AFL Update: Nov. 2, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-2Sammy Solis gave up two unearned runs in the top of the 1st and the Solar Sox were unable to catch up, losing to the Javelinas by a score of 5-4.

The 25-y.o. southpaw went four full innings, allowing three hits and one walk total. He struck out four and hit a batter and threw 71 pitches, 40 for strikes.

Matt Skole batted cleanup and played first base, but went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. He had two putouts and two assists and made no errors.

Adrian Nieto caught and hit sixth but was also hitless. Two bases were stolen against him and the Mesa pitchers, who struck out 11 for all of Nieto’s putouts.

Steven Souza Jr., the newest member of the Washington 40-man roster, followed Nieto in the lineup in the seven spot and went 1-for-4 with a run scored and a strikeout. He played centerfield and snagged three flyballs.

The loss, combined with a Salt River win, narrows the gap between first and second place to just 1½ games with 10 to go for the fall campaign. The Solar Sox return to action next week as they take on the Rafters on Monday and Tuesday.

Season Review: 2013 Harrisburg Senators

It was predicted to be the roster to watch for this season, and for the most part, it lived up to that. Top prospect Anthony Rendon began here, as did Nathan Karns, the Nats’ 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and the single-A guys from the 2012 AFL team that lost in the playoffs. Overall, there were 13 names from the 2013 Watchlist on the Opening Day roster, which is not unusual since AA is where the best prospects play the most nowadays.

But… roughly half the team was also the one that went belly-up in the second half of 2012, so if any Sens fans were worried that history would repeat itself, they couldn’t be blamed. Indeed, the team played .500 ball until nearly mid-June before edging into contention. Fortified by several pitchers from Potomac during the season, all of whom seemingly made the transition with hardly a hiccup, Harrisburg made its run in late June and survived an August swoon to edge Erie for the E.L. West title by one game.

After taking three of four from the Seawolves to advance to the Finals, Harrisburg would be swept by the Trenton Thunder, who, much like the Salem Red Sox in the Carolina League, also got hot down the stretch and swept both division leaders for the League Championship. A disappointing finish, but far from a failure as the team produced two pitchers and an infielder who finished their seasons in D.C. — and not as September call-ups.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Senators stacked up against the Eastern League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Harrisburg 4585 602 1110 101 521 1090 .242 .324 .372 .239 89
Lg. Avg. 4689 628 1195 104 482 1068 .255 .330 .387 .245 107

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Harrisburg 1237 3.43 3.75 1.237 101 391 1168 8.3 2.8 8.5 2.99
Lg. Avg. 1230⅔ 4.01 4.44 1.363 104 482 1068 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.21


If there are two things that have been the trademark of Harrisburg teams over the fast few seasons, it’s been outstanding pitching and suboptimal hitting. This past season was no different — they gave up the fewest run and walks and were second in pitching strikeouts, producing the best ratios for K:BB and WHIP. At the plate, they were dead-last in batting average, second-from-last in slugging percentage, and third-from-last in OBP (thanks to finishing second in walks drawn) and runs scored.

Defensively, the team was middle-of-the-pack — a .976 FA that was right at the league average. They allowed the second-fewest stolen bases (with fewer opportunities to steal, thanks to the pitchers) with a slightly above-average (33% vs. 31%) rate of catching would-be basethieves, which would have been higher if Sandy Leon (38%) had caught more than 91 games (the backups were 25%).

Given the organization’s proclivity towards athleticism and defense in the draft (and obviously pitching), this trend will likely continue. As noted in 2011, the lack of power has been offset with increased speed and patience as three of the previous five affiliates were above their league averages for either steals or walks, if not both (Potomac and Hagerstown). This is not inherently bad as power is considered to be a skill that develops later (and can be acquired more cheaply), but I’m sure folks on City Island wouldn’t mind seeing more than one or two boppers in the lineup at the same time, either.

Now is when we danc…er, take a look at the Top 14’s for the hitters and pitchers — expanded from 12 to capture a couple of notables (and help pay the bills, *ahem*). Full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Justin Bloxom 25 544 1B/3B/LF 105/18/3 .981 17 .247 .104
Brian Goodwin 22 533 CF 116 .982 5 .262 .155
Ricky Hague 24 479 2B/SS 117/7 .970 16 .226 .117
Destin Hood 23 429 RF/LF 61/44 .979 4 .207 .103
Jerad Head 30 426 LF/1B/RF/CF 50/14/8/4 .981 4 .242 .153
Sandy Leon 24 361 C 93 .993 6 .194 .075
Sean Nicol 26 324 3B/SS/LF/2B/1B 42/17/17/13/2 .960 10 .237 .079
Steve Souza 24 323 RF/CF 72/5 .979 3 .317 .257
Jimmy Van Ostrand 28 283 LF/1B 23/6 .990 2 .259 .193
Jose Lozada 27 230 SS/3B/2B/LF/1B/RF/CF 29/17/10/5/4/3/2 .955 11 .188 .050
Carlos Rivero 25 199 3B 49 .961 5 .225 .129
Jason Martinson 24 196 SS 53 .944 12 .199 .121
Josh Johnson 27 196 SS/2B 42/3 .932 13 .271 .186
Anthony Rendon 23 152 3B/2B/SS 24/5/1 .958 4 .358 .284


Looking at the column for isolated power, you can see what I mean by the lack of big boppers. Just five of these 14 were above the league average of .132 and you can see from the distribution of the playing time that there rarely more than one or two in the lineup at the same time. Steve Souza, who’s ripping up the AFL in limited playing time as of this writing recently added to the Nationals 40-man roster, was a force… when he was healthy. It would have been nice to see what he could have done had he played 50 more games, especially coupled with Rendon for another month.

Perhaps more disappointing was the regression of Destin Hood and Sandy Leon. Hood played 18 more games than he did last season, and posted worse numbers in just about every category. Leon fell off a cliff offensively, falling so far, so fast that it makes you wonder if his 2012 season ought to be disregarded as a fluke. Both players had breakthrough seasons in 2011, but that’s a long time ago in the minors when you’re closer to 25 than 20.

It’ll be interesting to see who moves up to AAA among this group, because it may only be two or three guys, max. The Nationals have had no problem plugging in six-year FAs to plug holes or shuffle between Harrisburg and Syracuse (e.g. Johnson, Rivero, Head, Van Ostrand) which is likely to occur again with Potomac having only 2-3 position players destined to move up.

Now for some better news, the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Nathan Karns 25 23/23 10-6, 0 3.26 132⅔ 109 48 155 1.183 14 7 13
Blake Treinen 25 21/20 6-7, 0 3.64 118⅔ 125 33 86 1.331 9 4 8
Rob Gilliam 25 19/18 3-6, 0 4.40 90 83 38 77 1.344 9 10 4
Paul Demny 23 18/15 5-6, 0 4.95 83⅔ 81 35 86 1.386 10 6 3
Caleb Clay 25 13/13 6-3, 0 3.46 75⅓ 64 17 59 1.075 6 7 3
Matt Swynenberg 24 36/4 4-0, 0 3.16 74 66 30 58 1.297 6 3 5
Taylor Hill 24 11/11 2-7, 0 2.71 69⅔ 67 16 41 1.191 7 1 1
Robbie Ray 21 11/11 5-2, 0 3.72 58 56 21 60 1.328 4 6 1
Taylor Jordan 24 9/8 7-0, 0 0.83 54 37 9 43 0.852 0 5 0
Neil Holland 24 41/0 1-4, 1 2.84 50⅔ 48 11 63 1.164 3 5 1
Aaron Barrett 25 51/0 1-1, 26 2.15 50⅓ 40 15 69 1.093 6 0 5
Tyler Herron 26 33/1 6-2, 5 3.11 46⅓ 45 21 58 1.424 2 1 2
A.J. Cole 21 7/7 4-2, 0 2.18 45⅓ 31 10 49 0.904 3 0 1
Pat McCoy 24 39/0 2-1, 0 4.32 41⅔ 48 12 36 1.440 5 3 2


Much like Hagerstown, the consistency of the league’s top pitching staff was amazing — just two of these starters were above the league average for ERA, two relievers above the circuit norm for WHIP. As aforementioned, it was almost unnatural how well the seven callups from Potomac did. Three of the four starters posted better numbers at AA than at High-A while the three relievers who didn’t do better were still decent if not very good.

None of these were guys could be described as unfairly held back, which would help explain such a phenomenon. In fact, the two youngest success stories — Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole — were coming off terrible 2012 seasons and weren’t exactly dominating the Carolina League when they were promoted (lots of K’s, but also lots of HRs). This, for better or worse, is why the folks who make the sausage will tell you that stats don’t matter as much we the fans might think they do.

Which brings us to Taylor Jordan and Ian Krol. I was fortunate enough to see Jordan in Woodbridge, but naturally missed Krol, who was acquired during the past offseason and seemed like a throw-in, which we’ve come to learn, is where Rizzo, et al seem to really do best at: identifying talent from other organizations and having them do far better than anyone expected.

OBLIGATORY TOP EIGHT LIST
Since I use these to help build the 2014 watchlist, I can’t name Jordan and Rendon — both have exceeded the IP and PA limits for rookie status (50, 130 respectively) that most folks use as a cutoff. I also had to break my rule about not double-dipping by repeating two names because, well, they’re kind of obvious. Likewise, for the second straight year, I’m going to have to combine the bats and arms to form a single list because there’s an uneven distribution (again).

1. A.J. Cole
2. Brian Goodwin
3. Robbie Ray
4. Nathan Karns
5. Steve Souza
6. Aaron Barrett
7. Neil Holland
8. Justin Bloxom

Souza Added To Nationals 40-Man Roster

This morning, the Nationals officially confirmed what Steve Souza Jr. wrote to his followers on Twitter last night: The longtime Nationals farmhand has been added to the 40-man roster.

Of course, the move was more than a little telegraphed by his inclusion on the Mesa Solar Sox roster for the Arizona Fall League, but what was not known was whether he’d be added to the big club or if he’d made an agreement to re-sign as a minor-leaguer. Souza was due to become a six-year free agent on Monday. The move also protects the 24-y.o. from next month’s Rule 5 draft.

For those just joining us in progress, Souza has had a tumultuous ride through the minors, beginning as a 3rd-Rd. high-school pick out of Everett, WA in 2007 and seemingly hitting the wall in 2010 his third season at Low-A Hagerstown when he was suspended for PED use. As detailed in this long piece from the Seattle Times, Souza would actually fall further in 2011 before shedding the labels of (among others) draft bust over the past two seasons.

While for many there was a huge disconnect between the praise heaped upon Souza — by Nationals farm director Doug Harris in particular — it was evident, even in 2011, to folks who saw him play everyday that the five-tool tag was legitimate. Indeed, Souza has been a member of this site’s watchlist at three different positions: 3B in 2011, 1B in 2012, and in the outfield for 2013.
(Spoiler: He’ll prolly make it 2014, too)

Souza is currently posting a line of .360/.467/.400 with five RBI and nine SBs in seven AFL games. This past season, despite playing in just 77 of 142 games, he led the Harrisburg Senators in both SBs (20) and HRs (15) and was fourth in runs, walks and RBI.

AFL Update: Nov. 1, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-7Brian Goodwin was the sole National to play in Mesa’s 7-3 win over Scottsdale yesterday afternoon.

Goodwin, who once again led off and played CF, smacked a two-run homer — his first of the fall season — to erase a 1-0 Scorpions lead in the bottom of the 6th. Former National David Freitas, who had walked to lead off the inning, scored ahead of him.

The #3 prospect Nats prospect per Baseball America had two putouts in the field and finished the game at 1-for-5 with three strikeouts. Goodwin is the sole National on the AFL East roster for tomorrow’s Fall Star Game (yes, really – that’s the new name).

The win improves Mesa to 12-7-1 and maintains the 2½ game edge over Salt River. Sammy Solis is scheduled to pitch this afternoon as the Solar Sox host the Javelinas.

AFL Update: Oct. 31, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2014-15
Three Nationals farmhands combined for four hits and three RBI as Mesa stopped a three-game slide with a 7-0 shutout of Scottsdale.

Brian Goodwin, the #1 Washington prospect according to MLB.com, led off and played centerfield. Offensively, He went 2-for-5 with a run scored, a double and an RBI single. Defensively, he had no putouts or assists.

Matt Skole ended an 0-for-13 sequence with a second-inning bomb that scored teammate Steve Souza Jr. ahead of him. He finished at 1-for-4 for the game and had 14 putouts at first base, but committed his first error on a missed catch.

Souza, who has hit safely in six of seven games this fall, singled once in five trips to the plate and struck out twice. He caught four flyballs while patrolling left field.

Richie Mirowski was the first man out of the Solar Sox ‘pen and worked around three singles in his two scoreless innings pitched, striking out two.

The two teams switch venues and rematch in Mesa this afternoon. A loss by the second-place Salt River returned the margin between the Rafters and the Solar Sox to 2½ games with 12 games left to play.

AFL Update: Oct. 30, 2013

Cabbage night came a day early for the AFL Pitcher of the Week Matt Purke and Mesa as Salt River spoiled the evening for both with a 7-3 loss.

Purke was touched for two runs in the 1st and three in the 3rd, giving up eight hits and two walks total over his three innings of work. The former Horned Frog threw 60 pitches, just 35 for strikes while suffering his first loss of the fall season.

Robert Benincasa also pitched, but gave up back-to-back doubles with one out in the 8th and finished with one run allowed on two hits and one strikeout. It was the fourth time the 23-y.o. reliever has given up a run in seven AFL appearances.

Adrian Nieto was the sole Nationals position player to get in the game. He made 10 putouts, including a tag at the plate in the 3rd. Offensively, Nieto singled to lead off the 5th in the tripled in a run and scored on passed ball in the 8th. He finished at 2-for-4 for the game to push his average to .333 (8-for-24) for the fall.

The loss — Mesa’s third straight — cuts their lead over Salt River to just 1½ games in the AFL East. Next up: a pair of games (away, then home) against the Scorpions. For those wondering, Sammy Solis is not scheduled to pitch until next month.

The AFL also announced the rosters its eighth annual all-star game, renamed this season as the Fall Stars Game, which will be held this Saturday at Surprise Stadium, in… wait for it… Surprise, AZ. Brian Goodwin is the sole National on the AFL East roster.

AFL Update: Oct. 29, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-5Mesa rallied for two in the bottom of the 8th cut a three-run deficit to one, but could get no closer in a 3-2 loss to Salt River.

Just two Nationals got into the game yesterday — Brian Goodwin and Matt Skole.

Goodwin returned to his usual spots in the lineup (No. 2) and the field (CF) and went 1-for-3 — one of just five hits the Solar Sox managed against the Rafters — but was caught stealing. Defensively, the Nats top outfield prospect had three putouts and no assists.

Skole’s tailspin continued with an 0-for-3 game, though he did draw a walk while batting 8th. The 24-y.o. corner IF is hitless (0-for-12) in his last four games. He played third base and had one putout (foul popup to end the 4th) and one assist (groundout to end the 5th).

The loss shaves Mesa’s lead over second-place Salt River to 2½ games with the two teams rematching tonight in Salt River. Matt Purke is scheduled to make his fourth start of the fall season.

Scenes From Arizona

With an off day on Sunday, here’s a little something extra from our intrepid photographer, Lee Magenheim. Naturally, the focus of the updates is on the game action, but the players will talk about the extra coaching they receive. Here’s a glimpse at some of what Lee saw last week in the mornings.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-1Adrian Nieto, working with Cubs coach (and former catcher) Brian Harper.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-2
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-3Steve Souza Jr., working out at 1B.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-4Matt Skole getting ready to hit.
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-5Lord, please deliver me from the those convenience-store breakfast burritos I ate this morning…
Scenes-From-Arizona-2013-6

AFL Update: Oct. 27, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-13Surprise struck for three runs twice while holding Mesa to four hits in a 6-1 Solar Sox loss to close out the week.

A total of five Nationals got into the game yesterday:

• Sammy Solis started and took the loss, giving up the first three runs in the 1st and finishing with six hits allowed over three innings. He walked one and struck out two, tossing 61 pitches with 40 going for strikes.

• Robert Benincasa (pictured) also pitched, setting the side down in order in the 9th while recording a strikeout.

• Brian Goodwin batted leadoff as the DH. He singled once and struck out twice in four AB’s.

• Matt Skole took the No. 6 slot in the lineup but went just 0-for-2 with a walk. Defensively, he played 1B and took part in two DP’s, including a 3-6-3 number in the 8th.

• Steve Souza Jr. followed Skole in the lineup and went 1-for-3 but was caught stealing for the first time. He played left field and made two putouts.

Mesa (10-5-1) remains atop the AFL East by 3½ games over Scottsdale and Salt River (both 7-9) with 15 games remaining on the schedule.

AFL Update: Oct. 26, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-12Mesa put up two runs in the 9th and Richie Mirowski, the fan’s choice for reliever of the year, shut the door in the 9th for a 7-5 win over Peoria.

Mirowski was the only Solar Sox pitcher to not give up a run, surrendering just a walk in the 9th and weathering a two-out error by Tigers prospect Dixon Machado to earn his first AFL save. He threw sixteen pitches, nine for strikes while lowering his ERA to 1.80.

Adrian Nieto got the start behind the plate and batted seventh. Offensively, he went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. The two-out single in the 6th was just his second hit batting lefthanded thus far this fall, 2-for-12 overall (vs. 4-for-8 against LHPs). Defensively, he threw out two of seven baserunners.

The win improves Mesa to 10-4-1 an widens the gap between 1st and 2nd place to 2½ games. The Solar Sox finish out the week with a Surprise visit (ok, fine it’s the Saguaros) this afternoon.