Potomac Nationals

Earlier this week, we were at Class A Potomac to see Adam LaRoche rehab. But it was also an opportunity to check in on Nationals prospects and minor leaguers in Woodbridge. A handful of names stood out, led by infielders Stephen Perez and Tony Renda, and reliever Derek Self.

>>> After hitting .236 at Class A Hagerstown last season, Perez tweaked his swing and added muscle over the offseason. Now the shortstop is fourth in the Carolina League with a .325 average. Through 44 games, the left-handed-hitting Perez has 13 doubles, scored 32 runs, stolen 12 bases, and has a .421 on-base percentage and an .865 OPS.

Perez’s swing is more direct this season and his body is in a better position to hit, Potomac Manager Tripp Keister said. Last season, Perez’s swing was long and he was late on pitches.

“This year, he’s really done a nice job,” Keister said. “He’s got his routine offensively. Each day before batting practice, he’s got his offensive and defensive routine. He’s fun to watch. He’s a smart player. He’s quiet, doesn’t say much, but he’s into it.”

Perez, 23, is an unheralded fringe prospect. He was drafted out the University of Miami by the Nationals in the eighth round of the 2012 draft. Baseball America and MLB.com do not include him on their list of Nationals’ top prospects. He is known for his strong defense; Baseball America rated him the best infield defender in the Nationals system. He has made 14 errors already this season, which Keister attributed to an aggressive approach to defense.

“He’s a guy that can get overlooked by another team,” Keister said. “We know how good a player he is.”

>>> Self, 24, has been Potomac’s best pitcher so far this season. He has a scoreless streak of 17 2/3 innings and has allowed only one run in 18 2/3 innings so far this season. He has struck out 19 batters, walked four and allowed only five hits.

The right-hander, drafted out of the University of Louisville in the ninth round of the 2012 draft, throws a fastball that ranges from 91 to 93 mph with a slider. He struggled last season, posting a 6.29 ERA at Potomac before being demoted to Hagerstown. What Self recaptured at Hagerstown he has carried to this season, and even better.

“He’s pitching with a lot of confidence,” Keister said.

>>> Renda, 23, missed a few weeks this season with a strained quad but has done well in 20 games so far. Renda, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 180 pounds, is hitting .312/.386/.351. Keister praised Renda’s hitting and baseball savvy. Renda was drafted by the Nationals in the second round of the 2012 draft out of the University of California-Berkeley. He hit .294/.380/.405 at Class A Hagerstown last season.

>>> Left-hander Brett Mooneyham, the Nationals’ third round pick out of Stanford in 2012, has struggled this season after a strong season at Hagerstown. Last year, the 6-5 left-hander posted a 1.94 ERA over 17 starts. This season, he has a 7.36 ERA over nine games and has been moved to the bullpen to iron out his mechanical issues.

“Last year was very easy for him,” Keister said. “The mechanics were there, the release point was there. It almost seems like this year he’s fighting it a little bit. Can’t get a consistent delivery and release point and that’s hurt his ability to throw strikes and be consistent in the strike zone.”

The Nationals were bullish on Mooneyham after drafting him, excited about his high 90s fastball and athletic frame.

>>> Other extra observations: Outfielder Brandon Miller, one of the most powerful players in the system, has 10 home runs through 36 games but is on the disabled list. Left-handed reliever Bryan Harper, Bryce’s brother, is hitting the low 90s with his fastball and has a 1.89 ERA through 19 innings. Catcher Pedro Severino, rated the best defensive catcher in the Nationals system, is hitting .190 through 32 games but officials believe that will improve. The Nationals put the 20-year-old at Potomac to challenge him and have been impressed, despite the growing pains at the plate, with his defense. More on him next week.