15 Position Players.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Top 15 Pitching Prospects (Part 2 of 3)

Below is the second set of five prospects from the Washington Nationals’ Top 15 pitching prospects.

6. Collin Balester, RHP, 19
2005 destination: Likely headed to low-A ball.

Balester is still far from making the majors but he has a great pitcher’s body (6’5’’ 190lbs) and had good numbers in 2004 for a 19-year-old, even if it was in short season ball. He especially has good control for his age, although his breaking ball and changeup need more work if he is going to realize his potential.

7. Danny Rueckel, RHP. 25
2005 destination: triple-A ball

Many people think that Clint Evert has the best curve ball in the Nationals’ system, but Rueckel’s could be even better. It is, at worst, a 75 on the 20-80 scale. He is unhittable when he can control it. The athletic reliever, likely destine for triple-A, also possesses a fastball with late movement that sits in the 89-92 mph range. Rueckel was a starting shortstop in college so his pitching experience is limited.

8. Josh Karp, RHP, 25
2005 destination: triple-A ball

Karp has the stuff to be No. 1 on this list, but behavioral issues have clouded his once promising future. Karp is 6’5’’ and possesses No. 2 starter potential with a 92-93 mph fastball that can hit 96 at times. He also has a good breaking ball and an even better changeup. If he can get his attitude under control (he walked out on his team last year) he could possibly end up as a dominating closer.

9. Alex Morales, RHP. 22
2005 destination: high-A ball

At 5’11’’ 165 lbs. Morales is no friend of the scout but he does flash a 94 mph fastball despite his small frame. He also has an excellent slider (70 on the 20-80 scale), which possesses a sharp break. A decent changeup completes his repertoire. Morales biggest problem in 2004 was his command and he will likely return to high-A ball to start the season. If his body cannot standup to the rigors of starting, Morales could make a nice middle reliever.

10. A.J. Wideman, LHP, 20
2005 destination: low-A ball

It’s nice to see Ontario, Canada represented on the Nationals’ Top 15 list. Coming from Canada, Wideman does not have as much experience as a lot of pitchers from warmer regions, Even so, he knows how to pitch. His stuff is no better than average – 88-91 mph fastball with a good curveball – but he is still young, left-handed and gaining experience.

Look back Friday to see the Nationals’ last five top pitching prospects.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Nationals make minor trade

The Washington Nationals traded minor league infielder Alejandro Machado to the Boston Red Sox on Feb. 15 in exchange for a player to be named later, according to Nationals' general manager Jim Bowden.

Machado, 22, combined to hit .306 with 15 doubles, six triples, five home runs, 45 RBI and 30 stolen bases for Harrisburg (93 games) and Single-A Brevard County (46 games) last season. He is a .291 career hitter in six minor league seasons. Machado was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves and also played in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Top 15 Pitching Prospects (Part 1 of 3)

Below are the first five of the Top 15 Washington Nationals pitching prospects.

1. Mike Hinckley, LHP, 22
2005 destination: Likely back to double-A for a couple starts and then onto triple-A

Hinckley could be a very effective No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the majors, although his ceiling is not as high as that of a healthy Clint Everts. However, Hinckley could be in the majors much quicker, with a mid-season promotion likely. The 2001 third-round pick out of high school throws in the low 90s with a plus curve and an average changeup. He has solid command as well.

2. Clint Everts, RHP, 20
2005 destination: rehabbing from TJ surgery

Everts would have been even higher on this list if he wasn’t expected to miss most of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Everts was the Expos, 2002 first round draft pick out of high school and many teams saw him as a top pick as a shortstop too. He never looked as good in pro ball as he did in high school simply because his velocity was not there and the Expos eventually found out why. The surgery, if all goes well, should return Everts’ fastball to the low 90s. Along with his plus-plus curveball and plus-plus changeup, Everts could be a real force at the front of a major league rotation. 2007 is probably the earliest that he will stick in the majors.

3. Bill Bray, LHP, 21
2005 destination: high-A ball, or low-A with a poor spring

Bray may move slower than Chad Cordero, who was another first round college reliever draft pick. The Nationals are considering having him pitch out of the starting rotation this year in an attempt to get him more innings and gain experience. His strengths are his power offerings: a fastball and slider. He lacks a reliable off-speed pitch, which starters need in order to throw batters' timing off and survive more than once through the lineup. Baseball America says he has a change to be a real dominating left-handed reliever closing out ballgames.

4. Daryl Thompson, RHP, 19
2005 destination: high-A ball

Thompson does not have the big, strong pitchers body that scouts love but he handled full season ball at the age of 18 and could still grow and add muscle. He has a great feel for pitching and solid makeup for a teenager. Thompson throws his fastball in the low 90s and possesses a nice curve and solid changeup. It is hard to project where Thompson will fit into a rotation in the majors because he is still young and developing but he could fit in as a No. 3 starter at this point.

5. Darrell Rasner, RHP, 24
2005 destination: double-A

The 2002 second-round pick possesses a sinking low-90s fastball, an improving curve and a changeup. Rasner does not have great control but it is not terrible either. The lack of any really outstanding pitch limits his ceiling to that of a fourth starter. He could end up being a solid middle reliever.

Look back Wednesday to see the Nationals next five top pitching prospects.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Barry Larkin named Special Assistant to GM

The Washington Nationals named former big league shortstop Barry Larkin Special Assistant to the General Manager on Sunday according to Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden.

By joining
Washington's front office, Larkin ends his 19-year playing career, spent entirely with the Cincinnati Reds. Larkin's 19-year tenure with the Reds was baseball's longest streak among active players having played with just one club.

Born in Cincinnati, Larkin hit .295 (2340-for-7937) with 441 doubles, 76 triples, 198 home runs, 960 RBI and 379 stolen bases in 2,180 games spanning 19 seasons with his hometown Reds. Larkin's 19-year tenure with the Reds matched Pete Rose and Dave Concepcion as the longest in the annals of baseball's oldest franchise.

"With the addition of Barry Larkin, the Washington Nationals organization is discernibly better today than it was yesterday," said Bowden, who worked closely with Larkin while the Reds’ General Manager from 1992-2003. "I have long admired Barry's on- and off-field knowledge and judgment of the game. While his tasks and challenges will be different than he experienced as a player, Barry's presence coupled with an eagerness to be involved in all facets of our operations will undoubtedly yield positive results for both Barry and the Nationals."

A 12-time National League All-Star, Larkin served as Reds' captain from 1997-2004. He was named MVP of the Reds on four occasions, including 1990, when Cincinnati won the National League West en route to a World Series sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics. Larkin batted .300 during the Reds' 1990 post-season run, including .353 in the Fall Classic.

In 1995, Larkin was named National League Most Valuable Player, becoming the Reds' first MVP since George Foster won the same award in 1977. He garnered the citation by hitting .319 with 29 doubles, 15 home runs, 66 RBI and 51 stolen bases while leading the Reds to a National League Central Division title.

Larkin followed up his '95 MVP season with an even better season. In 1996, Larkin hit 33 home runs and swiped 36 bases to become the first shortstop in major league history-and only the second non-outfielder-to post 30-or-more home runs and 30-or-more stolen bases in the same season.

Larkin leaves the Reds ranked among the franchise's top five in numerous categories, including games (third), hits (second), total bases (third with 3,527), doubles (second), runs (second with 1,329), extra-base hits (third with 715).

In the field, Larkin's rare combination of arm strength and range resulted in three Rawlings Gold Gloves (1994-96) and the admiration of a generation of shortstops.

Off the field, Larkin's 19-year tenure was filled with tireless efforts in the Cincinnati community. In 1993 Larkin received the Reds' Roberto Clemente Award for performances both on and off the field. He was also twice a finalist for Major League Baseball's Branch Rickey Award. For years, Barry hosted underprivileged children at Reds games as part of his "Barry's Bunch" program.

Larkin joins a former manager, Bob Boone, and a former teammate, Jose Rijo, as a Nationals special assistants to the General Manager. Both Boone (December 11, 2004) and Rijo (January 5, 2004) were recently hired by Bowden.

Nationals acquire OF Alex Escobar

The Washington Nationals acquired 26-year-old outfielder Alex Escobar from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor-league outfielder Jerry Owens on Feb. 13 according to Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden.

Escobar played in 46 games for Cleveland, but his season was cut short by a stress fracture in his right foot. Last season, Escobar was claimed off waivers in August by Chicago (AL) and immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list. Escobar is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

Rated by Baseball America as high as the Mets' No. 1 prospect as recently as 2001, Escobar has long been regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball. However, Escobar tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a March 4, 2002 Grapefruit League contests against Pittsburgh. While he did not play in '02, he rebounded to hit five home runs for Cleveland and 24 in triple-A Buffalo.

Escobar is a .229 career hitter with nine home runs and 34 RBI in 92 career major league games with New York (NL) and Cleveland.

Owens, 23, was Montreal's second-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA. A football player at UCLA before transferring to The Master's College, Owens hit .292 with one home run and 37 RBI last season for Savannah of the Single-A South Atlantic League.

To make room for Escobar on their 40-man roster, the Washington Nationals designated infielder Alejandro Machado for assignment.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Nationals Bench Players

Statistics listed include: batting average, on-base average, slugging percentage, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and games played.

Gary Bennett, C, 33
2004: .224 .297 .329 3 20 1 75

Bennett is the prototypical no-hit, good field backup catcher. He is a good guy to have to help mentor young pitchers and catchers. He also manages to poke out the odd home run but he won't hit for a high average.

Jamey Carroll, IF, 31
2004: .289 .378 .372 0 16 5 102

Jamey Carroll is one of those veteran minor league players who knows how to get the most out of his limited tools. He hustles hard all the time, can play a variety of positions and swings a potent enough bat to pinch hit for the pitcher in crucial situations.

Henry Mateo, IF, 28
2004: .273 .289 .318 0 0 2 40

Mateo is pretty much the prototypical one-tool speedster. He does not play defence particularly well, nor does he hit well. He is likely a AAAA player (too good for triple-A, not good enough for the majors), who will only get in the major league lineup when an injury occurs.

Brendan Harris, 2B, 24
2004: .169 .222 .271 1 3 0 23

Harris offers a little versaility by being able to play second and third base competently. He's a good hitter but does not possess more than average ability to hit home runs, steal bases or hit for average. He is still young and has options left so he is unlikely to make the team out of the spring. He is likely an injury away from making the team, though.

Wil Cordero, 1B, 33
2004: .197 .250 .288 1 6 1 27

Signing Cordero to a major league contract was a bit of a surprise considering other teams were signing similar type players to minor league contracts with an invitation to spring training. Cordero, at this stage of his career, is really nothing better than a backup first baseman and pinch hitter. He possesses some promising, albeit inconsistent, power which is always nice to have off the bench. A player like Cordero is more useful with a winning team, rather than a re-building team because he takes a roster spot away from someone like Ryan Church or Tony Blanco. However, Cordero can offer some veteran advice to the younger players.

Endy Chavez, OF, 27
2004: .277 .318 .371 5 34 32 132

Chavez offers some nice speed, but not much else. He does not get on base nearly enough to utilize his speed to his utmost potential. He is likely destined for a bench spot or even a stint in the minors after being a regular the past two seasons. If Chavez can learn to take more walks, he could become a valuable regular.

J.J. Davis, OF, 26
2004: .143 .225 .171 0 3 2 25

A former first round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Davis has always possessed promise, but he has never lived up to that. He has 20-25 home runs potential if he can make consistent contact in the major leagues. Davis was never really given a fair shot at an outfield job with the Pirates and it will be interesting to see how much time he can wrangle away from Sledge. An (inevitable) injury to Johnson could shift Wilkerson to first base and open a spot for Davis.

Ryan Church, OF, 26
2004: .175 .257 .238 1 6 0 30

Church has the chance to be a solid big leaguer, but probably not a star. His chances of starting the season on the 25-man roster took a hit when the Nationals obtained Davis and drafted Tony Blanco and Carlton Godwin. Church still has minor league options remaining and Davis does not. Church has the chance to hit 15-20 home runs a season and get on base at a good ratio if given the opportunity. Church’s age (like Davis’) is starting to become a concern and he needs a chance to prove himself soon.

Tony Blanco, OF
2004: Played in minors

Previously a third baseman, the Cincinnati Reds moved Blanco to the outfield last season to help speed up his development. Whether he remains there or not, remains to be seen. Blanco will have to remain on the 40-man roster all season or be offered back to the Reds. Blanco has intriguing power and considerably more upside than Godwin so he is far more likely to stick with the big club. The fact he can play multiple positions also helps, although don’t expect much more from him than what 2003 Rule 5 pick Jose Bautista did last season.

Carlton (Tyrell) Godwin, OF,
2004: Played in minors

Godwin’s only real tool is his speed. He has little or no power (he has raw power potential but it has not developed) and he does not make good contract. He isn’t overly advanced for his age either. Godwin’s selection in the Rule 5 draft from the Blue Jays took a lot of people by surprise. He does not fit in well with the Jays’ organizational philosophy so it would likely be fairly easy for GM Bowden to swing a deal to obtain Godwin’s rights so he can be sent to the minors.

NBA Game - Raptors vs Bucks (Feb. 9, 2005)

This is a little off topic today, but I thought that I would share some of the pictures I took last night during the Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks NBA game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The Raptors controlled the game until the last five minutes and ended up losing 110-107. Rafer Alston had a great game for the Raptors after leaving halfway through the previous game after a blowup with coach Sam Mitchell.

Click HERE to see all the photos.

It was my first time shooting a NBA game (although I have shot a ton of amateur games) and it was pretty exciting. I was positioned right under the Raptors net for the entire game. Hopefully my shots will turn out a little bit crisper next time, as I make adjustments while shooting in such a unique area. I was also working with a $1,500 camera and lens as opposed to the other photographers there who pay something like $10,000 for their lens alone.

I’m not sure when my next pro sports outing will be but I definitely hope to make the Washington Nationals/Toronto Blue Jays series in May. Whether I go as a photographer or a print reporter (or both) I am not sure yet…

As a side note: If there is anyone out there who has media/photographer credentials in the Washington area, I would love to get some Nationals’ photos for the Web site when the regular season starts (or even Spring Training). Email me.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

2005 Starting Lineup

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2005 Montre... er, Washington Nationals... Statistics listed include: batting average, on-base average, slugging percentage, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and games played.

Brian Schneider, C, 28
2004: .257 .325 .399 12 49 0 135

Since taking over the No. 1 catcher role from Michael Barrett, who is now with the Chicago Cubs, Schneider has played solid ball, both behind the plate and at it. With his overall package, including solid power, Schneider is one of the better backstops in the league.

Nick Johnson, 1B, 26
2004: .251 .359 .398 7 33 6 73

If he could stay healthy, Johnson would hungrily sought after by every Moneyball general manager in the game. He has a .372 career on base average but his big problem in staying healthy. In his three full years in the majors, Johnson has not played a full, healthy season. Johnson also currently displays below average first baseman power production, which could change with a healthy season or two.

Jose Vidro, 2B, 30
2004: .294 .367 .454 14 60 3 110

Vidro is probably the most consistent hitter on the Nationals. He is also the best paid hitter on the team and is probably a little overpaid, although who can tell in this volatile market? He can swing the stick (he has a career average of .304) and possess above-average power for a second baseman, although his slugging percentage has dropped each of the last three seasons, which could be partly blamed on the Expos’ tiring travel schedules. Vidro could be in line for a big season.

Vinny Castilla, 3B, 37
2004: .271 .332 .535 35 131 0 148

Even at 37, Castilla is arguably the second best defensive third baseman in the league, next to Philadelphia’s Scott Rolen. Last season Castilla hit 35 home runs and drove in 131 runs while playing in the thin air in Colorado. However, in this two previous seasons in Atlanta, Castilla only averaged 17 home runs a season. General manager Jim Bowden signed Castilla to a pricey two-year contract so it will be interesting to see how he fairs in the twilight of his career.

Christian Guzman, SS, 27
2004: .274 .309 .384 8 46 10 145

Like Castilla, Guzman was signed in the off season to a lucrative contract. However, Guzman’s contact is for four seasons and he is only 27 years old. Guzman plays a good shortstop and hits for an OK average but he seems adverse to taking a walk and he hits with little or no power, save for some triples. Guzman is also young enough that he could still improve with the bat, but for that to happen, he will likely have to take more pitches and be more selective.

Terrmel Sledge, LF, 28
2004: .269 .336 .462 15 62 3 133

Sledge is probably the only player in the projected starting lineup to not be guaranteed a spot. The Nationals have a number of outfielders on their 40-man roster with potential, including J.J. Davis, Ryan Church, Carlton (Tyrell) Godwin, Tony Blanco and to a lesser extent Endy Chavez. Both Blanco and Chavez are Rule 5 picks who must stick the whole season on the 40-man roster or be offered back to their original teams (Toronto and Cincinnati). Sledge had a solid rookie season though and has an interesting combination of power and speed, although he has not run much in the past three seasons.

Brad Wilkerson, CF, 27
2004: .255 .374 .498 32 67 13 160

Wilkerson is a solid fielding outfielder who can also play first base. He is probably better suited for a corner outfield position, but he can play an average centerfield. Wilkerson possesses the potential to hit 30-plus home runs but at this point he is still struggling to make consistent contact, as seen in his 152 strikeouts. He isn’t your prototypical all or nothing slugger, though, and he knows how to get on base; he walked 106 times last season.

Jose Guillen, RF, 29
2004: .294 .352 .497 27 104 5 148

Guillen is a volatile personality but there is no doubt he is a talented player. He is probably the only Nat who could easily hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs. Guillen is the epitome of the high risk, high reward player. The worst thing to happen to Guillen in his career was when the Pittsburgh Pirates jumped him from single-A to the major leagues and gave him a full-time outfield gig. He did not have the time to mature in the minors or develop a solid approach at the plate. Over the years, Guillen has matured as a hitter, although he is still too aggressive for his own good.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

2005 American League predictions

Here are my 2005 American League standings predictions. I am using a new equation to predict my standings this season and I am quite curious to see how they turn out. Basically, the prediction weighs runs scored versus runs allowed (based on historical trends). The biggest surprises to me were the Rays besting my beloved cellar-dwelling Jays, the inexperienced Indians taking the wide-open Central Division, and Texas taking the West.

American League
East
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox (Wildcard)
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Toronto Jays

Central
1. Cleveland Indians
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Kansas City Royals

West
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners

*Minnesota and Detroit are extremely close point-wise, with Detroit having the narrow edge. A strong season by the likes of Joe Mauer and good ol' Canadian boy Justin Morneau could vault the Twins over the Tigers.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Bullpen Candidates

The Nationals have an interesting looking bullpen and it could be one of the more successful areas of the club this season, as long as they are not overworked and can stay healthy. The only real problem with the pen, and the rest of the team for that matter, is a lack of depth.

1. Chad Cordero, RHP, 23
2004: 7-3 (win-loss) 69 (games) 82 2/3 (innings) 68 (hits allowed) 43-83 (BB-SO) 2.94 (ERA)

Cordero is the favorite to be the closer in 2005, a role which he filled with the Expos for part of 2004. The Nationals should be careful, however, as few young closers go on to have long, successful careers; most burnout after a few years. That said, Cordero possesses everything he needs to be a solid closer: a good fastball, a breaking ball and OK control.

2. Luis Ayala, RHP, 27
2004: 6-12 (win-loss) 81 (games) 90 2/3 (innings) 92 (hits allowed) 15-63 (BB-SO) 2.69 (ERA)

Ayala is one of those pitchers who isn’t a superstar but he makes teams better because he is on them. He provides innings out of the pen, doesn’t walk anyone and doesn’t cost much. Ayala also gets both left-handed and right-handed batters out.

3. Joey Eischen, LHP, 35
2004: 0 -1 (win-loss) 21 (games) 18 1/3 (innings) 16 (hits allowed) 8-17 (BB-SO) 3.93 (ERA)

Eischen resurrected his career three years ago with the Expos and hasn’t looked back, although he struggled with injuries last season. He should be healthy and continue to get lefties out.

4. Antonio Osuna, RHP, 32
2004: 2-1 (win-loss) 31 (games) 36 2/3 (innings) 32 (hits allowed) 11-36 (BB-SO) 2.45 (ERA)

Osuna was an excellent veteran pick up by the Nationals. He has put up solid numbers out of the pen for the past decade, most notably with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Osuna signed a lesser contract than he is likely worth mainly because he had injury problems in 2004, He should be healthy to start the season. Osuna could close if Cordero falters.

5. T.J. Tucker, RHP, 26
2004: 4-2 (win-loss) 54 (games) 67 2/3 (innings) 73 (hits allowed) 17-44 (BB-SO) 3.72 (ERA)

Tucker has bounced back and forth between the major leagues and the minors for the past few seasons and he put together a solid season out of the bullpen in 2004. Tucker has always battled problems with his weight and could probably benefit from having a better workout regiment, which would likely improve his stamina. He does not strikeout a ton of guys, but he doesn’t walk many anymore, either. Tucker is a solid third or fourth guy out of the pen and provides depth.

6. Gary Majewski, RHP, 25
2004: 0-1 (win-loss) 16 (games) 21 (innings) 28 (hits allowed) 5-12 (BB-SO) 3.86 (ERA)

Majewski has a good shot at starting the season in the Nationals pen, after pitching very well at the end of 2004 after coming over from the White Sox. However, he still has minor league options left and could get squeezed by Patterson, Vargas, Rauch or Day, all of whom lack options.

7. Joe Horgan, LHP, 27
2004: 4-1 (win-loss) 47 (games) 40 (innings) 35 (hits allowed) 22-30 (BB-SO) 3.15 (ERA)

Horgan has a good chance at being the second lefty out of the pen and the Nationals do not have a lot of left-handed pitchers at their disposal. Horgan pitched very well after initially struggling and posting a 6.75 ERA in his first 15 games.

*Both RHP Francis Beltran and LHP Chris Bentz (a non-roster spring invitee) have an outside shot at breaking camp with the big club, although they could lose out in the great ‘minor league options shuffle.’ Losers in the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will likely trickle down into the bullpen.

Nationals' pre-spring 40 man roster

40-man roster chart includes position, name, service time and contract status.

FYI: Players become free agents after six full seasons of major league service, unless under a long-term contract past that commitment. After three full years of service, players are eligible for salary arbitration, which raises their salary from league minimum levels.

Starters:
RHP Esteban Loaiza, 9-plus, 1 year/$2.9 million
RHP Livan Hernandez, 7.5 years, 3 years/$21 million
RHP Tomo Ohka, 4 years, 1 year/$2.75 million
RHP Tony Armas, 3-plus years service, 1 year/$2.3 million
RHP Zach Day, 2 years, 1 year/minimum
RHP Claudio Vargas, 2 years, 1 year/minimum
RHP John Patterson, 1 year, 1 year/minimum
RHP Jon Rauch, 19 games, 1 year/minimum
RHP Michael Hinckley, minors
RHP Josh Karp, minors
RHP Darrell Rasner, minors

Relievers:
RHP Antonio Osuna, 9 years, 1 year/$0.8 million
LHP Joey Eischen, 5 years, 1 year/?
RHP T.J. Tucker, 3 years, 1 year/minimum
RHP Luis Ayala, 2 years service, 1 year/minimum
RHP Chad Cordero, 1-plus years, 1 year/minimum
RHP Francis Beltran, 1 year, 1 year/minimum
LHP Joe Horgan, 47 games, 1 year/minimum
RHP Gary Majewski, 16 games, 1 year/minimum
RHP Danny Rueckel, minors


Catchers:
C Gary Bennett, 5 years, 1 year/$0.75 million
C Brian Schneider, 3-plus years, 1 year/$2 million

Infielders:
3B Vinny Castilla, 12-plus years, 2 years/$6.2 million
1B Wil Cordero, 12-plus years, 1 year/$0.6 million
2B Jose Vidro, 7 years, 4 years/$30 million (3 years remain)
SS Cristian Guzman, 6 years, 4 years/$16.8 million
1B Nick Johnson, 3-plus years, 1 year/$1.45 million
IF Jamey Carroll, 2-plus years, 1 year/$?
2B Henry Mateo, 1-plus years, 1 year/minimum
2B Brendan Harris, 23 games, 1 year/minimum
IF Alejandro Machado, minors
1B Larry Broadway, minors

Outfielders:
RF Jose Guillen, 7 years, 2 years/$6 million (1 year remains)
CF Brad Wilkerson, 3-plus, 1 year/$3 million
CF Endy Chavez, 2-plus years, 1 year/minimum
LF Terrmel Sledge, 1 year, 1 year/minimum
LF J.J. Davis, 53 games, 1 year/minimum
RF Ryan Church, 30 games, 1 year/minimum
CF Carlton (Tyrell) Godwin, minors
LF Tony Blanco, minors

Non-roster invitees/minor league free agents:
Dan Smith (RHP), Micah Bowie (LHP), Hector Carrasco (RHP), Seth Greisinger (RHP), Luis Pineda (RHP), George Arias (IF), Rick Short (IF), Jared Sandberg (3B), Phil Hiatt (1B), Keith Osik (C), Michael Coleman (OF), Jeffrey Hammonds (OF).

*Major league service time is estimated and unconfirmed.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

2005 Predictions - Standings

Here are my 2005 National League standings predictions. I am using a new equation to predict my standings this season and I am quite curious to see how they turn out. Basically, the prediction weighs runs scored versus runs allowed (based on historical trends). The biggest surprise was how well the Marlins are predicted to do and how poorly the Astros project... but they really do have a pretty weak offence with Bagwell and Biggio nearing the ends of their careers. It doesn't help, either, that Berkman is predicted to miss a month or two with an injury to his knee.

National League
East
1. Florida Marlins
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals

Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs (Wildcard)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Houston Astros

West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. San Diego Padres
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Colorado Rockies
5. Arizona Diamondbacks

*Originally the Cubs and Cardinals were flipped until the Sosa trade happened.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Possible Fifth Starters

Below are reports on the four pitchers most likely to end up as the fifth member of the starting rotation. Of the losers, one or two could find themselves in bullpen.

1. Zach Day, RHP, 26
2004: 5-10 (win-loss) 19 (games) 116 2/3 (innings) 117 (hits allowed) 45-61 (BB-SO) 3.93 (ERA)

Day is the best bet to fill the final spot in the Nationals rotation due to his solid career numbers. The only real problems that Day has are that he cannot seem to stay healthy and he could stand to strikeout more batters. Day relies on putting the ball in play, rather than rearing back and trying to blow the ball past hitters. Luckily for him, the Nationals have an above-average infield defense.

2. John Patterson, RHP, 27
2004: 4-7 (win-loss) 19 (games) 98 1/3 (innings) 100 (hits allowed) 46–99 (BB-SO) 5.03 (ERA)

Patterson finally found his way to the Expos’ organization last year after being a first round pick by them in 1996. However, a loophole, found by his agent, allowed him to become a free agent and he received a huge signing bonus from the new Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Things did not work out, mainly due to health concerns and inconsistency, so Patterson was dealt to the Expos when he ran out of options and could not be sent down without having to clear waivers.

Because Patterson, like all four of the pitchers featured here, is out of options he is likely to stick in the bullpen as a long reliever. His stuff probably translates better in the pen and he could eventually become a solid setup man or even a closer. He still has promise but time is running out for the 27-year-old. After I wrote this, John Dever of the Washington Nationals confirmed for me that only Patterson and Claudio Vargas are out of options. Thanks, John.

3. Jon Rauch, RHP, 26
2004: 4-1 (win-loss) 11 (games) 32 (innings) 30 (hits allowed) 11-22 (BB-SO) 2.81 (ERA)

At 6’10’’ Rauch looks like a monster on the mound but he has not been able to translate that imposing feature into any big league success, as of yet. One of the biggest problems Rauch had in the past was his maturity level and controversy with the White Sox last year resulted in the trade that found him in Montreal and now Washington.

Rauch did pitch a lot better in the National League after the trade and he might finally be ready to turn things around. The big question this year will be whether or not he gets another shot at the starting rotation.

4. Claudio Vargas, RHP, 26
2004: 5-5 (win-loss) 45 (games) 118 1/3 (innings) 120 (hit allowed) 64-89 (BB-SO) 5.25 (ERA)

Vargas is probably the pitcher most likely to lose out in a roster squeeze and could find himself in Triple-A New Orleans if he passes safely through waivers. Vargas’ ERA was a full run better as a reliever than as a starter and he has questionable control.