Oct 232013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-9Adrian Nieto scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 7th, but the Solar Sox ‘pen faltered in the bottom half as they lost to the Saguaros, 4-2.

Nieto continues to swing a hot bat as a righthanded batter, going 1-for-2 with a run scored from the left side of the batter’s box and 0-for-1 with a walk from the right side. The 23-y.o. backstop also picked off a runner off 1st with two on and two out, pairing with teammate Matt Skole to end the bottom of the 6th.

Skole went hitless for just the second time in six games, but drew a walk to keep his on-base streak alive. The 24-y.o. notched 10 putouts without an error.

Brian Goodwin shifted to left field on defense, where he caught two flyballs, and went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.

Richie Mirowski (pictured) set ‘em down in order in the bottom of the 8th on nine pitches, six of them going for strikes.

The loss drops Mesa to 8-3-1 for the fall campaign, 2½ games in front of Scottsdale, which won its 4th straight yesterday. The two teams square off this afternoon in Scottsdale with Matt Purke scheduled to make his third start.

BONUS COVERAGE:
Our intrepid AFL correspondent and photographer caught up with Sammy Solis after yesterday’s 9-6 win that improved him to 3-0:

Oct 222013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-7Sammy Solis won his third straight start as Mesa snapped a two-game skid with a
9-6 win over Surprise.

Solis allowed one run on six hits over five innings, giving up a walk and striking out four. He threw 73 pitches, 47 for strikes.

Brian Goodwin also appeared in the game, but went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. He batted second and played center field but had no putouts or assists.

With the win, the Solar Sox improve to 8-2-1 in the AFL East and lead the second-place Scorpions by 3½ games. They rematch against the Saguaros in Peoria this afternoon.

Oct 212013
 

Monday Morning Box Scores
With three of the five winter leagues now playing — the Australian and Puerto Rican Leagues and start up next Thursday and Friday respectively — it’s time for our semi-weekly peek at how the notable minor-leaguers are doing, starting of course with the boys in the AFL:

BATTERS

PLAYER LG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Brian Goodwin AFL 6 26 3 9 2 0 0 2 1 7 .346 .393 .423 2
Matt Skole AFL 5 16 6 5 1 0 2 5 8 3 .313 .542 .750 0
Steve Souza Jr. AFL 3 13 2 4 1 0 0 5 5 3 .308 .500 .385 6
Adrian Nieto AFL 3 13 2 4 1 0 0 2 4 3 .308 .444 .385 0
Adrian Sanchez VWL 9 32 3 6 2 0 0 0 1 7 .188 .212 .250 0
Carlos Rivero VWL 8 30 3 7 3 0 1 4 3 6 .233 .303 .433 0
Zach Walters VWL 6 19 1 3 1 0 0 0 2 7 .158 .238 .211 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Sammy Solis AFL 2 0 0 1.17 2 2 7⅔ 6 1 1 1 3 10 1.17
Matt Purke AFL 2 0 0 0.00 2 2 7 2 1 0 0 2 9 0.57
Robert Benincasa AFL 0 0 0 4.50 4 0 4 5 2 2 1 2 3 1.75
Richie Mirowski AFL 0 0 0 3.00 3 0 3 2 1 1 0 0 3 0.67
Yunesky Maya DWL 0 0 0 0.00 1 1 5⅔ 1 1 0 0 2 5 0.53
Rafael Martin MWL 1 0 0 6.75 4 0 5⅓ 6 4 4 2 0 3 1.13
Christian Garcia MWL 0 0 0 0.00 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 2 1.00
Danny Rosenbaum VWL 0 0 0 8.10 2 1 3⅓ 5 3 3 1 2 2 2.10


As in years past, a disclaimer: the sample sizes here are small and unreliable, which of course won’t stop folks from checking (or me from posting ;-)

Oct 202013
 

The Salt River Rafters scored seven times in the 9th as they handed the Mesa Solar Sox their second straight loss, 8-2.

Four Nats played in the contest…

…Brian Goodwin led off and played CF, going 1-for-4 with a stolen base and making two putouts on defense.

…Steve Souza drew a pair of walks, stole a base and scored a run, but also struck out twice to go 0-for-2. Defensively, he was in LF and caught two flyballs.

…Richie Mirowski gave up a run on two hits and struck out one in the top of the 7th, and was in line for the win thanks to the Solar Sox scoring twice in the bottom half of the inning.

…Robert Benincasa gave up a hit and struck out in one in the 8th, earning his first AFL hold.

With the loss, Mesa falls to 7-2-1 but still leads the AFL East by 3½ games.

Oct 192013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-6After battling back from deficits of 3-0 and 9-5, the Solar Sox were finally eclipsed with two runs in the 9th for an 11-9 loss to the Sagauros.

Matt Skole took a day off from the field but saw plenty of first base as the 24-year-old singled once and walked three times while batting from the no. 5 spot in the lineup. The Mesa DH came around to score twice but only had one RBI, in part because cleanup man Kris Bryant swatted two home runs in front of him.

Adrian Nieto caught for the third time this week but had three bases stolen against him, including a pair by fellow Carolina Leaguers Tyler Naquin and Jorge Alfaro*. Batting righthanded, Nieto singled in Skole in the 2nd and drew a walk in the 3rd. As a lefty, he went 0-for-2 with a walk to finish the game 1-for-3 with 2BB.
* Coincidentally, Naquin gunned down Nieto at the plate and Alfaro caught him stealing.

The loss was Mesa’s first of the season, lowering their record to 7-1-1 and cutting their lead to 4½ games over both Salt River and Scottsdale. Tonight, they host Surprise to finish out the week.

Oct 182013
 

Thankfully, the focus of these season reviews is on the players, as a team, on the field. Because otherwise the Hagerstown Suns have become — in today’s parlance — a hot mess.

Between the prolonged stadium debate and the threats to move the team to Winchester and Fredericksburg, it’s hard not to interpret that the people of Hagerstown are expressing their dismay by staying away. Attendance fell to a reported 1,058* per opening in 2013, a 23 percent drop from 2012 and less than half of what was being claimed as recently as 2009, which was 2,138 per date. * Figures per Ballparkdigest.com

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, let’s get down to business…

With the help of some rainouts, Hagerstown won the first half by a ½ game with a 38-29 mark and nearly won the second with a 42-28 run in the second, losing out to West Virginia by 2½ games. Overall, the Suns went 80-57, third best in the league behind the Power (82-58) and the GreenJackets (82-55).

Buoyed with the top two pitchers from Auburn, Hagerstown took two of three from West Virginia in the semifinals and won the opener of the Sally League Finals before losing the next three straight to the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Taking a look at how the Suns compared to the rest of the Sally League, there’s one rather noticeable outlier, which fans of the GBI have probably already guessed…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Hagerstown 4468 692 1152 56 530 988 .258 .341 .366 .245 153
Lg. Avg. 4511 593 1118 78 439 1098 .248 .322 .364 .236 140

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Hagerstown 1175 3.44 3.84 1.244 84 419 1098 8.0 3.2 8.4 2.62
Lg. Avg. 1187⅓ 3.77 4.31 1.311 78 439 1098 8.5 3.3 8.3 2.50



Hagerstown led the Sally League in offense despite hitting just 56 home runs (12th-best in the league) and having close-to-league-average power. The secret? No, not Calgon. Getting on base (#1 in OBP, #2 in walks drawn) and not striking out (#3). The math-inclined folks have already deduced that the lack of HRs was made up by more doubles and triples, at which the Suns were third-best in the league in both categories. Another quirk was finishing second in sacrifice flies, though that could very well be a factor of volume, not efficiency.

Thanks to injuries and promotions, there was a lot of flux with the Suns, such that just one pitcher (Pedro Encarnacion) exceeded 100 innings pitched. Nine pitchers made six or more starts, 15 different pitchers made at least one start (excluding rehabs). Seven of those guys were better than league average in ERA.

Really not much to complain about at the macro level, which is why like to drill down further, beginning with the Top 12 batters…

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Tony Renda* 22 606 2B 119 .973 15 .272 .111
Stephen Perez* 22 486 SS 125 .969 17 .218 .100
Brandon Miller* 23 442 RF/LF 101/2 .989 2 .253 .213
Shawn Pleffner 23 428 1B 94 .986 12 .273 .111
Estrarlin Martinez** 21 410 LF/1B/RF 48/34/6 .983 6 .234 .099
Will Piwnica-Worms 23 372 CF/LF/RF 54/20/20 .994 1 .261 .093
Khayyan Norfork 24 360 3B/2B/SS/LF/RF 49/17/1/1/1 .961 8 .239 .090
Mike McQuillan 23 314 3B/LF 52/2 .885 16 .259 .090
Wander Ramos** 23 303 LF/RF/CF 27/16/4 .945 4 .264 .166
Wes Schill 23 302 LF/3B/CF/SS 44/21/17/8 .932 11 .220 .064
Pedro Severino** 19 302 C 82 .980 14 .207 .092
Narciso Mesa** 21 232 CF 51 .957 5 .254 .063

(* = 2012 Draft Pick, ** = DSL Graduate)
What stands out the most to me is how “set” the positions were for this crew — basically, the top four guys in terms of PA were day-in, day-out at their position. Five of the Top 12 only played one position all year long — that kind of consistency is unusual, especially in light of the organization’s favor towards athleticism and versatility. Not to mention, part of the point of the minors is finding out where guys best fit in terms of their skills… or what the parent club needs.

As was the case a year ago, this was an older group of guys — second oldest in the Sally, actually — so the lack of power is cause for concern. Just two of these 12 had isolated averages that exceeded the league average of .116. Defensively, the team finished third in terms of fielding percentage, which is an admittedly flawed measuring stick, but until the likes of baseball-reference and fangraphs make advanced defensive stats less cumbersome (e.g. if I want to see how good a player’s range factor is vs. his peers, I have to go to each and every team page and extract that data), it’s the best we’ve got for an exercise such as this.

Speaking of defense, one name that’s been mentioned to me as one to watch is Pedro Severino, despite the 14 errors and 16 passed balls. “The best arm the Suns have had in years,” as my Hagerstown guy put in his recent review of the Hagerstown hitters. The Nationals aren’t as deep at catcher as people think they are (and haven’t been for nearly two years); Severino was one of just two (2) catchers younger than the league average in the entire system (Raudy Read was the other).

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
Pedro Encarnacion** 22 25/24 10-9, 0 3.58 128⅓ 116 37 113 1.192 10 8 16
Brett Mooneyham* 23 17/17 10-3, 0 1.94 93 50 41 79 0.978 5 4 8
Nick Lee 22 19/17 6-4, 0 3.96 91 83 43 102 1.385 7 5 11
Ronald Pena* 21 28/10 4-3, 1 3.48 88 89 34 55 1.398 4 1 7
Kylin Turnbull 23 16/16 6-5, 0 3.58 83 97 16 67 1.361 10 1 3
Dixon Anderson 23 15/15 5-5, 0 3.20 78⅔ 62 30 72 1.169 3 0 7
Ivan Pineyro** 21 13/13 5-3, 0 3.14 66 57 17 65 1.121 4 3 10
Ian Dickson 22 16/10 5-3, 2 4.39 65⅔ 65 17 71 1.249 8 1 2
Travis Henke 24 30/0 3-1, 2 2.72 59⅔ 49 17 41 1.106 3 4 3
Bryan Harper 23 34/0 5-1, 1 3.97 45⅓ 32 32 43 1.412 2 8 5
Cody Davis 22 35/0 2-3, 1 2.76 42⅔ 40 14 46 1.276 1 0 6
Brian Rauh 21 14/0 3-2, 2 5.21 38 37 15 31 1.714 3 2 5


As you might imagine with a team that finished 4th in a 14-team league in pitching, the quality of pitching was amazingly consistent. The two starters that were above the league average had an ERA around 4.00 (Lee, 3.91; Dickson, 4.01). Only one reliever with a 1.5+ WHIP threw more than 20 innings (Will Hudgins), likewise only one pitcher with more than 20IP had a 5+ ERA (Rauh)… and he was promoted to Potomac, where he started 12 games and went 4-1 with 4.01 ERA.

As aforementioned, injuries influenced the large number of starters: Dixon Anderson saw his season shortened (again) by shoulder woes while Brett Mooneyham missed seven weeks with the Belichek-esque “arm discomfort,” which led to Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson shifting from the ‘pen. Promotions, of course, were also a factor with Matt Purke, Brian Rauh, and Ivan Pineyro “movin’ on up.”

The question, of course, is which of these guys will be the next Taylor Hill or Blake Schwartz — to name two pitchers that really exceeded expectations and who will hit the wall and have to return, which happened this season to Derek Self, Christian Meza, and Kylin Turnbull. For the opinions of my “Hagerstown guy,” I’ll refer you to his take on the 2013 Suns pitchers.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Once again there was a temptation to reduce the list from five to four when I took a step back and consider what other folks (i.e. non-Nats fans) may think of these guys. Especially with the position players, I keep coming back to: “His numbers were good, but not great, and he was old for the level.” Keep that in mind before you make your case in the comments for the guy that I didn’t list below.

1. Tony Renda
2. Brandon Miller
3. Wander Ramos
4. Estarlin Martinez
5. Pedro Severino

1. Pedro Encarnacion
2. Nick Lee
3. Brett Mooneyham
4. Cody Davis
5. Ian Dickson

Oct 182013
 

The Mesa Solar Sox refuse to lose, taking their seventh decision in eight games with a 6-1 win versus the Peoria Javelinas on Thursday night.

Four Nationals farmhands saw game action, starting with the man on the mound…

Matt Purke struck out the side in the 1st, walked a batter and hit a batter in the 2nd, struck out the side in the 3rd, got K no. 7 with the first batter of the fourth, then democratic with a pair of groundballs. He threw 54 pitches, 36 for strikes in his four no-hit innings for his second win in as many starts.

Brian Goodwin went 2-for-4 with a run scored to improve his BA to .364. The 22-y.o. from North Carolina played LF and made one putout.

Matt Skole started again at 3B and tossed across the diamond twice in the 6th for his two defensive chances. At the plate, he homered for the second time, walked for the fifth time and struck out for the third time to push his triple slash figures to .285/.474/.786.

Robert Benincasa is still in search of his first three-up, three-down inning but laid his first goose egg with a scoreless 9th as he allowed one hit and struck out one to close out the game.

The Solar Sox remain at home as they host the Saguaros this afternoon.

Oct 172013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-4a
The Mesa Solar Sox smoked the Peoria Javelinas, 3-1 for their sixth straight win yesterday afternoon.

Steven Souza Jr. (pictured above) connected for a two-run single to erase a 1-0 deficit, highlighting Mesa’a three-run 6th. Souza also walked and played right field, where he made two putouts. Limited to two games a week as a taxi squad player, the 1-for-3 effort pushed his average to .364 (4-for-11) and a walk maintained his .500 on-base pct. Our Arizona correspondent/photographer Lee Magenheim caught up with the 24-y.o. outfielder after the game:

Brian Goodwin and Adrian Nieto also saw game action, with the centerfielder going 1-for-4 with a stolen base from the leadoff spot and the catcher going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts out of the No. 8 slot in the lineup. Goodwin made one putout, while Nieto had an assist and nine putouts.

Richie Mirowski made his second appearance, retiring the side in order in the 7th on ten pitches and finishing off the frame with a strikeout for his second hold.

The win improves Mesa to 6-0-1 and opens up a 4½ game lead in the AFL East. Matt Purke is set to take the hill tonight at home against Peoria.

Oct 162013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-3Sammy Solis won his second start while the Mesa Solar Sox won their fifth straight, taking a 7-4 matinee from the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Solis struck out eight of 15 batters faced while giving up a run on three hits and two walks over four innings. The lone run was a solo shot by Mets farmhand Cory Vaughn (son of Greg, not Mo). The 25-y.o. southpaw threw 68 pitches, 43 for strikes.

Matt Skole got the start at third base, where he fielded a popup in the 2nd and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP in the 7th. At the plate, the former Yellow Jacket batted cleanup and went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored a run while taking a pair of walks.

Robert Benincasa (pictured) pitched the 7th inning and gave up a run on a leadoff walk and two singles before getting the aforementioned twin-killing groundball.

The win improves Mesa to 5-0-1 as the Solar Sox travel to Surprise this afternoon to take on Peoria. Matt Purke, who followed Solis in the Mesa rotation last week, is scheduled to start tomorrow night at home versus the Javelinas.

Oct 152013
 

Arizona Fall League #3
A four-run 3rd got the ball rolling as the Mesa Solar Sox won their fourth straight, 7-6 vs. the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Two Nationals players were in the lineup, combining for two runs and six total bases:

• Brian Goodwin batted second and played CF. At the plate, he was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run scored. He was also hit by a pitch. In the field, he made two putouts and fielded two singles.

• Adrian Nieto batted eighth and was the Solar Sox backstop, gunning down two would-be basestealers and finishing with three assists and six putouts in nine innings played. He singled twice in two at-bats batting righthanded, while walking and striking out as a lefty. Overall, he was 2-for-4 with a run scored.

The two teams rematch this afternoon in Mesa, with Sammy Solis scheduled to start for the Solar Sox.