Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quiet camp is good for Nats

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jim Riggleman has presided over a Nats camp lacking in the usual drama.
VIERA, Fla. -- Walking around the practice fields near Space Coast Stadium for the last two weeks, you tend to strike up conversations with all sorts of people. Players. Coaches. Team execs. Fans. Other media members.

Overwhelmingly this spring, there has been a common sentiment among all those different interested parties: This Nationals camp feels different than previous ones.

What's the difference? One particular phrase seems to keep coming up: There's a more professional tone to the proceedings.

Indeed, it does feel like there's less need for basic instruction and teaching this spring. Players are using their time simply to get their work in and get themselves ready for the season.

It helps that the roster boasts far more veterans than in the past, guys like Matt Stairs, Jerry Hairston, Rick Ankiel and Alex Cora. It also helps that several key young players like Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have rock-solid work habits.

We're finally seeing the fruits of Mike Rizzo's offseason labors up close and in person. The Nats GM has talked plenty about the importance of adding good "character" guys to the roster. Well, here's what it looks like.

On the practice fields, guys jog between stations with a purpose. When field coordinator Bobby Henley blasts his air horn to signal the start of a new drill, everyone's ready to go, no delays.

In the clubhouse, players have a good time and enjoy each other's company, but not at the expense of ignoring the task at hand. No one's showing up late to work or just in the nick of time. No one's trying to seize control of the room and draw unnecessary attention to himself.

More than anything, there's far more talent dispersed around that room than there has been in any previous version of this franchise's camp. As one player who's been around for a while now put it earlier today: "We actually have a major-league team. Finally."

When camp breaks in a month and the club heads north for Opening Day, it's a safe bet that the team charter will boast 25 legitimate major leaguers. That may not sound like a big deal, but it hasn't always been the case.

Think about some of the names who have managed to squeeze their way onto the Nationals' Opening Day roster over the years. Willy Taveras. Garrett Mock. Anderson Hernandez. Mike Hinckley. Rob Mackowiak. Odalis Perez. Chris Snelling. Jerome Williams. Damian Jackson. Felix Rodriguez. Joe Horgan. J.J. Davis.

That's not going to be the case in 2011. In previous years, the Nationals often had to scramble late in spring to fill out roster spots. This year, there are going to be a lot of players deserving of a spot on the 25-man roster who just can't crack it.

There's another thing missing from this camp that was all too present in previous ones: Drama.

Every year since the franchise arrived in D.C., there has been some sort of underlying story that threatened to consume spring training and distract from the real task at hand. Endy Chavez getting demoted one week before Opening Day in 2005. Alfonso Soriano refusing to play left field in 2006. Dmitri Young getting signed out of nowhere in 2007. Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge and Mitchell Report culprit Paul Lo Duca joining the team in 2008, then John Patterson getting released in mid-March. The Smiley Gonzalez saga and Jim Bowden's resignation in 2009. Adam Dunn's contract non-negotiations and Elijah Dukes' surprise release last spring.

Those stories might have been great for us reporters looking for material, but they weren't good for a franchise that wasted too much time putting out fires and not enough time preparing for the actual season.

Yep, it's been a really quiet spring training so far. It may not make for great headlines, but it has made for a better working environment.

Will it result in a better won-loss record once the bell rings at the end of March? We'll see. But it certainly puts the Nationals in a position to believe all this professionalism will have a tangible effect on the field.

35 comments:

JayB said...

Nice Mark....just what these tired eyes have been longing to see for years.....No Lastings and his poor work ethic, no Dukes and his issues....No Patterson and Hill as your number 1's....no Anderson Hernandez as your starting 2b.....no Robert Fick or Nook Logan...No Acta learning on the job........it did not have to be this bad or take this long to just put a basic MLB work ethic into place......But again...this is just what I was asking for so......lets go play 2 and win them both!

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

JayB, Mr. Optimist. It must be spring training.

JayB said...

I was down there for just under 2 hours....I have been every year since 2007....often more than one visit a year....I will be back soon if all goes as planned.....As I posted 10 days ago...this is a much different team. Guys are in shape and professional. If Rizzo had pulled off two of those starting pitching efforts.....they could have been well over .500....as it is...with some luck they will be 82-80.....just better CF and Starting Pitching......make some trades if you can Rizzo....you are clearly on the right track....as I have posted for years...fundamentals and team first play...goes a long way to winning a high school game and a MLB game....finally we are about to see it happen. Rizzo is one made Italian.....he wants respect now.

masnstinks said...

Music to my ears!

WhatsaNattaU said...

Thank you JayB for expressing your sentiments.

Life is good. Maybe the baseball will be good to this year.

Positively Half St. said...

JB-

It really is nice to see you post with some hope. You are harder to win over than most.

+1/2St.

Sunderland said...

Mark - really nice perspective, thanks.
This is one sign of the progress Rizzo has made.
Another sign is going to be the roster of our AAA affiliate, with some actual legitimate MLB prospects. We've never really needed to have a AAA team prior to this year. Last year, and in previous years, we used AA for prospects and tried to put a decent team at AAA made up of fringe / aged MLB journeymen. If we did not have a AAA team last year, nothing would be the worse for it.
This will be the first year that we actually need a AAA affiliate, a place to put MLB ready prospects. Cool

Anonymous said...

One caveat though ... Mark mentions Garrett Mock among those of the past. I trust Rizzo and as much if not more than Rizzo guys like Roy Clark et al. THERE IS A REASON Garrett Mock is in this year's camp and a part of this crew. Detwiler looks to be the most improved but I wouldn't count out Mock, nor JD Martin, nor God forbid Yuniesky Maya JayB's major International signing.

If starting pitching is going to get these Nats over the .500 hump it will have to come from Zimmermann, Detwiler, Yuniesky and Mock with the addition of Gorzelanny ... and not from Livo, Marquis and Lannan. Those last three cannot go up against the best pitcher of any NL East team and expect to win. But those first five just might ...

phil .dunn said...

This sounds promising. It looks like Rizzo has disposed of all the bad eggs that Bowden acquired.

Carl in 309 said...

While Spring Training is the time to be optimistic (hope Springs eternal), and it is a reality that most teams have this professionalism built into their culture (years of MLB abuse denied us that foundation), it is heartening to read that we have quality players available for 25 roster spots. It means in essence that the Nationals have gotten back to even. It can give us hope but doesn't mean we're entitled to win 81 games. Still,it adds greater urgency for me to hurry home from Asia to catch a late March spring training game and see these guys for real. Mark, eager to read one or two more cuts on this angle of Nats development between now and the trip North.

Anonymous8 said...

Watching the Yankees game from this afternoon on time delay on the MLB Network. In the 7th inning, Domonic Brown just struck out for the 3rd time on another up and in swing and miss.

It is the Yankees broadcasters who started a discussion on the Phillies losing Jayson Werth and how it is going to cost the Phillies in offense. They praised the Nationals on getting Jayson Werth too.

Anonymous said...

I hate the Yankees and Orioles as much if not more than the Phillies.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or is Riggleman sending out the wrong body language discussing Elvin Ramirez? He swivels his chair back and forth in a way that makes me think he wishes Ramirez wasn't there for him to have to worry about?

SonnyG10 said...

In my two days at ST, I thought everything seemed well organized and was running smoothly. Since this was my first trip ever to ST, I didn't have anything to compare it to. It's nice to read your perspective, Mark.

Doc said...

As for the Riggleman interview, to me it's obvious that he was surprised by Ramirez's stuff and didn't know quite what to disclose to the press.

He's got a lot of quality guys in the BP with more seniority, and here's Ramirez, a Rule 5 draftee, with what appears to be as much quality stuff as any of them.

Afterall, with managers and the press it's a cat and mouse game, where managers only disclose to the press as little as they want them to know. They don't want the press to get ahead of them---which is what good reporters eventually do anyway.

JayB said...

SonnyG.....In the Acta days....Spring Training was a joke....no all his fault...Lastings and Dukes types mixed with Lopez types.....nobody was on the same page....just going through motions or not trying at all....I have told the story about Milledge goofing in CF drills....trying to not to move and seeing if the fungo hitter can get it too him....Acta watching it and doing nothing.....

I can not wait to get home tonight and see some Nats Baseball.....I think it is going to look very different this year. New TV guy.....heard him on MLB XM Radio....not very politically correct about his drinking habits.....I think he is going to put his foot in his mouth very early.....steroid guy too.....should be interesting!

Steve said...

Same as with others I'm happy to hear that the small steps continue. And I'm surprised to see that no has started up FireJoeHorgan.com.

Big Cat said...

Dimitri Young.....now there is a blast from the past. Wonder what he is doing now. Probably in the buffet line at Old Country. Shame, the guy could hit

JayB said...

Young has been arrested for Pot as I recall while coaching.....Still think Dukes claims are made up? Still think Acta had a clue or that clubhouse make up means nothing?

NAtsJack in Florida said...

After watching the Mets and Braves for 2 straight days, I can say that the Nats look to be the more athletic team of these 3. And our pitching staff is better than than the Mets but a notch below the Braves although Jamir Juergens didn't show much Saturday.

Anonymous said...

can't have a circus without the carnival barker.

Big Cat said...

Hold on NatsJack, our two Visa boys aren't here yet. Wait'll they start bringin the gas. You might change your tune about pitching staffs.

Hows Marrero and Kimball look?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Kimball looks great and Marrero looks like a DH.

Almost every Brave pitcher under the age of 24 throws gas. And I'll take Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson as starters over just about anybody we have.

JayB said...

I would be trying to trade Lannan, Livo, Jason M to Yanks and Cards....with cash for whatever you can get.....This team needs starters who can hit at least 92 MPH....make some of the reliever long jam into starting options....Clippard could do it.

fpcsteve said...

Interesing take on Marrero. Consistent, too. I have never seen him, but all the reports indicate he is an AL player. I can imagine the circumstances where he is traded during this season. For? Apparently more pitching or a CF prospect depending on how the big club is doing.

NatinBeantown said...

Anon at 9:06 (re: Garrett Mock),

Yes, there is a reason Mock is still in this team's camp--he's still pretty young, and still has a live arm. There's a decent chance he can turn into a very useful pitcher for the Nats or someone else.

I think Mark's point is that in previous years, that potential and raw talent would be enough (and last year, was enough) for Mock to crack the 25-man and head north to DC. Now, even with a great spring, he's got to produce and outperform at least 5 guys, many with as much talent. It's a nice place to be (finally).

natsfan1a said...

In other news, read today's WJFK radio Nats announcement here:

http://tinyurl.com/4l67cgz

NatinBeantown said...

Another thing I'm looking forward to in future Rizzo camps is the diminished presense of guys like Lannan and Livo (or Maya and Rosenbaum) as change of pace, "location" pitchers--aka the "soft tossers." I say that as a guy whose favorite Nats include those first two.

One spot in the rotation can switch up the rotation and give the team an edge, but unfortunately we've generally had a rotation with 4-5 of these types as a rule. Rizzo is building a stable of arms to change that.

Anonymous said...

There's JayB, Mr. "I hate personal attacks" himself, slandering the new Nats broadcaster before he's even uttered one word on their air. Typical JayB.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

@anon 9:38, please get a grip. Negative reviews aren't all ad hominem attacks.
Yours just make Jayb look sympathetic, which I assume is not your goal.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, all JayB did was call the broadcaster a drunk and a juicer. Nothing ad hominem about that, of course. Because if it was, then the guy calling JayB a stoner yesterday would have been making an ad hominem attack too, and JayB would have been upset. Such a sympathetic character he is.

Sunderland said...

Thanks 1a, glad to see that the new radio deal is announced and official.

Rat Man said...

The Nats are probably nervous about starting 10-24 with the season collapsing like an apartment building in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

No, he did not call him a drunk, and Santangelo was named in the Mitchell Report, so referring to it might be rude, but it isn't slander.
Jayb has been over the line sometimes, IMO, and I said so at the time, but Mark just got done asking you to take it outside. You are out of line here. Please stop. No one is amused.

Anonymous said...

Before anyone gets hyped up about Mock's 'stuff', remember he still doesn't throw strikes.

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