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Robles among dark-horse candidates in camp

Top prospect could make Opening Day roster with strong spring; Suero, Harper also fighting for spots
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are entering camp with a 25-man roster that is virtually set, after bringing back much of last season's club and addressing remaining needs during the offseason with a few minor, but key, signings.

That will make this spring a bit light on true positional battles, but there will certainly be room for opportunity. During each of the past few seasons, Washington has had at least one player make the Opening Day roster after entering Spring Training on a Minor League deal, so perhaps there is some room for flexibility on the roster.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals are entering camp with a 25-man roster that is virtually set, after bringing back much of last season's club and addressing remaining needs during the offseason with a few minor, but key, signings.

That will make this spring a bit light on true positional battles, but there will certainly be room for opportunity. During each of the past few seasons, Washington has had at least one player make the Opening Day roster after entering Spring Training on a Minor League deal, so perhaps there is some room for flexibility on the roster.

Nationals Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

The Nats have some openings in the bullpen, at the fifth starter spot and perhaps they could carry an extra position player on the bench.

So before the Nats open up their Grapefruit League schedule Friday against the Astros at 1:05 p.m. ET, here are some dark horse candidate to make the Opening Day roster.

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Victor Robles: Robles is not any sort of non-roster invite: he's the organization's top prospect and MLB Pipeline's third overall prospect in MLB. However, his chances of making the Opening Day roster are slim at the moment.

The Nationals want him to play everyday, but their starting outfield is currently full, so Robles will almost certainly begin the season in Triple-A. But he is the next outfielder in line should an injury occur, and he's one hot month away from changing the Nats' plans. Such was the case in September, when Robles arrived in the big leagues ahead of schedule, then proceeded to impress the club so much that he made the postseason roster.

"He's impressive," manager Dave Martinez said. "Good kid. Wants to learn. Been talking to him a lot about just doing the little things, but he gets it. He's going to be fun to watch. He really is. He does it all. I was watching when they were fielding in the outfield, and it's almost like he glides out there. He's going to be a good one."

Perhaps with a strong spring, Robles can force his way into the team's plans once again.

Wander Suero: The Nationals are a bit shallow in their depth for right-handed relievers, especially considering Koda Glover's shoulder injury. They did replace that potential hole with right-hander Joaquin Benoit, but still there is some room to break into the bullpen with a strong spring.

That could leave room for Suero to break with the team. He was added to the Nats 40-man roster in November after this best season, when he posted a 1.79 ERA in 54 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He was named the organization's pitcher of the year. With another injury to the bullpen and an impressive spring, Suero could continue to improve his stock with the Nats and earn his way to Washington to start the season.

Bryan Harper: This is, perhaps, the longest shot on this list, but there is a scenario where Bryan Harper is jogging to the mound past his brother, Bryce, in right field on Opening Day.

Video: Bryce Harper is joined by brother in Spring Training

The Nats are perhaps more thin at left-handed reliever than any other position. Outside of closer Sean Doolittle, there are some legit questions with the rest of their options. So, if Harper is impressive this spring, in his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, maybe he could find a spot on the team. Harper had started impressing the organization before his injury and was on track to potentially make the Majors then. When healthy, he has shown he has the stuff to compete with Major League hitters.

Both Harpers have considered playing on the same team since 2011 when Bryan Harper was drafted in the 30th round. If a few things break right this spring, that dream could be reality.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryan Harper, Victor Robles, Wander Suero

Goodwin thrilled with new Wilson glove

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As Brian Goodwin checks out his potential new glove, he puts his hand inside, opens and closes it a few times. He gives it a pat or two, already starting to form the pocket. To break in a new glove, he will take every opportunity he can to put his hand inside -- during batting practice, Spring Training games, playing catch or just sitting around.

"Every time you get a new one, it's like starting from the beginning," Goodwin said. "Starting all the way over. As much as you use it, the more you use it, the better it's gonna be."

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As Brian Goodwin checks out his potential new glove, he puts his hand inside, opens and closes it a few times. He gives it a pat or two, already starting to form the pocket. To break in a new glove, he will take every opportunity he can to put his hand inside -- during batting practice, Spring Training games, playing catch or just sitting around.

"Every time you get a new one, it's like starting from the beginning," Goodwin said. "Starting all the way over. As much as you use it, the more you use it, the better it's gonna be."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Goodwin received his newest glove from Wilson at Glove Day on Thursday morning, a black 1799 A2K, about 12 3/4 inches long with red stitching. It's his go-to model -- he likes how light it feels on his hand when he is running in the outfield.

And Goodwin has reason to keep everything the same after his strong rookie season in Washington. In 74 games, he batted .251/.313/.498 with 13 home runs and a 105 OPS+. He is expected to be the Nats fourth outfielder this season, so finding a reliable glove is essential.

"I've been rocking with Wilson since I came in," Goodwin said. "Just reliable stuff. Good quality, good craftsmanship. They put details in every stitch, it seems like. It's just something that looks good on my hand, feels good, fun to run around with, easy to run around with and make plays."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Brian Goodwin

Rendon seeking simplicity as recipe for success

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon says he kept his offseason routine the same, which undersells a couple of major changes that took place during the winter: He got married in late November; he volunteered his time with the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together to help rebuild a home in Houston devastated after Hurricane Harvey; and the most notable change Nationals fan will be able to see this year -- he cut his hair for the first time since the middle of 2016.

"Oh, man, it was just too long," Rendon said. "It was too much to maintain. I either got to put product in it or I got to wear a hat. So I was kind over it. It was too curly."

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon says he kept his offseason routine the same, which undersells a couple of major changes that took place during the winter: He got married in late November; he volunteered his time with the non-profit organization Rebuilding Together to help rebuild a home in Houston devastated after Hurricane Harvey; and the most notable change Nationals fan will be able to see this year -- he cut his hair for the first time since the middle of 2016.

"Oh, man, it was just too long," Rendon said. "It was too much to maintain. I either got to put product in it or I got to wear a hat. So I was kind over it. It was too curly."

Nationals Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Other than the change in appearance, Rendon had every reason to want to keep everything the same after the best season of his career in 2017. He hit .301/.403/.533 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs, both career-highs, and Fangraphs lists him at 6.9 Wins Above Replacement. As strikeout rates rise in the Majors, Rendon was the rare player who had more walks (84) than strikeouts (82). He also finished as a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. That all earned him a sixth place finish in the crowded race for the National League Most Valuable Player.

Video: Rendon reflects on 2017 season at Nats Winterfest

Rendon attributed his success to a slight change in philosophy. He is not a complete disciple of the proverbial fly ball revolution, but he focused on driving the ball more frequently a year ago and hitting it in the air a little more. He hit 63.7 percent of his batted balls last year at a launch angle of 10 degrees or higher, which is basically the start of the line drive angle, a slight uptick from 59.8 percent in 2016. And a greater share of those hard hit balls (95 mph exit velocity or better) were in the air last season (60.9 percent) than the year prior (54.9 percent).

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Those changes, however slight, helped produce the best season of his career.

"Rendon is ... he's a magician," hitting coach Kevin Long said. "He's fun to watch. He was one of the hitters that when he was up to bat, I sat there and I marveled. He's quiet, he puts himself in a good position, he's always on time. It looks effortless. His mechanics are flawless, he's in line. He's balanced. He just does a lot of things right.

"I'm leaving him alone. He's one guy that I'm not going to be able to help too much. What he does is special."

So the Nationals are hopeful that Rendon can continue that success. He is still in the prime of his career with two years remaining on his contract before free agency. Washington had some initial discussions with Rendon's agent, Scott Boras, this offseason while the two sides negotiated Rendon's arbitration contract, but the conversations did not get very far. Still, Rendon has said he is open to remaining with the organization long term.

It's not surprising, considering Rendon has spent his entire career in the Nats' organization and enjoys feeling comfortable. Perhaps he would prefer to keep things routine, just like how he feels his offseason went.

"It was the same thing," Rendon said. "We worked out in the morning, golfed in the afternoon, laid on my couch. I didn't really do too much. I try to keep it simple."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Anthony Rendon

Benoit, Nationals complete one-year deal

Right-handed reliever entering 16th season in big leagues
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Joaquin Benoit had just arrived in Phoenix after spending the offseason in the Dominican Republic when he got the call that he needed to go to Florida. The Nationals were closing in on a contract for Benoit, a move they worked on quickly after a hole opened up in their bullpen.

Benoit has been in camp for a day and participated in a few workouts, but the veteran reliever officially signed his one-year deal with Washington on Wednesday, a decision he said was an easy one to make.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Joaquin Benoit had just arrived in Phoenix after spending the offseason in the Dominican Republic when he got the call that he needed to go to Florida. The Nationals were closing in on a contract for Benoit, a move they worked on quickly after a hole opened up in their bullpen.

Benoit has been in camp for a day and participated in a few workouts, but the veteran reliever officially signed his one-year deal with Washington on Wednesday, a decision he said was an easy one to make.

Nationals Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"Look around. This is the team," Benoit said. "This is not about going to a place and being miserable. This is about going to a place and being comfortable and having a chance to go to the playoffs and contribute."

Tweet from @Nationals: Welcome to DC, Joaqu??n Benoit!?: https://t.co/ModNKDtVMU pic.twitter.com/Z9hkeibhH2

The need for Benoit developed at the start of camp, when Koda Glover arrived with a sore right shoulder. He has not been cleared to throw and his status is uncertain, so the Nats went out to cover themselves.

They believe Benoit, 40, is due for a rebound after a difficult 2017 where his ERA ballooned to 4.65. In the past seven seasons, he averaged a 2.40 ERA and never posted an ERA higher 3.68. Washington is betting he still has something left in the tank, given that his fastball velocity of 94.8 mph last season was the highest of his career.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I don't normally talk about things like that, but there was a lot of personal stuff going on last year," Benoit said. "I can't blame that, because the game is played the same way for hundreds of years. But it was a lot of things on my mind. Like I said, I don't like to make excuses, but things didn't go the way I planned or the way I wanted them to go."

Grapefruit League action approaches

The Nationals will begin open their Grapefruit League schedule Friday afternoon against the Astros, even though the first position player workouts began this week. However, manager Dave Martinez does not think the Nats will have an issue getting players ready for the first game so quickly with the condensed spring schedule.

"We've talked with a lot of position players already about what they think and feel and my coaches have been great," Martinez said. "They've been asking and they've been watching. We've had communication throughout the week kind of figuring out which guys we feel can already play. And a lot of them have come up and said they're good to go."

All but one

Martinez said everyone expected has reported for camp except for left-hander Ismael Guillon, a non-roster invitee who had visa issues coming from Venezuela. He is expected to report to camp in the coming days.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Joaquin Benoit

Murphy still limited but primed for Opening Day

Nats' second baseman resumes light baseball activities
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Daniel Murphy acknowledged it might sound a bit crazy before he said it, but if he has trouble sleeping, he visualizes at-bats. There are few players in the game who enjoy hitting as much as Murphy, and he is constantly talking about hitting, watching at-bats and studying analytics.

So it has been difficult for Murphy to spend the past few months not being able to hit, limited as he recovers from the debridement and microfracture surgery he underwent on his right knee at the end of the season. On Tuesday, Nationals position players participated in their first full-squad workouts, which included live batting practice. Murphy was not able to participate.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Daniel Murphy acknowledged it might sound a bit crazy before he said it, but if he has trouble sleeping, he visualizes at-bats. There are few players in the game who enjoy hitting as much as Murphy, and he is constantly talking about hitting, watching at-bats and studying analytics.

So it has been difficult for Murphy to spend the past few months not being able to hit, limited as he recovers from the debridement and microfracture surgery he underwent on his right knee at the end of the season. On Tuesday, Nationals position players participated in their first full-squad workouts, which included live batting practice. Murphy was not able to participate.

His baseball activities are limited for now: fielding grounders from his knees, playing a little bit of catch and running on the treadmill with about 60 percent weight-bearing on his knee. Although it's hard for him to contain his excitement, he's happy with his progress so far and understands he must be patient with the rehab process.

Video: Daniel Murphy is the No. 4 second baseman right now

"You see these guys bouncing around and playing, you want to participate and be playing with your teammates," Murphy said. "But I think it's the understanding of when the training staff lets me go and it's time to play, you only want to come off the DL once. I don't want to start playing games and then have to stop."

Murphy showed up to the Nationals WinterFest event in December on crutches but is walking around just fine now. He still feels some slight discomfort in his knee but has full range of motion.

The Nationals have been optimistic throughout Murphy's rehab that he will be ready for Opening Day. Last week, manager Dave Martinez said Murphy is still on target to meet that goal. Murphy still has a long way to go, but the Nats do not seem to be concerned that he does not have time to hit that goal.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I'm more concerned about rushing him and him not being fully ready," Martinez said. "When we get him back, we don't want him to go back on the DL, we want to get him back for the whole season."

The number of baseball players who have undergone a surgery similar to Murphy's is limited, but one of them is Justin Turner of the Dodgers, Murphy's friend and former teammate, who rehabbed from the same injury in 2013. The two spoke during the offseason and Murphy was encouraged by the similarities in their rehab benchmarks.

"Each one's always going to be different," Murphy said. "I'm more asking him what it looks like, what he experienced, more in the future. Because where I am currently is really not going to change too much. So kind of what to expect is what we've talked about."

Washington has plans to slowly incorporate Murphy into Spring Training games with hopes of preparing him to start the season on time, for the final season of his contract with the Nationals. For now, his focus is on getting healthy again. Once that is done, he can go back to focusing on hitting.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Daniel Murphy

Doolittle plans to tinker with slider during spring

MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has always been a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball, throwing it about 87.7 percent of the time. Early in his career, he used a slider a lot more frequently, peaking at 11.3 percent of the time in 2014, but that number dropped to 5.2 percent in '17.

This season, he wants to start throwing his slider more frequently. Doolittle plans to spend the spring tinkering with his slider, trying to find a grip comfortable enough to regain his confidence in the pitch.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has always been a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball, throwing it about 87.7 percent of the time. Early in his career, he used a slider a lot more frequently, peaking at 11.3 percent of the time in 2014, but that number dropped to 5.2 percent in '17.

This season, he wants to start throwing his slider more frequently. Doolittle plans to spend the spring tinkering with his slider, trying to find a grip comfortable enough to regain his confidence in the pitch.

"I think it's just something that will make me a little bit more of an efficient, complete pitcher," he said.

Video: WSH@CHC Gm4: Dootlittle fans Russell to seal the win

Doolittle is working with new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who has developed a reputation for teaching pitchers a slider. Doolittle said he has not gotten a good feel for the grip Lilliquist uses but has still been able to pull from Lilliquist's knowledge and experience.

The primary challenge for Doolittle is finding a grip that works for him. He said he struggles to manipulate the ball with just his hand, so the key for him is a grip that feels like a fastball in his hand.

"It's basically finding a grip that feels comfortable in my hand where I can just let the grip do the work and I don't have to do too much with it," Doolittle said.

Teens tell Doolittle he looks like Seth Rogen

It's a change Doolittle believes he will stick with. When he arrived in Washington in the middle of last season, Doolittle recalled being in a tough spot during a game and having catcher Matt Wieters call for a changeup, another pitch he had started to use less frequently.

At first, Doolittle was hesitant. But he realized Wieters was not going to back down, so Doolittle threw it and it worked. After a couple outings, he started to trust his changeup again and threw it a career-high 7.1 percent of the time in 2017.

He believes the same can be true for his slider once he starts throwing it in games.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"Spring Training, that's a good opportunity for me to work on that slider in a game setting," Doolittle said. "You're gonna get feedback on it when you throw it in a game to live hitters. I know I can throw it in the bullpen, but it's a little bit different when you have a hitter standing in."

Full go
A pleasant surprise for the Nationals as position players took the field for Tuesday's voluntary workout was how much activity left fielder Adam Eaton participated in. Eaton did not appear to be limited in any way during the workout.

He took fly balls in left field, went through defensive drills and hit during batting practice. It is an encouraging sign for Eaton as he works his way back from a torn ACL in April, and an encouraging sign for the Nationals, who expect Eaton to be in the Opening Day lineup.

Video: Adam Eaton is the No. 7 left fielder right now

"He's coming along," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "And you guys know Adam. He wants to play tomorrow if he could. But like I said, for us, it's about getting ready for Opening Day and we'll take one day at a time. He's progression is great. He worked out with the outfielders. He felt really part of the team today taking BP and everything."

Benoit already in camp
Although his signing is not yet official, new Nationals right-hander Joaquin Benoit was already at camp Tuesday afternoon, in full uniform and throwing off a mound. Not bad for a player who reached his agreement with the Nats on Monday pending a physical, which he took Tuesday.

"Last year when he was with the Phillies, he threw 95 mph, and he's got a really good changeup," Martinez said. "We're hoping that that's what we get out of him. He said he feels great. I watched him throw a long toss and his arm action was really, really good. We're excited that he's here."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals

Bryce: 'I'm focused on this year,' not free agency

Harper wants to see Nationals fulfill postseason promise in 2018
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Before he began his first press conference of the spring, Bryce Harper sat down at the table, adjusted his hat and then pulled out his phone. He had prepared a statement to read to the jam-packed room, ready to cut off the questions he knew would be coming.

Harper said he would not be answering any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season, when his highly anticipated free agency is set to begin. He directed all inquiries to his agent, Scott Boras, and threatened to walk out of the room if asked about his impending free agency.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Before he began his first press conference of the spring, Bryce Harper sat down at the table, adjusted his hat and then pulled out his phone. He had prepared a statement to read to the jam-packed room, ready to cut off the questions he knew would be coming.

Harper said he would not be answering any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season, when his highly anticipated free agency is set to begin. He directed all inquiries to his agent, Scott Boras, and threatened to walk out of the room if asked about his impending free agency.

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"I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019, at all," Harper said Monday afternoon. "I'm focused on this year. I'm focused on winning and playing hard, like every single year."

Harper's impending free agency will be one of the biggest storylines throughout all of MLB this season. He will headline perhaps the biggest free-agent class in baseball history, which will include stars such as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and potentially even Clayton Kershaw. Harper is expected to be the biggest prize considering his rare combination of talent, accomplishments and youth. He will turn just 26 years old this October, but is already a five-time All-Star, former Rookie of the Year and the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Rarely do players in their prime at that age hit the open market, so some predict Harper could command the largest contract in baseball history as a result -- even topping the 13-year, $325 million pact Giancarlo Stanton signed with Miami in 2014.

However, Harper still has one season left on his contract in Washington, and he intends to stay focused on that.

"I just think every single year I go in, I have my same goals, I have my same plans. And that's to win," Harper said. "That's to be prepared to focus on every single day and do the things I can to help this team win."

Video: Bryce Harper on stacked Nats lineup, rotation

Harper proved again last season that he is one of the sport's most dynamic players when he stays on the field. In 111 games last year, he belted 29 home runs with a 1.008 OPS and was worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. But a bone bruise and hyperextended left knee caused Harper to miss about a month, only to return just in time for the postseason. Aside from a mammoth home run in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, Harper struggled to find his timing for much of that playoff series.

The knee did not hinder him at all this offseason, however, and Harper showed up to camp appearing to have gained a few more pounds of muscle. Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo has worked out with Harper for years in the offseason and said Harper was "as focused as he's ever seen him" this winter. It's similar to a year ago, when Harper arrived to camp having added a few pounds of muscle and then played like an MVP candidate for the season's first half before his injury.

Video: Bryce Harper talks health, mindset for 2018

"Stay healthy. That's all I want to do," Harper said. "If I stay healthy, I can be one of the best players in the game."

The Nationals are hopeful for more of the same this season.

Along with Harper's contract status, the Nats have a few other prominent players with expiring contracts, meaning 2018 might be Washington's final chance to win the World Series with its current core. Harper has been a key contributor to the Nationals' teams that have won four division titles in six seasons, even as a few members of the rest of the cast have moved on recently.

"I think I've been lucky enough to play for a great team," Harper said. "We've gotten to the playoffs numerous times. You look at a young guy like [Dan Marino] that gets there their first year and never gets back. It's tough. You always want to get there and get there and get there, because you might never get back.

"Every single year you come in here and try to win ballgames and do the things you can to help this team win. We all want to come together and pull on the same rope. We do it every single year. We're expected to win. That's how it is. You always have that pressure, you always have that pressure to win and everything like that. But we've got a great team, and we've been so close."

This could be the final time Harper arrives to the Nationals' complex in West Palm Beach for Spring Training. And if so, his focus remains on this final season, and he does not want to look to anything beyond.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper

Nats, Astros announce new name for ST park

Clubs strike partnership for FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals and Astros unveiled their new Spring Training facility a year ago. Now, on the eve of its second season, the two clubs are announcing a new naming rights partner, unveiling the new name and logo for the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Wednesday afternoon.

Executives from Washington, Houston and FITTEAM all gathered behind home plate for the ceremony Wednesday, two days before Opening Day at the ballpark, to share the start of a 12-year partnership with the growing heart and wellness brand in the Palm Beach county.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals and Astros unveiled their new Spring Training facility a year ago. Now, on the eve of its second season, the two clubs are announcing a new naming rights partner, unveiling the new name and logo for the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Wednesday afternoon.

Executives from Washington, Houston and FITTEAM all gathered behind home plate for the ceremony Wednesday, two days before Opening Day at the ballpark, to share the start of a 12-year partnership with the growing heart and wellness brand in the Palm Beach county.

"This ballpark is amazing," FITTEAM CEO Chris Hummel said. "All the Spring Training ballparks I've been in are great, but this is definitely another level. It's something we're really proud of. We're excited about the partnership and the commitment to excellence."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The Spring Training home of the Nationals and Astros can claim a variety of milestones between the two teams. The Astros won the 2017 World Series championship and include the American League's Most Valuable Player in Jose Altuve. The Nationals won the National League East last year and have the NL's back-to-back Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer.

There is sure to be a ton of star power on the field during the spring in the newly renamed park.

"Just going above and beyond, it's important to align ourselves with partners where that's their philosophy and mentality," Hummel said. "That's definitely the Astros and Nationals."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

New York Mets, Houston Astros

All clubs to don Douglas caps for ST openers

MLB.com @_dadler

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

Video: Teams to wear Stoneman Douglas hats for ST openers

"It's a tragedy. It was a tragedy that hit the state of Florida, where we have two teams, but obviously has very specific baseball connections," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Really a very strong sentiment among the clubs that this was the appropriate thing to do immediately."

MLB teams will wear the caps pregame on Friday and will also be allowed to wear them during their games. Since they're off on Friday, the Royals and Rangers will don the hats on Saturday.

The Commissioner approved the use of the caps during all games on Friday, the Spring Training openers for most of the clubs.

The effort started with a few Grapefruit League teams, which wanted to wear the caps pregame, and it quickly spread across camps in Florida and Arizona. Soon all 30 teams had decided to join in the support and fundraising effort for the school community.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo attended Stoneman Douglas, and spoke at a prayer vigil at Pine Trails Park the day after the shooting. 

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive.

"The caps made for the fundraising effort will be provided to all players, coaches and umpires."

The Stoneman Douglas High School caps are reminiscent of how the Mets wore NYPD and FDNY caps following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The Mets donned the caps to honor the first responders in their first game after the attacks, in Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, and again in their return to New York four days later. In that memorable game at Shea Stadium, Mike Piazza hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to lead the Mets to an emotional win over the Braves.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Teens tell Doolittle he looks like Seth Rogen

In the baseball world, we've been truly blessed -- the doppelgangers of Yu Darvish  and Justin Turner have been spotted taking in a game or two over the years. But sometimes, it's the players who are celebrity lookalikes.

Robles leads Nats' 100% homegrown Top 30 list

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

It was another successful year for the Washington Nationals in 2017 as the club finished with a 97-65 record to secure its second consecutive National League East title. However, the club's fourth trip to the postseason since 2012 ended as the previous ones did -- with a loss in the Division Series.

Nats' Top 30 Prospects list

It was another successful year for the Washington Nationals in 2017 as the club finished with a 97-65 record to secure its second consecutive National League East title. However, the club's fourth trip to the postseason since 2012 ended as the previous ones did -- with a loss in the Division Series.

Nats' Top 30 Prospects list

The same core group of position players and pitchers that have helped fuel the club's success in recent years will be back in 2018, leaving few opportunities for the organization's top prospects, save for a select few.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

Top-ranked prospect Victor Robles, No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's preseason Top 100 prospects list, appears poised to make significant contributions regardless of where he begins the season. Featuring five tools that grade as 55 or better -- including three that grade out at 70 or higher -- Robles showed impact potential in all facets of the game last season as a 20-year-old September callup by hitting .250/.308/.458 to earn a spot on the Nationals' postseason roster.

Along with Robles, right-hander Erick Fedde, a first-rounder in 2014, and catcher Raudy Read, as well as outfielders Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista, all received their first tastes of the Major Leagues last year and should continue to help plug holes in Washington's roster in 2018. Bat-first prospect Jose Marmolejos and breakout reliever Wander Suero, both members of the Nationals' 40-man roster, could join them.

Meanwhile, the Nationals used their 2017 Draft to replenish a farm system that had become thin on impact arms due to trades and graduations. Targeting high-upside college arms, the club took hard-throwing left-hander Seth Romero in the first round (15th overall) and followed with righty Wil Crowe in the second. In subsequent rounds, the club added Nick Raquet, Jackson Tetreault and Brigham Hill.

At lower levels, outfielders Daniel Johnson and Blake Perkins took enormous strides in their respective developments and put up impressive numbers, as did Juan Soto despite being beset by injuries. And keep an eye on Luis Garcia, Yasel Antuna and Jose Sanchez, a teenage shortstop trio that represents the future of the Nationals' system.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Yasel Antuna, SS (2017: 22 | 2018: 7)
Fall: Anderson Franco, 3B (2017: 15 | 2018: 30)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.

Hit: 60 -- Victor Robles
Power: 55 -- Daniel Johnson (Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Raudy Read)
Run: 75 -- Victor Robles
Arm: 70 -- Victor Robles
Defense: 70 -- Victor Robles
Fastball: 60 -- Jefry Rodriguez (Erick Fedde, Seth Romero, Wil Crowe, Jackson Tetreault, Nick Raquet, Gabe Klobosits)
Curveball: 60 -- Luis Reyes
Slider: 60 -- Seth Romero (Erick Fedde)
Changeup: 60 -- Brigham Hill
Control: 55 -- Erick Fedde

How they were built
Draft: 14
International: 16

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 8
2019: 8
2020: 10
2021: 4

Breakdown by position
C: 3
1B: 1
2B: 1
3B: 3
SS: 4
OF: 7
RHP: 9
LHP: 2

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Washington Nationals

Another Harper tries to make name for himself

Bryan, older brother of Bryce, eyes spot in bullpen
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's as if Bryan Harper has been soaking it all in through these first few days of what is his first full Major League camp. He has spent his time in the Nationals clubhouse, keeping mostly to himself, watching and observing.

"It's been exciting," Harper said. "When you come to a new locker room you always just want to blend in. Not bring too much attention to yourself."

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's as if Bryan Harper has been soaking it all in through these first few days of what is his first full Major League camp. He has spent his time in the Nationals clubhouse, keeping mostly to himself, watching and observing.

"It's been exciting," Harper said. "When you come to a new locker room you always just want to blend in. Not bring too much attention to yourself."

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Of course, blending in is not an easy task for someone who is 6-foot-5 and carries the same last name as the Nationals' biggest star, Bryce. Finally healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery late in the 2016 season, the elder Harper was re-signed by the Nationals this winter and invited to big league Spring Training for the first time in his career.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Harper, a 28-year-old left-handed reliever, had been pushing his way toward a potential spot in the Majors before his injury. In 2016, he posted a 2.18 ERA in 40 appearances and could have been a candidate for a September callup. Then, he was sidelined for the entire 2017 season, rehabbing.

"A grind. It was a grind," Harper said. "I felt like it made me better, not just health-wise but mentally. Because you got to be mentally tough to get through surgeries."

Harper has thrown two bullpen sessions since camp officially began and said he feels great. He has been encouraged by the way his arm has responded the day after throwing.

"His arm strength's good and his command is getting better," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "He's got a nice breaking ball. His fastball's got some good shape to it. We've just got to get him into games and get him comfortable."

Nationals notebook: Glover dealing with sore shoulder

Harper is perhaps a long shot to make the Nationals' Opening Day bullpen. Aside from closer Sean Doolittle, Harper is behind Sammy Solis, Enny Romero and Matt Grace on the left-handed reliever depth chart. But there could be some opportunity for him to crack this roster. Solis has had trouble staying healthy, and Romero and Grace have battled consistency.

As Bryce prepares for what could be his final season in Washington before his highly anticipated free agency, Bryan has the chance to make the Nats' Major League roster and play on the same team with his younger brother -- something they both dreamed about growing up.

The two brothers are close to each other and talk almost daily during the season. But they have taken very different paths to this point. They were drafted a year apart, with Bryce going first overall in 2010 and then beginning his rapid ascent through the Nats organization. Bryan's path has been a little less direct ever since he was selected in the 30th round of the 2011 Draft.

"We are a lot different," Bryan said. "I'm a left-handed pitcher. He's the outfielder and hitter. We're completely opposite guys."

The two Harpers last shared a field together during Bryce's Minor League rehab stint with Double-A Harrisburg in 2015 and last played on the same team while they were at the College of Southern Nevada in 2010. At some point this spring, they are likely to do so again, and perhaps they will soon in the Majors.

"I think the biggest goal is just to make the big leagues," Bryan said. "Obviously playing with Bryce is a positive, but I've got some other really good friends in here that are like brothers. Spencer Kieboom -- I was in his wedding. That's huge for me, too. It's going to be an exciting year, hopefully I can help this team win."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals

MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18

MLB.com @_dadler

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

•  Pace of play rules FAQ

A pitch clock -- giving the pitcher a certain amount of time to deliver the ball -- had been one of the major proposals considered. MLB decided to defer implementation of a pitch clock, as well as a between-batter timer, in order to give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players," Manfred said in a statement. "My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout will be installed and monitored, limiting the ability of teams to steal signs, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increasing number of mound visits. Rules governing when players can and cannot leave the batter's box between pitches, instituted during the 2017 season, remain in effect.

•  Players, managers react to new rules

"Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself -- now or in the future," said Tony Clark, the MLBPA executive director.

Here is a breakdown of the new rules:

• Mound visits: Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.

Video: Hot Stove on mound visits regarding pace of play

• Between-inning breaks: As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero. Another important change is that a pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.

• Timing of pitcher changes: The timing clock -- as listed above -- also applies to pitching changes, and it will begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track.

Video: Hot Stove on batter's box rule, replay review changes

• Instant replay: All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.

Summary of 2018 Rule Changes

I) Mound Visits 
1. Number
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.  
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning). 

2. Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

3. Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a "cross-up"), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team's total number of allotted mound visits.

II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
1. Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows: 

Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: 
Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter's announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.

A. The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches. 
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies. 
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter's box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.  
D. The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break. 

2. Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:  
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches; 
C. The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter's box; 
D. Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire's judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline. 

3. Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A. Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.   
B. Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.  
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher). 
 
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).  
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event. 
 
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

III. Batter's Box Rule
The batter's box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.

IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season; 
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Glover dealing with right shoulder soreness

Nats taking cautious approach with young reliever
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After an encouraging winter filled with throwing and excitement about the strength of his arm, Koda Glover showed up to Nationals camp with soreness in his right shoulder. He received an MRI, which revealed some slight inflammation, causing the Nationals to once again handle him with caution.

Glover had been the only pitcher who had not thrown a bullpen session through the first four days of camp. Even though he is participating in some baseball activities, such as pitchers' fielding practice and taking ground balls, he has not been cleared to throw.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After an encouraging winter filled with throwing and excitement about the strength of his arm, Koda Glover showed up to Nationals camp with soreness in his right shoulder. He received an MRI, which revealed some slight inflammation, causing the Nationals to once again handle him with caution.

Glover had been the only pitcher who had not thrown a bullpen session through the first four days of camp. Even though he is participating in some baseball activities, such as pitchers' fielding practice and taking ground balls, he has not been cleared to throw.

"We're going to take our time with this one," manager Dave Martinez said. "And make sure he's healthy."

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

Glover, 24, missed much of last season with severe inflammation in his rotator cuff. A stiff back caused another separate trip to the disabled list, and he has had trouble remaining healthy in his short big league career. After pitching only 19 1/3 innings in 2017, Glover showed up to the team's WinterFest event in December already throwing and encouraged with how easy it felt. He had planned to begin throwing off a mound in January.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The Nationals were optimistic about Glover entering camp. If healthy, Glover was slotted to be a major part of the bullpen behind Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. The club considered Glover a future closer due to a combination of his pitches and his mentality. And the Nats believed he had made it through the offseason healthy and would be without restrictions this spring.

"I know he had some bullpens before he came to camp," Martinez said. "So how much throwing he did, we don't know. But he did tell us he threw some bullpens. And, like I said, when he came in and said that he had soreness, we just backed him down."

Lilliquist impressed with his staff
The Nationals have only been holding workouts for pitchers and catchers for a few days, but new pitching coach Derek Lilliquist is already raving about his staff. Even though he has been around some strong pitching staffs during his time with the Cardinals, where he served as the pitching coach from 2012-17, he thinks this Nationals staff is the best he has been around so early in the spring.

"Getting to watch the big guys personally, up close, it's impressive," Lilliquist said. "The work ethic, what they have -- their stuff, their repertoire, what they're trying to do -- it's impressive. Good group of kids. Probably the best group in terms of staff that I've been a part of at this point in Spring Training."

In order to get to learn his new staff, Lilliquist has held meetings with each pitcher, along with Martinez and bullpen coach Henry Blanco. During the meetings, they discuss a pitcher's strengths, weaknesses and their goals for the spring.

But with such a veteran staff, headlined by two of the top three finishers in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Lilliquist knows he has the luxury of being able to tinker and provide help when needed.

"They have their routines, and I'm just here to facilitate," Lilliquist said. "I'm here for them. They have everything they need. Go get them. They're veterans. They know what they need."

Quotable
"Max himself is unusual. I'm just glad that he's here. I get to see him pitch every five days. That's awesome. He competes. And when he does his bullpen, he's competing. I don't know who he was facing when he threw 60 pitches, but he was facing hitters. And he was real adamant about getting them out." -- Martinez, on Scherzer's 60-pitch bullpen sessions to begin camp

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Koda Glover