Series Preview: A Few Words With Federal Baseball

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Pitching, prospects, and a clown question.

The Padres start a four-game series with the Nationals today, and Federal Baseball's Patrick Reddington was kind enough to answer my very late questions.

With Doug Fister on the disabled list, Taylor Jordan is the fifth man in the Nationals rotation. He showed himself to be a respectable enough sixth starter in his 9 games last season, but he's not exactly a hot prospect. What's the status on Fister, and how long a leash does Jordan have in the meantime?

Barring any setbacks or issues in the next couple of days, Fister is scheduled to make his first minor league rehab start on Sunday. From what the Nationals have said, they think it will probably take a start or two in the minors to get him up to full strength.

The way things are going now, it's looking like Taylor Jordan might be the odd man out when Fister returns. As several people have noted at this point, he and Fister are lined up and pitching on the same day right now.

The issue with Jordan, from what I've seen, is a drop in velocity and an inability to keep the ball down at times, especially early in his last few starts. He was throwing a low-90's sinker last season and it's sitting high-80s now. He told reporters the other day that he's aware of the drop in velocity, but doesn't think it would be an issue if he was locating his pitches. Not sure I agree with him, but it certainly doesn't help when a ground ball pitcher can't keep the ball down in the zone.

Matt Williams said yesterday that he will make his next start on Sunday. After that? I think he'd have to be really impressive at this point to keep his spot when/if Fister returns. Tanner Roark has put together a few strong outings and before Fister went down this spring it was looking like Roark was going to take the fifth spot. I'd imagine there's a trip to Triple-A Syracuse in Jordan's future. Hopefully it's something with his mechanics he can figure out to get the velocity back up and keep the ball down.

As long as we're talking pitching, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about San Diego State alumnus Stephen Strasburg. He's off to a rocky start this season with a 5.33 ERA, but he's also sporting a rather high BABIP of .406, over a hundred points above his career average. Has he just been unlucky, or is he not getting enough backup from the defense?

Matt Williams talked yesterday about Strasburg's failed attempts at pitching to contact.

As far as Williams sees it, Strasburg's stuff is so good that even when he pounds the zone hitters can't square him up and end of fouling balls off and running up his pitch count.

We've been talking about that high BABIP for a few days now on FBB. Can't imagine that's going to hold up, but Strasburg hasn't been sharp in all of his outings this season.

The Nationals' defense hasn't been much help to any of the starters either and the lack of run support has made it even tougher.

Though he'd never use it as an excuse I have wondered at times if Strasburg is just still working his way back to 100% after surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow this past winter. The lack of fastball command at times is what makes me think he's not all the way there early this season, but there have been some good signs in the last couple starts.

While the fastball command hasn't always been there, however, his changeup is fairly ridiculous. When he throws it to right-handed hitters right now the movement on it is something akin to magic. It's coming in at 89-90 and just moving like a screwball, starting over the plate and ending up in under the hands, it's really crazy to watch at times.

I'm not too concerned about him at this point, but want to see him put together a string of strong starts rather than the up and down outings he's had thus far.

Bryce Harper is now old enough to (legally) drink. Will he stop calling reporters out for clown questions? Will reporters stop ASKING clown questions? Will we ever find out what his favorite beer is?

Bryce Harper doesn't drink. He's pretty serious about that. He dropped a "my body is a temple" quote in a Washington Post interview this season. He's 100% serious about it and is adamant about eating right and training hard as he can. I realize he makes it easy to take jabs at him at times, and I actually think he needs to loosen up a bit.

He's pressing right now and trying to make things happen instead of letting them and I think all the attention early in his career has had an effect the Nationals are trying to work through with him right now. Strasburg went through similar things early in his career and his response was always that he hadn't done anything to earn the attention at that point. Harper seems to have embraced all the lofty comparisons and tried to live up to them, and as good as he's been (and he has been really, really good for a 19-20-21-year-old in the majors), he's come up quickly, going from high school to junior college, a quick rise in the minors and right to the major leagues. He's working through things at the highest level of the game while opposing teams are adjusting to what he can and can't do.

So, uh, no I don't think you'll get your answer on the beer question any time soon...heh. [Ed.: Uh, whoops. Hadn't heard that, and I feel a little bad about asking that now. Sorry, Bryce, that was a clown question.]

Harper is the youngest National by a few years. Who's in the pipeline and ready to join him at the kids' table soon?

I'll probably get yelled at by the folks who follow the Nationals' system closer than I do for saying this, but as far as position players, there aren't too many in the system right now that I think will make an impact in the majors any time soon. 2011 1st Round pick Brian Goodwin is at Triple-A now and could make his way up at some point if he has a strong season. Michael Taylor is probably next in line after Goodwin in terms of outfield prospects, but he's still working his way up.

I'm really interested in Drew Ward, who's at Low-A now as a 19-year-old. He's a 2013 3rd Round pick out of Oklahoma who graduated from high school early to make himself eligible for the draft. Kris Kline, the Nats' Asst. GM and Scouting Director, talked up his advance approach after the picked him. I'll be watching to see what he can do this season after he put up a .338/.430/.500 line in the Gulf Coast League last year as an 18-year-old.

The older, major league-ready "prospects" like Zach Walters and Steven Souza have already seen some time in the majors this season. Walters has impressed early, but once the injured Nats start coming back I'm not sure he'll stay up. Souza was up briefly and is back at Triple-A.

Matt Skole, 24, looked like he was on the fast track (though where he'll play is a question) before he suffered a torn UCL on a defensive play at first base last year, but if he bounces back this season he might insert himself in the mix at first base at some point in the near-future. But losing a year of development last year hurt for sure.

On the pitching front, Lucas Giolito is a star-in-the-making if he continues to do what he's done since returning from Tommy John. A.J. Cole is probably the next pitcher in line among the prospects who could have an impact in the majors at some point soon. Jake Johansen fits the profile of the type of pitcher that has moved quickly with the Nationals.

If I had to pick one prospect that might be up soon, it's Cole, who's no. 2 in the organization behind Giolito on just about every prospect list. He's 22 and off to a good start at Double-A and the Nats have shown a willingness to reach down there for help the last few years, so I wouldn't be surprised if he makes his major league debut at some point this season if the Nationals need pitching help.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Patrick!

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