Luke Erickson

Luke Erickson is a season-ticket holder for the Potomac Nationals, but makes a point of seeing games in Hagerstown and Harrisburg at least once a summer. When the PNats are away on the weekend, Luke finds a minor-league game somewhere to watch, and generally attends 70-80 baseball games a year up across several states. A former sportswriter with newspapers in Massachusetts and Oregon, Luke lives in Western Fairfax County with his wife and two sons.

Nov 052012

Going into the Eastern League All-Star Game, Harrisburg was 48-40 — good for second place in its division, having had an eight-game win streak broken with a 4-1 loss on July 9th.

It would be nearly a month before the Senators won back-to-back games again.

They went 16-38 in the second half, falling from second place to fifth place by the end of July for their worst finish (64-78) since the ghastly 2007 edition that went 55-86.

Injuries, as you might expect, were a factor. Twenty-nine-year-old Tim Pahuta led the team in games played with 121. Starters Destin Hood, Chris Rahl, and Jeff Kobernus — none of whom were promoted — played in 94, 92, and 82 games respectively. But as Geoff Morrow pointed out in his final of four segments on the team, the inability to hit when it mattered most is what truly killed the Senators in 2012:

The Senators’ .202 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position wasn’t just dead last in the 12-team EL, it easily ranked last among all 30 Class AA teams (including the Southern and Texas League teams). Their .239 average with runners in scoring position was last in the EL and 28th overall.

Perhaps that might be enough said, but let’s do the dance anyway, starting with how Harrisburg’s team totals compared to the rest of the Eastern League:


Not too hard to figure out what the problem was. The pitching wasn’t great, a notch below the league average. But the hitting was atrocious — 11th in runs, RBIs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Take away the power from graybeards Pahuta and Jimmy Van Ostrand and the legs of Eury Perez and Kobernus, along with Rahl who provided both, and this team would have probably finished 11th or 12th in HRs and SBs, too (somehow, they finished dead-last in doubles).

Perhaps more disturbing is looking at the pitchers by age. As a group, the 24 and unders were 28-32 with two saves, but with a 4.92 ERA and 1.492 WHIP over 488⅓ innings. Contrast that to the 26+ group, and you get marks of 20-29 and 12, 4.13 and 1.335 over 468⅓ innings. The league average age was 24.5, so when you add in the 25-year-olds, those numbers improve to 44-49, 27 and 4.22 and 1.399 over 775 innings.

The problem is that those 25-year-olds were 16-17, 25 and 3.01 and 1.238 over 286⅔ innings. That’s pretty good, but look at who those pitchers are: Erik Davis, Ryan Perry, Hector Nelo, Trevor Holder and Brian Broderick. In other words, guys that for the most part either were or should have been in AAA. Maybe it’s just an anomaly, but it’s something I noticed that I thought was worth passing along.

Now, a look at the Top 14’s — my semi-arbitrary cutoff in order to capture the most notable — for the position players and pitchers. Full statistics for the team can be found here.
Were it not for the injuries, we might have seen a slight improvement in terms of more plate appearances going to age-appropriate players. Jeff Kobernus, for example, might have gotten the bump to Syracause that went to Zach Walters instead — he was hanging a .306/.355/.341 line in July after struggling for much of May and June. Destin Hood probably would have played the whole year for the Senators, but can we write off both the declines in power and patience to his being hurt?

As it was a year ago, the lack of walks is really striking. Without the likes of Derek Norris, Bill Rhinehart, and Josh Johnson, it’s especially noticeable. It’s a testament to Brian Goodwin that he led the above group with a 9.7% walk rate and an indictment on the several players that didn’t break 7.0%. With another wave of free swingers coming from Potomac (Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon excluded), it’s something to watch for in 2013 and beyond.
The story of 2012 for the Harrisburg pitchers was Danny Rosenbaum. His overall numbers aren’t so bad, but that’s a function of arithmetic. After eight starts, he was 5-0 with a 0.62 ERA with six walks, one home run allowed and two complete games, only one of which required more than 100 pitches (109). Halfway through the season (13 starts), he had fallen to 7-2, 1.94 with 13 walks and three HR allowed over 88 innings. After that, the wheels fell off the bus — 1-8 with a 6.54 ERA and a 1.693 WHIP in his final 13 starts.

How much of that is the league adjusting to Rosenbaum and him not adjusting back is up for debate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart offered a clue in this dispatch from Geoff Morrow’s Sunday column in early July, noting that a lot stemmed from frustration, which in turn led to pressing, which even the casual observer knows leads to grooved pitches. Morrow would continually note via Twitter during Rosenbaum’s starts about how much more hittable he’d become as the season progressed.

As noted above, other age-appropriate pitchers struggled. Paul Demny, who had made 98 starts between April 2009 and July 2012, was moved to the bullpen in August. Robert Gilliam was dropped down to Potomac after failing as both a starter and a reliever. Marcos Frias saw his usage cut in half while his ERA rose nearly two runs before and after the All-Star break — though some of the innings drop may be attributable to Ryan Tatusko, Pat McCoy and Davis, all repeating the level, excelling in middle relief and leaving Frias the odd man out.

As much as I hate combining lists, with just two pitchers to list, there’s not much else to be done.

On to the caveats… Hood still has time on his side (turns 23 in April), Kobernus doesn’t (turns 25 in June); but both are getting the benefit of the doubt due to injury… Rosenbaum is still left-handed, mechanically sound, and durable (76 starts, 6.19 IP per from ’10-’12)… There are reports that Demny has a lost a some m.p.h. off his fastball (high 80s vs. low-to-mid 90s) in the AFL, but those are likely to come back with a shift to the bullpen… Bloxom plays a position in which the organization is not deep and can switch-hit… Ryan Perry has already made 156 appearances as a major-leaguer (by definition, a prospect must also be a rookie)… and, of course, Brian Goodwin has already been picked (#1 position player for Hagerstown).

1. Eury Perez
2. Sandy Leon
3. Zach Walters
4. Destin Hood
5. Danny Rosenbuam
6. Paul Demny
7. Jeff Kobernus
8. Justin Bloxom

Nov 042012

It takes a lot to steal the show from Billy Hamilton.

But with a solo home run in the 1st and an RBI double in the 5th, Brian Goodwin did just that, leading the AFL East to a 9-4 win in the 2012 Rising Stars game.

The opposing center fielders* were the, um, centerpiece of the showcase — Hamilton drawing a leadoff walk and stealing both second and third in the 1st inning, the second swipe coming on the throw back to the mound when Hamilton spotted Yankees farmhand Austin Romine taking just a tad too long.
* Yes, I know Goodwin started the game in LF — don’t let the facts get in the way of the narrative…

Hamilton scored easily on the double that followed as the AFL West took a 2-0 lead early.

Goodwin cut the lead in half in bottom of the 1st, taking a 2-1 fastball that caught too much of the plate and depositing it on the outfield berm in right field while nearly hitting an oblivious “fan.”

The two 22-year-olds were again linked when Goodwin drove the ball to the edge of the warning track in left-center in the 3rd, as Hamilton initially misread the ball then used his 80-grade speed to correct course and make a leaping grab.

Hamilton couldn’t catch Goodwin’s next hit, a blast to off the right-center wall that drove in a run as part of the AFL East’s six-run 4th that turned a 4-3 deficit into the game’s eventual 9-4 outcome.

Goodwin would finish the game 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two runs driven in, making two putouts — one apiece in left field and center field.

Aaron Barrett and Anthony Rendon would also see time in the game. Barrett would give up a hit and strike out a batter, but was charged with a run when Cubs reliever Tony Zych gave up a bunt single to (you guessed it) Hamilton that turned into a Little League triple with a throwing error. A subsequent single and double made the Barrett’s run earned, but the 24-year-old still earned a hold.

Rendon would come off the bench and play third. He flew out to left in his sole at-bat and snagged a bunt popup by you-know-who and threw out a runner atr second on a grounder during his four innings on defense.

The Salt River Rafters return to action tomorrow with a day game in Peoria as they attempt to catch the Scottsdale Scorpions over the final 10 games of the 2012 AFL season.

Nov 032012

Matt Skole returned to the lineup and Anthony Rendon extended his hit streak, but a four-run rally in the second by Scottsdale put the game away early as the Scorpions sunk the Salt River Rafters, 9-2.

Skole went 0-for-4 with a strikeout as the Salt River DH. As mentioned in the comments, he tweaked a hamstring last week and had been held out as a precaution, per Byron Kerr’s feature story yesterday.

Rendon singled, tripled, and scored a run for a 2-for-4 game that pushed his average to .291. He’s hit safely in his last six contests. Defensively, however, he was charged with his third error of the fall, a fielding miscue in the bottom of the 1st.

Cole Kimball turned in another scoreless outing, letting in both inherited runners with the “help” of an interference call by an infielder. He allowed no runs of his own, one hit, one walk, and struck out one over an inning and two-thirds, with strikes on 17 of 32 pitches thrown.

With the loss, Salt River drops a ½ game behind Scottsdale in the AFL East with less than two weeks left in the season. Tonight is the “Rising Stars” showcase, pitting the East Division vs. the West Division*. Aaron Barrett, Brian Goodwin and Rendon were named to the East roster. Starting lineups have not yet been announced. * Apparently, American League vs. National League was too obvious?

The game will be played at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick tonight at 8 p.m. and televised on the MLB Network.

Nov 022012

Salt River’s unbeaten streak fell with a 5-2 loss to Phoenix yesterday afternoon.

Paul Demny got the start, his first of the fall, and went two scoreless innings. The 23-year-old allowed a hit, plunked a batter, walked none, and struck out two, though he struggled some with finding the plate (32 pitches, 17 for strikes).

Brian Goodwin’s hitless streak continued with another 0-for-4 game, as the Rafters’ leadoff man struck out twice and drew a walk. Playing left field, he snared a line drive in the top of the 9th for his sole putout.

Anthony Rendon batted seventh and played third. The 22-year-old went 1-for-3 with a walk, extending his hit streak to five games and his on-base streak to seven. Defensively, he had one assist.

With the loss, Salt River falls to 11-8 but remain in first place in the AFL East as the Rafters close out the week with a visit to second-place Scottsdale tonight.

Nov 012012

A one-out single and a balk in the last of the 9th enabled the Mesa Solar Sox to salvage a tie with the Salt River Rafters, 2-2 yesterday afternoon.

For the second straight game, just two Nationals minor-leaguers got into the game…

• Brian Goodwin led off and played centerfield but went hitless with an 0-for-4 mark, making a single putout on defense.

• Jason Martinson played third base and went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored. The 24-year-old snagged a lineout in the 6th and threw out two runners at first on grounders in the 2nd and 5th innings.

The tie, the second of the fall for the Rafters, enabled Scottsdale to move with a ½ game of Salt River in the AFL East. The Rafters play host to the Desert Dogs this afternoon.

Oct 312012

Multiple online sources are reporting that Brad Meyers, who was picked by the New York Yankees in the December 2011 Rule 5 draft, has been returned to the Washington Nationals and assigned to the Syracuse Chiefs.

Meyers was placed on the 15-day DL in early April with a strained labrum and transferred to the 60-Day DL in late May. Meyers made one appearance during the year, a disastrous eight runs given up to 14 batters faced on April 9th for High-A Tampa Yankees of the Florida State League.

The 27-year-old was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 5th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, rising as high as AAA with 95⅔ IP for the Syracuse Chiefs in 2011 but missed most of 2010 with foot and heel injuries.

Offline sources have reported that Meyers has undergone shoulder surgery, but I have not been able to confirm this with a reputable online source.

Oct 312012

After falling behind 3-0 in the 3rd, a pair of runs in the 6th and 8th innings vaulted Salt River to its fifth straight win, 4-3 over Surprise.

It was a light night in terms of the Nationals — just one starter on offense and one reliever made into the scorebook.

Anthony Rendon batted third, played third and extended his modest hit streak to four games. The 22-year-old Texan went 2-for-4 with a run scored on offense and had a putout (foul pop) and an assist (5-2-5-1 rundown on a grounder) on defense.

Cole Kimball worked around a single and an error to turn in a scoreless frame in the 6th. He threw 11 pitches, seven for strikes while facing four batters, and had no walks or strikeouts.

Salt River remains in first place in the AFL East, but just a game in front of the Scottsdale Scorpions.

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From the PR machine in Scottsdale… Brian Goodwin was named the AFL Player of the Week. He’ll be joined by Rendon and Aaron Barrett this Saturday night for the AFL Rising Stars game, which will be televised on the MLB Network at 8:00 p.m. Our zombie copyeditor awaits the assignment…

Oct 302012

Ryan Perry tossed another five scoreless innings as the Salt River Rafters paddled the Phoenix Desert Dogs, 9-2 for their fourth straight win.

Perry allowed just one hit and no walks while striking out three. He needed just 42 pitches, 30 of which went for strikes, to get through the outing.

Former pro scout Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) had this to say, however, on Twitter:

Slow, over the head windup for Perry results in quick rush at finish. Breezes through first inning in order. Won’t miss many bats.

Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon also appeared in the game. Matt Skole did not, which appears to confirm an eyewitness account that he had tweaked something in his leg prior to being lifted for a pinch-hitter on Saturday.

Goodwin had a tough game, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and was picked off first after reaching on an error in the 7th. Pleskoff on Goodwin when I asked about him via Twitter:

Like him. Hits ball hard. Makes good contact. Solid accurate arm from LF. Have to see how he hits vs. better pitching in AA.

The 21-year-old North Carolina native had four putouts in left, and as Pleskoff alluded, gunned down a runner trying to stretch a single into a double.

Rendon went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. He made a single assist while playing third base. Pleskoff on Rendon:

Rendon loves fastballs. Seeing more off-speed pitches now. Timing them much better. Especially those that get too much plate.

Defense was broached in the second part of Byron Kerr’s two-part feature on Rendon, but Pleskoff noted that Rendon is moving well and appears motivated. I saw no such “lollygagging” in Rendon’s brief time in Woodbridge, just a bit of rust on a throw to first that went “unscooped” by defensive convert to the position (Stephen King).

With the win, Salt River improves to 10-7 in the AFL East, a full game in front of the Scottsdale Scorpions. The Rafters play host to the Saguaros tonight, their first evening game in nearly a week.

Oct 292012

The 2012 Potomac Nationals will most likely be remembered by those that watched them closely (*ahem*) for two things: (1) the team that couldn’t win on the road (2) underachievement. You can argue against the latter to a certain extent, but it’s pretty hard to argue against the former: A 10-26 mark in the first half, a 12-21 mark in the second for a combined 22-47 mark that was third-worst in affiliated ball (Louisville, 22-51; N.W. Arkansas, 22-48).

This, of course, would be unremarkable except that in Woodbridge, the 64-win P-Nats were 42-28 — third-best in the Carolina League behind 74-win Myrtle Beach (42-26) and 87-win Winston-Salem (48-23). When I dug into it in early June, I discovered that at least some of it was attributable to the offense hitting nearly 100 points better on the road than at home, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since the Pfitz generally comes up as neutral in ballpark effects. Other factors are surely at play here, but it’s interesting (at least to me) nevertheless.

Underachievement is a little more in the eye of the beholder. It’s often the disconnect between expected and actual performance. While as a fan (disclosure: see first sentence in “About” below), I feel like this team underachieved, as prospect follower I have to allow for the alternate, more objective interpretation that perhaps some of these guys simply hit their ceiling. There just aren’t very many guys that finished in Woodbridge in August that I don’t expect to see again next April; nearly everybody that deserved a bump up to Harrisburg got one.

So let’s take a look at the first P-Nats team to miss the Carolina League playoffs since 2009:


There are two things that strike me when I look at these two comparisons: (1) How similar Potomac’s pitching totals were to Hagerstown’s (2) How much better the hitting was than I would have guessed (nearly mediocre vs. subpar). What didn’t shock me was the low OBP. Francisco Soriano, Blake Kelso and Michael Taylor shared the team lead with 40 walks drawn in 87, 106 and 109 games. David Freitas was next with 39 — in 78 games. Seemed like every time I would fill out my scorecard, I’d be filling in OBPs with numbers that looked like batting averages.

That’s a natural segue to the Top 13* batters (* for 2010 Draft Picks, ** for DSL graduates). Full team statistics can be found here. *Another “extra” to catch a notable

There are some bright spots if you look for them — Kevin Keyes and Jason Martinson’s power, for example. Ricky Hague demonstrating he can play second base (.983FA in 35G). Michael Taylor living up to the hype for his defensive skills in center. But there are also things to pick that aren’t nits — Taylor, Martinson, and Keyes whiffed a lot. The team’s left fielders gave the team’s centerfielders ample opportunity to show off their range.

As aforementioned, none of this is unusual — it’s emblematic of the level: players too good for Low-A, but not quite good enough for AA. The question is whether or not there’s a “yet” in that sentence. This is often where some players repeat… and many will stall (see: Peacock, Brian; Martinez, Carlos).

On to the pitchers…

Well, at least there wasn’t much in the way of mediocrity. The pitchers were either good or they were bad. And even some of the “bad” were pitchers had their moments of “good.” The Matts are a good example of this. Swynenberg was terrific in April, pitching one of the best games of the year on the final Sunday of the month. Grace finished the season strong, capping off his season with eight shutout innings against playoff-bound Wilmington on the final Saturday of the season, a game that Steve Souza won with an 11th-inning grand slam.

Enough has been “said” about how good Nathan Karns was this season. Unfortunately, that leaves us with discussing how disappointing Robbie Ray’s season was. Most of the damage was done in the second half — 1-9, 7.67 vs. 3-3, 4.89 — with the southpaw becoming particularly prone to giving up the longball (10 in his last 10 appearances). Perversely, I was almost wishing to learn that he had been hurt; easier to give him a pass, so “speak.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic bullet as to the why (and if I did, I wouldn’t tell 😉 As the season progressed he struggled with his command, issuing nearly double the walks and seemingly always falling into hitter’s counts and it was usually in the early going, not the middle innings. He turned 21 four weeks ago, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s the primary reason he still makes the…

I thought about only listing three apiece, but decided to go with four as an acknowledgement of the bias that comes with being a disappointed fan of the team. There’s more projection here than usual, as alluded in the discussion of Ray, and I’m giving some props to the guys that finished the season strong.

1. Michael Taylor
2. Kevin Keyes
3. Ricky Hague
4. Adrian Sanchez
HM: Randolph Oduber

1. Nathan Karns
2. Neil Holland
3. Rob Wort
4. Robbie Ray
HM: Matt Grace