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 022011
 

For some, the memory of the 2011 Harrisburg Senators will not be how the team took first place in late April and won the division, leading nearly wire-to-wire, despite losing its ace pitcher, its all-star second baseman, and its #3 hitter to promotions and a trade. Nope. It will be this and the wondering if things might have turned out differently if that hadn’t happened.

The more painful reality is that probably didn’t make that big of a difference. The Flying Squirrels won 13 of 21 regular-season meetings and just seemed to have the Senators’ number whenever they matched up. They lost eight of their last 11 games, scoring more than two runs just three times, and scored a total of three runs in three playoff games. Simply put: The Senators were cold going into a short series against a team they had trouble with even when they were playing their best baseball.

This is not to dismiss the disappointment — it’s funny to me to see proclamations each September about how winning in the minors is overrated… or underrated, though it does seem to depend on how your organization is doing at the time — but to remind folks that it was quite a journey to get to the playoffs, as one of our contributors first wrote on this site a few weeks ago.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 Harrisburg team compared to the rest of the Eastern League, shall we?
HITTING

PITCHING

The Senators were 9th in runs scored despite leading the league in home runs. Likewise, they were 11th in on-base percentage but third in stolen bases and triples. It’s an unusual combination, though I think we’re seeing a trend across the organization when it comes to running (GCL, 5th; NYPL, 3rd; Sally, 3rd; Carolina, 1st) and getting on base (6th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd). Unfortunately, the closest player to possessing both skills is Steve Lombardozzi, so the folks reading this site looking for the answer to the problem with Ian Desmond at leadoff might be disappointed.

Pitching was this team’s strength, as they were first in strikeouts and WHIP, second in ERA, walks and HRs allowed, third in runs allowed. The defense wasn’t so bad either, finishing fifth in terms of percentage and seventh in terms of errors committed, and second in terms of stolen bases allowed. Admittedly, some of this can be chalked up to the veteran nature of the pitching staff (e.g. Erik Arnesen, Oliver Perez), but it should be noted that 24-year-olds (the league average age) accounted for 31.5% of the innings thrown and 62 of the 142 games started. Until the likes of Wirkin Estevez, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray come to town, an older pitching staff is probably going to be the norm for the forseeable future.

Now, let’s drill down to the Top 16′s for the batters and pitchers — an expansion from the Top 12′s so as to include notables such as Bryce Harper and Erik Komatsu as well as Danny Rosenbaum and Pat Lehman. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

Now when I say that we’re hurting for age-appropriate position prospects at AA and AAA will folks believe me? Just six of the Top 16 batters were 24 or younger. This is why when I see folks elsewhere chiming that the farm has been rebuilt, intimating the job is complete, I cringe. It’s true that three of those six are likely to be in DC by Opening Day 2013, but need I remind folks that unfortunate incidents occasionally occur?

Age aside, you can see from the totals that the team compensated for its low OBP with some serious slugging (.316 ISO for Dolla?!) while nearly everybody was a decent fielder and/or had above-average speed — perfect complements to the aforementioned veteran pitching.

Lastly, in case anyone was wondering… 18-year-old Bryce Harper “struggled” to only reach the league averages for the triple-slash rate stats, hitting it on the nose for OBP and SLG, and missing BA by .003. I’m not prone to fanboy one-handed typing, but that’s pretty damn impressive.
Quite a few extremes, no? That’s part of the reason I like to drill down to the individual stats: Because the guys that were good, were really good — offsetting the guys that weren’t up to snuff, though one thing I did notice is that nearly all of the high ERA guys had significantly lower FIPs (e.g. Ryan Tatusko, 5.94 ERA, 3.97 FIP), which make sense with a team that’s in the upper half of the league in terms of defense.

Like the hitters, one gets the feeling that Washington is building the uppermost levels of the farm to be interchangeable between AA and AAA, creating an environment in which prospects bubble up to the bigs while surrounded by veterans. That’s just what jumps at me when I look at this list of guys that seemed to be either 24 or 27. Of course, that inference could be drawn into a comic like this.

OBLIGATORY TOP FOUR LISTS
That’s no typo. I just can’t pick a #5 for either the batters or the pitchers with a straight face. I’m already including a couple of guys that may be voting for president next year for the third time. Pat McCoy, Stephen King, Erik Komatsu, Tanner Roark are the requisite ages, but none really had that good of a season. I’m already sure that next week it’ll be a Top 5 for the entire Syracuse team (that’s what I did last year), but I felt like doing that here and now might be misconstrued. This is what I mean when I say that the rebuilding job is not complete: There simply aren’t 10 guys at the so-called marquee level of prospects that fit the bill.

Batters
1. Bryce Harper
2. Derek Norris
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tyler Moore

Pitchers
1. Brad Peacock
2. Danny Rosenbaum
3. Brad Meyers
4. Pat Lehman

Nov 022011
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions got off the schneid while AFL Rising Stars Game participants Bryce Harper and Derek Norris both extended their hit streaks in a 6-4 win over the Peoria Javelinas.

Like yesterday, Harper hit safely in his first two at-bats to extend his hit streak, which now stands at 11 games. He singled in the 1st and bashed a two-run HR in the 3rd and finished the game 2-for-4 with 2RBI, a run scored, and a strikeout. He played LF again and had one putout.

Norris was the designated hitter and went 1-for-3 to extend his hit streak to nine games, driving in a run on a 1st-inning groundout and also drawing a walk (#10 in 14 games). His OBP is now .450, sixth-best in the AFL.

Zach Walters was the third National to appear in the game, playing third base, where he had an error and an assist, and went 1-for-3 with a strikeout at the plate.
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Harper and Norris were both named to the AFL East squad for the 2011 Rising Stars game, a de facto all-star game that will be televised live on the MLB Network at 8 p.m. this Saturday night. Neither player was named last year, as former farmhand Michael Burgess and Cole Kimball were Washington’s representatives in the 2010 game, which the Western division won 3-2.

Nov 012011
 

Two trends continued on Monday — Scottsdale lost while Bryce Harper hit safely (2-for-4, 2RBI).

The Scorpions led twice in this one, as Harper extended his hit streak to ten games with a two-out RBI single in the 1st that gave the Scorpions a 2-0 lead. He tied the game with an RBI double in the 4th, an inning in which Scottsdale reclaimed the lead at 4-3. Defensively, Harper made one putout and had no assists or errors.

The Scorpions ‘pen coughed up three in the 6th to give back the lead and single runs in the 8th and 9th innings as they would go on to lose this one by a count of 9-5. After 22 games, the Scottsdale record stands at 7-15 with an elimination number of seven. The defending champions are dead last in ERA, runs allowed, runs scored, hits, and total bases.

Zach Walters was the only other National to appear in the game, flying out to CF in the bottom of the 8th and playing 3B in the top of the 9th with no defensive chances.

Oct 312011
 

Our weekly look at the Nationals players in the Winter Leagues continues, with all statistics as 12:59 a.m.
on October 30, 2011.

AFL HITTERS





AFL PITCHERS






DWL HITTERS





DWL PITCHERS




VWL HITTERS







VWL PITCHERS





MWL PITCHERS




      The hot streaks by Derek Norris and Bryce Harper certainly take the edge off the numbers as they looked a week ago. Chris Marrero has finally gotten into a couple of games for the Licey Tigers, while it appears a couple of farmhands have been buried in the famously malleable rosters (or released — hard to tell with the sparse/uneven online coverage).

The Puerto Rican League starts up on Friday, which as previously reported, seems to be absorbing a lot of the Americans that would have otherwise gone to Mexico, while the Australian Baseball starts up on Thursday. Neither league has much in the way of rosters, so we’ll have to wait until the games begin to see who surfaces in the boxscores.

UPDATE: One notable name that came to light after the above images were cut* was Shairon Martis, who took the loss in his first VWL start after giving up two runs on one hit (a home run) while walking four and striking out three over five and a 1/3rd innings yesterday.

*The current theme isn’t terribly friendly to HTML tables; creating images of the tables instead has been my workaround.

Oct 302011
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions couldn’t make it three in a row, falling 4-3 to Salt River.

Derek Norris pushed the safety skein to eight games (hey, that rhymes!) while going 2-for-5 with a strikeout. Defensively, it was a mixed bag: a passed ball, 1-for-2 in runners caught stealing.

Sammy Solis scattered five hits over four innings, but needed 71 pitches to do it. He walked two and allowed an unearned run (Norris PB) while striking out five.

Pat Lehman ended his in-game BP tendencies with a scoreless inning — his first in more than three weeks — retiring all three batters he faced in the 6th, two by way of the K.

Unfortunately, Rafael Martin’s fifth appearance was marred by a 9th-inning solo HR that gave the Rafters its fourth and deciding run. Martin was tagged with the loss and had no walks and no strikeouts.

It’s a five-game this week as the AFL holds its “Rising Stars” game on Saturday, which will be televised on MLB Network at 8 p.m. Rosters are expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Oct 292011
 

Bryce Harper homered for the third straight game in a 9-5 win by Scottsdale over Salt River, just the second time this fall the Scorpions have won consecutive games in consecutive days.

Harper also drew a walk and scored two runs for his 1-for-4 game. He drove in two with home run #4 and struck out twice while playing left field (no putouts, errors, or assists). The hit extended his streak to nine games.

Derek Norris was the designated hitter and extended his hit streak to seven games with single in the 7th inning. He drew a walk but struck out three times for his 1-for-4 game.

Zach Walters played third base and snapped an 0-for-10 skid with an RBI double in the 4th. He later drove in runs a la Homer Simpson (HBP) and via sacrifice fly to finish the game 1-for-3 with 3RBI. Defensively, he had two putouts and an assist.

Sammy Solis is expected to make his fifth start tonight as the Scorpions rematch against River Rafters to close out the week.

Oct 282011
 

Ho hum. Another day, another four RBIs for Bryce Harper.

Granted, the last three did come on a walkoff home run that turned a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 win for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Harper went 2-for-5 overall while once again playing left field. Defensively, he was charged with his third error of the fall on an errant throw but made three putouts.

The news was not all good though as Matt Purke had yet another rough outing, giving up three runs on four hits in the 5th inning. He walked none but struck out one and also threw a wild pitch. As the old saw goes, you know things are going bad when such an outing lowers a pitcher’s ERA — from 30.86 to 29.70

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Brad Peacock was chosen the best AA starter in the 2011 MiLBYs, minor-league baseball’s desperate attempt to feed the PR beast postseason awards. It’s the second award given to a Nationals farmhand since its inception in 2005, when it was known as “This Year in Minor League Baseball Awards,” with Tyler Moore named the best Class-A Advanced hitter last season.

In transaction news, the Nationals have released Johan Rodriguez (GCL) while resigning veterans Chris McConnell and Chris Rahl. Rodriguez appeared in 66 games over two years in Viera, but posted an OPS of just .510 while committing 20 errors on defense. McConnell and Rahl were both key cogs for the Senators in 2011 and will likely be asked to be role players in either Harrisburg in Syracuse in 2012.

Oct 272011
 

Bryce Harper drove in four of the five Scorpions runs, but it wasn’t enough to prevent another Scottsdale loss, this one by a 10-5 count to Mesa.

Harper connected for his second AFL longball, a three-run shot in the top of the fourth that sliced the Solar Sox lead to 8-3, and singled in the sixth. He drove in Derek Norris for his fourth RBI with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. Harper once again was in left, and made three putouts.

Norris, however, was not as adept defensively yesterday with two errors and a passed ball (though he did catch a runner stealing). But like Harper, Norris has found his groove at the plate and was also 2-for-3 with a run scored. He drove in none, but walked once and struck out once.

Conversely, Zach Walters still appears to be overmatched, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout while playing third base (one assist). The 22-year-old is 1-for-17 over his last four games with six strikeouts and no walks.

Rafael Martin made his fourth appearance, tossing two scoreless innings while allowing just one hit. He walked none and struck out one, lowering his ERA for the AFL to 1.50.

Scottsdale plays host as the two teams rematch this afternoon, then Scorpions hit the road to face the Rafters tomorrow night, then return home for another matchup against Salt River to finish out the week on Saturday.

Oct 262011
 

There are some parallels to the 2010 season and the 2011 season for the Potomac Nationals. Both teams started slowly…VERY slowly, getting into offensive funks that saw both teams get shut out seven times. The 2010 edition finished the first half at 31-39, ten games behind Frederick; the ’11 guys were 29-40 and twelve games behind the Keys at the break.

Given that the core of the team was the 2010 Hagerstown Suns that faded fast in the second half, it was natural to think that a second-half rally was unlikely, particularly since it seemed rather unlikely that much come in the way of reinforcements. The whispers that Bryce Harper would skip the level turned out to be true, but what the team really needed at that point was pitching.

Oddly enough, both the hitting and the pitching did improve in the second half with basically just one starter (Solis) and one reliever (Holland) added to the mix. But while 2010 was largely the hitting getting much better down the stretch, the story of the 2011 second half was the stabilizing of the pitching. Essentially, it went from league worst (5.01 team ERA on June 1st) to slightly higher than league average (3.79 vs. 3.77) the rest of the way.

Coupled with an improved offense (4.00 R/G before July 1, 4.44 after), the P-Nats turned in a 39-31 second half that became good enough to win second-half Northern Division title when the Keys lost the last three regular-season games (and eight of the last ten). Thanks to league bylaws, Frederick’s 39-31 mark down the stretch still earned them the home-field advantage in the first round of the Mills Cup playoffs. That turned out to be the difference as the Keys beat the P-Nats 3-2 for the fifth game and 3-2 for the series to send Potomac packing and end any hopes of defending the 2010 title.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 edition stacked up against the rest of Carolina League…
HITTING

PITCHING

Having watched these guys day in and day out, I was bit surprised to see that the team finished third in walks drawn — in my mind, there were only a handful of players that seemed willing to take the walk, and too many that weren’t. But those that did walk, walked a lot (Francisco Soriano and Steve Souza were 2nd and 3rd in walk rate for players with 200+ PA in the Carolina League).

That 215 steals led the league by 63 and was the most by the team in its affiliation with Washington and the most in the league since the 2008 Wilmington Blue Rocks. They were only caught 66 times, which works out to an efficiency rate of 76.5 percent. Yes, Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus accounted for the bulk of it (88 steals combined) but even big men such as Souza (25) and Destin Hood (21) stole 20+ bases. The thievery helped offset the team’s lack of doubles, but otherwise, this squad was mostly right around league averages. Not bad when you consider the position players were the second-youngest in the league.

As aforementioned, the pitching went from horrid early to serviceable late. They still finished last in nearly every rate or total statistic, but let’s not forget that the Carolina League tends to be a pitcher’s league despite the launching pads in Frederick and the Salems. For those that may have missed it or were wondering, the Pfitz usually comes out neutral in ballpark-effect studies.

You can argue over how much of it came from reshuffling the deck and removing failed starters from the rotation (Mitchell Clegg, Marcos Frias, Trevor Holder) or how the unsung work of swingmen (Adam Olbrychowski, Evan Bronson) filled in the gaps, or how the team’s top two starters improved over the course of the season — one steadily (Danny Rosenbaum), the other in fits (Paul Demny) — but the bottom line: it did get better.

Now, in our little dance, we take a look at the Top 12′s for the batters and pitchers in terms of PAs and IPs.
Full statistics for the team can be found here. (* 2009 Draft Pick, ** DSL Graduate).

I chose to highlight the ’09 picks and DSL grads to illustrate the counterpoint to drafting ‘em young: It takes time. In this subset, there are four ’08 picks (Hood, Higley, Lozada, and Ramirez) and fifth that was traded for (Dykstra). Only one 2010 position-player draft pick saw playing time, and that was four games before his shoulder went out (Rick Hague) — two, if you want to count Zach Walters.

What I personally like about High-A is that it’s the true litmus test for a prospect. I’ve seen varying percentages that break down once a prospect plays at level X, his chances of ever playing in MLB are now Y, but almost all of them jump from single digits to double digits when it comes to High-A vs. AA. Anecdotally, I can tell you that this where many players stall: The bridge over the Susquehannah in Harrisburg may as well be the bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem, so to speak. Seems like every April I fill in the lineups and think to myself “This guy is still here?” — and the thought occurs on both sides of the scorebook.

So while some folks have expressed great dismay over the lack of development of some guys, it bears repeating that this happens all the time. And in my mind, that disappointment is offset by guys breaking out (Hood) and/or shaking off the proverbial primates (Kobernus). Not to mention my personal favorite: seeing a pitcher start to “get it.”

How’s that for a segue?
Just to expand upon what I wrote earlier, Olbrychowski was terrible as a reliever but found his groove as a starter (5.63 vs. 3.71 ERA) and the reverse was true for Frias (1.67 vs. 5.06). Bronson was actually better as a reliever when you look at the season as a whole, but unlike Olbrychowski and Frias, kept bouncing between roles (and levels) until he was given a spot in the rotation in mid-August and turned in quality starts in two of his four starts down the stretch.

Demny, as aforementioned, improved over the course of the season but take a look at the ERAs by month:
April – 2.08, May – 6.93, June – 2.55, July – 8.42, Aug/Sep – 2.72. He’s young (22 in August), throws hard (~93-95), and durable (100+ IP the past three seasons). Clearly, he made his adjustments and the league adjusted back, but you have to like that he was able to rebound not once but twice from rough patches of pitching.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS
The upside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys the most. The downside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys so much. Looking over last year’s season review I can see that invariably, I’m either going to overvalue some guys as a fan (e.g. Chris Curran), and undervalue others in an effort to overcompensate for being a fan (e.g. Tyler Moore last year). So bear that in mind as I fire from the hip and make the lists that folks love so much…

Batters
1. Destin Hood
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Steve Souza
5. Justin Bloxom
HM: Zach Walters

Pitchers
1. Danny Rosenbaum
2. Sammy Solis
3. Paul Demny
4. Josh Smoker
5. Marcos Frias

Oct 252011
 

This has not been a good fall for Pat Lehman. The 25-year-old was charged with his third loss and first blown save in an 8-4 loss by the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Lehman was greeted with a single and an RBI double in the sixth before he got his first out, a grounder to short. A stolen base and another singled plated the second run of the inning and turned the Scorpions’ 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit. Lehman finished with two runs allowed on three hits with no walks and no strikeouts.

Sammy Solis put in his longest outing this October with five innings pitched. He walked just one while giving up two runs on four hits, throwing 44 of his 63 pitches for strikes — an encouraging sign after a 37-for-67 outing last Tuesday.

Derek Norris continues to swing a hot bat, doubling and homering while drawing a walk. He also drove in a run via a sacrifice fly. His 2-for-2 afternoon moves his batting average to .333 for the fall, his three times on base has lifted his OBP to .429, and the six total bases moves his slugging percentage to .576.

Finally, Zach Walters was the designated hitter but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.