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.

Dec 312013
 

Morning ReadingPerhaps more accurately, a couple of site updates and a couple news items for folks to read/watch.

First, the site updates — in keeping with the odometer turning tonight from 2013 to 2014, the 2014 Watchlist is up, and the 2013 Watchlist has been archived. With the downtime afforded by the winter break, I’ve finally gotten around to adding in the 2013 ballpark visits to Winston-Salem, Kannapolis, Hickory, Greensboro and Durham. Previous visits can be found on the “Road Trips” tab above.

Now, a story to read and a video to watch:

• With the perennial promises of new facilities for the Nats’ Low-A and High-A affiliates, it’s also a reminder that the minor-league stadium boom has a dark side to it, one that perhaps explains why it’s slowed so much and why I’m so pessimistic about it.

• If you’ve got 18 minutes to kill and can stand baseball slang interspersed with biomechanical jargon, then watch Trevor Bauer’s Pitch Design video. If nothing else, you might gain an appreciation of how something can be made very simple or very complex.

Dec 292013
 


It’s always interesting to me to do this piece and see what stories emerged from a given year. I look over the archives, letting chronology dictate a few of my choices, but by the end of the list it becomes thematic. Likewise, what begins as a list of names starts to morph into narratives, for which the name becomes emblematic (sorry, sometimes the rhyming thing just happens).

As I wrote after the (minor league) season’s end, the Nationals have reached a point where they can replace and reload on a regular basis, though it may not be quite the way folks want it to be. I’d explain further, but I think I’ve just written the segue for the first and last story of 2013…

The Re-Acquisition of A.J. Cole
Cole was dealt away in December 2011 in what was a shock then, but would become a shrug by the end of this year. For the casual fan, this was the trade of a favorite son (Mike Morse) for one GM Mike Rizzo’s former draft picks and a couple of roster-fillers. Instead, it was the classic value play as Morse suffered his worst year at the MLB level while Cole rebounded to match the hype, one of “other guys” started 20 games for AA Harrisburg, and the other made 32 appearances for the big club.

The Rule 5 Draft
What used to be an exercise in who the Nats would get has since changed to worry about who would be lost, despite the track record. Last year’s “losses” (Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus) were returned this year in spring training, which is the smart money for the fate of this year’s draftee, Adrian Nieto, in March.

Anthony Rendon Comes To Town
Twice, actually. The first time was as an injury replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, who by the way, was the last Nats position player in recent memory to spend less than 80 games in the minors before making it to “The Show.” The second time was to effectively replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa, begging the question of whether that was the plan all along — even if both players entered 2013 with significant health questions (shoulder for Espinosa, ankles for Rendon).

Taylor Jordan
A year ago, Jordan was a 23-y.o. who had yet to pitch above Low-A and one of several pitchers in the system that had had his UCL replaced. At best, he might replicate the 2012 season of Nathan Karns, who was drafted three rounds later in 2009. Instead, Jordan topped it, steamrolling the competition at High-A and AA with a line of 1.00/2.25/0.92 in 90⅓ innings and leapfrogging Karns as the proverbial #6 starter with a callup at the end of June.

Billy Burns
About the only award that escaped the pint-sized speedster was the Player of the Week as the 74-steal man garnered nods for midseason and postseason All-Star teams in the Carolina League and the Nationals Player of the Year award. The switch-hitting outfielder still led the Carolina League in steals despite only playing in 91 games. Alas, for all his accolades, he was traded to Oakland along with…

Robbie Ray
While he may have only been 20 during his disastrous 2012 season, the turnaround Ray made in 2013 was nevertheless impressive. He cut his ERA from 6.56 to 3.36, his WHIP from 1.62 to 1.25 and increased his K rate from 7.3 to 10.1. The walks and HRs weren’t lowered as sharply (only slightly), which is something his fans will have to watch for in 2014.

The GCL Nationals
Maybe they were simply beating on three weaklings over and over again, but the G-Nats set the standard for dominance that will be used as a measuring stick for the Gulf Coast League for years to come. More important is the inference that the Nats pipeline from the Dominican has recovered, if not improved, from the depths of the 2009 scandal that led to the ouster of the previous GM.

Outfield Depth
This was the year when the hype matched the production for Michael Taylor and Steve Souza Jr., just in time for both men to be added to the 40-man roster. Brian Goodwin held his own at AA, a year after skipping High-A, which gave the Nats enough depth to part with Burns and still have four OFs in the upper minors aged 24 or younger. It may be the only part of the farm where there is true depth, which if any beat writers are reading, includes catcher.

Hagerstown
On the field, the Suns made the playoffs for the second straight season by the thinnest margin possible — a 1/2 game, thanks to three cancellations. While they shorted the West Virginia Power by taking two of three in the semifinals, they were swept away in the Finals. Off the field, the franchise continued to suffer attendance losses as folks seem to be fed up with the constant threat of leaving while also campaigning for a new facility. Given that MiLB has yet to issue a waiver to allow a team to play in temporary facility, Fredericksburg may miss the boat, allowing for a third city to make a move.

Potomac Bats Go Dead In The Finals
Perhaps that’s not giving either the Hillcats or the Red Sox pitchers enough credit, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of fans (*ahem*) who watched the team obliterate the Carolina League during the regular season. Indeed, they would set franchise records for wins and attendance while winning both halves handily. They had the league’s best pitching and second-best offense, which was built upon on speed but not overly reliant on the longball, walks, or avoiding strikeouts.

Harrisburg Makes The Eastern League Finals
After making a similar run in the summer of 2011, the 2013 Senators made it past the first hurdle with a 3-1 semifinals win against the Seawolves but like the P-Nats and Suns, ran into a buzzsaw in the finals. Developmentally, the team was a resounding winner — sending Rendon, Jordan, and Krol up to D.C. to stay while further polishing Karns, Aaron Barrett, Goodwin, and Souza.

Promotions
After conservative promotions in 2010 and 2011, 2013 continued the 2012 trend of more aggressive promotions, particularly the pitchers between High-A and AA as 4/5ths of the P-Nats April rotation were given the bump. No doubt some of this was by design with the activation of two pitchers (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) who were coming off surgery. But it’s enough to no longer summarily dismiss the idea of someone moving up sooner rather than later.

Trades
Jokes about A’s aside, GM Mike Rizzo has no qualms about trading to get the players he wants (Fister, Blevins) or recoup value on players he doesn’t intend to keep (Morse, DeJesus). As alluded earlier, A.J. Cole has been involved in both types of trades, which serves as a reminder that the notion of any player being the next X in Washington is far from certain. Even though this has been true for quite some time, I get the sense that many folks still aren’t used to it.

Dec 242013
 


With the blitz of retailers trying to “make up” for the shortened holiday season, let’s hope that by the time you read this, you’re done with all your shopping and are somewhere safe and away from the throngs, enjoying the company of whomever you choose (or not) while celebrating in moderation.

And as you should each and every day, be grateful for what you have, spare what you don’t need to those who do, and just be kind to others (even if they’re related to you ;-)

Dec 222013
 

Transactions for NPP 2There have been two transaction posts this week, no doubt yesterday’s coming early thanks to the forthcoming holidays. Here’s a rundown of the guys that were signed for the period of Dec. 6-20:

  • RHP Angher Cespedes
  • LHP Melvin Morel
  • C Mitch Canham
  • SS Emmanuel Burriss

Given the surname and the lack of any listing on baseball-reference.com, the presumption is that Cespedes and Morel are IFAs, but absent any biographical data, that’s the extent of any inferences thatn can be reasonably made.

Canham was originally drafted and signed by the San Diego Padres in 2007 but has played the past three seasons with three different organizatons, as well as sizable stint with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League in the summer of 2012.

Burris is also a AAA veteran who’s spent most of the past six seasons at the level for San Francisco and Cincinnati, batting .241/.294/.266 in 108 games (the most played in a single season since 2007) for Louisville.

Dec 202013
 

With the exhaustive search for a trading partner to move Corey Brown completed, the Washington Nationals announced the 2014 lineup for their affiliates’ coaching staffs today (new hires in red, returnees in blue):

SYRACUSE
Manager – Billy Gardner, Jr. (new hire)
Pitching Coach – Paul Menhart (promoted from Harrisburg)
Hitting Coach – Joe Dillon (new hire)

HARRISBURG
Manager – Brian Daubach (promoted from Potomac)
Pitching Coach – Chris Michalak (promoted from Potomac)
Hitting Coach – Mark Harris (promoted from Potomac)

POTOMAC
Manager – Tripp Keister (promoted from Hagerstown)
Pitching Coach – Franklin Bravo (promoted from Hagerstown)
Hitting Coach – Brian Rupp (promoted from Hagerstown)

HAGERSTOWN
Manager – Patrick Anderson (promoted from GCL)
Pitching Coach – Sam Narron (promoted from Auburn)
Hitting Coach – Luis Ordaz (promoted from Auburn)

AUBURN
Manager – Gary Cathcart (returning)
Pitching Coach – Tim Redding (new hire)
Hitting Coach – Amaury Garcia (promoted from GCL)

GCL
Manager – Michael Barrett (new hire)
Pitching coach – Michael Tejera (returning)
Hitting coach -Jorge Mejia (promoted from DSL)

DSL
Manager – Sandy Martinez (returning)
Pitching Coach – Pablo Frias (returning)
Hitting Coach – Jose Herrera (new hire)

Byron Kerr has the skinny on the new hires in his article today. Otherwise, it’s as surmised in the comments: with the reassignments of Matt LeCroy (Washington bullpen coach), Tony Beasley (co-field coordinator), and Troy Gingrich (hitting coordinator), the Nationals have promoted en masse — 12 of the coaches listed here, including the entire staffs of Hagerstown and Potomac to the next level.

Dec 192013
 

Photo Credit: TVtropes.org

With the completion of the Rule 5 draft, what we hope to be a break in the trades, it’s time to unveil the fourth edition of our look at the Nationals prospects that we’re keeping an eye on, a.k.a. watching. This is my alternative to doing a large mixed list, which, like cable news, may generate a lot of viewers and discussion but serves little purpose otherwise.

My apologies to the longtime readers, but a few caveats for the folks who are unfamiliar with how this works…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed first by the highest level at which they played significant time, then alphabetically. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielder nowadays, but folks should not infer that the player at the top of the list is necessarily better than the guy at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage — As noted during the preliminary posts, there are players that have played multiple positions and could be easily placed in more than one column. Naturally, I’m exploiting that for aesthetic purposes, but not to fantasy-baseball extent (e.g. he played one game at the position there).

It’s not fair — There are players here that I wouldn’t list otherwise were it not for lack of position depth or dexterity. We’ve already seen that there’s a bias towards established players, though I’ve made a couple of changes that may very well be overcorrections to offset that.

I did indeed scrap the M*A*S*H category in favor of breaking apart the DSL bats and arms (which sounds more painful than what I mean) to keep the design intact. I created the category to acknowledge that the DSL is purely a scouting-by-box-score exercise. Truth be told, this is also true of the GCL and NYPL, too, but I’ve resisted the very tempting idea (from a workload perspective) of dropping coverage of one or more of the short-season leagues because I want to be as extensive as possible with this site.

Without further ado…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Leon Skole Kobernus Walters Dykstra E. Perez
P. Severino Pleffner Hague Difo J.C. Valdez Goodwin
Reistetter Marmolejos-Diaz Renda Masters Gunter Souza
Read D. Eusebio Mejia Abreu Ward Taylor
B. Miller
W. Ramos
E. Martinez
Wooten
Ballou
Lippincott
Zebrack
Bautista
R. Encarnacion
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms
Notable Bats Notable Arms
Karns Solis Corredor M. Sanchez Bloxom Garcia
Barrett Purke Gutierrez Yrizarri Hood E. Davis
Hill Mooneyham Ortiz Reyes Martinson Rosenbaum
Cole Lee Mota Torres Oduber Holland
Mirowski Orlan Florentino Valerio Keyes Grace
Schwartz Napoli Ramsey Rauh
Benincasa Silvestre Manuel Dickson
P. Encarnacion Ott Kieboom R. Pena
C. Davis Walsh Yezzo Bacus
Mendez Franco Spann
Johansen
Voth
Hollins
Simms
Pivetta
Giolito
Suero
J. Rodriguez
P. Valdez
Dec 182013
 

Photo Credit: Syracuse Chiefs Official Twitter Feed

The Syracuse Chiefs and Washington Nationals announced a four-year extension of their player-development contract through the 2018 season. Perhaps not coincidentally, the move comes less than three months after what BallparkDigest.com called a “housecleaning,” as former GM John Simone was ousted following the retirement of his father, Tex.

The move will obviously bolster the financial prospects of the franchise, which has been struggling financially (claiming a $505,146 loss for the 2013 season) and at the gate (345,047 claimed paid attendance, the lowest since its current ballpark opened in 1997).

While the move may be positioned as “how much the Nationals organization values the Chiefs and the Syracuse community,” it’s also about ensuring that the Nationals would not be the odd man out in the next affiliate dance in September 2014. As Adam Kilgore wrote yesterday:

“If the Nationals tried to find a new affiliate, they could be stuck with an undesirable, far-flung city. Teams and Class AAA affiliates match up in the fashion of musical chairs, and some organizations are left with choices they loathe – the Mets, for example, use Las Vegas against their wishes.”

Prior to this move, just four of the eleven* remaining International League teams were eligible to swap affiliations following the 2014 season, with six already extended through 2016 and a seventh, the Charlotte Knights, extended through 2020 in conjunction with its new ballpark set to open next April.
* The Gwinnett Braves are wholly owned by Atlanta while the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRilders are co-owned by the Yankees and Mandalay Enterprises.

Dec 172013
 

Top prospect lists are the filler essence of the offseason and today the folks at Bullpen Banter have released their latest estimation of the top of the Nats crop (last year’s ranking, where applicable, in parentheses):

No. Player Pos.
1. Lucas Giolito (2) RHP
2. A.J. Cole RHP
3. Brian Goodwin (3) CF
4. Jake Johansen RHP
5. Nathan Karns RHP
6. Steve Souza OF
7. Matt Skole (5) 1B/3B
8. Sammy Solis LHP
9. Michael Taylor (11) OF
10. Taylor Jordan RHP


This is the third time I’ve featured BB’s work because (A) I believe it’s important to see what folks outside our usual haunts have to say about the Nats (B) like fertilizer salesmen, they know their sh… stuff. As such, you should click through to see their commentary and check out the scouting video.

Al Skorupa (@alskor on Twitter) and Jeff Reese (@Ioffridus) maintain their position that the Nats have become a system of a few premiere prospects supplemented by bevy of projects, most of which are drawn from the collegiate ranks. This, of course, is old news to us, but bear in mind that they’re writing for a different audience, one that’s arguably more interested in the players themselves since their readers’ favorite team may actually be a composite (if you know what I mean).

Aside from including Taylor Jordan, which if you’re not using the 50IP limit is a fine selection, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises here. It does seem to me that the three “Other Prospects of Note” (Tony Renda, Brett Mooneyham, and Drew Ward) get the benefit from being scouts’ favorites, but as we saw a couple of weeks ago when I released the preliminary 2014 Watchlists, “notable” is often in the eye of the beholder.

Dec 162013
 

Winter Baseball Update
Time for our semi-weekly update on how the notable Nationals minor-leaguers are doing in the winter leagues. All statistics as of 12/14/2013, 1:38 a.m. EST.

BATTERS

PLAYER LG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Francisco Soriano DWL 14 16 5 3 0 0 1 1 2 7 .188 .278 .375 0
Oscar Tejeda DWL 22 64 7 15 4 1 2 7 3 21 .234 .269 .422 1
Eury Perez DWL 16 48 8 10 0 0 1 2 4 8 .208 .296 .271 4
Jose Lozada PWL 8 5 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 0
Michael Taylor PWL 29 118 16 44 7 1 2 8 5 33 .373 .408 .500 3
Adrian Sanchez VWL 23 51 5 11 3 0 0 3 1 10 .216 .245 .275 0
Sandy Leon VWL 28 88 14 27 6 1 1 9 15 22 .307 .410 .432 1

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Manny Delcarmen DWL 0 2 0 1.88 12 0 14⅓ 14 4 3 1 4 18 1.26
Paul Demny DWL 0 0 0 0.00 3 0 3⅓ 0 0 0 0 1 4 0.30
Kelvin Perez DWL 2 3 0 0.00 6 0 6 1 0 0 0 4 2 0.83
Tyler Herron PWL 1 0 7 0.52 15 0 17⅓ 8 1 1 0 7 18 0.87
Gabriel Alfaro VWL 2 1 0 4.50 20 0 18 12 14 9 0 10 15 1.22


A few additions, thanks to MLFA signings… and a few subtractions, though all but Yunesky Maya appear to be due to the player no longer playing since our previous edition. Most of the leagues will finish up in two weeks, after which we’ll have a final wrapup of all the Nats stats from the winter leagues.

Dec 142013
 

Catching Up On TransactionsWith the signing of OF Nat McLouth, OF Corey Brown has been designated for assignment, perhaps ending a three-year run as talk radio’s “that guy in Syracuse we should call up.” Brown was acquired along with H-Bomb, er, Henry Rodriguez in December 2010 for OF Josh Willingham in one of the first A’s-Nats trades executed by GM Mike Rizzo.

Brown, of course, could be outrighted which has been the fate of several of the last few DFAs, including Tyler Robertson, who was moved along with Fernando Abad to make room for the trio of Aaron Barrett, Steve Souza Jr. and Michael Taylor at the Nov. 20 deadline.

Yesterday, the Nationals formally announced the signings of RHP Manny Delcarmen, 1B Brock Peterson, and C Brian Jeroloman to minor-league contracts with invites to spring training. Since our last transaction post, the Nationals have also signed 2B Oscar Tejeda and RHP Kelvin Perez.

Delcarmen is arguably the most notable of the bunch, thanks to his tenure with the Boston Red Sox and having once possessed an upper-90s fastball, that has eluded him since his trade from Boston to Colorado in August 2010. Not coincidentally, the 31-y.o. (turns 32 in February) has bounced from the Mariners to the Rangers to the Yankees to the Orioles over the last three seasons, pitching at the AAA level. His 48 appearances for Norfolk is the most since his final MLB season in 2010.

Tejeda, who turns 24 on Boxing Day, is the youngest of the bunch and is most likely ticketed for Harrisburg while the 30-y.o. Peterson seems a near-lock to assume 1B/DH duties for Syracuse. Perez and Jeroloman fit the description of interchangeable between AA and AAA, though both 28-y.o.’s have spent more time AA than AAA thus far in their careers.