Sep 292010
 

Sadly, the BA shutout continues with no Nationals cracking its NY-Penn League Top 20. Next chance: tomorrow, when they release their Top 20 for the South Atlantic League…

…Reports from Viera have Jesus Flores healthy and hitting again, which would be great if baseball’s answer to crystal chandelier Chris Chandler can contribute and compete against Wilson Ramos to share time with Ivan Rodriguez.

…The PDC shuffle is nearly over, but here’s an interesting look at how it works. What’s left unsaid, of course, is that threat of losing affiliation isn’t as big as it used to be, thanks to the independents.

…Attendance is down at the MLB level (*ahem*) but the minors are doing fine.

…Fresh off signing a four-year deal, the quest for a new stadium for Potomac resumes, which naturally has the support of the local press that only mentions a strong competitor in the next county in passing.

Sep 282010
 

As expected, Tyler Moore and Tom Milone will be honored tonight before the Washington Nationals game as the organization’s minor-league batter and pitcher of the year.

Moore was the 2010 Carolina League MVP and led the league in HR’s, RBI and slugging percentage. After bottoming out with an 0-for-3 night in the first game of a doubleheader on a Monday night in Salem, Moore’s average stood at .191. He was given the nightcap off and with the next day a travel day, he returned to the lineup on Wednesday, July 14 and went 2-for-3 with a double. The next night, he homered and doubled to push his average over .200. Moore would hit safely in 34 of 37 games, including 14 straight, and win Player of the Week four times. He would club 21 of his 31 home runs from July 15th to the end of the season.

A 16th-round pick out of Mississippi State, Moore is expected to start 2011 in Harrisburg. He turns 24 in January, a fact that has been invariably held against him in the accounts written outside the Natmosphere. His asendance in some ways was blocked by a resurgence from Chris Marrero, who turned in a .359 June after a .235 May and finished the season at .294. At 22, Marrero is likely to begin the year at Syracuse.

Tom Milone was the ace of the Potomac Nationals in ’09 with a 12-5 mark and 2.91ERA. In 2010, he led the Harrisburg Senators in 2010 with… wait for it… a 12-5 mark and a 2.86ERA. Milone has gone largely unnoticed outside of Washington despite these numbers, though this accolade may wake up some folks at Baseball America. It certainly has gotten the attention of John Sickels:

One of the best pitchers in Double-A this year was Tom Milone of the Harrisburg Senators. A 10th round pick out of USC in 2008 by the Washington Nationals, he was excellent last year in the Carolina League (2.91 ERA, 106/36 K/BB in 151 innings, 144 hits, 12-5 record), but as a soft-tossing lefty who threw 85-87 MPH, many were skeptical that he could repeat this against advanced competition. Not only did he repeat his performance, he bettered it: 2.85 ERA, 155/23 K/BB in 158 innings, 161 hits, 12-5. Although he gave up a few more hits, a reduction in his walk rate and an increase in strikeouts resulted in a better overall ratio set. His FIP dropped from 3.55 in ’09 to 2.85 in ’10. Any time you see a pitcher improve his component ratios while moving up a level, you have to be impressed. Milone still doesn’t throw hard, but his changeup is excellent and he added additional bite to his breaking ball this year.

Milone has long been a favorite here at NationalsProspects.com, enough that we included him in our preseason Top 20 with full disclosure that the choice was in some parts sentimental. But the argument then remains the same now: You cannot discount a guy that has had amazing control no matter where he has pitched: 1.92, 2.21, 1.85 BB/9 in his three seasons at USC (’06-’08); 1.25, 1.45, and 2.14 at Vermont, Hagerstown and Potomac in ’08 and ’09. Never mind he’s lefthanded. As Sickels wrote, the scouts have been down on Milone because he doesn’t throw hard, but he throws strikes — more reliably than another 6’1″ lefty from California that came up in the early 1980s: Bobby Ojeda, who many forget was missing piece that the ’86 Mets added after a 98-win ’85 and led the team in wins and ERA.

Milone is likely to start 2011 in Syracuse. Like Moore, Milone turns 24 during the offseason (February) and will compete against the likes of Matt Chico, Shairon Martis, and Ross Detwiler for a chance to join the parent-club rotation or an emergency start.

Sep 272010
 

As you imagine, things are in a lull right now as we wait for the parent club to finish out the string. A few items of interest…

…Thankfully, we’re not in a mode of worrying whether or not the #1 overall pick is ours, which was the subject of discussion last year and the year before. That battle is between Baltimore and Seattle (hey, that rhymes!). Currently, Washington is in line for the 8th overall pick, two games “behind” Cleveland in the reverse standings, three games “behind” Kansas City, and four games “ahead” of the Chicago Cubs. Most of the teams in the #3 through #6 spots face winning clubs the rest of the way (#7 is a compensatory pick for the Diamondbacks failing to sign Barret Loux), the Nats and Cubs play contenders for some, also-rans on the final weekend. Thus, the order is not likely to change all that much.

…Former scout and current AOL Fanhouse writer Frankie Piliere has good things to say about Bryce Harper but what was more interesting was his take on A.J. Morris:

Nationals right-handed pitching prospect A.J. Morris was among the more impressive arms in camp for Washington, showing off a lively 91-94 mph fastball and a feel for a sharp slider at 82-84 mph. He has the look of an effective late-inning arm for Nationals in the near future.

….Baseball America’s been churning out its Top 20 lists for each league. Thus far, they’ve done the Arizona Fall League, the Gulf Coast League, and the Appalachian League and no Nationals have appeared. The New York-Penn League is on the docket for tomorrow, the Sally League on Thursday. If/when any Nationals are named or discussed, I’ll pass along what they have to say.

…Finally, as frequent commenter Mark L noted, the Washington Nationals have yet to name its Minor-League Batter and Pitcher of the Year, but it appears that Tyler Moore will be the former. The latter may be a little less of a slam-dunk. Danny Rosenbaum makes the case with the lowest ERA in the system, but our money is on Tom Milone, the leader in wins (12) and strikeouts (155) and innings pitched (158).

Sep 242010
 

Lost amid the news (noise?) of Stan Kasten’s departure (as usual, Mark Zuckerman nails what it really means), some 17-year-old kid made his unofficial pro debut yesterday.

As you might expect, he was rusty, striking out twice in two plate appearances and catching two flyballs while playing right field and wearing the number 34.

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez tweeted yesterday: “Bryce’s biggest pro challenge won’t be RF. It’ll be patience and learning to stay back. 2 K’s today, both way out in front on offspeed stuff.” If you have more than a few minutes, you can see this for yourself at Steven C. Smith’s SpaceCoastBaseball.com. You can read the rest of Gonzalez’s story here.

Undoubtedly, there will be more stories on this Harper and I’ll do my best to collect the best ones and pass them along.

Sep 222010
 

As we transition from the the day-to-day rhythm and routine of the regular season towards the less-structured offseason, I figure I’d pass along some links of some tangentially related stories and tidbits that I’ve spotted while I was waiting for news about Vermont and Hagerstown in the past day or so.

  • In the wake of yesterday’s news, which yours truly felt coming but didn’t want to publish in the late afternoon and get missed, we see that Vermont will end up with Oakland as its parent club

Thanks for stopping by…

Sep 212010
 

Thankfully, the Washington Nationals farm system appears to staying mostly the same this offseason, signing two-year extensions for Syracuse and Harrisburg and another four-year extension for Potomac. Hagerstown is widely expected to renew for another two years, particularly after the Nationals reportedly helped broker a deal for a local ownership group to purchase the Suns.

There is, however, one notable exception: The Vermont Lake Monsters.

Earlier this week, the Blue Jays officially pulled the plug on its relationship with the Auburn Doubledays, a move that had been telegraphed when it was announced that manager Dennis Holmberg would be managing Toronto’s re-entry into the Appalachian League in Bluefield, a team that had severed the longest-standing affiliation (53 years) in baseball when the Orioles cut ties in late August.

How does that relate to Vermont? Quite simply, with the Washington Nationals unhappy with the well-known problems with Centennial Field it’s quite possible that a move to Auburn, which is three hours closer to DC and less than 30 miles from Syracuse, could be on tap. It would certainly fit the tendency for consolidation along the I-81 corridor.

Details to come, as this is a story we’re watching…

UPDATE: This story was in the can waiting to be published before this tweet came across the Twitterverse.

Sep 202010
 

Last week, we reported on the invitees and broke them down by pitchers and position players. One of our regular commenters (markfd) broke it down into three categories, which I agree with:

1. Very young

2. Changing roles or position

3. Guys that need to work on a specific skill (pitch)

Here are a few other observations I have in looking over the players invited.

… Almost everyone invited in 2009 moved up a level in 2010 if they didn’t spend time at multiple levels.

… The exception appears to be Potomac, which makes sense because it’s the “staging area” for the system

… Repeats? Eleven batters, ten pitchers. (Almost) half of those (four pitchers, six batters) are guys 20 or younger

… Most of the this-year-but-not-last-year are 2010 draftees or IFAs. The outliers? Holder, Wort and Andruth Ramirez

Undoubtedly, there will be some speculation as to who didn’t get invited and why, though I suspect it will be buried amidst the breathless stories about Bryce Harper. Washington has a much larger-than-average camp to begin with and not every organization sends their top guys to “instrux.” Box scores aren’t released to the public, and attendance is very sparse: Mostly family, friends, and SO’s besides the scouts, who aren’t thrilled to be there.

“[S]couts don’t like having to cover instrux, because they don’t believe they can write a good report based on what they see there. It’s a place where coaches are tinkering with and tweaking their players, so you don’t always see the real stuff,” says former scout Anip Sunha on BucsProspects.com, citing an example of a player from 10 years ago that threw only fastballs and changeups, the two pitches he was working on to complement his plus-plus curveball. (Bobby Bradley’s the player, the article from which a lot of this post is based on can be found here.)

What the “intruxs” is, from what I’ve researched, is simply a chance to get the players together to work with more of the organization’s coaches in close proximity for an extra month and work on what the evaluators have spotted over the course of the year. Pitchers are said to benefit the most because they get the chance to work multiple coaches, many of whom are specialists in a particular pitch. Paul Menhart, for example, seems to be the go-to guy for refining the changeup while Randy Tomlin is the guy that John Lannan credits with both making the jump from A+ to the majors in ’07 and fixing him this summer. Like in spring training, it’s workouts and drills in the morning, games in the afternoon.

If I spot something in my travels, I’ll pass it along, but I suspect there won’t be much more to report aside from injuries and Bryce Harper.

Sep 172010
 

The action came early, but the suspense lasted all night long as the Potomac Nationals edged the Winston-Salem Dash 2-1 to win the 2010 Carolina League Championship.

Facing the most potent lineup in the Carolina League, nobody (*ahem*) thought that a pitcher’s duel could be possible in this series, much less the deciding game. But baseball is a game that both defies and fulfills expectations in ways that can be sensed, but never predicted.

Francisco Soriano led off the bottom of the first with a walk, took second on a grounder to third, took third on a grounder to second. Up came Tyler Moore, who drove in Soriano with Texas-Leaguer to left field for the first run of the game. Two innings later, Soriano would triple down the right field line and score on a tapper to first off the bat of Bill Rhinehart for a 2-0 lead that Potomac would build on methodically as the night would progress.

They did not.

There were baserunners in every single inning from the 4th to the 8th, most notably a one-out bomb by Tyler Moore to deep right-center, but against the most potent lineup in the Carolina League (or at least the most potent that they could face) the 2-0 lead seemed far too close for comfort.

Sure enough, Winston-Salem answered the second Potomac run in inglorious fashion, a tapper back to the mound that starter (and winner) Marcos Frias bounced off the shoulder of Jon Gilmore for a two-base error. Cleanup hitter Seth Loman cashed in the opportunity with a sharp single to left that cut the deficit to 2-1 — what you know to be final score, but the crowd of nearly 2,000 did not.

Frias would pitch five innings total, allowing the lone, unearned Winston-Salem run, on four hits and no walks, while striking out four. Joe Testa would follow him with a 2⅔ innings of hitless and scoreless relief, walking one and striking out two. Zach Dials would follow for a four-out save, finishing the 2010 postseason with his second save and a 1.29 ERA.

The win secured Potomac its second championship in three seasons, but one that was far more satisfying to see than the previous because it was so unforeseen and so unlikely, given the offensive struggles in the first half and the tendency of the front office to demote rather than promote to replenish the roster.

And for a few, there’s the hope of more… heading to Harrisburg next season, and perhaps Syracuse the year after. But for some, this is the pinnacle of their professional baseball career, if not the end of it in affiliated baseball. As they did in 2008, some will snort and sniff about the advanced age of this team and dismiss their success. And those folks… well, you can just kiss my ass because damn, it was fun to watch.

Sep 172010
 
Player Pos. Age 2010 Team(s) 2009 Invite Notes
David Freitas C 21 VMT N 15th-rd ’10 Col Jr. Pick out of Hawaii,
split time behind the plate and at DH. Solid
triple-slash stats: .307/.408/.450
Sandy Leon C 21 HAG Y His bat starting to approach his
defense, overtook Adrian Nieto in terms
of playing time
Cole Leonida C 21 VMT N 6th-rd Col Jr. pick in ’10 draft that
struggled with hitting: .146/.241/.184
Adrian Nieto C 20 HAG Y Lost playing time to Leon and had a
setback year with his triple-slash stats
all dipping about 30 pts
Roberto Perez C 19 GCL Y Breakout year in repeating GCL,
appears to be a convert from SS in ’09;
solid hitting stats
Andruth Ramirez C 21 DSL N Made the jump from DSL to the GCL
and hit .197/.293/.273 in 22 games
Rick Hague SS 22 GCL, HAG N 3rd-rd ’10 Col Jr. pick that was jumped
from the GCL with good numbers and
continued to improve, finishing with a
.317/.385/.477 line combined
Blake Kelso 3B-SS 21 VMT N 10th-rd ’10 Col Jr. pick that hit for
average (.309) got on base (.362) and
stole a few bags (10 in 61G)
Stephen King 3B-SS 22 VMT, HAG Y HS Pick in ’06, King is an enigma…
flashes of brilliance in nearly every phase
of the game, but just can’t seem to put it
all together at once
Jason Martinson SS 21 VMT N 5th-rd ’10 Col Jr. pick, former two-
sport athlete (football) that may be more
suited to 3B but has the hands, arm, and
range to try to make a go of it as a SS
Russell Moldenhauer IF/DH 22 VMT N 24th-Rd Col Sr. Big, burly, with raw
power but appears to be in search of a
position (LF or 1B most likely)
Tyler Moore 1B 23 POT Y Prodigious power, but still not taking
walks and striking out nearly as often since
heating up in mid-July. Carolina League MVP.
Johan Rodriguez SS 19 GCL N Another IFA from the D.R. Put up
pedestrian numbers (.231/.286/.250) in
limited playing time (32G)
Adrian Sanchez 2B/SS 20 GCL, HAG Y Like Hague, a two-level performer,
though the jump slowed him some. Showed
good contact, speed in HAG
Steven Souza 3B 21 HAG Y Organization still high on him despite
PED use. Was having breakout year before
suspension
Michael Taylor 2B 19 GCL, HAG Y HS pick in ’09 that’s impressing somebody
at some facet without the numbers to show
for it
Jean Valdez 3B 17 DSL N Mid-season All-star in the DSL. Very
good numbers for his age (.249/.309/.354)
Bryce Harper OF/C 17 DNP N The latest can’t-miss prospect of the
decade. Rumored to be getting reps in
preparation for the AFL.
Destin Hood OF 22 HAG Y ’08 HS pick that’s been touted as
having power potential, but hasn’t
realized it yet as a pro
Kevin Keyes LHRP 21 VMT N 7th-rd. Col Jr. pick out of Univ. of
Texas that had a poor showing in his first
season as a pro
Wade Moore OF 22 VMT N 19th-rd Col Jr. pick that put up big
numbers for a small-school standout
(.287/.394/.292, 17SB)
Randolph Oduber OF 21 GCL, HAG N 32-rd JuCo pick that’s been a fan
favorite for the numbers he’s posted in
the GCL (.366/.434/.569) but struggled in
his limited (8G) look-see at HAG
Eury Perez OF 20 HAG Y ’07 IFA that’s another fan favorite,
especially after stealing 41 of his 63
bases in the 2nd half. HAG spies worry
that his defense and contact skills will be
exposed as he progresses upward
J.P. Ramirez OF 20 HAG Y ’08 HS Pick that was quietly consistent
amid the noise of streaks from Souza,
Bloxom and Perez. Concerns about his lack
of range and lack of speed
Sep 172010
 

The error that started the sixth drew a collective groan from the hundreds that braved the wet weather in Woodbridge. Though the Potomac nine were ahead 3-2, these diehards knew that the Dash can bang even when they start with a whimper. Sure enough, a sharp single to left and perfectly placed bunt loaded the bases with nobody out.

Veteran pitcher Jimmy Barthmaier had been struggling with his control, walking three in the previous five innings when he had walked just seven in nine regular-season appearances. Carlos Martinez started throwing in the bullpen and the fans were calling for Cathcart to put him in.

A popup to short got the first out, but the fans still wanted Carlos. Drew Garcia, who had singled twice in the previous two at-bats, got caught looking on an inside fastball. With the long, lean Dominican standing in the bullpen, hands on his hips, Barthmaier induced a popup to shallow right field. In the fourth, that flare found grass, but this time it landed in second-baseman Francisco Soriano’s glove for the third out. Barthmaier strode off the mound in triumph.

The energy carried into the bottom of the sixth, where Potomac rallied for three runs on two singles, two sacrifices, two wild pitches, and two stolen bases to take a 6-2 lead. It would prove to be enough, as the P-Nats would go on to win by a 10-2 count and take the series lead at 2-1, one win away from their second Mills Cup in three seasons.

Solo home runs by Bill Rhinehart and Jose Lozada in the first and second innings respectively gave the P-Nats an early 2-0 lead. The rain, light but steady, was enough to make folks worry if these longballs would eventually count. It had delayed the game 27 minutes and was quite visible on any ball skipping on the grass, an eight-inch plume of water spinning above it.

Rhinehart would lead all hitters with three RBIs on his homer and an eighth-inning double. Lozada would score three times while walking twice and Sean Rooney was the third P-Nat to collect multiple hits, including a fourth-inning triple to the wall in right-center that sent in Tyler Moore, who had been hit by pitches twice, to give the P-Nats the 3-2 lead.

Marcos Frias takes the hill tonight with the hopes of clinching his second playoff series in as many starts, opposed by Nathan Jones for the Winston-Salem Dash. Frias is 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in his last three starts (17⅔ IP, 15H, 4BB, 14K) while Jones is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA (16⅔ IP, 11H, 9BB, 11K) over the same stretch.