Dec 312010
 

As we close our first year of operation, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the story lines that emerged from 2010 in the Nationals minors. Baseball, as you very well know, is a paradox: There are patterns and rhythms that are predictable. At least a dozen times a year, I’ll have a “Broadcast News” moment at the ballpark (“I say it up here, it comes out down there”) which impresses the folks sitting near me, but I suspect most, if not all, of our hardcore commenters here have that same experience.

But the number of surprises always outnumbers these premonitions, and that’s why we watch; it’s what unites us. We’re all seamheads, to borrow from one of the folks that frequently make his way here. Thankfully, there are fewer folks here that come here to bitch about the parent club (and savage past drafts) than at our former sister site (let me be clear: my goal was always to complement, not compete) the Nationals Farm Authority. But I also understand that that frustration makes for a niche and raison dêtre (yes, I is edumacated) because the story has been that the farm will supply the next generation of talent.

And that’s what I try to do: Find those stories and tell them because, at its heart, sportswriting (and Journalism) isn’t just reporting. I’m pretty lucky in that I get to “sell” hope because that’s what the minor leagues (affiliated or otherwise) are all about… and always have been. Zuckerman, Goessling, and Kilgore and the other folks that cover the parent club have a much tougher task because, let’s face it: DC folks want a winner and don’t want to wait. It’s what fuels that aforementioned frustration.

So without further ado, let’s look over the ten stories that emerged from the Nationals minors in 2010 (listed, more or less, chronologically).

Stephen Strasburg
This was a story two years in the making. In 2008, once it became apparent that the Nats were headed for a 100-loss season, the speculation began. By 2009, everyone and their grandmother knew who the Nats were picking in the First-Year Player draft. This year, it was only a matter of when, not if. Early on, folks thought that Strasburg might debut in Potomac, but by the middle of Spring Training, it was patently obvious that he was ticketed for Harrisburg and that the Nats would take great pains to make sure he mostly pitched at home and away from Virginia and Maryland. For a brief moment, when the parent club was above .500, there was even talk about what might happen if the Nats were still in contention and Strasburg was nearing his innings limit. Well, the end came sooner than expected but for those three months (March-May), Strasburg was the talk of the Nats minors.

Tom Milone
Switching sides and speeds, the story of Milone is how he continues to simply get guys out. In 2009, he went 12-5 with a 2.91ERA; In 2010, he went 12-5 with a 2.85ERA. Milone would win the minor-league pitcher of the year award for Washington, but more importantly… he’s starting to earn just a little respect. Witness Aaron Fitt’s answer to our perennial question regarding the lack thereof for Milone:

He can really pitch, he has a very good changeup and uses his fringy curveball well. I think he can be a No. 5 starter in the big leagues, and I ranked him 16th in the system. That’s not bad for an almost-24-year-old soft-tossing lefty.

The secret may be out on Mr. Milone, but I’m still excited to see if he becomes the sleeper I’ve been touting him to be.

Boomer Whiting
Now let me preface this by saying I’m fully aware that Whiting may become a 4A footnote six months from now, but the success of a 26-year-old that had never played a day of AA ball, much less AAA, is something nobody in their right mind could have predicted — never mind while doing it lefthanded for the first time professionally (prior to very late in 2009, Whiting was strictly a RHB). Still, the fastest runner in the organization (until Eury Perez shows me otherwise) got his day in the sun and had a great season, flourishing under a manager that likes to run his players.

PED Suspensions
Well, not all the stories in 2010 were happy or “feel good.” Six Nationals farmhands were suspended, including four in the month of July. Unfortunately, that’s an increase from four in 2009, after just one in 2008 and none in 2007. That it was a 50/50 split of steroids vs. amphetamines, or North American-born vs. Latin American-born is neither reason to excuse or explain. As Bizofbaseball.com’s Maury Brown put it (my source for these numbers), the need for stronger education of all players in all places is obvious because it’s costing these guys both developmental time and salary, neither of which they have in great supply.

Brad Peacock
Coming into 2010, Peacock was one of a number of young, hard throwers that struggle with their command. If Milone was the guy that caught my eye in ’09, Peacock was the guy in ’10. Early on, he was strikeout machine but just couldn’t get out past the sixth inning because he would throw so many pitches to get those Ks. But he had a devastating changeup that would fool me from my seat (yes, I’m adjusting for age and distance) so I can only imagine how hard it must be for the batters. Once he got that under control, it was only a matter of time before he’d be like The Jeffersons and movin’ on up, culminating in the best regular-season game on July 6th, a complete-game shutout.

Tyler Moore
This story has been told a lot, so I’ll spare folks the long version. Moore is what we hope for and we get about once every few years: A kid that suddenly gets it and starts to smack the ball with authority. Often lost in the narrative is the role that Chris Marrero played in this. As one guy asked me in Salem late in the year, “What the hell is this kid still doing here?” The answer was “Because they have a guy that’s younger than he is that’s also hitting the ball well at AA.” Now, like Whiting, it’s possible that we may have seen his career year. But it’s also possible that the pieces have fallen into place and he’s a late bloomer.

The Vermont Collapse
When I visited Burlington in late June, the Lake Monsters were on their way to rolling up an 18-5 record and they looked like a lock to make the playoffs. But then, as we discussed in the season review, the pitching went south and the losing began. Perhaps adding to the agony is that they were still in it until the very end. This was a story that played itself out in the daily news and notes, but we did it see it coming.

The Harrisburg Run
The converse to Vermont was the second-half rally that Harrisburg made, which was hoped for, but not predicted. It was the perfect storm of getting just what was needed, when it was needed. Peacock got the call in late July, along with Josh Johnson. The trade deadline delivered another two starters (Ryan Tatusko and Tanner Roark) who were lights-out in August. A couple of weeks later, Michael Burgess and Steve Lombardozzi helped beef up the offense and completed a 43-28 second half that propelled the Sens into the playoffs. That they lost there hurts, but only a little because they lost to a team with good prospects and previous playoff experience via the 2009 Carolina League Mills Cup.

Potomac Wins Its Second Championship In Three Years
Early in the season, the Potomac offense was moribund and inconsistent. Either they scored a ton or didn’t score at all. It’s tempting to say that they rode the hot bat of Tyler Moore the whole way in the second half, but that would ignore that others got their bats going at the same time (e.g. Derek Norris, Bill Rhinehart, and Sean Rooney). Simply put: by early August it was apparent that the offensive woes were over and that the two callups from Hagerstown (Trevor Holder and Danny Rosenbaum) might gel with the veterans (Adrian Alaniz and Jimmy Barthmaier). The schedule also helped, as they got a nice 22-game stretch of also-rans and beat out the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a team that edged the P-Nats in ’09 and ’07 as they made second-half pushes. Beating the two best teams in the playoffs only made the run that much sweeter, even if I had my doubts (*ahem*).

Bryce Harper
Like Strasburg, everybody knew Washington would take Harper… and also like Strasburg, a lot of people were afraid they couldn’t sign him. But Harper was signed and even while limited to just two days a week, he made his presence felt (.343/.410/.629) in the Arizona Fall League, playing in the championship game and driving in a run in a 3-2 win. Where Harper plays in 2011 will be the question du jour in spring training, regardless of how well (or poorly) he plays. The official word is Hagerstown, but I have a hard time believing that he’ll be in Low-A unless he struggles immensely. And I don’t say that because I want to see him start in Potomac instead. If the AFL is said to be between AA and AAA, then one has to contemplate the possibility that he’ll start in Harrisburg, even at the tender age of 18. Like Strasburg, I’m anxious to see him but am not looking forward to the hordes that are likely to invade, either.

Dec 272010
 

Here’s a look at how the Nats prospects are doing in the in the Winter Leagues thus far. Stats are as of this morning.

BATTERS

PLAYER LG AB R H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Chris Marrero PWL 85 11 26 2 16 7 25 .306 .351 .424 .264 2
Wilberto Ortiz PWL 134 23 45 1 16 9 17 .336 .382 .470 .289 2
Eury Perez DWL 116 16 40 0 5 5 21 .345 .397 .388 .276 21
Wilson Ramos VWL 169 32 55 7 32 20 28 .325 .397 .544 .315 1
Jesus Valdez DWL 44 5 12 1 4 0 9 .273 .297 .386 .216 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Erik Arnesen PWL 3 3 0 2.47 8 8 43⅔ 44 17 12 3 8 18 1.19
Jeff Mandel PWL 1 1 0 2.19 19 0 20⅔ 20 5 5 1 8 16 1.35
Yunesky Maya DWL 4 2 0 1.32 8 8 41 27 8 6 1 9 42 0.88
Pat McCoy PWL 1 0 0 4.22 20 0 21⅓ 22 10 10 0 9 7 1.45
Hassan Pena PWL 1 0 0 1.19 20 0 30⅓ 16 4 4 0 8 26 0.79
Elvin Ramirez DWL 1 2 0 1.85 20 0 24⅓ 19 7 5 0 5 28 0.99
Henry Rodriguez VWL 0 1 5 1.69 18 0 21⅓ 11 4 4 0 9 28 0.94
Jack Spradlin VWL 0 0 0 1.54 16 0 11⅔ 12 4 2 0 4 9 1.37
Cory VanAllen PWL 0 0 0 5.06 10 0 10⅔ 11 7 6 1 5 2 1.50
Josh Wilkie VWL 2 2 0 3.38 14 0 18⅔ 15 7 7 3 3 6 0.96

PWL = Puerto Rican Winter League
DWL = Dominican Winter League
VWL = Venezuela Winter League

The holiday road was the road not taken, so it’s an unplanned winter break for the Dinems (Spike, who shares my opinion of snow, still gets to go to the kennel because the deposit in non-refundable). Hope everyone reading this had the choice of staying put and not traveling until the Northeast can dig itself out.

Not a whole lot of change from the last update. It appears that some players may have gone home. If their stats are unchanged next time I update, I’ll drop them from the list.

Dec 252010
 

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate the holiday, and for those that don’t… enjoy the quiet or your ritual of choice during this time of year.

As the pic suggests, the “Dinems” are hitting the road soon to visit family in New England for the next few days. I’ll have my bag o’ electronics, which includes a netbook, but posts will invariably slow down since I’ll probably only have WiFi access at the hotels.

Hope everyone is happy, healthy, and safe today… and everyday.

Dec 232010
 

As mentioned earlier this week, the Nationals needed to make some 40-man moves and it’s come across my Twitter feed the wires that the Pirates have claimed Aaron Thompson. The estimable Mark Zuckerman also reports that Ryan Mattheus is not on the 40-man roster, but has signed a major-league contract, which happened before he was waived. If that means what I think it means, the Nationals have figured out a way to move a guy off yet still retain his services by virtue of making his price tag higher for the claiming team.

Thompson, as many will recall, was acquired as part of the 2009 Nick Johnson waiver-wire deal and finished that season in Harrisburg with an 0-3 mark but a 3.31 ERA. This past season, however, the lefthander struggled mightly, twice posting 8+ ERAs in a single month (May, August) and finishing a combined 5-13 in 26 AA starts and one AAA start. Unlike Matt Chico, Argentina nor the Natmosphere is likely to cry very much over his departure.

Dec 222010
 

A few surprises here. But first let’s get to the Top 10 list, from the home office in Durham, NC…

  1. Bryce Harper, OF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Danny Espinosa, 2B-SS
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Wilson Ramos, C
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Cole Kimball, RHP
  8. Eury Perez, OF
  9. Chris Marrero, 1B
  10. Brad Peacock, RHP

As you might imagine, the free article focuses on Strasburg and his return and how much money the team has spent in bonuses the past two drafts. Four of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” (Strasburg, Storen, Desmond, Maxwell) and three prospects dropped off the list (Kobernus, Burgess, Hood) while Marrero fell from #6.  About the only quibble I have is the ranking of Kimball, which is particularly odd for BA, which worships youth.

Harper naturally was named as the system’s best athlete, hitter for both power and average, and OF arm. Perez got props for both his footspeed and fielding while Espinosa was named the best infielder and IF arm. Norris got the nod for the best strike-zone judgment. Kimball’s fastball was deemed the best, with A.J. Morris getting the nod for slider, Josh Wilkie for changeup, Brad Peacock for curveball, and Tom Milone for control. Ramos was named the best defensive catcher.

As for 2011 projections, which I know folks are always interested in, here’s where BA thinks they’ll start:

Low-A – Cole
Low-A or High-A – Harper
High-A -Solis, Perez
AA – Norris, Peacock
AAA – Marrero
AAA or MLB – Kimball
MLB – Espinosa, Ramos

None of those projections I can argue with. I am pleased about the respect that Peacock got, because he was one that caught my eye this summer. The Eury Perez disrespect may be over now, as they’re starting to see what we see in him using a word that one of our Hagerstown spies uses (“slashes”) to describe his game. Finally, don’t confuse my earlier statement with Kimball for anything other than surprise that Robbie Ray or J.P. Ramirez didn’t make the list. Obviously, the likes of Milone and Steve Lombardozzi not making the list was not a surprise for reasons we’ve discussed ad infinitum (not only that Skipper, over and over again).

Dec 222010
 

A bunch of roster moves have come to our attention, so here’s a rundown on the ones that are new to us…

DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT

  • Matt Chico

Presumably, the first of few more to come to make room for the likes of Rick Ankiel, Chien Mien Wang and Ryan Mattheus.

SIGNED

  • C – Carlos Maldonado
  • RHP – Harvey Garcia
  • 3B – Alex Valdez

The 26-year-old Garcia was released by the Dodgers in May, but has made some noise in the VWL, striking out 28 and walking 20 in 38IP through Dec. 18. The switch-hitting Valdez, also 26, spent 2010 with AA with Midland, posting a .262/.317/.422 line in 574PA. He’s currently hitting .306 in 41G in the DWL.

RELEASED

  • RHPs – Martin Beno, Dustin Crane, Zach Gerler, John Santiago, Shane Zellers
  • LHP – Randy Mower
  • OFs – Marcus Jones, Nick Moresi

Presumably, Beno’s injury is career-threatening but the giving up on Santiago at 22 is a bit curious (any insight VladiHondo?). The rest of the pitchers fit the mold of unimpressive at the lower levels whereas Jones and Moresi were career journeyman, clearly pushed out by the Hagerstown crew of outfielders. As is always my hope for guys like that, let’s hope they can hook on in an indy and experience some success before hanging it up.

I expect to post later with a story on the Baseball America Top 10 Washington Prospects.

Dec 202010
 

Some 40-man moves will be coming shortly, as MASN’s Ben Goessling is reporting that Ryan Mattheus has been signed to a major-league deal, as was Chien Ming Wang, but the following the minor-league deals were announced today:

  • IF Brian Bixler
  • RHP Tim Wood
  • 1B Michael Aubrey
  • OF Jeff Frazier

Bixler spent 2010 with three AAA clubs (Columbus, Indianapolis, and Syracuse) and is likely an insurance policy for Danny Espinosa. Wood split time between AAA New Orleans and the Florida Marlins, posting a 4.32 ERA over 44 games for the latter. Aubrey is a former first-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians and spent 2010 with AAA Norfolk, hitting .235 with 22HR in 102G. Frazier hit .217 in 9 games with Detroit but .256 with 25HRs in 123 games at AAA Toledo. All four men are 28 years old.

Dec 192010
 

Here’s a look at how the Nats prospects are doing in the in the Winter Leagues thus far. Stats are through December 18.

BATTERS

PLAYER LG AB R H HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
Chris Marrero PWL 85 11 26 2 16 7 25 .306 .351 .424 .264 2
Wilberto Ortiz PWL 118 24 38 1 14 9 15 .322 .375 .449 .281 2
Eury Perez DWL 101 14 35 0 5 4 17 .347 .400 .396 .279 18
Wilson Ramos VWL 147 26 45 6 28 14 26 .306 .366 .510 .292 1
Jesus Valdez DWL 37 3 11 1 4 0 8 .297 .297 .432 .242 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Erik Arnesen PWL 3 3 0 2.47 8 8 43⅔ 44 17 12 3 8 18 1.19
Jeff Mandel PWL 1 1 0 2.19 19 0 20⅔ 20 5 5 1 8 16 1.35
Yunesky Maya DWL 4 1 0 0.69 7 7 39 21 3 3 1 9 41 0.77
Pat McCoy PWL 1 0 0 4.43 19 0 20⅓ 22 10 10 0 8 7 1.48
Hassan Pena PWL 1 0 0 1.23 19 0 29⅓ 15 4 4 0 8 25 0.78
Elvin Ramirez DWL 1 2 0 1.88 19 0 24 18 7 5 0 4 28 0.92
Henry Rodriguez VWL 0 1 5 1.69 18 0 21⅓ 11 4 4 0 9 28 0.94
Jack Spradlin VWL 0 0 0 1.54 16 0 11⅔ 12 4 2 0 4 9 1.37
Cory VanAllen PWL 0 0 0 5.06 10 0 10⅔ 11 7 6 1 5 2 1.50
Josh Wilkie VWL 1 2 0 4.50 14 0 14 13 7 7 3 3 2 1.14

PWL = Puerto Rican Winter League
DWL = Dominican Winter League
VWL = Venezuela Winter League

I’ve omitted a couple of names that have small sample sizes (Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, John Santiago) or have gotten injured (Danny Espinosa). Unfortunately, it’s been like the office holiday party for the soft-tossers (Arnesen, Wilkie), getting lit up for six home runs combined in less than 60 innings pitched. That’s, of course, a knee-jerk observation but it stands out to me, particularly in the case of Wilkie.

Since it’s come up in the vein of trades, Jesus Flores is hitting .355/.388/.548 in 17 games. Unfortunately, with few box scores (OK, no box scores) to look at, it’s tough to extrapolate how he’s throwing. As you can see, Ramos is also hitting well (and in the same league) so if Flores is actually healthy again, this puts the Nats in the position of not only being able to trade but release Ivan Rodriguez if need be.

Dec 162010
 

Most of you already know that Josh Willingham has been traded to the A’s for two prospects. After an eternity in Internet time (a couple of hours), the news is out on who they are. The Nats will receive RHP Henry Rodriguez and OF Corey Brown from Oakland.

Rodriguez fits a rather familiar description — short and stout (6′ and 220lbs), fastball approaching 100mph, hard slider with some tilt, and control problems. The 24-year-old-in-February posted a 4.55ERA in 29 games for Oakland after saving 11 games with AAA Sacramento and struck out more than a batter per inning at both levels. He is, however, one year removed from a 5.77ERA/1.740WHIP at AAA and two years removed from 7.46/2.317 campaign at AA. As you might imagine, scouts are intrigued with his power and believe he’ll be a force if he can learn to stop overthrowing and tame the wildness. Baseball America named him the #17 Prospect out of the Pacific League for 2010.

Brown split time between AA and AAA in 2010, posting a .320/.415/.502 line at the former but just .193/.253/.378 at the latter. Sickels described him in ’09 as a cross between Jeromy Burnitz and Kirk Gibson… on a good day, but when he’s bad, he’s horrible. He’s struggled with strikeouts (443 in 390G) but draws a fair amount of walks (185) and has good speed and a strong throwing arm. He just turned 25 in late November.

Dec 162010
 

Baseball America released its weekly transaction report after yesterday morning’s post, so I’ll pass this along with some commentary. Some of these were referenced in the comments of yesterday’s post, but to put ‘em all in one place (and recycle a visual pun)…

  • Re-signed RHP Joe Bisenius
  • Signed IF-OF Buck Coats
  • Signed OF Archie Gilbert
  • Signed OF Jonathan Van Every

Coats is a 28-year-old utility guy that has gotten three cups of coffee with the Cubs, Reds, and Jays from ’06 to ’08 and has a career .294/.352/.407 line at the AAA level. Gilbert is a 27-year-old CF speedster (57 in ’10) with little power and mediocre fielding stats (career .979, strictly as an OF). Van Every is a 31-year-old OF that’s been stalled in the Boston system, with a skill set that’s similar to Justin Maxwell.