It was predicted to be the roster to watch for this season, and for the most part, it lived up to that. Top prospect Anthony Rendon began here, as did Nathan Karns, the Nats’ 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and the single-A guys from the 2012 AFL team that lost in the playoffs. Overall, there were 13 names from the 2013 Watchlist on the Opening Day roster, which is not unusual since AA is where the best prospects play the most nowadays.
But… roughly half the team was also the one that went belly-up in the second half of 2012, so if any Sens fans were worried that history would repeat itself, they couldn’t be blamed. Indeed, the team played .500 ball until nearly mid-June before edging into contention. Fortified by several pitchers from Potomac during the season, all of whom seemingly made the transition with hardly a hiccup, Harrisburg made its run in late June and survived an August swoon to edge Erie for the E.L. West title by one game.
After taking three of four from the Seawolves to advance to the Finals, Harrisburg would be swept by the Trenton Thunder, who, much like the Salem Red Sox in the Carolina League, also got hot down the stretch and swept both division leaders for the League Championship. A disappointing finish, but far from a failure as the team produced two pitchers and an infielder who finished their seasons in D.C. — and not as September call-ups.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Senators stacked up against the Eastern League…
* GPA = Gross Production Average
If there are two things that have been the trademark of Harrisburg teams over the fast few seasons, it’s been outstanding pitching and suboptimal hitting. This past season was no different — they gave up the fewest run and walks and were second in pitching strikeouts, producing the best ratios for K:BB and WHIP. At the plate, they were dead-last in batting average, second-from-last in slugging percentage, and third-from-last in OBP (thanks to finishing second in walks drawn) and runs scored.
Defensively, the team was middle-of-the-pack — a .976 FA that was right at the league average. They allowed the second-fewest stolen bases (with fewer opportunities to steal, thanks to the pitchers) with a slightly above-average (33% vs. 31%) rate of catching would-be basethieves, which would have been higher if Sandy Leon (38%) had caught more than 91 games (the backups were 25%).
Given the organization’s proclivity towards athleticism and defense in the draft (and obviously pitching), this trend will likely continue. As noted in 2011, the lack of power has been offset with increased speed and patience as three of the previous five affiliates were above their league averages for either steals or walks, if not both (Potomac and Hagerstown). This is not inherently bad as power is considered to be a skill that develops later (and can be acquired more cheaply), but I’m sure folks on City Island wouldn’t mind seeing more than one or two boppers in the lineup at the same time, either.
Now is when we danc…er, take a look at the Top 14’s for the hitters and pitchers — expanded from 12 to capture a couple of notables (and help pay the bills, *ahem*). Full statistics for the team can be found here.
|Name||Age||PA||Position(s)||G @ Pos||Fld%||Err||GPA||ISO|
|Jimmy Van Ostrand||28||283||LF/1B||23/6||.990||2||.259||.193|
Looking at the column for isolated power, you can see what I mean by the lack of big boppers. Just five of these 14 were above the league average of .132 and you can see from the distribution of the playing time that there rarely more than one or two in the lineup at the same time. Steve Souza,
who’s ripping up the AFL in limited playing time as of this writing recently added to the Nationals 40-man roster, was a force… when he was healthy. It would have been nice to see what he could have done had he played 50 more games, especially coupled with Rendon for another month.
Perhaps more disappointing was the regression of Destin Hood and Sandy Leon. Hood played 18 more games than he did last season, and posted worse numbers in just about every category. Leon fell off a cliff offensively, falling so far, so fast that it makes you wonder if his 2012 season ought to be disregarded as a fluke. Both players had breakthrough seasons in 2011, but that’s a long time ago in the minors when you’re closer to 25 than 20.
It’ll be interesting to see who moves up to AAA among this group, because it may only be two or three guys, max. The Nationals have had no problem plugging in six-year FAs to plug holes or shuffle between Harrisburg and Syracuse (e.g. Johnson, Rivero, Head, Van Ostrand) which is likely to occur again with Potomac having only 2-3 position players destined to move up.
Now for some better news, the pitchers…
|Nathan Karns||25||23/23||10-6, 0||3.26||132⅔||109||48||155||1.183||14||7||13|
|Blake Treinen||25||21/20||6-7, 0||3.64||118⅔||125||33||86||1.331||9||4||8|
|Rob Gilliam||25||19/18||3-6, 0||4.40||90||83||38||77||1.344||9||10||4|
|Paul Demny||23||18/15||5-6, 0||4.95||83⅔||81||35||86||1.386||10||6||3|
|Caleb Clay||25||13/13||6-3, 0||3.46||75⅓||64||17||59||1.075||6||7||3|
|Matt Swynenberg||24||36/4||4-0, 0||3.16||74||66||30||58||1.297||6||3||5|
|Taylor Hill||24||11/11||2-7, 0||2.71||69⅔||67||16||41||1.191||7||1||1|
|Robbie Ray||21||11/11||5-2, 0||3.72||58||56||21||60||1.328||4||6||1|
|Taylor Jordan||24||9/8||7-0, 0||0.83||54||37||9||43||0.852||0||5||0|
|Neil Holland||24||41/0||1-4, 1||2.84||50⅔||48||11||63||1.164||3||5||1|
|Aaron Barrett||25||51/0||1-1, 26||2.15||50⅓||40||15||69||1.093||6||0||5|
|Tyler Herron||26||33/1||6-2, 5||3.11||46⅓||45||21||58||1.424||2||1||2|
|A.J. Cole||21||7/7||4-2, 0||2.18||45⅓||31||10||49||0.904||3||0||1|
|Pat McCoy||24||39/0||2-1, 0||4.32||41⅔||48||12||36||1.440||5||3||2|
Much like Hagerstown, the consistency of the league’s top pitching staff was amazing — just two of these starters were above the league average for ERA, two relievers above the circuit norm for WHIP. As aforementioned, it was almost unnatural how well the seven callups from Potomac did. Three of the four starters posted better numbers at AA than at High-A while the three relievers who didn’t do better were still decent if not very good.
None of these were guys could be described as unfairly held back, which would help explain such a phenomenon. In fact, the two youngest success stories — Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole — were coming off terrible 2012 seasons and weren’t exactly dominating the Carolina League when they were promoted (lots of K’s, but also lots of HRs). This, for better or worse, is why the folks who make the sausage will tell you that stats don’t matter as much we the fans might think they do.
Which brings us to Taylor Jordan and Ian Krol. I was fortunate enough to see Jordan in Woodbridge, but naturally missed Krol, who was acquired during the past offseason and seemed like a throw-in, which we’ve come to learn, is where Rizzo, et al seem to really do best at: identifying talent from other organizations and having them do far better than anyone expected.
OBLIGATORY TOP EIGHT LIST
Since I use these to help build the 2014 watchlist, I can’t name Jordan and Rendon — both have exceeded the IP and PA limits for rookie status (50, 130 respectively) that most folks use as a cutoff. I also had to break my rule about not double-dipping by repeating two names because, well, they’re kind of obvious. Likewise, for the second straight year, I’m going to have to combine the bats and arms to form a single list because there’s an uneven distribution (again).
1. A.J. Cole
2. Brian Goodwin
3. Robbie Ray
4. Nathan Karns
5. Steve Souza
6. Aaron Barrett
7. Neil Holland
8. Justin Bloxom