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

  9 Responses to “Season Review: 2010 Syracuse Chiefs”

  1. The Syracuse roster will continue to be a mash-up between borderline major leaguers (read: 4A), some older recovery projects / rehab assignments, and some ‘final-step’ prospects for the forseeable future.

    The 2009 squad was no exception, having seen the likes of Espinosa, Ramos, Morse, Maxwell, Maldonado, Burke, Livo, Strasburg, Storen, Zimmermann, Stammen, Maya, Balester, Detwiler, Marquis, JD Martin, Chico, & Mock, who all appeared in DC at some point during the season. Additionally, Atilano, Martis, & Thompson (all 40-man players) spent some, or all of 2009 in SYR. That’s 21 players in all, 18 of which contributed at least one appearance to the Nationals’ season. Looking back, with that much turnover on a 24-man roster, I’m somewhat suprised they played to an above .500 record for the season (76-67).

    Given the way the roster was shredded over the course of the season, I’m stunned that you found five players who still fit the criteria for ‘ML Rookies’. All in all, a nice wrapup to the Nationals’ farm system review. Thanks.

    • I agree and to clarify: This appears to be an across-the-board kind of thing at AAA, not something unique to the Nationals. When I looked at the AAA teams for the deeper/richer clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves and Rays, the pattern was similar, though it may have been incrementally more (3 or 4 vs. 1 or 2). I think I may have been too hard on the Chiefs in my “GBI” features, not fully cognizant of the construction and function of the roster. As you noted, sometimes a winning AAA season happens because the roster merely stays intact because the parent club is relatively healthy, really good, or really bad.

      • No clarification necessary (to me at least). The usage patterns for AAA teams is, as you say, pretty much across-the-board given the current environment.

        Your “GBI” feature is still great; It’s simply skewed by the level of player experience once you get to the AAA level, imo. The website should stay focused on tracking ‘prospects’, not career ballplayers looking for their possible last shot at ‘the show’. However, when one of the ancients have a good run, don’t be afraid to show them some love as well.

        Overall, you’ve had a very good year, picking up nicely where NFA left off. As always, your efforts will continue to be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, & hope to see you at the Phiz in 2011.

        Bob in Manassas (BinM).

  2. It is also noteworthy that the Chiefs finished the year well in the black for the first time in four years. Previously, they had been profitable for approximately 35 consecutive years. Not bad for one of the smallest markets in AAA.

  3. I hope this is Wilkie’s year.

  4. Its interesting that Marerro doesn’t make your list. He is playing winter ball and working pretty hard. One must assume that he gets a promotion to the next tier and that is as starting first baseman for the Syracuse Chiefs? I believe you might have to add him to that list of 5 as #6. At only 22 years of age he has to be considered a “top prospect” and a potential major league rookie?

    I know how you feel about his fielding and range. One can well imagine the front office shares your sentiments. Perhaps he will be a part of a pending trade package? But I kind of doubt it. I expect him to be at first base for the 2011 Syracuse Chiefs.

    There is an outside chance that Sammy Solis and Daniel Rosenbaum could make that list?

    • The Top 5 list here is strictly for players that played for Syracuse in 2010 and as the “obligatory” suggests, it’s a nod to the fascination that folks have with rankings. Prior season reviews had the Top 5 arms and Top 5 bats, with Rosenbaum making both the Hagerstown and Potomac lists (#1 and #2 respectively) and Marrero was the #2 bat for Harrisburg (behind Espinosa). Solis was not named for Hagerstown, primarily because he only pitched twice in the regular season, and at the time I was writing them there wasn’t this kind of source material from which to draw.

      I’ve yet to compile the “master” list, but for folks looking for a “bundle” of all the previous season reviews, I’ve bundled them with the bit.ly tool: http://bit.ly/97dmTw

      That’s the next challenge: distilling the watchlists into a Top-20 list of arms and Top-20 list of bats (Brian did it that way, and now I *really* know why ;-)

  5. Looking at the numbers, you have to think Wilkie gets a call up next year, with somebody.

  6. […] than repeat why this is, I’ll refer you to last year’s Syracuse review and summarize it. Triple-A is now primarily where teams keep their marginal players active and […]

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