Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
At last, spring training is upon us. Today is the first day of workouts at West Palm Beach. While we’re still waiting to find out how many games our cheap, wretched, Orioles-owned regional sports network will deign to televise before the start of the regular season, we are sure to spend some time puzzling over who that new guy at first base is, who is this strange pitcher, who is that behind the plate, and so on and so forth.
To help you out in your quest to identify these mystery players, as we do every year, we present this field guide to the new faces in Washington Nationals spring camp. Continue reading
Circle of Trust; Photo by Sol Tucker
This was the longest off-season in Washington Nationals history that spanned from the end of a painful 2020 season to the start of a Spring Training filled with hope. This off-season totaled 143 days. We are also in unprecedented times with the COVID pandemic, a promising vaccine, but still mostly empty stadiums. And of course the city that the Nats call home is getting back to normal after the U.S. Capitol siege last month. Baseball took a backseat to real life. Uncertainties still remain along with regrets. The new season is supposed to wipe the slate clean, but COVID is still in the air, and on everyone’s mind.
Last season was so bad for the Nats, general manager Mike Rizzo said they did an autopsy on the season. In a literal sense, autopsies are performed on corpses to determine the cause of death. Metaphorically, Rizzo was right. Continue reading
Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats
It was known that Carter Kieboom had a groin strain as the 2020 season opened from a report from Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. But the CBS report also said, “the injury evidently only hurts when he moves laterally, so he’ll be able to hit and run the bases.” In total, Kieboom only participated in 33-games in 2020, and 99 at-bats and his OPS for the season was .556. In comparison, Max Scherzer had a .545 OPS as a batter in 2018.
At this point, almost every third baseman free agent is off the market, it seems much clearer that Kieboom has a clear track to the third base job for the 2021 season, but that also is not ‘new’ news. Back in early December, MASN reported that “Kieboom is the favorite to be the Nationals’ starting third baseman, though he’ll have to earn his opportunities, according to manager Dave Martinez.” Continue reading
Photo by Craig Nedrow for TalkNats
The Washington Nationals bullpen was a mixed bag of results during the 2020 season. The team parted ways last year with several left-handed pitchers from their bullpen depth. None more important to the history of the Nats than Sean Doolittle who headed to free agency. Acquired by the Nats on July 16, 2017, he appeared in 147 games over his 3 ½ seasons with the team while being a key part of the World Series championship team.
Also gone from last year’s squad are lefty relievers Fernando Abad and Roenis Elias, as well as LHP Sam Freeman who tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Prospect LHP Seth Romero broke his hand in a mysterious accident, and he couldn’t finish the 2020 season although he remains on the 40-man roster. At the end of last season, the only current lefty pitchers who were healthy from the 60-man pool: Patrick Corbin, Matt Cronin and Ben Braymer. Of course one of the first moves of this offseason from general manager Mike Rizzo was to add lefty depth to the bullpen. He followed the path he took last year with Kyle Finnegan and did some early shopping and snagged Sam Clay on November 18. Continue reading
Andry Lara – RHP
Lara– who turned 18 in January- was part of a vaunted 2019 J2 class under the leadership of International Scouting VP Johnny DiPuglia, signing for $1.25MM as a top 20 prospect in the international signing class. Upon signing, Lara immediately went into the top 10 prospects in the Nationals’ system. You read a lot about him last week on TalkNats and his entrance into the 2021 season as the Nats’ #5 prospect (as rated by Baseball America) despite not having thrown a pitch in an official minor league game.
Where many international pitching projects are signed with the hopes and dreams of what they could become, Lara has a lot more “now” ingredients than other J2 hopefuls. Lara’s build is already sturdy and strong, and while he might not have the higher end projection of some of his counterparts, he’ll grow into a durable build much like his countrymen of Anibal Sanchez or Armando Galarraga. Continue reading
Armando Cruz at the John Carmona training facility
Obviously it is too soon for Baseball America to include this year’s signings from international free agency in their rankings, but we have been saving the № 10 spot in our Washington Nationals overall prospect rankings for Armando Cruz. His friends call him El Mago (the magician) for his defensive wizardry. We had the chance to talk to this young man today for his first ever interview in the U.S.
With a birthday a few weeks ago, Cruz just turned 17 and is hard at work to keep improving. Cruz ranked № 2 in the projected amount paid ($3.9 million) in a signing bonus among all of the international free agents according to Baseball America. On MLB Pipeline’s list, Cruz ranks 4th overall among all of the prospects in this international signings class. Continue reading
The 2019 draft class for the Washington Nationals produced shortstop Jackson Cluff in the 6th round out of Brigham Young University. Cluff hopes to join BYU alums like Dale Murphy and Wally Joyner who both starred in the league. In Baseball America’s newest rankings, Cluff came in at № 11 overall prospect in the Washington Nationals system.
“It is always cool to see your hard work pay off and get some recognition for the progress you’re making,” Cluff told us. “The Nats have a lot of great players in the system so it’s humbling to be recognized up there with some of the best.”
Because Cluff signed quickly with the Nats, the left-handed batting shortstop was able to get into 62 games in the 2019 minor league season with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns. There was certainly an acclimation period to pro ball as Cluff’s K rate was high and will be something he will have to work on to get the strikeouts down and make more contact. Right now it is not an issue, but Cluff is very old for being an A-ball player at 24 and needs to start moving up levels in the minors. Continue reading
The Washington Nationals had a chance to get one of the top closers in the 2019 MLB Draft. The team selected left-handed reliever Matt Cronin with the 123rd overall pick in the 4th round. At the time, Cronin was a 21-year-old junior for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. His stats included a K/BB rate of 2.87 and a .163 BAA to go with a 2.00 ERA. He made it to Single-A for the Nats in 2019, and then to 60-man player pool and assigned to the Alternate Training Site last year.
Last week, Baseball America moved Cronin up to the № 9 overall prospect in the Washington Nationals system.
After tonight, football is over and baseball takes over the sports landscape for many. Morityema, the god of the season of Spring watches over us in this fertile time. In Florida, the senses are piqued. The feel of the sun on our skin is different in Palm Beach County. Visions of baseball fields filled with hope. The fresh cut grass, hot dogs grilling, popcorn popping, and the smell of fresh leather from those new fielding gloves are a system overload on the olfaction. With that first bite into a Spring Training hot dog washed down with a craft beer is nirvana even after your doctor told you at your last physical to stay away from those types of foods. This is the season of optimism where we all can indulge at the beginning and in moderation.
Hope Springs Eternal is something I’ve written about in Spring Training for decades. Hope Springs Eternal was originally a poem of a different meaning, and it’s been a title of books. To me, the eternal meaning of the years as they go by forever never changes what’s in our hearts, and each year you have the new seasons and every Spring we find new hope. If we lose our hope — we have lost our dreams. This year starts those new dreams, and the games are played on the field of dreams. The paper projections will get replaced by actual results. Continue reading
When the Washington Nationals drafted Mason Denaburg in the first round of 2018, they knew what they had at the time. Yes, ‘time’ is the key word. He is 21 years old now and would be the age of a typical college draftee now. But Denaburg has lost time — valuable time due to injuries that has changed his trajectory and the timing. The Nats had been down this path once before with Matt Purke who timed out. The team control has an expiration date with it — even with minor league prospects. After the 2019 season, Denaburg had shoulder pain and required what was described as a shoulder “cleanup” that was done arthroscopically which allowed a quicker recovery time. He is healthy now, and ready to prove he was worthy of his first round pick. Baseball America ranks him № 8 overall of all of the Nationals’ prospects. Continue reading