Ward and Stevenson leave positive impression on Baker

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals made 10 cuts this morning, optioning four players to minor league affiliates and reassigning six others to minor league camp.

Right-handers Jimmy Codero and Austin Voth and infielder Matt Skole were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Catcher Raudy Read was optioned to Double-A Harrisburg.

Reassigned to minor league camp were right-handers Dustin Antolin and Taylor Hill, infielders Corban Joseph and Drew Ward, and outfielder Andrew Stevenson. Additionally, left-hander Nick Lee underwent surgery to repair the stress fracture in his left elbow and has been reassigned to minor league camp, where he will continue his rehabilitation.

“This is the toughest time of the year for me, making cuts,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s probably what I look forward to the least during ... spring training. It’s something that’s got to be done. ... The next one’s going to be tougher.”

Dusty-Baker-spring-sidebar.jpgWard and Stevenson, in particular made a positive impression on Baker. Ward hit .200 in 10 games and Stevenson, a second-round pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft who had a breakout in the Arizona Fall League after last season, slashed .303/.333/.522 with a homer and five RBIs in 13 games.

The manager liked the fact that Ward, a third baseman, flashed substantial opposite-field power on the two Grapefruit League home runs he hit and threw with accuracy. Baker said Ward would start working out at first base, too, a process that began in the AFL following last season.

“This showed him that he doesn’t have to pull the ball to hit it out,” Baker said. “I asked him how many home runs did he hit to the opposite field last year and he told me one. And he’s already hit two this spring. When things like that start happening, it’s going to make you a better player.”

Stevenson’s all-around play drew Baker’s praise. Baker recounted one mistake Stevenson made early in spring training games, when he failed to make a catch that went for a double because he put his glove up too early. Baker pulled the youngster aside and told him he needed to run like a football wide receiver who’s about to make a catch, focusing on his path to the ball before he thought about catching it. The next time a ball was hit in his direction, that’s exactly what Stevenson did.

Because he was getting his first extended in-person look at some of the younger players in the system, Baker said he now has a better handle on how they might help the Nationals in the future.

“The guys worked hard, they all had great attitudes and they come to play,” he said. “That’s real important for me, attitude - whether they stand out for the right reasons versus the wrong reasons. Guys were ready to play all the time, and that’s what I like. It gives me some input in case something happens for me to be able to say, ‘I’d like to have this guy,’ or a guy that you follow their progress and how they’re doing daily. You put a face with a name and you feel like you kind of know them and you watch them.”

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