Nats player development director Doug Harris is at Nationals Park this week for part of the team's homestand, checking in with the mothership before he goes back out on the road. Harris, who lives in Carlisle, Penn., a half-hour from the Nats' Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg, will head back for Stephen Strasburg's next start at Harrisburg on Wednesday morning. So with him in town, I took some time yesterday to pepper him for updates and insight on just about any minor-league player I could think of. We'll just do this in bullet-point format. I think I covered most of the players you've been asking about, but if I missed one, let me know and I'll get in touch with him next week. Harris is as accessible a guy to the media as you'll find, so I'm hoping to talk with him for some minor-league updates once a week or so.
Stephen Strasburg: Harris was pleased with the No. 1 pick's April 16 effort in Harrisburg, when he threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in an outing that was shortened by a pair of rain delays and a city-wide power failure. "It was a good learning experience. It's the kind of thing people take for granted," Harris said. "He had to sit for an extended period of time before he pitched." Metro Bank Park was packed for Strasburg's home debut, and Harris said the stadium was electric. "It was a good night for him," Harris said. "He experienced some things you can't build in." Strasburg will go five innings or 80-85 pitches, whichever comes first, on Wednesday. He has a 1.23 ERA in two starts there, but Harris wasn't hinting at when he might move to Triple-A Syracuse. "I think he's where he belongs. He's learning how to back up bases, field his position, all those things," Harris said. "And I think he'd tell you that, too. You can have a big fastball, but we don't want him to leave here without a good foundation. We're focused on the process. The timeline will take care of itself."
Chris Marrero: He's hitting .279 with only one homer at Harrisburg, though he has a .367 on-base percentage. "He's been a little up-and-down," Harris said. "He's a young player in that league. It's a historically strong pitcher's league that's been difficult on hitters." Early weather problems have prevented Marrero from getting defensive work in every day, but Harris said Marrero has been "attentive" to becoming a better fielder and controlling the strike zone.
Danny Espinosa: The shortstop was activated from the disabled list yesterday, and is returning from a hamstring injury. He was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk last night for Harrisburg. "We babied it," Harris said. "Hamstring injuries are tough. We wanted to be sure he was in great shape." Harris said Espinosa, as well as third basemen Adam Fox and Pedro Lopez, can set an example for Marrero about how aggressively he needs to pursue improving on defense. "That was by design," Harris said. "The bar is set at a certain level."
Trevor Holder: Holder, a third-round pick last year, moved from short-season Vermont all the way to Single-A Potomac last year, but has started at Hagerstown, the Nationals' low-A club, this season. Harris said by the end of last season, Holder's tank was "probably close to E," after pitching in the competitive SEC for Georgia and getting half a minor-league season. "He's a college kid. The volume of innings they throw the first year, you have to take (the results) with a grain of salt. I was that guy. I was throwing 84 by September (as a minor-league pitcher)," Harris said. "His delivery's improved. His velocity is between 88-92. He might get a tick or two above that, but that's where he's going to be."
Nathan Karns: The former Texas Tech right-hander, who was picked by the Nationals in the 12th round last year and signed right before the Aug. 17 deadline, is working out at extended spring training after recovering from a prolonged illness and isn't ready to pitch in a game yet. Karns' fastball can reach 97 mph, but Harris said it's "premature" to remark on how quick he could move. "We haven't seen him on the mound yet. We can only assess last year," Harris said. "We hold him in high regard. But an arm like that, you don't want to force anything."
Jeff Kobernus: Kobernus, last year's second-round pick, is hitting .319 in 10 games at Hagerstown and has turned six double plays in eight games at second base. "He's looked very good. He's flying to start the year," Harris said. "He's a high-energy kid with a short stroke and good hand quickness." Harris said Kobernus bounced around from one position to the next as an amateur, but is a natural athlete who's taking to things quickly. "You don't hear 'boo' out of him," Harris said. "You almost have to reel him in. He'll keep going and going." He cautioned against assuming Kobernus could move too quickly, though. "I'm not a big believer in prematurely moving guys. That's happened here in the past, and set some things back," Harris said. "(General manager) Mike (Rizzo) has a plan in place that's slow early and moves fast at the end." Harris mentioned a couple other players that are off to strong starts at Hagerstown. "Eury Perez is athletic, though the weather affects a kid like that," Harris said. "Stephen Souza's shown flashes. It's a nice club."
Destin Hood: After losing 20-25 pounds in the offseason, the 2008 second-rounder is hitting the cover off the ball at Hagerstown. He's batting .429 in 12 games, with a homer and six RBI. "He was going to be a wide receiver at Alabama. He looked more like a tight end (before)," Harris said. "Now, he's trim. He looks athletic. He took steps in the winter. You tip your cap. You want those guys." Hood, Harris said, tends to "get panicky in pitcher's counts. "He'll swing and miss. We're developing a plate plan for him," Harris said. "His confidence is growing. He's swinging well. I'm very happy with him."
Kevin Mench: Want a sleeper to contribute to the Nats' right-field platoon in the majors at some point? Take a look at the 32-year-old former Rangers outfielder, who's batting .394 at Triple-A Syracuse and has a homer and eight RBI in 10 games. "Mench is on fire right now. His approach is outstanding. He's back down to his Texas days with his weight. He's got a chance to contribute at some point," Harris said. "His at-bats have been disciplined. You're not getting a bullet by him right now."
Daniel Rosenbaum: Asked if there was anyone else he hadn't been asked about that stood out to him, Harris offered up the 22-year-old Hagerstown left-hander, who has an 0.52 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings through three starts. "His fastball is around 91 mph. He's got poise and mound presence," Harris said. "He can change your eye level with a breaking ball. He's got a good changeup. He's pitched well."
There you go. Like I said, if there's somebody you'd like to know about that's not mentioned in there, leave the name in the comments section. I'll take those to Harris each week and ask about them, and we can make this space a kind of roving conversation about the minor leagues.