Oct 102012
 


The 2012 Arizona Fall League began with a 6-5 win for the Salt River Rafters over the Mesa Solar Sox.

It was a light night in terms of the Nationals. Anthony Rendon started and played third base, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Defensively, had a putout and assist, both coming in the third inning on a lineout and a bunt attempt. Earlier this week, Rendon was the sole Nat to make John Sickels’s preliminary Top 50 Hitting Prospects for 2013.

Paul Demny was the only other National to appear in the game. He turned in an adventuresome-but-scoreless inning of relief with two walks and two wild pitches. The 23-year-old struck out one but threw just 12 of 25 pitches for strikes.

The two teams rematch this afternoon. Ryan Perry, the sole starting pitcher among Washington’s AFL contingent, is not expected to start until tomorrow night.

Oct 092012
 

As noted last Friday, Baseball America has done the proverbial double dip, naming centerfielder Brian Goodwin to its 2012 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List.

Goodwin comes in at #7, a little less than a week after being named the #8 prospect in the Sally League, and he’s immediately compared to Boston Red Sox farmhand Jack Bradley Jr. Here are the highlights from the scouting report (to their credit, it is different than Sally League notes):

A wiry yet strong athlete, he has surprising over-the-fence power, while his speed means he’ll leg out plenty of extra-base hits. His compact lefty stroke gives him a chance to hit for average, especially when combined with his discerning batting eye and willingness to use all fields. Scouts expect Goodwin will become a successful and intuitive basestealer with experience. Plus range and a solid arm suggest that he’ll be able to hold down center field for a while.

I missed the chance to see Goodwin play in June when I stopped in Charleston, finishing up a week-long trip through Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia; He’d been suspended for a home plate argument two nights prior. I did, however, get the chance to see Jackie Bradley Jr. play for Salem against Potomac on several occasions, and if the comp is legitimate (and they concede that Bradley is more refined currently but believe Goodwin has a “tick more raw tools”), then Nats fans have good reason to be excited because JBJ was one of the most exciting players to watch in the Carolina League last season.

BA points to the Washington Nationals CF “instability” as the reason for the two-level jump, referring to the more recent franchise history and not Bryce Harper per se, and noting that his triple slash was .252/.312/.400 after an 8-for-51 start in his first 14 games at AA. Overall, Goodwin hit .223/.306/.373 with 5HR and 14RBI in 42 games for Harrisburg, where he’ll most likely open the 2013 campaign.

Oct 082012
 

Welcome to the saltines of the seven-course meal that is the Nationals minors — something that cleanses the palate before we get a taste of Auburn, where the more appetizing draft picks are usually sent.

What’s perhaps more frustrating is that despite being the oldest team in the league for the past three seasons, the GCL Nationals have been cellar dwellers. The pitching and defense were close to league-average (4.05 R/G vs. 4.00; .964FA vs. .963) but the offense was below average (3.72 R/G, 3rd worst). Winning and performance are supposed to be secondary to learning and indoctrination, but must they be mutually exclusive?!

Breaking it down statistically vs. the rest of the GCL…
HITTING

PITCHING
     
In a sample size of just 60 games, there are bound to be some anomalies. Such as the offense being above-average in most every major category but scoring runs, hitting for power, and staying out of the double play. The pitchers gave up more hits and homers than average but were also tied for giving up the fewest walks (in another oddity, the K and BB numbers of the team they tied, the GCL Rays, were identical) in the GCL. They also gave up the fewest balks and threw the fewest wild pitches.

Those are the kinds of things you hope to find when taking a closer look at the numbers — like the DSL, this is an exercise of scouting by boxscore. Now, let’s take a look at the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2011 or 2012; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2011; Players with a carat(^) are NDFAs; Players with a plus symbol were promoted to Auburn and/or Hagerstown. The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Like last year, there were three GCL repeaters (Difo, Valdez, Severino), two of which were promoted in-season from the DSL. Unfortunately, of those three only Severino showed any significant statistical improvement. But Narciso Mesa is a good reminder that these numbers shouldn’t be taken as gospel — his line for 32 games looks bad (.229/.262/.297) yet in 32 games at Auburn he lit up the NYPL (.343/.391/.400). Therefore, it’s quite possible that next year this trio will go to Auburn like Estarlin Martinez, Wander Ramos, and Mesa did this year.

The two NDFAs — Matt Foat and Will Piwinica-Worms — are also intriguing players. Both were defensive standouts and both received more playing time than any other 2012 draftees (though the counter-argument is that they got Mock/Chico treatment). Unfortunately, both are 22 and even if that’s a “young” 22 (both born in 1990), it can’t be ignored entirely. Of the two, I lean towards Foat perhaps going a bit further up the ladder, though that’s based purely on his strong offensive numbers (.333/.404/.401).

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
The most encouraging thing I saw here was how many of these guys were promoted during the season — three of the Top 12, six overall (Blake Schwartz, Leonard Hollins, and Michael Boyden were the others). Some of this, no doubt, was planned (e.g. Pineyro, Anderson) but after seeing so many rehabbers the past two seasons, it’s almost novel.

Four pitchers made the jump from the DSL, with two of them (Pineyro, Mendez) getting a look in Auburn. On the flip side, four were repeats from 2012 and only one (Heredia) made noticeable (on a numbers basis) progress, the others taking a step back or possibly getting hurt (2011 Watchlister Anthony Marcelino made just one appearance). If last year is any guide, we’re likely to see Vasquez and Barrientos pitching in Auburn next summer.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
I’m probably going to get burned again, but I’ll pick two lists of five this year after dropping down to one list last year.

Top 5 Batters
1. Matt Foat
2. Wilmer Difo
3. Diomedes Eusebio
4. Bryan Lippincott
5. Will Piwinica-Worms
Honorable Mentions: Pedro Severino, Mike McQuillan

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Ivan Pineyro
2. Will Hudgins
3. Gilberto Mendez
4. Joel Barrientos
5. Daury Vasquez
Honorable Mentions: Blake Schwartz, Inocencio Heredia

Oct 052012
 


Given their fetish preference towards youth, it’s a bit of a surprise that Nathan Karns made the cut for Baseball America’s 2012 Carolina League Top 20 Prospects.

It’s the latest accolade for the 24-year-old Texan drafted in the 12th round in 2009, who was named the Nationals’ Minor-League Pitcher of the year last month and was a GBI regular all season long. Sean Hogan has the backstory today on his journey from sleeper to mystery man to the 2012 MiLBY Starting Pitcher Year Candidate.

Here’s the skinny from the BA Scouting Report:

Karns works in the low 90s and touches 95 mph with his fastball. He throws his heater on a downhill plane, and it can jump on hitters coming out of his retooled delivery. His sharp downer curveball can be a plus pitch when he locates it consistently. Karns'[sic] changeup has the makings of becoming an average pitch after he worked hard on it this year. The development of his third pitch and how he handles the workload of another full season will help determine if he sticks in the rotation or moves to the bullpen.

It’s a bit mystifying to me why Karns is not getting the credit for his slider, which is his strikeout pitch when he’s locating his fastball. I put that in italics because late in the season, when he showing signs of fatigue, batters began holding off on the pitch. My gut still says he’ll eventually become a reliever, but like all pitchers, I’d prefer to see them start for as long as they can until the batters tell them it’s time to try a new role.

As always, if I spot something in the BA chat, I’ll update this post.

Oct 032012
 

As semi-predicted yesterday, three Hagerstown Suns were named to the Baseball America Top 20 prospects for the South Atlantic League — Brian Goodwin (#8), Alex Meyer (#10) and Matt Skole (#19).

All three were promoted from the Sally League, with one leapfrogging to the Eastern League after just 58 games played, another making the jump after 18 starts, and the last getting the call so late that it managed to disappoint fans of both Hagerstown and Potomac, but only after enraging just about the rest of the frequent commenters here first.

Highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…
A hamstring injury that knocked him out for five weeks was the only thing that stopped Goodwin in the SAL. His plus power potential and speed make Goodwin at least a 20-20 candidate once he reaches the majors, though he’s still learning how to read pitchers. His short stroke and disciplined approach should allow him to hit for a high average as well. Defensively, he’s a quality center fielder with solid arm strength.

Meyer battled inconsistency but also dominated at times in his pro debut, lowering his ERA in each of his three months in the SAL, the performed even better after a promotion to High-A. The 6’9″ Meyer has a lot of moving parts, which makes maintaining his mechanics a challenge. When he’s in sync and maintains a consistent release point, he works downhill with a 93-97 mph FB and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s. He also shows some feel for a changeup that could become an average third pitch.

Matt SkoleThe league MVP, Skole led the SAL in homers (27), walks (94), on-base percentage (.438) and slugging (.574). Managers tabbed him as having the best strike-zone judgment in the league after watching him use his disciplined approach to pound pitchers with consistency. While Skole was old for the league, his strength and bat speed give him legitimate power. Almost all of his value is tied up in his bat, however, as he’s a well below-average runner and subpar defender at third base.

Goodwin and Skole, of course, are among the Nats’ Arizona Fall League contigent while Meyer was shut down in late August and should start 2013 with the Harrisburg Senators, along with fellow P-Nat Nathan Karns.

The Carolina League is next up (Friday), with the Eastern League scheduled for next Tuesday (non-spoiler alert: look for Goodwin to get named to the E.L. list, too) and the International League on the 12th.

Oct 022012
 

Like two years ago, the first couple of 2012 league Top 20s from Baseball America — Gulf Coast League, New York-Penn League — have been sans Nats.

That will most likely change with tomorrow’s Top 20 for the 2012 South Atlantic League, with Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Matt Skole as good possibilities to make the list.

However, there was a mention in the BA chat held yesterday, which I’ll pass along:

Ben (Leland Grove): Did any of the Doubledays come close to making this list?

Aaron Fitt: As our college readers surely know, I’ve been a Tony Renda fan for a long time, and he was in the mix for a spot on this list. He’s an undersized second baseman who did not stand out for his performance in his pro debut, but he has an innate feel for his barrel that I think will carry him through the minors. He also made great strides defensively this summer, though he has a few more things to clean up in order to become an average defender. Brett Mooneyham had an encouraging debut, but he’s got to smooth out his delivery in order to harness his potential — I think there’s a lot of risk there. Robert Benincasa and Derek Self are a couple of college relievers who pitched very well this summer; both have polish, tenacity and solid stuff (working in that 90-93 range with solid-average sliders), and I think both could move quickly. And Estarlin Martinez is an interesting sleeper with some power potential — certainly a guy to keep an eye on.

The Doubledays, as you’ll be shocked to learn (no, not really), were one of the oldest teams in the New York-Penn League. This is a function, of course, of the organization’s tendency (philosophy?) towards collegiate players. It’s disappointing, of course, when there were two candidates (Martinez, Narciso Mesa) that put up stronger numbers than the four OFs that were tabbed, but two were younger and two were recent high-price/high-profile draftees — and let’s not forget BA’s tendency to favor youth and money spent when it comes to prospects.

Oct 012012
 

For better or worse, this is where the Nationals have decided to cultivate its teenage talent. The trend of getting younger has leveled off as well. The average bat was 18.1 years old, just as it was in 2011; the average arm was 19.0 years old, a shade older than last year’s crew, which was 18.9 years old.
The team, however, finished third in its division with a mark of 38-32 (.543) — its best finish since 2008, when the DSL Nationals1 won the league.

As referenced in the comments, there’s only so much that we can glean from the DSL. It is, after all, just box scores and stats. We obsess over player ages while simultaneously doubting them in light of countless scandals that are a byproduct of that obsession (not to mention abject poverty, but let’s steer clear of socioeconomic discussion, like the NCAA does despite pretending otherwise).

One of the imperfect measures we do have is seeing how many of the DSL Nationals advance to the GCL. Four position players and seven pitchers advanced to the GCL from 2011 to 2012, similar figures to the 2010 to 2011, which were four and six respectively. As one might expect, the progression beyond that hasn’t been as good: just two of the non-Smiley 2010 DSL Nationals that have made it to Auburn or Hagerstown (Narciso Mesa, Wirkin Estevez). There’s hope for the last Bowden class (the 2009 DSL Nationals), which includes Estarlin Martinez, Wander Ramos, and Pedro Encarnacion.

Following the format from the past two years, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. the league averages…
HITTING (GPA = Gross Production Average)

PITCHING

Offensively, the DSL Nationals were the fifth-best in the DSL, with much it coming from speed — directly, in the way of stolen bases (3rd best); indirectly, in the way of doubles (2nd best). They were slightly above average in terms of walks, and slightly below in terms of strikeouts. The pitching, as you’ve probably guessed, was bad, 28th out of the 35-team DSL and the defense was league-average at .952, with the catchers throwing out 42% of the would-be thieves (vs. 38% for the league).

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2012 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Raudy Read played 44 of 68 games played at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Space prohibits me from including this in the graphic, but I’ll point out that eight of the these 13 guys had OBPs that were at or above the league average. Leading the pack was speedster Rafael Bautista, who got on base at a .419 clip and led the league in stolen bases with 47. Raudy Read showed an unusual amount of power, hitting nine home runs and 16 doubles in his sophomore season. The 18-y.o. Read was one of three regulars to surpass .400 in slugging percentage, with 19-y.o. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz leading the way at .490, Read second with a .441 mark, and 17-y.o. Randy Novas a show at .421.

This brings me to the most notable name not listed here: Thomas Alvarez, an 17-year-old American who grew up in New York, presumably born to Dominican parents, and returned to the D.R. to go pro. He was signed for $40K in June and played sparingly throughout the season, putting up a line of .222/.391/.444 in 18 games. Not much else can be found, so it remains to be seen whether this is someone we’ll hear from again or whether he’ll be the 2012 version of Dionicio Rosario.

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
As aforementioned, the pitching was substandard this year, perhaps even worse when you stop to consider that so many 20-year-olds carried the load. Maximo Valerio, who turned 17 in late July, was the bright spot with slightly better than league-average numbers in his first season. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of these pitchers making it to the GCL next season, though as stated last year, most draft gurus will caution against getting too excited about summer-league players. And I’ll repeat: This is where I’ve made a lot of my mistakes in picking players to watch, which brings us to the…

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
For the second straight year, my #1 picks (Diomedes Eusebio, Gilberto Mendez) moved up to the GCL. Yay! And for the second straight year, I had one of my Top 5’s get released (Rosario). Boo!

I’m very confident this will happen again, particularly among the pitchers; hence, the honorable mentions to a pair of 17-year-olds with good peripherals in tiny sample sizes. Valerio and (ugh) J-Rod get the nods because of usage and age, the rest because they’re either lefthanded (Gomez), and/or throw strikes (Silvestre), or have the earmarks of an injury gamble (Ruiz).

Top 5 Batters
1. Raudy Read
2. Randy Novas
3. Osvaldo Abreu
4. Rafael Bautista
5. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Maximo Valerio
2. Hector Silvestre
3. Jefry Rodriguez
4. Elisaul Gomez
5. Raul Ruiz

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jorge Berrio, Jonathan Aquino

Sep 282012
 

Not much in the way of news this week, but in yesterday’s transactions post from Baseball America, the Arizona Fall League assignments were made official:
• RHP Aaron Barrett
• RHP Paul Demny
• CF Brian Goodwin
• RHP Cole Kimball
• SS/3B Jason Martinson (taxi)
• RHP Ryan Perry
• 3B/SS Anthony Rendon
• 3B Matt Skole

The biggest change, of course, is the swapping of Christian Garcia and Cole Kimball, who has apparently healed enough from the injury that cut short his rehab tour in early to start throwing again. The 27-year-old is attempting to come back from rotator cuff surgery and could be potentially pitching to keep his spot on the 40-man roster.

When I last saw him, he looked like a shell of his previous self: his fastball like your weird uncle’s wardrobe (stuck in the 80s) and his command, which has never been mistaken for Jordan Zimmermann’s (subject of a prospect retro by John Sickels), even worse. Taking chances on hurt pitchers is what has netted the Nats pitchers like Garcia and Ryan Mattheus, though you could make the argument that Kimball was hurt in the first place when the Nats pushed him (and Adam Carr) in the AFL in the fall of 2010.

Most folks, of course, are curious regarding a rumored position switch of Anthony Rendon to second base. There are two other 2Bs on the roster of the Salt River Rafters (Tyler Bortnick, Diamondbacks; Carlos Sanchez, White Sox) and while one of them is a 25-year-old that appears to be a Rule 5 tryout (Bortnick), it’s only speculation at this point.

Matt Skole and Brian Goodwin will join Rendon as the position players assigned by Washington, with Jason Martinson serving as this year’s taxi squad player, eligible to play twice a week. Bryce Harper (2010) and Zach Walters (2011) served in this capacity over the past two fall campaigns.

Ryan Perry presumably will continue his transition to starting from relief while it appears that Paul Demny is doing the opposite, based on his removal from the Harrisburg Senators rotation in August as well as his struggles all year long (insert obligatory reference to youth and hard-throwing here). Aaron Barrett, who is not Rule 5-eligible, will continue to refine his stuff after posting a 3-2/2.09/0.92 pitcher’s line (if it doesn’t exist, then I’m coining it) with 17 saves in 2012.

The 2012 season begins on Tuesday, October 9th with Salt River hosting the Mesa Solar Sox.

Sep 232012
 

A little bit of a lull here, with not quite enough material for a full-fledged post or even a hold-me-over “Morning Reading.” But I’m going to be away for a few days, so I think it’s best to put something up here until I have a better news peg.

My friend Shawn attended the tour at Municipal Stadium, which is a rather bold move. Not because it’ll threaten the extension of the PDC — once Lexington signed with Kansas City, Hagerstown became the last man standing in the South Atlantic, all but ensuring that Washington will renew since it’s extremely unlikely the Nationals will leave for the Midwest League — but because it boxes them into new stadium or bust. (For those interested in some of the details of what’s known as the affiliate dance, Bluebird Banter had a story about it last week).

As we discussed earlier this year, events in Wilmington, NC and Lynchburg, VA bear watching. Wilmington has approved the lease for a new stadium, but not the means to pay for it, which goes to the voters in November. The Braves have reportedly promised to help with City of Lynchburg replace the Hillcats, which of course creates an opening. Kinston did not replace the Indians with a collegiate summer league team, so it doesn’t take too much imagination to envision a scenario where one or both of those cities could be a destination for the franchise to be moved — especially if they have two full years to work on it.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sep 202012
 

For the past three seasons, a lot of the excitement of the Nationals farm system has been the presence of “generational talents” like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and now lies in the Draft Class of 2011: Alex Meyer, Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Matt Purke and Kylin Turnbull, which, amusingly has been pictured on the header graphic for the Auburn Doubledays since last summer despite only one of the five ever setting foot on Falcon Field (on a rehab stint, no less).

There’s buzz about Rendon switching over to 2B during the AFL, with the not-so-subtle implication that he’ll be sending Danny Espinosa packing or to the bench. If Goodwin rakes in Arizona next month, I’d expect the same kind of talk with the more astute folks acknowledging that Eury Perez might make the club first, then step aside.

After that? It gets fuzzy fast.

The point, as I touched upon in “The State of the Nationals Farm,” is that the era of sure-fire, fast-rising replacements is coming to an end and the system is shifting gears towards (what we hope will be) producing a steady stream of players that may or may not play for Washington. Before you start scrolling down and berating me for not mentioning Alex Meyer, Nathan Karns, et al: The rules are always different when it comes to pitchers (see: Bundy, Dylan).

Which brings me to my biggest dilemma regarding the 2013 watchlist: How to handle folks that stalled or underperformed in 2012.

I made a conscious effort last year to be be more selective than in 2010, which reduced the overall number of guys from 89 to 69. A lot of this came from being more aggressive with cutting off older players, guys that were hurt, GCL gambles, and Rule 5 pickups. I still made some mistakes, particularly in the DSL, which I can live with because ignoring them entirely — as some prospect gurus would prefer, though mainly out of despair of being unable to answer questions about them — deprives us of some of the fun of being able to say “I had my eye on this guy before even he made it to Low-A,” not to mention the chance to make up a nickname like “Orange” or “For The Weekend” ;-)

So while I don’t have a set number in mind, I will do my best to make sure it’s above 50 — but I’m not terribly likely to rank them 1 to 50-something since that only leads to pointless arguments about why X is #Y instead of Z.

Graduating from the 2012 Watchlist are Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, and Tyler Moore. As I wrote last year, I don’t think serves much purpose to name who’s probably going to come off the list. I’d like to think most are fairly obvious, though I have some tough choices to make for the 2013 list when it comes to pitchers coming back from surgery and/or injury. I may even need to create a new category or two (*hint*).