Things have been real busy at the home office of Nationals Prospects, but it occurred to me that I haven’t done a follow-up to the “First Impressions” column from May. With the lull afforded by the All-Star break, it’s time to fix that problem.
Everybody and their grandmother wants to know when __________ will be promoted. The three most common: Matt Skole, Brian Goodwin, and Alex Meyer. Perhaps the move of Carlos Alvarez up from Auburn to Hagerstown concurring with Skole’s placement on the DL is a signal that a move is coming. Potomac does return home this coming Monday, which is seven days after Skole last played. Or it could just be that he’s legitimately hurt. But there was no mention of an injury in the game report by the Hagerstown newspaper…
I tease because I have no other recourse. The truth is that I rarely get much notice, and sometimes I find out before the team employees do (well, except for the clubbies ;-). But my working assumption is that it’s most likely to be one or none of those three that gets promoted, informed by the pattern of the past three seasons which is (altogether now) one level per year below AA.
Back to the Potomac players & pitchers. Here’s an update on what I’m seeing…
Justin Bloxom has been moved up and it was earned. Stephen King has been moved down. Evaluating this has been a battle between the heart and mind. The heart hopes for him to hit like he’s been unfairly demoted and in the process, helping the P-Nats to a second-half playoff run. The mind knows that this has been a pattern: someone from AA gets dropped down to finish out the season (e.g. Sean Rooney, Bill Rhinehart). Defensively, it’s been about what you’d expect – he’s improving relatively quickly (as you’d expect from an athletic IF), but there have been moments of cringe. Offensively, he’s showing that he’s seen AA pitching and hitting the High-A pitchers’ mistakes.
Adrian Sanchez has played here the most, but not the best. The word is out that he likes the inside heat, but he’s starting to adjust and drive the ball the other way. Defensively, he has simply not impressed, and is visibly taking steps to compensate for his lack of range, often playing a step or two onto the outfield grass.
This has been a shared position all season long. First with Zach Walters and Rick Hague, now with Jason Martinson and Hague. A lot of this is because there are more left-side IF prospects than positions, which we knew all along. Walters got promoted because of his bat, and while he showed flashes of brilliance on defense, he also committed errors in spades. It’s a similar story for both Hague and Martinson — offense is not the problem, but the defense is uneven. Hague has shown more promise at his secondary position (2B) than Martinson (3B), but the sample sizes for both are very small (16G and 4G).
Amid the (constant) carping, campaigning, and complaining about Skole, Blake Kelso has been quietly doing his job. He’s probably never going to hit for power, but I can understand why the Nationals are trying to keep him playing: He’s a decent baserunner, he plays relatively steady-if-unstellar defense and could make for a UI sometime down the line. He’s been regularly pushed aside for rehabbers and the shortstops, so the inference that he’s “blocking” anybody is simply untrue.
Kevin Keyes has a ton of power and is passable on defense, but he’s an all-or-nothing hitter and strikes out a lot. J.P. Ramirez is back and while better than he was at this point last year, most of that is attributable to being a year older and 10-15 lbs lighter. Neither has shown a tremendous amount of improvement.
The link that put in yesterday’s comments section regarding Brett Mooneyham in regards to reality vs. expectations comes to mind. In the offseason, Michael Taylor received scads of praise and was given comps to Mike Cameron and Devon White. Relative to that lofty praise, Michael Taylor has fallen way short. Considering that he’s a convert to the position and turned 21 in March, he’s going through some growing pains. There is still time for him to turn things around and put up the numbers that folks want/demand, but I’m satisfied with Sickels’ assessment that “he’s just scratching the surface,” as he runs well, covers a LOT of ground in CF, and has the kind of arm you’d expect from a former SS.
This has mostly been the province of Randolph Oduber, who seemed to be turning the corner in June but has fallen into a slump with the the turn of the month. He plays hard, he runs out every ground ball, can easily play any of the three OF positions, but just hasn’t quite mastered the strike zone. I’d like to think there may be other reasons for why he’s been unable to break through, and there probably are, but it probably is that simple.
David Freitas has done little to change my mind on two things: (1) he can hit and get on base (2) he’s not likely to stick at catcher beyond this level. I know the raw numbers don’t agree with that assessment, but having watched him catch now for more than half a season, it’s my gut feeling, especially knowing that he’s a former first baseman and could be converted with much more ease than others.
Not much new to report here, especially since it’s still basically the backup catcher and utility infielder. Erick Fernandez has replaced Beau Seabury but Francisco Soriano is still the utility guy. Fernandez has played sparingly and fits both the role and the requirements of a second-string backstop. Soriano started the season very slowly but has since returned to form, which is good enough to sub in at several positions, won’t kill you on defense, and uses his speed well.
Adam Olbrychowski — Will get lit up from time to time by the better Carolina League offenses, but can generally be counted on for six innings each time out and will do well against the teams he should.
Trevor Holder — Finally got the promotion after becoming the team’s anchor in May and June. In addition to getting healthy, he got there by no longer doing the things that hurt (leaving the ball up, issuing walks) and kept doing the things that served him well (keeping the ball down, enticing hitters to chase).
Matt Grace — Has had moments where you think he’s turned the corner, but more often than not, it feels like he’s gone up in flames. The trend of giving up a LOT more hits than innings pitched has gone on for a season and a half. It would be one thing if those were mostly singles, but to often they’re extra-base hits to the gaps. As I said in the offseason, he may be better served by returning to the bullpen, where he spent much of his collegiate career.
Matt Swynenberg — Shoulder soreness shelved him in June, but it appears that he’s gotten strong enough to return, especially after a pair of 4+ inning outings. When he’s on, he’ll get ahead and force batters to swing at pitches low and/or away. When he’s off, much like Grace, there’s not much doubt about it: the hitters will eat him alive.
Robbie Ray — One of the disturbing trends has been the dropoff in strikeouts. The K is a very sexy stat, often overrated because some pitchers sacrifice efficiency to achieve them, but it’s concerning when a pitcher gets three or less when going five or more innings, which has happened to Ray four times in 12 starts. Coming out of the all-star break, Ray was giving up a lot of runs early and then settling down. Like Taylor, it’s important to note that he’s still young for the level and also that he missed all of April.
Nathan Karns — Has become the prospect du jour thanks to the high K numbers (52 in 40⅔ IP for Potomac, including 31 over the last three starts of June) but what should make more people excited is that he seems to finally be healthy and is going deep into games, including an 8-inning, 29-batters-faced start in late June. Throws hard but is starting to get serious separation from the the heat to his breaking pitches, which is what’s helping him pile up the strikeouts.
This has gone from a strength to a question mark, particularly in the late innings.
Rob Wort — Since the All-Star game, he’s been foundering: three blown saves, two losses, and an ERA spiking from 1.07 to 2.58. Deception has always been a part of his game, but hitters at this level don’t miss pitches left up and over the plate, and that’s been the problem.
Neil Holland — Was nearly perfect in May, but has since reverted to something more human. Arguably the most reliable reliever that’s been there the whole year.
Paul Applebee — Hasn’t pitched in nearly a month and his last five outings were all pretty, both indications that he’s either hurt or done for the year or both. Struggled with the long ball (8 in 36IP).
Jimmy Barthmaier and Joe Testa — Both are older pitchers that are trying to reinvent themselves as side-armed relievers. Barthmaier, helped in part by have the long, lean physique that seems to help mechanically, has been mostly successful. Testa, who is now in Year Two of the experiment, has not.