Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thoughts on Wang and Harper

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Chien-Ming Wang took another positive step today.
VIERA, Fla. -- The biggest development of the day at Nationals camp was Chien-Ming Wang's continued progression. He looked sharp during his live BP session, and he's slated to pitch an inning or two in a minor-league intrasquad game on Friday. (You can read more details, including quotes from Wang and Steve McCatty, in my updated article.)

What, though, does all this actually mean for Wang? Is there a chance he might actually be ready to start the season in the majors?

Nobody with the Nationals is ready to go that far yet. They continue to take the ultra-cautious, wait-and-see approach, and probably for good reason. It's been nearly two years since Wang pitched in a major-league game. Let's not go and just assume he's good to go again based on a couple of live BP sessions.

That said, Wang certainly has looked better each time he's thrown this spring, capped by today's round of live BP in which he surrendered a couple of hard-hit balls but also broke Danny Espinosa's bat with one sinker on the inside corner.

They don't have radar guns out on the practice fields, so who knows for sure how hard Wang is throwing. To the naked eye, he's clearly not challenging Cole Kimball, Collin Balester or Jordan Zimmermann for best fastball on the staff. But he does appear to be throwing it just as hard as the Nationals' other sinkerball-types, guys like Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez.

Whether that translates into actual success against actual hitters from other big-league clubs remains to be seen. We'll get a slightly better feel on Friday when Wang faces members of the Nats' accelerated minor-league program in an intrasquad game. If that goes well, perhaps Wang's next outing will come in the Grapefruit League.

"He's throwing the ball well," McCatty said. "We'll get out there and see some bats and get him some games and then we'll see where we're at with him."

We are going to start getting a better feel for Bryce Harper's standing on Monday, when the 18-year-old comes off the bench in the Grapefruit League opener against the Mets. Based on what we've seen so far in these live BP sessions, there does appear to be one significant concern with the kid: Whether he can handle offspeed stuff.

Harper squared off today against Drew Storen, a matchup both sides were pumped up for as they took the field. Storen was taken aback some when Harper jumped all over his first-pitch fastball and lined a single. Harper again swung from his heels on Storen's second pitch (another fastball) and again made solid contact.

So Storen decided to give Harper a taste of something he probably hasn't seen much before: an assortment of sliders and change-ups. All of a sudden, the kid looked very much like an 18-year-old, swinging and missing at every offspeed offering from Storen.

That scene right there is why Harper (like every draft pick) needs some time in the minors. You just don't see quality offspeed stuff (especially change-ups) in high school or college. Not that Harper can't learn to hit those pitches. But he needs to start seeing them on a regular basis in a less-pressurized environment than the big leagues.

Harper has all the talent in the world, and he could probably connect with just about any fastball he'd see in the majors right now. But a smart big-league pitcher would get him to chase breaking balls and change-ups out of the zone and probably feast on the 18-year-old's inexperience.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Drew Storen delivers a pitch during his live BP session.

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper is still getting used to big-league offspeed stuff.


MicheleS said...

Well, at least the Kid is showing that he is human! Good to see that CMW is doing better. I hope he can be a contibutor to the team (he could be a good #2 or 3)or at least trade bait for someone else!

JayB said...

Wang's fast ball looks every bit as good as Livo.....come on Mark....I'm trying to stay positive this month but really?....Livo?

SonnyG10 said...

Bryce is going to be awesome, but its probably a good thing he is experiencing some difficulty now. I really think he needs to be seasoned in the minor leagues. I agree with Rizzo in starting him out in the low minors and let him work his way up.

Todd Boss said...

It may take til AA for him to really be challenged in the minors frankly. Low A will be filled with high schoolers just a couple years older and learning how to pitch themselves.

Anyone who saw his AFL at bats knew what Zuckerman pointed out: he can't hit offspeed stuff right now.

Still, can't wait to see him compete.

Doc said...

Looks like the Nats may have a few spare pitchers for the starting rotation.

The Cards are gonna need some pitchers, and they'd like to find a way to part with Colby Rasmus(and he with them)--Hmmmmmm!

Anonymous said...

On another note and one of our favorite topics ... given the way many feel (especially well expressed on this Nats blog ) I thought it might be interesting to provide a similar (and longer by many years) perspective from a Royals fan. Remember, this is a team that is listed #1 organizationally with 6 or more top 100 prospects and many who can't miss ... but many are still in the minors because of the "arbitration clock" and the financial fact of life that its far more expensive for teams to finish seasoning prospects in the majors.


I would love to see a breakdown of the top 20 or so Royals prospects, with a realistic time line of when each will make it to the Majors, and the reasons why they should/should not make it by that time.
Always hearing that "the future" is going to be great, is tireing. A couple years ago the future was going to be the 2011 season, and then they said 2012, and now it sounds like 2013 is the target date for respectability. I've been hearing about the saviors ever since Petro was talking about this kid named Jeremy Auffelt back in 2001 or 2002. After that it was this group in Wichita, Gordon, Butler, Maier, Lubanski, Greinke. Well Gordon's a bust, Butler can hit but has no position, Maier will be lucky to make the team, Lubanski??? who knows what happened to him, and Greinke has been traded for more "future" prospects - and the Royals still suck. I'm 66. My dad died at 72, and many of my aunts and uncles died in their early to mid 70's. I probably don't have a lot of future left. It's been 10 years since Auffelt was the savior. I probably don't have 10 more years for another group of saviors to come along. How about the glass family taking some of those millions of $ that New York, Boston, Philly, etc are putting in their pockets and put a decent team together now!

If one stops to consider the cases of Zimmerman, Strasburg, Desmond, Espinosa, Storen, Balester, Bernadina, Detwiler, Maxwell, Flores and Zimmermann ... the Nats have been either too aggressive when it comes to seasoning their prospects in the majors ... to now when they appear to bringing them up when they are just about ready to contribute either as a starter or a role player.

JayB said...

Good for Boz this AM......The need to change the culture from LoserTown to Natstown is something I have pointed out for a long time....just this week before Mark or Boz wrote about Storen/Werth exchange I wrote....JayB said...

You have to love a lot about how Rizzo has undone the years of Lerner/Jimbo damage. Lost of good talent and character.....None of that Matters if they do not win and win now. This is the year, First Spring Training Game through end of the season. Win and Win more that you lose. Play smart and play like your a team and you care about your team.

Glad to see others take note of the problem and Rizzo's solution.....People Like Steven@Capital Hill, Mark and Ben G have long discounted the need for this attitude change in favor of WAR Stats and K ratio's....What really matters to people who know the game is playing hard and holding those like Morgan accountable for their lack of baseball sense and ME FIRST attitude....Loved Dunn but he just did not have a fire to win at all...."oh big deal we lost again" was a huge problem for this team.

natsfan1a said...

Also re. the Boz piece, plus one to Rizzo for the Phillies-related comment. Couldn't have said it better myself. ;-)

Anonymous said...

There's the great JayB, posting stoned again. Do you travel with your stash down to Viera, JayB, or have you found a dealer there? How do prices compare there and here?

Anonymous said...

how ironic that JayB laments those on the Nats that he perceives to have a ME FIRST attitude, yet every post on this and other Nats-related blogs it's always "LOOK-AT-ME-LOOK-HOW-SMART-I-AM-I-AM-ALWAYS-RIGHT!"

And does anyone else notice that most of his rants are posted first thing in the morning? I feel sad for anyone that looks to start the day that angry or ticked off.

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