Nov 152013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-27Mesa’s 2013 Arizona Fall League season began and ended in Glendale, and Sammy Solis was on the hill for both the 1st and title-clinching 19th wins as the Solar Sox scorched the Desert Dogs, 9-3 to earn a berth in the AFL Championship game.

The 25-y.o. southpaw allowed one run on six hits over five innings to notch his league-leading fifth win. He walked none and struck out four, throwing 68 pitches, 49 for strikes. His 29 K’s also led the circuit.

Brian Goodwin and Adrian Nieto were also in the starting lineup for Mesa.

Goodwin was the DH and went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored, as the 23-y.o. North Carolina native came in from second base on an infield single that the shortstop knocked down just past the infield grass. He also walked and struck out twice.

Nieto caught and batted seventh. He went 1-for-5 with an RBI single and made seven putouts and one assist on a dropped third strike.

Mesa finishes the season at 19-11-1, winning their last six games consecutively to edge Salt River, which fell a half-game short at 19-12 and were winners of seven straight. Surprise was the AFL West title winner with a mark of 18-12-1.

The Solar Sox will face off against the Saguaros, who will send Baltimore prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound in tomorrow’s AFL Championship game. Matt Purke, who has not pitched since last Saturday, is among the possibilities for Mesa, which has not yet announced its starting pitcher.

Nov 142013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-21Arizona-Fall-League-2013-22Arizona-Fall-League-2013-23
Steven Souza Jr. homers off Alex Meyer in the 2nd inning to give Mesa the early 2-0 lead (Photo Credit: Lee Magenheim)

The race for the Arizona Fall League East Divison title will come down to the final day of the season, as Mesa edged Glendale, 3-2 and Salt River paddled Scottsdale, 8-5.

Steve Souza’s two-run blast was the catalyst for the victory and came off former teammate Alex Meyer in their first matchup as opponents, as the two never faced each other this season in the Eastern League. It was the sole hit for the 24-y.o. who finished the game at 1-for-4 with a strikeout and extended his hit streak to seven games.

Matt Skole also appeared in the game, playing third base where he had a putout and two assists. He would score what would prove to be the decisive run a fourth-inning triple that the Desert Dogs misplayed into a Little League HR with an error. Skole also singled in the 2nd inning to go 2-for-3 for the game with a walk and a strikeout.

Richie Mirowski gave up the first Glendale run in the 5th on a double, wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly but struck out two of the final three batters he faced. It was just the third run he’s allowed in nine appearances this fall.

The win, which was Mesa’s fifth straight, improved the Solar Sox to 18-11-1 but just a 1/2 game better than the 18-12 Rafters. In head-to-head play, Salt River has defeated Mesa four times in six games. An 11-inning-tie between the Solar Sox and the Desert Dogs on Opening Day is what separates the top two teams in the AFL East.

As speculated earlier this week, Sammy Solis will be given the start today as Mesa visits Glendale for the season finale. A Solar Sox win or a Rafters loss will clinch a spot in the AFL Championship game, which will be held Saturday in Scottsdale against the AFL West-winning Surprise Sagauros.

Nov 132013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-10The Solar Sox scored early and often, scorching the Javelinas by an 8-1 count for their fourth straight win.

Mesa’s victory was only enough to keep pace with Salt River, which took a 7-2 decision from Glendale for their fifth straight trimuph to remain just a ½ game back in the AFL East.

Adrian Nieto was the sole National to appear in the game. The 23-y.o. catcher batted eighth and went 1-for-3 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored to improve his line to .279/.360/.349 in 12 games played.

Defensively, Nieto let up his second passed ball (which accounted for Peoria’s lone run) and recorded nine putouts, including the tag on a 6-3-2 double play in the 8th inning as Delino DeShields Jr. tried to score from second on the grounder with no outs.

It’s the final home game this afternoon for the Solar Sox, as they send the tireless “TBD” to pitch against the Desert Dogs and former Nats farmhand Alex Meyer. Salt River travels to last-place Scottsdale in the evening.

Nov 122013
 

Arizona Fall League #5
The Solar Sox took one step closer to a bid for the AFL Championship with a 4-0 shutout of the Javelinas.

Just two Nats appeared in yesterday’s game…

  • Batting from the #2 spot in the lineup, Brian Goodwin went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts and played centerfield, making a single putout.
  • Adrian Nieto caught and batted eighth, going 1-for-4. Defensively, he he made six putouts, including a play at the plate in the 4th on a wild pitch.

The win improves Mesa to 16-11-1 for the fall, but Salt River also kept pace, winning its fourth straight to keep the margin between the two teams at just a 1/2 game. Surprise finally clinched its berth in the title contest with a win over Scottsdale.

The Solar Sox play in Mesa for two of their three remaining games, rematching against the Javelinas this afternoon, then hosting the Desert Dogs tomorrow. Their final AFL-season game is Thursday in Glendale.

Nov 102013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-20Mesa scored three times in each of the first two innings and cruised to a 9-4 win over Surprise.

Matt Purke got the start and survived a rocky first inning in which southpaw issued a walk then back-to-back singles with two outs before righting the ship with a strikeout. Purke put on a runner in each of his four innings to finish with two runs allowed on five hits and two walks. He struck out three while throwing 71 pitches, 42 for strikes to earn his third “W” of the fall.

Brian Goodwin once again batted second and played centerfield but went just 1-for-5 at the plate. Defensively, he snagged two flyballs.

Steve Souza Jr. made his second allotted appearance of the week. He singled twice, scored twice, and stole his tenth base to push his line to .368/.442/.421. He has hit safely in nine contests and reached base in all ten games he’s played in.

Richie Mirowski also appeared in the game, retiring all six batters he faced in the 7th and 8th innings with two strikeouts. In eight appearances, he’s thrown 11 innings with two runs (both earned) and nine baserunners allowed (7H, 2BB) for a 1.64 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP.

The win keeps pace with second-place Salt River, which remains just a ½ game behind in the AFL East with its third consecutive victory. Surprise still leads the AFL West by 2½ games over second-place Glendale, which has four won straight to stave off elimination from a berth in the AFL Championship game on the 16th.

The Solar Sox have not announced any starters for the final four games, thus leaving open the possibility for Sammy Solis or Purke to start the AFL Championship game should Mesa make it (or either to pitch on Thursday in a do-or-die situation).

Nov 092013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-19With five runs scored early and another solid outing from Sammy Solis, the Solar Sox snapped a three-game skid with a 6-1 win over the Saguaros.

Solis went four and 1/3rd innings, leaving with one out in the 5th after letting up two of the five singles he allowed. He would finish with one run allowed, one walk, and five strikeouts. He threw 74 pitches, 48 for strikes and earned his fourth win.

Kenny Faulk, the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen couldn’t strand both runners, walking the first two batters he faced to force in the lone Surprise run. Adrian Nieto bailed him out with a pickoff at first to squash the rally as the Tigers farmhand got the final out with a flyball to left.

Brian Goodwin and Matt Skole joined Nieto in the starting lineup.

Goodwin continues to blister the ball, going 3-for-4 with a stand-up triple and two RBIs while playing centerfield, where he played error-free and made three putouts.

Skole was the DH but whiffed three times and walked once. He now has 17K’s in 14 games and is hitting .152 (7-for-46) though he’s drawn 14 walks (tied for 3rd) to maintain a respectable .350 on-base percentage.

Nieto singled once — just his third hit against a LHP — and struck out twice in five ABs. He gave up his first passed ball of the fall but had six putouts.

The Solar Sox finish out the week with rematch against the Saguaros this afternoon in Surprise. Matt Purke (2-1, 3.79) is scheduled to make his sixth and perhaps final start, opposed by Cleveland prospect Will Roberts (0-1, 5.31).

Nov 082013
 

For the second straight summer, Syracuse admirably achieved its primary mission of providing the Washington Nationals with replacements for injured or underperforming players. They also fulfilled a secondary function of providing a place for the latter to either get back on track (Tyler Moore) or get reps to try to work through their injuries issues (Danny Espinosa).

From that point of view, the 2013 Chiefs were successful. Like it or not, that’s the role for AAA nowadays — a place to play for “inventory” to stay active and a “finishing school” of sorts for certain prospects (typically, but not exclusively position players). That the Nationals have fielded also-rans for three straight seasons is irrelevant in this philosophy.

With that “said,” we embark on the final 2013 season review with the usual comparison against the league, then a focus on the Top 10 who were 27-and-under (i.e. league-average age) and had significant playing time, which this year works out to 17 or more innings pitched for pitchers, 111 or more plate appearances.

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Syracuse 4824 600 1256 114 395 1094 .260 .320 .395 .243 123
Lg. Avg. 4792 609 1223 107 485 1087 .255 .328 .384 .244 111

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1251⅔ 4.10 4.56 1.391 104 444 999 9.3 3.2 7.2 2.25
Lg. Avg. 1261 3.86 4.23 1.355 107 485 1087 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.24


At first glance, it looks like this team should have done better than a last-place finish, albeit in a strong division. The Chiefs were better than the league in average, HRs, slugging on offense, walks issued, HRs surrendered. Sure, the ERA was a notch below, but… oh wait: 143 errors in 144 games (tied with Indianapolis)? The worst fielding percentage in the I.L. (.974)? The most unearned runs (86)? Never mind.

Obviously, poor defense aside, the two most glaring exceptions to the around-the-league-average theme are batting walks (tied for 12th fewest) and pitching strikeouts (tied for 11th fewest). Not taking walks is always going to help out the opposing pitchers. Likewise, not getting K’s increases the odds of contact, which was a double handicap because the team was not adept at converting batted balls into outs.

If there is something I’m glad to be wrong about, it’s that the Nationals haven’t gotten older at this level as I thought they might a year ago. Even with the likes of 32-y.o. Yunesky Maya (who pitched the second-most innings), the team’s pitchers were only slightly older than the league average (27.6 vs. 27.3) and the hitters were actually younger (26.6 vs. 26.9), thanks to a pair of 23-year-olds (Zach Walters, Eury Perez) playing nearly every day.

Which brings us to those age-appropriate bats… (Full statistics for the team can be found here.)
here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Zach Walters 23 521 SS/3B 104/27 .981 38 .258 .264
Chris Marrero 24 450 1B 97 .990 9 .249 .132
Corey Brown 27 438 CF/LF/RF 61/22/21 .973 6 .265 .208
Eury Perez 23 433 CF/LF/RF 69/15/9 .979 4 .257 .122
Jeff Kobernus 25 412 LF/2B/CF/3B/RF 50/15/12/11/8 .992 2 .262 .070
Danny Espinosa 26 313 2B/SS 41/35 .965 12 .198 .070
Carlos Rivero 25 239 3B/1B/SS/LF/RF 42/10/6/5/1 .950 12 .208 .048
Tyler Moore 26 200 LF/1B 21/19 .987 3 .324 .266
Jhonatan Solano 27 148 C 38 .997 1 .180 .065
Josh Johnson 27 111 3B/2B/LF/RF 16/9/8/1 .975 2 .323 .125


The good news is that seven of these ten are home-grown. The bad news is that just two of them aren’t repeating the level. Those two, of course, are Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters, who will be competing in 2014 to achieve what Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi did in 2012: establish themselves as MLB bench/role players.

Unfortunately, that path seems blocked for Corey Brown (who’s now out of options) while Eury Perez has languished at AAA and has but one option left and would seem destined to follow in Brown’s footsteps. Time ran out for Chris Marrero, who was removed from the 40-man last month, and became a free agent earlier this week. Likewise for Carlos Rivero, who went from nearly making the club out of spring training to getting demoted to AA after his production dropped dramatically (.783 OPS in ’12 to .588)

On to the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Danny Rosenbaum 25 28/28 7-11, 0 3.87 158⅓ 167 67 102 1.478 10 8 8
Tanner Roark 26 33/11 9-3, 2 3.15 105⅔ 85 20 84 0.994 6 3 2
Caleb Clay 25 14/13 5-2, 0 2.49 83 68 14 51 0.988 5 3 3
Erik Davis 25 45/0 3-7, 15 3.10 52⅓ 55 20 54 1.433 4 0 2
Ryan Perry 26 12/8 1-4, 0 7.93 42 54 23 27 1.833 9 1 3
Xavier Cedeno 26 39/0 2-0, 4 1.31 34⅓ 23 16 45 1.136 2 1 5
Tyler Robertson 25 26/1 2-7, 0 3.04 26⅔ 33 8 24 1.538 2 0 2
Cole Kimball 27 23/0 0-0, 1 8.06 25⅔ 31 14 25 1.753 4 0 6
Michael Broadway 26 18/0 1-1, 6 2.28 23⅔ 16 7 26 0.972 2 0 1
Fernando Abad 27 17/0 1-0, 0 1.06 17 17 2 12 1.118 0 0 0


Here is where you see how AAA has become the place to “house inventory” — even with an age-28 cutoff, a significant number of innings went to guys that were acquired, signed, or claimed since last November. And it’s not hard to see what the parent club was looking for in reserve: left-handed relievers.

Danny Rosenbaum, who was taken then returned by Colorado in the Rule 5 draft, was the only lefthanded starter all season long and one has to wonder: If he sticks around next year, is there any chance he’ll be converted to relief to increase his chances of pitching in DC? Or will he be given the Corey Brown treatment and continue to start, with neither the hamburger or the pay on Tuesday?

Methinks the latter will be the case and the example of Tanner Roark will be the justification, as he too was asked to eat innings in 2012 (147⅔ in 26 starts) started 2013 in the Chiefs ‘pen, then shifted back to starting and did both for the parent club, winning seven of his first eight decisions and logging 53⅔ innings for a team that was chasing a playoff spot.

As I did a year ago, I expect the Nationals to promote a handful of the Harrisburg pitchers and use FAs to plug the gaps at both AA and AAA until the prospects are ready. It’s WAY too early to say much more than that, esepcially in light of the trades that have been made over the past couple of offseasons.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
That four of these five are already on the 40-man makes this easy. Justifying the two pitchers is a little harder, given that they turned 26 and 27 last month. But this is what I have to pick from, and the guy not on the 40-man could very well be added to somebody’s 40-man next month (again). Plus, as the old saw goes, he is lefthanded and throws strikes, so…

1. Zach Walters
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Danny Rosenbaum
5. Erik Davis

Nov 082013
 

Arizona Fall League 19Just one Nationals farmhand got into yesterday’s game in the Arizona Fall League, in which the Solar Sox dropped a third straight game, losing 5-4 in 11 innings to Glendale.

Matt Skole batted fourth but went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts to drop his AFL average to .125 (4-for-32) in 13 games. He played first base and handled all ten chances, making nine putouts and one assist.

The loss drops Mesa to 13-11-1, just a ½ game ahead of second-place Salt River. Sammy Solis is scheduled to start this afternoon as the Solar Sox host the Saguaros, who have the AFL’s best record at 16-8 and lead the AFL West by 4½ games with six games left on the slate.

Nov 072013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-18The Desert Dogs scored six unanswered runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-0 deficit into a 6-4 win over the Solar Sox.

Brian Goodwin, Steve Souza, and Robert Benincasa were the three Nationals to see game action.

Goodwin batted second and played centerfield, but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He plated a run with an RBI groundout in the 3rd. Defensively, he made two putouts.

As usual, Souza made his appearance count. The taxi-squad member was slotted 7th in the lineup and doubled in the 2nd to drive in the first Mesa run and singled in the 4th (pictured), finishing the game at 2-for-4 to raise his average to .364 for the fall. He snared three flyballs while playing right field.

Benincasa, recently featured by Byron Kerr for MASN, worked around a single and a walk to pitch a scoreless 7th inning for the Solar Sox. The appearance lowered his ERA to an even 4.00 (4R in 9IP).

The two teams rematch this afternoon in Glendale. The Salt River Rafters also lost to preserve Mesa’s 1½ game lead in the AFL East and reduce the Solar Sox magic number to clinch a spot in the AFL title game to six with seven games left.

Nov 062013
 

Baseball America for NPPNo sense vamping when this list has probably been tweeted dozens of times by now. (Last year’s revised ranking in parentheses.)

1. Lucas Giolio, RHP (2)
2. A.J. Cole, RHP (4)
3. Brian Goodwin, CF (3)
4. Matt Skole, 1B/3B (5)
5. Robbie Ray, LHP (–)
6. Sammy Solis, LHP (9)
7. Michael Taylor, CF (–)
8. Jake Johansen, RHP (’13 Draft Pick)
9. Nathan Karns, RHP (6)
10. Steve Souza, OF (–)

Frankly, I was initially confused as to how an injured position player and a coming-off-surgery pitcher could move up in the rankings. This, of course, is no disrespect to them, but simple logic dictates that getting hurt and/or losing a year of development is the kind of thing that drops your stock, not improves it. This was Fitt’s answer to my question about that rationale for ranking them higher in 2014 than 2013:

I think Skole is in the same No. 4* slot he was last year (and remember that Anthony Rendon graduated to the big leagues). I did not dock Skole for being hurt — it was a fluke injury, and he returned strong this fall. I still think he’s a quality power-hitting prospect, and I ranked him accordingly. As for Solis, I got very encouraging reports on him coming off that surgery, and I expect him to move very quickly next year (assuming he can stay healthy — which is a legitimate question, given his track record). At this point, I think he has a better chance to stick as a big league starter than Karns, who strikes me as more of a power reliever ultimately. So I moved Solis ahead of Karns. I can’t say I’m overly excited about any of those guys — Solis is 25 now and still has yet to reach Double-A, after all. I don’t think this is a great top 10 after the top of the list, although I do like some of the depth in the 11-30 range.
* Skole was initially ranked #4 in December 2012, then moved to #5 when BA revised the list in March 2013

I give Fitt credit answering honestly, particularly in remarking about how the talent thins out rapidly after the first few guys, which has been the case for about two years now. For those wondering, Fitt said that he wrestled with a cluster of Tony Renda, Matt Purke, Billy Burns, and Zach Walters before deciding upon Souza for the #10 spot. There are certainly arguments that can be made for any of those five against the other four and it may be bit revealing of your personal biases, too. Fitt, it appears, likes Souza’s five-tool promise over Burns’s speed, Purke’s LHSP capabilities, Renda’s bat/eye, Walter’s power, etc.

One new wrinkle to this year’s rankings is a list of the Top 15 players under the age of 25, which you can find in the free article along with a list of the best tools, prospects of the year and top draft picks from the past 10 years. And of course, the top bonuses paid, for which Robin Leach Fitt remains enamored of the decision of the Nationals to spend heavily just as they were hitting rock bottom.

The projections for where the 2014 Top 10 will begin (or finish) next season were as follows:
AAA – Cole, Goodwin, Karns, Souza
AA – Skole, Ray, Solis, Taylor
Low-A – Giolito
Not specified – Johansen

I personally believe Cole will probably return to Harrisburg and be moved up in May or June; likewise for Johansen with Hagerstown as his starting point — but lately the Nats have been more aggressive, so it could be Syracuse and Potomac, respectively. As mentioned in the comments, where a prospect starts is not nearly as important as where he finishes.