The Washington Nationals have been fairly quiet on the major league side of things this offseason. They added one of the top free agent starting pitchers in Dan Haren, brought back left-hander Zach Duke and traded for Denard Span. That’s about it — and that’s not meant as a critcism. They’re still in limbo with first baseman Adam LaRoche (he still wants three years, they’re still offering two, etc.) and otherwise they’re returning almost all of the core of a team that won 98 games a season ago.
But they’ve been doing plenty to potentially help fill out their roster. The Nationals have made 17 official minor league or international signings, per the MLB transaction feed and Baseball America, including several to bolster their infield defense and pitching corps at the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Below is a quick rundown of the 17 players the Nationals have added this offseason on minor league deals. The Nationals have not yet announced specifically which players will be granted invitations to major league spring training, but manager Davey Johnson said he does not expect to have more than 50-55 players in big league camp.
Caleb Clay - A 2006 first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox, Clay pitched for Double-A Portland the past two seasons as a reliever. His numbers in 2012: 4.61 ERA, 61 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings, 10.3 hits per nine innings, 1.432 WHIP. From Baseball America in 2006, after he was ranked the No. 19 prospect in Boston’s system: Clay was such an obscure prospect at the outset of 2006 that he wasn’t even on Boston’s draft follow list, but teams quickly flocked to see him once he moved from center field to the mound and started throwing low-90s fastballs… Clay’s fastball comes out of his hand easily and features late, heavy life. While he has a fresh arm, he’s also raw as a pitcher. He didn’t have much of a between-starts routine or know much about a shoulder-strengthening program before he got into pro ball. His mechanics graded out well, though he doesn’t always repeat his delivery. He can fly open and drop his shoulder, which elevates and flattens out his pitches. Clay’s secondary pitches are promising yet unrefined. He used both a curveball and slider as an amateur, and likely will stick with the slider as a pro. His changeup, control and command are still inconsistent.
Tyler Herron - Another former first-round pick whose path to this point has been anything but direct, Herron is a 26-year-old who’s pitched most recently in the Independent League in 2010 and 2012. His numbers in 2012: 12-3 in 17 starts with a 3.50 ERA. From Baseball America following the 2008 season, when he was listed as the No. 23 prospect in St. Louis’ system: Herron has consistently shown effective control of three average to plus pitches. He throws a sinking fastball at 89-91 mph, and he has a trusty changeup as his second pitch. His curve is good enough to get strikeouts, though he continues to allow both his offspeed pitches stray too high in the zone. He’ll need to sharpen his command to get more advanced hitters out. Herron’s smooth, repeatable delivery and access to three quality pitches give the Cardinals faith that he’ll be able to advance in spite of his first setback in Double-A. He went to Hawaii Winter Baseball after the season, where he shined as a reliever (0.69 ERA in 13 innings), but he’s still viewed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter for now. (In an unrelated but perhaps mildly interesting tidbit, Herron went to the same high school as former Nationals reliever Sean Burnett in Florida.)
Randy Consuegra - Consuegra hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues since 2010, his fourth season in the minors with the Boston Red Sox, where he never got above low Class-A. According to Baseball America, the Nationals signed Consuegra this winter after seeing him with the Colombian team in the World Baseball Classic qualifier. From BA: “(Consuegra) struck out the only batter he faced (in the qualifier). Released by the Red Sox in January ’11, he hasn’t played affiliated ball the past two seasons. Washington previously plucked a quality relief arm out of an international tournament when they signed Mexican righty Rafael Martin in February ’10 on the heels of his fine performance (4 strikeouts, one hit, no runs in 2 1/3 innings) in the ’09 Caribbean Series.”
Paterson Segura - A 17-year-old Dominican pitcher, Segura signed with the Nationals from the Dominican Prospect League this winter and he’s a different signing in that he’s not expected to help the Nationals major league team, or even reach its upper minor league levels this season. According to the Dominican Prospect League website, Segura is 6-foot 2 with a high 80s-low 90s fastball as well as a curveball and a changeup that he throws from a 3/4-arm slot.
Deibi Yrizarri - An 18-year-old from Venezuela, the Nationals signed him back in November. Like Segura, he is not expected to be considered depth for the Nationals’ major league team this season.
Yefri Pena - A 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. There isn’t much information available about Pena, who was also signed in November, other than that he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds. Again, wouldn’t expect any immediate impact from him.
Bill Bray - A former Nationals pitcher (and once listed as their No. 6 overall prospect in darker days for their farm system), Bray spent much of the 2012 season dealing with back and groin injuries with the Cincinnati Reds. But if healthy, Bray could easily be a candidate for the Nationals’ left-handed relief role in the bullpen. In a 2011 season in which he had a heavy workload (79 appearances), Bray was terrific for the Reds with a 2.98 ERA and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Bray does have an invite to major league spring training.
Bobby Bramhall - Bramhall likely falls into the “depth” category the Nationals have been looking for at the upper levels of their minor league system. A 2007 draftee, Bramhall did not pitch in 2011 but he did well as a reliever in Double-A for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012.
Fernando Abad - Abad pitched in 88 games for the Houston Astros over the last three seasons. His 2012 numbers: 3.90 ERA in 13 games in Triple-A, 5.09 ERA in 37 major league appearances. From Baseball America after he was named the Astros’ No. 16 prospect following the 2010 season: Abad is one of the Astros’ biggest success stories. It took him seven seasons to get past A-ball, and in 2009 he made three Double-A starts and earned a 40-man roster spot. He followed that up by jumping from Corpus Christi to the major leagues in 2010-despite missing six weeks with a shoulder strain-and finishing the year in the big league bullpen. Abad has the fastball command and solid changeup to start, though he’s had a hard time staying healthy as a starter. His fastball can touch 93-94 mph and usually operates at 88-91. He has natural deception in his delivery and has maintained looseness in his arm while adding 35 pounds since signing. He has average fastball command and excellent control… Abad varies the speed on his slurvy breaking ball, which has inconsistent shape and varies from below average to fringy.
Francis Castro - A 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic who checks in at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds.
Brian Bocock (SS) - Once a top San Francisco Giants prospect, Bocock hasn’t played in the majors since 2010 and has been in the Blue Jays’ organization for the past few years. He hit .237 in 93 games across Double-A and Triple-A in 2012. From Baseball America five years ago, when he was the Giants’ No. 11 prospect after the 2007 season: The Giants absolutely love Bocock’s playmaking ability on the infield and didn’t hesitate to name him the host club’s U.S. representative in the Futures Game… The Giants knew developing his bat would be a challenge, and while he’s a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, he doesn’t get on base or stay consistent enough to project as a top-of-the-order presence. His swing path makes it tough for him to hit breaking balls, as his bat doesn’t stay in the strike zone for long. But club officials can’t stop gushing about Bocock’s superior defensive skills, including plus range and arm strength that allow him to make difficult plays in the hole look easy.
Will Rhymes (2B) - Rhymes spent the 2012 season in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, hitting .228 in 123 at-bats. Three years ago, with the Detroit Tigers, Rhymes was a productive part-time player, hitting .304 with a .350 on-base percentage in 191 at-bats. Insurance for the Nationals’ infield, Rhymes does have an invite to major league spring training and could find himself as a valuable member of the team depending on injuries. Rhymes was named the best defensive second baseman in the International League in 2011 by Baseball America.
Mike Costanzo (3B) - A 29-year-old third baseman, Costanzo spent eight seasons in the minor leagues for the Phillies, Orioles, Independent Leagues and Cincinnati Reds before the Reds gave him his first major league call-up in 2012. Costanzo, a career .258 hitter in the minor leagues, had one hit in 18 at-bats for the Reds this past season. He gives the Nationals more corner infield insurance at the upper levels of their minor league system, much the way Mark Teahen did in 2012.
Neivy Pilier (3B) - The Nationals signed the 16-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic in December, giving Pilier a significant $225,000 bonus. From Baseball America, Pilier is “6-foot-1, 180 pounds, has a quick bat with lift and occasional power in his righthanded swing, though he’s at his best when he stays with a line-drive approach and uses the middle of the field. He has a strong arm that fits well at third base, though with his youth and size he’s still trying to improve his footwork. Pilier didn’t turn 16 until Aug. 1, so he was one of the younger players among those who became eligible to sign this year.”
Leudys Baez (SS) - A 16-and-a-half-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic listed at 6-foot, 160-pounds.
Raymond Kruml - A 2008 draft pick of the Yankees, Kruml has spent the last five seasons in either the Yankees or the Cardinals’ organization. His 2012 numbers: .206 with one homer and a .255 on-base percentage across Double-A and Triple-A.
Carlos Maldonado - Maldonado has been a valuable member of the Nationals’ minor league system for several years now. He spent time with the major league team during the 2012 season when a rash of injuries took its toll on the catching corps. He’s a solid minor league catcher and the Nationals welcomed him back as a free agent this offseason.