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Washington Nationals front load 2017 draft with pitchers

Washington Nationals front load 2017 draft with pitchers

In the 2017 MLB Draft, there is one position that the Washington Nationals made a focus: pitching.

It has been well documented about the Nationals' bullpen and their struggles throughout the early point of the season. Through June 13, the bullpen has 11 blown slaves. Now the MLB Draft is not a chance to find immediate help to fill in a position the team is lacking in, but rather development of their farm system. After all, even Stephen Strasburg played 39 minor league games, as a pitcher, before starting back in 2010. 

This season may have pushed ahead the plan for Mike Rizzo. Nine of the first 10 picks for Washington were pitchers and 20 of the team's 40. 

Round 1 (25): Seth Romero, LHP, Houston
Round 2 (65): Wil Crowe, RHP, South Carolina
Round 3 (103): Nick Raquet, LHP, William & Mary
Round 4 (133): Cole Freeman, 2B, LSU
Round 5 (163): Brigham, Hill, RHP, Texas A&M
Round 6 (193): Kyle Johnston, RHP, Texas
Round 7 (223): Jackson Tetreault, RHP, State College of Florida Manatee
Round 8 (253): Jared Brasher, RHP, Samford
Round 9 (283): Alex Troop, LHP, Michigan State
Round 10 (313): Trey Turner, RHP, Missouri State
Round 11 (343): Justin Connell, OF, American Heritage School
Round 12 (373): Jackson Stoeckinger, LHP, College of Central Florida
Round 13 (403): Eric Senior, OF, Midland College
Round 14 (433): Anthony Peroni, C, Mercer County CC
Round 15 (463): Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Missouri
Round 16 (493): Jake Scudder, 1B, Kansas State
Round 17 (523): Jared Johnson, LHP, Palm Beach State
Round 18 (553): Nick Choruby, OF, Texas A&M
Round 19 (583): Jonathan Pryor, OF, Wake Forest
Round 20 (613): Jake Cousins, RHP, Pennsylvania
Round 21 (643): Leif Strom, RHP, Pierce College
Round 22 (673): Nelson Galindez, LHP, Haines City High School
Round 23 (703): Jamori Blash, 1B, Cochise College
Round 24 (733): Tim Richards, SS, Cal State Fullerton
Round 25 (763): David Smith, RHP, Cal State Long Beach
Round 26 (793): Kameron Esthay, OF, Baylor
Round 27 (823): Darren Baker, SS, Jesuit High School
Round 28 (853): Nic Perkins, C, Drury University
Round 29 (883): Alex Dunlap, C, Stanford
Round 30 (913): Austin Guibor, OF, Fresno State
Round 31 (943): Jeremy McKinney, RHP, Indiana State
Round 32 (973): Phil Caulfield, 2B, Loyola Marymount
Round 33 (1,003): Adalberto Carrillo, C, Southern California
Round 34 (1,033): Bennett Sousa, LHP, Virginia
Round 35 (1,063): Jackson Cramer, 1B, West Virginia
Round 36 (1.093): Gabe Klobosits, RHP, Auburn
Round 37 (1,123): Kody Gratkowski, 3B, Fairhope High School
Round 38 (1,153): Jake Boone, SS, Torrey Pines High School
Round 39 (1,183): Kai Nelson, OF, Fieldston High School
Round 40 (1,213): Max Engelbrekt, LHP, Oregon State

Many of these pitchers, and the rest of the players, will never see action in a Washington Nationals uniform, so no bullpen relief is not right around the corner. It does make one wonder though if the parent association's bullpen struggles this year had any affect on their drafting strategy. 

Notable picks include a second Trey Turner from Missouri State, Dusty Baker's son, the cousin of Washington Redskins' quarterback, Kirk Cousins, and their lone position player in their first handful of picks, Cole Freeman.

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Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

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Team meetings like the one the Nationals had this week are no guarantee of a turnaround – but it can happen

Sometimes the doors shut on the outside world and struggling teams find clarity inside the sanctuary of a locker room. Sometimes they do not. 

The Nationals experienced the downside of a players’ only meeting this week when a clear-the-air session on Wednesday at Citi Field in New York was followed by two horrifying losses to the NL East rival Mets.

Now 12 games under .500, the season slipping away, their manager facing daily questions about his job security, the hardest part is here: Where do the Nationals go after a team meeting doesn’t solve the problem? 

Washington doesn’t need to go too far back into the history books to see that team meetings are often just exercises in frustration, They held one after a 3-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox last July 4. It capped a 9-20 stretch where they were shut out eight times in 34 days. 

You know what happened next. The Nationals drifted through an 82-80 season and failed to reach any of their preseason goals. A team 10 games over .500 and tied for first place in the NL East on May 31 was a game under .500 (42-43), seven games out and never got closer than five again. 

Of course, if there were no problems there would be no meetings. But sometimes players can root out issues by shutting out everyone, including the coaches. The Capitals did it each of the past two seasons. 

It’s easy to forget in the wake of winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and a fourth straight Metropolitan Division title in 2019 that the Capitals had plenty of problems to work through. Former coach Barry Trotz blistered his team after a 6-2 loss at Colorado on Nov. 16, 2017 and left his players to sort things out. Washington was floundering at 10-9-1. 

The message got through. They won 12 of their next 15 games and finished the rest of the season 39-17-6. They went on to win the Cup – though there were a few more bumps in the road and a defensive overhaul following another team meeting in March. 

This year an embarrassing 8-5 loss at Chicago left the Capitals in third place in the Metro at 27-16-5. Maybe that doesn’t seem too bad, but they were in the midst of what would become a seven-game losing streak. They were teetering. Again the brutally honest talk after the loss to the Blackhawks eventually helped turn the tide.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said after that Jan. 22 game. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page.

 But it took two more losses – one a brutal 7-6 overtime defeat at home to San Jose where they coughed up a two-goal lead twice, gave up the game-tying goal with one second to go and lost in overtime. Even productive team meetings rarely have linear results. 

 But they can also make things worse. The Wizards had a team meeting in January 2018 and soon after got destroyed by Charlotte 133-109. They rallied and beat Detroit two days later and their record was 26-20. 

But the fruitless meeting couldn’t solve Washington’s underlying issues. And while injuries played a factor, the Wizards only made the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and lost to Toronto in the first round in six games. 

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over. Manager Davey Martinez disputed that idea.

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after Thursday’s 6-4 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble is tomorrow may not matter anymore.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”

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