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Nats add athleticism with 1st two picks, are confident they'll sign

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Nats add athleticism with 1st two picks, are confident they'll sign

The Nationals entered the first day of the 2015 MLB Draft with a specific goal in mind. With the game of baseball moving more and more towards defense and speed, the Nats wanted to add athleticism to their farm system.

They feel they accomplished that goal by taking outfielders Andrew Stevenson from LSU with the 58th pick and Blake Perkins from Verrado High School (AZ) 69th overall.

"The first day we really concentrated on getting more athletic and to improve our speed in the system," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "These guys are both plus-plus runners. They are guys that will have opportunities down the road to be extremely good defensive center fielders with also some offensive prowess, guys that can fly and steal bases. As the game turns to pitching, defense and athleticism, we felt that we had the opportunity to take two guys early in the draft that really exude all three of those fields."

Both Stevenson and Perkins have the option to not sign with the Nationals by the July 17 deadline if they so choose. Stevenson is a junior at LSU and Perkins is committed to play at Arizona State University in the fall. The Nationals were unable to sign their second round pick, Andrew Suarez, in 2014, but are confident this time will be different.

"We’re going to leave the negotiating for a little bit down the road, but we feel good about it," Rizzo said. "We take players that we feel want to play for the Nationals. We really do our due diligence on their makeups and background and their signability. We rarely draft a player if we don’t feel confident to sign him. We feel good about these guys. We’ve only spoken to them in regards to congratulating them on being drafted by us."

Rizzo held a conference call Tuesday morning to discuss the two draft picks along with assistant general manager Kris Kline and director of player development Mark Scialabba.

Here are some highlights of their scouting reports on both players:

Andrew Stevenson

Rizzo - "This guy plays 100 miles per hour with his hair on fire. That was a big part of why we were so attracted to him... He’s an extremely toolsy player. We’re adding to our already fertile stable of athletes. You know our motto here, we go pitching, defense, athleticism and certainly both of these guys fill those voids. Stevenson is a guy who is a plus-plus runner. We’ve got him up to 70 or 80 on a 20-80 scale as far as speed goes. He’s got the ability to steal bases. He’s a terrific defensive center fielder. We think he’s got the ability to be a leadoff-type of guy in the future and a guy that adds to our athleticism and speed part of the game. His unorthodox approach works for him. We’ve already got ideas once we sign the player to kind of tweak that a little bit. We look back to what he’s done in the past. We’ve got great history on this guy. He’s a Team USA guy. He plays for one of the best programs in baseball and he’s their best hitter. We really like this guy and he’s a guy that we feel is going to be an everyday guy for us."

Kline - "He does have the ability to center the baseball. He’s got good hand-eye coordination. He’s actually had more success with that and that showed up in the Cape Cod League. He’s always just had a very good feel to hit."

Blake Perkins

Kline, who compared him to MLB outfielders Austin Jackson and Brian Hunter - "We’re going to give him a chance to switch-hit. He’s been doing that since high school, but never really took it into the game... Rich Schu liked it a lot and that’s going to make him a little more versatile."

Scialabba - "I think think the biggest thing about Blake is the athleticism. Just the passion and fire that burns on the field. He’s got a lot of tools, he’s a really good athlete. The switch-hitting thing obviously helps him with his speed. Playing in center field, he’s a highlight reel."

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Stevenson and the LSU Tigers are still alive in the NCAA Tournament after advancing to the College World Series on Sunday. They play their first game in Omaha against TCU at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 14.

Rizzo said there is no concern about Stevenson playing in the tournament and he wishes him well as he plays out the rest of his junior season.

"We love it. They’ve had a successful season and we love seeing our draft choices play at the highest level with pressure on them in big games. This guy is no stranger to the national spotlight. He’s been on ESPN many, many times for his exploits defensively. We’re excited to see him play. Hopefully they go a long way and he plays for a long time now. Then we’ll get him and fire him into our system," he said.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 

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