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.

  19 Responses to “Ten Stories From 2010”

  1. Good stuff Sue–a different take on everything Nationals. Yes, Kilgour and Zuckerman have a harder task, especially Kilgour, who is the victim of a lot of absurd negativity. This site is totally baseball friendly and knowledgeable, and you are a participant. By far my favorite site.
    Baseball related–damn, I’m disappointed the Nats didn’t get Lee.

  2. Time to lasso LaRoche.
    Oddly enough I wrote Rizzo a note several years ago suggesting Boomer take up switch-hitting and play some OF.
    hmm. interesting if Harper would play some High A since he would compliment that bunch from Hagtown- Perez, Hood, Higley.
    interesting if Curran helps out Harrisburg in CF/LF with Gilbert in CF and Valdez in LF. MB in RF. Rhinehart in OF/1b.
    1/1/11

  3. Fantastic post, Sue. Thank you.

  4. Thanks, Sue. Terrific stuff! I’m sorry to be a day late, but Happy New Year!
    I think most, if not all of us, when we get up in the morning have a couple of ‘go to’ sites’ that we start our day with. Yours is definitely a ‘must see’ part of my day and I wanted to thank you for it.
    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating……….. 2011 will be the best year ever to be paying attention to the Nats minors, there are so many great stories waiting to unfold.
    I agree with your Top 10, but I think this year there will be room for a Top 20.
    I’ll miss Freda, but Auburn makes everything so much easier, AND it’s close to Cooperstown.

  5. An honest look in the rear-view mirror; Already looking forward to another season. We may not always agree on a particular point, but I always get honest feedback here.

    Thanks for a good year, and hope to see you at the Pfitz this season.

  6. Glad to see someone sees ex-Bulldog and college world series pitcher Trevor Holder in a positive light.

  7. I’m not sure LaRoche at 3 years is good nor even for two years? I still wonder what it would take to get the right blocked first base left-handed hitting prospect and combine with Michael Morse. Its time to go younger still I think.

  8. Auburn is also close to Syracuse. Perhaps the Chiefs will be less veteran AAAA depth and more interesting with up-and-coming prospects on board starting this year?

  9. Peric (2:32 – 2:35): Say what? Holder in a “positive light” – No 2010 off-season mentions from any of the pundits. Has Rizzo offered 3-years to LaRoche anywhere you’ve read? If so, I haven’t seen it. Auburn is close to Syracuse – In geographic terms, yes – In skill level, not even close.

    Where did any of this come from? Sometimes I wonder, “what color is the sky on your home planet?” – (G.Esterbrook, espn.com).

  10. @BinM,

    As Sue rightly mentions, during the stretch run Holder was critical to Potomac making it to the playoffs and the then to the championship. That, in fact, is his veritable strongest
    attribute. A gritty, never-say-die, in your eye attitude. He has that in spades. He may just have enough talent to improve. He may have the right coaching to help make that. Its happened before with other top of the rotation aces of the past. He does have a couple of college world series on his resume.

    Auburn is close enough so that you can see games in both places. And as I stated hopefully, prospects instead of retreads in both places. Just 3 years ago both of AAA and even A- had retreads, fillers there just to make up the roster. NOT GOOD. Giving the “Lerner’s are cheap” crowd strong evidence to support their position. That is clearly no longer the case and Sue can now look forward to seeing the Potomac roster age range land where it belongs.

    Now, what planet are you from? And what color is the sky there? In upstate NY in the summer and into the fall it can be a lovely place to be.

    • Peric: My apologies – Fired off a missive in what can only be described as a ‘foul mood’, and clearly an over-reaction on my part.

  11. For the record, I’m proposing we refer to the “Lerners Are Cheap” folks as “Lieutenant Dans,” because after the past two drafts and the Jayson Werth signing, they clearly don’t have any legs to stand on. (*rimshot!*)

  12. Sky was quite blue in P.E.I., Canada today. No snow anywhere until two days ago. And you guys think we live in the frozen North. Some of my friends played golf on Christmas Day.
    I’m sorry. The devil made me say it. Happy New Years to you all.
    Assuming the Nats get LaRoche and a decent pitcher, there will be a lot of surprised fans in 2011. I’m predicting a tad over 500 ball with Deitweiler being a distinct contributor to the cause.
    And don’t any of you suggest we Canadians only know hockey. I’ll be hurt.
    God, that 2005 Margaux was good.

  13. P.E. Island might just be the only place in Canada better than the land of the Finger Lakes in the summer and fall.

    They do have more pitching to push on the “AAAA starting depth” everyone likes to piss and moan about. And you almost have to include Detwiler and his poor pitching mechanics. Zimmermann is still an unknown given his injury and Garrett Mock is making a comeback of sorts, still has potential but is also older and falls into that “AAAA” category now.

    Looking at Harrisburg, instead of Thompson we find lefty Ryan Tatusko. He who led Harrisburg’s second half come back. His fastball is in the low 90′s just like Detwiler. They have their ubiquitous underrated soft tosser in Tom Milone. Tatusko and Milone appear to be promotions to the Chiefs starting staff instead of repeaters. Which means they too could end up on the major league roster with good performances? And the Nats DO HAVE a power pitching starter in Harrisburg in the form of hard throwing Bradley Peacock. However, are he and fellow starter Tanner Roark ultimately bullpen pitchers as in Adam Carr and Cole Kimball. Peacock might be further along than Tanner Roark? Does Peacock get promoted to Syracuse and if so as a starter or reliever?

    There’s now also Brian Broderick and of course Chien-Ming Wang, who must show something this year or else … and yes they’ve still got Mandel, Arneson, Chico, Barthmaier, Martis, Martin, and Atilano. And then later in the year perhaps both Sammy Solis and Stephen Strasburg?

    Point is this year there appears to be a lot more competition even without signing that major arm for the top of the rotation. Have to hope competition has the desire effect that Rizzo keeps talking about.

  14. A suggestion for the big board and draft tracker sheets? I was thinking of making the names into links to the player on the baseball reference web site. Perhaps a scouting report could be added (if there are any?) as well? Just a thought …

    • Since I’ve got a volunteer working those two sheets, I’d like to keep them as they are. But I think I can create something along those lines over the coming weeks, using the watchlists and the ’11 books.

  15. Oh, also I kind of wonder what Rizzo, the scouts, the FO see in Ryan Mattheus? Is he bullpen or a starter?

    • I’ve been pondering that question (along with why was he on the 40-man roster) since they acquired him in July, 2009. Hopefully, we’ll see something this spring. when he’ll (finally) be a NRI.

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