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.

Jan 052012
 

With the close of the Venzuelan League’s regular season, we can now take a look at the final numbers of the Nationals players in the 2011-12 winter leagues.
DWL HITTERS

DWL PITCHERS

VWL HITTERS

VWL PITCHERS

MWL PITCHERS

PRWL PITCHERS

PRWL HITTER

Now if some of these names look unfamiliar, remember that they include some of the minor-league FA signings from last month. As mentioned in the comments, I’m expecting a post from BA shortly that will include the Dan Cortes signing, which some of you have noted along with some familiar names hooking on elsewhere, but I’m more interested to see who got let go. That’s because it gives us a little hint as to how the rosters will be set in late March by virtue of eliminating certain possibilities. As always, I hope to see the departed names when I do my sweep of the indy-league rosters in May and June.

Jan 042012
 

While we await the news on Prince Fielder, I thought I’d dust off this classic for an “encore presentation.” Unlike last year, you can now visit the “Road Trips” tab to see some pics from the past two summer sojourns. This piece was actually the first one I filed for the site back on January 5, 2010 and reruns with some, um, minor edits.

One of the joys of following minor-league baseball is going to see your favorite team on the road. As a fan of the Potomac Nationals, I’ve been to the stadiums of all seven opposing teams in the Carolina League, and have visited the Nationals’ affiliates in Auburn, Hagerstown, Harrisburg, and Syracuse (pictured above). With the move of the Kinston franchise to Zebulon (Carolina Mudcats), I have to make another trip to North Carolina this summer to maintain the claim. Oh, the horror!

With the recent cold snap in the D.C. area, I thought I’d share some of my tips for taking and making the most of a baseball road trip, to help ease the time until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Take The Interstate
There’s nothing wrong with taking the secondary route to get there, especially if you want to see the countryside. But the Interstates are your best bet because they’re faster, there are more places to stop for food and fuel, and should you have car trouble, you’re a better position to get the help you need quickly. Also, quite a few teams are situated close to the freeway anyway (e.g. The Frederick Keys).

Consider The Dominant Travel Pattern
My favorite night to shoot for is a Saturday night. People that are going to the beach or the mountains are likely already there, so you’re not fighting them. If you must travel on a Friday, try to leave either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, i.e. after rush hour or after lunch. Likewise for Sundays, watch out for afternoon games that will have you on the road between 5 and 8pm, a.k.a. when the weekend throngs are coming back. This is why some teams have opted for a start time of 4 or 5 pm — it’s not quite as harsh on the players, and enables the opposing team to leave with some daylight.

Parking
It’s an overlooked detail, so do your homework — especially with clubs in older ballparks or teams that are very popular. If you’re able to walk, think about the money you’ll save if you park a few blocks away or more importantly, the time you’ll save as you walk past the folks jockeying to get out. I like to look for libraries and schools for this strategy. One notable exception is…

Promotions
…Fireworks night. They’re great for packing them in, and most people stay. Translation: While the masses ooh and ahh, you can make a break for your car and get out ahead of them. You can use the promotions calendar two ways: To get the freebies you want, or avoid the folks that care more about the giveaway than the game (e.g. bobbleheads).

Midweek Day Games
These are big moneymakers for minor-league clubs. They’re often dominated by schools and/or summer camps, but they almost always sit in the cheap seats. Despite the crowds, it seems that most venues are shorthanded, relying on the groups’ chaperones for crowd control. This also makes it harder to get concessions and nearly guarantees long lines. But if you don’t mind eating before or after the game, you can generally get great seats up close.

Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen…
…and drink plenty of fluids, by which I mean water and soda. One of the unfortunate things I’ve noticed is that minor-league stadiums with a roof aren’t being built anymore. To me, that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish because a roof provides cover from both the sun and the rain. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I love the WPA-era parks so much, but I can’t help but notice that in the places where there is a roof, people tend to stick around when the elements aren’t favorable. For everywhere else, it’s a good idea to notice where the shadows fall and try to get those seats when the weather will be a factor.

Jan 012012
 

For the past couple of years, I’ve been posting online under a pseudonym. That’s not news, but this is:
I’m dropping the ruse. That funny-looking name you see next to the byline is indeed my own.

While this site is still largely a personal hobby, it’s proven to be something that I now feel like I need to utilize professionally. So if I’m gonna “take ownership,” I have to put my name on it.

Are things going to change now that I’m unmasked? No, not really. I’m still gonna go for the visual pun (see above) when I feel the urge, pepper the prose with one-liners, and exploit my bulldog for branding and marketing purposes.

In short, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Happy New Year!

Dec 292011
 

I’ve updated the 2012 Watchlist since the Gio Gonzalez trade, and upon learning that Taylor Jordan has undergone TJ surgery, paring the list down to 65 players. As mentioned previously, and in the comments, I didn’t add on players. That makes sense for a Top 50 list, but there’s not a set number here we’re shooting for.

I also decided to treat the traded away players just as I did last offseason: a slash-through line. I like to think of the watchlist as a snapshot in time — here are the guys that are on our radar, if you will.

I didn’t add any of the Rule 5ers or the throw-in from the Gonzalez trade, as all three I believe to be inventory more than end-cap. To placate the Purke Posse©, I’ve moved him into the starter column and moved Joel Barrientos in the to LH reliever column.

Otherwise, I’ll be updating the player reports as best as I can until the books come in from BA and Sickels (technically, an e-mail), commenting on the players I’ve seen, creating an amalgam from external sources whenever I can, or simply some notes on the ones that fall into neither category (typically the DSLers).

My apologies in advance for any “Report Not Yet Written,” which is a placeholder for any player that I haven’t seen extensively and will need the aforementioned books to write a decent summary.

Dec 272011
 


We’re at the end of Year Two of NationalsProspects.com; time for the obligatory “Year In Review” piece.

Oh, I know that sounds curt and cynical. News slows down during the holidays, but it doesn’t stop. So these kinds of pieces are trotted out to fill the void.

Looking over the storylines that I decided to revisit, there does seems to be a theme of transition. The minors are still a source of hope, but it’s a different kind of hope. As the depth of the system has improved, the eggs aren’t all in one basket anymore.

Sure, we used to think that in the abstract with certain players — Chris Marrero especially and in particular — but as we saw last week, it’s become apparent that tagging a prospect as the next X in Washington is no longer a given.

(Before you say “Bryce Harper,” consider that he might end up in left field rather than right field.
What?! I’m just sayin’…)

Of course, that won’t stop anyone from trying. People will still get attached to certain players, hoping they make The Show in DC, but now the farm has improved to the point where it can produce players for both the long-term (replacements) and the short-term (trade bait).

This, I think, is progress — much the way we’re seeing a whole lot less of the Natmosphere praising players for their production (e.g. Tyler Clippard) rather than their personality (e.g. Chad Cordero).

So without further ado, let’s delve into the 11 stories to remember from 2011…

The Rain
Every year I ask for a drought that lasts roughly five-and-a-half months: second week of April to third week of September*. It would be one thing if I were merely referring to the poor drainage at the Pfitz, but this also includes the flooding at Metro Bank Park, and fallen light tower at Hagerstown. The four full-season affiliates averaged nearly a dozen rainouts apiece, the three short-season teams averaged nearly a half-dozen postponements each.
*Maybe I got too spoiled by my time in the Pacific Northwest, where there are two seasons — Rain (Oct-Apr) and Not Rain (May-Sep)

The Gorzelanny Trade
Eleven months later, and with the benefit of hindsight, this trade doesn’t look nearly so bad. Prior to this, however, most of the Rizzo trades were of the MLB for prospects instead of vice-versa. I liked the trade immediately, in part because it affirmed what I had long suspected: Michael Burgess was never going to figure it out (2011 saw him revert to the mean, posting a .225/.323/.427 line in his third A+ season).

The Jonny Gomes Trade
This one, however, still stings. Unlike the Gorzelanny trade, even Stevie Wonder could see this was a short-sighted trade designed to snag a sandwich pick. Thankfully, the new CBA will make this debacle less likely to recur. Maybe we’ll be proven wrong on this eventually, but watching a hard-throwing, left-handed strikeout machine (Chris Manno) move up a level and into a hitter’s league and still mow ‘em down was not fun, especially when the system is sorely lacking age-appropriate left-handed relief prospects.

The Gio Gonzalez Trade
Unlike the previous two trades, this trade got the attention of more than just the seamheads. The initial reaction was mostly sour, but I think a lot of that is simply that the trade involved four names that casual fans would know (imagine if it had been Demny/Rosenbaum/Freitas/Estevez) because all were in the most recent Top 10. I think Mark Zuckerman’s effort today expands/riffs on what I wrote in the comments to my story on the trade: “You can count me among the folks that feel a little disheartened that the farm has been weakened, but at the same time the parent club has been strengthened. Sometimes we need a little reminding that that’s *always* the endgame.”

Bryce Harper
There’s not much left that hasn’t been written about Harper. I think I’ve been fairly consistent in my ambivalence because I am professionally trained to be cynical and will instinctually gravitate towards the contrarian position to the hyperbole that has surrounded him since he was put on the cover of SI as a 16-year-old. But it’s also true that he’s met those expectations and impressed nearly every prospect guru along the way (yes, even Keith Law). Maybe the Nats will shock us and put Harper on the Opening Day roster, much like the Braves did with Jason Heyward in 2010. Maybe they’ll decide he needs to work on his fielding at Syracuse. But he will undoubtedly dominate Spring Training 2012′s headlines

Stephen Strasburg
We knew he was just visiting the minors in 2010. But in 2011, the road back from Tommy John surgery gave the 2009 #1 overall draft pick a six-game tour through the full-season minors. Three of those came in Hagerstown. And on a hot August night Brother Strasburg’s Travelling Salvation Show came to Woodbridge. Ordinarily, rehab starts are wildly overrated. But this was the exception, as the 23-year-old took just 33 pitches to retire 12 batters. No batted ball left the infield in fair territory.

Steve Lombardozzi
For the second time in two seasons, a middle infielder made his way from AA to the majors, as Steve Lombardozzi went from Harrisburg to Syracuse to Washington. While the odds of him making the 2012 lineup are slimmer than his predecessor, Danny Espinosa, it was still fun to watch and track from afar one season removed from seeing him day-in and day-out. As we head in 2012, the question is whether or not Lombardozzi is asked to man the bench or be sent to Syracuse to wait.

Danny Rosenbaum
Sammy Solis gets the press, but Rosenbaum simply produces: 171⅓ innings over 26 games, 25 of them starts. That’s nearly six and two-thirds innings every time out. The 24-year-old has been constantly compared to Tom Milone**, which is a double-edged sword like any comparison because it frequently assumes too much. Rosenbaum doesn’t have pinpoint control. But he can break a pane of glass, throwing in the low-90s. That jump in speed from 2010 (high-80s) to 2011 seemed come at the cost of his control and seemed like most of his time at 2011 was spent regaining it. But you’d never have known it if you simply followed the box scores. He has that rare knack of being able to get guys out without having all his pitches working. Now what remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the 2012 version of Brad Peacock**.
**I purposely decided not to include Milone and Peacock in the “11″ because I wanted this piece to still be as forward-looking as possible.

Destin Hood
Earlier, I’d referenced Michael Burgess, a “toolsy outfielder” that sputtered. Destin Hood may be that rare bird that doesn’t. Going into 2011, there was a low level of frustration: When he is ever going to tap that raw talent and turn it into skill? Well, this was the year. He nearly doubled his walk total (33 to 58), nearly tripled his HR total (5 to 13), and despite some knee troubles, swipe some bases (5 to 21). He’ll turn 22 just before the 2012 season, so the expectation that he can make another quantum leap will be there, fair or not.

Auburn Goes To The NYPL Finals
A year after watching the short-season A Vermont Lake Monsters start strong, then fade late had to lead some to wonder if history would repeat in ’11. It didn’t, as they managed to mash their way into the finals, leading the league in runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. It’s probably true that a lot of this is attributable to the Nats’ tendency to draft college seniors, but it made for a fun pennant race to cover in August as part of the daily “News & Notes.”

Potomac Rallies To Make The Playoffs
After a 29-40 first half — the worst in recent memory — the idea of a second straight second-half surge seemed far-fetched. But that’s exactly what happened. Unlike 2010, there was no Tyler Moore having a monster half-season, or Hagerstown sending up its top two pitchers. It was the more traditional, stabilize the pitching (veteran reliever into the rotation) and improve the offense just a little, enough to stop losing 5-4 and start winning 4-3. Sure, it ended with a playoff exit instead of a Mills Cup hoisting, but it was quite an unexpected turn of events.

Dec 242011
 

Whatever your felicitation — Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus — please make it safe, healthful, and enjoyable for you and yours across the Natmosphere. It’s been an eventful week, if not an interesting year, and a pleasure to use my profession to share my passion with all of you in 2011.

Dec 232011
 

Our semi weekly look at the Nationals players in the Winter Leagues, with all statistics as of 1:40 a.m. on December 23, 2011.
DWL HITTERS

DWL PITCHERS

VWL HITTERS

VWL PITCHERS

MWL PITCHERS

PRWL PITCHERS

PRWL HITTER

As you might have guessed, this feature got bumped with the slew o’ news this week. The Dominican Winter League regular season ended this week, the Venezuelan League wraps up next Friday, and the Mexican League finishes the first week of January.

Hope this finds everyone well as they hide from their families take a break from their holiday festivities.

Dec 222011
 

Multiple online sources are reporting that the Nationals have traded four prospects for LHP Gio Gonzalez, a package that’s said to include RHPs Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, LHP Tommy Milone and C Derek Norris.

While you might think that my initial reaction might be that we gave away the farm (hence the pic), I am personally pleased for Milone and Norris, both of whom will now be in a better position to make the majors. The American League has long rewarded lefties with good control and sharp breaking stuff (see Wells, David; Pettitte, Andrew). Norris now can be used as a DH if need be (Scott Hatteberg comparisons in 3… 2… 1…).

Both Milone and Norris were blocked to some extent by Wilson Ramos and/or Jesus Flores and Ross Detwiler and/or John Lannan. Note those “and/or’s” because Rizzo may not be done dealing, especially since Detwiler is out of options. As we saw earlier this month with the Perry-for-Balester trade, Rizzo is quite willing to make a trade to get that roster flexibility (insert Garrett Mock joke here) he covets.

So it’s Peacock and Cole for Gio, essentially, with Norris and Milone as insurance. If Gio does indeed improve his control while maintaining his GB rate and K rates, then this could be a trade that works out for both organizations.

I now return you to the howling on Twitter.

UPDATE — The trade also included 24-year-old RHP Robert Gilliam, who is not in the upper echelons of Oakland’s prospects. The best that I could find on him came from a fantasy baseball site, Razzball.com:

Pitched well in an extreme hitting environment – High-A Stockton (California League). In 164⅓ innings, Gilliam had the following ratios: 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 Hr/9, 4.30 FIP, .307 BABIP, 1.30 WHIP. Those aren’t fantastic numbers, but they are noteworthy due to the environment. Could receive a late season call-up if he continues to pitch this well.

Considering that Cole was nearly a lock to move up to Potomac, it would appear that Rizzo has lined up his replacement.

Dec 212011
 

The Washington Nationals have claimed SS-3B Carlos Rivero on waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Like Baltimore’s Billy Rowell, Rivero has been stuck at AA for the past three seasons with the obligatory “but he’s still young” caveat attached to him. This past season Rivero finally did well enough (.270/.326/.440) to get a cup of coffee at AAA where hit hit just .185/.233/.444 in seven games.

The knock on Rivero is that his defense has been suspect (.949FA in 497G as a SS) despite having a strong throwing arm. The shift to 3B has been unsuccessful (.908FA in 142G) and to paraphrase the pholks at Phuture Phillies: “It’s a loss after a good rebound season, but he remains a deeply flawed prospect.”

Rivero coincidentally was the subject for PhuturePhillies.com’s look at the flip side of drafting international talent.

Dec 202011
 

I’ll expand on this later, but I wanted to put this up ASAP so folks can discuss in the comments. Here’s the summary:

A Bryce Harper
A- Anthony Rendon
B A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Brian Goodwin, Derek Norris, Alex Meyer
B- Matt Purke, Tom Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, Sammy Solis, Destin Hood, Robbie Ray
C+ Chris Marrero, Danny Rosenbaum, Michael Taylor, David Freitas
C Rich Hague, Matt Skole, Jason Martinson

That’s 13 of 20 prospects graded B- or better. Last year, it was 12 of 20 that were C+ or C. This is huge because Sickels is a notoriously tough grader.

I’ve bolded the 2010 Top 20 picks that improved their standing and italicized the prospects that played their way on to this year’s list. The point? This isn’t just Bryce Harper and the 2011 Draft — 40% of this list are guys that were already in the organization and got better.

UPDATE: As promised, some thoughts on the Sickels Top 20.

…Now I’m rooting for Rendon to make it to Potomac next summer. Sickels downgraded the likes of Purke, Solis, Hague due to injury concerns and while he undoubtedly did here, too, it’s clear that he fell from Harper heights, whereas I would have guessed dropping from a B+ to a B.

…Naturally, I am psyched that he has become a Milone believer and thinks Rosenbaum could be following the same path, with Dupra, Hill, and Turnbull the possible next wave

…Not surprised that Kobernus, Moore, or Perez didn’t make the cut. All three aren’t much for walking. Moore didn’t get filleted at AA, but his walk totals have fallen each of the past two seasons while the strikeouts have risen. Kobernus and Perez don’t have the power to make you look the other way, and while both have speed, Perez is still one of the system’s true CFs.

…Pay attention to the “needs to show skills higher than” caveat that keeps recurring; seems to apply to nearly all of the Suns contingent and Skole. Luckily, we do have some coverage at Potomac *rimshot!*

…Sickels still believes in Norris, but downgraded him from B+ to B. The comp to Mickey Tettleton and/or Mike Napoli seems to be de rigeur nowadays, though I think that underrates his throwing arm, not to mention that he’s athletic enough to transition to 1B or LF in a very short time.

…Cole is likely to get the bump up to B+ per Sickels himself in the comments to his article: “I’m about 90% sure Cole is going to get a B+ when all is said and done. I got some mixed reports about his changeup and some velocity fluctuations but overall I love the guy. I want to do some comparisons with other guys in the same grade range and see who I like better.”

…Last but not least, Sickels hinted that the system itself may be entering the Top 10 for all of MLB. I know some folks get pumped over that whereas I’m more likely to remember the #10 ranking from early 2008 by BA after the Detwiler/Smoker/McGeary draft that dropped right back to #21 in early 2009.