Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The kids are all right

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond is hitting .346 since the All-Star break.
Catching up on yesterday's events at Nationals Park, where the home team thumped the Mets by a 13-3 count, I'm struck by one overriding thought: The kids have arrived, and they're giving this franchise legitimate reason for hope.

Danny Espinosa, of course, was fantastic. Beyond fantastic. He clubbed two homers, one of them a grand slam. He wound up with four hits. He's batting .563 with 10 RBI in five games and an 1.875 OPS. He received a curtain call, a pie in the face and the silver Elvis Wig.

But this goes beyond Espinosa. Look up and down the Nationals' roster. It's loaded with young talent that was either homegrown or recently acquired from other organizations.

Ian Desmond, 24, is hitting .346 since the All-Star break and making significant strides in the field. He was drafted by the Expos in 2004.

Roger Bernadina, 26, looks more and more like a legitimate big leaguer with each passing day. He was signed by the Expos out of Curacao in 2001.

Wilson Ramos, 23, hasn't seen much playing time yet, but he's going to split the catching job 50-50 with Ivan Rodriguez the rest of the way and give everyone a chance to see what he can do. He was acquired from the Twins in the Matt Capps trade five weeks ago.

John Lannan, 25, has been superb since returning from the minors in late-July and once again looks like an important, long-term piece of the Nats' rotation. He was drafted in 2005.

Jordan Zimmermann, 24, had a bit of a hiccup yesterday against the Mets but was ridiculously dominant his previous time out against the Marlins and looks fully healthy following his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He was drafted in 2007.

Drew Storen, 23, has more than held his own in his first full professional season, one that saw him reach the majors less than 12 months after getting drafted and progress all the way to the point he's now closing games in the big leagues.

Tyler Clippard, 25, despite some ups and downs, still has nine wins, a 3.01 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. He was acquired during the 2007 winter meetings from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo.

Sean Burnett, 27, has taken a big step in establishing himself as a reliable, late-inning reliever, proving he's more than just a left-handed specialist and can get guys from both sides of the plate out in the eighth and even ninth innings. He was acquired from the Pirates last summer along with Nyjer Morgan for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan.

Tonight, Yunesky Maya, 29, makes his major-league debut, hoping the success he enjoyed in Cuba translates to this level. The four-year contract he received from the Nats in July suggests he's ready for this leap.

Oh yeah, and then there's Ryan Zimmerman, 25, who merely continues to establish his position as one of the 10 best all-around players in baseball. He was drafted in 2005.

That's 10 players 27 or younger (plus Maya) who look like significant pieces of the Nationals' puzzle, not only in the long term, but right now. And these aren't simply the best of a bad lot of prospects who only were called up because the organization had nothing better in the pipeline. No, every one of these guys earned his way onto the Nats' roster, and nearly every one of them has already done something at this level to prove he deserves to stick around for a while.

After hearing about "The Plan" for more than three years, this is the payoff. They've arrived. This is the team the Nationals have been building all along, and now it's time to find out if this group is good enough to win at the highest level.

It may not happen overnight. It may not happen in 2011. But these guys are going to get a chance to prove whether they can do it. And by the time the biggest fish in the pond (Stephen Strasburg) returns from his injury in the next 12 to 18 months, we should all have a better idea whether this is the team that makes all the waiting worthwhile and brings a pennant race back to the District.

Until then, might as well enjoy the ride as this new wave of young players finishes out the most interesting and important September this franchise has experienced in five years.


N. Cognito said...

First time I ever saw a home run literally caroom around the foul pole. I ended up with the ball but gave it to a kid.

District Athletic said...

This is what we've been waiting since 2005 for.

NatsJack in Florida said...

The last time I was this excited about 3 young position players (Bernandina, Desmond, and Espinosa), it was 1960, I was 12 and the kids were Earl Battey, Bob Allison and Zoilo Versailles.

It's been a long time.

P. Cole said...


Nattydread said...

Really nice post Mark. Love the optimism.

A ten game improvement over last year is within sight and, with so many one run losses, a 15-20 game improvement this year wouldn't have been hard.

Next year, another ten game improvement is imminent. That puts us close to .500 and within spitting distance of the wild card chase.

Doc said...

Yeah I know he's 28, and a ways away from being a prospect, but Mark could you try and squeeze Morse into this promising group.

His best may be yet to come. He's a newer, and younger, version of The Hammer. As an offensive player, he might be the best low ball hitter of the group.

Fun article!

Steve M. said...

Mark, Bob Carpenter and Ray Knight were having a similar discussion of the youth and the 1st base situation was discussed as there is nobody from the Minors ready to step into Dunn's shoes and the only other viable player in Free Agency is Carlos Pena who is an older player with declining power.

The youth you listed is great but nobody is stepping forward as an All Star calibre player on that list except Ryan Zimmerman. This team has to upgrade. Willingham was an All Star calibre player for 3 months and Dunn is an All Star player that may never make the All Star team again at 1st base as thick as the talent is at 1st base.

Rizzo still has to find a way to upgrade to find an immediate impact player in the off-season because as you climb to .500 you need 3 shutdown pitchers and the right mix of offense and defense to go into the playoffs these days. I do think Strasburg & JZim could be a great 1 & 2 but still need the 3rd pitcher for 2012.

Also, not to be drinking the Espinosa KoolAid but the kid is here 5 games and you have to see how pitchers will get after him when they have a scouting report, and see how Espinosa adjusts. Don't get me wrong, this is something to be excited about as Desi and Espi can cover the middle of the infield and solve the 2nd base gaping hole that has existed here since Vidro left and maybe the team really can concentrate on 1 key Free Agent acquisition + Dunn.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Doc... I agree totally.

Morse has figured out how to fight off the inside stuff and absolutely kills any mistake by the pitcher.

He needs to be in the 5 or 6 spot every game.

Anonymous said...

Great article, as usual Mark. Thanks for the healthy dose of optimism - I generally get laughed at when I try to tell folks that I'm hopeful for our guys! I think this team is going to be fun to watch next year. Lets hope our patience is going to pay off!

Go Nats!

N. Cognito said...

The only free agent firstbaseman I'd consider over Dunn is Adrian Gonzalez, but he's not a free agent until 2011 if the Pads don't exercise a club option (no reason to think they won't), or 2012 if they do exercise the option and don't re-sign him.
I'd be okay with the Nats re-signing Dunn and signing Gonzlez, if/when he becomes available. The Nats could always move Dunn back to LF for the last couple years or so of his contract.

Wily Mo Peterson said...

As a Nats fan living in NYC I love seeing these young guys really start to show something. The Mets are an unmitigated disaster who's only hope of making a world series in the next 10 years is to buy a championship. They have very little young quality homegrown talent.

Desmond has played more games but his numbers are almost identical if not better from the plate as Jose Reyes (granted Desmond's fielding numbers are worse than probably everyone). Reyes is also 3 years older and makes close to $9mil per season more.

And I love how Zimmerman is regarded by most baseball fans not just Nats fans as a better all around player than David Wright, Zimm is also younger.

The Mets have no catching prospects, we have two, at least until they move Norris to 1st base to take over for Dunn in 2 seasons, Norris' defense will probably better than Marerro's at 1st by then.

Whereas Niese and Pelfrey are nice pitchers, they are both older and have less than half the talent of Strasburg and Zimmermann.

Oh and the Mets closer just got banished from the team for hurting his thumb fighting with his father in law in the clubhouse, our closer is 23 and seems to be a pretty stand up human being with a ton of talent.

All of these things make me happy and we havn't even seen what Harper can do yet. The future is bright in the nations capitol but not so much for NYC's second team.

Wily Mo Peterson said...

Wow that post looked a lot shorter when I was typing, oh well I hate the Mets and love the Nats what can I say.

JaneB said...

What Mark said. What Doc said. I love the kids and am so glad they are here. I groused A LOT about waiting for homegrown kids. I admit it. Add Morse in, as a late bloomer, and we have a for real team out there.

And InCognito... Way to go"

Anonymous said...

Mark -

Interesting that you didn't include Bryce Harper, any mention of which would have taken this article and commentary from hope to hype.

Mark in Arlington

Stew Magnuson said...

Speak of the Mets, On a Labor Day weekend tour of several minor league parks, I saw Chad Cordero come in for the Buffalo Bisons (Mets AAA) as the set up man in the 8th against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
He gave up 2 hits, then got the next two batters out. And then Mike O'Connor comes in for the 4-out save. I wish them both well although seeing them in a Mets uniform would be painful.

HHover said...

I’ve enjoyed the last few games and join everyone else in wanting to see more of these youngsters over the next month and beyond.

I would add a word of caution about where Bernadina and Morse fit into the OF over the long-term. Some folks are eager to see Bernadina replace Morgan in CF, but the Nats clearly see him in a corner spot, and that seems right--if you look at his UZR #s, his arm is good but his range isn’t. That means when Willingham returns next year, Roger moves back to RF and Morse probably goes back to a 4th OF/PH role. That’s a good role for Morse and one that he accepted happily, at least this year--but it does mean we’re likely to see less of him next year.

Steve M. said...

Doc, I agree about Morse and would also add Bryce Harper on that list even though he is going to be in Minors learning and progressing. Bryce is one determined young man who will be a Stanton/Heyward/Posey immediate impact player when he makes it to the Nationals, and I think if he blows through A ball in 2011 and can make it to Harriburg by the end of 2011, maybe just maybe we see him in 2012 and he does what Heyward and Posey are doing for their teams in the playoff push.

Also, Mark mentions Bernadina looks more and more like a legitimate big leaguer with each passing day. Bernadina was no fluke. I spoke to his agent in Viera back in Spring Training and he told me how Bernie was so dedicated in the off-season coming back from the ankle injury and was in an intense strength and conditioning program which is the results of what we are seeing. He has gone from a light hitting single and doubles guy to a player with gap power now while being able to bunt. To me, Bernadina is the future Centerfielder of this team which gives Morse the opportunity to play everyday in RF.

NatsJack in Florida said...

HHover.... take your UZR #'s and stuff em.

Bernadina is a Center Fielder and Nyjer Morgan isn't.

A DC Wonk said...

The youth you listed is great but nobody is stepping forward as an All Star calibre player on that list except Ryan Zimmerman.

It's early. It's quite possible that Desmond or Espinosa might be that caliber in a year or two (remember: Espy is one of only two players in all of minor league baseball with 20 HR's and 20 SB's this year). I've read other sources which say that Desmond has the best range of any SS in the majors. So, we'll see.

Same with Storen -- he's still getting adjusted and still has some upside.

And, I haven't seen this elsewhere, and if so, my I coin the following double play saying?

"Desi to Danny to Dunn" (oh my!)


Mark -- thanks for giving a fine rebuttal to all the commentators here who, consistently, time and time again, were saying that the FO and Rizzo hasn't done jack to improve the time.

A DC Wonk said...

(that last sentence was supposed to read: "to improve the team.")

Steve M. said...

DC Wonk, I like that double play combo, very 3D!!!!

DCJohn said...

If the Nats fail to sign Dunn, which is very likely, how would people feel about Morse playing first? Honestly,if they had to spend the money on a free agent, I would rather it be a front line starter. Our starting rotation is still a shambles. The two most consistent are Lannan and Livo, but both are really fourth and fifth starters at best. We all love Dunn, but we have to solidify the starting rotation. Morse may not hit the homers, but I rather give up the power for consistent infield play and solid pitching.

greg said...

sheesh, morgan just doesn't get it...

from the NYT article on yesterday's game:


“I crush a couple of catchers, and people get crazy because I’m not supposed to do that,” Morgan said Monday. “People are going to perceive what they’re going to perceive.

“But I think it’s a good buzz,” he said in reference to the stir his behavior has created. “All buzz is a good buzz. The Washington Nationals are getting on the map.”

yeah, that's right, nyjer. the crap you've run this team through over the past couple of weeks was a *GOOD* thing, eh? and maybe we should all be thanking you for "getting the nationals on the map."


*THIS* (along with his lackluster play most of this season) is why he doesn't need to be around next season. he's not learning from any of his mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Maya turned 29 on August 28th.

Berndaddy said...

Great job Mark. BTW when do we re-up for next year here at the Nats Insider? Are you going to continue to give a great coverage again next year, please? I do believe you broke more stories than all the other internet based sites combined. Let us know when to re-up and keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

DCJohn is right. First and foremost, the starting pitching at the top of the rotation must be addressed. They can also move Willingham to first base (given both knees and back) with Morse and Bernadina in the outfield if Dunn leaves. Morse is also only 28 years old and perhaps should be on Mark's list?

My guess is Rizzo might be able to trade for a guy like BJ Upton or another blocked prospect to add to the outfield far easier than a top tier first baseman. Adding more speed, athleticism and power to the outfield can only help.

But starting pitching will continue to haunt the Nats until and unless Zimmermann and Detwiler step up. In another year they might get both Strasburg and Solis. But I believe they need a top tier, top of the rotation starter and should seek that in free agency this year.

Richard said...

Yeah, and there's guys in the system behind them ... Lombardozzi, Josh Johnson, Marrero, Tom Milone, and others I'm failing to mention and the guys they drafted this year in addition to the top 3 ... Rick Hague, Kelso, others. This could be fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

"(remember: Espy is one of only two players in all of minor league baseball with 20 HR's and 20 SB's this year). I've read other sources which say that Desmond has the best range of any SS in the majors. So, we'll see."

I followed the kid a little in college, but more so in Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse.

Espinosa reached the 20/20 milestone in early August....and has only continued to crush the ball. As for range, I don't think we've seen enough of Espinosa @ SS to determine whether Desi or Espi has the better range-only time will tell. However, Espi has been at SS throughout college (including Team USA) and his minor league career (including twice in the All Star Futures and the AFL where he hit around .345), and has shown amazing range and an arm that is off the charts. We got a glimpse of the canon yesterday and it was amazing!

Nothing against Desi's obvious skills (hitting, range, arm), but it's not impossible that Espinosa could be as good or even better. Either way, there's no downside to the Nat's with these two in the lineup!

Espinosa did have an error yesterday, but his pro career fielding numbers are substantially better than Desi's numbers.

Has anyone noticed that including his short stint with Syracuse, that Espinosa is on a 16 or 17 game hitting streak?!?!?!

JaneB said...

DC John...we do have to solidify the starting rotation, which is why we HAVE ton have Dunn. No body touches his production, his spirit and his defense is now better than most of other first base players in the bigs.

DC Wonk: desi to Danny to dun...oh my is the new clip store and save.

And Mark Z: I think you are changing how sports gets covered. In a good way.

Steven J. Berke said...

Those talking about upgrading the starting rotation...have you taken a good look at what will be available this fall/winter (assuming guys like Jeff Francis and Matt Cain have their club options picked up)? Well there's Cliff Lee, and I've read recently that he's willing to go where the money is, regardless of record or chances of contending, bur it would take a TON. After that, the next best are probably Tim Hudson or Ted Lilly, both of whom will be 35 next year. And after THAT, you've got mediocrities like David Bush or Braden Looper, or reclamation projects like Noah Lowry or Brandon Webb.

Mark said...

If the Nats have indeed solved their 2nd base issue, then the next priority is a #1 pitcher, and 1st base.

As mentioned is Carlos Pena as the only other notables as FA 1st basemen are Paul Komerko and Lyle Overbay.

Outield is super thin with Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth and David DeJesus is on a team option.

Pitchers has Cliff Lee and Jeremy Bonderman and Tim Hudson and Javier Vazquez and Rizzo favorite Brandon Webb who is now an injury reclamation project.

In relievers Jon Rauch will be a Free Agent and this will be the best crop of relievers in a long time as the Nats could solidify further.

The pickins are so slim this year for top Free Agents that Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee will get plenty of bidders and can't forget Derek Jeter who is also on the list along with Mariano Rivera!

Anonymous said...


Are there going to be any additional call-ups from Syracuse with the conclusion of their season yesterday?


Steve M. said...

Funny, I assume Steve and Mark were both typing at the same time about the thin Free Agent market and both used the same term to describe Brandon Webb as a "reclamation project".

And yes, I could see Rizzo going after Brandon Webb like he did Chien-Ming Wang. What's the old saying if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

Iowa Nats Fan said...

I realize he's not been qualified as a true prospect (yet anyway), but no ones mentioning Tyler Moore. A 23 yr old whose line reads: .269/.321/.552, .873 OPS, 31 HR, 111 RBI. He's a 1B, so maybe he is someone that could potentially be in the mix in another couple years. Will be interesting to track him in 2011 as well.

Steve M. said...

JaneB said...
DC John...we do have to solidify the starting rotation, which is why we HAVE ton have Dunn. No body touches his production, his spirit and his defense is now better than most of other first base players in the bigs.
Jane, you are kidding, right? Better than MOST?

Dunn has improved where he is playing respectable at 1st but lacks range and soft hands on low throws.

Would I extend his contract? Yes. He is a key player for the future here.

Steve M. said...

md62red said...
I realize he's not been qualified as a true prospect (yet anyway), but no ones mentioning Tyler Moore.
If he wasn't in A ball, I would be really excited. Definitely need to see him against real pitching.

Anonymous said...

If NatsJack in Florida went to Albion College, please e-mail at capitol.comm@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...


Let's not get crazy; Dunn is still a solid minus on defense; great offensive player; his overall value is more than his salary but maybe not the best spend of money for the Nats; it's not conclusive but certainly debatable.

Just for fun:

Player A's stats in AA (player is 23 years old)

.262 .334 .464 .798

Player B's stats in AA (player is 22 years old)

.296 .352 .453 .805

Player A is Danny Espinosa;
Player B is Chris Marrero.

I don't know what it means but since everyone has already decided that Espinosa is on his way to the HOF and Marrero has pretty much been dismissed I thought I'd share.

big cat said...

Not much about Marrero. I've seen him a lot and the kid is a big league hitter. He has had a very good year at Harisburg .300 19 bombs. Lets not throw in the towel on him. He plays everyday and has a great work ethic. As he matures his power will increase.

Big Cat said...

Also, after Harper the Nats gave a million dollars to their number 2 pick Sammy Solis, a 6'5" lefty out of San Diego. They then gave their 4th pick A.J. Cole 2 million. Why so much? He was deemed unsignable, going to the U of Miami on a full boat. Check this guy out on Youtube. The boy is smooth as butter and brings it!

Matt said...

Anonymous (2:08) - Marrero is a defensive liability (in part because the Nats have had him switch his positions). Espinosa is viewed as a potential plus defender.

Alex said...

Jane B,

The obvious difference is that player A is a middle infielder and player B is a first baseman. You can't be getting .800 OPS from a 1bman on a playoff-caliber team.

That said, I'm far from throwing in the towel on Marrero. But he's not realistically in the picture for 2011. 2012 or beyond...

A DC Wonk said...

In defense of JaneB and her claim about Dunn, the fact is that Dunn is only slightly below average in a number of fielding categories. According to the stats -- out of 13 regular NL first baseman, his range is 8th (ahead of Pujols, Howard, Prince Fielder), and his overall UZR/150 is 10th (far ahead of Glaus, Fielder, Howard, and not far behind Helton and Gaby Sanchez.

So, all in all, the stats seem to say that he's a slightly below average fielder. But for a 1B he's (obviously) also an above average hitter. (WAR -- which includes fielding considerations -- puts him 5th in the league, behind: Votto, Pujols, Gonzolez, and Huff)

I think something to consider, too, is that Dunn was gawdawful last year -- he's made a huge improvement. It's quite possible that he can improve at least a bit more.

Big Cat said...

Why is Marrero not in the 2011 or 2012 plans? You will see.....he is ready now. As for his defense, he's gotta be better than Tubby at first. No offense Adam, but it doesn't look like you miss a lot of meals.

Farid Rushdi said...

I remember that Ryan Langerhans for Mike Morse trade last year -- I looked up his stats and he seemed to be a hitting machine in the minors. Why on earth would Seattle make that trade?

His career numbers now reflect a full major league season: 162/548, 29 doubles, 3 triples, 16 homers, 77 RBI, .296/.352/.447.

This season, based on the same number of at-bats, Morse would hit .301/.346/.515, 25 homers and 80 RBI.

I think Morse is a late bloomer capable of playing steady defense and hitting .280-25-85 for the next five or six seasons.

How about this outfield in 2011 (and stats based on a 550 at-bat season using 2010 numbers:

LF-Josh Willingham (.268/.389/.459) 24HR 85RBI
CF-Roger Bernadina (266/.324/.420) 17HR 69RBI 24SB
RF-Mike Morse (.301/.346/.515)25HR 85RBI

If Maya and Espinosa are the real deal, the Nationals might actually blossom in 2011, without Stephen Strasburg.

And when he comes back .....

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that we are witnessing a 'Jason Werth-esque' evolution in Morse?

Jim Webster said...

I was going to be clever commenting on DC Wonk's "Desi to Danny to Dunn" sounding a lot like "Tinker to Evers to Chance" (Cubbies 100 years ago) but someone on NJ beat me to it.

But I will say that I never dreamed in the winter of 2004-5 that we'd be talking about a pennant or wild card contender here quite so soon. But it's no longer out of the question.

Now to Southeast to see how Maya does.

HHover said...

Anon @4:49

The short answer is, no.

A longer answer: I was among those clamoring back in July for Morse to get more playing time. He did, and it's worked out well. That said, any comparison to Werth is totally over the top. Werth was always a solid, major-league defender who broke out offensively with the Phillies after a couple of injury-plagued years.

Morse has always been strong at the plate but weak in the field, and that's not really any different this year. The change is less in his play than in finding a team desperate enough to give him regular playing time. He hasn't seen that much experience in the OF and may improve, but he'll always be a defensive liability.

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