Nov 122011
 

Bryce Harper extended his hit streak to 16 games as Scottsdale defeated Phoenix, 3-2 in a scheduled seven-inning contest.

Harper went 2-for-3 with an RBI double while playing left field. The two hits pushed his batting average to .321 while the RBI was #25, which is third-best in the AFL. Defensively, he had two putouts and no assists.

Derek Norris was the only other National to appear in the contest, but had a dismal 0-for-4 game with no walks or strikeouts. It was the first time he failed to reach base this fall. Defensively, it wasn’t any better: Error #6 on a throw following a wild pitch, allowing the runner on first to reach third.

Scottsdale finishes up the week this afternoon with a game against Surprise.
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Thankfully, there will be no references to either Thurman Munson or Lyman Bostick Bostock as Wilson Ramos was rescued from his kidnappers yesterday afternoon by Venezuelan authorities. Cheryl Nichols has the pics and the human-interest angle on District Sports Page.

As you might have guessed, Ryan Tatusko will remain in Venezuela despite the incident. And for the haters (e.g. Chris Needham and Kevin Reiss), Tatusko won’t be going home anytime soon on account of his pitching, either. In his fourth outing last night, the 26-year-old righthander tossed six shutout innings and struck out five while allowing just one hit and walking two.

Nov 112011
 

It was a light night for the Nationals in the Arizona Fall League last night, with Zach Walters the sole representative as the Scottsdale Scorpions edged the Surprise Saguaros, 2-1.

Walters played third base and batted eighth. He had a putout and two assists and made no errors on defense. At the plate, Walters sandwiched a fifth-inning single between a groundout in the third and a fielder’s choice in the seventh.

After four night games this week, Scottsdale visits Phoenix this afternoon and Surprise tomorrow afternoon.

Nov 102011
 

Accompanying each team’s Top 10 per Baseball America is a chat for subscribers only. As such, I have to paraphrase and condense, which I’ve done per prospect, per ranking. I’ve then cherry-picked some names that came up in the chat. If it’s in brackets, those are my clarifications or amplifications. Otherwise, you’re looking at the opinions of Aaron Fitt.

1.) Bryce Harper — Has an abundance of confidence, but no different than A-Rod, Bonds, or Kobe Bryant. Harper will see the majors in 2012, but his odds of making the Opening Day roster are low.

2.) Anthony Rendon — Could be moved to 2B, but 3B is probably his best position, given his injury history [ankles, not shoulder]. Conversion unlikely to take long, so Nats can afford to wait.

3.) Brad Peacock — 2011 not a fluke, and of the pitchers discussed, the most likely to achieve his ceiling, though others have a higher ceiling.

4.) A.J. Cole — Mostly discussed in passing, but said to have second-highest ceiling among the five pitchers in the Top 10

5.) Brian Goodwin — Said to have worked on incorporating his trunk into his swing during instrux, and was likened to Garrett Anderson, though with less power [and presumably, more speed]

6.) Alex Meyer — High ceiling [well, he is 6’9″ *rimshot!*] but the least likely to realize it, given the usual concerns for power-forward-sized pitchers [Andrew Brackman comparison made].

7.) Matt Purke — Like Cole, mostly discussed in comparison to the others, but characterized his signing as a “high upside gamble.”

8.) Sammy Solis — Said to have the lowest ceiling, but second-best chance of achieving it. [Bear in mind that “ceiling” for all these guys is top-line starter.]

9.) Derek Norris — His combination of pitch recognition, power, and discipline is his greatest asset, but it now appears that his path has been blocked and a trade could be in his future.

10.) Steve Lombardozzi — Bullishly characterized as potential everyday 2B that will hit in the .280-.310 range, draw some walks, steal a few bases, get lauded a la David Eckstein.

Destin Hood — Third-best OF prospect but a left-field only guy [*ahem*]

Tyler Moore — Plus-plus power, but lacks Marrero’s ability to hit for average and draw walks.

Chris Marrero — Plus power potential, but now it’s doubtful he’ll be more than a fringy regular or right-handed platoon player.

Tommy Milone — Back-end starter that makes the most out of superior control and a plus changeup — plenty of lefties with his profile that have succeeded with that stuff in that role.

Michael Taylor — Upside of and similar to Mike Cameron or Devon White.

Matt Skole — Outside the Nats Top 20, needs to step it up defensively to stick at 3B, but has good plate discipline.

Robbie Ray — Has fallen down the ladder in terms of projection, now a #4 starter.

Matt Grace — Likely to return to the ‘pen eventually.

Danny Rosenbaum — Like Milone, knows how to work a batter, but unlike Milone lacks a plus pitch. Probably a middle relief candidate.

Manny Rodriguez — Intriguing upside with a decent fastball, strong frame, and is beginning to get a good feel for his curve and change.

Nov 102011
 

Sammy Solis wasn’t as sharp as his last outing, getting touched for three runs (and the loss) in the first as the Scottsdal Scorpions would go on to lose, 5-0.

The southpaw would finish with three innings pitched, four hits allowed, two walks surrendered, and two strikeouts while throwing just 33 of his 63 pitches for strikes. The loss evened his AFL mark at 1-1.

Pat Lehman would receive a similar greeting in the fourth, giving up two runs and finishing with four hits allowed over his two innings pitched. He walked none and struck out two.

Rafael Martin appeared in the 7th and tossed a 1-2-3 frame with a strikeout.

Nats bats Bryce Harper, Derek Norris and Zach Walters appeared in the game in left field, catcher and third base respectively…

…Harper extended his hit streak to 15 games with a second-inning double, and committed the cardinal sin of making the first out of the inning by getting thrown out at third. He struck out twice and made two putouts on defense.

…Norris reached base for the 18th time in as many games with a sixth-inning single. The Desert Dogs were successful in both steal attempts against him.

…Walters went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and had no defensive chances.
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By now, many of you have heard that Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in his native Venezuela — it was first brought to my attention by Jeff550 via the comments — and as of this writing there’s still no word as to his fate.

Despite being decidedly closer to the scene, farmhand Ryan Tatusko said via Twitter that he found out about it via the Washington Post. Fortunately, the young man had the presence of mind to write something about it on his blog, giving us some perspective on what it’s like as a jugador de béisbol americano.

Nov 092011
 


For most of you, this list is hardly new. But the blogging protocol is that I needed Baseball America to officially release its list so I could link to it before mocking discussing it. Without further ado, here’s the list from the home office in Durham, North Carolina…

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, RHP
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, RHP
7. Matt Purke, LHP
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS

So what’s with the picture, Sue? Glad you asked. I’ve put the prospects with zero regular-season pro experience in italics. As the old expression goes, when you’re girl watching the prettiest one is the last one to walk by. It’s a crude metaphor, but we all know there’s some commonality here with ranking prospects.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these four isn’t a prospect. It’s just my personal conviction that placing a guy with no professional track record over a guy that does doesn’t pass the sniff test — especially when two of these four have injury issues, one of which we’ve been tracking from afar in the Arizona Fall League. For example: Which Matt Purke is the real Matt Purke — the one that’s turned in two scoreless innings in his last two outings, or the one that threw in-game BP the two appearances prior?

Maybe that’s just a pet peeve, so forgive me for seizing the chance to rant… I’m not as diplomatic as others have been on the subject.

Like last year, the free article focuses a lot on how the Nationals have spent freely and heavily the past three drafts. Two of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” — Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — while a third went down with a season-ending injury (Cole Kimball). Chris Marrero dropped off the list while Cole, Harper, Norris, Peacock and Solis are repeats from last year.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the “best in the system” lists. Harper remains the best power hitter and best outfield arm, but lost the title of “Best Athlete” to Michael Taylor, who was also named as the best defensive outfielder (disagree, but no argument over naming Steve Lombardozzi as the best defensive infielder). Anthony Rendon with his undefined pro average (zero divided by zero) is the best hitter for average and those zero walks drawn have earned him the system’s best strike-zone discipline, topping Derek Norris’s .403 career OBP in 1,815 more plate appearances (OK, so maybe I’m still ranting). Brad Peacock’s curve was named the best in the system while Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole were said to possess the best slider and heater, respectively.

Among the non-Top 10 tools, Eury Perez retains the title of fastest baserunner (Kobernus is close, but Perez has that proverbial fifth gear). Tommy Milone retains the title of best control and takes the best changeup honors away from Josh Wilkie (which might explain why he’s demoted his bender to a show-me pitch). Deion Williams has the strongest infield arm while Sandy Leon was named the best defensive catcher (agreed).

Lastly, here’s where BA thinks these guys will start the 2012 season:
MLB or AAA – Lombardozzi
AAA – Norris
AA or AAA – Harper
AA – Solis
High-A – Cole, Purke
Low-A – Goodwin, Meyer

BA took no guess at Rendon, but my rule of thumb is to take whatever level you think is about right, and drop back one: In this case, Hagerstown instead of Potomac. If he’s as good as advertised, I’ll get to see him in June or July, presuming that field conditions won’t play a factor in promotions as they allegedly didn’t this past summer.

Byron Kerr will be running a series based on his conversations with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America (author of the article linked in the first graf), beginning with Lombardozzi. I encourage you to take a look, as that’s where we learned that the Nigel Tufnel is Destin Hood.

Nov 092011
 

Make that 14 straight games for Bryce Harper, as the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect went 1-for-4 in the Scottsdale Scorpions’ 2-0 win last night.

Defensively, Harper remains a work in progress, committing his fourth error (throwing) while making no putouts in left field.

Likewise, the other Nationals position player to appear in the game, Zach Walters, notched his fifth “E” (fielding) but did have an assist while playing third base. At the plate, Walters was 1-for-3 with a walk, pushing his average to .209.

Matt Purke made another scoreless appearance, but labored through a 21-pitch inning to do it. He allowed a hit and a walk and struck out two. The according-to-BA #7 prospect was credited with a hold for his efforts.

Nov 082011
 

Let’s get this out of the way: AAA is the highest level of the minors, but it’s not where the best prospects are found. (In a related story, there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Great Pumpkin).

Rather 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 ready to fill in holes, and secondarily to finish prospects until they’re ready and/or needed.

The thing that stands out the most for me about 2011 Chiefs is how the likes of J.D. Martin, Yunesky Maya, Craig Stammen, and Garrett Mock might have been part of the DC rotation in April instead of Syracuse just a year or two ago. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reason why the Washington Nationals were a last-place team for three straight seasons before finishing third in 2011. You don’t win with pitchers that would be unlikely to be starting (or even in the majors) for another organization.

Of course, close behind is how four players are now on the verge of “graduating” from prospect status, even with an improved parent club. Under the previous regime, we might have seen Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, and Chris Marrero playing, if not starting, in August (or even July) instead of September. Granted, this might be an apex of sorts, but it’s certainly pleasing to see young talent making it to Washington more on merit than need.

With that, let’s follow the format I’ve been using for the previous season reviews, taking a look at the team vs. the International League, then drilling down to the players. The one difference, however, is I’ll focus only on the players who are league-average age or younger (~27) and in the upper half or so in usage (~150PA or ~30IP).
HITTING

PITCHING

To no one’s surprise, the Chiefs were 13th in runs scored and 14th in hits collected, despite finishing 6th in on-base percentage. As you can deduce from the sub-but-not-far-off-from-.500 record, Syracuse allowed the fifth fewest runs and the least walks in the I.L., which was further aided by having the league’s second-best defense both in terms of errors committed and fielding percentage.

Still, the initial reaction I had was that the numbers were better than expected. Instead, as you can see, most were right around the league norms. I think in some ways, this is what doing these season reviews is for: Checking the final numbers to see how the teams really stacked up. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the team was younger than average for both the bats and the arms, even with 28- and 29-year-olds in the starting lineup and rotation (the aforementioned foursome on the verge was the offset).

With that, let’s examine the 27-and-unders that were in the top half in terms of usage for Syracuse. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

The Matt Antonelli fans may be permitted to crow — offensively, he was well above average with a triple-slash of .297/.393/.460. The problem is that those 19 games at shortstop were the first 19 he played as a pro, and he was definitely substandard there. The majority of his career has been as a second baseman, so one has to wonder if he can remake himself as a third baseman. But I also don’t think we should deduce that the Nats didn’t (or don’t) want him back; it might be more fair to presume that he feels like he’s blocked, and certainly it’s his right as a MLFA to go elsewhere on his quest to make it back to the show.

Marrero and Lombardozzi aside (and to a lesser extent, Jesus Valdez and Jhonatan Solano), you’re mostly looking at a collection of minor-league veterans much like Harrisburg. I know Corey Brown has some supporters here, too, but one has to wonder if he’s merely a younger version of Roger Bernadina in the eyes of the front office. As of this writing, there are six open spots on the 40-man roster and not a lot of tough decisions on who to protect (Norris and Moore seem likely to get added, but for all the others a case can be made for exposing them to next month’s Rule 5 Draft). Given Rizzo’s proclivity to protect the guys he’s acquired via trade (*cough, cough* Mock, Chico) coupled with his unwillingness to make a roster move until forced, Brown will likely be “safe” for the immediate future.

There are a lot of names that people might recognize in this group. That’s because nine of this eleven are homegrown. Three of them were in the Nationals rotation in September and will battle for a spot in April. A couple more have bounced back and forth between AAA and MLB, initially as starters, subsequently as relievers. A couple more are probably wondering what they have to do to get that chance.

This time next year, it wouldn’t surprise me if less than half these guys are still with the organization, majors or minors. I’m not even counting Adam Carr or Cole Kimball, both of whom were in the AFL this time last year, pitching their way onto the 40-man after years in the system. Now, they’re both recovering from surgery, perhaps even wondering if they’ve had their Moonlight Graham moment… even if in all likelihood, they’ll be back in Viera next Spring one way or the other.

THE OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Like last year, I have to do a singular list because they’re just simply aren’t that many candidates. Four of them are pretty damn obvious. The fifth may as well be a coin toss, so I’ll let you know who was the “tails” with an honorable mention, then we can discuss in the comments. Without further ado…

1. Brad Peacock
2. Chris Marrero
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tommy Milone
5. Corey Brown
HM: Brad Meyers

Nov 082011
 

After the entire Nats contingent was trotted out last Friday, just two made into Monday’s night contest, which the Scottsdale Scorpions lost, 9-4.

Derek Norris caught and kept his on-base streak perfect at 17 with a 1-for-5 night. No baserunners attempted to steal against him, and he had no errors or passed balls, assisting on a infield roller and registering six putouts on strikeouts.

Zach Walters played third base and went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI double. Defensively, he had no putouts or errors and assisted on four groundouts.

In an upset of near miniscule proportions, Bryce Harper was not named the AFL Player of the Week last week despite hitting .500 with 2HR and 8RBI. Instead, the honor went to Texas’s Mike Olt, who bested Harper by batting .571 with the same HR and RBI totals. Sammy Solis’s 9K over 4IP outing on Friday did, however, garner him the AFL Pitcher of the Week award.

Nov 062011
 

In the made-for-TV showcase AFL Rising Stars game, the West Division beat the East Divison, 11-2, you know, in case anyone truly cares about the score.

Bryce Harper (DH) and Derek Norris both started (C) and played most of the game, which was over early as the Western squad put up 10 of its 11 runs over the first three innings. Naturally, the MLB.com angle is the great hitting, but I’m inclined to believe what John Sickels wrote hours before the game:

The main thing I have noticed here is the poor quality of pitching compared to hitting. In fact, the pitching… I’ve seen has been so bad that [it’s] hard to properly analyze some of the hitters.

Full disclosure: I taped the game and just watched the Harper and Norris at-bats this morning. Those five first-inning runs meant no stealing against Norris, so not much to look for in controlling the running game (though he looked steady in fast-forward ;-). Can’t say that I regret choosing to spend the evening in with the ball-and-chain spouse.

Both Harper and Norris were hitless (0-for-2), but both walked once and I think I saw what Sickels meant. Both walks weren’t from pitching around (remember the West was up big), but from missing with the breaking pitches in the dirt. Both hitters’ highlights came from flyballs, with Harper looping an opposite-field flyball to left for sacrifice fly and Norris driving a 396-footer to dead center, missing a solo HR by about three or four feet.

Harper did strike out twice, but that’s hardly news. It was actually kind of amusing to listen to Dave Valle fake his way through some of questions about the length of Harper’s swing (both Sickels and Law have noted it’s been shortened a bit, with Sickels noting he’s not lost any power in the process), gushing instead about his youth and power. Almost made me wish for Tim McCarver to have been there. Almost.

Scottsdale resumes play tomorrow with evening games from Monday to Thursday and afternoon games on Friday and Saturday. Barring rain or a change in the rotation, Sammy Solis’s next outing is most likely to come in one of those day games.