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Nats minor league awards at the break

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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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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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