This week we have taken NatsGM on the road to West Palm Beach, Florida in order to thoroughly scout the Washington Nationals, their prospects and their brand new spring training complex. I shall write a full length piece next week discussing the new stadium, which is absolutely outstanding, but the next few days I wish to share some of my scouting notes on what I observe in Florida.
Below are my thoughts on Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, new catcher Derek Norris, and the conundrum the Red Sox face defensively this season at third base.
Working as the starting pitcher for Washington Tuesday was Joe Ross, a pitcher I was particularly interested to watch, as his performance slumped down the stretch last season. And in this viewing, Ross looked like a pitcher early in spring training, as he struggled to repeat his mechanics from the windup and was often flying open with his front side.
Ross sat (according to the stadium gun that looked 2-3mph off by my eye) 90-93mph with the fastball, touching 94mph, with little command or control of the pitch. His fastball showed cutting action and some life, but he could not locate it in the strike zone. His slider was inconsistent at 85-87mph, primarily because he was overthrowing it and putting it in the left handed batters’ box. On a positive note, he threw two changeups in the 3rd inning, one with notable fading movement away from a left-handed batter.
Unfortunately this viewing left me deeply concerned about his 2017, as the stuff has not returned from last summer and he seems to be fighting his delivery. In addition, I am a big believer that hitters will tell you how “good” a pitcher’s stuff is – Boston absolutely pounded Ross today worse than they did their batting practice pitcher prior to the game. I hope these criticisms look silly in a few months, but I am worried about Joe Ross getting major league hitters out a month from now.
* Defensively new Nationals’ catcher Derek Norris specifically caught my eye, as he was extremely quiet behind the dish and, in particular, framed two pitches perfectly for strikes on the outside corner. Ross was struggling with his location, but Norris made a real effort to help his pitcher. In addition, Norris threw out the speedy Mookie Betts trying to steal in the 3rd inning, posting a 1.71 second pop time from his knees to gun down the runner. Certainly it is a first impression after several years of casually watching him, but Norris is a better defender than I originally thought when the trade was conceived.
* After watching three ground balls pass by third baseman Pablo Sandoval today, it has me wondering how his defensive deficiencies will affect and hinder Boston’s pitching staff this season. This concern is exacerbated considering they have 4 projected left-handed starters in their rotation, meaning right-handed batters will be pulling the ball with force toward the left side of the infield. Furthermore, Xander Bogaerts does not have great range at shortstop, so their infield defense on the left side could allow more singles and doubles this season than perhaps projections systems will forecast.