Oct 052012
 


Given their fetish preference towards youth, it’s a bit of a surprise that Nathan Karns made the cut for Baseball America’s 2012 Carolina League Top 20 Prospects.

It’s the latest accolade for the 24-year-old Texan drafted in the 12th round in 2009, who was named the Nationals’ Minor-League Pitcher of the year last month and was a GBI regular all season long. Sean Hogan has the backstory today on his journey from sleeper to mystery man to the 2012 MiLBY Starting Pitcher Year Candidate.

Here’s the skinny from the BA Scouting Report:

Karns works in the low 90s and touches 95 mph with his fastball. He throws his heater on a downhill plane, and it can jump on hitters coming out of his retooled delivery. His sharp downer curveball can be a plus pitch when he locates it consistently. Karns'[sic] changeup has the makings of becoming an average pitch after he worked hard on it this year. The development of his third pitch and how he handles the workload of another full season will help determine if he sticks in the rotation or moves to the bullpen.

It’s a bit mystifying to me why Karns is not getting the credit for his slider, which is his strikeout pitch when he’s locating his fastball. I put that in italics because late in the season, when he showing signs of fatigue, batters began holding off on the pitch. My gut still says he’ll eventually become a reliever, but like all pitchers, I’d prefer to see them start for as long as they can until the batters tell them it’s time to try a new role.

As always, if I spot something in the BA chat, I’ll update this post.

Oct 032012
 

As semi-predicted yesterday, three Hagerstown Suns were named to the Baseball America Top 20 prospects for the South Atlantic League — Brian Goodwin (#8), Alex Meyer (#10) and Matt Skole (#19).

All three were promoted from the Sally League, with one leapfrogging to the Eastern League after just 58 games played, another making the jump after 18 starts, and the last getting the call so late that it managed to disappoint fans of both Hagerstown and Potomac, but only after enraging just about the rest of the frequent commenters here first.

Highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…
A hamstring injury that knocked him out for five weeks was the only thing that stopped Goodwin in the SAL. His plus power potential and speed make Goodwin at least a 20-20 candidate once he reaches the majors, though he’s still learning how to read pitchers. His short stroke and disciplined approach should allow him to hit for a high average as well. Defensively, he’s a quality center fielder with solid arm strength.

Meyer battled inconsistency but also dominated at times in his pro debut, lowering his ERA in each of his three months in the SAL, the performed even better after a promotion to High-A. The 6’9″ Meyer has a lot of moving parts, which makes maintaining his mechanics a challenge. When he’s in sync and maintains a consistent release point, he works downhill with a 93-97 mph FB and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s. He also shows some feel for a changeup that could become an average third pitch.

Matt SkoleThe league MVP, Skole led the SAL in homers (27), walks (94), on-base percentage (.438) and slugging (.574). Managers tabbed him as having the best strike-zone judgment in the league after watching him use his disciplined approach to pound pitchers with consistency. While Skole was old for the league, his strength and bat speed give him legitimate power. Almost all of his value is tied up in his bat, however, as he’s a well below-average runner and subpar defender at third base.

Goodwin and Skole, of course, are among the Nats’ Arizona Fall League contigent while Meyer was shut down in late August and should start 2013 with the Harrisburg Senators, along with fellow P-Nat Nathan Karns.

The Carolina League is next up (Friday), with the Eastern League scheduled for next Tuesday (non-spoiler alert: look for Goodwin to get named to the E.L. list, too) and the International League on the 12th.

Oct 022012
 

Like two years ago, the first couple of 2012 league Top 20s from Baseball America — Gulf Coast League, New York-Penn League — have been sans Nats.

That will most likely change with tomorrow’s Top 20 for the 2012 South Atlantic League, with Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Matt Skole as good possibilities to make the list.

However, there was a mention in the BA chat held yesterday, which I’ll pass along:

Ben (Leland Grove): Did any of the Doubledays come close to making this list?

Aaron Fitt: As our college readers surely know, I’ve been a Tony Renda fan for a long time, and he was in the mix for a spot on this list. He’s an undersized second baseman who did not stand out for his performance in his pro debut, but he has an innate feel for his barrel that I think will carry him through the minors. He also made great strides defensively this summer, though he has a few more things to clean up in order to become an average defender. Brett Mooneyham had an encouraging debut, but he’s got to smooth out his delivery in order to harness his potential — I think there’s a lot of risk there. Robert Benincasa and Derek Self are a couple of college relievers who pitched very well this summer; both have polish, tenacity and solid stuff (working in that 90-93 range with solid-average sliders), and I think both could move quickly. And Estarlin Martinez is an interesting sleeper with some power potential — certainly a guy to keep an eye on.

The Doubledays, as you’ll be shocked to learn (no, not really), were one of the oldest teams in the New York-Penn League. This is a function, of course, of the organization’s tendency (philosophy?) towards collegiate players. It’s disappointing, of course, when there were two candidates (Martinez, Narciso Mesa) that put up stronger numbers than the four OFs that were tabbed, but two were younger and two were recent high-price/high-profile draftees — and let’s not forget BA’s tendency to favor youth and money spent when it comes to prospects.

Oct 012012
 

For better or worse, this is where the Nationals have decided to cultivate its teenage talent. The trend of getting younger has leveled off as well. The average bat was 18.1 years old, just as it was in 2011; the average arm was 19.0 years old, a shade older than last year’s crew, which was 18.9 years old.
The team, however, finished third in its division with a mark of 38-32 (.543) — its best finish since 2008, when the DSL Nationals1 won the league.

As referenced in the comments, there’s only so much that we can glean from the DSL. It is, after all, just box scores and stats. We obsess over player ages while simultaneously doubting them in light of countless scandals that are a byproduct of that obsession (not to mention abject poverty, but let’s steer clear of socioeconomic discussion, like the NCAA does despite pretending otherwise).

One of the imperfect measures we do have is seeing how many of the DSL Nationals advance to the GCL. Four position players and seven pitchers advanced to the GCL from 2011 to 2012, similar figures to the 2010 to 2011, which were four and six respectively. As one might expect, the progression beyond that hasn’t been as good: just two of the non-Smiley 2010 DSL Nationals that have made it to Auburn or Hagerstown (Narciso Mesa, Wirkin Estevez). There’s hope for the last Bowden class (the 2009 DSL Nationals), which includes Estarlin Martinez, Wander Ramos, and Pedro Encarnacion.

Following the format from the past two years, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. the league averages…
HITTING (GPA = Gross Production Average)

PITCHING

Offensively, the DSL Nationals were the fifth-best in the DSL, with much it coming from speed — directly, in the way of stolen bases (3rd best); indirectly, in the way of doubles (2nd best). They were slightly above average in terms of walks, and slightly below in terms of strikeouts. The pitching, as you’ve probably guessed, was bad, 28th out of the 35-team DSL and the defense was league-average at .952, with the catchers throwing out 42% of the would-be thieves (vs. 38% for the league).

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2012 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Raudy Read played 44 of 68 games played at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Space prohibits me from including this in the graphic, but I’ll point out that eight of the these 13 guys had OBPs that were at or above the league average. Leading the pack was speedster Rafael Bautista, who got on base at a .419 clip and led the league in stolen bases with 47. Raudy Read showed an unusual amount of power, hitting nine home runs and 16 doubles in his sophomore season. The 18-y.o. Read was one of three regulars to surpass .400 in slugging percentage, with 19-y.o. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz leading the way at .490, Read second with a .441 mark, and 17-y.o. Randy Novas a show at .421.

This brings me to the most notable name not listed here: Thomas Alvarez, an 17-year-old American who grew up in New York, presumably born to Dominican parents, and returned to the D.R. to go pro. He was signed for $40K in June and played sparingly throughout the season, putting up a line of .222/.391/.444 in 18 games. Not much else can be found, so it remains to be seen whether this is someone we’ll hear from again or whether he’ll be the 2012 version of Dionicio Rosario.

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
As aforementioned, the pitching was substandard this year, perhaps even worse when you stop to consider that so many 20-year-olds carried the load. Maximo Valerio, who turned 17 in late July, was the bright spot with slightly better than league-average numbers in his first season. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of these pitchers making it to the GCL next season, though as stated last year, most draft gurus will caution against getting too excited about summer-league players. And I’ll repeat: This is where I’ve made a lot of my mistakes in picking players to watch, which brings us to the…

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
For the second straight year, my #1 picks (Diomedes Eusebio, Gilberto Mendez) moved up to the GCL. Yay! And for the second straight year, I had one of my Top 5’s get released (Rosario). Boo!

I’m very confident this will happen again, particularly among the pitchers; hence, the honorable mentions to a pair of 17-year-olds with good peripherals in tiny sample sizes. Valerio and (ugh) J-Rod get the nods because of usage and age, the rest because they’re either lefthanded (Gomez), and/or throw strikes (Silvestre), or have the earmarks of an injury gamble (Ruiz).

Top 5 Batters
1. Raudy Read
2. Randy Novas
3. Osvaldo Abreu
4. Rafael Bautista
5. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Maximo Valerio
2. Hector Silvestre
3. Jefry Rodriguez
4. Elisaul Gomez
5. Raul Ruiz

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jorge Berrio, Jonathan Aquino