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Nats minor league awards at the break


Nats minor league awards at the break

Syracuse Chiefs (44-46, 9th in International League)Best Hitter: OF Corey Brown (.296 BA, 19 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)
Best Pitcher: LHP Zach Duke (10-3, 3.68 ERA, 102.2 IP)Biggest Surprise: LHP John Lannan (6-8, 4.60 ERA, 1.52 WHIP)

The Nationals acquired Brown along with Henry Rodriguez in a late 2010 trade that sent Josh Willingham to the Oakland Athletics. In his second season in the Nats organization, Brown has thrived and leads the Chiefs in homers, RBI, walks, total bases, and stolen bases.

Duke was signed to a minor league deal back in March and has put together a strong first half to 2012. Duke leads the Chiefs rotation with ten wins and is tied with Yunesky Maya for the best ERA among starters.

Lannan falls in the bad surprise category as his first half struggles were not anticipated by many. He was thought before the season to be the fifth starter on the big league club and hasnt maintained his trade value in Triple-A. The second half of the year will be important for his future with the club.

Harrisburg Senators (48-41, 4th in Eastern League)Best Hitter: OF Chris Rahl (.299 BA, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 20 SB)Best Pitcher: LHP Danny Rosenbaum (7-6, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 114.1 IP)Biggest Surprise: OF Destin Hood (.223 BA, 2 HR, 28 RBI)

Rahl, a William & Mary product, has been the teams best position player with a team-leading ten home runs and 49 runs and 20 stolen bases which ranks third on the squad. Rosenbaum has fallen off of late with a 6.27 ERA in June and a poor start to July, but overall he has had one of the best 2012s of any Nats pitching prospects.

Hood also comes in as an unfortunate surprise as the former second round pick looked poised for big things in 2012. He hit 83 RBI in 2011 and had a .809 OPS, but this year his production has fallen off dramatically. Some consider him as one of the teams best prospects, but unless he turns thing around this season he may lose that distinction.

Potomac Nationals (41-49, 6th in Carolina League)Best Hitter: C David Freitas (.286 BA, 5 HR, 39 RBI, 34 BB)Best Pitcher: RHP Neil Holland (4-1, 1.66 ERA, .189 BAA)Biggest Surprise: LHP Robbie Ray (3-5, 4.87 ERA, 27 BB, 64.2 IP)

Freitas has been the best overall hitter in a Senators lineup that has struggled for the most part in 2012. The 23-year-old catcher ranks third in homers, second in RBI, and second in walks. Holland, a relief pitcher, has been a bright spot late in games with the teams starting rotation having an off year across the board. His 1.66 ERA is the lowest on the team and he also has a 0.87 WHIP to boast.

The Senators have also not had any huge good surprises this season which leaves Ray as its biggest unseen development. Ray was stellar in 2011 with a 3.13 ERA in 20 starts at Single-A Hagerstown. This year, however, the 20-year-old has had a rough start and hasnt shown the potential and promise everyone thought he had realized last season.

Hagerstown Suns (56-33, 2nd in South Atlantic League)Best Hitter: 3B Matthew Skole (.280 BA, 21 HR, 73 RBI, 79 BB, .987 OPS)Best Pitcher: RHP Alex Meyer (6-4, 3.32 ERA, 98 SO, 84.0 IP)Biggest Surprise: OF Steven Souza, Jr. (.284 BA, 15 HR, 63 RBI, .901 OPS)

Skole has developed from a 2011 5th round pick out of Georgia Tech into perhaps the best hitter at the low-A minor league level. He leads all South Atlantic League hitters in homers, RBI, walks, and ranks second in OPS. The 22-year-old has to see a promotion soon as he has three home runs already in just seven games in July.

Meyer has come around quickly after being drafted 23rd overall by the Nationals in 2011. The 22-year-old flame-thrower has the starting rotations best ERA and is striking out batters at a rate of 10.5 per nine innings. He should see time in Double-A soon and could develop into a top-shelf prospect.

Souza, Jr. gets the nod as biggest surprise only because Skole and Meyer have already been mentioned. Still, his first half of the season has been spectacular and a huge leap for the former third round pick. He played last year at Potomac and since his demotion has raised his batting average over .55 points and already has more homers and RBI than the year before. He should get another shot at High-A ball soon unless the Nats see Double-A as his logical next step.

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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]