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 032016
 

Scott Sizemore’s three-run blast in the 6th broke open a 2-1 game as the Nats tripled up the Rays, 6-2 in the 2016 Grapefruit League opener.

As is custom in spring-training road games, few regulars made the bus trip. Tanner Roark got the start and turned in two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk and while fanning three.

The win went to Rafael Martin for pitching a scoreless 5th while the hold went to Sammy Solis (1-2-3 sixth) and the save went to Erik Davis, who came on in the 9th with two men on base and retired the only batter he faced on a 4-3 groundout.

Here’s a rundown of how the watchlist minor-leaguers fared:

  • Trea Turner went 0-for-2 with a strikeout as he led off and played SS
  • Wilmer Difo singled and scored a run but also committed two errors
  • Christopher Bostick went 1-for-3 with an RBI
  • Likewise for Matt Skole
  • Pedro Severino replaced Jose Lobaton as catcher and went 0-for-2
  • Spencer Kieboom batted 9th as the DH but struck out in both plate appearances
  • Matt Grace let up two hits in the 7th but let in neither
  • Austin Voth followed and allowed two hits and a walk but also struck out three

Washington makes its Viera debut today against the New York Mets with Max Scherzer expected to start. The game can be heard on MLB audio with the away feed (sorry, it’s another week until Charlie and Dave, but it’s still better than FP).

Mar 022016
 

And not a moment too soon.

It’s a certainly a different dynamic than a year ago. Expectations are much lower, but the managerial talent is much, much higher.

Like Matt Williams as a manager, we don’t belong here – spring training is for the big boys and the big club, even if the team’s undisputed No. 1 prospect is in the clubhouse (and he brought treats, too).

But we’ll pretend we do for about three weeks so I can re-establish my routine and have something to write about nearly every morning as opposed to once or twice a week.

It starts this afternoon with a road game against Tampa Bay with audio coverage via MLB.com webcast.

Mar 012016
 

Transactions for NPP 2
We finally made it to March. Spring Training games start tomorrow. But first, let’s take care of some housekeeping with a look at the transactions from the past two weeks, as reported by Baseball America:

• Signed RHPs Burke Bandenhop, Matt Belisle, J.C. Gutierrez, and Connor Porter
• Released C Edward Trejos

Bandenhop and Belisle are the prototpyical veteran signs who are in camp for a look-see as the big club – like all do this time of year – looks to shuffle and solidify the bullpen. Neither has spent significant time in the minors in the past five seasons.

Gutierrez is a re-sign, having made nine appearances for Syracuse last August and September. Gutierrez last appeared in the MLB during the 2014 season.

Porter has the kind of stats and specs that scream “project” – a 54.00 ERA and 6.00 WHIP in one (1) appearance in the Frontier League in 2015 and a 4.40 ERA, 1.53 WHIP in 29 appearances in the 2013 and 2014 seasons for the University of Memphis. The 22-y.o. is listed at 6’8″ and 202 lbs.

Trejos appeared in just 29 games as a 17- and 18-y.o. backup catcher for the DSL and GCL Nationals and posted a career OPS of just .613.

Feb 272016
 

accelerated-camp
For the minors fans, the news is sparse this time of year, but thanks to MASN’s Byron Kerr, we can at least discuss the annual list of minor-leaguers who’ve been asked to come to camp early, a.k.a. “accelerated camp.”

This is the analog to the Fall Instrux – extra time for instruction, etc. And, of course, a chance for the Nats to make sure everyone’s moving in the right direction.

As I’ve previously noted, it’s difficult to make realistic inferences from who’s been invited or not, but I have marked up the list…

RHPs LHPs CATCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS
Joan Baez Grant Borne Raudy Read Osvaldo Abreu Telmito Agustin
Ryan Brinley Matt Crownover Jakson Reetz Zack Cox Rafael Bautista
Weston Davis Taylor Guilbeau Matt Reistetter Anderson Franco Blake Perkins
Matt Derosier Taylor Hearn Jorge Tillero Kelvin Gutierrez Victor Robles
Wirkin Estevez Tyler Watson Edwin Lora Andrew Stevenson
Erick Fedde Bryan Mejia Rhett Wiseman
Koda Glover Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
Cody Gunter Stephen Perez
Jake Johansen Shawn Pleffner
Andrew Lee Ian Sagdal
Reynaldo Lopez Max Schrock
Tyler Mapes Drew Ward
Luis Reyes
Mariano Rivera III
Jefry Rodriguez
John Simms
Luis Reyes
Phillips Valdez
Austen Williams

… with red for guys not on the watchlist, blue for 2015 Draft picks, with purple for those are both, while resisting the urge to demarcate the surfeit of soap-opera first names (e.g. 80% of the LHPs. Just sayin’).

This time around perhaps the only unfamiliar name to the non-regulars is Zach Cox, who’s probably this year’s Mario Lisson – a veteran being asked to “plug and play” at either Harrisburg or Syracuse and probably both by year’s end.

Also, as usual, there are a couple of veteran names to remove a little bit of doubt as to who’s had their last gasp, which is also an unfortunate part of both spring training and the offseason.

Until next time — or when the games begin…

Feb 242016
 

Last night, John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 prospects list for 2016. Here’s how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
A- Trea Turner
B/B+ Victor Robles
B Reynaldo Lopez, A.J. Cole
B/B- Erick Fedde
B- Wilmer Difo, Anderson Franco, Austin Voth
B-/C+ Andrew Stevenson
C+ Osvaldo Abreu, Rafael Bautista, Christopher Bostick, Pedro Severino, Max Schrock, Rhett Wiseman
C+/C Raudy Read, Abel De Los Santos, Koda Glover, Andrew Lee


Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which if you must know, you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Trea Turner is #2, Victor Robles is #3… Koda Glover is #19, Andrew Lee is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. The opposite, i.e. folks who have dropped a notch, are in blue.

Top 20 guys from 2015 are in bold. Guys who played their way onto the list are in italics. Draft picks from last June are in green.

The last category is interesting because there are two ways of looking at it: (1) the system was so weak that the new talent simply looks better in comparison (2) the Nats drafted really well.  I’ll leave that up to the draft gurus to debate in the comments, but I think I have to lean towards the latter when I look back at previous iterations of this post and realize there’s never been this many just-drafted picks to make the Top 20 (hence the Kermitization 😉

It’s also interesting that Sickels is outlining the guys that are straddling two grades, which he also points out with nos. 11-7 (the C+ guys and Raudy Read):

Significant cut-off here: slots 11-17 could be ordered in many different ways with valid logic. Look at this like tiers.

Other thoughts…

…Clearly Sickels is higher on Cole than others, especially when you consider that he’s ranked him above Fedde. His comp is to Jake Odorizzi in terms of prospect fatigue.

…Speaking of comps, let the hype begin if Reynaldo Lopez is likened to Luis Severino.

…Andrew Lee appears to be his next Austin Voth: A sleeper pick that becomes a workhorse with stuff that’s neither exceptional nor weak.

As always, I encourage folks to click through to the first link above and read John’s comments on each player. Then discuss in the comments (a.k.a. the opposite of MASN).

Feb 162016
 

Bulldog-Hates-SnowIt’s hard to imagine with the ice and snow we’ve been having lately, but pitchers and catchers do report to Viera on Friday. Allegedly.

And, according to some dispatches, it’s the last one at Space Coast stadium. So we’ve got one more year of beat writers bitching about Panera.

Yesterday, we got the news as to who the non-roster invites will be, though more than a few outlets chose to highlight Lucas Giolito.

While it would be quite a story if Giolito were to break camp with the big club, what may be more likely is top position prospect Trea Turner being handed the starting shortstop job. Of course, the presence of multiple veteran options gives cover to the Nationals if they decide to send one or both back to the minors to delay the arbitration clock for more seasoning.

Aside from those two, it would appear that it’s the usual drama for prospects/minor-leaguers: Who, if anyone, might surprise us and become the 12th man in the ‘pen or the last bat off the bench? Injuries forced an awful lot of promotions last year, but if everyone’s healthy, then could the opposite occur? Could we see Michael Taylor or Matt den Dekker sent down “so they can play everyday?”

I’ll freely admit that spring training coverage on this site is self-serving and specious, at least now that the Nationals are playoff contenders. It’s an excuse to get back into the habit of writing every morning in preparation for the minors’ regular season, which begins in (ugh) seven weeks.

And with that, I have to call it a day and get to work…

Feb 092016
 

minor leagues signs 2
As some have already noted in the comments, there’s finally some movement on the transaction front with the Nationals signing two career minor-leaguers and a former major-leaguer to a minor-league contract.

First, the guys we might see this summer:

• LHP Robert Fish – Hasn’t pitched since 2013. While he’s already succumbed to Nationals elbow (2012), the inference that he’s had another round would certainly be logical, but there’s little to found on the southpaw since his release.

• C Nick Rickles – Released in October by Oakland after a lackluster 2015 spent at three levels, but mostly at High-A. He missed all of 2014 with a torn labrum.

Both would seem to be look-see candidates with only a small chance of sticking, which should be obvious given the lateness of the offseason; most guys signed this late are released within 6-8 weeks.

The former major-leaguer is Brendan Ryan, who was also given a non-roster invite and will compete for a bench job as a utilityman and, if he loses, will look to hook on elsewhere.

Feb 062016
 

With John Sickels’s prospect book still a month out or so, I decided to finish the Watchlist with the BA book and hold out on a couple of guys that I think (hope) he’ll cover. One’s a 2015 Draft pick, the other’s a 40-man guy that I want his opinion on before I weigh in. (No, I’m going to tell you; you have to go look so I can get more pageviews 😉

The Baseball America transaction reports have been disappointing of late, at least in terms of giving us something to talk about. Sorry, veteran has-beens signing minor-league contracts doesn’t cut it for me. This is not unusual, but frustrating nevertheless.

Folks interested in why “Orange” didn’t make the cut can read Byron Kerr’s interview with BA’s John Manuel. TL; DR — the boys in Durham think Marmolejos-Diaz cheats too much on fastballs and will get exposed at the upper levels of the minors.

Finally, while it’s old news, it’s still worth passing along while things are slow. The Suns and Hagerstown may actually extend the lease without a threat to leave. This may be a realization on the part of the Suns ownership that if they want to please both the parent club and their current landlords, a more cooperative approach is necessary; not to mention a five-year run as the Sally League’s least-attended club.

Jan 312016
 

After being reminded that I have a lousy copyeditor 😉 Here are Washington’s Nos. 16 through 31…

16. Drew Ward (8) 21. Rhett Wiseman 26. Phillips Valdez
17. Sammy Solis* (15) 22. Edwin Lora 27. Nick Lee (30)
18. Joan Baez 23. Raudy Read (22) 28. Taylor Hearn
19. Austen Williams 24. Juan Soto 29. Mariano Rivera III
20. Abel De Los Santos 25. Christopher Bostick 30. Koda Glover
* According to baseball-reference.com,
Solis has exhausted his rookie eligiblity
31. Brian Goodwin (9)


For those wondering, Juan Soto, who turned 17 in October and signed for $1.5 million — $100K more than you-know-who — was the IFA referred to in yesterday afternoon’s post. BA is projecting him to start in the GCL and has high praise for his advanced skills as a hitter, projecting him as a corner OF due to below-average speed and average arm strength (yes I’m aware the link above has him as a 60 arm).

Nearly a third of the list is comprised of the past two drafts, and it’s fair to say that BA loved the 2015 draft with six picks in the Top 30. As we usually do, let’s break down the newcomers:

2015 Draft – Andrew Stevenson (8), Blake Perkins (12), Wiseman (21), Hearn (28), Rivera3, Glover

2014 Draft – Williams (19)

Trade – Trea Turner (2), De Los Santos (20), Bostick (25)

Int’l Free Agent – Anderson Franco (10), Osvaldo Abreu (15), Baez (18), Lora (22), Soto (24), Valdez (26)

Add in the trades and that makes 14 of the Top 30 acquired since 2014. That’s particularly impressive because the Nats have been drafting from the lower half since 2012.

Finally, here’s BA 2019 projected Washington lineup, which ignores such things as free agency, injuries, or sudden declines in skills. This time, I’m including BA’s 2016 picks and MLB’s current depth chart side-by-side for reference/comparison:

Pos. 2019 2016 (BA) 2016 (MLB)
C Wilson Ramos Wilson Ramos Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman Ryan Zimmerman Ryan Zimmerman
2B Wilmer Difo Danny Espinosa Dan Murphy
SS Trea Turner Ian Desmond Danny Espinosa
3B Anthony Rendon Anthony Rendon Anthony Rendon
LF Victor Robles Brian Goodwin Jayson Werth
CF Michael Taylor Denard Span Ben Revere
RF Bryce Harper Bryce Harper Bryce Harper
#1P Stephen Strasburg Stephen Strasburg Max Scherzer
#2P Lucas Giolito Lucas Giolito Stephen Strasburg
#3P Max Scherzer Gio Gonzalez Gio Gonzalez
#4P Joe Ross Jordan Zimmermann Tanner Roark
#5P Gio Gonzalez Ross Detwiler Joe Ross
#5P Reynaldo Lopez Drew Storen Jonathan Papelbon
Jan 302016
 

A pleasant surprise — even if I did pay extra for expedited shipping — as the 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived in today’s mail. This is almost a full week earlier than last year… and despite the recent snowstorm.

A bigger surprise? The folks in Durham, NC rated the Nationals as the fifth-best organization..

Obviously, having a Top 5 overall prospect in the person of Lucas Giolito helps. But they also give props to the team’s success in the D.R., noting that five of the team’s Top 11 come from the Caribbean island nation “despite a restricted international budget from ownership.”

While this doesn’t change my opinions that system is top-heavy, drafts too many college seniors, and isn’t deep at certain positions, BA sure loves what the Nats have been doing in terms of acquiring younger talent with more upside – including a high-priced 2016 IFA who has yet to play a professional game (some things never change).

Let’s review how last year’s Top 30 fared:

Graduated (2) – Michael Taylor, Felipe Rivero

Traded (3) – Steven Souza, Nick Pivetta, Tony Renda

Removed from 40-man – Taylor Hill

Dropped out (11) Brian Goodwin, Hill, Jake Johansen, Jefry Rodriguez, Spencer Kieboom, Matt Grace, Matt Skole, Drew Vettleston, Hector Silvestre, John Simms, Robbie Dickey

The Top 30 is now down to two (2) older-than-25 guys — both left-handed relievers — which is something we’ve been hoping for and had suggested might happen last year.

With that, I’ll close with the Top 15 from the book and continue with nos. 16-31 in Part Two. Last year’s ranking, if applicable, in parentheses:

1. Lucas Giolito (1) 6. Wilmer Difo (7) 11. Pedro Severino (13)
2. Trea Turner 7. A.J. Cole (6) 12. Blake Perkins
3. Victor Robles (25) 8. Andrew Stevenson 13. Rafael Bautista (20)
4. Erick Fedde (4) 9. Austin Voth (11) 14. Jakson Reetz (14)
5. Reynaldo Lopez (3) 10. Anderson Franco 15. Osvaldo Abreu