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             An offseason in which the Nationals' major goal was to find a center fielder and leadoff hitter, the Nats killed two birds with one stone by acquiring outfielder Denard Span. On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins reached an agreement to send Span to the Washington Nationals  for minor league pitcher Alex Meyer. Span is signed through 2014 and has a $9 million club option for 2015.

                Denard Span will be moving from a rebuilding Minnesota Twins ball club to a Washington Nationals team who is expected to be amongst the best in the game again in 2013.  Span absolutely strengthens this team as he will provide some solid production from the outfield.  Expected to slot in as Washington’s leadoff hitter, Span has hit .284/.357/.389 throughout his 5 year career.  In this aspect, Span should certainly be an upgrade, as National leadoff hitters only hit a collective .276/.325/.419 for 2012. Span is also coming off a successful 2012 season in which he batted .283/.342/.395 and had a career high in WAR (4.8). In addition, Span provides above average speed as he stole 17 bases in 2012 and has shown the ability to steal 20-25 bags in the past.  To complete his all around package, Span is a terrific defensive center fielder who had 20 defensive runs saved and the highest dWAR (2.4) among outfielders in 2012. Span is a perfect match for a team in need of a center fielder and his deal is short enough that it should not block minor leaguer Brian Goodwin when he is ready. 

-Nick Rabasco

                Heading to the Twin Cities (or at least AA affiliate New Britain, CT) is 6'9", 220 lb man-child, Alex Meyer. Meyer finished the season in High A Potomac with a 2.86 ERA, 129 innings, 139 strikeouts, and a superb 6.7 H/9. Meyer's repertoire includes a high 90's fastball and a plus, wipeout slider that sits in the low-mid 80's. His changeup remains a work in progress. In addition to his changeup questions, his height has given him problems repeating his delivery. An inability to control and repeat one's delivery leads to ineffective and erratic command. And an inability to command one's stuff often results in being delegated to relief. If Meyer were to go in relief, his command issues could be minimized while his stuff could play up in shorter durations. Throughout the year, Meyer battled bouts of wildness, but showed improved command of his pitches (3.1 BB/9) compared to his time at the University of Kentucky. In reality, if Meyer can maintain this ability to throw strikes, there is a good bet he can remain a starter, a position in which more value lies (see Chapman piece on the value of innings). Minnesota acquired an uber-talented arm with front of the rotation potential. However, for Minnesota to claim victory on this trade, it hinges on Meyer's ability to start at the big league level. For additional information on Alex Meyer, check out the scouting report released during our prospect ranking countdown.

-Aidan Flynn  

First Impressions

Winners: Nationals, Twins;  
              
               Both teams acquired players that will suit their short term and long term needs. The Nationals further augmented a team that won the most games in the junior circuit, and Span's extremely reasonable contract should give the team financial flexibility to make additional moves (Adam LaRoche?). 
              The Twins are clearly a team in rebuild mode and improved the farm system with one of the most talented arms in the minors. If Meyer would have to transition to reliever, this trade would swing in favor of Washington, but I have enough confidence in Meyer's ability that this trade should work out well for both parties involved.


 
 
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              Some say he’s going to be the best player the game has ever seen and a lock for 500 home runs, if not many more.  This high praise started in high school for Bryce Harper at age 16, when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and was dubbed as baseball’s “chosen one.”  As a freshman in high school Harper hit a moonshot that traveled 570 feet.  That’s the type of strength this young phenom was blessed with.  Bryce was so advanced for his age that he dropped out of high school after his sophomore year, got his GED, and went to College of Southern Nevada. Scouts would have been happy with just surviving against much older competition. Instead, he dominated and won the Golden Spikes Award, in honor of the best player in amateur baseball.  After just one year at Southern Nevada, he declared for the MLB draft and was selected with the number one overall pick in 2010 by the Washington Nationals. 

                Harper, just turning 20, has jumped through the minor league system and has started in both center-field and right-field for 2012's best regular season team, the Washington Nationals. In addition to his outfield versatility, Harper possesses power and bat-speed that is far and away already better than most major league hitters.  He lived up to all the hype and expectations hitting at a .270/.340/.477/.817 clip with 22 home runs in 2012.  His 22 home runs are the second most by a teenager in Major League history (Tony Conigliaro with 24). There’s no question the power is there for Bryce, but he has excelled in other facets of the game as well.  He has shown great patience at the plate, a trait most young hitters lack, with a walk rate of 9.4%, which is higher than the league average of 8%.  He is also above average in categories such as WAR (5.0) and OPS+ (119).  He’s no Mike Trout in terms of speed (but then again, who is?), however he does have above average wheels and has the ability to steal bases, as he was 18 out of 24 (75%) in 2012.  With impressive tools like hitting for average, hitting for power and speed on the base paths, Harper fills out the remaining tools just as well.  Bryce, a converted outfielder after being a catcher much of his amateur career, was clocked throwing 96 MPH in high school.  Today, he utilizes his rifle in the Washington outfield.  Harper had a very impressive 8 outfield assists in his rookie campaign.  Even though Harper made 7 errors, he is still young and had a well above league average 14 defensive runs saved.  Remember, he should have just finished up his freshman year in college. Instead, he's posted some of the greatest teenage numbers in baseball history.

                These types of numbers at such a young age make people wonder what this kid can do in the future, which may be scary.  Additionally, Harper is praised for the things that do not show up on the stat sheets.  His intense fire and passion for playing the game of baseball is what makes him so successful early on in his career.  To some, he may come off as being arrogant and cocky.  However, I look at him as being confident and a guy who simply plays the game how everyone should play it by running every ball out as hard as he can.  Just consider yourself a clown if you want to question Harper’s ability to play baseball at its highest level, bro.  


 
 
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        Jayson Werth is currently in the second year of his 7 year $126 million mega-deal with the Washington Nationals.  After a dismal first season and not coming close to living up to his contract, Werth has quietly had a revival of sorts in 2012.  He received lots of media attention in 2011 for his poor play, even as the Nationals finished a respectable 80-81.  In 2012 however, Washington has taken off and transformed into perhaps the best all-around team in the National League.  Werth was a non-factor in the first half of the campaign due to a DL stint, as young phenoms Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper received all the attention.  The two young studs were accompanied by former all-star Ryan Zimmerman, the emergence of guys like Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, and a phenomenal pitching staff all the way around.  

                Since coming off the DL, Jayson Werth has played in 74 games and has made major contributions out of the leadoff spot; a spot that lacked production in the first half for D.C.  The Nationals right-fielder has posted a tremendous .390 OBP and has been able to get the offense rolling.  Werth has also very impressively only struck out in 16.6% of his plate appearances in 2012, a statistic well below his career average of 24.1%.  Werth, a 6 foot 5 inch right-handed hitter, may not appear to be a conventional leadoff hitter, but when you find a guy who leads his team in OBP and doesn’t strike out as often, he is a perfect fit for the spot.  Although his home run percentage is down in 2012 (1.6%) from his career mark (3.7%), Werth still has the ability to pop one every once in a while. Werth possesses above average speed as well, swiping 8 bags in 10 attempts in limited time in 2012.  

                In my mind, Jayson Werth is the key for the Nationals as they make their first Postseason appearance since 1933.  Just getting on base, as he has been doing, is all the Nationals need from him with the likes of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and Ian Desmond hitting behind him.  Another attribute Werth brings is plenty of postseason experience, as he won a ring in 2008 while in the City of Brotherly Love.  There is no question Washington is an extremely talented ball club headed into October (yes, even with Stephan Strasburg being shutdown), but they are young. Werth should be able to instill confidence and relax his teammates as most of them experience the thrill of being in the postseason for the first time. 

 

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