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.

Mar 192015

The Nats managed just five hits over 10 innings on offense while their pitchers gave up just seven to play the visiting Tigers to a ten-inning, 0-0 tie, the second of the spring for Washington.

Gio Gonzalez spun four innings of two-hit ball, walking one and striking out five in his third outing. Matt Grace and Rafael Martin were among the quintet of relievers to combine for the extra-innings shutout, with Grace pitching the 9th and Martin the 10th.

Despite his 0.00 spring ERA, Grace was optioned to Syracuse along with C Dan Butler while IF Wilmer Difo was optioned to Potomac after the game as the Nats continue to make roster cuts in small slices.

Michael Taylor struck out four times in four at-bats to lower his average to .250 and increase his K mark to 11 in 28 AB’s. Meanwhile, Tony Gwynn Jr. went 1-for-2 while playing LF.

Washington visits Houston tomorrow, a game which will be televised on MLB Network.

Mar 182015

Three in a row was too much to hope for as the Marlins rallied for two in the last of 8th to break a 3-3 tie and held on for a 5-4 win against the Nats.

Blake Treinen was unable to work around Cutter Dykstra’s error, which rendered both runs unearned though Treinen was dinged for three hits to take the loss. Treinen struck out two and walked none.

Doug Fister was strafed for six hits over his four innings of work and allowed two runs, no walks, and struck out one in his third spring outing.

Michael Taylor returned to the starting lineup and was 1-for-3 with a single and a stolen base while playing CF. The notable minor-leaguers to come off the bench included…
• Wilmer Difo, who subbed for Dan Uggla at 2B and was 0-for-1.
• Matt Skole, who homered in the 9th in place of Ryan Zimmerman at 1B.
• Dykstra was 0-for-1 in relief of Ian Stewart at 3B.
• Sandy Leon took over behind the plate for Jose Lobaton and went 0-for-1.

Prior to the game, RHP A.J. Cole was optioned to Syracuse as the Nats continue to make cuts in small drib and drabs, including the release of IF-OF Jeff Kobernus yesterday.

The Nats return to Viera tomorrow to host the Tigers. The game can be heard on MLB Radio and locally on 1580 AM.

Mar 182015

The whine for the longest time has been that the Nats don’t do enough in the International market. The 2011 CBA dramatically changed that avenue — read: spend your entire allotment *and* incur penalties for one (1) player — but the recent influx of Cuban players has brought that caterwauling back.

While it’s unlikely to appease the aforementioned folks, the Nats’ emphasis of scouting over spending is showing up on lists like Sickels’s. More than a A third of the seventeen 18 position players are from the Dominican Republic and obviously all of them have been acquired since the Rizzo regime began in 2009.

The distribution is better than last year, when nine of 15 were OFs, but still uneven: six OF’s, four C’s, two 2B’s, two 3B’s, one SS, one 3B, one 1B.

Before I list ’em out, a review of Sickels’s principles on hitters:

…Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

…Sickels likes to look at OPS+ and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power.

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

…Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability (which fielding percentage measures).

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Michael Taylor – B+ (B-) Brian Goodwin – C+ (B) Isaac Ballou – C (C)
Trea Turner – B Spencer Kieboom – C+ Stephen Perez – C
Wilmer Difo – B- Raudy Read – C+ Anderson Franco – C
Drew Ward – B- (B-) Jakson Reetz – C+ Victor Robles – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Tony Renda – C+ (B-) Matt Skole – C (B-)
Chris Bostick – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C+ (C) Drew Vettleson – C (C+)

Like yesterday, I’ve bolded the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Unlike last year, just one of these outliers is a Dominican making noise in the GCL. Perez and Ballou are more widely known in our little bubble, so it’s always nice to see some exposure elsewhere.

Now for some tidbits from the book…

…Jakson Reetz is “HIGH CEILING ALERT” which is a new feature that Sickels is trying to denote guys who have “a conservative formal grade but who also have particularly high upside.” Less than two dozen players were given this tag.

…Most of the Turner writeup was devoted to his “weird case,” but if folks are wondering why he wasn’t graded higher, it’s because Sickels is considering the scouts’ opinion that the bat might not match the glove.

…This ought to be familiar to folks who know Michael Taylor is a favorite of mine: “Even with the progress he made last year Taylor is not the type of hitter who will win batting championships, but he should provide enough OBP, power, and speed to keep himself in the lineup. Add in the defensive ability and you have a fine player.”

…Sickels is losing faith, as others have here, in Brian Goodwin’s ability to overcome his weaknesses (strikeouts, handling offspeed pitches, keeping his swing mechanics in gear). No mention of the injury, which the gut feeling here is far worse than anyone is letting on.

…After explaining the difference in opinions on Renda’s draft position and catchet today (overdraft, o.g. respectively), Sickels remains optimistic but concedes that the drop in power (.405 to .377) merits the drop from B- to C+.

…Sickels still hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s pronounced “key-boom,” but was impressed with Kieboom’s surge in offense at Low-A Hagerstown, conceding that he was old for the level. Nevertheless, he put the tag of “SLEEPER ALERT” on him, as he did with Osvaldo Abreu (oops) and Rafael Bautista (yup) last year.

That concludes my review of the Sickels book, which you can buy online here.

Mar 172015

The offense churned out 10 hits and the bullpen survived a late charge as the Nats defeated the Tigers, 6-4 to win consecutive games for just the third time this spring.

Stephen Strasburg struck out five over four scoreless innings to get the “W.” The 26-y.o. gave up three hits and no walks while lowering his spring ERA to 3.18.

A.J. Cole went the next three frames but gave up his third HR in as many appearances. He finished with one run allowed on two hits and no walks and struck out his first two batters of the spring.

Matt Skole was the sole (hey, that rhymes!) prospect to start, going 1-for-3 with an RBI and a strikeout while playing third base. The following players were among the notable minor-leaguers to come off the bench:
• Wilmer Difo subbed for Ian Desmond at SS and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the 7th. He was 0-for-1 overall.
• Isaac Ballou followed Bryce Harper in RF but was 0-for-1.
• Cutter Dykstra scored as a PR on Difo’s flyball in the 7th and went 0-for-1 in relief of 2B Kevin Frandsen.

Yesteday, the Nats sent southpaws Felipe Rivero and Sammy Solis and outfielder Brian Goodwin to minor-league camp. The next major cuts will most likely come after Saturday’s split-squad games.

The Nats stay on the road tomorrow with a trip to Jupiter, FL to face the Marlins. The game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Mar 172015

The John Sickels 2015 annual arrived last night in my inbox, which isn’t quite as satisfying as getting a package in the mailbox, but it’s faster and cheaper. As is my tradition, I’ll break up discussing the book into two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

For the second straight year, there are 18 pitchers ranked while the number of position players has risen to 17 18 (yes, including Trea Turner). As we’ll see shortly, more than half of them are Grade “C,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with Sickels. Just five pitchers earned an “A” in the 2015 book, for example.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

Here’s a look at the 18 pitchers that made this year’s book (2014 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A-) Austin Voth – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
A.J. Cole – B+ (B+) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Jake Johansen – C (C+)
Joe Ross – B (C+) Abel De Los Santos – C Gilberto Mendez – C
Erick Fedde – B- Robbie Dickey – C Nick Pivetta – C
Reynaldo Lopez – B- Matt Grace – C Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Felipe Rivero – C+ (B-) Taylor Hill – C Derek Self – C

The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America’s, and it’s the same number as last year (four). This overlap used to be less, which may mean many things. The two most obvious inferences: (1) Sickels is less likely to go out on a limb (2) Baseball America is getting better about incumbency based on draft position.

Some quick tidbits…

…Sickels is among those that believe that Lopez’s size may shift him to the ‘pen. While I’d agree he’s a “college” 6’/185 lbs., he also appears more solidly built than say Gilberto Mendez (listed at 6′ and 170).

…Fedde’s grade is mostly due to conservatism, which I applaud. Yes, the success rate for TJ is high – but it ain’t 100 percent.

…Likewise, Pivetta is “only” a Grade C because of how wildly inconsistent his secondary pitches have been (“from poor to plus”).

…Sickels points to the improvement in K/IP and K/BB ratios for Joe Ross moving from a C+ to B.

….Finally, Voth is still “sleeper” material, but obviously now the word is out

Next up: the batters.

Mar 162015

Clint Robinson’s two-out RBI triple was the difference in a 2-1 slugfest to secure the first Washington win in nearly a week.

The 7th-inning surge made a winner out of Felipe Rivero, who tossed two shutout frames with no walks and two strikeouts. Rivero was the second reliever to follow starter Jordan Zimmermann, who went the first innings. The Wisconsin native gave up an unearned run on three hits and a walk in his third spring outing.

Michael Taylor once again started in CF and led off the game with a triple and scored the first Nats run. He went 1-for-4 overall.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did today…
• Rafael Martin threw a scoreless inning following Zimmermann, allowing a hit, no walks, and striking out one.
• Mark Grace pitched around a double and a single in the 8th to preserve the 2-1 lead.
• Wilmer Difo subbed for Ian Desmond at SS but struck out twice in two at-bats.
• Matt Skole followed Ian Stewart at 3B and drew a walk in his only plate appearance.
• Cutter Dykstra reached base twice with a pinch walk and a single as the replacement DH.
• Sandy Leon went 0-for-1 as the substitute for backup backstop Jose Lobaton.

The Nats head back out on the road to face the Detroit Tigers tomorrow afternoon. The game can be heard on MLB radio.

Mar 152015

The bell did not toll for Heath as the Astros blasted the 37-y.o. non-roster invitee for all three of its runs in the 5th and held off a late rally for a 3-2 win over the Nationals in Kissimmee. The loss was the third straight and fourth in five games as the Nats have not won since last Wednesday.

Max Scherzer lowered his spring ERA to an even 2.00 with four shutout innings, allowing just a 1st-inning double to Luis Valbena and a walk to Andrew Aplin to lead off the 3rd. The 30-y.o. struck out three in his third Grapefruit League start.

Michael Taylor started in CF and led off but was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He was followed by FA pickup Delta Cleary Jr. who struck out in his lone at-bat.

Matt Skole began in the field at 3B and was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts. Cutter Dykstra was his replacement as a pinch-runner and at third, and also struck out in his only plate appearance.

With the loss, the Nats fall to 4-7-1 for the spring. They host the Astros in Viera tomorrow, a game which is slated for a live MASN broadcast and a tape-delay showing on the MLB Network.

Mar 152015

The first of two spring doubleheaders saw neither squad win as the home crew was shut out, 4-0 by the Marlins and the road team was pummeled by the Mets, 13-4.

As is custom in spring training, most of the 25-man guys stayed home in Viera. Gio Gonzalez started but was charged with all four Miami runs on four hits and two walks over two and 2/3rds innings. The offense was limited to just four and four walks total while striking out 11 times.

Michael Taylor notched the only extra-base hit, a leadoff triple that neither Ian Desmond (grounder to the mound) nor Bryce Harper (popup to 2B) nor Ryan Zimmerman (grounder to 3B) could cash in to break up the shutout. Matt Skole (single), Josh Johnson (walk), and Mike Carp (walk) were the only reserves to reach base.

In Port St. Lucie, the AAAA-laden lineup was held scoreless until the 7th when Sandy Leon (1-for-2, BB) drove in two on a two-out single while Ian Stewart jumped on journeyman Erik Goeddel for a two-run blast. A report that Goeddel was seen applying at a Publix could not be confirmed.

Tanner Roark got the start vs. the Mets, but was once again ineffective — 2⅔ IP, 4H, 4R, 4ER, BB, K, HR. Matt Grace (1⅓ IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, K, 1-0 IR-S) and Taylor Hill (1⅔ IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 2K, HR) were among the parade of relievers to follow Roark.

Among the notable minor-leaguers to appear…
• Shawn Pleffner pinch-hit and played 1B, going 0-for-1
• Jason Martinson pinch-ran and played SS, going 1-for-1 with two runs scored
• Randolph Oduber pinch-hit for the DH, going 0-for-1

Prior to the games yesterday, UT Jeff Kobernus was optioned to Syracuse. This morning, the Nationals optioned RHP Taylor Hill to Syracuse while reassigning RHPs Eric Fornataro, Mitch Lively & Scott McGregor to minor-league camp, which begins today. Thanks to Jack Tavenner, a.k.a. @NatsJack on the Twitters, folks interested in this year’s minor-league schedule can find it here.

Mar 142015

With the release of his 2015 edition expected in the next day or so, John Sickels has released his Top 50 Batting and Pitching prospects, which included two Nationals pitchers and one Washington batter.

It should come as no shock that Lucas Giolito was ranked #1 with the Dodgers’ Julio Urias ranked #2. Giolito was ranked #12 in the 2014 book, which is pretty heady considering that the Nats 1st Rd. pick in the 2012 draft was coming off Tommy John surgery and had pitched just 36⅔ innings in 2013.

If you guessed that A.J. Cole was the second pitcher, ranked #31, congratulations. You can now collect your prize. Cole was #33 on the 2014 Top 50, #46 in 2013, and #23 in 2012. Cole, who turned 23 in January, was a 4th Rd. pick in the 2010 draft and has been traded twice — to Oakland in December 2011 and from Oakland in 2013.

A mild surprise, given his age and proclivity to whiff, is Michael Taylor, who was ranked as the #35 batting prospect. Taylor has long been a favorite here on this website, but his ascendance has been a long time coming as the almost-24-y.o. was drafted in the 6th Rd. in 2009.

Giolito and Cole will most likely begin 2015 in the minors — the former at either Potomac or Harrisburg, the latter in Syracuse. Until this week, Taylor seemed bound for upstate New York, too. But with healthy outfielders in short supply in Viera, the narrative has changed from “Well, maybe he might make the club as a 4th outfielder” (well, no, not really) to “He could be the Opening Day centerfielder” (yeah, more than maybe).

Mar 132015

The Astros rallied for two in the 9th to salvage a 6-6 tie and preserve the Nats’ .500 record at 4-4-1 for the spring.

Houston posted a picket fence on the scoreboard with single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings. Washington rallied for three in the 3rd, two in the 6th, and for what appeared to be an insurance run in the 8th before Scott McGregor gave away two in the 9th.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did coming off the bench:
• Rafael Bautista went 0-for-2 with an RBI in CF
• Wilmer Difo went 0-for-2 with a strikeout at SS
• Kevin Keyes went 1-for-2 in RF
• Cutter Dykstra went 0-for-1 with a run scored at 2B
• Matt Skole went 0-for-1 as a PH for the DH
• Sammy Solis struck out three over two and 2/3rds innings and gave up a run on a home run and four hits total

Prior to the game, catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino were reassigned to the minor-league camp. More cuts are expected after tomorrow’s pair of split-squad games vs. the Mets and at the Marlins.