Winter League Crystal Ball: How The Washington Nationals Kids Are Doing

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Winter League Crystal Ball: How The Washington Nationals Kids Are Doing
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Derek Norris: Future Star?

The various winter leagues don’t have much longer to run, so I thought it a good idea to take a look and see how some of the Nationals are performing this year.

A few of them completed their off seasons in the Arizona Fall League and are noted:

Roger Bernadina is batting just .208/.333/.250, but he has played in just seven games so I don’t think his numbers tell very much.

I can’t figure Bernadina out: He is without question the most chiseled of all the Nationals and is a superior athlete.

But after hitting as high as .291 last season, he started a slow downward spiral as if the National League pitchers suddenly figured something out.

Michael Burgess batted.246/.286/.477 in the Arizona Fall League with a couple of home runs in 65 at-bats.

Burgess—who is prone to the strikeout—fanned 20 times, 31 percent of the time. If Burgess makes it to the major leagues, and I am less certain of that each passing year, he is going to be a low average, low on-base percentage power bat.

Over his minor league career, he’s struck out 29% of the time, so I doubt something is suddenly going to change.

Danny Espinosa had trouble making contact in his September call-up with the Nationals and that problem continues this winter.

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Danny Espinosa

Though he is batting .281/.343/.483—very good numbers—he has struck out 27 times in 89 at-bats, like Burgess, 31% of the time.

His career strikeout rate stands at about 25%.

I keep waiting for Jesus Flores to blow something else out, but he is still in the lineup.

In 54 at-bats, Flores is batting .352/.379/.556 with two homers and 11 RBI. I just wonder how long it is going to take for the Nationals to feel comfortable that his injury-plagued days are behind him.

If the team is certain that he’s healthy, they can trade Wilson Ramos in a package for a quality starting pitcher. Flores, though a free swinger, is striking out just 12 percent of his at-bats.

I’m beginning to wonder if Stephen Lombardozzi isn’t the answer at second base for the Nationals and not Danny Espinosa.

A career .293/.373/.402 batter, he batted .293/.385/.439 last fall in the Arizona Fall League.

Talk about consistency: Lombardozzi has struck out in less than 10 percent of his at-bats.

He will hit fewer homers than Espinosa but won’t strike out as much. Their gloves are just about equal. Lombardozzi should be ready in 2012.

Perennial prospect Chris Marrero continues to improve in most phases of his game. In 85 at-bats, he is batting .306/.351/.424 with two homers and 16 RBI.

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Jesus Flores

Like Burgess and Espinosa, though Marrero is striking out about 31 percent of the time. His bat is good enough to make it to the major leagues but he has an Adam Dunn glove at first.

Maybe he’ll be traded to an American League team one day soon.

Derek Norris just keeps on being Derek Norris.

In 54 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, he hit .278/.403/.667 with four homers and 19 RBI; however, his strikeout rate is the highest of all the winter Nationals at 33 percent. That said, man, a .403 on-base percent.

I guess I can live with the strikeouts.

I think Eury Perez is the best pure hitter the Nationals have.

In 101 at-bats, he is batting .347/.400/.396 with 17 stolen bases. The kid is greased lightning. His 16 percent strikeout rate is livable.

In almost 1,000 career minor league at-bats, Perez is a .312/.390/.402 batter, striking out about 15 percent of the time.

He has 140 career stolen bases with an 80 percent success rate.

Wilson Ramos is proving to be a steal.

Ramos, who came to the Nationals in the Matt Capps trade last summer, is hitting .311/.367/.519 with six homers and 27 RBI in 135 at-bats.

His strikeout rate is 19%, good considering his power production this winter.

In 1,500 minor league at-bats, Ramos has batted .285/.332/.431 with 39 home runs.

Adam Carr was one of the biggest bats in college baseball, but the Nationals drafted him as a pitcher in 2006; he is finally beginning to show that the team was right.

Playing in the Arizona Fall League, Carr went 1-0, 2.08 in 13 innings. His batting average-against was a minuscule .137.

Cole Kimball used to be pretty bad starting pitcher, but in the last couple of seasons has become a solid relief pitcher with a blazing fastball.

His AFL stats were phenomenal as he crafted an ERA of 0.75 with 15 strikeouts in just 13 innings.

In his first full season as a closer, Kimball went 8-1, 2.17 with 18 saves, allowing 5.7/4.5/11.6 per nine-innings.

Forget the shaky start last September from Yunesky Maya.

The Cuban defector is now 4-1 with a 0.69 ERA, with 41 strikeouts in 39 innings. I still think that Maya can be a solid number three starter for the Nationals next season.

He was 13-4, 2.22 in the Cuban National Season and was second in strikeouts to Aroldis Chapman (now of the Reds). He pitched twice in the World Baseball Classic and did well both times.

 

I realize that Winter League baseball doesn’t give you the whole story about a player, but it does give you a vision into their talents.

Over the next season or two, the Nationals will become stronger with the addition of Several young players, the remnants of “The Plan.”

As much as I like Danny Espinosa, Stephen Lombardozzi seems to be a better all around player. His speed and contact ability would make him ideal to lead off for the Nationals.

Wilson Ramos will probably play 120 games in 2011, but I have this lingering hunch that if the Nationals are sure—really sure—that Jesus Flores is healthy, he could become the stop-gap until Derek Norris is ready to take over as catcher, allowing the team to trade the valuable Wilson Ramos.

I wouldn’t want to be have to play the Nationals in the next few years and to deal with their bullpen once the starter has been retired for the night.

If the Nationals don’t make any more significant trades this winter, their starting rotation will be led by John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya. I think Maya is ready to have his major league breakout, winning 13 games with an ERA under 4.00.

But things will really get dicey when opposing teams get into the now formidable bullpen. Returning from last season are:

Drew Storen: 4-4, 3.58, 7.8/3.6/8.5

Tyler Clippard: 11-8, 3.07, 6.8/4.1/11.1

Sean Burnett: 1-7, 2.14, 7.4/2.9/8.9

Doug Slaten: 4-1, 3.10, 7.5/4.2/8.0

Colin Balester: 0-1, 2.57, 6.4/4.7/12.0

And are newest reliever:

Henry Rodriguez: 1-0, 4.26, 8.1/4.3/10.5

Notice anything unusual about these six bullpen stalwarts? They all have strikeouts per nine-innings above eight and two have strikeouts per nine of 11 or more.

In 2009, only two players with more than 10 innings had strikeout rates per nine-innings above eight, Tyler Clippard and Joel Hanrahan.

Nationals’ manager Mike Rizzo has made it clear that once he had full control over his team, changes would be made.

He would replace slow-footed defenders with strong and quick athletes. And all of those soft-tossers in the bullpen would give way to players who could throw in the high 90’s.

Mission accomplished.

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