Hitting Depth Player Profiles

Depth is good. As I mentioned last week, it’s really hard to keep your core groups of players healthy over a 162 game season. Since 2012, the Nationals have given an average of 15 batters at least 100 PA each year, including the likes of Xavier Nady (.157/.211/.275 in 109 PA in 2012), Nate McLouth (.173/.280/.237 in 162 PA in 2014), and Dan Uggla (.183/.298/.300 in 141 PA in 2015). If the Nats had better options than Brett Carroll, Nate Schierholtz, and Emmanuel Burress behind these guys, the leash could have been much shorter. 

I’m impressed with the position player depth that Mike Rizzo has compiled this year. Behind Ramos and Lobaton, the Nats have two guys who have reached the bigs in Jhonatan Solano and Pedro Severino, as well as Spencer Kieboom lurking. Up the middle, the Nationals have starters in Espinosa and Murphy, backups with upside in Drew and Turner, veteran depth in Brendan Ryan and Scott Sizemore, and more youngsters in Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick. At the corners, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon lead the way, but in case of injury, Murphy can slide to 1B, or the Nats can go to some combination of Clint Robinson, Tyler Moore (barf), Sizemore, Zack Cox, Neftali Soto, or Matt Skole. In the OF, Michael Taylor is a startable guy who will get 4th OF playing time, with a multitude of guys with ML experience behind him in Matt den Dekker, Tony Campana, Chris Heisey, and Reed Johnson.

While ideally your depth picks up right where an injured starter left off, that type of thinking is unrealistic; you’re generally looking for guys that just won’t poop their pants out there. The Nats finally have backup options for their backup options, and appear to be better prepared if they (gulp) have to go to plan D or E due to injury or poor performance. If a bench guy hits like Xavier Nady, they have another guy waiting in the wings to replace him immediately. Here’s an in-depth look at some of the faces that will be waiting in the wings at Harrisburg and Syracuse this year:

Catchers
C Brian Jeroloman

L/R, 6’0”, 205 lbs., 30 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AA
Best Anagram Name: Merlin Or A Banjo
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Jeroloman is probably fifth on the ML Nats catching depth chart behind Ramos, Lobaton, Solano, and Severino (maybe even Kieboom). I enjoyed his anagram too much to exclude him from the list, though. The soon-to-be 31 year old has carved out the glamorous career of minor league backup catching, having spent 436 games at AA and an additional 152 at AAA. If we see him in DC this year, a lot of things went wrong.

C Jhonatan Solano
R/R, 5’9”, 212 lbs., 30 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: A Tan John Saloon
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

2015 marks not only the return of Sean Burnett to the Nats organization, but also the beloved “Onion”, who put up an amazing 145 OPS+ in 12 games in 2012 followed by an impressive 1 OPS+ in 24 games the following season (and an even more impressive -46 OPS+ in 7 games in 2015). Solano will serve as the Nationals’ third or fourth catcher, depending on whether or not they think Pedro Severino is ready if an ML gig opens up.


Infielders
1B/3B Zack Cox

L/R, 5’11”, 225 lbs., 26 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: Zack Cox
Selected from Miami in the AAA phase of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft

The AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft is not at all like the ML phase, as the Nationals can (and will) keep Cox in the minors this year. The former 25th overall pick by St. Louis (2010) was dealt to Miami in 2012 at the deadline for Edward Mujica; at the time, Cox had been ranked by Baseball America as a top 100 in back-to-back years (#62 in 2011, #88 in 2012). Cox reminds me in a way of Clint Robinson; he’s got a solid swing and a track record of high batting averages in the minors, but has not shown the power needed to be a starting corner infielder (career .285/.348/.414 hitter). In a perfect world, Cox is not needed in the majors this season, but I would not be surprised to see him appear in the big leagues as a “professional hitter” off of the bench at some point.

UTIL Jason Martinson
R/R, 6’1”, 190 lbs., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: No Janitors, Man

Martinson was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this week, but I wanted to highlight him briefly anyways. The Nationals’ 5th round pick in 2010 (Texas State) has a solid track record of power and speed (88 career HR and 109 career steals in 724 games), especially when his positional flexibility is considered (primarily a SS, but also recorded at 3 or more starts at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF in 2015). His bugaboo has always been making contact, with a career .237/.329/.399 batting line and 28.2% K% (and an impressive 189 K’s in 131 games in 2015). Martinson will likely never be a National, but his pop and speed could give him a nice career as an minor league star.

IF Brendan Ryan
R/R, 6’2”, 195 lbs., 34 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Any Bran Nerd
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

The Yankees dealt Ryan (and his $1 million player option) to the Cubs this offseason in the Starlin Castro deal, with the Cubs immediately paying him to go away.  Ryan has always been brutally bad at the plate (career .234/.295/.315 hitter in almost 3,000 PA), but was generally regarded as one of the league’s better defensive infielders when he was a full-time starter from 2009-13. Per Fangraphs, Ryan has amassed an impressive 90.7 runs below average offensively and 80.5 runs above average defensively over his career, which is quite the split. I have this bad gut feeling that Ryan will find his way onto the Opening Day roster and never leave, but at least that scenario would likely mean the end of Tyler Moore’s tenure in DC.

2B/3B Scott Sizemore
R/R, 6’0”, 185 lbs., 31 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: (zooms) “It’s Erect”
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

There’s something about Sizemore that I really like, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. The VCU alum looked to have a promising career building after a .245/.342/.399 triple slash in 110 games between Detroit and Oakland in 2011, amassing 11 home runs and 5 steals in the process. Sizemore then tore his ACL in Spring Training of 2012 and re-tore it in early April 2013, stealing his age 27 and 28 years. In the two seasons since he returned from the torn ligament, Sizemore has appeared in 164 games in AAA and the ML, amassing a solid .266/.338/.398 triple slash. He’s shown a little bit of pop in an extremely small sample size in Spring Training, with 2 2B and 3 HR in 28 PA. Sizemore may actually benefit from the Nats’ suddenly solid upper level IF depth, as he could be the beneficiary of ML playing time if they want to keep Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo in the minor leagues for more time.

1B Matt Skole
L/R, 6’4”, 225 lbs., 26 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: To Stalk Me

I’m willing to admit that the ship has sailed on Skole as a major MLB contributor, but am still holding onto a thread that he could be a decent bench/platoon bat. The 2015 version of Skole put up his second career 20 HR season, but also just a .234/.340/.417 batting line. The big first baseman has shown consistent on-base (career 15.1% BB%) and power skills (career .190 ISO), but also consistent failures to put the bat on the ball (career .235 batting average at AA and AAA, and career 22.7% K%). Skole is certainly no longer worthy of being placed on the Nats’ top prospects, however I expect teams to continue taking chances on his power abilities when the Nats finally cut bait with him.

1B/3B Neftali Soto
R/R, 6’1”, 210 lbs., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: Foliate Snot
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Everything about Neftali Soto confuses me. When you look at his career .268/.319/.427 triple slash, it doesn’t exactly scream “power”, but as a 22 year old, he put up 32 home runs between AA and AAA ball, and had a four year stretch (2010-13) where tallied 90 HR. Soto’s first two attempts at the big leagues were almost as big of a failure as the Nationals hiring Jim Leatherpants Ralph Bowden, as he went a combined 3 for 42 with 0 BB and 14 K, good for an .071/.091/.095 triple slash. Soto didn’t exactly light the world on fire for the White Sox’ AAA affiliate last year, either (.246/.343/.307 in 231 PA), so we’ll likely see him split time between Harrisburg and Syracuse as he tries to recapture his once-promising power.

Outfielders
OF Tony Campana

L/L, 5’8”, 165 lbs., 29 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: DNP (torn ACL)
Best Anagram Name: Many Taco Nap
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

I’m always jealous when other teams have pinch running specialists late in the season. Campana could be that guy for the Nats this year. From 2011-14, the little lefty hit .249/.296/.288 in 477 big league PA, and amassed an excellent 66 SB in 75 chances (88% success rate). He’s not the type of player you call up to put in the starting lineup, but is extremely good at one thing that can help a team win games. With Taylor (hopefully) soaking up almost all of the extra OF starts, carrying a guy like Campana as the 5th OF with no intention of starting him might end up being more useful than having Matt den Dekker or Reed Johnson on the roster to get 6th inning pinch hitting opportunities and nothing else.

OF Chris Heisey
R/R, 6’1”, 215 lbs., 31 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Hi Riches, Yes.
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Heisey has put together a solid career as a 4th OF, with a .245/.301/.418 triple slash in 1524 PA, 52 career HR, and 25 SB. 2015 was the first season since 2009 where he spent significant time in the minors, with a .223/.350/.445 triple slash in 329 AAA plate appearances and a .182/.347/.327 triple slash in 72 PA for the Dodgers. Heisey played four seasons for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati, which could help his chances at attaining the last bench spot, but he hasn’t helped himself so far in Spring Training (.182/.308/.364 in 39 PA).

OF Reed Johnson
R/R, 5’10”, 180 lbs., 39 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Older Than Methuselah
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Just when you think Reed Johnson’s career was over, here he is in Spring Training again!  The centenarian missed most of the 2015 season with an injured foot tendon, but fear not, he’s all fixed up and ready to stick on a roster. Johnson has not put up an OPS better than .653 since 2012, never had any power or speed to begin with and has lost a step in the outfield, but he leads the league in Veteran Presence™, which will get him on a big league team somewhere. Please dear God, do not let it be the Nationals.

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