The Washington Nationals sent prospect Michael Taylor back to repeat High-A in 2013, where he improved in nearly every category, especially in both power, went from three to ten home runs, and speed, went from 19 to 51 stolen bases. Then, he went to Puerto Rico for the winter, where he posted a .939 OPS and hit .365. He still strikes out too often, but the raw five-tool prospect should start the season in Double-A, and could even earn himself a September call up.
In his native Venezuela, while visiting family and preparing to play winter league ball in 2011, Wilson Ramos was kidnapped at gunpoint. He was later found, alive and well, but it was a very real reminder that the winter leagues are played in very different environments than in the major leagues. Ramos, after playing in just 103 games over the past two seasons combined due to injury, played baseball in Venezuela again this winter. He flashed a little bit of the pop that once made him a top prospect, hitting four home runs in 123 at-bats, and hit over .300.
Battling for the job as a back-up to Ramos, Sandy Leon also played baseball in Venezuela this winter. He too hit very well, .353, and put up a very good OPS, .938, but has plenty of work ahead of him, as he is currently listed fourth on the Nationals depth chart. He only has 31 career at-bats at the big league level, where he has only managed two extra base hits, both doubles. Power is not part of his game, his career minor league slugging is identical to his OBP, both .325, but his real value comes in his defense. He has thrown out 45% of all attempted base stealers in the minor leauges, but has thrown out just one of seven in his big league career.
High-A repeating infielder, Adrian Sanchez, also spent the winter in Venezuela, but he struggled with the bat. He put up an OPS of just .520 this winter, which is much worse than his minor league career, and he hasn’t exactly wowed anyone with the stick in the minors either. Sanchez is more of a glove first middle infielder who should make the jump to Double-a this year.
Utility middle infielder, Zach Walters, was acquired by the Nationals from the Arizona Diamondbacks just before the trade deadline for Jason Marquis. He made his big league debut this past season, and looked good in his very limited time. He went to, you guessed it, Venezuela this winter to get some extra at-bats. He hit three home runs this winter, after launching 29 in Triple-A last year. With the departure of Steve Lombardozzi to the Detroit Tigers, Walters has a shot to stick as a switch-hitting infielder off the bench with some pop.
Outfielder Eury Perez, spent the majority of the winter in right field rather than center in the Dominican, as Pittsburgh Pirates stud prospect, Gregory Polanco, manned center for Leones del Escondido. Perez did bat lead-off in the playoffs for Escondido, but put up a winter OBP under .300. He has great range in the outfield, and his defense has carried him to the big leagues. He has shown he can hit for some average, but he seems to be allergic to the walk, posting a career minor league walk rate under 6%, but has never even reached 5% above rookie ball. Nate McLouth has been added to the mix, leaving Perez as the fifth outfielder at best, especially with Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin looming in the high minors.
The Nationals didn’t have any pitchers get much work in the winter, in fact, no real prospects, nor anyone on their 40-man roster even got ten innings, and only three big league invites threw as many as 14 innings. Danny Rosenbaum and Gabriel Alfaro both posted ERAs over 4.25, and Manny Delcarmen looked good in the Dominican, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2010. The Nationals have arguably the best rotation in baseball, and their bullpen underperformed last season, so a lack of winter league news is not all that surprising.