Nationals MLB News

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

Monday, March 21, 2005

Previewing the American League West

Here is a preview of the 2005 American League West Division:

Anaheim Angels
2004 finish: 92-70 (first)

Additions: Paul Byrd, Esteban Yan, Orlando Cabrera, Steve Finley, Maicer Izturis, Juan Rivera

Losses: David Eckstein, Jose Guillen, Troy Glaus, Troy Percival, Ben Weber, Aaron Sele.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Kelvim Escobar
LHP Jarrod Washburn
RHP John Lackey
RHP Paul Byrd

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Francisco Rodriguez
RHP Scot Shields
RHP Brendan Donnelly
LHP Mark Watson (non-roster)
RHP Esteban Yan
RHP Kevin Gregg

Projected Lineup:
C Bengie Molina
1B Darin Erstad
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Rob Quinlan
SS Orlando Cabrera
LF Garrett Anderson
CF Steve Finley
RF Vladimir Guerrero
DH Juan Rivera

Projected Bench:
C Jose Molina
IF Maicer Izturis
IF Chone Figgans
IF Lou Merloni (non-roster)
OF Jeff DaVanon

Top Prospects:
1. Casey Kotchman, 1b
2. Dallas McPherson, 3b
3. Erick Aybar, ss
4. Jeff Mathis, c
5. Kendry Morales, 1b/of

Top Pitcher: Bartolo Colon
Colon is good for 200 innings and 15 wins. His biggest problem, pun intended, has been his weight but it does not appear to affect his ability to stay healthy. It is something that will have to be watched as he gets older though.

Top Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero
Quite possibly one of the top 5 players in the American League, Guerrero can change the direction of a game with his potent bat or rifle of an outfield arm. He occasionally, though, makes things interesting in the outfield with his defence and can read balls poorly at times. There aren’t many GMs who would not want him on their team, even at $15 million a season.

Breakout Player: Dallas McPherson
McPherson will likely start the season on the DL but if he can get back quickly he has the chance to be one of the top rookies in the majors this season. He possesses tape-measure power but strikes out a ton. Expect a fast start, but he may struggle once pitchers have had a chance to develop a scouting report on him.

Oakland Athletics
2004 finish: 91-71 (second)

Additions:Kiko Calero, Dan Haren, Dan Meyer, Seth Etherton, Juan Cruz, Keiichi Yabu, Jason Kendall, Keith Ginter, Charles Thomas

Losses: Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Arthur Rhodes, Jermaine Dye, Damian Miller, Chris Hammond, Jim Mecir. Justin Lehr.

Projected Rotation:
LHP Barry Zito
RHP Rich Harden
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Seth Etherton
RHP Joe Blanton

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Octavio Dotel
RHP Huston Street (non-roster)
RHP Kiko Calero
LHP Ricardo Rincon
RHP Juan Cruz
RHP Justin Duchscherer
RHP Keiichi Yabu

Projected Lineup:
C Jason Kendall
1B Scott Hatteberg
2B Mark Ellis
3B Eric Chavez
SS Bobby Crosby
LF Eric Byrnes
CF Mark Kotsay
RF Nick Swisher
DH Erubiel Durazo

Projected Bench:
C Adam Melhuse
IF Keith Ginter
OF Bobby Kielty
OF Charles Thomas

Top Prospects:
1. Nick Swisher, of
2. Javi Herrera, of
3. Joe Blanton, rhp
4. Dan Johnson, 1b
5. Huston Street, rhp

Top Pitcher: Barry Zito
The remaining member of the Big 3, Zito does not possess the same nasty overall stuff of his former teammates, but he has a nasty curveball and is one of the better left-handed pitchers in the American League when healthy. He will have a lot more pressure on him this season so it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Top Hitter: Eric Chavez
Chavez goes about his business so quietly that it is hard to remember that he still plays for the A’s. But he does play and he is one of the best third basemen in the game and the A’s offensive catalyst. He is capable of hitting .300 with 30 or more home runs.

Breakout Player: Rich Harden
Harden is being asked to replace either Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder. No easy task for a pitcher with about a year’s worth of major league experience under his belt. But the A’s are confident that the young prodigy is ready to blossom – and he needs to if the team has any hope of winning the division. On the plus side he has better stuff than either Tim Hudson or even Mark Mulder.


Texas Rangers
2004 finish: 89-73 (third)

Additions: Richard Hidalgo, Sandy Alomar, Greg Colbrunn, Mark DeRosa.

Losses: Brian Jordan, Jay Powell, Eric Young.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Ryan Drese
RHP Ricardo Rodriguez
LHP Kenny Rogers
RHP Chan Ho Park
RHP Chris Young

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Francisco Cordero
RHP Carlos Almanzar
RHP Doug Brocail
LHP Brian Shouse
LHP Ron Mahay
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
RHP R.A. Dickey

Projected Lineup:
C Rod Barajas
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Alfonso Soriano
3B Hank Blalock
SS Michael Young
LF Kevin Mench
CF Laynce Nix
RF Richard Hidalgo
DH David Dellucci

Projected Bench:
C Sandy Alomar
IF Mark DeRosa (non-roster)
1B Greg Colbrunn
OF Gary Matthews

Top Prospects:
1. Thomas Diamond, rhp
2. John Danks, lhp
3. Joaquin Arias, ss
4. Ian Kinsler, ss
5. Chris Young, rhp

Top Pitcher: Francisco Cordero
Cordero burst onto the closer scene last season and cemented himself as one of the most feared closers in the game. He, along with the rest of the solid relief staff, helps make up for the dismal starting pitching. If he can stay healthy and keep his composure, Cordero should be good for 40-50 saves.

Top Hitter: Michael Young
There are many great young hitters on the Rangers but so far Young has been the most consistent. Teixeira, Blalock, Mench and/or Soriano could surpass him this season though, as they all have higher offensive ceilings. Young was absolutely stolen in a trade with the Blue Jays for Esteban Loaiza.

Breakout Player: Ricardo Rodriguez
Everyone knows about the plethora of great young hitters the Rangers have, but what they really need – if they want to compete – is pitching. Rodriguez is the best of the bunch that Texas currently has that can help them at the major league level now. Obtained from Cleveland for an excess outfielder, he has the potential to be a steal if he can stay healthy, but he only appeared in five games, while battling injuries.


Seattle Mariners
2004 finish: 63-99 (fourth)

Additions: Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Aaron Sele, Pokey Reese.

Losses: John Olerud, Edgar Martinez.

Projected Rotation:
LHP Jamie Moyer
RHP Joel Pineiro
LHP Bobby Madritsch
RHP Gil Meche
RHP Aaron Sele

Projected Bullpen:
RHP J.J. Putz
RHP Shigetoshi Hasegawa
RHP Cha Baek
LHP Ron Villone
LHP George Sherrill
RHP Ryan Franklin

Projected Lineup:
C Miguel Olivo
1B Richie Sexson
2B Brett Boone
3B Adrian Beltre
SS Pokey Reese
LF Randy Winn
CF Jeremy Reed
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Raul Ibanez

Projected Bench:
C Dan Wilson
IF Jose Lopez
IF Scott Spiezio
IF/OF Willie Bloomquist

Top Prospects:
1. Felix Hernandez, rhp
2. Jeremy Reed, of
3. Shin-Soo Choo, of
4. Clint Nageotte, rhp
5. Matt Tuiasosopo, ss

Top Pitcher: Jamie Moyer
For lack of a better supporting cast, Moyer is still the Mariners best pitcher at the age of 42. He barely throws harder than a 12-year-old but Moyer can spot any of his pitches anywhere he wants and he knows how to out-think a hitter. If he can stay healthy he should be good for 180-200 innings and 14-16 wins with an improved offence and defence.

Top Hitter: Ichiro Suzuki
Suzuki should be even better this season with Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre driving him in constantly. Quite frankly, Ichiro is probably the best hitter in the game and there is no reason he should not achieve 220 or more hits this season along with 30 stolen bases and a .320 or better average.

Breakout Player: Gil Meche
Meche battled injuries for three seasons after appearing in the major leagues for the first time at the age of 20. Since his debut, the Mariners have been waiting for the big things to happen, which have been forecasted for Meche since he was a first round pick in 1996. Meche needs to work on his confidence, command and pitching ahead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Nationals make seven roster moves

The Washington Nationals today optioned first baseman Larry Broadway and right-handed pitcher Danny Rueckel to Triple-A New Orleans, as well as right-handed pitcher Darrell Rasner to Double-A Harrisburg. The Nationals also reassigned catchers John Wilson and Hector Ortiz to minor league camp.

In addition, the Nationals placed infielder Henry Mateo (right-shoulder tendinitis) and right-handed pitcher Claudio Vargas (right-elbow sprain) on the 15-Day Disabled List. Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden made the announcements.

Spring Training Update - March 16

Washington Nationals Record: 7-6 (.538)
Hitters’ stats include: hits/at-bats, average, home runs
Pitchers’ stats include: ERA, innings, hits allowed, BB/SO

Hot Hitters:
SS Ian Desmond – 8 for 26 .308 0
IF Brendan Harris – 8 for 25 .320 0
OF Tyrell Godwin – 7 for 20 .350 0
C Brian Schneider – 6 for 19 .316 0
IF Jamey Carroll – 7 for 19 .368 0; four doubles
OF J.J. Davis – 8 for 18 .444 1; .889 slugging percentage
SS Cristian Guzman – 8 for 16 .500 1
IF George Arias – 5 for 15 .333 0
IF-OF Tony Blanco – 5 for 15 .333 0

Cold Hitters:
OF Endy Chavez – 2 for 21 .190 0
OF Brad Wilkerson – 3 for 16 .188 2
3B Vinny Castilla – 1 for 16 .063 0
OF Jeffrey Hammonds – 5 for 21 .238 1
OF Jose Guillen – 3 for 13 .231 1


Hot Pitchers:
RHP Livan Hernandez – 2.57 14 12 1-6
RHP Esteban Loaiza – 3.00 9 12 0-5
RHP Jon Rauch – 2.25 8 7 2-4
RHP Chad Cordero – 1.80 5 3 1-7
RHP Danny Rueckel – 0.00 5 3 2-2
RHP Sunny Kim – 3.38 5.2 4 1-6
LHP Joe Horgan – 0.00 3 2 1-3

Cold Pitchers:
RHP Tony Armas – 5.19 8.6 8 4-6
RHP John Patterson – 6.75 8 10 1-5
LHP Michael Hinckley – 12.00 6 14 5-3; demoted
RHP T.J. Tucker – 12.00 6 8 1-4
RHP Zack Day – 9.00 5 7 2-2
RHP Gary Majewski – 14.73 3.6 5 6-4
LHP Joey Eischen – 8.10 3.2 7 3-2

Conclusions:
Well the Washington hitters are definitely ahead of the pitchers at this point, which goes against the norm. On the hitter’s side of things, Ian Desmond is really turning people’s heads after being a late addition to spring training due to a shortage of infielders. He won’t the team, after being drafting out of high school in 2004, but he has likely secured himself a spot on a full-season team, likely in Savannah (low-A). Even so, not bad for a teenager. Endy Chavez and Jeffrey Hammonds are going to have difficult times making the squad, especially with Rule 5 picks Tony Blanco and Tyrell Godwin playing so well. J.J. Davis has been a monster this spring and most likely will head north with the team at the end of spring training. Brendan Harris looks ready for the majors, but there is just no room for him at this point so he will likely head back to triple-A.

On the mound, Jon Rauch has stepped up his game in pursuit of a roster spot. He has options left though, so he can be safely sent to the minors, unlike the struggling John Patterson or Claudio Vargas. T.J. Tucker and Joey Eischen are veterans who are likely to make the bullpen despite their struggles. Chad Cordero looks good in his pursuit to start the season as the team’s closer. Keep an eye on Danny Rueckel. Even if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he could be the first man called up in the event of a pitcher’s injury.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Previewing the American League Central

Minnesota Twins
2004 finish: 92-70 (first)

Additions: Mike Redmond, Juan Castro

Losses: Henry Blanco, Cristian Guzman, Corey Koskie,

Projected Rotation:
RHP Brad Radke
LHP Johan Santana
RHP Joe Mays
RHP Kyle Lohse
RHP Carlos Silva

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Joe Nathan
RHP Juan Rincon
RHP Jesse Crain
LHP J.C. Romero
LHP David Gassner
LHP Terry Mulholland (non-roster)
RHP Grant Balfour

Projected Lineup:
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
2B Luis Rivas
3B Michael Cuddyer
SS Jason Bartlett
LF Shannon Stewart
CF Tori Hunter
RF Jacque Jones
DH Matt LeCroy

Projected Bench:
C Mike Redmond
IF Juan Castro
IF Nick Punto
OF Lew Ford

Top Prospects:
1. Joe Mauer, C
2. Jason Kubel, OF
3. J.D. Durbin, RHP
4. Jesse Crain, RHP
5. Francisco Liriano, LHP

Top Pitcher: Johan Santana
Santana had an OK year last year. All right, he had a pretty darn awesome year and won the Cy Young award after posting a 20-6 record and striking out 265. The left hander was positively stolen out of the Houston organization in the Rule 5 draft in 1999. Expect more of the same this year and for many more to come.

Top Hitter: Tori Hunter
The Twins do not have any really mashers on their team, but have a very lineup with solid MLB hitters. That said, Hunter is the best of the group and he is made even more valuable with his Gold Glove defence in centerfield.

Breakout Player: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau (tie)
The Twins have two of the best young hitters in the major leagues in their everyday lineup this season. Mauer could hit .300 as a rookie out of the catcher position and play above average defence. He could also eventually add power to his offensive totals. Morneau, a Canadian, battled injuries and illness all winter but should be ready to provide 30 to 40 home runs and Gold Glove defence at first base.

Chicago White Sox
2004 finish: 83-79 (second)

Additions: Dustin Hermanson, Tadahito Iguchi, A.J. Pierzynski, Luis Vizcaino, Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik

Losses: Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar, Magglio Ordonez, Scott Schoeneweis, Jose Valentin, Carlos Lee

Projected Rotation:
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Orlando Hernandez
RHP Jose Contreras
RHP Freddy Garcia
RHP Jon Garland

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Dustin Hermanson
RHP Shingo Takatsu
RHP Luis Vizcaino
LHP Damaso Marte
LHP Neal Cotts
RHP Cliff Politte
RHP John Adkins

Projected Lineup:
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Paul Konerko
2B Tadahito Iguchi
3B Joe Crede
SS Juan Uribe
LF Aaron Rowand
CF Scott Podsednik
RF Jermaine Dye
DH Carl Everett

Projected Bench:
C Ben Davis
IF Willie Harris
IF Ross Gload
OF Timo Perez

Top Prospects:
1. Brian Anderson, OF
2. Ryan Sweeney, OF
3. Brandon McCarthy, RHP
4. Josh Fields, 3B
5. Sean Tracey, RHP

Top Pitcher: Mark Buehrle
Buehrle has risen from obscurity as a 38th round draft pick by the Sox to become the ace of their staff and one of the best lefties in the game. He has pitched more than 200 innings in each of his four full seasons in the rotation and he significantly improved his strike outs rates last season, which bodes well for the future.

Top Hitter: Paul Konerko
Konerko had an off year in 2003 and his contract looked like an albatross. But he got hot in 2004 and more than justified the $8 million he earned. Only 29, Konerko has eight years of experience in the major leagues, after being a No. 1 pick by the Dodgers out of high school He has the potential to hit 40 home runs, drive in 100 runs and bat .300.

Breakout Player: Neal Cotts
Cotts seems to owe his success more to his funky left-handed delivery than his average 88-93 MPH fastball. That said, he possesses a lot of promise and has always put up solid numbers. He could turn into a very good No. 3 starter in the majors if the Sox ever get tired of throwing veteran fodder Contreras and Hernandez out there.

Cleveland Indians
2004 finish: 80-82 (third)

Additions: Kevin Millwood, Scott Sauerbeck, Arthur Rhodes, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Cora, Jose Hernandez

Losses: Josh Phelps, Omar Vizquel, Rick White, Matt Lawton

Projected Rotation:
LHP C.C. Sabathia
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Jake Westbrook
RHP Kevin Millwood
RHP Scott Elarton

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Bob Wickman
RHP David Riske
RHP Jason Davis
LHP Rafael Betancourt
LHP Arthur Rhodes
RHP Bob Howry
LHP Scott Sauerbeck

Projected Lineup:
C Victor Martinez
1B Ben Broussard
2B Ronnie Belliard
3B Aaron Boone
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Juan Gonzalez
CF Coco Crisp
RF Casey Blake
DH Travis Hafner

Projected Bench:
C Josh Bard
IF Jose Hernandez
IF Alex Cora
OF Ryan Ludwick

Top Prospects:
1. Adam Miller, RHP
2. Michael Aubrey, 1B
3. Franklin Gutierrez, OF
4. Brad Snyder, OF
5. Jeremy Sowers, LHP

Top Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia
Sabathia is as good as he is rotund. He is one of the best lefties in the American League despite his 6’7’’ 270 to 300 pound frame. The only real problem with Sabathia is that his weight has put a large strain on his body and he has problems staying healthy.

Top Hitter: Travis Hafner
Hafner was a little older when he finally got the opportunity to play full-time but he made the most of it. He is now, already, one of the most feared young hitters in the league after hitting ..311 .410 .583 and driving in 109 runs. He is a pretty poor defender at first base though and should DH the majority of the time, especially with Ben Broussard at first base.

Breakout Player: Ben Broussard
Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez both broke out last season with great campaigns, and now it is Broussard’s turn. His offensive numbers, .275 .370 .488, were average to below average for a first baseman, but he also offers excellent defence. His offensive numbers have also increased each of the last three seasons and he had solid minor league statistics.

Detroit Tigers
2004 finish: 72-90 (fourth)

Additions: Maggio Ordonez, Troy Percival, Kyle Farnsworth, Ramon Martinez

Losses: Eric Munson, Esteban Yan

Projected Rotation:
LHP Mike Maroth
RHP Jeremy Bonderman
LHP Nate Robertson
RHP Jason Johnson
LHP Wil Ledezma

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Troy Percival
RHP Ugueth Urbina
RHP Kyle Farnsworth
LHP Jamie Walker
LHP Steve Coyler
RHP Franklyn German
RHP Colby Lewis

Projected Lineup:
C Pudge Rodriguez
1B Carlos Pena
2B Omar Infante
3B Brandon Inge
SS Carlos Guillen
LF Rondell White
CF Alex Sanchez
RF Magglio Ordonez
DH Dmitri Young

Projected Bench:
C Vance Wilson
IF Ramon Martinez
OF Craig Monroe
OF Bobby Higginson

Top Prospects:
1. Curtis Ganderson, OF
2. Kyle Sleeth, RHP
3. Justin Verlander, RHP
4. Joel Zumaya, RHP
5. Humberto Sanchez, RHP

Top Pitcher: Jeremy Bonderman
At the age of 22 Bonderman is the Tigers best pitcher, which says something about his promise AND the Tigers lack of pitching depth. That said, Bonderman has filthy stuff and is just starting to figure out how to pitch so the sky is the limit for this young pitcher.

Top Hitter: Magglio Ordonez


Breakout Player: Jeremy Bonderman
Bonderman? What’s he doing here… isn’t he already the Tigers’ best pitcher? Sure he is, but he also possesses the potential to be one of the best in the Major Leagues. He throws a 93-97 MPH fastball, an 83-88 MPH slider (which is harder than some pitchers throw their fastball) and a changeup. Once he learns how to "pitch" instead of just throw, he could be unstoppable.

Kansas City Royals
2004 finish: 58-104 (fifth)

Additions:Jose Lima, Andy Sisco, Eli Marrero, Terrence Long

Losses: Darrell May, Juan Gonzalez, Joe Randa, Desi Relaford, Dennis Reyes, Kelly Stinnett,

Projected Rotation:
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Jose Lima
RHP Mike Wood
LHP Brian Anderson
LHP Chris George

Projected Bullpen:
LHP Jeremy Affeldt
RHP Nate Field
RHP Mike MacDougal
LHP Jamie Cerda
LHP Andy Sisco
RHP Denny Bautista
RHP Shawn Camp

Projected Lineup:
C John Buck
1B Mike Sweeney
2B Ruben Gotay
3B Mark Teahen
SS Angel Berroa
LF Eli Marrero
CF David DeJesus
RF Matt Stairs
DH Ken Harvey

Projected Bench:
C Alberto Castillo (non-roster)
IF Tony Graffanino
OF Aaron Guiel
OF Terrence Long

Top Prospects:
1. Billy Butler, 3B
2. Denny Bautista, RHP
3. Mark Teahen, 3B
4. Chris Lubanski, OF
5. Justin Huber, C-IF

Top Pitcher: Jeremy Affeldt
Unable to stay healthy in the starting rotation, Affeldt was moved to the bullpen and the Royals hope he, and his nasty left-handed stuff, makes the transition to dominating closer. The Royals, like the Tigers, are weak in pitching depth but Affeldt holds a lot of promise.

Top Hitter: Mike Sweeney
Sweeney is not the hitter he once was, but he is still the best the Royals have to offer. He is capable of hitting above .300 and he knows how to drive in runs, even if he does not quite possess typical first baseman-type power. He is also a smart hitter and rarely gets himself out.

Breakout Player: Zack Greinke
Greinke probably came as close as any other pitcher in quite a few years to being ready for the major leagues right out of high school. Unlike Bonderman in Detroit, Greinke has mastered the ability to pitch, much like Greg Maddux. Unfortunately Greinke does not possess the same stuff as Bonderman or Maddux in his prime. But his repertoire is good enough to make him a very solid major league pitcher, although probably no better than a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Beltran to have elbow surgery

The Washington Nationals announced that earlier today right-handed pitcher Francis Beltran was examined in Birmingham, Alabama by Dr. James Andrews, who confirmed the diagnosis of a near-complete ulnar-collateral ligament tear and agreed with the recommendation of Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, Nationals orthopedic surgeon, to reconstruct the ligament.

Surgery will be performed by Dr. Andrews, with Dr. Douoguih present, on March 15 in Birmingham. The club also today placed Beltran on the 60-Day Disabled List, according to Nationals general manager Jim Bowden.

Beltran was acquired from Chicago (NL) as part of a 4-team deal on July 31, 2004. The 25-year-old is 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA in 56 career games spanning parts of two big league seasons with the Cubs and Expos.

He will likely miss the entire season.

Nationals trim three more from roster

The Washington Nationals optioned left-handed pitcher Mike Hinckley to Double-A Harrisburg and reassigned right-handed pitcher Dan Smith to minor league camp on March 14, according to general manager Jim Bowden. The club also optioned right-handed pitcher Josh Karp to Triple-A New Orleans.

Hinckley was named by Bowden as a long shot to make the team this season despite not pitching above double-A. However, he struggled in the spring and posted a 12.00 ERA in six innings of work.

Smith was returning from surgery and will continue to work his way back as a member of the New Orleans bullpen.

Karp, a former No. 1 draft pick, has struggled in recent years despite his huge promise and No. 1 starter repertoire. He may be converted to the bullpen this year and join Smith in the New Orleans pen.

In other news, second baseman Jose Vidro hyper-extended his elbow and should be out for a few days. It is not considered serious.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Nationals sell 50,000 tickets in six hours

The Washington Nationals sold over 50,000 tickets during the first six hours of individual game ticket sales; with the predominance of transactions handled online (87%), followed by phone sales (8%), and Ticketmaster outlets and RFK Stadium Box Office sales at 5%. The top five selling games were contests on Saturday, May 14 (vs. Chicago-NL), Sunday, May 15 (vs. Chicago-NL), Sunday, April 3 (Exhibition game vs New York (NL) with net proceeds slated for the Washington Nationals Foundation), Saturday, April 30 (vs. Philadelphia), and Friday, May 13 (vs. Chicago-NL).

Single game tickets were available for the Nationals' first game at RFK Stadium vs. the NY Mets benefiting Washington, D.C. area charities on April 3, and all regular season games, excluding Opening Night, Thursday, April 14. Sales began at noon and fans were able to purchase tickets at the RFK Stadium Box Office, by visiting any Ticketmaster outlet, calling Ticketmaster at 202-397-SEAT (7328), or logging onto www.nationals.com.

Prior to the Box Office opening at noon, several raffle prizes were given away to those waiting in line to purchase tickets. Rob Larsen of Washington, DC was the first raffle drawing winner, as he took home two (2) tickets to Opening Night on April 14, when the Nationals host the Arizona Diamondbacks at RFK Stadium.

In addition to the publicized drawings, the Washington Nationals rewarded the first fan in line with four (4) tickets to Opening Night. Marvin Jones, a native of Washington, D.C., lined up at the Box Office ticket windows at 7:15 am on Saturday morning. Jones was shocked to learn that he was going to receive tickets to the much coveted game on April 14. "Baseball is finally back in Washington, D.C. - where it belongs," commented Jones, who grew up just blocks from RFK Stadium in Northeast.

Other items that were given away included a Nationals authentic home jersey, an authentic Spring Training jersey, a Nationals t-shirt and Nationals cap. Fans waiting in line were treated to donated food items, including Dominic's hot dogs, Krispy Kreme donuts, and Sierra Mist soda, along with music onsite provided by 93.9 WKYS-FM Radio.

Tickets for the Nationals Home Opener on April 14 will go on sale Saturday, March 26 at noon. Nationals fans will be able to purchase up to four (4) tickets each per transaction for Opening Night. The Nationals group sales program will not be in effect for Opening Night. Tickets may be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 202-397-SEAT (7328), visiting the RFK Stadium Box Office or any Ticketmaster Outlet, or logging onto www.nationals.com.

Friday, March 11, 2005

An early look at the minor leagues: Double-A ball

The Harrisburg Senators
Eastern League (Double-A ball)
Season starts: April 7 versus Bowie

In the list below, uppercased players appear to be the most likely to make the major leagues, although it is very early in their careers. Scouting reports (previously published on this site) have also been included for players on the Nationals’ top 15 pitchers and top 15 hitters lists. The majority of hitters in Harrisburg, though, are minor league veterans and journeymen. There are few, if any, prospects. As always, more in depth statistics for all players can be found at The Baseball Cube.

Pitchers’ stats include ERA, innings pitched, walks-strikeouts. Hitters’ stats include batting average, on-base average and slugging percentage.

Field Staff: Keith Bodie, manager; Rick Tomlin, pitching coach; Frank Cacciatore, coach

Starting Rotation
LHP MIKE HINCKLEY
Experience: 4
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 2.87, 94, 23-80

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.

RHP DARRELL RASNER
Experience: 3
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 210
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 3.17, 119, 31-88

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.

LHP Brett Price
Experience: 4
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 5’10’’ 165
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 3.53, 99, 53-100

RHP Jason Stevenson
Experience: 4
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 175
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 4.06 135, 46-75

LHP Michael O’Connor
Experience: 3
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 4.11, 103, 42-104

Bullpen
LHP RICH RUNDLES
Experience: 6
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 180
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 3.42, 102, 35-65

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 but there may not be room for him there. 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.

RHP Jason Bergmann
Experience: 3
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 185
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 1.14, 31, 18-28

RHP Josh Girdley
Experience: 6
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 180
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 5.24, 34, 15-19

RHP Chris Barlow
Experience: 3
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’6’’ 210
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 4.27, 111, 24-48

RHP Dan Kolb
Experience: 4
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 5.79, 84, 44-76

RHP David Gil
Experience: 5
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 210
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 6.86, 84, 34-55

LHP Alex Lontayo
Experience: 1
Age: 29
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats:

RHP Kip Bouknight
Experience: 4
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6’0’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Triple-A, 6.75, 62, 32-38

RHP Mark Difelice
Experience: 7
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Triple-A, 3.44, 89, 27-70

RHP Shawn Hill (DL)
Experience: 5
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’2’’ 185
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 3.39, 87, 20-53

A 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.

Lineup
C Jason Belcher
Experience: 5
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .289 .357 .438

1B Aaron McNeal
Experience: 7
Age: 27
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .260 .313 .434

2B Melvin Dorta
Experience: 6
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .261 .310 .327

3B Shawn Norris
Experience: 4
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .315 .429 .500

SS Ramon Castro
Experience: 8
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: Triple-A, 228 .317 .350

LF Doc Brooks
Experience: 6
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .332 .401 .561

CF Marcus Nettles
Experience: 5
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .246 .302 .283

RF Cristian Guerrero
Experience: 7
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .248 .286 .405

Bench
C John Wilson
Experience: 5
Age: 26
2004 Level and Stats: Triple-A, .256 .318 .393

C Drew McMillan
Experience: 6
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, 214 .275 .295

IF Dan Dement
Experience: 5
Age: 26
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .256 .318 .443

IF Wes Carroll
Experience: 4
Age: 26
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .244 .308 .303

1B Clyde Williams
Experience: 7
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .238 .288 .417

OF Juan Camilo
Experience: 9
Age: 28
2004 Level and Stats: Double-A, .262 .341 .421

Next up is the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Nationals' March 10 game vs Indians

All right, I have a little time this afternoon so let's take a look at the Nationals split-squad game this afternoon, which they lost to the Cleveland Indians 3-1.
FYI: The other half of the Nationals also lost to Florida 5-3.
The outfield battle continues to heat up J.J. Davis and Carlton (Tyrell) Godwin having excellent games. Both outfield hopefuls went 2 for 3 and Davis drove in the Nationals only run. Endy Chavez took another 0-fer.
Young infielder Ian Desmond, who has dazzled people with his defensive prowess, had a tough day at the dish going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. He also made an error at shortstop.
On the mound, everything went smoothly for the Nationals until the wheels fell off in the eighth inning for Dan Smith, who lost the game after allowing three runs on three hits. An error also figured into the equation.
Tomo Ohka pitched three shutout innings and Jon Rauch followed up with two. Chad Cordero and Joe Horgan each pitched a successful inning of work as well.
So far the pitching looks really good for the Nationals, but six hits is not going to get it done on most nights.

Previewing the American League East

The 2005 American League East Division:

New York Yankees
2004 finish: 101-61 (first)

Additions: Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Felix Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, Tony Womack, Rey Sanchez, Mike Stanton

Losses: Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber, Travis Lee, Miguel Cairo, Enrique Wilson

Projected Rotation:
LHP Randy Johnson
RHP Mike Mussina
RHP Kevin Brown
RHP Carl Pavano
RHP Jaret Wright

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Mariano Rivera
RHP Tom Gordon
RHP Paul Quantrill
LHP Mike Stanton
RHP Steve Karsay
RHP Felix Rodriguez
RHP Tanyon Sturtze

Projected Lineup:
C Jorge Posada
1B Tino Martinez
2B Tony Womack
3B Alex Rodriguez
SS Derek Jeter
LF Hideki Matsui
CF Bernie Williams
RF Gary Sheffield
DH Jason Giambi

Projected Bench:
C John Flaherty
IF Rey Sanchez
IF Andy Phillips
OF Ruben Sierra

Top Prospects:
1. Eric Duncan, 3B
2. Robinson Cano, 2B
3. Philip Hughes, RHP
4. Steve White, RHP
5. Christian Garcia, RHP

Top Pitcher: Randy Johnson
There have been three Randy Johnsons who have played in the major leagues and I think it is safe to say that this incarnation is the best of the three. He has been a dominating force for the past fifteen years and should continue to be so for at least another year or two, or so the Yankees have gambled. At the age of 41 Johnson is still one of the best pitchers in the major leagues and good for almost 300 strikeouts, 200 innings and 15 to 17 wins. It’s hard to imagine this guy once walked 152 batters in a major league season. And just think, if the Expos had not traded him in 1989 for veteran Mark Langston he might have been a Washington National…

Top Hitter: Alex Rodriguez
Perhaps one of the best hitters in the majors, A-Rod’s reputation has taken a big hit since his glory days in Seattle and he is no longer the golden boy of baseball. Rodriguez left Seattle for record-setting riches in Texas, which were one of the worst teams in baseball, despite his supposed desire to play for a winner. Well, that didn’t work out and now Rodriguez is a member of the Yankees, playing for a winner and still collecting his huge paycheck. Business aside, Rodriguez is a constant threat in the lineup and good for 35 to 50 home runs, 100 RBI and close to a .300 average.

Breakout Player: Andy Phillips
Phillips has had a heck of a time getting out of the minor leagues, while playing in an organization that favors veterans. He turns 28 this year, which is way too old to have a productive, above-average major league career for someone who has only played five games in the majors. That said, Phillips could develop into an awesome utility player for five or six years. He can play third base and second base and possesses power. He hit .318 .388 .569 last season in triple-A Columbus with 26 home runs. Phillips also has a minor league career average of .296.


Boston Red Sox
2004 finish: 98-64 (second)

Additions: Matt Clement, John Halama, Edgar Renteria, Ramon Vazquez, Jay Payton

Losses: Pedro Martinez, Doug Mientkiewicz, Dave Roberts

Projected Rotation:
RHP Curt Schilling
RHP Matt Clement
RHP David Wells
RHP Tim Wakefield
LHP Bronson Arroyo

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Keith Foulke
RHP Mike Timlin
RHP Byung Hung Kim
LHP Alan Embree
LHP John Halama
RHP Matt Mantei

Projected Lineup:
C Jason Varitek
1B Kevin Millar
2B Mark Bellhorn
3B Bill Mueller
SS Edgar Renteria
LF Manny Ramirez
CF Johnny Damon
RF Trot Nixon
DH David Ortiz

Projected Bench:
C Doug Mirabelli
IF Ramon Vazquez
IF Kevin Youkilis
OF Jay Payton
OF Adam Stern (Rule 5)

Top Prospects:
1. Hanley Ramirez, SS
2. Brandon Moss, OF
3. Jon Papelbon, RHP
4. Jon Lester. LHP
5. Anibal Sanchez, RHP

Top Pitcher: Curt Schilling
What is left to say about the one-ankled wonder that has been said in numerous news stories, documentaries and at every New England office water cooler? Like his former teammate, Randy Johnson, Schilling is one of the best pitchers in the major leagues and back at "home" with the team that originally signed him. It just took him 19 years to throw a major league pitch for the Red Sox. But, all things considered, it turned out pretty well for Red Sox fans. Expect another couple of star seasons for this pitcher, if he can stay healthy.

Top Hitter: Manny Ramirez
Considering that he was put on waivers two years ago, it’s hard to believe that Ramirez is one of the most feared hitters in the majors. But he also comes with an enormous contract and collected $22.5 million last season, which has kept the Red Sox from being able to improve the team around him as much as they would have liked. Again, though, it seems to have worked out for them. Believe it or not, his line of .308 .397 .613 is slightly below his usual output. I certainly wouldn’t scoff at 43 home runs or 130 RBI though.

Breakout Player: Bronson Arroyo
Arroyo teased the Pirates with his promise for years after being drafted out of the third round in 1995. It all came together for him in Boston, though, and he became one of the best No. 5 starters in the major leagues, which is no doubt one of the reasons the Red Sox won the World Series. He won’t get as many innings as other Red Sox starters if he stays in the five spot, but he could be good for 12-14 wins and 170-190 innings. There has also been a belief among scouts that Arroyo could make a solid closer someday.


Baltimore Orioles
2004 finish: 78-84 (third)

Additions: Sammy Sosa, Steve Reed, Steve Kline, Jay Witasick, Chris Gomez

Losses: Jerry Hairston, Marty Cordova

Projected Rotation:
RHP Sidney Ponson
RHP Rodrigo Lopez
RHP Erik Bedard
RHP Daniel Cabrera
LHP Bruce Chen

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Jorge Julio
RHP Steve Reed
RHP Jay Witasick (non-roster)
LHP B.J. Ryan
LHP Steve Kline
LHP John Parrish
LHP Matt Riley

Projected Lineup:
C Javier Lopez
1B B.J. Surhoff
2B Brian Roberts
3B Melvin Mora
SS Miguel Tejada
LF Jay Gibbons
CF Luis Matos
RF Sammy Sosa
DH Rafael Palmeiro

Projected Bench:
C Geronimo Gil
IF David Newhan
IF Chris Gomez
OF Larry Bigbie

Top Prospects:
1. Nick Markakis, OF
2. Hayden Penn, RHP
3. Adam Loewen, LHP
4. Val Majewski, OF
5. Jeff Fiorentio, OF

Top Pitcher: Sidney Ponson
I actually happened to be in Aruba this winter when Ponson was arrested in his homeland for allegedly punching out a judge in a beach dispute. Everyone on the island was talking about it and Ponson has decided to turn his back on Aruba and remain in the U.S. full-time. Whether his tumultuous off-season has any affect on his season remains to be seen, but he wasn’t overly effective last season after signing a lucrative free agent contract with the team that originally signed him. If everything goes well, Ponson should be good for 15 wins and 200 innings.

Top Hitter: Miguel Tejada
Once considered in the second tier of shortstops, after Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, Tejada has either joined them or surpassed some of them. A big money free agent signee by the Orioles two off-seasons ago, he did not disappoint in his first season with his new club. Tejada hit .311 .360 .534 and drove in an amazing 150 runs for a club that wasn’t all that good. At the age of 29, he should have quite a few more great seasons ahead of him.

Breakout Player: B.J. Ryan
What’s not to like when a left-handed reliever strikes out 122 in 87 innings. That’s right, nothing. Ryan is already a pretty darn good player, so why is he set to breakout? All signs point to him being anointed the Orioles’ closer this season over inconsistent incumbent Jorge Julio (another former Expo). There aren’t many left-handed closers outside or Billy Wagner, but Ryan has the nasty stuff to be just as successful.

Tampa Bay Rays
2004 finish: 70-91 (fourth)

Additions: Denny Neagle, Casey Fossum, Mark Guthrie, Travis Lee, Roberto Alomar, Kevin Cash, Alex Gonzalez, Danny Bautista, Josh Phelps

Losses: Jose Cruz, Tino Martinez, Geoff Blum, Rey Sanchez, John Halama, Chad Gaudin

Projected Rotation:
LHP Mark Hendrickson
LHP Denny Neagle (non-roster)
RHP Dewon Brazelton
RHP Doug Waechter
LHP Casey Fossum

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Danys Baez
RHP Travis Harper
RHP Jesus Colome
LHP Mark Guthrie (non-roster)
LHP Trever Miller
RHP Lance Carter
RHP Rob Bell

Projected Lineup:
C Toby Hall
1B Travis Lee
2B Roberto Alomar
3B Alex Gonzalez
SS Julio Lugo
LF Aubrey Huff
CF Carl Crawford
RF Danny Bautista
DH Josh Phelps

Projected Bench:
C Kevin Cash
IF Jorge Cantu
IF/OF Eduardo Perez
OF Joey Gathright

Top Prospects:
1. Delmon Young, OF
2. Scott Kazmir, LHP
3. Joey Gathright, OF
4. Jason Hammel, RHP
5. Reid Brignac, 3B

Top Pitcher: Denny Neagle
It’s kind of scary to think that a team’s best pitcher has battled injuries for two years, had Tommy John surgery and was arrested in the off-season for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. But everyone deserves a second chance and that’s what the Rays are for Neagle. And he also supplies the Rays with a solid veteran left-handed pitcher who won 20 games seven years ago. At the age of 36, coming off a major injury and the mental scars from pitching in Colorado, I’m not sure how much Neagle has to offer besides experience.

Top Hitter: Aubrey Huff
Huff edges out speedy Carl Crawford for the Rays best hitter because of his game-changing power, solid eye at the plate and good bat control. The only thing Huff does poorly (actually it’s horrendous) is field his position, whether it be third base, first base or the outfield. With Josh Phelps at DH and Travis Lee at 1B, though, Huff is going to find himself in the outfield this season. If he hits like he did two seasons ago, .311 .367 .555, his defence can be easily overlooked.

Breakout Player: Doug Waechter
If healthy this season, this local St.Petersburg boy stands to be a solid member of the Rays rotation. He has put up solid minor league numbers and possesses the stuff to be a solid third or fourth starter in the major leagues. Waechter struggled last season and posted a 6.01 ERA but he wasn’t hit really hard and only allowed 68 hits in 70 1/3 innings. That said, 20 of those 68 hits were home runs. His strikeout totals were down to 36 and he must learn to stop allowing teams to put so many balls in play, at least until the Rays improve their overall team defence.


Toronto Jays
2004 finish: 67-94 (fifth)

Additions: Corey Koskie, Billy Koch, Scott Schoeneweis, John McDonald, Shea Hillenbrand

Losses: Carlos Delgado, Chris Gomez, Dave Berg, Chris Woodward

Projected Rotation:
RHP Roy Halladay
LHP Ted Lilly
RHP Miguel Batista
RHP David Bush
RHP Josh Towers

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Justin Speier
RHP Billy Koch
RHP Brandon League
LHP Scott Schoeneweis
RHP Kerry Ligtenberg
RHP Vinny Chulk
RHP Jason Frasor

Projected Lineup:
C Gregg Zaun
1B Eric Hinske
2B Orlando Hudson
3B Corey Koskie
SS Russ Adams
LF Frank Catalanotto
CF Vernon Wells
RF Alex Rios
DH Shea Hillenbrand

Projected Bench:
C Greg Myers
IF John McDonald
IF Frank Menechino
OF Reed Johnson

Top Prospects:
1. Brandon League, RHP
2. Aaron Hill, SS
3. Guillermo Quiroz, C
4. Francisco Rosario, RHP
5. David Purcey, LHP

Top Pitcher: Roy Halladay
Halladay was the Cy Young winner two years ago but stumbled in 2004 after succumbing to injuries for the first time in his career. Halladay missed a chunk of the season mainly due to overuse in previous seasons, when he led the majors in innings pitched. The Jays have promised to lessen this bulldog’s load a little bit, in hopes of keeping him healthy after signing him to a lucrative contract after his Cy Young season. If healthy, he should be good for 15-20 wins, 230 innings and 200 strikeouts.

Top Hitter: Vernon Wells
Wells had an All Star 2003, but struggled in 2004 when he tried to do too much while slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado was out with injuries. This season, Wells must not try to do too much again now that Delgado has departed the team for sunny Florida. It will be difficult because he is now the Jays best hitter. If he stays within himself, Wells can be counted on for a .300 average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and Gold Glove defence.

Breakout Player: David Bush
Bush burst onto the scene last season as a rookie after being drafted out of college as a senior in 2001. The most impressive part is that until 2003, Bush was a one-inning closer. The Jays were impressed with his repertoire of pitches and decided to give him a shot at the starting rotation and they are glad they did. In his first season starting, Bush won 14 games and had148 strikeouts in 158 innings while splitting the season between high-A ball and double-A. In his first taste of big league ball, Bush went 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 97 2/3 innings. Bush probably profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the rotation.

Up next is the American League Central Division

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Cardinals' pitcher makes switch to outfield

By K. Jeff Edwards
Nationals MLB columnist


Former pitching phenom Rick Ankiel, of the St. Louis Cardinals, has decided to attempt the switch from pitcher to hitter.
He will spend the remainder of spring training attempting to make the Cardinals’ roster as an outfielder, according to the Associated Press (AP).
``We are fully supportive of Rick's decision to convert to an everyday outfielder,'' Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the AP. ``Rick will continue to train with the major league club this spring, and we look forward to seeing his development as a full-time batter and outfielder.''
Ankiel burst upon the major league scene in 1999, three years after being drafted out of high school in the second round of the amateur draft.
In 33 innings, at the age of 20, the left-handed power pitcher had a 3.27 ERA, walked 14 batters and struck out 39.
Then he followed up in 2000 with a 3.50 ERA and an 11-7 record in 175 innings. He also struck out 194 batters, while walking 90. But then in the postseason that season, Ankiel posted a 20.25 ERA in two games and walked five batters in 1 2/3 innings. He also threw numerous wild pitches.
His wildness continued in 2001 when he walked 27 batters in 24 big league innings and another 17 batters in 4 1/3 innings in triple-A Memphis.
In an attempt to curb his wildness, the Cardinals demoted Ankiel all the way to rookie ball, where his problems seemed to improve. As a 22-year-old (a little old for the league) he posted a 1.33 ERA in 87 2/3 innings and struck out an eye-popping 158 batters while walking only 18. That said, most of the hitters in rookie ball, fresh out of high school, will swing at anything.
Regardless, things were looking up until it was determined that Ankiel required Tommy John surgery on his left, throwing elbow and missed all of 2002.
He returned in 2003 and was assigned to double-A Tennessee where he posted a 6.29 ERA and walked 49 batters in 54 1/3 innings, while striking out 64.
Perhaps after peering into my crystal ball I asked Jim Callis, executive editor and prospect guru at Baseball America, in March of 2003 if he thought Ankiel should consider switching his focus to hitting.
"I definitely would give Ankiel a try as a hitter, because if he fails, what has been lost? But I also think the Cardinals are handling a very delicate situation as best as they can right now. He has huge upside as a pitcher if he can get straightened out, and however unlikely that might be, it's worth pursuing until it becomes entirely hopeless," Callis said. "If he and the club give up on that possibility, then it would be time to see if he can make it as an outfielder. Ankiel was an all-star DH in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in 2001, hitting .286-10-35 in 105 at-bats. It's reasonable that he could do better if he focused on hitting, and he's still just 23. My guess is that if and when it's decided he should become a full-time outfielder, he'll go to Class A. But that might be a couple of years away."
In 2004 Ankiel battled more injuries and pitched a total of 33 2/3 innings in four levels, including five games with the Cardinals. His controlled appeared to have improved significantly and he walked only three batters overall and one in 10 big league innings.
However, early on in 2005 spring training throwing sessions, Ankiel’s wildness became a concern again and he made a drastic decision: He would attempt to switch from the mound to the batter’s box.
Only two current major leaguers, Texas LHP Ron Mahay and Milwaukee RHP/OF Brooks Kieschnick, made the major leagues as hitters before switching to the mound.
Ankiel, now 25, is going the other route and faces an uphill battle. No one currently in the major leagues has made the switch from pitching to hitting, after debuting in the majors as a pitcher.
However, he has always been an excellent hitting pitcher, and there were even some teams who thought he could be a successful professional hitter with raw power when he was drafted out of high school.
In fact, while pitching in rookie ball in 2001, Ankiel was allowed to be the designated hitter in the games he did not pitch. In 105 at bats, he had a .286 batting average, .357 on-base average and a .638 slugging percentage after belting 10 homers.
As a pitcher in the National League, Ankiel was required to bat and, over the years, he collected 87 big league at bats, where he hit .207 .310 .258 with two home runs. But with him putting an emphasis on his hitting, who knows what could happen?
I wish him luck.

K. Jeff Edward’s general MLB columns will appear weekly during the 2005 Major League Baseball regular season.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Nationals make player cuts

The Washington Nationals made their first cuts of the spring and reduced their in-camp roster from 60 to 49.

Players who were cut include: Seth Greisinger, Chad Durbin, Luis Pineda, Micah Bowie, Josh Karp and Bill Bray; catcher Drew McMillan; infielders Rick Short, Jared Sandberg and Phil Hiatt; outfielder Brandon Watson.

There really were no big surprises in the cuts, with Karp, Bray and Watson needing more time in the minor leagues and the other players being minor league veterans who will help fill minor league rosters and provide injury insurance during the season.

General Manager Jim Bowden said the next round of cuts likely will come within the next week.

Spring Training: The first five games

Washington Nationals Record: 4-1
Hitters’ stats include: hits/at-bats, average, home runs
Pitchers’ stats include: ERA, innings, hits allowed, BB/SO

Hot Hitters:
SS Ian Desmond – 4 for 11 .364 0
OF Terrmel Sledge – 3 for 9 .333 1
OF Brad Wilkerson – 2 for 8 .250 2
OF J.J. Davis – 3 for 7 .429 1
OF Jeffery Hammonds – 3 for 7 .429 0
C Brian Schneider – 3 for 6 .500 0
IF Rick Short – 3 for 5 .600 0
C Keith Osik – 2 for 5 .400 1

Cold Hitters:
OF Alex Escobar – 0 for 9 .000 0
OF Endy Chavez – 1 for 8 .125 0
3B Vinny Castilla – 1 for 7 .143 0

Hot Pitchers:
RHP Jon Rauch – 2.25 4 3 0-1
RHP Chad Cordero – 3.00 3 2 1-6
RHP Hector Carrasco – 0.00 2.1 2 2-2
RHP T.J. Tucker – 0.00 2 0 0-1
RHP John Patterson – 0.00 3 1 0-2

Cold Pitchers:
LHP Matt Hinckley – 15.75 4 11 3-2
RHP Tony Armas – 5.40 5 5 3-4
RHP Livan Hernandez – 6.00 3 5 1-1
RHP Gary Majewski – 16.20 1.2 1 3-2
LHP Luis Pineda – 189.00 0.1 2 6-0

Conclusions
It is still WAY too early to make any real conclusions from these statistics, but it seems as though the Nationals’ hitters are ahead of the pitchers at this point. That said, the bullpen appears to be off to a nice start. Sledge is off to a nice start and could be improving his tradability. Davis and Hammonds seem to have the early edge on a roster spot over Escobar and perhaps Chavez, if Sledge remains with the team. Keep an eye on non-roster invitees Osik and Short, both of whom are off to a quick starts and have an outside shot at being bench players. Osik is an excellent defensive catcher who backed up All Star Jason Kendall in Pittsburgh for years and can also play the corner infield positions. Short, an 11 year minor league veteran, has a .311 career average. It also looks like the Nationals may have put too much pressure on Hinckley this spring, after GM Bowden said he had an outside shot of making the team after a half season in double-A. Or maybe he is just rusty.

An early look at the minor leagues: High-A ball

The Brevard County Manatee
Florida State League (High-A ball)
Season starts: Not available.

In the list below, uppercased players appear to be the most likely to make the major leagues, although it is very early in their careers. Scouting reports (previously published on this site) have also been included for players on the Nationals’ top 15 pitchers and top 15 hitters lists. As always, more in depth statistics for all players can be found at The Baseball Cube.

Pitchers’ stats include ERA, innings pitched, walks-strikeouts. Hitters’ stats include batting average, on-base average and slugging percentage.

Field Staff: Not available.

Starting Rotation
LHP Jon Felfoldi
Experience: 3
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 180
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 3.51, 26, 17 -20

RHP DEVIN PERRIN
Experience: 2
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’7’’ 225
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 4.50, 122, 62-108

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 his future lies in the starting rotation or the bullpen.

RHP DARYL THOMPSON
Experience: 2
Age: 19
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 5.08, 103, 30-79

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.

RHP Nick Long
Experience: 4
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 180
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 4.89, 105, 61-81

RHP Armando Galarraga
Experience: 6
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 4.65. 110, 31-94

Bullpen
LHP BILL BRAY
Experience: 1
Age: 22
Height/Weight:
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 4.91, 7, 1-6

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. Baseball America says he has a change to be a real dominating left-handed reliever closing out ballgames.

RHP Richard Campbell
Experience: 1
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’0’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Short Season, 4.09, 22, 10-25

RHP ANTHONY PEARSON
Experience: 2
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 3.81, 85, 49-106

LHP Jeremy Plexico
Experience: 2
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 210
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 2.63, 82, 25-102

RHP Brett Reid
Experience: 2
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 200
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 1.98, 64, 20-84

RHP ALEX MORALES
Experience: 2
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 165
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 4.55, 63, 41-55

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.

LHP Brett Nyquist
Experience: 2
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’7’’ 200
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 5.67, 106, 27-79

Lineup
C Salomon Manriquez
Experience: 5
Age: 22
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .264 .311 .39

1B JOSH WHITESELL
Experience: 2
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .250 .351 .453

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.

2B Jason Conlisk
Experience: 3
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .215 .298 .327

3B KORY CASTO
Experience: 2
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .286 .337 .474

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.

SS Trey Webb
Experience: 2
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 241 .312 .321

LF Frank Diaz
Experience: 4
Age: 21
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, 242 .303 .380

CF Roger Bernadina
Experience: 3
Age: 21
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .240 .340 .371

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 invoke memories of Vladimir Guerrero.

RF Jim Kavourias
Experience: 5
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .153 .223 .252


Bench
C Luis Apodaca
Experience: 6
Age: 22
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .206 .283 .314

IF Vince Rooi
Experience: 6
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .200 .297 .305

OF Jason Tuttle
Experience: 2
Age: 25
2004 Level and Stats: High-A, .272 .348 .301

OF Reg Fitzpatrick
Experience: 4
Age: 22
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, 245 .310 .350

Next up is a breakdown of the projected 2005 Harrisburg Senators double-A minor league team.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Previewing the National League West

Here is a preview of the 2005 National League West Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers
2004 finish: 93-69 (first)

Additions: J.D. Drew, Derek Lowe, Paul Bako, Jeff Kent, Jose Valentin, Ricky Ledee.

Losses: Adrian Beltre, Alex Cora, Steve Finley, Jose Hernandez, Jose Lima, Tom Martin, Hideo Nomo.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Jeff Weaver
RHP Brad Penny
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Kaz Ishii
LHP Odalis Perez

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Eric Gagne
RHP Yhency Brazoban
RHP Duaner Sanchez
LHP Wilson Alvarez
RHP Giovanni Carrara
RHP Elmer Dessens
RHP Aquilino Lopez (non-roster)

Projected Lineup:
C David Ross
1B Hee Seop Choi
2B Jeff Kent
3B Jose Valentin
SS Cesar Izturis
LF Jayson Werth
CF Milton Bradley
RF J.D. Drew

Projected Bench:
C Paul Bako
IF Antonio Perez
IF Olmedo Saenz
IF/OF Jason Grabowski
OF Ricky Ledee

Top Prospects:
1. Joel Guzman, SS
2. Chad Billingsley, RHP
3. Edwin Jackson, RHP
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Andy LaRoche, 3B

Top Pitcher: Eric Gagne
Gagne, at the age of 29, is one of the best closers in the history of baseball. Two seasons ago he posted a 1.20 ERA and struck out 137 batters in 82 innings, while only walking 20. Gagne has some of the nastiest stuff in the major leagues saved a major league record 84 games in a row before blowing one last season. In the last three seasons, Gagne has averaged 50 saves. The only thing that could slow him down is an injury and he has had some problems with his right shoulder.

Top Hitter: J.D. Drew
Drew broke out in a big way last season for the Atlanta Braves in his free agent season. The Dodgers rewarded him with a monster five year contract. He is one of the most brittle players in baseball, though, and almost never plays hurt. At his best, Drew possesses 30 home runs power and has good speed. He also walked more than 100 times last season.

Breakout Player: Jayson Werth
Werth is a former catcher and No. 1 pick of the Baltimore Orioles. He was converted to the outfield by the Toronto Blue Jays, who subsequently traded him to the Dodgers because of his questionable plate discipline. Werth is extremely athletic, very fast and possesses 30 homer potential. He could also easily strike out 150 times in a full season. Werth will have to be watched this year after rehabbing a partial tear in his throwing elbow.


San Francisco Giants
2004 finish: 91-71 (second)

Additions: Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny, Omar Vizquel, Deivi Cruz.

Losses: Dustan Mohr, A.J. Pierzynski, Neifi Perez, Dustin Hermanson, Feliz Rodriguez.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Jason Schmidt
LHP Kirk Rueter
RHP Brett Tomko
RHP Jerome Williams
LHP Noah Lowery

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Armando Benitez
RHP Matt Herges
RHP Jim Brower
LHP Wayne Franklin
LHP Scott Eyre
LHP Jason Christiansen
RHP Jesse Foppert

Projected Lineup:
C Mike Matheny
1B Pedro Feliz
2B Ray Durham
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
SS Omar Vizquel
LF Barry Bonds
CF Marquis Grissom
RF Moises Alou

Projected Bench:
C Yorvit Torrealba
IF J.T. Snow
IF Deivi Cruz
OF Todd Linden
OF Michael Tucker

Top Prospects:
1. Matt Cain, RHP
2. Merkin Valdez, RHP
3. Fred Lewis, OF
4. Eddy Martinez-Esteve, OF
5. Nate Schierholtz, OF/3B

Top Pitcher: Jason Schmidt
Schmidt has developed into one of the most feared pitchers in the National League. Originally a highly regarded Braves prospect, he finally harnessed his filthy stuff with the Giants. There are injury concerns surrounding Schmidt, as he has battled elbow woes for the past few seasons. He is good for 200 innings, 200 strike outs and 15-20 wins for a few more seasons.

Top Hitter: Barry Bonds
What is left to say about Bonds? Love him or hate him, he is one of the greatest players ever to put on a uniform. He is also obviously respected by his peers, after setting a Major League record for walks last season with 232. Did you ever think you’d see someone play a full season and post a .609 OBA? Ridiculous.

Breakout Player: Pedro Feliz
Feliz can play first base, third base, short stop and even the outfield. He can also slug with the best of them. Last season, Feliz finally got a chance to play full time, although he played all over the diamond. This season, he should see more consistent time at first base, which should help him slug 30-40 home runs. The only red flag with Feliz is his plate discipline.

San Diego Padres
2004 finish: 87-75 (first)

Additions: Darrell May, Woody Williams, Rudy Seanez, Dennis Reyes, Chris Hammond, Dave Roberts, Geoff Blum, Eric Young, Mark Sweeney.

Losses: Alex Gonzalez, Terrence Long, Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez, Antonio Osuna, Ismael Valdez, David Wells, Darrell May, Dave Roberts, Dennis Reyes, Rudy Seanez.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Brian Lawrence
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Adam Eaton
RHP Woody Williams
LHP Darrell May (non-roster)

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Trevor Hoffman
RHP Akinori Otsuka
RHP Scott Linebrink
RHP Rudy Seanez
LHP Dennis Reyes
LHP Chris Hammond
RHP Chris Oxspring

Projected Lineup:
C Ramon Hernandez
1B Phil Nevin
2B Mark Loretta
3B Sean Burroughs
SS Khalil Greene
LF Ryan Klesko
CF Dave Roberts
RF Brian Giles

Projected Bench:
C Humberto Quintero
IF Damien Jackson (non-roster)
IF Geoff Blum
IF/OF Eric Young
OF Mark Sweeney

Top Prospects:
1. Josh Barfield, 2B
2. Freddy Guzman, OF
3. George Kottaras, C
4. Travis Chick, RHP
5. Tim Stauffer, RHP

Top Pitcher: Jake Peavy
Peavy jumped to the front of the rotation last season with a 15-6 record and 2.27 ERA, which led the league. At the age of 23, Peavy could have a long career ahead of him as one of the top pitchers in baseball, especially as he learns the nuances of pitching to go along with his excellent repertoire of pitches.

Top Hitter: Brian Giles
It took Giles a few years to earn a full-time gig with the Indians, but the moment he did he became a star. The past season and a half has been a bit of a disappointment for him though, as he has played in a pitcher’s park. Giles has an intriguing combination of power, speed and plate discipline.

Breakout Player: Adam Eaton
Eaton’s greatest weakness is similar to that of most young pitchers: inconsistency. He has great stuff but it often deserts him only five days after pitching a gem. Eaton missed pitching 200 innings for the first time in his career last season by 2/3 of an inning. He added 153 strike outs, which could improve once he harnesses his stuff. Eaton is also pitching in an excellent park for pitchers, which will help him as long as he is in San Diego.

Colorado Rockies
2004 finish: 68-94 (fourth)

Additions: Dustan Mohr, Alfredo Amezaga, Desi Relaford.

Losses: Jeremy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Royce Clayton, Shawn Estes, Tim Harrikala, Steve Reed

Projected Rotation:
LHP Jeff Francis
RHP Jason Jennings
RHP Shawn Chacon
RHP Joe Kennedy
RHP Jamey Wright

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Chin-hui Tsao
RHP Scott Dohmann
RHP Allan Simpson
LHP Brian Fuentes
LHP Javier Lopez
LHP Darren Oliver (non-roster)
RHP Matt Merricks (Rule 5)

Projected Lineup:
C Charles Johnson
1B Todd Helton
2B Aaron Miles
3B Garrett Atkins
SS Clint Barmes
LF Dustan Mohr
CF Preston Wilson
RF Matt Holliday

Projected Bench:
C Todd Greene
IF Luis Gonzalez
IF Alfredo Amezaga
IF/OF Desi Relaford
OF Jorge Piedra

Top Prospects:
1. Ian Stewart, 3B
2. Chris Nelson, SS
3. Jeff Francis, LHP
4. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP
5. Juan Morillo, RHP

Top Pitcher: Jason Jennings
Jennings had incredible success in Colorado in his rookie season but came crashing back to earth the last two seasons. Even so, Jennings put up OK numbers for a pitcher who pitches half his games in Colorado. Jennings’ control has also gotten worse the last three seasons going from 70 to 88 to 101.

Top Hitter: Todd Helton
Whether or not Colorado boosts his numbers, Helton still deserves to be considered one of the best hitters in baseball. In the last three seasons, Helton has hit .329, .358 and .347. Last season, he also walked 127 times while only striking out 72 times.

Breakout Player: Dustan Mohr
Mohr is an excellent hitter, especially when he gets the chance to play everyday. Add that to the thin air in Colorado and Mohr could be poised for a breakout season in 2005. He plays hard every day and gives his all. He also has solid speed and power potential. Mohr has had questionable plate discipline in the past but he greatly improved it last season and posted a .394 OBA.

Arizona Diamondbacks
2004 finish: 51-111 (fifth)

Additions: Troy Glaus, Russ Ortiz, Javier Vazquez, Shawn Estes, Royce Clayton, Jose Cruz, Shawn Green, Tony Clark, Kelly Stinnett, Craig Counsell.

Losses: Richie Sexson, Danny Bautista, Carlos Baerga, Greg Colbrunn, Shea Hillenbrand, Casey Fossum, Randy Johnson, Matt Mantei, Stephen Randolph.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Russ Ortiz
RHP Brandon Webb
LHP Shawn Estes
LHP Brad Halsey

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Greg Aquino
RHP Jose Valverde
RHP Mike Koplove
LHP Randy Choate
RHP Brandon Lyon
RHP Brian Bruney
RHP Jason Bulger

Projected Lineup:
C Chris Snyder
1B Chad Tracy
2B Scott Hairston
3B Troy Glaus
SS Royce Clayton
LF Luis Gonzalez
CF Jose Cruz
RF Shawn Green

Projected Bench:
C Kelly Stinnett (non-roster)
IF Tony Clark
IF Alex Cintron
IF Craig Counsell
OF Luis Terrero

Top Prospects:
1. Carlos Quentin, OF
2. Conor Jackson, OF
3. Sergio Santos, SS
4. Jon Zeringue, OF
5. Greg Aquino, RHP

Top Pitcher: Javier Vazquez
Despite his well-documented problems in New York last season, Vazquez is one of the best pitchers in the National League based on his seasons in Montreal. He could be a No. 1 starter on most teams in baseball and could provide Arizona with 200 worry-free innings and 15 wins.

Top Hitter: Shawn Green
In retrospect, playing in his hometown is probably one of the worst things that Green could have done. As the pressure and spotlight on him increased, his numbers decreased after All Star seasons in Toronto. At his best, Green could hit 40 home runs, drive in 100 runs and hit .300. Whether he can still do that, remains to be seen. He is still, though, an above average outfielder with a cannon for an arm.

Breakout Player: Brandon Webb
A groundball pitcher, Webb put together a great rookie campaign with a 2.84 ERA, 180 innings pitched and 172 strike outs. That many strike outs, is extremely encouraging for groundball pitchers, who normally post low numbers in that category. Last season, Webb suffered with a poor defensive team and he lost 16 games, although he kept his ERA under 4.00. One glaring stat, though, was his 119 walks allowed. If he can harness his control a little more, he could be an elite player.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The best baseball information on the Web

2005 is an exciting time for baseball fans in Washington. But baseball can be a complex and confusing sport for many people; it is full of statistics, rules and jargon. There are also more than 900 major league baseball players who filter through the league every year and more than 120 professional players controlled by the Nationals organization.
All this may seem confusing, but there are a multitude of baseball-related Web sites on the Internet (how did we ever live with out this glorious invention?) to help even the most virginal baseball fan make sense of the madness.

The Baseball Cube
The Cube is an excellent source for finding out about the latest hot prospect. All you have to do is type in the name of any professional minor league baseball player and you will instantly have all their statistics and biographical information at your finger tips.

Baseball Reference
A major league version of The Baseball Cube, Baseball Reference has all the information you could ever want to know about any player EVER to play in the major leagues.

Prosports Daily
Want to know the key news stories and rumors floating around every team in the major leagues every day? Prosports Daily compiles daily all the major newspaper stories in every major league city in one easy to navigate site.

Rotoworld
This Web site brings you all the latest rumors from around the major leagues quicker than almost any television sports program or newspaper can. It is updated 24 hours a day. It also provides valuable information for people playing fantasy baseball.

Baseball America
For all you general minor league, college and high school baseball news. Baseball America is the best. Want to know who the Nationals best prospects are, or whom they might take in the June amateur draft? BA can tell you.

Official Minor league Baseball
The official site for minor league baseball, MiLB.com will provide you with daily box scores, highlights and rosters for every professional minor league club, including the Nationals affiliates.

Minor League Ball with John Sickels
A Web site devoted to the minor leagues by one of the best minor league experts out there, John Sickels. Want to know who each teams' top 20 prospects are? Check out Minor League Ball. It is also a great place to meet and talk to other minor league baseball fans.

Nationals Official Site
Run by Major League Baseball, this site is a perfect place to go for the average fan.

The Washington Post and The Washington Times
Both newspapers provide online Nationals content, which can also be found in their print editions. The Post also provides a fair bit of extra content for Web subscribers. At this early point in the life of the Nationals, The Post provides baseball coverage leaps and bounds above that of the Times.

An early look at the minor leagues: Low-A ball

The Savannah Sand Gnats
South Atlantic League (Low-A ball)
Season starts: April 7 against the Columbus Catfish

In the list below, uppercased players appear to be the most likely to make the major leagues, although it is very early in their careers. Scouting reports (previously published on this site) have also been included for players on the Nationals’ top 15 pitchers and top 15 hitters lists. As always, more in depth statistics for all players can be found at The Baseball Cube.

Pitchers’ stats include ERA, innings pitched, walks-strikeouts. Hitters’ stats include batting average, on-base average and slugging percentage.

Field Staff: Randy Knorr, manager; Mark Grater, pitching coach; Joel Chimelis, coach.

Starting Rotation
RHP CHRIS LUGO
Experience: 1 season
Age: 18
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 185
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie league, 1.67, 43, 12-34

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 is still up in the air but he is likely to see time in the low-A ball rotation.

RHP COLLIN BALESTER
Experience: 1
Age: 19
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie league, 2.19, 25, 5-21

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.

LHP GABRIEL SOSA
Experience: 2
Age: 19
Height/Weight: 5’9’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie league, 2.29, 51, 23-63

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.

LHP Ricardo Morales
Experience: 4
Age: 21
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie league, 4.55, 57, 12-55

LHP A.J. WIDEMAN
Experience: 2
Age: 20
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 1.81, 45, 13-38

It’s nice to see Ontario, Canada represented on the Nationals’ Top 15 pitcher’s 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.

Bullpen
RHP Greg Bunn
Experience: 1
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 210
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 3.00, 24, 11-27

LHP Wendell Yost
Experience: 1
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 185
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie league, 3.79, 36, 5-23

RHP Jim Henderson
Experience: 2
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 190
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 2.59, 76, 27-39

RHP David Trahan
Experience: 1
Age: 24
Height/Weight: 6’3’’ 185
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 2.59, 49, 28-47

RHP Curtis Goodman
Experience: 2
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 180
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 5.14, 42, 13-27

RHP Steven Cook
Experience: 1
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 205
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 5.33, 54, 9-40

RHP BENJAMIN COX
Experience: 1
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6’2’’ 220
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 2.97, 33, 20-38

RHP Gus Hlebovy
Experience: 22
Age: 2
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 170
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, 4.13, 33, 18-48

Starting Lineup
C ERIK SAN PEDRO
Age: 21
Experience: 1
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .200 .347 .325

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.

1B/C LUKE MONTZ
Experience: 2
Age: 21
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .251 .363 .453

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.

2B Brad Dittler
Experience: 2
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .302 .360 .401

3B Ofilio Castro
Experience: 4
Age: 21
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .263 .365 .367

SS IAN DESMOND
Experience: 1
Age: 19
2004 Level and Stats: Rookie ball, .227 .292 .272

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.

OF/1B STEVE MORTIMER
Experience: 1
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .238 .354 .397

OF MARVIN LOWRANCE
Experience: 1
Age: 20
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .286 .392 .378

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.

OF EDGAR BAEZ
Experience: 2
Age: 19
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .248 .332 .424

The Expos rushed Baez a bit last season and he struggled mightily in low-A ball as a teenager before returning to the short season league. 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.

Bench
C DEVIN IVANY
Experience: 1
Age: 22
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .170 .239 .208

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.

IF Seth Bynum
Experience: 1
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .250 .333 .319

IF Marcos Yepez
Experience: 6
Age: 23
2004 Level and Stats: Low-A, .238 .329 .328

IF Jose Contreras
Experience: 3
Age: 20
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .241 .312 .259

OF Doug Vroman
Experience: 2
Age: 24
2004 Level and Stats: Short season, .236 .352 .410

Next up is a breakdown of the projected 2005 Brevard County Manatees high-A minor league team.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Why the Texas Rangers will not win in 2005

By K. Jeff Edwards
Nationals MLB columnist


They’re trying. Well, OK, at least they think they’re trying.

By signing starting pitcher Ryan Drese to a two-year $6 million contract, the Rangers are trying to build a pitching staff.

Unfortunately they picked a pretty poor pitcher to throw $6 million at. Drese won 14 games last season and pitched more than 200 innings for the first time in his career… Can you hear the "but" coming?

Drese was also 28 years old and in his first full season in the major leagues. Why was this his first full season. It was because in the previous two years he posted ERAs of 6.55 and 6.85. His 4.20 ERA in 2004 was absolutely sparkling in comparison.

The groundball pitcher also allowed 233 hits in 2004 and struck out only 98 batters and walked 58.

When are teams going to learn that the biggest contract albatrosses come when general managers reward players with extensions after only one great season?

As evident by the Drese signing, the Rangers biggest need in the off-season was pitching. Who did they add? Pedro Astacio, who had a nifty 10.38 ERA in five major league games last season.

But hey, they "beefed up" their offence by signed Richard Hidalgo and Sandy Alomar.

So the Rangers enter the season with a projected rotation of Kenny Rogers (moaning about his contract), Drese, youngster Ricardo Rodriguez (if healthy), Astacio (if healthy) and, perhaps, Chan Ho Park (if healthy).

Golly that’s a lot of "ifs."

Park has been an absolute nightmare, after signing as a free agent after the 2001 season. He hasn’t pitched more than 145 innings in his three seasons in Texas and his best ERA was 5.46 last year when he managed to get into only 16 games.

Did I mention that, in the past three seasons, he made $6.8million, $13 million and $14 million. And there is another hefty paycheck due this year.

Rogers is the ace of the Texas staff but he is 40 years old. He won 18 games last season but also posted a 4.76. Rogers also allegedly threatened earlier this year to boycott spring training if he did not receive a two year extension. He reported though, which I guess is a good thing for the Rangers.

Texas does have an OK bullpen, led by All Star Francisco Cordero, who saved 49 games last season. Also providing relief for a beleaguered starting rotation will be Frank Francisco (if his suspension is lifted for starting a brawl in the stands last season), Ron Mahay, Brian Shouse, Carlos Almanzar, Doug Brocail and R.A. Dickey.

But that, ladies and gentlemen, is it for pitching. There are no great pitching prospects who, in the near future, will save the Rangers from mediocrity.

Sure, they have some of the best young hitters in the game with Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano and Kevin Mench, but as the old saying goes: Hitting wins games, but pitching wins championships.

K. Jeff Edward’s general MLB columns will appear weekly during the 2005 Major League Baseball regular season.

Previewing the National League Central

Here is a preview of the 2005 National League Central Division:

St. Louis Cardinals
2004 finish: 105-57 (first)

Additions: Mark Mulder, Mike Myers, Bob File, Mark Grudzielanek, David Eckstein, Einar Diaz, Abe Nunez.

Losses: Edgar Renteria, Woody Williams, Steve Kline, Mike Matheny, Tony Womack, Marlon Anderson, Kiko Calero, Dan Haren.

Projected Rotation:
LHP Mark Mulder
RHP Chris Carpenter
RHP Matt Morris
RHP Jeff Suppan
RHP Jason Marquis

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Jason Isringhausen
RHP Julian Tavarez
RHP Cal Eldred
LHP Ray King
LHP Mike Myers
RHP Al Reyes
RHP Bob File (non-roster)

Projected Lineup:
C Yadier Molina
1B Albert Pujols
2B Mark Grudzielanek
3B Scott Rolen
SS David Eckstein
LF Reggie Sanders
CF Jim Edmonds
RF Larry Walker

Projected Bench:
C Einar Diaz
IF Abe Nunez (non-roster)
IF John Gall
IF/OF John Mabry
OF Roger Cedeno

Top Prospects:
1. Anthony Reyes, RHP
2. Adam Wainwright, RHP
3. Blake Hawksworth, RHP
4. Chris Lambert, RHP
5. Stuart Pomeranz, RHP

Top Pitcher: Mark Mulder
The Cardinals may not have a lot of household names on their starting staff but they have one of the best rotations in the National League, led by Mulder. He has always held a lot of potential and Mulder should continue this year to build on his reputation as one of the best left handed pitchers in the game, if he can remain healthy. Mulder is good for 200-plus innings and 15-20 wins.

Top Hitter: Albert Pujols
At the age of 25, Pujols has four major league seasons behind him and is arguably one of the top five players in baseball. The only thing he doesn't do well is run. Pujols owns a career .333 average and hit more than 40 home runs each of the last two seasons. He has also driven in more than 120 runs in each of his four seasons and he walks more than he strikes out, which is extremely rare for a power hitter.

Breakout Player: Jason Marquis
Marquis finally lived up to the potential that has surrounded him since he was a No. 1 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 amateur draft out of high school. He won 15 games, posted a 3.71 ERA and pitched 200 innings for the first time in his career. The only real problem Marquis still has is that he walks too many batters.

Houston Astros
2004 finish: 92-70 (second)

Additions: John Franco

Losses: Jeff Kent, Carlos Beltran, Darren Oliver, Dan Miceli.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Roy Oswalt
RHP Roger Clemens
LHP Andy Pettitte
RHP Tim Redding
RHP Brandon Backe

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Brad Lidge
RHP Chad Qualls
RHP Chad Harville
LHP Mike Gallo
LHP John Franco
RHP Brandon Duckworth
RHP Pete Munro

Projected Lineup:
C Brad Ausmus
1B Jeff Bagwell
2B Chris Burke
3B Morgan Ensberg
SS Adam Everett
LF Craig Biggio
CF Jason Lane
RF Lance Berkman (injured)

Projected Bench:
C Raul Chavez
IF Mike Lamb
IF Jose Vizcaino
IF Eric Bruntlett
OF Orlando Palmeiro

Top Prospects:
1. Chris Burke, 2B
2. Ezequiel Astacio, RHP
3. Willy Taveras, OF
4. Mitch Einertson, OF
5. Troy Patton, LHP

Top Pitcher: Roger Clemens
It's hard to believe that a pitcher, who began his major league career back in 1984, can be considered a team's top pitcher. But it has nothing to do with a weak staff surrounding him because Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte are nothing to sneeze at. Clemens is simply the type of pitcher that comes around once every 15 or 20 years. At the age of 42 he was awarded his seventh Cy Young award after going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in more than 200 innings and striking out more than 200 batters.

Top Hitter: Lance Berkman
Berkman will likely start the season on the disabled list with a knee injury, which he suffered in the off-season, but he is still easily the Astros' best offensive player. He can be counted on for 30-40 home runs, 100 runs and RBI, and a .280-.300 average. Berkman is even more important to the Astros now that Bagwell and Biggio are in the twilight of their careers.

Breakout Player: Jason Lane
Lane is a little bit like Brian Giles, in the sense that he possesses a ton of talent, but he has not been given a chance to be a regular until late in his 20s. Also like Giles, Lane has big time power potential and the ability to hit for a solid average and drive in runners. A .280 average, 30 homer, 100 RBI season is not out of the question.


Chicago Cubs
2004 finish: 89-73 (third)

Additions: Jerry Hairston, Henry Blanco, Jeremy Burnitz, Stephen Randolph.

Losses: Matt Clement, Moises Alou, Mark Grudzielanek, Kent Mercker, Sammy Sosa, Ben Grieve, Paul Bako, Tom Goodwin, Ramon Martinez.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Mark Prior
RHP Kerry Wood
RHP Carlos Zambrano
RHP Greg Maddux
LHP Glendon Rusch

Projected Bullpen:
RHP LaTroy Hawkins
RHP Ryan Dempster
RHP Joe Borowski
LHP Mike Remlinger
LHP Will Ohman
RHP Todd Wellemeyer
LHP Stephen Randolph

Projected Lineup:
C Michael Barrett
1B Derek Lee
2B Todd Walker
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Nomar Garciaparra
LF Jason DuBois
CF Corey Patterson
RF Jeremy Burnitz

Projected Bench:
C Henry Blanco
IF Jose Macias
IF Neifi Perez
1B/OF Rene Reyes (non-roster)
OF Todd Hollandsworth

Top Prospects:
1. Brian Dopirak, 1B
2. Felix Pie, OF
3. Ryan Harvey, OF
4. Angel Guzman, RHP
5. Billy Petrick, RHP

Top Pitcher: Mark Prior
Prior is no secret to baseball fans. He has been touted as the next great pitcher since his college days, if not before. All his pitches are plus pitches and he has amazing command for such a young player. The only thing that could derail Prior's career would be an injury to his arm or shoulder.

Top Hitter: Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez seems like he has been around forever, having played seven seasons, but he is only 26. In the last two years, Ramirez has stepped up his game and is now considered one of the best third basemen in the majors. Last season he showed his worth to the Cubs by batting .318 with 36 homers and 103 RBI. He also cleaned up his fielding and cut his errors from 33 to 10.

Breakout Player: Jason DuBois
DuBois is a little bit like Jason Lane. He has never been given a shot by the Cubs because manager Dusty Baker prefers to play veterans. DuBois, though, deserves his shot after hitting more than 30 home runs in triple-A last season. He has the ability to be an impact player in the majors and hit 20-30 home runs, although time will tell if he can hit better than .250 or .260.


Cincinnati Reds
2004 finish: 76-86 (fourth)

Additions: Ramon Ortiz, Eric Milton, Ben Weber, Kent Mercker, David Weathers, Joe Randa, Rich Aurilia.

Losses: Barry Larkin, Mike Matthews, Todd Van Poppel, Jose Castro.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Ramon Ortiz
RHP Paul Wilson
RHP Aaron Harang
LHP Eric Milton
LHP Brandon Claussen

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Danny Graves
RHP Ryan Wagner
RHP Ben Weber
LHP Kent Mercker
LHP Jung Bong
RHP David Weathers
RHP Josh Hancock

Projected Lineup:
C Jason LaRue
1B Sean Casey
2B D'Angelo Jimenez
3B Joe Randa
SS Felipe Lopez
LF Adam Dunn
CF Ken Griffey
RF Austin Kearns

Projected Bench:
C Javier Valentin
IF Rich Aurilia (non-roster)
IF Ryan Freel
IF/OF Jason Romano (non-roster)
OF Wily Mo Pena

Top Prospects:
1. Homer Bailey, RHP
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
3. Richie Gardner, RHP
4. Joey Votto, 1B
5. B.J. Szymasnki, OF

Top Pitcher: Eric Milton
Eric Milton would probably be a No. 3 pitcher on most teams but the Reds sorely lack quality pitching, especially in the starting rotation. Originally a Yankees' draft pick, Milton flirted with stardom as a member of the Minnesota Twins but established himself as a solid, reliable left handed starter. In 2004 with the Philadelphia Phillies, he went 14-6, struck out 161 batters and pitched more than 200 innings. However, he also had a 4.75 ERA and walked 75 batters.

Top Hitter: Sean Casey
Casey has always had a sweet swing that had scouts projecting him as a future batting champion, but injuries and inconsistencies derailed his career. However, finally healthy in 2004, Casey batted .324 with 24 homers and 99 RBI. He also struck out only 36 times.

Breakout Player: Austin Kearns
Like Casey, Kearns has battled injuries throughout his young career, although he remains loaded with talent. Three seasons ago, in his rookie campaign, Kearns batted .315 and showed power potential. However, in 2004 he slipped to .230 and nine home runs in 64 games during an injury-riddled season. Kearns looks healthy this season and, if he can hold off Wily Mo Pena for playing time, he should be ready to join teammate Adam Dunn as one of the elite young players in the game.


Pittsburgh Pirates
2004 finish: 72-89 (fifth)

Additions: Matt Lawton, Mark Redman, Benito Santiago.

Losses: Abe Nunez, Brian Boehringer, Jason Kendall.

Projected Rotation:
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP Kip Wells
LHP Mark Redman
RHP Josh Fogg
LHP David Williams

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Jose Mesa
RHP Salomon Torres
RHP Brian Meadows
LHP Mike Gonzalez
LHP John Grabow
RHP Rick White (non-roster)
RHP Ryan Vogelsong

Projected Lineup:
C Benito Santiago
1B Craig Wilson
2B Bobby Hill
3B Ty Wigginton
SS Jack Wilson
LF Jason Bay
CF Tike Redman
RF Matt Lawton

Projected Bench:
C Humberto Cota
IF Freddy Sanchez
IF Jose Castillo
IF/OF Rob Mackowiak
OF Daryle Ward

Top Prospects:
1. Zach Duke, LHP
2. Neil Walker, C
3. John Van Benschoten, RHP
4. Ian Snell, RHP
5. Tom Gorzelanny, LHP

Top Pitcher: Oliver Perez
Perez has the potential to be one of the best left handed starters in the game and he is only 23. Last season, after coming over from the Padres with Jason Bay for Brian Giles (oops), he went 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA for a terrible Pirates team. As well, Perez struck out 239 batters in 196 innings. He possesses above-average stuff, including an electric fastball, for a left handed pitcher.

Top Hitter: Jack Wilson
Wilson's bat finally caught up to his defence in 2004. Always a superior defender, Wilson batted .308 with 201 hits, 41 doubles, 12 triples and 11 homers. He did only walked 26 times though, which leads one to worry that he will not be able to duplicate his 2004 success unless he improves on his discipline.

Breakout Player: Mike Gonzalez
Someone apparently forgot to tell Gonzalez that the majors are harder than the minors. In 43 innings, he posted an amazing 1.25 ERA and walked only six batters while striking out 55. Based on those numbers, Gonzalez deserves a big role in the Pirates' pen this season and he should build on his previous success.


Milwaukee Brewers
2004 finish: 67-94 (sixth)

Additions: Rick Helling, Ricky Bottalico, Carlos Lee, Justin Lehr, Chris Magruder.

Losses: Scott Podsednik, Craig Counsell, Gary Bennett, Keith Ginter, Dan Kolb.

Projected Rotation:
RHP Ben Sheets
LHP Doug Davis
RHP Rick Helling (non-roster)
RHP Chris Capuano
RHP Victor Santos

Projected Bullpen:
RHP Mike Adams
RHP Ricky Bottalico
RHP Gary Glover
LHP Jorge De la Rosa
RHP/OF Brooks Kieschnick
RHP Justin Lehr
RHP Matt Wise

Projected Lineup:
C Damien Miller
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Junior Spivey
3B Wes Helms
SS J.J. Hardy
LF Carlos Lee
CF Brady Clark
RF Geoff Jenkins

Projected Bench:
C Chad Moeller
IF Billy Hall
IF Russ Branyan
OF Chris Magruder
OF Corey Hart

Top Prospects:
1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Prince Fielder, 1B
3. J.J. Hardy, SS
4. Jose Capellan, RHP
5. Mark Rogers, RHP

Top Pitcher: Ben Sheets
Sheets may have only been 12-14 last season but he established himself as one of the best young pitchers in the major leagues while playing for a dismal team. Sheets had a 2.70 ERA, the first sub-4.00 ERA of his career, and stuck out 264 batters in 237 innings. Rumors are already floating around that the Yankees have targeted Sheets as a potential trade target when he gets too expensive for the Brewers modest budget.

Top Hitter: Carlos Lee
Coming over from the White Sox after an off-season trade, Lee edges Geoff Jenkins for the Brewers best hitter. Lee is good for a .290-.300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI. He can also run a little bit, has improved his plate discipline and does not strike out that much. He should do well for the Brewers in the heart of their order.

Breakout Player: Lyle Overbay
Overbay came on strong last season after being traded from Arizona in the Richie Sexson deal, but he wore down in the second half and struggled. This season he should be better prepared for the rigors of a long major league season. Despite his second-half fade, Overbay still hit .301 with 53 doubles and 16 homers. More of his doubles should start finding the seats as he matures as a hitter and he has the potential to drive in 100 runners.