VIERA, Fla. - I spent the morning watching the Nationals' top minor leaguers work out in the team's accelerated minor league camp, and caught the beginning of a trio of exhibition games - an intrasquad contest between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg, another intrasquad between Single-A Potomac and Single-A Hagerstown, and a third game with a group of Hagerstown players scrimmaging against St. Ambrose University, a small liberal arts school from Davenport, Iowa.
Here are a few points from the workouts:
* A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, two of the pitchers the Nationals locked up at last year's deadline to sign draft picks, both showed why the team paid so dearly to get them. Cole, the team's fourth-round pick in 2010, throws in the mid-90s, but the pitch that impressed me the most was his breaking ball. It's a spike slider, which is thrown with the index finger tucked into the ball and released with a plucking motion at delivery. The pitch has a tight, downward bite, but is harder than a curveball. If Cole can throw it for strikes, it's got the potential to be a wipeout pitch. Ray also throws hard, with a three-quarters delivery that hides the ball well off his shoulder. He's got a nice-looking slider, too. Neither pitcher was facing top-end hitters today, but their stuff was there.
* Chad Gaudin was sharp in the Syracuse/Harrisburg game, throwing 65 pitches and 44 strikes in six shutout innings. Again, take it for what it's worth, but he's keeping his name in the conversation.
* I saw one at-bat from Bryce Harper in the Potomac/Hagerstown game; he led off an inning, tried to bunt for a hit on the first pitch, popped up the bunt to the pitcher down the third-base line and clapped his hands angrily as he walked back to the dugout. We didn't see Harper bunt in a big league spring game, and I'm guessing he hasn't had to do much of it in his career. It's something for the 18-year-old to work on.
Time to hit the road for Port St. Lucie. Talk to you from there.