There have been few surprises this Spring for the Washington Nationals. Nothing unexpected in today's options, re-assignments and releases either, which resulted in the Nats trimming their Spring Training roster down to 33 players. The defending NL East champs optioned right-handed pitchers Erik Davis, Yunesky Maya and Ryan Perry, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Chris Marrero and outfielder Corey Brown to the Triple-A Syracuce Chiefs, re-assigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf and infielder Zach Walters to minor league camp and released veteran backstop Chris Snyder, who quickly signed a minor league deal with the LA Angels. Asked about the moves this morning, 70-year-old Nationals' manager Davey Johnson explained how he handles the moves and discussed what he talks to each of the players about when informing them of the team's decisions.
Zack Walters, 23, a former Arizona Diamondbacks' 2010 9th Round pick acquired in a July 2011 Deadline deal for RHP Jason Marquis, impressed the Nats' skipper this year, going 11 for 37 with two home runs in Grapefruit League action. Davey Johnson said today he liked what he saw from the switch-hitting shortstop who showed off a cannon of an arm this Spring. "I really liked Zach," Johnson said, "He reminds me a lot of where [Ian] Desmond was at a couple, two or three years ago. I like his upside. He's got tremendous ability and he's learning who he is, and knows what he needs to do. I think this Spring was good for him."
Now Walters will likely start the year where he finished up last season, with the Nationals' top affiliate. The infielder started the year at Class-A Potomac and moved up to Double-A Harrisburg and eventually Syracuse, ending the year with a combined .266/.302/.418 line, 23 doubles, five triples and 12 HRs in 126 games and 484 plate appearances. "I've enjoyed having him here [and] I've enjoyed watching him express his talent. I think he has a better idea of who he is and what he can accomplish," Johnson told reporters today, "And that's a good thing. He just needs to play and gain the experience from that, but I think he's got a great future."
Johnson told 31-year-old right-hander Yunesky Maya, who signed as an international free agent in 2010, to keep the same approach he's had this Spring as he's given up six hits, four walks and two earned runs while striking out seven in eight innings pitched, when he goes to Triple-A. The Nats' manager had a message for Maya and the other pitchers who were sent down today. "I've really enjoyed the way [Maya] has thrown the ball and the way he's pitched this Spring," Johnson said, "He's had moments where he's pitched really good for me. I look for him to be real good insurance. I talked to him. If he takes the same mind set he had this Spring and gets stretched out, he would be a candidate if we had a problem."
"I told him that this is a very important year for me and the organization," Johnson continued, "And I expected him to carry on and keep staying in a great frame of mind knowing that he could get a phone call at any minute. And, by and large, I said the same thing to [Ross] Ohlendorf, with his experience and whatever. He gets stretched out and he gets going real good, if we had a problem up here he would be a candidate. And [Ryan] Perry, he needs to get more consistent with his command and attacking hitters. He's still learning, kind of like a Zach Walters, about who he can be and what type of ceiling he has."
"Basically," Johnson summed up his conversations, "I just tell them the way it is and where they're at in the scheme of things. I'm not big on romance and B.S., but it's not a secret that one of the areas where we lack a little depth is in starting pitching. I hope I impressed upon them that, out of the three that I sent down today, that they're prime candidates, each and everyone of them and they need to go in a good frame of mind and be ready. Last year was a very good year and we had some injuries to the position players, but the pitching staff was pretty much injury free, but that doesn't always happen that way, so I wanted them to look at it as an opportunity to get where they need to be and be ready from jump street."
"I always take maybe more time than most when I talk to young players," Johnson explained, "because I want them to know what I'm seeing and what I'm expecting out them when they go down. Basically, I don't pull any punches and I tell it exactly the way I see it, so that conversation, to me, is very important for them understand exactly what I think and what I think they're capable of doing and I expect to see them go do it."
27-year-old outfielder Corey Brown played 19 games with the Nats last year and he finished his 2012 campaign, his sixth minor league season, with a .285/.365/.523 line in 126 games and 554 PAs with the Nats' top affiliate in which he hit 22 doubles, nine triples and 25 HRs. According to the Nats' skipper, however, he's just one example of a talented player who might get more time in another organization. "I think you could build that case for a lot of players that we have that have been in this camp," Johnson said, "With the year that we had last year that's to be expected, but this is where you want to be."
"Corey Brown, Zach Walters, [Chris] Marrero," Johnson said, "All of them have the talent to be very good, productive big league players. That's why they're here, but they're not completely polished. They're not doing the things that I know that they're still capable of doing. It's kind of like when I said at the end of , if the guys that I finished the year with, if in  they play up to their potential and deal with things that we talked about through the course of  then we could win a pennant. And it's just a little different situation. We won a [division title], and these other guys are knocking on the door to get here and if they do the things that I know that they're capable of doing and start living up to and doing the things that I know that they're able to do, that they will be here or in the big leagues real quick. And if I didn't believe that I would tell them that."