There’s a window of opportunity here at the home office of NationalsProspects.com, so I’m taking it to catch up on an overdue feature — the revisiting of my initial observations of the Potomac Nationals, which for the record, are those of a fan, a former sportswriter, and an amateur scout… just like the tagline has always said.
One of the most common questions I get when folks notice me keeping score at the park — after “Who do you work for?” — is “Who are the real prospects here?”
That, of course, is a loaded question; all the players are prospects to a certain degree, just some more than others. But I know what they mean (the some), so I tell ’em the usual suspects for 2014: You should watch the catcher and the middle infielders.
But then I tell them: “This is the level that makes or breaks the guys. If they make it past here, they’ll probably play professionally well into their 20s, and a couple may make it all the way to DC. But if they don’t, they still made it farther than almost everyone they ever played with and there’s no shame in that.”
With that in mind, I’ll revisit the 2014 P-Nats:
Kevin Keyes has moved up and has shown the power stroke again. Shawn Pleffner has proven to be a hitter for average, and has shown a sweet opposite-field stroke, but has not consistently shown the kind of power that folks want from the position. He is the best fielder of his age cohort (i.e. Keyes and Matt Skole).
Tony Renda missed about five weeks to injury, but it’s not enough to say that it’s impeded his development. Defensively, he’s better than advertised, which is somewhat faint praise because his glove is usually mentioned as an afterthought to his hitting tool. I’d agree that he can be an adequate fielder, but having noticed that so many of his doubles are of the single-turned-into variety — and he’s not as fast as some of his predecessors that have advanced to AAA and beyond — he’s going to have to develop some more pop to justify the, um, shortcomings elsewhere.
Stephen Perez is having a rough July on offense, but his defense hasn’t suffered all that much (in fact, I believe it’s improved). The league has adjusted to him and now it’s his turn to adjust back. Unless he bottoms out, this is still a breakthrough year for him.
This has become Khayyan Norfork’s position, in large part because he’s a better defensive player than Oscar Tejeda. Both players are serviceable veterans who bring different skills to the party. Tejeda’s got a fair amount of power while Norfork has shown a knack for the clutch hit along with decent speed.
Randolph Oduber has played here the most in large part because the organization has deemed others to be more applicable to the other outfield positions. The Groovin’ Aruban remains a streaky player who’s prone to strikeouts and doesn’t walk much but remains a useful role player because he can play anywhere in the outfield.
Will Piwnica-Worms emerged as the CF of choice and was just starting to cool off from a hot June offensively when he was dropped by a pitch on July 4th. Defensively, he’s not in the class of what has been quite an impressive run of defensive CFs over the past several seasons (most notably Eury Perez and Michael Taylor) but could play the position as well as the most of the league’s CFs.
Brandon Miller pulled up lame at first base in mid-May and is still working his way back from the hamstring injury. Right field had been a bit of a merry-go-round until Estarlin Martinez began hitting about a month ago. There is a sense that Martinez may be simply on a hot streak — I’m fully expecting someone to knock him for the lack of homers and RBI — but his game and his intensity both seem to have turned up a notch.
Pedro Severino has not lived up to the offseason hype. This reminds me of when Michael Taylor got a lot of buzz prior to 2012 only to founder by midseason and have folks turn on him. Like Taylor, the tools are evident when you watch Severino catch day in and day out. He’s also the same age (turning 21). Unlike Taylor, there is no other catcher to provide cover from above. I suspect the healthier Wilson Ramos is the more patience the fans will have.
Justin Miller and Mike McQuillan have gotten the bulk of the work since the departures of Adrian Sanchez, Cole Leonida, and Kevin Keyes. Craig Manuel and Cody Dent have been called up from Hagerstown, but only Manuel has seen a similar workload to his counterpart. Dent has played sparingly. Eury Perez has covered the absence of Piwnica-Worms but has since gone back to Syracuse, meaning that another move or two may be imminent.
There’s no sugar-coating this: it’s been a patchwork all season long. Injuries have played a part, with Pedro Encarnacion, Nick Lee, Brian Rauh going on the DL early and Ronald Pena almost making it to the All-Star break before succumbing, while ineffectiveness sent Brett Mooneyham backwards after seven starts.
Dakota Bacus has emerged as the staff ace, though he began the season in the ‘pen. Matthew Spann was called up from Hagerstown and did likewise. John Simms came up around the same time as Spann and has since gone up to Harrisburg. Austin Voth has also been promoted from Hagerstown and is pitching better than Simms ever did, begging the question: why not Voth too?
The suspicion here is that the rest of the summer will be an exercise of rotating in pitchers as they get healthy at both Hagerstown and Potomac. That doesn’t preclude any more promotions, but I’m pessimistic since recent history shows that most pitcher promotions at the full-season “A” level generally take place by mid-July.
I said they were very good in mid-May, and sure enough three of the five relievers I singled out — Bryan Harper, Derek Self, and Robert Benincasa — are now pitching for Harrisburg. The two that remain — Gilberto Mendez and Travis Henke — are still heavily used, recently reinforced with Jake Walsh from Hagerstown.
The aforementioned hurt guys have worked in relief and have started. What remains to be seen is how they’ll be used going forward. With only six or so of the so-called “roles” seemingly set — Spann, Bacus, Voth as SPs; Mendez, Henke, Walsh as RPs — those “other innings” could be used in variety of ways and probably will.
It’s going to be an interesting six weeks or so. Even with a playoff berth secured, with an arbitrary playoff format and not much separation between teams in either division (though ultimate I still think Myrtle Beach is the team to beat), anything can happen.