The Nationals decided to hold a roundtable this afternoon, giving us reporters a chance to meet and talk with about a dozen front office officials. The group included the usual high-ranking suspects like Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo, but it also included several of the newly hired scouts and assistant GMs who just joined the organization, guys like Roy Clark, Ron Schueler, Kasey McKeon, Jay Robertson and Doug Harris.
We met with them for more than an hour, covering all sorts of topics. Obviously, I can’t get to everything in this space, lest I crash the Times’ server from too much info (not to mention guarantee I’d need surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome) but let’s run through a bunch of items that should be of interest to everyone out there…
* With all these recent hirings, Rizzo has added quite a bit of experience and manpower to his front office. By Rizzo’s count, the Nats have actually added 17 new front office positions in the last six weeks. Now, some of those are part-time international scouts, but it does show you the emphasis that has been placed on beefing up the front office. “This has been a big month, an important month for the Washington Nationals’ future,” Rizzo said. Across the board, the newcomers cited one primary reason for leaving their previous organizations to join this one. “Mike Rizzo,” Harris said. “I think I can speak for all the new guys in here. It’s a great opportunity to grow with a guy we all have a great deal of respect for. It’s got a chance to be something special going forward.”
* As I mentioned, a lot of the new additions are on the international scouting side of things. Kasten acknowledges this is the No. 1 area the organization still needs to improve, especially in Latin America. Good news, then: The Nats have finalized a deal to build a new Dominican academy in Boca Chica after spending the last year renting a facility owned by Rawlings in the same area.
* Just about everyone in the room has been to Arizona this fall and seen Stephen Strasburg and Co. play in person. Schueler, a longtime GM of the White Sox in the 90s who most recently was working for the Giants, has seen the right-hander in four of his five AFL starts. “The first time I saw him, I was still working for the Giants,” Schueler said. “And I said, well, he’s an alright pick. They got a little lucky. Now that I’m on this side and I’ve gotten to see him, this kid is special. They don’t come along too often. Probably in the 42 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only seen a couple of arms like this kid has. He still has a ways to go. He’s got to learn how to pitch, learn how to do some things. And a lot of our staff in the minor leagues will make sure he finds these things. But as far as the talent, this kid is head and shoulders above the rest of the pitchers in the league.” For those who don’t know already, Strasburg will start Saturday’s AFL championship game against the Peoria Javelinas. Also expected to play in that game is Chris Marrero, who has missed the last few days with flu-like symptoms but is due back in the next day or two.
* As for next year’s No. 1 draft pick, without wanting to say anything specific about 16-year-old catching phenom Bryce Harper, Kasten did acknowledge that several Nats scouts have already seen him play in person. That said, unlike Strasburg, it’s not clear-cut that Harper is the best available player. There are perhaps four or five guys that the Nats intend to start looking at seriously in the coming months. “I think over the fall, it’s getting more clear-cut, but there’s not an obvious [No.] 1,” Clark said. “But we’re kind of identifying the guys we want to go in on early in the spring. So it’s not obvious yet.”
* Rizzo confirmed what we’ve suspected for a while now: Cristian Guzman will work out at second base beginning in spring training. That said, the club isn’t saying with 100 percent certainly that Guzman will be a full-time second baseman. He’ll still get work at shortstop. As for the guy who might replace him at shortstop, Ian Desmond, both McKeon and Bill Singer recently saw him playing winter ball in the Dominican and were impressed. “The swing was working. He was staying inside of the ball. He was staying within himself. There’s still some holes that all young hitters have to adjust to.” Consensus on Desmond is that his offensive isn’t much of a question anymore. It’s a matter of if he can make fewer mistakes on routine plays in the field.
* Bunch of injury updates … Jesus Flores is on schedule in his rehab from right shoulder surgery. During that rehab, though, he did have arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow to remove a bone chip. “But that won’t push back his progress,” Rizzo said. “The prognosis is he’s on schedule for spring training.” … Jordan Zimmermann hasn’t begun throwing yet, but he’s got full range of motion in his surgically repaired right arm. … Nyjer Morgan’s broken right wrist is completely healed, and he’s begun swinging a bat. He’ll be fine well in advance of spring training. … Cristian Guzman is rehabbing “comfortably” from his shoulder surgery and has begun to play catch and should be 100 percent throwing-wise by the start of spring training. … Scott Olsen is throwing off a mound but hasn’t ramped it up completely yet. The Nats must decide by Dec. 12 whether to tender Olsen a contract (he’s guaranteed of making at least $2.24 million) or non-tender him. “Coming of the labrum tear, it’s certainly something we have to put into our [thought] process and think about what we’re going to do,” Rizzo said.