Bryce Harper in “Live” BP was the fan’s highlight today!

Feb. 21, 2018

It seems any day Bryce Harper does anything special early in Spring Training the fans get excited. Yesterday he was struck out by Sean Doolittle. Today he got to face Max Scherzer.

When Tanner Roark walked out of the clubhouse this a.m. to head to the Circle of Trust, I overheard him being asked about how the extra hair is working out with the Florida heat and humidity.  Sounded as if he was considering trimming his hair, but not his beard.  Let’s keep a close eye on that throughout spring training: once he gets to DC, he may need that facial fur in April.

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MLB Pipeline releases new #Nats prospect rankings!

Victor Robles is (still) the Nats’ top prospect.

New prospect rankings are here! New prospect rankings are here!

MLB Pipeline has come out with its 2018 Prospect Watch for the Washington Nationals. There’s some unsurprising gains from last year’s list, some unsurprising falls, and yes, a few surprises mixed in. Continue reading

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Tuesday observations from #Nats Spring Training

Feb.  20, 2018

The players were inside for the physicals, etc., so workouts didn’t start until 11am. This technically wasn’t a full-squad workout day, so we knew we weren’t going to see the same routine as the last few days.  We saw a Baker 12 shirt for the first time. Noticed that the Astros were testing the video board in the park:  I knew it was the Astros because I could see Orbit in the video.  While waiting for the players, I watched them prepare the mounds beside the practice fields, so the pitchers could warm up before pitching to live players.

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GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez on A.J. Cole

There have been some mixed signals between general manager Mike Rizzo and his field manager Dave Martinez on whether or not there is a competition for the 5th starter spot. Mike Rizzo was very clear on February 4th at the Hot Stove season ticket event.

“We’re used to in this organization to have one of the best starting rotations in the game,” Rizzo said at the Hot Stove event. “That’s not going to change. We have Scherzer, Stras, Gio and Roark. Our number five starter, you know, is A.J. Cole which is something I’m really looking forward to seeing where he’s at this year. If you look at his numbers last year, his last seven starts were outstanding. He pitched in eleven games last year in the big leagues with eight starts and had a 3.81 ERA… Look at the other teams in our division. See where that ERA ranks on those other staffs. Probably in the top three or four in all of those other staffs. We are looking for great things for him.”

Manager Dave Martinez opened camp with some thoughts on the fifth starter spot and said it was a competition with A.J. Cole as the frontrunner.

“Obviously, if A.J. goes out there and does what he’s capable of doing,” Dave Martinez said. “He threw a bullpen today, and he was phenomenal, I mean, he really was, and that was fun to see and very exciting, a fifth starter with that kind of arm and the way he pitched last year, finished up the season, he’s got the upper hand, but like I said, Spring Training is long.”

Mike Rizzo spoke with MASN yesterday and once again the question was asked about who is the fifth starter.

“We feel good about our rotation,” Rizzo said. “Our fifth [starter] we feel really good about A.J. Cole.”

Mike Rizzo seemed to soften a bit from what he said two weeks ago if you read between the lines. Previously he said that Cole “is” the fifth starter and yesterday’s comment seemed to indicate it is his job for now.

Many thanks to Don H. for forwarding Tom Boswell’s chat and Q&A from yesterday.

Question: How accurate are early impressions? As a spring training veteran, how accurate do you tend to find your impressions from the first couple of weeks? Have you often seen players and known right away he’s either en route to a big year or alternatively looking like a bust?

A: Thomas Boswell: The first time I saw Eddie Murray, then later Cal Ripken, take [batting] practice in Miami, I knew. (So did a lot of other people!) The first time I saw Stephen Strasburg pitch a side session while standing behind a screen a dozen feet behind the catcher I knew why players called him “Jesus.” (“Because when you first see that nasty ***, you just say, ‘Jeeeeus!!'”).

But this spring I’m pretty impressed with A.J. Cole’s stuff, the shape of his breaking ball. But I kinda liked him last spring, too. I can’t wait to see Victor Robles take BP. When Anthony Rendon first arrived, everybody gathered around the cage like they were about to see a space launch. Players know. And, after 40+ years, even sportswriters are sometimes pretty sure, based on what they see down here, especially in exhibition games.

It is good to hear other thoughts on A.J. Cole like Tom Boswell who has seen him throw two bullpen sessions. There was a time when Cole was a top High School prospect out of Oviedo High School near Orlando, Florida. He was committed to the University of Miami on a baseball scholarship. Teams did not waste a first round pick on him because most thought he was going to college. When Cole was still on the board in the 4th round, Mike Rizzo drafted Cole in that 4th round in 2010 and paid him 1st round money — actually record 4th round money of $2 million.

A.J. Cole 5th starter

During this off-season, Mike Rizzo has signed veteran starting pitchers like Tommy Milone and Edwin Jackson. Has Mike Rizzo just signaled to those veteran pitchers he signed to Minor League deals plus Erick Fedde that they are just competing for 6th man depth? The plan is to also add back Joe Ross after the All-Star break as additional depth as he returns from UCL surgery on his right elbow.

The statistics given by Mike Rizzo at the Hot Stove event regarding Cole is encouraging. From innings one-to-four, A.J. Cole has a 2.97 ERA, but then his ERA jumps to 9.00 in the 5th inning. All of these stats are based on small sample sizes. Cole only had eight MLB starts in 2017 and in six of those games made it into the 6th inning. There were no games in which Cole made it past the 6th inning. He must go deeper into games to be a viable starting pitcher for Dave Martinez‘s 2018 rotation.

If you’re an optimist, you have to be encouraged by the underlying positive stats. Fans should hope that Cole can improve once he enters the 5th inning and beyond. Cole has struggled when his pitch-count has climbed over 80 pitches.

Earlier, we wrote that Cole packed ten extra pounds onto his frame. The Nationals last year listed Cole at 6’5″ and 215 pounds leading us to expect Cole will weigh-in near 225 pounds this year, but inside word is the scale will really tip closer to 235 pounds as the 215 pounds last year was not accurate. Davey Martinez remarked that he was surprised at how big A.J. Cole is in-person.

There have been times that A.J. Cole has looked like a budding star in his career with a memorable highlight game when he beat Noah Syndergaard in 2016. Other times he has pitched well — only to tire out in the fifth or sixth innings. Cole never made it into the 7th inning to record an out in 2017, and that is what needs to improve.

Nationals’ fans are nervous for obvious reasons as they felt burnt with Ross Detwiler who had a similar frame as Cole. When Detwiler last played, his weight was listed at 210 pounds and had stamina issues. The hope here is that the Nats’ 26-year-old who has worked hard this off-season to add-on lower body girth is ready to compete. You could almost say it is Cole’s job to lose. There are some conspiracy theories that have been offered up like this tweet from @HalfStreetHeart on Twitter:

Cole throws the Jordan Zimmermann repertoire of 4-seam fastball, slider and curveball plus a changeup that is always “under construction”. Four years ago, Cole’s changeup was his best pitch. Since the beginning of 2016, the changeup has been A.J.’s worst pitch. The opposition hits it at a .348 batting average and a .565 slugging — that won’t cut it — but the encouraging news is Cole went back to his 2014 “self” and spent hours this off-season watching himself throwing the changeup. That video led him to retool his changeup this off-season. He has been working tirelessly at his craft, and Nats fans should respect any player who works so hard to improve.

Cole’s last start of 2017 which was a 6 inning/1 ER effort.

This information we have given you is the same information that Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez have which is why they are so bullish on A.J. Cole and for the doubters — give A.J. Cole a chance and figure that Mike Rizzo has a Plan B. What that Plan B is could change in an instant.

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Day #1 of position players with a full squad Circle of Trust

Feb. 19, 2018

If you stay after everyone else leaves, you might be surprised with what you see on the back fields in the Palm Beach complex. We were hanging out catching up on the news of the day that general manager Mike Rizzo in fact was not satisfied with the team he had as he signed reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year deal taking the last spot on the 40-man roster.

The morning started as usual with the players headed to the Circle of Trust. This was the expanded Circle of Trust with all the players and coaches numbering near 70.

No, Madson isn’t picking his nose, just adjusting his cap. I told Koda to get well soon, and he thanked me.

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Bryce Harper just took his first batting practice in Spring Training

There was never a question of Bryce Harper being part of the Washington Nationals 2018 roster unless you listened to those who thought trading him prior to free agency was prudent. Continue reading

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Brooks Robinson: The Greatest Defensive Player in Baseball History, at Any Position (4 of 7)

Game 3

The Orioles are carrying a 16-game winning streak into Game 3: They won their final 11 regular-season games, swept the Twins in 3 games in the ALCS, and have won the first 2 games against the Reds. Continue reading

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The Sunday wrap-up with the #Nats at Spring Training

Feb. 18, 2018

Pro tip:  if you want to catch home run balls flying out of catchers’ batting practice (between 9 and 9:30), play back rather than hang on the back fence.  If you hang on the fence, the girl in red will already own the ball by the time you get there.

Sunday Nats

While watching the guys head to today’s Circle of Trust, I spotted Max Scherzer sporting one of the new bucket caps.  I yelled “Hey, Max, I’m wearing your shirt!” (I was wearing the Hit Like a Pitcher shirt he had made after the 3-run homer). Got a “Sweet!” from him. Continue reading

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Connecting the dots in Spring Training for the Nationals

Harper and Harper spring training

Connecting the dots to what we think we know is easier said than done. There are few rumors coming out of Nationals camp because for the most part — the roster is set.  Also, Dave Martinez has been very forthcoming with information.  Continue reading

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First weekend of #Nats Spring Training

Feb. 17

The catchers were hitting on Field 1 as we came into the park.  Spouse yelled at one of the fielders, “Hey, throw me one!” He responded “where’s your glove?”  When she said “home in my dresser drawer,” he bounced one out to her. No kids in the vicinity, so we kept it.

Said good morning to general manager Mike Rizzo and told him we’d met his dad in Arizona last fall, where he’d told us to (1) hit Mike up for free tickets and (2) give him a hard time next time when we saw him. Rizzo said “was he yelling at everyone?”  and got a laugh out of the “free ticket” gambit. Rizzo has his own little cart marked GM on the front. Other carts are marked Clubhouse and Security—but they otherwise look the same.  Then there are what I’ll call the groundskeepers’ carts, the clubhouse-schleppage carts, and the field-grooming machines, as well as the fan transport carts (new this year).  So all-in-all, you need to be ready to step off into the grass at any time.

In case anyone was wondering “where’s Gio?” I can confirm that he’s alive and well.  He stopped by to give Susan-at-the-gate a kiss and told her he’d just been keeping out of the sun.  After seeing the pitchers heading off for practice, we decided to focus on the activities at Fields 3, 4, 5, 6 near the back of the complex.  Those fields have small bleachers next to them, and if you position yourself strategically, you can sit in the shade of the young trees that shade about 5% of each bleacher.  Nice thought to plant those trees:  they are only going to be there for the benefit of the fans since the shade will never reach the playing area.  I hope I’ll be coming back here long enough for those trees to shade the entire bleachers!

spring training weekend

The group started warming up with some calisthenics, led by the little guy in the bucket hat, far end of the third row. I call this one dancing with the stars. Continue reading

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