Oct 152012
 

For the second straight season, the Auburn Doubledays won the Pinckney Division and racked up a .600+ winning percentage. Alas, for the second straight season they fell short of the league championship, losing in the Divisional round this year instead of the Finals last year, two games to one.

As the year prior, the lion’s share of the Doubledays roster was 2012 draftees — seven of the top 12 batters in terms of PAs, five of the top 12 pitchers in terms of IPs. This, of course, is a product of the Washington focus on drafting collegiate players (26 of 40) in general and seniors in particular (16 of 24 signees). Not to, um, beat a dead horse, but my stance from last year that the Nats should consider drafting more HS players in light of the large number of 22-24-y.o.’s in the system remains the same.

That the parent club is now in a window of opportunity that has come sooner than most reasonable people would have expected (most of the “Natmosphere” pegged them winning about 85-87 games) solidifies that opinion. In other words, the organizatiom can afford to spend more time developing a hidden gem rather than playing it safe and hoping that a collegiate player can be pushed from a serviceable backup to an everyday player.

Continuing with our format, let’s examine how Auburn compared to the rest of the N.Y. Penn League…
HITTING

PITCHING

Like last season, the 2012 Auburn Doubledays could hit, leading the league in runs scored, hits, and batting average and were second in on-base percentage and slugging. They weren’t quite as proficient in stealing bases in terms of quantity, but were successful nearly 79% of the time, a slight dip from last year’s insane rate of 85.5 percent.

On the flip side, however, the pitching needed all that offense because it wasn’t up to snuff: 10th in runs allowed and hit batsman, 13th in ERA and home runs allowed, 14th in hits allowed. There are a couple of caveats worth noting. Just two starting pitchers were below league-average in terms of ERA, though it should be noted that a couple pitchers had huge ERA-FIP differentials, which is not uncommon in short-season ball, and roughly a half-dozen pitchers had better than a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

I’m listing the Top 13* hitters and pitchers in terms of plate appearances and innings pitched and using defensive games played for the listing of position. The full statistics for the team can be found here.
(# = 2011 Draft Pick   ** = DSL Graduate)   *One extra because the #13 guy on both lists is worth noting

There is really little to complain about when it came to the offense — 10 of these 13 were above league average in GPA (link for those unfamiliar) and seven had isolated power rates (likewise) above the norm. Yes, you can write off some of this in the aggregate to age, but this was true last year and that carried over to Hagerstown this year (as predicted).

Defensively, the team was middle-of-the pack with one rather notable exception: catchers. Kieboom and Manuel (along with third-stringer Andruth Ramirez) combined to throw out 45% of the runners that attempted to steal against them and allowed a league-low 38 in 76 games, which is phenomenal when you consider how many opportunities teams had to run against them. Plus, the trio committed just six errors (four by Ramirez) for an aggregate fielding percentage of .991.

It’s not all sunny though, as we move along to the pitchers…

To be sure, there are some bright spots to be found here. Robert Benincasa’s outstanding walk and strikeout rates (1.2 BB/9and 12.3 K/9 for a ratio of 10.67 to 1) Derek Self’s 2.50 FIP, Nick Lee and Blake Monar’s HR rates (0.29 and 0.16 respectively). But you can also see a some high walk totals and as aforementioned, the team gave up the second-most HRs in the league. There are also quite a few innings there thrown by middle-relief/swingmen that had ERAs close to 5.00 (121⅓ between Medina, Waterman and Fischer, which sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?).
OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
For the third straight year, I was able to make it to an Auburn contest, albeit a single game in Aberdeen. Still, this mostly sight-unseen, like the GCL and DSL and prone to the same problems that lead to the same misjudgments in rankings. For example, I put Bryce Ortega ahead of Matt Skole last year and didn’t rank Nathan Karns as a Top 5 for Auburn (though in my defense, Karns had a WHIP of 1.473 over eight starts after blowing through the GCL). So I expect to be wrong on a couple of these, too (hence the honorable mentions, natch).

Top 5 Batters
1. Estarlin Martinez
2. Wander Ramos
3. Brandon Miller
4. Shawn Pleffner
5. Mike McQuillan
HMs: Spencer Kieboom, Narciso Mesa

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Nick Lee
2. Robert Benincasa
3. Derek Self
4. Brett Mooneyham
5. Pedro Encarnacion
HMs: Ivan Pineyro, Cody Davis

Oct 142012
 

The Rafters pitchers had few surprises as the Saguaros pounded out 20 hits en route to a 10-2 win yesterday.

Potomac and Hagerstown teammates Aaron Barrett and Jason Martinson were the only two Nationals to see game action.

Martinson batted sixth as the DH and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

Barrett pitched the 7th inning and was knocked for two unearned runs on three hits, tossing 23 pitches with 15 going for strikes.

With the loss, Salt River falls to 3-2 and has the day off today. This week it’s a pair of games against Phoenix, Peoria, and Scottsdale with home games on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Oct 132012
 

A pair of two-run rallies in the middle innings sunk the Salt River Rafters for a 4-0 loss on Friday.

Five Nationals minor-leaguers got into yesterday’s game:

  • Brian Goodwin led off the first with a walk, but went 0-for-3 with a strikeout for the game. He caught two flyballs in left field.
  • Matt Skole also drew a first-inning walk and singled in the 8th, going 1-for-3 overall. He committed his first error at first base, but also took part in two double plays, a traditional ’round-the-horn and a 4-3-4 where Skole helped catch the runner on second trying to sneak over to third.
  • Anthony Rendon singled in the second and a drew a walk in the 7th, finishing 1-for-3. Defensively, he was the “5″ on the 5-4-3 DP.
  • Cole Kimball retired just one of the five batters he faced, walking the bases loaded in the 5th and letting in two runs on Skole’s error. He threw 20 pitches, seven of which were strikes.
  • Paul Demny relieved Kimball and stranded the two runners he inherited, but also struggled with his control with 12 of 28 pitches missing the zone. He walked two and gave up two hits over two and two-thirds innings.

Salt River falls to 3-1 with the loss and finishes up the first week of the AFL with an afternoon game at the Surprise Saguaros.

Oct 122012
 

The Salt River Rafters walked off with a two-run rally in the 9th for their third straight win on Thursday night, 6-5.

Brian Goodwin led off the the final frame with a solo shot to tie it at 5-5. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon drew a walk to load the the bases and set up the game-winning single by White Sox first baseman Andy Wilkins.

Goodwin would finish the night at 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI while batting out of the #9 spot in the lineup. Rendon walked twice, scored once, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI double. He was #3 in the lineup and #5 on the defensive chart, taking a grounder to third in the 9th for his only defensive chance.

Ryan Perry got the start for the Rafters, but was touched for two runs on four hits and two walks over three innings. He threw 55 pitches, 31 for strikes and faced 14 batters with three strikeouts, three groundouts, a lineout and two flyballs.

Salt River and Scottsdale rematch tonight in the Scorpions’ home field at Scottsdale Stadium.

Oct 112012
 

Ed. note: Another on-the-ground report from frequent commenter TBRFan.
Yesterday’s game was not very good for the Nats’ farmhands, losing 7-0 to the Astros’ minor-leaguers.

The Nats were never seemingly in this game, and you could tell that they were ready to go home, as this was the last game of the instructional league program. Even the umpires were “late” to the show, pulling in on a utility vehicle through the centerfield wall at exactly 10 a.m., the players waiting on the field for them to show up. Since the bats did little or nothing, I’ll focus on the pitchers.

Taylor Jordan pitched the first two innings. He allowed two singles and a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the first. In the second, he gave up a double, with that runner scored on a crazy broken-bat single with flying shards of wood that almost cleaned out the entire Nats’ coaching staff, who were sitting in folding chairs outside of the dugout. The Nats were able to nail him trying to stretch it into a double. Jordan struck out the next two to finish his outing strong.

Robbie Ray pitched the 3rd and 4th innings, giving up a HUGE home run. The Houston batter put it about 30 feet past the 404 mark on the left-center field wall, nearly hitting the team bus while traveling through a bunch of palm trees. Ray also notched two K’s, with one coming when he was down in the count 3-0, and walked one.

Pedro Encarnacion pitched the 5th and 6th innings, giving up no runs and only allowing one single. He got a big caught-looking whiff in the 6th. The batter was not pleased and stood in the box for a good 10 seconds before slowly moving out.

Kylin Turnbull pitched in the 7th, and the wheels started to fall off the bus for the Nats — single, error, infield single, sacrifice hit… it just kept on coming as the ‘Stros tacked on their fifth run.

It got no better in the 8th with Michael Boyden pitching. He got two flyouts to start, then a double, a walk, and a two-run triple. It wasn’t pretty.

By the 9th inning, the sidearm pitcher Hollins came in and closed out the game, giving up a double to the first batter, but getting a fly ball that send the runner to third and then stranded him there with tapper back to the mound and a grounder to third.

As for hitting, as previously mentioned, the bats were mostly silent: two-out singles for starters Michael Taylor and Adrian Sanchez; a walk and a leadoff double for Randolph Oduber; a one-out single for Tony Renda in the 7th and a leadoff walk for Shawn Pleffner in the 9th.

For anyone that is a minor-league baseball fan, I still believe the instructional league is where you want to be. I was one of TWO fans, the other a retiree from Orlando – nice guy! Cheering is, well, not really needed –- if you let out a hoot or holler, EVERYONE hears you. Plus, there are no foul balls to be had. Players collect them up and throw them back on the field. Players not in the game? They shag foul balls, sing songs, mock the other players, run the radar guns, chat with other players, or play batboy (really)! Heck, they were mowing the grass today during the game. Imagine pitching to the sound of the leaf blower coming out of the tunnel.

For the purists/junkies, it’s almost like a “field of dreams” type of game. You see all the players you love, minus all the screaming kids, drunk fans, and people that are just disinterested in what’s going on. Today’s game had NO scoreboard, NO music, no concessions. If you don’t keep score, you’d have no idea the inning, score, anything. It’s just a game… and that’s the way (at least in my little world) it should be.

At the end of the game, the coaches gave a pep talk, told the players to clean out lockers and turn in their gear. And that was it… the players went out the same gate I did, and they walked the 200 yards to the training complex and went home. I was delighted to get a thank-you and a wave from a bunch of players that recognized me from the games I attend at Memorial Stadium. That’s why I keep coming, and cross my fingers for each of them to get a taste of the big leagues some day.

Oct 112012
 

Highlighted by back-to-back homers from Arizona’s Matt Davidson and Washington’s Matt Skole, a four-run first propelled the Salt River Rafters to an 11-3 win yesterday over the Mesa Solar Sox.

Three Nationals farmhands saw game action:

• Brian Goodwin led off and played centerfield, going 2-for-5 with a walk and two runs scored, including a solo shot in the 9th to cap off Salt River’s offensive onslaught.

• Skole was a triple shy of the cycle with a single and a two-RBI double in his subsequent ABs, finishing the game at 3-for-5 with a walk and a run scored and three RBI while batting fifth.

• Jason Martinson served as the DH, but went 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout while batting ninth.

Defensively, Goodwin had no chances while Skole made his professional debut at first base, catching three groundouts and committing no errors. As noted in the game story on the AFL site, Skole had made 37 errors in 172 games at third base over the past two seasons — a fielding percentage of just .916.

Ryan Perry is expected to take the hill tonight as the Rafters host the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Oct 102012
 

Editor’s note: Frequent commenter TBRFan is Florida and here are some observations from yesterday’s Nationals-Braves game, which the Nats won, 6-2

I showed up at noon for what I had been told was a 1 p.m. and it was already in the 4th inning. There were about five fans and eight-to-ten scouts; the rest were players and grounds crew. The most entertaining part of the day was the scoreboard crew (yes, this time there was a scoreboard!) playing Earth, Wind and Fire between innings, which drew rave reviews from the Nats coaches, who were saluting their caps to the booth and dancing on the field (Tony Tarasco, in particular, had the hips a-swingin’). A close second was the home plate umpire calling a balk on a Braves pitcher, and the Atlanta coaches from yelling from the dugout “it’s instructional league, let it go man!” which drew some chuckles.

So let’s get down to what I saw…
The Braves had NO names on their jerseys, and there were no rosters to be had. The inning I got there, a #50 for ATL was pitching, and he was throwing pitches so hard you’d think he was going to break the catchers hand. Control was good and within reason for this level.

Nick Lee was the pitcher in the top of the 5th, he got a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout with a wicked hard* slider that froze the batter and got “ooohhh’s” from the minimal crowd. I was impressed with what I saw, considering Luke’s report of not Lee being a hard thrower. The catcher’s glove was popping from his pitches.*Original wording, and an excellent New England-style double adjective. Very smahht.

Batting in the bottom of the 5th, Tony Renda laid down a nice bunt to get to first. Mike McQuillan walked. Destin Hood doubled to score Renda while McQuillan took third. Kevin Keyes struck out swinging for the first out. Michael Taylor had a sac fly to center, then Caleb Ramsey walked. Raudy Read then grounded out to third to end the inning, the Nats now up 3-1.

In the 6th, Stephen Perez walked, then Wilmer Difo had a sacrifice bunt. Renda got a RBI ground-rule double over the right fielder’s head that was hit a TON, but Perez was stopped at third. Mcquillan got a sac fly to plate Perez, then Estarlin Martinez blooped double to left that drove in Renda. Keyes got a walk, which I like to see for the big guy, then Randolph Oduber came up and struck out to end the inning. The Nats scored twice in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.

It was Miller time in the 7th, as Brandon went into LF and Justin went behind the plate. Offensively, they walked and doubled to push the sixth and final Nats run across. After a strikeout, a walk put runners on 1st and 2nd, but a the Nats flew out and grounded out to strand two and go up 6-1. The eighth was also a 1-2-3 affair for the Nats.

After Lee, Casey Selsor pitched the 6th and part of the 7th. He gave a walk and a HR to account for the second Atlanta run and was pulled with one. Robert Benicasa followed, getting two quick outs to finish the inning. He struck out the first batter in the 8th, but then loaded the bases with a walk and two singles. Derek Self ended the threat with a double play to end the 8th but then proceeded to create a one-out jam of his own in the 9th with a hit batsman and a single before rolling two groundouts to end the game.

Justin Miller caught the last three innings of the game and had some the growing pains you’d expect from a convert to the position, but was otherwise serviceable. Keyes caught everything that was thrown his way. Surprisingly, there were no errors during the six innings that I saw.

Next up: the Nats vs. the Astros.

Oct 102012
 


The 2012 Arizona Fall League began with a 6-5 win for the Salt River Rafters over the Mesa Solar Sox.

It was a light night in terms of the Nationals. Anthony Rendon started and played third base, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Defensively, had a putout and assist, both coming in the third inning on a lineout and a bunt attempt. Earlier this week, Rendon was the sole Nat to make John Sickels’s preliminary Top 50 Hitting Prospects for 2013.

Paul Demny was the only other National to appear in the game. He turned in an adventuresome-but-scoreless inning of relief with two walks and two wild pitches. The 23-year-old struck out one but threw just 12 of 25 pitches for strikes.

The two teams rematch this afternoon. Ryan Perry, the sole starting pitcher among Washington’s AFL contingent, is not expected to start until tomorrow night.

Oct 092012
 

As noted last Friday, Baseball America has done the proverbial double dip, naming centerfielder Brian Goodwin to its 2012 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List.

Goodwin comes in at #7, a little less than a week after being named the #8 prospect in the Sally League, and he’s immediately compared to Boston Red Sox farmhand Jack Bradley Jr. Here are the highlights from the scouting report (to their credit, it is different than Sally League notes):

A wiry yet strong athlete, he has surprising over-the-fence power, while his speed means he’ll leg out plenty of extra-base hits. His compact lefty stroke gives him a chance to hit for average, especially when combined with his discerning batting eye and willingness to use all fields. Scouts expect Goodwin will become a successful and intuitive basestealer with experience. Plus range and a solid arm suggest that he’ll be able to hold down center field for a while.

I missed the chance to see Goodwin play in June when I stopped in Charleston, finishing up a week-long trip through Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia; He’d been suspended for a home plate argument two nights prior. I did, however, get the chance to see Jackie Bradley Jr. play for Salem against Potomac on several occasions, and if the comp is legitimate (and they concede that Bradley is more refined currently but believe Goodwin has a “tick more raw tools”), then Nats fans have good reason to be excited because JBJ was one of the most exciting players to watch in the Carolina League last season.

BA points to the Washington Nationals CF “instability” as the reason for the two-level jump, referring to the more recent franchise history and not Bryce Harper per se, and noting that his triple slash was .252/.312/.400 after an 8-for-51 start in his first 14 games at AA. Overall, Goodwin hit .223/.306/.373 with 5HR and 14RBI in 42 games for Harrisburg, where he’ll most likely open the 2013 campaign.

Oct 082012
 

Welcome to the saltines of the seven-course meal that is the Nationals minors — something that cleanses the palate before we get a taste of Auburn, where the more appetizing draft picks are usually sent.

What’s perhaps more frustrating is that despite being the oldest team in the league for the past three seasons, the GCL Nationals have been cellar dwellers. The pitching and defense were close to league-average (4.05 R/G vs. 4.00; .964FA vs. .963) but the offense was below average (3.72 R/G, 3rd worst). Winning and performance are supposed to be secondary to learning and indoctrination, but must they be mutually exclusive?!

Breaking it down statistically vs. the rest of the GCL…
HITTING

PITCHING
     
In a sample size of just 60 games, there are bound to be some anomalies. Such as the offense being above-average in most every major category but scoring runs, hitting for power, and staying out of the double play. The pitchers gave up more hits and homers than average but were also tied for giving up the fewest walks (in another oddity, the K and BB numbers of the team they tied, the GCL Rays, were identical) in the GCL. They also gave up the fewest balks and threw the fewest wild pitches.

Those are the kinds of things you hope to find when taking a closer look at the numbers — like the DSL, this is an exercise of scouting by boxscore. Now, let’s take a look at the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2011 or 2012; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2011; Players with a carat(^) are NDFAs; Players with a plus symbol were promoted to Auburn and/or Hagerstown. The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Like last year, there were three GCL repeaters (Difo, Valdez, Severino), two of which were promoted in-season from the DSL. Unfortunately, of those three only Severino showed any significant statistical improvement. But Narciso Mesa is a good reminder that these numbers shouldn’t be taken as gospel — his line for 32 games looks bad (.229/.262/.297) yet in 32 games at Auburn he lit up the NYPL (.343/.391/.400). Therefore, it’s quite possible that next year this trio will go to Auburn like Estarlin Martinez, Wander Ramos, and Mesa did this year.

The two NDFAs — Matt Foat and Will Piwinica-Worms — are also intriguing players. Both were defensive standouts and both received more playing time than any other 2012 draftees (though the counter-argument is that they got Mock/Chico treatment). Unfortunately, both are 22 and even if that’s a “young” 22 (both born in 1990), it can’t be ignored entirely. Of the two, I lean towards Foat perhaps going a bit further up the ladder, though that’s based purely on his strong offensive numbers (.333/.404/.401).

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
The most encouraging thing I saw here was how many of these guys were promoted during the season — three of the Top 12, six overall (Blake Schwartz, Leonard Hollins, and Michael Boyden were the others). Some of this, no doubt, was planned (e.g. Pineyro, Anderson) but after seeing so many rehabbers the past two seasons, it’s almost novel.

Four pitchers made the jump from the DSL, with two of them (Pineyro, Mendez) getting a look in Auburn. On the flip side, four were repeats from 2012 and only one (Heredia) made noticeable (on a numbers basis) progress, the others taking a step back or possibly getting hurt (2011 Watchlister Anthony Marcelino made just one appearance). If last year is any guide, we’re likely to see Vasquez and Barrientos pitching in Auburn next summer.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
I’m probably going to get burned again, but I’ll pick two lists of five this year after dropping down to one list last year.

Top 5 Batters
1. Matt Foat
2. Wilmer Difo
3. Diomedes Eusebio
4. Bryan Lippincott
5. Will Piwinica-Worms
Honorable Mentions: Pedro Severino, Mike McQuillan

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Ivan Pineyro
2. Will Hudgins
3. Gilberto Mendez
4. Joel Barrientos
5. Daury Vasquez
Honorable Mentions: Blake Schwartz, Inocencio Heredia