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Nationals left-hander Matt Purke traveled to Washington for an examination of his elbow this week and is slated to receive a second opinion from an outside physician, assistant GM Doug Harris tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Purke, a third-rounder back in 2011 that signed a $4MM Major League deal out of the draft, has dealt with injuries throughout his career, though most have been related to his shoulder. Those arm troubles date back to his college days, as they were the reason the one-time first-round pick (the Rangers took him 14th overall in 2009, but he elected to attend college at TCU) fell to the third round. Here’s more on the Nats and the rest of the division…
- From that same piece, Kilgore dispels any concerns over right-hander Taylor Jordan, who was lifted from his most recent Triple-A start with soreness in his arm. Harris tells Kilgore that the decision was purely precautionary and they expect no further complications.
- Nationals prospect Destin Hood is putting a down season in 2013 behind him, writes Lacy Lusk for Baseball America. Hood is playing his best baseball since being a second-round pick back in 2008, and he could force his way onto the 40-man roster at season’s end. Nats’ Triple-A manager Billy Gardner Jr. offered high praise for Hood when interviewed by Lusk.
- In a special piece for BA, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury writes that Phillies catcher Willians Astudillo has burst onto the prospect scene with a strong offensive performance in the early stages of the 2014 season after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. Astudillo battled his way onto the Class A Lakeland roster and has opened the season by hitting .368/.385/.500. Director of player development Joe Jordan loves Astudillio’s bat, but he makes it sound as though the 5’9″, 182-pound Venezuelan backstop needs some more work behind the dish.
- MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes that right-hander Chris Hatcher is surprised to be back in the Majors after being designated for assignment and clearing waivers earlier in the year. “Wasn’t expecting [it],” Hatcher told Frisaro. “I was throwing the ball well down there. I’ll come up here and try to keep doing it and help the team get some outs.” Part of the reason for Hatcher’s surprise could be due to his off-field issues; the 29-year-old was in an altercation with teammate Sam Dyson where he hit Dyson and fractured his jaw. Hatcher tells Frisaro that he put himself “in a tough spot professionally and as a person hope[s] to move on from it.”
Here are some notes from the game's eastern divisions:
- After watching rehabbing reliever Ryan Madson throw on Friday, the Nationals came away impressed, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Reportedly throwing in front of representatives from 15 clubs, Madson is said to have touched 93 mph during the session.
- Nationals rotation candidate Taylor Jordan suffered a broken ankle over the off-season, reports MLB.com's Bill Ladson. Jordan seems to be ready to go, though manager Matt Williams says the club will keep a close eye on him to ensure that ankle issues do not impact his motion and create bigger problems.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson spoke again about the club's shortstop situation, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. He tempered expectations of a Stephen Drew signing, saying that it remained possible but only "under the right circumstances." Alderson also said that the team was looking to the trade market, but a rival executive tells Carig that New York would probably need to give up young pitching to add anything worthwhile up the middle.
- The Orioles have stepped up their interest in Ervin Santana since losing out on Bronson Arroyo, tweets Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Though he is not sure how heavily the club will pursue the free agent starter, Connolly says that Baltimore is definitely still in the mix.
- Speculation arose that South Korean hurler Suk-min Yoon may have signed with the Orioles after a picture was apparently sent from his Twitter account purportedly showing him donning an O's cap. But two high-ranking team officials tell MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko that they have heard nothing about an agreement with Yoon (Twitter link). Likewise, a source tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter) that no agreement has been reached. Baltimore has certainly been linked to the 27-year-old, but as of now it is just one of five clubs in the mix, according to Rosenthal.
- Filling in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees expect to use Kelly Johnson as the left-handed side of a platoon at third, reports Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger. GM Brian Cashman said that the team would pick from among "a cast of characters that are going to compete for that spot on the right side."
Let's have a look at a few stray notes before calling it an evening …
- Nationals starter Taylor Jordan will be shut down for the year after throwing a combined 142 innings in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. (For some reason, we've yet to hear of any outrage over the decision.) The 24-year-old emerged this season and became one of the few nice surprises for the sputtering Nats. With a 3.66 ERA over 51 2/3 innings, Jordan has certainly established himself as a viable rotation option for next year, which could impact the Nationals' off-season shopping plans. While Jordan registered only by 5.1 K/9 (against 1.9 BB/9), his FIP (3.48) and xFIP (3.79) backed up his solid results.
- With Orioles closer Jim Johnson continuing to struggle to finish games, CSN Baltimore's Rich Dubroff writes that he is increasingly becoming a non-tender candidate. Earning $6.5MM this year, Johnson should see a multi-million dollar raise through arbitration if the O's decide to hold onto him. (He does have 39 saves, best in baseball, to go with his league-worst 9 blown.) The team has a younger, cheaper option in Tommy Hunter who could step into the role, though Dubroff wonders if he can take on save chances with the same frequency as has Johnson.
- Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer has the details of the Phillies' firing of manager Charlie Manuel. The Phils' front office knew it was moving on without Manuel for months, says Gelb, but finally decided to pull the trigger now in order to have a look at his anticipated replacement, Ryne Sandberg.
- While the Yankees' acquisition of Alfonso Soriano drew a lot of criticism at the time, it is hard to complain about the performance he's put up since arriving in the Bronx. Depending upon how one works the statistics, in fact, his recent run is downright historic. In just 19 games with his new/old club, Soriano has racked up an outstanding 1.5 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference). Of course, the naysayers' concerns related more to the rest of the Yankees' team, and its reasonable prospects for the playoffs, than to Soriano himself. Sure enough, New York's playoff odds have continued to fall since the deal was consummated.
- Cubs' shortstop Javier Baez continues to tear the cover off of the ball as he ascends the minor-league ranks, making the 20-year-old a dark-horse candidate to earn a big league roster spot next year. As Bruce Miles of the Daily Herald writes, there are many good reasons (cost, control, and development among them) for the Cubs to be hesitant. Nevertheless, manager Dale Sveum noted, “when you have that kind of numbers and power, sometimes you do force the issue. It’s not in the plans right now, but we’ve all seen it happen.”
The demise of the Montreal Expos led to years of MLB control for the organization (2001-04), which resulted in limited budgets until the club was officially sold and became the Washington Nationals in 2005. Since that time, it's been an uphill battle to rebuild the system's depth, more or less from scratch.
One of the most difficult areas to create depth is pitching because of the large number of players needed, as well as the natural volatility and fragility of the role. It's taken years but the Nationals organization is finally starting to see the fruits of its labor, thanks to the guidance of General Manager Mike Rizzo and his front office staff, including both the scouting and player development departments.
The six talented hurlers listed below have seen their values skyrocket during the 2013 season.
A.J. Cole, RHP, Double-A
Cole is an interesting prospect. He was originally drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and was then traded to the Athletics in late 2011. When the two clubs paired up for another swap in January 2013, Cole was returned to his original organization.
Always a talented pitcher, Cole struggled in A-ball and spent parts of three years there. In a piece by Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com, the young hurler admitted that he was disappointed to begin the 2013 back in A-ball. However, he stayed motivated and worked hard to get better.
"Going through [Class A Advanced] again, I was there last year, got sent down to [Class A] with the A's, and I just had to bounce back, not be let down about being sent down and then starting at [Class A Advanced] this year," he said. "Basically getting the feel for everything, learning different things and showing that I'm able to play here, pitch here and be successful. I just want that to keep going on… I basically just started pitching like I knew how I could," he said.
Cole was recently promoted to Double-A and has allowed just 11 hits and four walks with a 0.90 ERA in his first 20 innings.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Rookie ball
Giolito was arguably the most sought after prep arm in the 2012 amateur draft, but he slipped to the Nationals with the 16th selection of the first round after he suffered a serious elbow injury in his senior year of high school. The hard-throwing pitcher — who touched triple digits with his fastball when healthy — underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2012 but officially returned to the mound last month.
Teddy Cahill of MLB.com spoke to Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development, who said Giolito progressed well in his rehab. "It's gone extremely well. We're pleased with his progression, where he is physically and how he's performing."
Giolito took to the mound in his first official game since 2012 on July 3 and he immediately made an impression on Harris. "I was really, really pleased with [his stuff]… The fastball velocity was good, it had good life and carry and he threw it for strikes. His curveball had above-average depth and finish and he's continuing to develop his changeup."
Taylor Jordan, RHP, Majors
Jordan experienced perhaps the most significant increase in value of any of the six players mentioned in this article. A former ninth-round draft pick, the right-hander showed some potential in 2011 before suffering an elbow injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
He returned in 2012, but his results were inconsistent at best. The 2013 season, though, has been a different story, and he dominated A-ball and Double-A before settling into the Nationals' big league rotation.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman commented in Florida Today (unattributed staff writer) on how important the increased pitching depth has been for the organization in 2013. "We continually have guys come up from our minor league system and help us out. I think that shows how good of a system we have and what a good job they do getting those guys ready to contribute. Taylor has kind of saved us."
Nate Karns, RHP, Double-A
Karns has experienced a lot of turmoil since turning pro in 2009. The right-hander suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder early in his career, which is one of the most catastrophic injuries to try and return from for a pitcher. It's widely considered a much more difficult surgery to recover from than Tommy John.
His personal life has also been a challenge. As James Wagner of the Washington Post detailed, Karns' biggest supporter — his mother — suffered through both cancer and a major stroke. "My mom has been through a lot and she has done a lot for me," said Karns. "It was really nice that I was able to show that all her sacrifices paid off for me and I didn't waste whatever she gave me and took full advantage of it."
Karns' mother was able to witness her son's Major League debut, and the two shared a special moment together after the game. The young pitcher has made a total of three appearances at the big league level but has since returned to Double-A where he's struck out 121 batters in 100 1/3 innings of work.
Ian Krol, LHP, Majors
Like Cole, Krol was acquired from the Athletics this past January and has rejuvenated his career in the Nationals system. After suffering through injury issues as a starter, the A's moved the lefty to the bullpen in late 2012. Returning to the 'pen in '13, Krol has thrived in his new role and has seen his average fastball velocity jump from 88-91 mph as a starter to as high as 96 mph as a reliever. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post explained, that bump in velocity took everyone by surprise, including Krol.
"I was like, 'Whoa. Where'd that come from?'" Krol said. "I didn't even think it was possible to sniff 96. I guess something must have happened. My arm was liking the relieving a lot better than the starting role. It was pretty insane to see 96 up there on the scoreboard. I never thought I would hit 96 in my life."
Krol has since become a stabilizing force in the Nationals' bullpen with a 2.25 ERA in 21 games and is well on his way to becoming one of the top left-handed relievers in the National League.
Sammy Solis, LHP, High-A
A 2010 second-round draft pick, Solis saw a sudden increase in fastball velocity in 2011 but, not long after, he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. The southpaw missed all of 2012 but returned in May this year. Since that time, his results have been understandably inconsistent but promising nonetheless.
As James Wagner of the Washington Post stated, Solis' command hasn't fully returned yet but he's throwing pain free for the first time since 2011, and his velocity is back in the 93-94 mph range. He's also getting more comfortable with all of his pitches. "The feel has been the biggest thing," Solis said. "Change-up and curveball, especially."