Oct 312013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2014-15
Three Nationals farmhands combined for four hits and three RBI as Mesa stopped a three-game slide with a 7-0 shutout of Scottsdale.

Brian Goodwin, the #1 Washington prospect according to MLB.com, led off and played centerfield. Offensively, He went 2-for-5 with a run scored, a double and an RBI single. Defensively, he had no putouts or assists.

Matt Skole ended an 0-for-13 sequence with a second-inning bomb that scored teammate Steve Souza Jr. ahead of him. He finished at 1-for-4 for the game and had 14 putouts at first base, but committed his first error on a missed catch.

Souza, who has hit safely in six of seven games this fall, singled once in five trips to the plate and struck out twice. He caught four flyballs while patrolling left field.

Richie Mirowski was the first man out of the Solar Sox ‘pen and worked around three singles in his two scoreless innings pitched, striking out two.

The two teams switch venues and rematch in Mesa this afternoon. A loss by the second-place Salt River returned the margin between the Rafters and the Solar Sox to 2½ games with 12 games left to play.

Oct 302013
 

Cabbage night came a day early for the AFL Pitcher of the Week Matt Purke and Mesa as Salt River spoiled the evening for both with a 7-3 loss.

Purke was touched for two runs in the 1st and three in the 3rd, giving up eight hits and two walks total over his three innings of work. The former Horned Frog threw 60 pitches, just 35 for strikes while suffering his first loss of the fall season.

Robert Benincasa also pitched, but gave up back-to-back doubles with one out in the 8th and finished with one run allowed on two hits and one strikeout. It was the fourth time the 23-y.o. reliever has given up a run in seven AFL appearances.

Adrian Nieto was the sole Nationals position player to get in the game. He made 10 putouts, including a tag at the plate in the 3rd. Offensively, Nieto singled to lead off the 5th in the tripled in a run and scored on passed ball in the 8th. He finished at 2-for-4 for the game to push his average to .333 (8-for-24) for the fall.

The loss — Mesa’s third straight — cuts their lead over Salt River to just 1½ games in the AFL East. Next up: a pair of games (away, then home) against the Scorpions. For those wondering, Sammy Solis is not scheduled to pitch until next month.

The AFL also announced the rosters its eighth annual all-star game, renamed this season as the Fall Stars Game, which will be held this Saturday at Surprise Stadium, in… wait for it… Surprise, AZ. Brian Goodwin is the sole National on the AFL East roster.

Oct 292013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-5Mesa rallied for two in the bottom of the 8th cut a three-run deficit to one, but could get no closer in a 3-2 loss to Salt River.

Just two Nationals got into the game yesterday — Brian Goodwin and Matt Skole.

Goodwin returned to his usual spots in the lineup (No. 2) and the field (CF) and went 1-for-3 — one of just five hits the Solar Sox managed against the Rafters — but was caught stealing. Defensively, the Nats top outfield prospect had three putouts and no assists.

Skole’s tailspin continued with an 0-for-3 game, though he did draw a walk while batting 8th. The 24-y.o. corner IF is hitless (0-for-12) in his last four games. He played third base and had one putout (foul popup to end the 4th) and one assist (groundout to end the 5th).

The loss shaves Mesa’s lead over second-place Salt River to 2½ games with the two teams rematching tonight in Salt River. Matt Purke is scheduled to make his fourth start of the fall season.

Oct 282013
 

With an off day on Sunday, here’s a little something extra from our intrepid photographer, Lee Magenheim. Naturally, the focus of the updates is on the game action, but the players will talk about the extra coaching they receive. Here’s a glimpse at some of what Lee saw last week in the mornings.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-1Adrian Nieto, working with Cubs coach (and former catcher) Brian Harper.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-2
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-3Steve Souza Jr., working out at 1B.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-4Matt Skole getting ready to hit.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-5Lord, please deliver me from the those convenience-store breakfast burritos I ate this morning…
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-6

Oct 272013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-13Surprise struck for three runs twice while holding Mesa to four hits in a 6-1 Solar Sox loss to close out the week.

A total of five Nationals got into the game yesterday:

• Sammy Solis started and took the loss, giving up the first three runs in the 1st and finishing with six hits allowed over three innings. He walked one and struck out two, tossing 61 pitches with 40 going for strikes.

• Robert Benincasa (pictured) also pitched, setting the side down in order in the 9th while recording a strikeout.

• Brian Goodwin batted leadoff as the DH. He singled once and struck out twice in four AB’s.

• Matt Skole took the No. 6 slot in the lineup but went just 0-for-2 with a walk. Defensively, he played 1B and took part in two DP’s, including a 3-6-3 number in the 8th.

• Steve Souza Jr. followed Skole in the lineup and went 1-for-3 but was caught stealing for the first time. He played left field and made two putouts.

Mesa (10-5-1) remains atop the AFL East by 3½ games over Scottsdale and Salt River (both 7-9) with 15 games remaining on the schedule.

Oct 262013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-12Mesa put up two runs in the 9th and Richie Mirowski, the fan’s choice for reliever of the year, shut the door in the 9th for a 7-5 win over Peoria.

Mirowski was the only Solar Sox pitcher to not give up a run, surrendering just a walk in the 9th and weathering a two-out error by Tigers prospect Dixon Machado to earn his first AFL save. He threw sixteen pitches, nine for strikes while lowering his ERA to 1.80.

Adrian Nieto got the start behind the plate and batted seventh. Offensively, he went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. The two-out single in the 6th was just his second hit batting lefthanded thus far this fall, 2-for-12 overall (vs. 4-for-8 against LHPs). Defensively, he threw out two of seven baserunners.

The win improves Mesa to 10-4-1 an widens the gap between 1st and 2nd place to 2½ games. The Solar Sox finish out the week with a Surprise visit (ok, fine it’s the Saguaros) this afternoon.

Oct 252013
 

By every typical measure but one, the 2013 edition of the Potomac Nationals was the best ever in Woodbridge. They won both halves, rather handily — the first by six games, the second by nine games. They allowed the fewest runs, scored the second-most runs, had second-best defense, stole the most bases, etc.

Unlike last season, they could win away from the Pfitz (in fact, they were the only team in the Carolina League with a winning road record), where they were dominant: a 47-23 mark (.671). While perhaps coincidental, the rain that had plagued the team in 2011 and 2012 stayed away: just three rainouts at home, which helped the P-Nats set a single-season attendance record of 236,772 (3,534 per date), surpassing the previous mark of 220,145 in 1998, according to their PR folks.

And yet they didn’t win the League Championship. Intellectually, we know this shouldn’t matter. The minors aren’t about winning, they’re about development (e.g. 4/5ths of next year’s DC rotation could be homegrown — three of them pitched here on their way up). But emotionally, it does matter: you want to see the guys move up the ladder, but also want to see them win.

So 2013 won’t have the same resonance as 2008 or 2010, but let’s take a look at how they did, starting with how they compared to the rest of the Carolina League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Potomac 4580 680 1200 85 506 1017 .262 .343 .393 .253 217
Lg. Avg. 4631 635 1174 86 491 1026 .254 .332 .380 .244 138

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Potomac 1213⅔ 3.70 4.21 1.317 98 448 1057 8.5 3.3 7.8 2.36
Lg. Avg. 1216 3.98 4.54 1.369 86 491 1026 8.7 3.6 7.6 2.09


The P-Nats posted remarkably similar numbers to the Suns, but with (a LOT) more speed and more power. They only led the league in steals but were second in AVG, OBP, SLG, hits and run scored. They were only league average (or thereabouts) in walks, strikeouts, and HRs (a.k.a. the three true outcomes), which in theory should have made them less vulnerable to the offensive outage that ended the season on a sour note (i.e. they proved they could hit and score without an unusual reliance the longball, drawing walks, or avoiding the whiff).

The pitchers led the Carolina League in just about everything except strikeouts (4th) and (curiously) home runs (8th), though unlike the Suns, the usual gap between starters and relievers was evident. The lack of strikeouts may be a bit of surprise, given the presence of Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole, but as we’ll see later on that’s because the P-Nats had several high-contact, low-strikeout pitchers, too (maybe the HR thing isn’t so curious).

Let’s take a closer look at that lineup, beginning with the Top 12 batters in terms of PAs…

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Michael Taylor 22 581 CF/RF 117/4 .986 5 .260 .163
Caleb Ramsey* 24 528 RF/LF/1B/CF 55/44/13/5 .981 5 .248 .095
Kevin Keyes 24 482 1B 117 .987 11 .226 .145
Adrian Sanchez** 22 463 2B/SS/3B 94 .964 18 .200 .058
Adrian Nieto 23 452 C 86 .991 7 .280 .164
Cutter Dykstra 24 446 3B/2B/SS 62/33/8 .951 14 .283 .105
Billy Burns* 23 402 LF/CF 73/18 .994 1 .288 .079
Randolph Oduber 24 355 RF/LF/CF 59/6/4 .979 3 .219 .103
Jason Martinson 24 305 SS 55 .968 7 .289 .216
Justin Miller 24 302 3B/1B/RF/LF 35/30/12/2 .968 10 .249 .148
Francisco Soriano** 26 258 3B/SS/2B/LF/1B/CF 24/23/12/6/2/1 .969 7 .241 .111
Mike Gilmartin 25 232 CF 51 .957 5 .244 .094

(* = 2011 Draft Pick, ** = DSL Graduate)

Excluding the veterans, half of these guys were repeating the level. This is not unusual — it was four last season — but it’s the most in recent memory. Some of the repeats improved significantly (M. Taylor, Martinson) and some actually regressed (Keyes, Oduber). What remains to be seen is whether this is a trend or an anomaly. The case for the former: The Nats have been signing six-year FAs to plug holes in AA and AAA, which seems to indicate an “up or out” mentality; either you’re good enough for AA after a couple of years at High-A or you get released. The case for the latter: common sense, skepticism, or mere conjecture.

What was a pleasure to watch was seeing how this group functioned as a unit on offense. Burns set the table and wreaked havoc, Martinson supplied the requisite power and RBIs. When they were promoted, Dykstra and Taylor seemed to both assume the roles respectively. Even the guys that finished with below-average nos. had their moments (nice way of saying “streak,” no?)

Defensively, this was the best outfield yours truly saw over the last eight seasons — especially the trio/alignment of Burns-Taylor-Oduber. Adrian Sanchez didn’t improve on offense, but did improve on defense — increasing his range and showing an improved arm. Kevin Keyes won’t be mistaken for Andres Galarraga at 1B, but his conversion from the OF was a success.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Blake Schwartz^ 23 23/23 11-4, 0 2.65 132⅔ 117 26 80 1.078 8 7 4
A.J. Cole 21 18/18 6-3, 0 4.25 97⅓ 96 23 102 1.223 12 4 6
Taylor Hill* 24 15/14 6-2, 0 2.99 84⅓ 73 11 54 0.996 6 4 4
Robbie Ray 21 16/16 4-3, 1 3.11 84 60 41 100 1.202 9 4 7
Greg Holt 24 42/0 9-0, 1 3.71 70⅓ 67 33 55 1.422 8 5 7
Brian Rauh^ 21 16/12 4-2, 0 4.22 64 69 18 35 1.359 3 0 7
Colin Bates 25 36/0 5-4, 1 2.61 62 58 8 48 1.065 4 6 5
Brian Dupra 24 29/3 1-7, 0 4.96 61⅔ 64 28 44 1.492 7 1 7
Matt Purke* 23 12/13 5-3, 0 4.42 61 67 18 41 1.393 3 4 9
Sammy Solis 24 13/12 2-1, 0 3.43 57⅔ 58 19 40 1.335 3 0 3
Richie Mirowski* 24 32/0 8-3, 6 1.50 48 32 11 59 0.896 6 0 5
David Fischer^ 23 21/0 4-0, 2 4.30 44 29 44 53 1.659 2 5 8

(^ = 2012 Draft Pick, * = 2011 Draft Pick)

It’s not a perfect parallel, but the 2013 starting rotation was very reminiscent of the 2008 edition, which saw just one pitcher make 20+ starts (Ross Detwiler) and a series of guys get promoted to Harrisburg (Jordan Zimmermann, Adrian Alaniz, Craig Stammen, and Jhonny Nunez). Though he didn’t begin in Potomac, Blake Schwartz was the Ross Detwiler and we can only hope that three of the four promoted — Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray — also make it to The Show (one down, two to go).

As aforementoned, there were two noticeable weaknesses with the pitching — shaky bullpen and low K rates. Overall, the team converted just 42 of 68 save opportunities (61.7%) though the overall bullpen numbers weren’t bad: 39-24, 3.47 ERA. Just four of the the top 12 pitchers had better than league-average strikeout numbers (Cole, Mirowski, Ray, Fischer). While it certainly helped that few of the low-K guys had high-BB rates, it’s a warning flag because high-contact pitchers need something else besides good control to compensate: luck, great defense, or the tendency to generate plenty o’ groundballs.

For those wondering, Taylor Jordan missed the cut, having pitched 36⅓ innings in six starts before his promotion while Robert Benincasa threw just 30 innings in his 25 appearances (all in the second half).

OBLIGATORY TOP 4 LISTS
It’s time to start getting tougher, especially as we head towards what’s considered the true pinnacle of the minors: Double-A.

Batters
1. Michael Taylor
2. Billy Burns
3. Adrian Nieto
4. Cutter Dykstra
HM: Jason Martinson

Pitchers
1. A.J. Cole
2. Robbie Ray
3. Matt Purke
4. Blake Schwartz
HM: Sammy Solis

Oct 252013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-11The Mesa Solar Sox scored in each of the first four innings as they stopped a two-game slide with a 7-4 win over the Scottsdale Scorpions

Brian Goodwin (pictured) was the sole National to appear in the game. He singled and scored in the 1st inning and drove in a run with a two-out safety in the second, snapping what was then a 2-2 tie. The 22-y.o. batted second and played centerfield, finishing the game at 2-for-5 with one putout on defense.

The win dropped Scottsdale back to 2½ games behind Mesa in the AFL East. The Solar Sox will see how they play in Peoria, visiting the Saguaros this afternoon.

BONUS AUDIO COVERAGE
Lee Magenheim caught up with Richie Mirowski, the Nats 45th Rd. pick out of Oklahoma Baptist in 2011, who’s gone from short-season A to AA in just two seasons.

Oct 242013
 

Catching Up On Transactions
In addition to the news that longtime Nationals farmhand Chris Marrero has been outrighted to Syracuse, the latest transaction post from Baseball America has been released, revealing the following signings:

• RHP Hector Guance

• IF Adrian Sanchez (re-signed)

As was the case with the previous (presumably Dominican) signing last week (OF Telmito Agustin), there is very little to be found on Guance. Sanchez has chosen to remain the organization he has played with since 2007 at the age of 16 (he turned 23 this past August) but is most likely a candidate to repeat Potomac.

Marrero, of course, is the Nats 2006 1st Round pick who seemed on track for the majors after reaching High-A in 2007, posting a line of .275/.338/.484 with 23 homers. Inexplicably, that turned out to be his high water mark in terms of power as his slugging percentage steadily dwindled over the next four seasons. He would still make it to AAA at 22, but a hamstring injury limited him to just 53 games in 2012, enabling Tyler Moore to pass him by on the ladder (though his lack of defensive prowess was also an impediment).

Following the World Series, Marrero will most likely become a minor-league free agent.

Oct 242013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-10
Matt Purke tossed five scoreless innings but came away with a no-decision as the Solar Sox were stung in extras, 2-1 by the red-hot Scorpions.

Purke allowed just a one-out walk in the 1st and leadoff single in the 3rd — erasing both baserunners with double-play balls to face the minimum of 15 batters for five frames. The 23-y.o. struck out three while throwing 36 of 54 pitches for strikes. In three starts, Purke is 2-0 with pitcher’s line of 0.00/1.95/0.50 with three walks and 12K’s over 12 innings.

Steve Souza, as usual, made the most of his limited playing time with another monster game: 3-for-4 with a run scored and three (3) stolen bases, which brings his AFL-leading total to nine (9) in just five games. Defensively, the 24-y.o. played centerfield and had one putout.

Matt Skole played third base, but had no defensive chances and saw his modest on-base streak of five games snapped with an 0-for-4 game.

Robert Benincasa couldn’t hold the 1-0 lead in the 9th, giving up a leadoff triple that came in on a passed ball. A single following a strikeout made the run earned. The 23-y.o. closed out the inning with a flyout and a groundout to finish with one run on two hits.

Scottsdale won it in the bottom of the 10th against A’s farmhand Ryan Dull, who gave up two singles and two walks (one intentional) without retiring a batter.

The loss to second-place Scottsdale, which won its fifth straight game, reduced first-place Mesa’s lead to 1½ games. Since starting the season with seven wins and one tie, the Solar Sox have gone 1-4. The two teams will rematch this afternoon in Mesa.

BONUS COVERAGE
Lee Magenheim sat down with Adrian Nieto and talked about the catcher’s breakthrough 2013 season.Folks who may have difficulty with the embedded player — try clicking the image above, which will go directly to the audio file