Nov 162010
 

It’s been said that AAA is no longer where you’ll find the best prospects. As alluded to last week, some of this is because major-league teams now use AAA as an extension of its 40-man roster, i.e. it’s a taxi squad. But the 40-man roster has been in place since 1968, which begs the question: Why has this changed in the last decade or two? Unfortunately, there’s no pat answer.

My personal theory is that it stems from three developments that all happened in the 1990s: expansion (which created four more teams), the rebirth of independent baseball (which froze the number of affiliated teams at 160), and the advent of a three-man arbitration panel (which made it somewhat easier for players to “win” their cases).

Thus, it might be a little unfair to chastise the Syracuse Chiefs for having fewer prospects than an old maid. The landscape has changed such that there’s a financial incentive for teams to keep marginal major-leaguers (a.k.a. 4A’s) on board to fill holes and keep prospects down until they’re “really needed.” It’s become an annual rite of spring to discuss which prospects will be sent to AAA to avoid “Super Two” status, resulting in some rather comical attempts to deny it.

Thus, in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, I’m going to focus on the players that were league-average age or younger and were also among the upper third or so in terms of usage. But first, let’s do our look at the team as a whole against the rest of the league…

HITTING

TEAM AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Syracuse 4715 595 1190 110 487 1089 .252 .327 .387 .244 161
Lg. Avg. 4847 648 1274 127 455 1024 .263 .330 .410 .251 111

Italics = League Trailer
Bold = League Leader

PITCHING

TEAM IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1255⅔ 3.84 4.17 1.337 115 440 932 8.9 3.2 6.7 2.12
Lg. Avg. 1261⅔ 4.15 4.51 1.370 127 455 1024 9.1 3.2 7.3 2.25

Italics = League Trailer

A very similar pattern to the Harrisburg Senators in terms of hitting and pitching: upper-third for the latter, lower-third for the former, middle-of-the pack on defense in the biggest categories (runs scored, runs allowed, errors committed). Syracuse actually outperformed their pythagorean projection by five games. It’s not hard to pinpoint where that may have come from, as you’ll note that the Chiefs led the league in steals (and caught stealing) which is a hallmark of Trent Jewett’s teams: He likes to run (something to remember very shortly).

Unlike the Senators, the Syracuse Chiefs faded in the second half, as one might expect from a pitching staff that was tapped for injury replacements by the parent club. But in the new world order, that’s its purpose. It’s also fair to state that most of the players that were called up from the lower levels were either sent right back down (i.e. filling in) or were of the marginal variety that could, would, and were used interchangeably at AA and AAA.

That said, let’s look at the players that fit the mold of not-the-oldest (under league-average), and used a fair amount (roughly: 100PA, 30IP, with two exceptions). The full team statistics can be found here.

Name Age Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err PA GPA
Boomer Whiting 26 LF/CF 59/34 1.000 0 375 .246
Leonard Davis 26 LF/RF/3B/2B 47/30/13/8 .981 4 361 .256
Justin Maxwell 26 CF/RF 59/5 .966 5 272 .285
Pedro Lopez 26 SS/2B/3B/P 43/7/4/1 .960 8 170 .208
Danny Espinosa 23 SS/2B 17/7 .979 2 108 .273
Wilson Ramos 22 C 18 1.000 0 82 .277

With possible exception of Pedro Lopez, most of these names are quite familiar to followers of the Nationals farm system. The one that was probably the biggest surprise was obviously Boomer Whiting, who made the jump from A+ to AAA while taking up switch-hitting at the same time. As aforementioned, Jewett likes his guys to run and Whiting thrived in a situation where he was asked to do what he does best.

On to the pitchers, in our abbreviated format..

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Shairon Martis 23 27/27 8-7, 0 4.09 152 156 60 99 1.421 2 2
Erik Arnesen 26 21/18 6-8, 0 3.95 107 107 31 70 1.290 7 8
Jeff Mandel 25 25/15 5-6, 0 4.75 94⅔ 120 33 60 1.616 6 1
Josh Wilkie 25 53/1 4-4, 8 2.45 69⅔ 57 22 62 1.134 2 3
Collin Balester 24 35/5 3-3, 0 5.87 69 74 32 52 1.536 3 7
Atahualpa Severino 25 54/0 6-3, 1 3.34 67⅓ 60 29 46 1.322 5 1
Stephen Strasburg 21 6/6 4-1, 0 1.08 33⅓ 18 7 38 0.750 0 1
Adam Carr 26 16/0 0-1, 9 2.08 21⅔ 16 10 19 1.200 0 1

Stephen Strasburg and Collin Balester are the outliers among this bunch. Strasburg is one of those “Super Two” cases discussed previously. Balester may very well prove to be that rare case of a kid that was rushed up too soon but didn’t actually kill his career. But the rest are career minor-leaguers that are on the cusp of a cup of coffee.

Atahualpa Severino is already on the 40-man roster, and it would appear that Adam Carr and Cole Kimball are auditioning in the AFL for inclusion as well. Josh Wilkie is a very dark horse, but given the Joe Bisenius experience, it would appear that hard-thrower has the edge over the soft-tosser, even one that gave up just two home runs this past season, and five over his last 202 innings (since 2008).

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LIST

The singular is no accident; I’m plucking five out of the total of 11 bats and arms above that still have rookie status (the site does have “prospects” in the name after all). As the name suggests, it’s a list of five guys that I think could possibly “get the call” and/or get put on the 40-man roster. Without further ado:

1. Wilson Ramos
2. Danny Espinosa
3. Adam Carr
4. Atahualpa Severino
5. Josh Wilkie

Nov 162010
 

A five-run sixth inning powered the Scottsdale Scorpions past the Peoria Saguaros, as the Nats’ AFL entry improved to 19-10 with a 9-4 win. Two pitchers and two hitters saw action…

  • Steve Lombardozzi led off as the DH and went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored.
  • Michael Burgess batted eighth and played RF, tripling and homering in four at-bats, scoring a run, driving in a run, striking out twice, and throwing out a runner at third.
  • Sammy Solis appeared in relief and allowed one hit and no walks over three innings to go with two strikeouts. AOL Fanhouse’s Frank Piliere tweeted him as “consistently at 93-94 and attacking hitters” but also cautioned that “he has to be fine with his stuff”
  • Brad Peacock pitched the ninth, allowing a hit but struck out a batter

The Scottsdale Scorpions clinched a spot in the playoff game, but await their opponent as the defending AFL champs (mandatory sportswriter cliché, sorry) — the Peoria Javelinas — lost yesterday but remain three games up with three to go. As luck would have it, Scottsdale and Peoria are also scheduled in the final game on Friday. And yes, Bryce Harper is eligible to play in the championship game on Saturday, which is due to be televised on MLB Network at 2:30 p.m.

Nov 152010
 

Here’s a look at how the Nats fared over the weekend in the AFL…

FRIDAY
A five-run fourth carried the Scottsdale Scorpions to their third straight win by a 6-4 count

  • Michael Burgess, batting seventh and playing RF, went 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout
  • Adam Carr earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out the final batter

SATURDAY
The Surprise Rafters edged the Scorpions 4-3

  • Steve Lombardozzi led off and played 2B and went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He was also caught stealing
  • Bryce Harper batted fifth and played RF, walking once, scoring a run, and was caught stealing. He also committed an error (fielding)./li>

Statistics through 28 games…

BATTERS

PLAYER G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Lombardozzi 18 69 15 19 6 2 0 4 10 5 .275 .386 .420 2
Burgess 16 58 7 14 3 2 1 11 4 18 .241 .286 .414 1
Norris 14 47 9 13 5 1 4 19 11 17 .277 .417 .649 2
Harper 8 31 6 10 2 2 1 6 4 10 .323 .400 .613 1

PITCHERS

PLAYER W L SV ERA G IP H R ER BB SO WHIP HLD GF
Solis 1 0 0 4.35 5 20⅔ 21 13 10 7 10 1.355 0 0
Carr 1 0 1 2.25 9 12 5 3 3 3 7 0.667 0 4
Peacock 0 0 0 4.91 8 11 9 6 6 3 16 1.091 2 0
Kimball 0 0 1 0.82 10 11 8 1 1 2 14 0.909 0 10
Nov 122010
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions took their second straight with a 5-1 decision over the Phoenix Desert Dogs. Highlights from the Nats included…

  • Steve Lombardozzi led off, played 2B, and went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a stolen base
  • Michael Burgess tripled and drove in two for is 1-for-4, playing RF and batting seventh
  • Cole Kimball closed out the game with a scoreless inning, allowing a hit, a walk, but striking out one

The win combined with a loss by the Mesa Solar Sox extends the Scottsdale lead to four games with six to play. They host the Peoria Saguaros tonight, then visit the Surprise Rafters tomorrow. Check back on Monday to see how they did, plus our weekly review of the AFL stats. Plus, the last of the affiliate season reviews is on tap for Tuesday.

Nov 112010
 

While folks checking in to see the parent club’s new uniforms may have been disappointed, the news from Arizona was about as good as it gets. Scottsdale won 11-1 and all three Nats that played had a good day:

  • Sammy Solis went five innings, allowing one run on two hits (one was a home run) and one walk and striking out two and got credit for the win.
  • Derek Norris was the DH and batted cleanup, going 3-for-6 with a double, home run, two runs scored, and three RBI. He struck out once.
  • Bryce Harper played RF and batted seventh, tripling twice in five at-bats, scoring two runs, and driving in two runs. He struck out twice.

The win extended the Scorpions’ lead over the Mesa Solar Sox to three games with seven games left to play, a championship tilt against the Peoria Javelinas looming for next Saturday.

###

Just a quick note: It’s now known where Gary Cathcart will be reassigned: For the first half of the season, he’ll be a roving instructor (along with Bobby Henley), focusing on the GCL and Hagerstown. In the second half, he’ll be managing the Auburn Doubledays. Click here for the full story from MASN’s Byron Kerr.

Nov 102010
 

As mentioned last week, the official list has been released by Baseball America and here’s the rundown:

Catchers
Devin Ivany
Nolan Brannon

Infielders
Chase Lambin
Ofilio Castro
Pete Orr
Wilberto Ortiz
Pedro Lopez

Outfielders
Jason Botts
Leonard Davis
Chris Duncan
Marvin Lowrance
Edgardo Baez
Brad Coon
Jerry Owens
Jamar Walton

Starting Pitchers
Andrew Kown
Jason Jones
Jimmy Barthmaier

Relievers
Zach Dials
Luis Garcia
Dan Leatherman
Carlos Martinez
Jesse English
Victor Garate
Glenn Gibson
Chuck James
Yunior Novoa

So Where Did You Screw Up?
Actually, all things considered, BinM caught most of my mistakes, of which most were guys in the lower levels (Nolan Brannon?!). Rafael Martin appears to be still with the organization, as is Brian Peacock. Considering that the most up-to-date transactions on BA are through October 31, it’s more than possible that there are some more guys that resigned in the interim.

Perhaps more interesting is the trend of fewer and fewer guys testing the waters. In ’07, there were 602. In ’08, there were 561. In ’09, there were 536. This year, it’s 533. The only obvious theory? The poor economy has convinced some guys that maybe another year of a known quantity is better than taking their chances with hooking on elsewhere.

Nov 102010
 

A better game for the Nats, but the Scottsdale Scorpions fell 7-4 to Phoenix Desert Dogs to snap their four-game win streak. Highlights included:

  • Michael Burgess smacked a two-run HR (his 1st in the AFL), doubled, and scored two runs while going 2-for-4 and playing RF
  • Steve Lombardozzi went 0-for-1 off the bench and played 2B
  • Adam Carr tossed two scoreless innings, allowing no hits and just one walk
  • Cole Kimball gave up a hit but struck out two while keeping the Desert Dogs off the scoreboard in the bottom of the 8th

The Mesa Solar Sox also lost, thus the Scottsdale lead remains at two games with eight to play. Sammy Solis (0-0, 5.17)  is slated to take the hill this afternoon against former National farmhand Daryl Thompson as the Scorpions visit the Peoria Saguaros this afternoon. Bryce Harper is also expected to play.

Nov 092010
 

In the upper minors, there is no half system, which makes the 2010 Harrisburg Senators playoff run even more impressive. At the halfway mark, their record stood at 34-37, more than a dozen games back and in fourth place. Down the stretch, they would go 43-28 and shave that lead to five games to earn the Eastern League’s Western Division wild card, beating out Bowie and Akron by a game and two games respectively.

The Senators would lose to the eventual Eastern League champions, the Altoona Curve — a team that featured several players with playoff experience in winning the 2009 Carolina League championship with the Lynchburg Hillcats. Like Potomac, this team gelled at just the right time, and got some significant help with the addition of two starters — Ryan Tatusko and Tanner — that would become known as “The Guz Two” because they were acquired from Texas in the Christian Guzman trade.

You know the drill: Let’s look at how the Senators compared to the Eastern League…

HITTING

TEAM AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Harrisburg 4726 598 1188 121 398 948 .251 .314 .390 .239 86
Lg. Avg. 4755 656 1232 113 470 1008 .259 .332 .397 .249 97

Italics = League Trailer

PITCHING

TEAM IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Harrisburg 1252.0 3.51 3.94 1.255 102 400 1108 8.4 2.9 8.0 2.77
Lg. Avg. 1244.0 4.21 4.63 1.370 113 470 1008 8.9 3.4 7.3 2.14

Bold = League Leader

As we just saw from our most recent World Champions, great pitching can carry mediocre-to-poor hitting and the Senators were no different. Offensively, the Sens were in the bottom third of the league for runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, SBs, walks, OBP, and SLG percentage. They were middle of the pack for HRs and triples, and surprisingly for a team that was dead-last in BBs, they stuck out the third-fewest.

What this team could do well, however, was pitch. They managed to lead the league in ERA despite their #2 pitcher (in terms of IP, of course) sporting a 5.80 ERA. Seven of the Top 16 pitchers had ERAs below 3.00. As you can see from the bolded categories, they led the league in some of the most important ones: runs allowed, earned runs allowed, and ratio, and were second in baserunners allowed (WHIP) and walks, and third in strikeouts. In fact, we almost had a microcosm of Harrisburg vs. the Eastern League on the same staff, with Jeff Mandel as the former and Jason Jones as the latter.

In terms of batters, the stalwarts of the 2009 Potomac Nationals — Chris Marrero, Danny Espinosa and Jesus Valdez — were the top three batters in terms of plate appearances, runs, and RBIs. But beyond that it was the usual mix of formers, might-haves, were-it-nots (whatever euphemism you’d prefer for the “other guys” on the team) that were complementary parts, of which the best can be said is that they played league-average defense, with the exception of the catchers, who led the league in baserunners caught and worked with the pitchers to tie for the fewest stolen bases allowed.

As in previous season reviews, let’s look at the Top 16 (in terms of Plate Appearances or Innings Pitched) which puts the cutoff at 100PA and 32⅓ IP. The full team statistics can be found here.

Name Age Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err PA GPA
Chris Marrero 21 1B 129 .984 18 577 .270
Jesus Valdez 25 RF/LF 67/58 .990 2 569 .242
Danny Espinosa 23 SS 98 .964 15 434 .266
Brad Coon 27 CF 107 .996 1 413 .232
Michael Martinez 27 2B/OF/SS 83/17/3 .969 14 387 .234
Marvin Lowrance 25 LF 61 .978 2 357 .283
Jhontan Solano 24 C 89 .993 5 345 .225
Tim Pahuta 27 3B/1B 50/12 .956 9 303 .208
Edgardo Baez 24 RF/CF/LF 52/22/7 .983 3 300 .235
Josh Johnson 24 SS/2B/3B 35/19/17 .977 6 258 .280
Ofilio Castro 26 3B/2B 57/10 .981 3 225 .197
Adam Fox 28 3B/2B/LF 36/5/1 .875 13 171 .175
Leonard Davis 26 OF/IF 27/8 .952 4 123 .243
Steve Lombardozzi 21 2B 27 .971 3 118 .299
Sean Rooney 24 C 30 .982 14 109 .165
Devin Ivany 27 C/1B 24/1 .988 3 100 .297

Believe it or not, the average age of the batters (24.7) wasn’t that far off from the league average (24.3) nor were they the oldest in the league. With three 22-year-olds (Norris, Lombardozzi, and Burgess) expected to begin the season in 2011, that number may trend downward unless more than one of them gets the bump to Syracuse. Just six of these sixteen were above the league-average for GPA, as you’d expect for team as a whole being in the bottom third of the league. But the good news was the pitching…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Tom Milone 23 27/27 12-5 2.85 158 161 23 155 1.165 4 7
Aaron Thompson 23 26/26 4-13, 0 5.80 136⅔ 164 53 95 1.588 5 5
Andrew Kown 27 15/15 6-4, 0 3.83 84⅔ 83 19 47 1.205 3 1
Hassan Pena 25 48/0 2-2, 1 4.29 71⅓ 73 30 64 1.444 6 8
Rafael Martin 26 21/14 5-4, 0 3.61 67⅓ 55 26 58 1.203 1 6
Cole Kimball 24 38/10 5-1, 12 2.33 54 33 31 75 1.185 5 13
Jack Spradlin 25 39/1 1-1, 1 4.09 50⅔ 51 18 49 1.362 4 2
Adam Carr 26 36/0 6-1, 5 3.04 50⅓ 43 14 48 1.132 1 3
Chuck James 28 21/2 8-0, 2 1.59 45⅓ 28 7 50 0.772 6 3
Erik Arnesen 26 13/5 2-2, 2 2.81 41⅔ 36 7 35 1.032 1 1
John Lannan 25 7/7 1-4, 0 4.20 40⅔ 49 10 28 1.451 4 0
Jeff Mandel 25 7/7 1-4, 0 3.82 40 37 13 27 1.250 2 1
Brad Peacock 22 7/7 2-2, 0 4.66 38⅔ 33 22 30 1.422 0 0
Ryan Tatusko 25 6/6 3-1, 0 1.72 36⅔ 30 13 36 1.173 1 1
Tanner Roark 23 6/6 1-1, 0 2.50 36 35 9 33 1.222 0 0
Ross Detwiler 24 7/7 2-2, 0 2.48 32⅔ 38 7 31 1.378 2 1

There’s not much that I haven’t said already about the top dog on the pitching staff, Tom Milone. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how Sickels, BA, and the scouts at MLBA rate him this time around, now that he’s put up the numbers at the level that commands attention outside the prospect universe. Aaron Thompson was his counterweight in terms of affecting the team’s numbers as a group, and is likely to repeat this level in ’11, along with Brad Peacock and Tanner Roark.

Ryan Tatusko is the best candidate to join Milone at Syracuse next season, but beyond that is guessing game. Given the modern usage of AAA as a taxi squad, much will depend on the FAs that get signed between now and this spring. As mentioned in the comments, we’re still not at the point where the AA team has more prospects than organizational guys. While that will improve next year with the influx from Potomac, I expect to look over the ’11 Opening Day Roster and see a fair number of ’84s and ’85s in the DOB column.

Obviously, there’s some overlap with Potomac and some AFL bias in these lists. And like last week, naming a fifth bat is perfunctory. Johnson gets the nod because he’s versatile and handles the bat well. It’s no secret that next week will be even more of a, um, crapshoot when it comes to this part of the review.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS

Batters
1. Danny Espinosa
2. Chris Marrero
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Michael Burgess
5. Josh Johnson

Pitchers
1. Tom Milone
2. Cole Kimball
3. Brad Peacock
4. Adam Carr
5. Tanner Roark

Nov 092010
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions won their fourth straight by a count of 8-3. Here’s how the Nats fared in the game:

  • Steve Lombardozzi led off and played shortstop, going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored but committed his third error. He was also hit by a pitch.
  • Derek Norris caught and batted seventh. He had an RBI double in his five at-bats, but struck out three times. Nobody attempted to steal against him.
  • Brad Peacock was tagged for a three-run home run in the seventh, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out two.

The win, combined with a Mesa loss, puts Scottsdale three games up with nine to play. Sammy Solis is expected to start on Wednesday of this week.

###

In case folks haven’t heard, Brian Daubach has been hired as the new manager for the Hagerstown Suns while Matt LeCroy is reportedly taking the helm for Potomac in 2011. There is no word on the fate of Gary Cathcart. Officially, the Nats have not made any announcements for any of the affiliates coaching staffs for next year.

As stated in the comments, I had heard that Cathcart wasn’t returning to Potomac but with his assignment to the Florida Instructional League, I inferred that he is likely to remain and be reassigned within the organization. This is also the time of the year when coaches change jobs anyway, so it could also very well mean that Cathcart could be in the running for another managing job elsewhere.

It’s as good a time as any to also remind folks that what we see on the field is arguably the least important facet of a manager’s job. There are lots of funny saws about the art of managing (my favorites invariably come from Casey Stengel), but the common thread is about keeping young men prepared, engaged and motivated. I don’t think there’s any correlation between past playing success to those “people” skills.