Thanks to our handy-dandy multiplication table, you can see that the finish of Year Three equals 36 months of NationalsProspects.com. It’s time for the annual look at the year that was, a staple of news during the end of the year no matter what the medium.
Last year in this piece, I remarked about how the system was in a state of transition, away from the outsized hopes of “The Coming Thing” and towards the more practical promise of steady player development, where the bets are hedged and the risks spread more evenly. Don’t get me wrong… there’s still some big names — Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito — but the expectations are lower* than they were for Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.
*Before you disagree, ask yourself if you’re depending on any of those guys to be playing in D.C. before next September.
Nope, things have changed when it comes to the pressure for the “baby Nats” to become “Big Nats.” Winning nearly a hundred games instead of losing more than a hundred will do that.
Speaking for myself, I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. I’d be lying if I claimed that I paid as close attention to the big boys as I do the kids… especially when all seven affiliates are in action. But it makes writing pieces like this easier to do, too.
With that, let’s delve into twelve (hey, that rhymes!) stories from the 2012 season in the Nationals minors.
Bryce Harper Comes to D.C.
There was never a question of whether — only when — Harper would get the call. The Lt. Dans (nee The Lerners Are Cheap) were sure that the Nats would wait until June to avoid “Super Two,” but were once again proven to have no legs to stand on when the promotion came in late April instead of late May or early June. Still late enough to ensure team control through 2018, mind you. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure if this was the plan all along or if injuries were indeed the reason for the early summons.
Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, too
In keeping with the theme of transition, it would seem that 2011 — when Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos made the club out of spring training as starters — was an exception. In 2012, the drama was whether or not a rookie could make the club as a bench player. Lombardozzi did just that, “proving” the narrative that versatility and fundamentals can be more valuable than the sum of the rest of his game. Unlike Harper, injuries were most definitely a factor in helping Moore make it after all. Of course, it helps to have a knack for getting the big hit off bench, too.
Sandy Leon Injured in MLB Debut
The Nats’ ballyhooed catching depth was put to the test in 2012. Not one but two injuries paved the way for Sandy Leon, who got hurt in the fourth inning of his major-league debut — two days after Wilson Ramos went down for the season and about three weeks after Jhonatan Solano went out with what turned out to be a neck injury. Thankfully, the chain of injuries stopped with Carlos Maldonado. The Nats would dip into that depth again in August, trading David Freitas to the Oakland A’s to get Kurt Suzuki.
Four Nats Nailed for Drug Violations
Perhaps it’s some small comfort that these were merely “drugs of abuse” instead of steroids, but the Nats have yet to go a year without a minor-leaguer being suspended. Zech Zinicola was suspended in January, Josh Wilkie in June, along with Josh Johnson and Rafael Martin, who were merely “disciplined.” The suspension ultimately “earned” Wilkie his release while Zinicola, who had spent 2011 in Syracuse, spent an abbreviated 2012 in Harrisburg.
Gambling On Injuries, Part One
The Nats were — and as we saw last week, still — praised heavily for spending big and gambling on talented players with health questions in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, neither Matt Purke nor Anthony Rendon were able to have the kind of season that would silence the doubters. Rendon would go down in April with an incomplete (read: not partial; there is no such thing) fracture in his left ankle, which he hadn’t hurt previously. Purke was held in XST until late May and made just three starts, only one at home (during the day) before disappearing. Rendon would eventually come back and play for both Potomac and Harrisburg and in the AFL, but Purke would be shrouded in mystery until October, when it was revealed he had indeed had shoulder surgery as feared and/or rumored.
Gambling On Injuries, Part Two
Despite the new CBA, teams still spent heavily on first-round picks. Picking 16th, the Nats spent $2.125M on HS pitcher Lucas Giolito despite what turned out to be the case some two months later: The 18-year-old would undergo elbow surgery and miss the rest of 2012 and most of 2013. Two anomalies: (1) Unlike Purke, the Nats did not wait months until admitting the obvious (2) Nats fans expressed dismay more than disappointment, which again is fodder for my argument that things have changes when it comes to the Nats fans and the farm.
The Fast and The Furious: Promotions
The new world order is a level per year, with some exceptions. Bryce Harper was one. Brian Goodwin turned out to be another. Both outfielders were jumped from from Low-A to AA, which prompted accusations of punishment for Potomac in 2011 due its field issues. With a brand-new field, the stagnation of Michael Taylor was the more plausible explanation in 2012. Meanwhile, Matt Skole was beating on Sally League pitchers like John Henry with a nine-pound hammer but was left behind until mid-August while several teammates moved up, which of course, made fans, followers, and commenters, well, furious.
For the first 18 months of this site’s operation, Karns was akin to something that went bump in the night: heard in the comments, but otherwise unseen. When he finally emerged in June 2011, he would blow away the GCL with 26K’s and two hits allowed in 18⅔ innings. He fell back to earth in Auburn (3.44 ERA, 6.63 BB/9), but made the 2012 Watchlist. After working out of the bullpen in April, the big, ol’ Texan finished the month of May with three straight quality starts and was bumped up to Potomac in June. After a couple of shaky starts against Frederick and Salem, Karns got into a groove — striking out 32 over a three-start stretch and eight QS in his last 11 appearances. He would lead the farm in ERA, WHIP, SO, and OBA.
Had he not been a former Yankees 3rd-round pick, Garcia’s signing in late July 2011 would not have warranted much more than a line item in a transactions post. Within three weeks, however, he made the GBI and had the category existed, would have probably made the 2012 watchlist as a “Notable Pitcher.” Fifteen months later, the 27-y.o. was pitching in the postseason and there’s talk (though unrepeated besides beat reporters, Nats bloggers, and the Washington front office) of Garcia joining the Nats rotation. While that still seems unlikely, the observation that the Nats were trying to catch lightning in a bottle seems apt (pat, pat 😉
Multiple Affiliates Make Playoff Runs
While there’s only been one league championship during our tenure, we’ve been fortunate to have pennant chases from multiple affiliates in all three seasons. Some will snort that this is a natural byproduct of the lean towards collegiate players — and that’s fair criticism — but it’s fun nevertheless. The Auburn Doubledays held off a furious charge from the Batavia Muckdogs (winners of 19 of 21 in in late Aug./early Sept.), while the Potomac Nationals couldn’t replicate the run they made in 2011 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, thanks in no small part to an abysmal 22-47 mark on the road. The Hagerstown Suns fell 3½ games short in the first half despite a 42-27 record, but did nearly as well (40-28) in the second half and took the Sally North by three games. Both the Suns and Doubledays were bounced in the first round, with Hagerstown getting swept and Auburn falling hard (16-7) in the deciding Game Three.
Rizzo Finally Gets His Span
One of the more troubling aspects of following prospects is getting used to the idea that they may get traded. Now that the Nats are contenders, that means prospects tend to be going in exchange for major-leaguers instead of vice-versa. It happened again last month as top pitching prospect RHP Alex Meyer was traded for long-coveted OF Denard Span. For as long as the Nats have been in Washington (and even years before that), center field has been a soft spot in the lineup, enough that the Nationals were willing to put a 19-year-old rookie there. With that problem ostensibly “solved,” one or more the current crop of centerfielders (yes, even Goodwin) could be next if the right deal comes along to improve the parent club. (See “surplus of catchers,” 2010-2011)
Rosenbaum, Kobernus “Lost” To The Rule 5 Draft
The final reminder in the motif “we’re contenders, get used to this” was the removal of four farmhands earlier this month. In the “dark time” of 2008-2009, following 100+ loss seasons, there was (now, in retrospect) an almost-perverse delight in picking first in the Rule 5 draft, despite rule changes that have diluted it. Fast-forward three years and now it’s the wondering of who will leave, not who will arrive. It’s quotes on the subhead verb because the two players taken in the major-league phase — Danny Rosenbaum (Colorado) and Jeff Kobernus (Boston, flipped to Detroit) — have to stay on the 25-man rosters throughout 2013 and, historically, a significant percentage of draftees are returned.