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.

Feb 142014
 

Well, nothing like a trade on the first day of Spring Training to [fudge over] this series of posts.

Anyway, to pick up where we left off yesterday (and staying in format)… the 2014 Senators just got a whole lot more interesting, but before we take a look at this year’s guess, let’s see how well I picked last year’s staff…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Nathan Karns Adam Olbrychowski Paul Demny
Trevor Holder Blake Treinen Marcos Frias
Brian Broderick Neil Holland
Rob Gilliam Rob Wort
Tyler Herron Cameron Selik
Matt Grace


Much like Syracuse, I was only completely wrong on one, but missed the roles on several… and was just barely right on a few more (Wort, demoted; Herron and Grace began in Potomac, but spent the lion’s share of 2013 here). I’m not arrogant enough to think that maybe I’m getting good at this, just lucky.

As aforementioned, yesterday’s trade changes things. At least I think it will. In the most optimistic scenario, Taylor Hill benefits by rounding out the Chiefs rotation instead of the Senators. In the most pessimistic, Matt Purke is held back for another few weeks in Potomac. And if you’re cynical, he’ll be put on the DL again for the month of April again (quite frankly, if that were to happen, it would raise some unsettling questions).

Thus, I’ll name six starters to reflect the trade and its uncertainty. Here’s who I think will make up the Nats’ AA pitching staff in 2014 (40-man guys in bold):

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Paul Demny Richie Mirowski
Sammy Solis Brian Rauh Tyler Herron
Blake Schwartz Robert Benincasa
Felipe Rivero Matt Grace
Taylor Hill Colin Bates
Matt Purke


I feel fairly confident in getting the starters mostly right, but aside from Mirowski and Benincasa, I don’t feel as good about how I picked the rest of the staff. Mostly because I fear that one or two of these guys will not go to either Potomac or Syracuse.

The P-Nats’ playoff meltdown not withstanding, if this collection of arms does live up to its billing and the hitters don’t start slowly, it should be another contender at City Island this summer.

Feb 132014
 

So Long
RHP Nathan Karns was dealt away today to the Tampa Bay Rays for backup catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF Drew Vettleson. The move is expected to put an end to one of the few position battles this spring and clouding the future for a pair of longtime backstops, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, who both have one option left.

To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Erik Davis was placed on the 60-man DL with what Washington officials are calling an elbow sprain.

Karns (2012) also becomes the sixth minors’ player or pitcher of the year to be traded since GM Mike Rizzo assumed the helm in 2009, following Derek Norris (2009), Tommy Milone (2010), Brad Peacock and Steve Lombrdozzi (2011), and Billy Burns (2013). (Perhaps the award should be nicknamed Kemmerich’s Cleats?)

Rivero was signed as an IFA in 2008 out of Venezuela and was ranked as Tampa Bay’s #17 prospect overall in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. He was 9-7 in 23 starts with pitcher’s line of 3.40/3.88/1.37 for High-A Charlotte (FL) in the (usually) pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

He works off a 91-94 FB and features a sharp 12-6 curve and changeup. Both BA and this guy have noted that he has trouble maintaining his speed, which could signal a move to the bullpen. BA was projecting him to pitch for AA Montgomery, so the logical extension is a ticket to Harrisburg this summer.

Vettleson is a 2010 HS pick (1st Rd., supplemental) out of Silverdale, WA and has moved up steadily in his first three years, progressing from advanced rookie Princeton in 2011 to Low-A Bowling Green in 2012 to High-A Charlotte in 2013. He suffered a bit of a power outage in FSL, which both BA and Sickels attributed to issues with plate discipline.

Defensively, Vettleson’s arm is considered above-average but his footwork is considered substandard. Like Rivero, Vettleson was considered on track to play at AA Montgomery, which could force either Caleb Ramsey or Randolph Oduber to repeat Potomac.

Feb 132014
 

Now that we’ve taken a swag at the position players, it’s to time to project the four full-season pitching staffs. This is only the third time I’ve attempted this and I’m reminded every time I work the board why I resisted trying this in the first place: It’s really difficult.

The previous two times, I hedged by “overpicking” — naming more guys than the typical 12-man staff. This year, I decided just to go with the gut and stop at 12. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I think a guy at given level will be released (though that’s always a concern with picking the “A” teams) it just means I’m on the fence about where he fits in the organization’s plans, which I’m not privy to (and if I were, it wouldn’t be guessing!)

I also skipped anybody coming off surgery or that I believe has had surgery or was hurt. This is simply prudent: The only way we know a guy is healthy is when he pitches. Thus, by exension, I’m not designating anybody on the D.L. as I did a year ago.

With the caveats spelled out, let’s review how I picked the 2013 Syracuse pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Yunesky Maya Ryan Tatusko Erik Davis
Ross Ohlendorf* Fernando Abad* Pat Lehman
Tanner Roark Pat McCoy
Jeff Mandel Hassan Pena
Matt Torra* Cole Kimball
Ryan Perry
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’12-’13 MLFA


Missing on roles doesn’t bother me much because pitchers are moved in and out of the bullpen all the time in the minors, which is part of what the farm is for — finding a role that suits a pitcher so he can contribute when the big club calls him up.

One of the two that I got entirely wrong started at AA (Lehman) and never made it up, the other was released (Pena). All things considered, this is probably as good as it gets for an exercise like this. Still, I’m aware of some the ones I got right were just barely… McCoy and Perry, for example, were demoted in April and June respectively; Cole Kimball was in Viera until late June.

Finally, here’s my projection for the 2014 Syracuse staff, without the cushion of extra picks or the track record of spring training usage:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Taylor Jordan Ryan Tatusko* Aaron Barrett
Nathan Karns Matt Swynenberg Tyler Robertson*
Danny Rosenbaum Daniel Stange*
Chris Young* Zack Jackson*
Blake Treinen Neil Holland
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’13-’14 MLFA


Obviously, I feel the least amount of confidence in the starters… Taylor could win the #5 starter’s job in DC… Young could be released before the Ides of March… Rosenbaum could be converted to relief in an effort to buy more time for Sammy Solis to develop… not to mention any number of possibilities resulting from how the “Big Nats” pitching staff is constructed.

Next up: The 2014 Harrisburg Senators.

UPDATE: Karns was traded literally while this was being written. Given the nature of such a post (a speculative prediction), I’m leaving it as is until more details of the trade are available.

Feb 102014
 

For the third straight spring, I think we’re looking at a spring training with not much drama for the minor-leaguers.

This, of course, is a good thing in the bigger picture of the organization. Contenders don’t come into camp raving about how their kids are going to make this season a championship run. It also feels good to use the word “contender” without a hint of snark or sarcasm.

No, we’re looking at the mundane vernal ritual of seeing if one of “our guys” can snag a spot on the bench, challenge for the #5 starter’s job, or wedge their way into the bullpen.

Where could I potentially be very wrong*? . One rather obvious “X” factor is new manager Matt Williams, who has reportedly mapped out every day of Spring Training. This implies that Williams will be more of a taskmaster than his predecessor, and would seem to make sense as teams often change manager’s style if they don’t clean out the clubhouse, so to speak.
* That’s rhetorical question; besides, I’ve been married for more than 18 years and can get that answer without asking at any time.

On paper, that might mean a better chance for the younger players, particularly (especially?) if any veterans come into camp in less than stellar form or start slow. But we’re not going to “know” for at least a couple more weeks (and even then, it’ll be filtered through the lens of the beat writers).

What can be potentially more interesting for us is what might happen if there are any position battles that might result in a trade. Danny Espinosa showing he’s healthy and in second-half 2012 form… Sandy Leon continuing to hit the way he did in the VWL… Eury Perez outplaying Nate McLouth and/or Scott Hairston for a backup outfielder’s spot.

Unfortunately, almost any pitcher scenario seems to involve guys with multiple options left (with the notable exception of Ryan Mattheus), though it’s possible for GM Mike Rizzo to do a Perry-for-Balester trade in reverse. Still, that doesn’t jibe with his obsession with preference for options and flexibility.

As in years past, I’ll post about Nationals Spring Training from the minors perspective for as long as feasible and/or reasonable — probably until mid-March — before stepping back and doing semi-daily posts for the rest of March until the minors rosters are announced and the games begin in early April.

Feb 082014
 


We finish this little exercise in killing time forecasting with a look at the Harrisburg Senators.

But first, let’s review my picks for last year’s 2013 AA squad (mistakes in red, wrong roles in blue, not quite right in purple):

CA – Jeff Howell
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Ricky Hague
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Anthony Rendon
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Brian Goodwin
OF – Chris Rahl
DH/BIF – Justin Bloxom
BCA – Kris Watts
BIF – Sean Nicol
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BOF – Jimmy Van Ostrand

Even if you count my not-quite-right as wrong (Van Ostrand spent 76 of his 97 games at Harrisburg, but began the season in Syracuse), I got 9 out 13 right on making the team. If you cut me some slack, that’s the same success rate for how these guys were used. That’s quite a bit better than in 2012 where I only got six right without hedging (which I’ll have do this year, too, but for a much more valid reason).

This year’s squad won’t have quite the luster of three BA Top 10 players in the field as they did a year ago, but that should be more than offset by having (spoiler alert!) two Top 10 pitchers (okay, maybe not). Without further vamping, here’s my guess at the 2014 Senators:

CA – Adrian Nieto or Brian Jeroloman
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Ricky Hague
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Cutter Dykstra
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Michael Taylor
OF – Theo Bowe
DH/1B – Kevin Keyes
BCA – Jeroloman or Cole Leonida
BIF – Adrian Sanchez
BIF – Sean Nicol
BOF – Caleb Ramsey

As you can see, I’m waffling at the catcher slots because, historically, there’s a very good chance that Nieto will be returned to Washington. And even Jeroloman isn’t a sure thing with all the backup catchers the Nats have been stockpiling. I’m presuming Sandy Leon will finally begin the season at AAA (which I won’t pick because it’s just too unpredictable) but it’s not unfathomable for him to come back to City Island, which is my pick (unfortunately, for their sakes) for five players.

Otherwise, I’m fairly confident Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza will move up another level. But for any other position player, I don’t have the answer to “What about __________?” Remember, this is a guessing game.

Unfortunately, as we saw yesterday in the comments, it’s also a realization that some players may have hit the end of their road. Once I get to the bench, it’s trying to divine which of last year’s bench guys will hang it up or go to Syrcause and which of the guys from Potomac will move up but shift into backup roles. The alternatives are being sent to XST, hidden placed on the DL (often the same thing) or getting released.

As always, hope folks enjoyed this little diversion. Judging by the Twitter reaction to the signing of an aging middle reliever, it’s obvious that folks can no longer stand to wait for Spring Training to begin.

Feb 072014
 


Picking Low-A is a matter of guessing who will move along from Auburn and who might be held back. The former is fairly common, but the latter isn’t. With High-A, it’s not so much who might be held back but who will be kept down by the FAs in AA and AAA (this is less of a factor than in the the dark times of ’07-’10, when 70+ players would be in the big camp and nearly 15 of them were major-leaguers).

With that in mind, here’s what I thought the 2013 P-Nats would be (mistakes in red, wrong roles in blue):

CA – Nieto
1B – Keyes
2B – Dykstra
SS – Ortega
3B – Sanchez
OF – Burns
OF – Taylor
OF – Souza
DH – Ramsey
BCA – Leonida
BIF – J. Miller
BIF – Kelso
BOF – Oduber

Like Hagerstown, I was much more accurate with my prediction than in the two previous years, getting 10 of 13 players right and seven of 13 roles correct. I don’t feel so bad about getting the roles wrong because both Sanchez and Dykstra have been shifting around the infield for the past couple of seasons. Missing on Souza was also a happy mistake because it meant that he finally got the bump to AA.

Despite my success thus far, I have no illusions that I’ll be as accurate with this set of predictions, either. But that’s not the point — giving us fodder for discussion (and maintaining site traffic, natch) is!

CA – Severino
1B – Pleffner
2B – Renda
SS – S. Perez
3B – McQuillan
OF – Wooten
OF – Mesa
OF – B. Miller
DH – Ramos
BCA – Manuel
BIF – Norfork
BIF – Soriano
BOF – Piwnica-Worms

Feb 062014
 


We’re a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and if aging veteran minor-league backup catchers are getting this much press, then it’s safe to say that folks are wee bit desperate for spring training to start.

In that spirit, it’s time for my annual humbling as I guess how the rosters (position players) for the middle minors (Low-A, High-A, AA) will shake out in about eight weeks and review how I did a year ago.

Without further ado, my predictions for the 2013 Hagerstown Suns:

CA – Kieboom
1B – Pleffner
2B – Renda
SS – S. Perez
3B – C. Lopez
OF – E. Martinez
OF – Ramos
OF – Mesa
DH – B. Miller
BCA – Manuel
BIF – Norfork
UT – McQuillan
BOF – Ramirez

Before folks accuse me of being falsely modest, I was wrong on five of 13 names being on the Suns roster in 2011 and 2012 and was incorrect on predicting the usage four times and once, respectively. Since DH is used in the minors differently than in the majors, it’s hard to be “right,” but Miller played 102 of 103 games in the field so I can’t let that slide. I will take credit for getting Pleffner right because it’s doubtful that even a healthy Carlos Lopez (presuming he was actually hurt, which is never a given with the DL) would have prevented him playing there.

So what’s the forecast for 2014? Well, this was not easy. Some folks may be disappointed that I didn’t project more GCLers leapfrogging a lackluster Auburn squad, but I’m (mostly) staying conservative (but taking a couple of chances):

CA – Spencer Kieboom
1B – James Yezzo
2B – Cody Dent
SS – David Masters
3B – Drew Ward
OF – Rafael Bautista
OF – Isaac Ballou
OF – Bryan Lippincott
DH – Estarlin Martinez
BCA – Matt Reistetter
BIF – Wilmer Difo
BIF – Khayyan Norfork
BOF – Greg Zebrack

Feb 032014
 

Picking up where we left off, here are Washington’s nos. 16 through 31 in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

16. Pedro Severino 21. Jefry Rodriguez 26. Nick Lee
17. Drew Ward 22. Nick Pivetta 27. Robert Benincasa
18. Aaron Barrett 23. Blake Treinen 28. Rafael Bautista
19. Jeff Kobernus 24. Christian Garcia (6) 29. Erik Davis
20. Eury Perez (7) 25. Brett Mooneyham (19) 30. Adrian Nieto
31. Anderson Franco


As mentioned in the comments, Severino’s defensive prowess has been noticed outside our little bubble. It’s encouraging to see some “love” shown for the GCLers, beginning with Ward at #17 and continuing with Jefry Rodriguez at #21 and Bautista at #28.

Ward and Pivetta are two of the four on this list who were drafted in 2013, leading us to the breakdown of how the Top 31 was “built.”

2013 Draft — Johansen (8), Voth (15), Ward (17), Pivetta (22)

2012 Draft — Giolito (1), Renda (13), Mooneyham (25), Benincasa (27)

2011 Draft — Goodwin (3), Skole (4), Purke (11), Burns (12), Lee (26)

2010 Draft — Cole* (2), Ray (5), Solis (6), Barrett (18)

2009 Draft — Taylor (7), Karns (9), Kobernus (19)

2008 DraftNieto (30)

2007 Draft — Souza (10)

Int’l Free Agents — Severino (16), Perez (20), Rodriguez (21), Bautista (28), Franco (31)

Domestic Free Agent — Garcia (24)

Trade — Cole* (2), Walters (14), Treinen (23), Davis (29)
* Take your pick: the Nats originally drafted Cole, traded him away, then reacquired him via trade

The five IFAs represents a high-water mark in the five seasons I’ve been running this site. Four of them were co-signed by Johnny DiPuglia, the veteran scout the Nationals signed after the 2009 season, or more importantly, roughly six months after “Smiley-gate.” That may not be enough for some folks’ tastes, but it’s more than it’s been in several years.

Perhaps more encouraging is that Rodriguez is BA’s breakout prospect for 2014, which may have some significance for the folks who recall that Taylor Jordan was given the same anointment in 2013. Likewise, they’re tabbing Franco as a “sleeper” (same as Pleffner last year) despite the Dominican having signed for $900,000 on his 16th birthday last August.

BA has ditched the three-year projection of the parent club’s starting lineup, which may be just as well because it always seemed a bit pie-in-the-sky (e.g. Cole & Solis were projected to be this year’s nos. 3 and 4 SPs in 2011, with Derek Norris at 1B and Eury Perez in CF) and basically ignored trades, age, and/or diminished skills (i.e. next year’s projected 1B Michael Morse)

Instead, I’ll leave you with the top unranked guys on BA’s minor-league depth chart at position/role. Call them nos. 32-43 if you want ;-)

C – Jhonatan Solano SS – Jason Martinson LHSP – Danny Rosenbaum
1B – Shawn Pleffner LF – Estarlin Martinez LHRP – David Napoli
2B – Ricky Hague CF – Narciso Mesa RHSP – Blake Schwartz
3B – Cody Gunter RF – Brandon Miller RHRP – Taylor Hill**

** Hey, that’s what BA “said”… Treinen and Lee were also listed as a relievers

Feb 022014
 

2014-BA-HandbookAs those of you on the Twitters already know, the 2014 Baseball America handbook did indeed arrive in yesterday’s mail. The staff has been reviewing it and so over the next couple of days, we’ll discuss what they found.

Like two years ago, the moves made in November and December are not reflected in the book. This is frustrating, but understandable given how long it takes to produce, edit, and publish a 500+ page book. Therefore, Robbie Ray, Billy Burns, and Adrian Nieto were included in the book.

Folks with the fetish interest in how the Nationals were ranked relative to the other 29 teams, will probably not be surprised that the folks from Durham placed Washington 21st. What is a bit surprising is that this is with fifteen different names than a year ago. It’s debatable how much further that would have dropped the Nationals, but given the conventional wisdom that the system is top-heavy, one or two spots sounds about right (H/T Brian Oliver for asking the question).

On that note, let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 30:

Graduated (2) — Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan

Traded (4) — Ivan Pineyro, Robbie Ray, Billy Burns, Corey Brown

Free Agents (2) — Chris Marrero, Carlos Rivero

Dropped Out (9) — Jason Martinson, Sandy Leon, Ricky Hague, Destin Hood, Estarlin Martinez, Brandon Miller, Paul Demny, Wirkin Estevez, Jhonatan Solano

Unfortunately, the ratio of players who are or will turn 25 by midseason hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s gotten worse — eight this year versus six a year ago, as only four 2013 draftees were added. The cynic in me is now starting to wonder how much of this is influenced by BA trying to market the book towards fantasy baseball folks by including some of edge-of-the-40-man types in the last third of the list. When you see #31 in the next post, you may understand why I might suggest something like that.

Without further ado, here are the Top 15 from the book, with last year’s ranking in parentheses. In the next post, we’ll look at nos. 16-31:

1. Lucas Giolito (2)
2. A.J. Cole
3. Brian Goodwin (3)
4. Matt Skole (4)
5. Robbie Ray (18)
6. Sammy Solis (8)
7. Michael Taylor (11)
8. Jake Johansen
9. Nathan Karns (5)
10. Steven Souza (25)
11. Matt Purke (9)
12. Billy Burns (26)
13. Tony Renda (12)
14. Zach Walters (10)
15. Austin Voth

Feb 012014
 

Transactions for NPP 2

February has finally arrived… and so has the latest transaction post from Baseball America (and with any luck, my copy of the handbook is in the mail truck I can hear going by; yes, I’m that pathetic).

The Nats have recently signed the following players:

  • LHP Zach Jackson
  • RHP Juan Bermudez
  • RHP Warner Madrigal
  • OF Luis Perdomo

Jackson, who turns 31 in May, is among the plethora of LHPs that the Nats are stockpiling this season. He was originally drafted by Toronto in 2004 and has spent the majority of his career as a starter, making a total of 17 starts for Cleveland and Milwaukee in 2006, 2008, and 2009. He pitched exclusively as a reliever in 2013, making 33 appearances in AA and two in AAA in the Kansas City organization for a total mark of 2-1 with a 1.32 ERA and a WHIP of 0.98.

Bermudez appears to be an IFA, given his surname and the lack of an entry on any of the major baseball stats sites.

Madrigal, 30 next month, is returning to the U.S. after having been sold to the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer. He made 31 appearances and had a 2-0 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP He was originally signed by the Angels in 2001 as an outfielder and converted to pitching in 2006.

Presuming that BA did not misidentify the 29-y.o. RHP Luis M. Perdomo who pitched in AAA for Minnesota last season or the 20-y.o. RHP Luis D. Perdomo of the St. Louis Organization, then this one would also appear to be an IFA.