As part of our recap of the Senators’ season, an annual tradition around these parts is to list all of the players and where they would rank as the team’s MVP for 2013 by what they contributed to the team’s successes and failures.
If you agree or disagree with any ranking feel free to leave a comment and try and sway my way of thinking.
10. Sean Nicol
Nicol is a fan favorite for all the right reasons. He plays the game hard, always has a smile on his face, and takes time to interact with fans whenever possible. Coming into 2013, little was expected from Nicol other than filling his role as utility player to the best of his abilities. Instead, Nicol played in a career-high 97 games and when this team needed it most, he stepped up his game. In the decisive month of August, he hit .313 and drove in 12 runs and delivered countless big hits that changed the outcome of games.
9. Matt Swynenberg
Swynenberg put together his best professional season in 2013 by leaps and bounds. Besides a spotless 4-0 record, the righthander succeeded in every role he was asked to perform. Four spot starts? No problem as Swynenberg held his own, tossing 18 innings with a 2.00 ERA. Long relief? He was the go-to guy in the bullpen as 21 of his 32 relief appearances spanned multiple innings. All that and he became a father for the first time when his daughter was born in mid-season.
8. Ricky Hague
A lot can be said for someone who just goes out everyday and does their job through the highs and lows. Hague is that kind of player. After a disastrous April, the middle infielder went on to make the necessary adjustments and end up posting career highs in hits, home runs and RBIs. By the end of the season, Hague found himself as a run producer perfectly suited to bat in the fifth spot in the lineup. Hague also cemented a reputation as a stellar defender with solid play at second base.
7. Taylor Jordan
Jordan had only nine starts in a Harrisburg uniform, but good god they were some of the most dominant outings anyone has ever had as a Senator. The righthander didn’t allow more than one earned run in any start, and four times blanked the opposition. Jordan struck out 43 batters in 54.1 innings while walking only nine. Even when the opposition put the ball in play, they rarely got good wood on the pitch as he allowed only ten extra base hits (nine doubles and one triple).
6. Caleb Clay
No one has ever doubted Clay’s talent. After all, the Alabama native was a 1st round selection of the Red Sox in 2006. But following five underwhelming seasons in the Boston system, Clay latched onto the Nationals and turned his career around. In 27 appearances divided between Harrisburg and Syracuse, Clay posted 16 quality starts, a sub 3.00 ERA and a 1.023 WHIP. He bought into pitching coach Paul Menhart and coordinator Spin Williams’ philosophy and program, and came out the other side as a shining reclamation project.
5. Justin Bloxom
With Matt Skole expected to get the majority of the playing time at first base, not much was predicted out of Bloxom in 2013. Sure, he was going to DH occasionally and spell guys here and there. But for the most part, Bloxom didn’t figure too heavily into the Senators’ plans. That changed suddenly when Skole went down with a season-ending injury and Bloxom was needed to hold down the fort at first and in the middle of the batting order. He led the team in RBIs and walks and definitely had the team’s best at-bats on a consistent basis over the course of the entire season.
4. Aaron Barrett
While everyone else calls Barrett’s best pitch a slider (including Baseball America ranking it the best in the Nationals’ system), pitching coach Paul Menhart refuses to say it’s anything more than a hard breaking ball. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you call it other than filthy with a capital F. Barrett rode the success of that pitch and the way he attacked batters with it, both in the strike zone and in the dirt, to 26 saves on the season. Despite a litany of other capable relievers, Barrett’s presence at the end of ballgames was a difference maker for the Senators.
3. Steven Souza
Various injuries kept Souza on the shelf for over two months of the season, but for 77 games the outfielder was a force to be reckoned with at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field. Even with limited plate appearances Souza led the team in most offensive categories including batting average, OPS, doubles, and home runs. He was tied for the team-high in stolen bases with twenty, and displayed a cannon as he registered eight outfield assists. More importantly for the Senators, Souza became a true leader both on and off the field in a role that he would grow into as the squad chased a playoff berth.
2. Brian Goodwin
About halfway through this year, I finally figured out Goodwin. His whole time in Harrisburg over the last two seasons I had thought of Goodwin as a leadoff hitter and all the expectations that come from that. That was my mistake. Gone is my frustration with his lack of bunting for base hits. Gone is my frustration with his poor leads and propensity for getting picked off. Despite the speed, we have fooled ourselves into thinking of Goodwin in that role with the Senators and ultimately the Nationals. Just look at what he was able to do batting in the 2-hole behind Billy Burns in the batting order when Goodwin posted a .872 OPS with nine extra-base hits and 13 walks.
1. Nate Karns
Before he was promoted to the Nationals for a three-start stint, Karns had shown flashes of brilliance in his limited time with the Senators. There was his 13-strikeout, two-hitter against the Altoona Curve or grinding through a 6-1 morning victory in New Britain without his best stuff. But in the 14 starts since returning from the big leagues, Karns solidified himself as the ace of the staff and a legitimate Major League prospect. In those games, Karns held opponents to a .215 batting average, posted a 2.54 ERA, and a .628 OPS (a full 107 points lower than his nine starts before the call-up). Something clicked for the 6’3″ righthander and it will be fun to watch his next opportunity at the major league level.