AFL Update: Nov. 9, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-19With five runs scored early and another solid outing from Sammy Solis, the Solar Sox snapped a three-game skid with a 6-1 win over the Saguaros.

Solis went four and 1/3rd innings, leaving with one out in the 5th after letting up two of the five singles he allowed. He would finish with one run allowed, one walk, and five strikeouts. He threw 74 pitches, 48 for strikes and earned his fourth win.

Kenny Faulk, the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen couldn’t strand both runners, walking the first two batters he faced to force in the lone Surprise run. Adrian Nieto bailed him out with a pickoff at first to squash the rally as the Tigers farmhand got the final out with a flyball to left.

Brian Goodwin and Matt Skole joined Nieto in the starting lineup.

Goodwin continues to blister the ball, going 3-for-4 with a stand-up triple and two RBIs while playing centerfield, where he played error-free and made three putouts.

Skole was the DH but whiffed three times and walked once. He now has 17K’s in 14 games and is hitting .152 (7-for-46) though he’s drawn 14 walks (tied for 3rd) to maintain a respectable .350 on-base percentage.

Nieto singled once — just his third hit against a LHP — and struck out twice in five ABs. He gave up his first passed ball of the fall but had six putouts.

The Solar Sox finish out the week with rematch against the Saguaros this afternoon in Surprise. Matt Purke (2-1, 3.79) is scheduled to make his sixth and perhaps final start, opposed by Cleveland prospect Will Roberts (0-1, 5.31).

Season Review: 2013 Syracuse Chiefs

For the second straight summer, Syracuse admirably achieved its primary mission of providing the Washington Nationals with replacements for injured or underperforming players. They also fulfilled a secondary function of providing a place for the latter to either get back on track (Tyler Moore) or get reps to try to work through their injuries issues (Danny Espinosa).

From that point of view, the 2013 Chiefs were successful. Like it or not, that’s the role for AAA nowadays — a place to play for “inventory” to stay active and a “finishing school” of sorts for certain prospects (typically, but not exclusively position players). That the Nationals have fielded also-rans for three straight seasons is irrelevant in this philosophy.

With that “said,” we embark on the final 2013 season review with the usual comparison against the league, then a focus on the Top 10 who were 27-and-under (i.e. league-average age) and had significant playing time, which this year works out to 17 or more innings pitched for pitchers, 111 or more plate appearances.

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Syracuse 4824 600 1256 114 395 1094 .260 .320 .395 .243 123
Lg. Avg. 4792 609 1223 107 485 1087 .255 .328 .384 .244 111

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1251⅔ 4.10 4.56 1.391 104 444 999 9.3 3.2 7.2 2.25
Lg. Avg. 1261 3.86 4.23 1.355 107 485 1087 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.24


At first glance, it looks like this team should have done better than a last-place finish, albeit in a strong division. The Chiefs were better than the league in average, HRs, slugging on offense, walks issued, HRs surrendered. Sure, the ERA was a notch below, but… oh wait: 143 errors in 144 games (tied with Indianapolis)? The worst fielding percentage in the I.L. (.974)? The most unearned runs (86)? Never mind.

Obviously, poor defense aside, the two most glaring exceptions to the around-the-league-average theme are batting walks (tied for 12th fewest) and pitching strikeouts (tied for 11th fewest). Not taking walks is always going to help out the opposing pitchers. Likewise, not getting K’s increases the odds of contact, which was a double handicap because the team was not adept at converting batted balls into outs.

If there is something I’m glad to be wrong about, it’s that the Nationals haven’t gotten older at this level as I thought they might a year ago. Even with the likes of 32-y.o. Yunesky Maya (who pitched the second-most innings), the team’s pitchers were only slightly older than the league average (27.6 vs. 27.3) and the hitters were actually younger (26.6 vs. 26.9), thanks to a pair of 23-year-olds (Zach Walters, Eury Perez) playing nearly every day.

Which brings us to those age-appropriate bats… (Full statistics for the team can be found here.)
here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Zach Walters 23 521 SS/3B 104/27 .981 38 .258 .264
Chris Marrero 24 450 1B 97 .990 9 .249 .132
Corey Brown 27 438 CF/LF/RF 61/22/21 .973 6 .265 .208
Eury Perez 23 433 CF/LF/RF 69/15/9 .979 4 .257 .122
Jeff Kobernus 25 412 LF/2B/CF/3B/RF 50/15/12/11/8 .992 2 .262 .070
Danny Espinosa 26 313 2B/SS 41/35 .965 12 .198 .070
Carlos Rivero 25 239 3B/1B/SS/LF/RF 42/10/6/5/1 .950 12 .208 .048
Tyler Moore 26 200 LF/1B 21/19 .987 3 .324 .266
Jhonatan Solano 27 148 C 38 .997 1 .180 .065
Josh Johnson 27 111 3B/2B/LF/RF 16/9/8/1 .975 2 .323 .125


The good news is that seven of these ten are home-grown. The bad news is that just two of them aren’t repeating the level. Those two, of course, are Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters, who will be competing in 2014 to achieve what Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi did in 2012: establish themselves as MLB bench/role players.

Unfortunately, that path seems blocked for Corey Brown (who’s now out of options) while Eury Perez has languished at AAA and has but one option left and would seem destined to follow in Brown’s footsteps. Time ran out for Chris Marrero, who was removed from the 40-man last month, and became a free agent earlier this week. Likewise for Carlos Rivero, who went from nearly making the club out of spring training to getting demoted to AA after his production dropped dramatically (.783 OPS in ’12 to .588)

On to the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Danny Rosenbaum 25 28/28 7-11, 0 3.87 158⅓ 167 67 102 1.478 10 8 8
Tanner Roark 26 33/11 9-3, 2 3.15 105⅔ 85 20 84 0.994 6 3 2
Caleb Clay 25 14/13 5-2, 0 2.49 83 68 14 51 0.988 5 3 3
Erik Davis 25 45/0 3-7, 15 3.10 52⅓ 55 20 54 1.433 4 0 2
Ryan Perry 26 12/8 1-4, 0 7.93 42 54 23 27 1.833 9 1 3
Xavier Cedeno 26 39/0 2-0, 4 1.31 34⅓ 23 16 45 1.136 2 1 5
Tyler Robertson 25 26/1 2-7, 0 3.04 26⅔ 33 8 24 1.538 2 0 2
Cole Kimball 27 23/0 0-0, 1 8.06 25⅔ 31 14 25 1.753 4 0 6
Michael Broadway 26 18/0 1-1, 6 2.28 23⅔ 16 7 26 0.972 2 0 1
Fernando Abad 27 17/0 1-0, 0 1.06 17 17 2 12 1.118 0 0 0


Here is where you see how AAA has become the place to “house inventory” — even with an age-28 cutoff, a significant number of innings went to guys that were acquired, signed, or claimed since last November. And it’s not hard to see what the parent club was looking for in reserve: left-handed relievers.

Danny Rosenbaum, who was taken then returned by Colorado in the Rule 5 draft, was the only lefthanded starter all season long and one has to wonder: If he sticks around next year, is there any chance he’ll be converted to relief to increase his chances of pitching in DC? Or will he be given the Corey Brown treatment and continue to start, with neither the hamburger or the pay on Tuesday?

Methinks the latter will be the case and the example of Tanner Roark will be the justification, as he too was asked to eat innings in 2012 (147⅔ in 26 starts) started 2013 in the Chiefs ‘pen, then shifted back to starting and did both for the parent club, winning seven of his first eight decisions and logging 53⅔ innings for a team that was chasing a playoff spot.

As I did a year ago, I expect the Nationals to promote a handful of the Harrisburg pitchers and use FAs to plug the gaps at both AA and AAA until the prospects are ready. It’s WAY too early to say much more than that, esepcially in light of the trades that have been made over the past couple of offseasons.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
That four of these five are already on the 40-man makes this easy. Justifying the two pitchers is a little harder, given that they turned 26 and 27 last month. But this is what I have to pick from, and the guy not on the 40-man could very well be added to somebody’s 40-man next month (again). Plus, as the old saw goes, he is lefthanded and throws strikes, so…

1. Zach Walters
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Danny Rosenbaum
5. Erik Davis

AFL Update: Nov. 8, 2013

Arizona Fall League 19Just one Nationals farmhand got into yesterday’s game in the Arizona Fall League, in which the Solar Sox dropped a third straight game, losing 5-4 in 11 innings to Glendale.

Matt Skole batted fourth but went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts to drop his AFL average to .125 (4-for-32) in 13 games. He played first base and handled all ten chances, making nine putouts and one assist.

The loss drops Mesa to 13-11-1, just a ½ game ahead of second-place Salt River. Sammy Solis is scheduled to start this afternoon as the Solar Sox host the Saguaros, who have the AFL’s best record at 16-8 and lead the AFL West by 4½ games with six games left on the slate.

AFL Update: Nov. 7, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-18The Desert Dogs scored six unanswered runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-0 deficit into a 6-4 win over the Solar Sox.

Brian Goodwin, Steve Souza, and Robert Benincasa were the three Nationals to see game action.

Goodwin batted second and played centerfield, but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He plated a run with an RBI groundout in the 3rd. Defensively, he made two putouts.

As usual, Souza made his appearance count. The taxi-squad member was slotted 7th in the lineup and doubled in the 2nd to drive in the first Mesa run and singled in the 4th (pictured), finishing the game at 2-for-4 to raise his average to .364 for the fall. He snared three flyballs while playing right field.

Benincasa, recently featured by Byron Kerr for MASN, worked around a single and a walk to pitch a scoreless 7th inning for the Solar Sox. The appearance lowered his ERA to an even 4.00 (4R in 9IP).

The two teams rematch this afternoon in Glendale. The Salt River Rafters also lost to preserve Mesa’s 1½ game lead in the AFL East and reduce the Solar Sox magic number to clinch a spot in the AFL title game to six with seven games left.

Baseball America Ranks The Top 10 Nats Prospects

Baseball America for NPPNo sense vamping when this list has probably been tweeted dozens of times by now. (Last year’s revised ranking in parentheses.)

1. Lucas Giolio, RHP (2)
2. A.J. Cole, RHP (4)
3. Brian Goodwin, CF (3)
4. Matt Skole, 1B/3B (5)
5. Robbie Ray, LHP (–)
6. Sammy Solis, LHP (9)
7. Michael Taylor, CF (–)
8. Jake Johansen, RHP (’13 Draft Pick)
9. Nathan Karns, RHP (6)
10. Steve Souza, OF (–)

Frankly, I was initially confused as to how an injured position player and a coming-off-surgery pitcher could move up in the rankings. This, of course, is no disrespect to them, but simple logic dictates that getting hurt and/or losing a year of development is the kind of thing that drops your stock, not improves it. This was Fitt’s answer to my question about that rationale for ranking them higher in 2014 than 2013:

I think Skole is in the same No. 4* slot he was last year (and remember that Anthony Rendon graduated to the big leagues). I did not dock Skole for being hurt — it was a fluke injury, and he returned strong this fall. I still think he’s a quality power-hitting prospect, and I ranked him accordingly. As for Solis, I got very encouraging reports on him coming off that surgery, and I expect him to move very quickly next year (assuming he can stay healthy — which is a legitimate question, given his track record). At this point, I think he has a better chance to stick as a big league starter than Karns, who strikes me as more of a power reliever ultimately. So I moved Solis ahead of Karns. I can’t say I’m overly excited about any of those guys — Solis is 25 now and still has yet to reach Double-A, after all. I don’t think this is a great top 10 after the top of the list, although I do like some of the depth in the 11-30 range.
* Skole was initially ranked #4 in December 2012, then moved to #5 when BA revised the list in March 2013

I give Fitt credit answering honestly, particularly in remarking about how the talent thins out rapidly after the first few guys, which has been the case for about two years now. For those wondering, Fitt said that he wrestled with a cluster of Tony Renda, Matt Purke, Billy Burns, and Zach Walters before deciding upon Souza for the #10 spot. There are certainly arguments that can be made for any of those five against the other four and it may be bit revealing of your personal biases, too. Fitt, it appears, likes Souza’s five-tool promise over Burns’s speed, Purke’s LHSP capabilities, Renda’s bat/eye, Walter’s power, etc.

One new wrinkle to this year’s rankings is a list of the Top 15 players under the age of 25, which you can find in the free article along with a list of the best tools, prospects of the year and top draft picks from the past 10 years. And of course, the top bonuses paid, for which Robin Leach Fitt remains enamored of the decision of the Nationals to spend heavily just as they were hitting rock bottom.

The projections for where the 2014 Top 10 will begin (or finish) next season were as follows:
AAA – Cole, Goodwin, Karns, Souza
AA – Skole, Ray, Solis, Taylor
Low-A – Giolito
Not specified – Johansen

I personally believe Cole will probably return to Harrisburg and be moved up in May or June; likewise for Johansen with Hagerstown as his starting point — but lately the Nats have been more aggressive, so it could be Syracuse and Potomac, respectively. As mentioned in the comments, where a prospect starts is not nearly as important as where he finishes.

AFL Update: Nov. 6, 2013

A seven-run 3rd put the Solar Sox up the creek as they were paddled by the Rafters, 7-0 last night in Arizona.

Mesa collected just four singles while committing five errors and hitting into four double plays. Two Nationals position players and one reliever got into the game:

  • Matt Skole started at 3B and batted 5th. He singled in three trips to the plate and collected one assist and one putout (both in the 8th inning)
  • Adrian Nieto started at C and batted 8th. He also went 1-for-3 and picked off a runner at first base in the 2nd inning. He finished with two assists and seven putouts.
  • Richie Mirowski pitched the final two innings, giving up a run on two hits and a walk. He struck out one and threw 35 pitches, 22 for strikes.

With the loss, Mesa’s lead over second-place Salt River returns to 1½ games with eight to play… and no more matchups between the two teams. The Solar Sox host the Desert Dogs this afternoon, then travel to Glendale tomorrow. They return to Mesa on Friday to play against the Surprise Saguaros, which is the next scheduled start for Sammy Solis.

Minor League Free Agents

Well, it’s that time of year in the minors when we find out which of the veterans have become free agents. Some of these guys will re-sign, some will retire, and some will move on. Without further ado…

(* = spent entire season on DL)
CATCHERS
AAA – Carlos Maldonado
AA – Brian Jeroloman
High-A – Beau Seabury*, Sean McCauley*

INFIELDERS
AAA – Chris Marrero, Will Rhymes, Josh Johnson
AA – Jimmy Van Ostrand, Melvin Dorta*, Carlos Rivero
High-A – Mike Gilmartin
Low-A – Carlos Alvarez

OUTFIELDERS

AAA – Jason Michaels*, Chris Rahl
AA – Jerad Head

LHPs
AA – Bill Bray, Patrick McCoy
High-A – Josh Smoker*

RHPs
AAA – Mike Broadway, Caleb Clay, Mike Crotta, Cole Kimball, Jeff Mandel, Ryan Tatusko, Chris Young
AA – Brian Broderick

Three players are known to have re-signed prior to the deadline — IF Adrian Sanchez, C Jeff Howell, UT Francisco Soriano — but we’ll have to wait until the next dispatch to find out if there were any others.

Like 2011, there were 26 free agents, though three of the five DL guys were signed as player/coaches (Dorta, McCauley, Michaels) and were never going to be activated, according Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris. Overall, there were 550 players that became free agents, according to Baseball America.

This year’s first-time free agents include Nats ’07 draft picks Mandel, McCoy, and Smoker, and a pair of ’06 picks who were removed from the 40-man, Kimball and Marrero. There was only one IFA this year (as opposed to two last year), but has anyone ever heard of this Carlos Alvarez guy?

AFL Update: Nov. 5, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-15Brian Goodwin went 2-for-4 and drove in three as Mesa edged Salt River, 5-4 in a twice-delayed, rain-shortened contest last night in Arizona.

The Nats top outfield prospect, who turned 23 on Saturday, blasted a two-run shot with two outs in the 3rd to cut into an early Rafters 3-0 lead. He would plate a third run with groundout as part of the three-run 5th that saw the Solar Sox take the eventual 5-4 lead.

In the 8th, Goodwin singled and stole second (pictured) before the rains came for the final time with one out.

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-17Matt Purke got the start but was touched for the first three Salt River runs in the 2nd. He would go four innings with four hits and two walks allowed. He struck out just one with 61 pitches thrown, 37 for strikes.

The win improves Mesa to 13-8-1 for the fall and returns the lead over Salt River to 2½ games. The two teams rematch tonight in Salt River and will be televised (weather permitting) on the MLB Network.

                                        #                                     #                                     #

Purke was the subject of today’s “Scout’s View” column in Baseball America (paid sub) in which he was compared to LHP Cole Hamels by former Philadelphia area scout Therron Brockish, who saw him on October 23rd (5IP, 1H, 0R, BB, 3K). Brockish said Purke was hitting 92-93 on the gun but pointed to his changeup as his “out pitch,” not the curve, which he felt was only his third-best pitch and more of a slurve (though effective against LHBs).

Brockish is bullish on Purke, predicting “[He’s] on the path to be in Double-A or Triple-A next summer and competing for a big league spot in 2015.”

Winter League Update

Winter Baseball Update
Time for our semi-weekly update on how the notable Nationals minor leaguers are doing in the winter leagues, beginning of course, with the Arizona Fall League. All statistics as of 11/3/2013, 11:30 p.m. EST.

BATTERS

PLAYER LG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Brian Goodwin AFL 13 56 7 17 3 0 1 6 2 16 .304 .339 .411 2
Matt Skole AFL 11 35 7 6 1 0 3 7 13 10 .171 .396 .457 0
Steve Souza Jr. AFL 8 29 5 10 1 0 0 5 5 7 .345 .441 .379 9
Adrian Nieto AFL 8 28 4 8 1 1 0 4 5 8 .286 .382 .393 0
Francisco Soriano DWL 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .— .— .— 0
Carlos Rivero VWL 18 64 6 20 4 0 1 6 8 8 .313 .392 .422 0
Zach Walters VWL 15 50 6 12 1 0 3 6 6 19 .240 .321 .440 0
Adrian Sanchez VWL 12 33 3 6 2 0 0 0 1 7 .182 .206 .242 0
Sandy Leon VWL 10 31 5 6 0 1 0 1 3 7 .194 .265 .258 1
Corey Brown VWL 9 27 5 8 3 0 0 5 8 10 .296 .472 .407 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Sammy Solis AFL 3 2 0 2.29 5 5 19⅔ 21 7 5 1 6 20 1.37
Matt Purke AFL 2 1 0 3.00 4 4 15 11 6 5 0 5 13 1.07
Robert Benincasa AFL 0 0 0 4.50 8 0 8 10 4 4 1 3 7 1.63
Richie Mirowski AFL 0 0 1 1.29 6 0 7 5 1 1 0 1 5 0.86
Yunesky Maya DWL 1 0 0 1.72 3 3 15⅔ 14 5 3 0 3 11 1.09
Jeff Mandel DWL 0 0 0 3.00 3 3 12 15 5 4 0 3 6 1.50
Rafael Martin MWL 1 0 0 6.23 10 0 13 13 9 9 3 3 10 1.23
Christian Garcia MWL 0 0 0 0.00 5 0 5⅔ 2 0 0 0 3 6 0.88
Danny Rosenbaum VWL 2 0 0 1.88 4 3 14⅓ 14 3 3 1 3 6 1.19


As reported previously, the winter leagues in Australia and Puerto Rico started up over the weekend, but it appears there are no current Nats down under and just two on La Isla del Encanto — Jose Lozada and Tyler Herron, neither of whom have appeared in a game yet.

AFL Update: Nov. 3, 2013

Arizona Fall League #3
Brian Goodwin started while Adrian Nieto came off the bench in the AFL’s cash cow Fall Star game last night in Surprise, Arizona as the AFL West stars pummeled the AFL East contingent, 9-2.

Former National Alex Meyer started and won the game, but gave up a one-out, first-inning single to Goodwin, who turned on 97 m.p.h. offering and pulled it into right field. Goodwin was cut down trying to get into scoring position by Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges for the inning’s second out.

The two rematched in the 3rd with Meyer whiffing his former teammate in Hagerstown as the front end of K-2-6 double play to end the inning and Meyer’s night. The Twins RHP gave up three hits and walked one over three scoreless innings to earn the exhibition win.

Goodwin finished the night at 1-for-5 with two putouts in five innings in center and no chances in four innings in left field.

Nieto, who was named to the AFL East squad as a replacement for Giants backstop Andrew Susac, caught the final three innings in relief of Yankees backstop Pete O’Brien. He went hitless in two plate appearances, getting hit by a pitch but scoring in the top of the 7th and tapping out to the pitcher in the 9th.