The Nationals announced the signings of nine players to minor-league contracts with spring training invitations, a group that likely will form the core of the 2012 Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs while providing depth for the big-league club in the event of injuries.

Here are the nine players (along with the highest level where they played in 2011): RHP Jeff Fulchino (Padres, Astros); RHP Waldis Joaquin (Giants); C Carlos Maldonado (Class AAA Syracuse); IF Andres Blanco (Rangers); IF Jarrett Hoffpauir (Class AAA Tucson); 1B/3B Chad Tracy (Hiroshima Toyo Carp); OF Brett Carroll (Brewers); OF Jason Michaels (Astros); and OF Xavier Paul (Pirates).

The Nationals also extended spring training invitations to RHP Rafael Martin (Class AA Harrisburg), OF Corey Brown (Nationals) and C Sandy Leon (Class A Potomac).

Martin, a 27-year-old who has spent the past two seasons in the Nationals’ farm system, might be the most intriguing of all these names, both because of his backstory (he was working construction and playing rec-league baseball when he was discovered at a Mexican League tryout five years ago) and his minor-league numbers (he was 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA, a 0.981 WHIP and a 44-to-9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio for Harrisburg last year).

For reference’s sake, a year ago this week the Nationals signed six players to similar minor-league deals, and only one of them — infielder Brian Bixler — appeared for them in the majors during the 2011 season.


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