Previewing the 2011 Senators

What’s the biggest strength of this year’s squad?

With apologies to Trenton and Altoona who boast two top-tier guys at the front of their rotations, I believe the Senators’ entire starting staff is the strongest and deepest in the Eastern League. That’s not to say that there aren’t question marks, but every team has that at this time of year.

Both Brad Meyers (foot) and Luis Atilano (elbow) were having tremendous seasons last year until injuries shut them both down in the middle of their respective campaigns.  By all accounts, both are healthy and ready to go as Meyers himself told MASN’s Byron Kerr, “Last year was a mess. This year is going to be better. My foot feels good. That gives me all the confidence in the world.”

This will be Ryan Tatusko’s first season in his minor league career beginning the year as a starter but no one, including Tatusko, is concerned with that fact. Actually, he viewed knowing his role going into this past off-season as a positive so he could adjust his workouts with “longer bullpen sessions and more running.”

Brad Peacock (the Nationals’ 10th ranked prospect according to Baseball America) returns to the starting rotation after the organization’s flirtation with him as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League. Someday that might be his home at the major league level, but for now he’s still too young (only 23) and too talented (95-97 mph fastball with a devastating changeup) to transition to the bullpen just yet.

The last starter in the Senators’ rotation is Erik Davis who is the unknown entity of the group. He came over to the Nationals in the Alberto Gonzalez trade late in spring training and frankly, I don’t watch a lot of any California, Texas, and Pacific Coast Leagues’ games to share a first-hand opinion. But looking at his numbers while at Stanford and his 2 1/2 seasons in the Padres’ organizations, Davis’ metrics are pretty consistent and promising across the board for a control-command pitcher.

If the starting pitching is going to be that good, do you expect a lot of low scoring games?

Far from it. Offensively, this team is balanced and has the ability to win in different ways each night. New additions like Archie Gilbert, Buck Coats, and Jon Tucker join Josh Johnson to add lots of speed on the basepaths. Steve Lombardozzi and Jesus Valdez return to Harrisburg bringing their experience and consistency to key spots in this potent batting order. Derek Norris and Tyler Moore will do the heavy lifting from the heart of the batting order as they combined to hit 75 home runs and drive in 331 runs over the last two seasons in Potomac and Hagerstown. On paper, this is a team that appears capable of winning however it has to – whether that means scratching out runs with small ball or bopping the three-run homer.

What’s the biggest question mark headed into the season?

A proven closer at the backend of the bullpen. I understand that in the minors that role is not typically defined as fans are accustomed to in the majors (for example, last year’s Senators squad had 11 different relievers pick up at least one save). But the Senators’ rostered relievers combined for only ten saves all of last season, with Pat McCoy accounting for six of those closing in Potomac. For the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an “all hands on deck” approach until roles are more clearly defined. Keep an eye on dark horse candidate Ryan Mattheus to win the job as he previously saved 17 games in 2008 while at Double-A Tulsa.

A big factor in last season’s playoff push were mid-to-late season callups like Lombardozzi and Peacock. Who can we expect this year to make the jump from Potomac and contribute?

Pitching-wise I wouldn’t be surprised to see Danny Rosenbaum, Trevor Holder, and Rob Wort get promoted during the course of the season. Offensively, most players who might make an impact at Double-A are just seeing Potomac for the first time to start the season. So, short of promotions out of necessity someone like Eury Perez or J.P. Ramirez is going to need to tear up the Carolina League before being called up to Harrisburg this season. Then again, there is that Bryce Harper kid who believes he’ll be swinging for the Susquehanna River by the end of the season.

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