AFL Update: Oct. 19, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-6After battling back from deficits of 3-0 and 9-5, the Solar Sox were finally eclipsed with two runs in the 9th for an 11-9 loss to the Sagauros.

Matt Skole took a day off from the field but saw plenty of first base as the 24-year-old singled once and walked three times while batting from the no. 5 spot in the lineup. The Mesa DH came around to score twice but only had one RBI, in part because cleanup man Kris Bryant swatted two home runs in front of him.

Adrian Nieto caught for the third time this week but had three bases stolen against him, including a pair by fellow Carolina Leaguers Tyler Naquin and Jorge Alfaro*. Batting righthanded, Nieto singled in Skole in the 2nd and drew a walk in the 3rd. As a lefty, he went 0-for-2 with a walk to finish the game 1-for-3 with 2BB.
* Coincidentally, Naquin gunned down Nieto at the plate and Alfaro caught him stealing.

The loss was Mesa’s first of the season, lowering their record to 7-1-1 and cutting their lead to 4½ games over both Salt River and Scottsdale. Tonight, they host Surprise to finish out the week.

Season Review: 2013 Hagerstown Suns

Thankfully, the focus of these season reviews is on the players, as a team, on the field. Because otherwise the Hagerstown Suns have become — in today’s parlance — a hot mess.

Between the prolonged stadium debate and the threats to move the team to Winchester and Fredericksburg, it’s hard not to interpret that the people of Hagerstown are expressing their dismay by staying away. Attendance fell to a reported 1,058* per opening in 2013, a 23 percent drop from 2012 and less than half of what was being claimed as recently as 2009, which was 2,138 per date. * Figures per Ballparkdigest.com

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, let’s get down to business…

With the help of some rainouts, Hagerstown won the first half by a ½ game with a 38-29 mark and nearly won the second with a 42-28 run in the second, losing out to West Virginia by 2½ games. Overall, the Suns went 80-57, third best in the league behind the Power (82-58) and the GreenJackets (82-55).

Buoyed with the top two pitchers from Auburn, Hagerstown took two of three from West Virginia in the semifinals and won the opener of the Sally League Finals before losing the next three straight to the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Taking a look at how the Suns compared to the rest of the Sally League, there’s one rather noticeable outlier, which fans of the GBI have probably already guessed…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Hagerstown 4468 692 1152 56 530 988 .258 .341 .366 .245 153
Lg. Avg. 4511 593 1118 78 439 1098 .248 .322 .364 .236 140

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Hagerstown 1175 3.44 3.84 1.244 84 419 1098 8.0 3.2 8.4 2.62
Lg. Avg. 1187⅓ 3.77 4.31 1.311 78 439 1098 8.5 3.3 8.3 2.50



Hagerstown led the Sally League in offense despite hitting just 56 home runs (12th-best in the league) and having close-to-league-average power. The secret? No, not Calgon. Getting on base (#1 in OBP, #2 in walks drawn) and not striking out (#3). The math-inclined folks have already deduced that the lack of HRs was made up by more doubles and triples, at which the Suns were third-best in the league in both categories. Another quirk was finishing second in sacrifice flies, though that could very well be a factor of volume, not efficiency.

Thanks to injuries and promotions, there was a lot of flux with the Suns, such that just one pitcher (Pedro Encarnacion) exceeded 100 innings pitched. Nine pitchers made six or more starts, 15 different pitchers made at least one start (excluding rehabs). Seven of those guys were better than league average in ERA.

Really not much to complain about at the macro level, which is why like to drill down further, beginning with the Top 12 batters…

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Tony Renda* 22 606 2B 119 .973 15 .272 .111
Stephen Perez* 22 486 SS 125 .969 17 .218 .100
Brandon Miller* 23 442 RF/LF 101/2 .989 2 .253 .213
Shawn Pleffner 23 428 1B 94 .986 12 .273 .111
Estrarlin Martinez** 21 410 LF/1B/RF 48/34/6 .983 6 .234 .099
Will Piwnica-Worms 23 372 CF/LF/RF 54/20/20 .994 1 .261 .093
Khayyan Norfork 24 360 3B/2B/SS/LF/RF 49/17/1/1/1 .961 8 .239 .090
Mike McQuillan 23 314 3B/LF 52/2 .885 16 .259 .090
Wander Ramos** 23 303 LF/RF/CF 27/16/4 .945 4 .264 .166
Wes Schill 23 302 LF/3B/CF/SS 44/21/17/8 .932 11 .220 .064
Pedro Severino** 19 302 C 82 .980 14 .207 .092
Narciso Mesa** 21 232 CF 51 .957 5 .254 .063

(* = 2012 Draft Pick, ** = DSL Graduate)
What stands out the most to me is how “set” the positions were for this crew — basically, the top four guys in terms of PA were day-in, day-out at their position. Five of the Top 12 only played one position all year long — that kind of consistency is unusual, especially in light of the organization’s favor towards athleticism and versatility. Not to mention, part of the point of the minors is finding out where guys best fit in terms of their skills… or what the parent club needs.

As was the case a year ago, this was an older group of guys — second oldest in the Sally, actually — so the lack of power is cause for concern. Just two of these 12 had isolated averages that exceeded the league average of .116. Defensively, the team finished third in terms of fielding percentage, which is an admittedly flawed measuring stick, but until the likes of baseball-reference and fangraphs make advanced defensive stats less cumbersome (e.g. if I want to see how good a player’s range factor is vs. his peers, I have to go to each and every team page and extract that data), it’s the best we’ve got for an exercise such as this.

Speaking of defense, one name that’s been mentioned to me as one to watch is Pedro Severino, despite the 14 errors and 16 passed balls. “The best arm the Suns have had in years,” as my Hagerstown guy put in his recent review of the Hagerstown hitters. The Nationals aren’t as deep at catcher as people think they are (and haven’t been for nearly two years); Severino was one of just two (2) catchers younger than the league average in the entire system (Raudy Read was the other).

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Pedro Encarnacion** 22 25/24 10-9, 0 3.58 128⅓ 116 37 113 1.192 10 8 16
Brett Mooneyham* 23 17/17 10-3, 0 1.94 93 50 41 79 0.978 5 4 8
Nick Lee 22 19/17 6-4, 0 3.96 91 83 43 102 1.385 7 5 11
Ronald Pena* 21 28/10 4-3, 1 3.48 88 89 34 55 1.398 4 1 7
Kylin Turnbull 23 16/16 6-5, 0 3.58 83 97 16 67 1.361 10 1 3
Dixon Anderson 23 15/15 5-5, 0 3.20 78⅔ 62 30 72 1.169 3 0 7
Ivan Pineyro** 21 13/13 5-3, 0 3.14 66 57 17 65 1.121 4 3 10
Ian Dickson 22 16/10 5-3, 2 4.39 65⅔ 65 17 71 1.249 8 1 2
Travis Henke 24 30/0 3-1, 2 2.72 59⅔ 49 17 41 1.106 3 4 3
Bryan Harper 23 34/0 5-1, 1 3.97 45⅓ 32 32 43 1.412 2 8 5
Cody Davis 22 35/0 2-3, 1 2.76 42⅔ 40 14 46 1.276 1 0 6
Brian Rauh 21 14/0 3-2, 2 5.21 38 37 15 31 1.714 3 2 5


As you might imagine with a team that finished 4th in a 14-team league in pitching, the quality of pitching was amazingly consistent. The two starters that were above the league average had an ERA around 4.00 (Lee, 3.91; Dickson, 4.01). Only one reliever with a 1.5+ WHIP threw more than 20 innings (Will Hudgins), likewise only one pitcher with more than 20IP had a 5+ ERA (Rauh)… and he was promoted to Potomac, where he started 12 games and went 4-1 with 4.01 ERA.

As aforementioned, injuries influenced the large number of starters: Dixon Anderson saw his season shortened (again) by shoulder woes while Brett Mooneyham missed seven weeks with the Belichek-esque “arm discomfort,” which led to Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson shifting from the ‘pen. Promotions, of course, were also a factor with Matt Purke, Brian Rauh, and Ivan Pineyro “movin’ on up.”

The question, of course, is which of these guys will be the next Taylor Hill or Blake Schwartz — to name two pitchers that really exceeded expectations and who will hit the wall and have to return, which happened this season to Derek Self, Christian Meza, and Kylin Turnbull. For the opinions of my “Hagerstown guy,” I’ll refer you to his take on the 2013 Suns pitchers.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Once again there was a temptation to reduce the list from five to four when I took a step back and consider what other folks (i.e. non-Nats fans) may think of these guys. Especially with the position players, I keep coming back to: “His numbers were good, but not great, and he was old for the level.” Keep that in mind before you make your case in the comments for the guy that I didn’t list below.

1. Tony Renda
2. Brandon Miller
3. Wander Ramos
4. Estarlin Martinez
5. Pedro Severino

1. Pedro Encarnacion
2. Nick Lee
3. Brett Mooneyham
4. Cody Davis
5. Ian Dickson

AFL Update: Oct. 18, 2013

The Mesa Solar Sox refuse to lose, taking their seventh decision in eight games with a 6-1 win versus the Peoria Javelinas on Thursday night.

Four Nationals farmhands saw game action, starting with the man on the mound…

Matt Purke struck out the side in the 1st, walked a batter and hit a batter in the 2nd, struck out the side in the 3rd, got K no. 7 with the first batter of the fourth, then democratic with a pair of groundballs. He threw 54 pitches, 36 for strikes in his four no-hit innings for his second win in as many starts.

Brian Goodwin went 2-for-4 with a run scored to improve his BA to .364. The 22-y.o. from North Carolina played LF and made one putout.

Matt Skole started again at 3B and tossed across the diamond twice in the 6th for his two defensive chances. At the plate, he homered for the second time, walked for the fifth time and struck out for the third time to push his triple slash figures to .285/.474/.786.

Robert Benincasa is still in search of his first three-up, three-down inning but laid his first goose egg with a scoreless 9th as he allowed one hit and struck out one to close out the game.

The Solar Sox remain at home as they host the Saguaros this afternoon.

AFL Update: Oct. 17, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-4a
The Mesa Solar Sox smoked the Peoria Javelinas, 3-1 for their sixth straight win yesterday afternoon.

Steven Souza Jr. (pictured above) connected for a two-run single to erase a 1-0 deficit, highlighting Mesa’a three-run 6th. Souza also walked and played right field, where he made two putouts. Limited to two games a week as a taxi squad player, the 1-for-3 effort pushed his average to .364 (4-for-11) and a walk maintained his .500 on-base pct. Our Arizona correspondent/photographer Lee Magenheim caught up with the 24-y.o. outfielder after the game:

Brian Goodwin and Adrian Nieto also saw game action, with the centerfielder going 1-for-4 with a stolen base from the leadoff spot and the catcher going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts out of the No. 8 slot in the lineup. Goodwin made one putout, while Nieto had an assist and nine putouts.

Richie Mirowski made his second appearance, retiring the side in order in the 7th on ten pitches and finishing off the frame with a strikeout for his second hold.

The win improves Mesa to 6-0-1 and opens up a 4½ game lead in the AFL East. Matt Purke is set to take the hill tonight at home against Peoria.

AFL Update: Oct. 16, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-3Sammy Solis won his second start while the Mesa Solar Sox won their fifth straight, taking a 7-4 matinee from the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Solis struck out eight of 15 batters faced while giving up a run on three hits and two walks over four innings. The lone run was a solo shot by Mets farmhand Cory Vaughn (son of Greg, not Mo). The 25-y.o. southpaw threw 68 pitches, 43 for strikes.

Matt Skole got the start at third base, where he fielded a popup in the 2nd and started an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP in the 7th. At the plate, the former Yellow Jacket batted cleanup and went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored a run while taking a pair of walks.

Robert Benincasa (pictured) pitched the 7th inning and gave up a run on a leadoff walk and two singles before getting the aforementioned twin-killing groundball.

The win improves Mesa to 5-0-1 as the Solar Sox travel to Surprise this afternoon to take on Peoria. Matt Purke, who followed Solis in the Mesa rotation last week, is scheduled to start tomorrow night at home versus the Javelinas.

AFL Update: Oct. 15, 2013

Arizona Fall League #3
A four-run 3rd got the ball rolling as the Mesa Solar Sox won their fourth straight, 7-6 vs. the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Two Nationals players were in the lineup, combining for two runs and six total bases:

• Brian Goodwin batted second and played CF. At the plate, he was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a run scored. He was also hit by a pitch. In the field, he made two putouts and fielded two singles.

• Adrian Nieto batted eighth and was the Solar Sox backstop, gunning down two would-be basestealers and finishing with three assists and six putouts in nine innings played. He singled twice in two at-bats batting righthanded, while walking and striking out as a lefty. Overall, he was 2-for-4 with a run scored.

The two teams rematch this afternoon in Mesa, with Sammy Solis scheduled to start for the Solar Sox.

Rendon, Jordan Named To BA’s Eastern League Top 20

Despite both having exhausted their rookie eligibility during the season, Baseball America has named Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Taylor Jordan to its postseason 2013 Eastern League Top 20.

Obviously, both were key injury replacements for the “Big Nats,” in 2013 with Rendon perhaps even displacing second baseman Danny Espinosa while Jordan is a strong candidate to return to the starting rotation next April, with the nos. 4 and 5 spots unsettled for 2014.

Long-term, BA believes No. 9 prospect Rendon’s future could still be at 3B while scouts still type one-handed marvel at the power:

Rendon has Gold Glove abilities at the hot corner and is more than capable at second base. Because of the vast strength in his wrists and forearms, he’s also got the potential for more than 20 homers annually and a solid average.

No. 12 E.L. guy Taylor Jordan was given props for his pitching motion — which is often compared to Angels ace Jered Weaver:

Jordan employs a sneaky delivery that includes long arm action and a stab on the back end. That deception helps his arsenal, [which] includes a low-90s heater with plenty of run, as well as a slider and a changeup, play up.

All total, eight Nationals were named in these top 20 lists, though no prospects were named at the Low-A and AAA levels. Last year, that figure was five, with Brian Goodwin named to the Top 20 of both the Sally League and the Eastern League.

AFL Update: Oct. 12, 2013

Arizona Fall League #6
The Solar Sox remain unbeaten, taking their third straight with a 7-3 decision over the Sagauros in Surprise.

Just two Nationals saw game action: outfielder Steve Souza Jr. and reliever Richie Mirowski.

With no Saturday game this week, taxi-squad player Souza made the most of his playing time on Friday night. He reached base four times (single, double, two walks), scored once, drove in three, and stole three (that’s five in two games). The 24-y.o. batted sixth and played centerfield, but had no defensive chances.

Mirowski made his first AFL appearance in the seventh. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th for the hold and struck out one, throwing 13 pitches (seven for strikes).

Mesa (3-0-1) returns to action on Monday night with a visit to Scottsdale (1-3).

Season Review: 2013 Auburn Doubledays

After two successive division-winning teams in 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition of the Auburn Doubledays hit rock bottom in 2013 with a league-worst 26-49 mark. Of course, to expect that kind of success year in and year out is foolish. But it’s also difficult as a fan to not be disappointed with a last-place finish.

Almost implicit in reviewing a cellar dweller is the hope (mission) of finding something (anything) positive amid the negative (and there was a lot). The trick is do it without looking specious, which seems to be okay in public relations.

Thanks to a small but noticeable shift towards drafting collegiate juniors and junior college players, along with some sizable movement to/from the GCL with pitchers, this edition wasn’t oldest in the league as they were a year ago (or second oldest, as they were in 2011). We can only hope that this trend (the drafting part) continues because, well, I’ve been advocating it in the past two season reviews.

Continuing with the format, gird yourself for the look at how Auburn compared to the rest of the N.Y. Penn League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Auburn 2447 258 563 28 209 518 .230 .302 .315 .215 40
Lg. Avg. 2469 291 597 31 221 570 .242 .313 .338 .225 69

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Auburn 637⅔ 4.23 4.77 1.452 25 256 575 9.5 3.6 8.1 2.25
Lg. Avg. 654⅔ 3.19 3.90 1.249 31 221 570 8.2 3.0 7.8 2.58



The 2013 Auburn pitchers were (slightly) better than their 2012 counterparts. But as you might have already guessed, they were the NYPL trailers in virtually every statistical category but two rather important ones: HRs allowed and strikeouts. They were also a study in extremes — one SP had an ERA near 1.00, another more than 9.00. As a staff, they were bad, but there were some really standout individual performances, which will be discussed below.

The 2013 Auburn batters weren’t the worst in the league, but finished above 10th in just two categories — striking out (4th fewest) and getting hit by pitches (4th most). Kind of brings new meaning to contact hitter, no? Unfortunately, once you factor out the 23-y.o. players, it gets very difficult to find very much positive about this group.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Top 12 hitters in terms of usage. Full statistics for the team can be found here.
(# = 2012 Draft Pick or NDFA ** = DSL Graduate)

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
James Yezzo 21 263 1B 60 .993 4 .206 .071
Isaac Ballou 23 253 CF/LF 44/11 .982 2 .282 .104
Cody Gunter 19 245 3B 59 .885 20 .205 .081
Wilman Rodriguez** 22 171 SS/2B 19/9/9 .945 10 .208 .044
Jean Carlos Valdez** 20 191 3B/1B 15/9 .978 3 .224 .123
Bryan Lippincott# 23 187 LF/RF/1B 18/11/8 .978 2 .277 .181
Cody Dent 21 180 2B/SS/3B 29/21/2 .962 8 .195 .019
David Masters 20 170 SS/2B 19/18/1 .947 11 .175 .059
Matt Foat# 23 169 2B/LF/1B 21/4/1 .956 5 .195 .080
Greg Zebrack# 22 147 CF/RF/LF 28/6/4 1.000 0 .225 .056
Brenton Allen 21 140 LF/RF 33/1 .940 3 .219 .085
Wilmer Difo** 21 136 SS/2B 18/13 .961 5 .214 .116



As aforementioned, just two of these 12 were above the league average for GPA — and both guys (Isaac Ballou, Bryan Lippincott) were 23, which is old for the NYPL no matter how you slice it, dice it, or spice it. It gets a little better when you’re looking for raw power: the Dominican duo of Wilmer Difo and Diomedes Eusebio both showed above-average isolated power, which is not really that big of a surprise as one or both have been “watchlisters” since the beginning.

Defensively, the team was league-average, but a lot of that was dragged down by the team’s left-side infielders, who committed 41 of the team’s 88 errors. First baseman James Yezzo posted a below-average range factor but made just four errors, which is good because as previously reported, he’s a 1B-only project. Missing the cut in terms of usage (89PA), Matt Reistetter gets a mention here as he put up strong numbers defensively (.988FA, 8-for-16, CS-SB) and respectable offensive numbers (.254/.337/.354) — not bad for a NDFA that didn’t start playing until July 24.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed in terms of innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
R.C. Orlan# 22 13/11 1-5, 0 3.65 56⅔ 54 22 47 1.341 2 4 2
L.J. Hollins# 21 23/0 1-4, 6 2.84 44⅓ 45 14 35 1.331 0 4 3
Jake Johansen 22 10/10 1-1, 0 1.06 42⅓ 22 18 44 0.945 1 1 5
Casey Selsor# 23 14/7 0-6, 0 4.29 42 56 14 30 1.667 1 1 2
Joel Barrientos** 19 11/8 1-5, 0 7.08 40⅔ 54 27 24 1.992 6 6 0
Ryan Ullmann 21 8/6 2-2, 0 5.30 37⅓ 52 10 23 1.241 4 2 0
Silvio Medina** 23 19/0 1-3, 0 4.08 35⅓ 33 25 48 1.642 2 5 8
Austin Voth 21 7/7 2-0, 0 1.47 30⅔ 21 4 42 0.815 0 1 2
Jake Joyce 21 20/0 1-3, 2 5.04 30⅓ 37 12 27 1.615 0 3 3
Mike Mudron# 23 19/0 1-3, 0 6.82 30⅓ 43 15 32 1.912 0 2 9
Deion Williams 20 8/8 0-6, 0 9.42 28⅔ 40 17 23 1.988 1 5 2
John Simms 21 11/2 0-3, 1 5.79 28 41 7 31 1.714 0 6 2



It’s not difficult to see the aforementioned standouts (I think Stevie Wonder could) when you look over this dozen. Jake Johansen and Austin Voth had ERAs that began with “1” and WHIPs that began with 0.” As the “top pick in the 2013 Draft,” Johansen gets the press, but Voth had superior peripherals — 12.3 K/9 vs. 9.4, 1.2 BB/9 vs. 3.8, 0.95 FIP vs. 2.77. This, of course, it not to diminish the big Texan but to shine a light on the underrated U-Dub product.

A healthy R.C. Orlan led the staff in innings pitched, followed by L.J. Hollins. While both were 2012 picks, it was the first year in Auburn for them as Orlan missed all of last season with TJ surgery and Hollins was leapfrogged from the GCL to Hagerstown in July 2012 and dropped down after making a single appearance for the Suns in late May 2013. While not outstanding in the traditonal sense, both were better than league average and helped offset some of the woeful pitching that’s also pretty easy to spot.

Finally, two notables that missed the cut: the sole Auburn All-Star David Napoli, who posted a line of 1.14/2.48/1.099 in 23⅔ innings, and 20-y.o. Nick Pivetta, who went 3.38/3.90/1.406 in 21⅓ innings.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS

It was tempting to cut down to a Top 4 or combine arms and bats into a single list (all things I’ve done before and will probably do again), but I’ll stick with the format and note that inclusion here may not necessarily mean 2014 Watchlist status, sample sizes are small, your mileage may vary, etc.

Top 5 Batters
1. Isaac Ballou
2. Bryan Lippincott
3. Jean Carlos Valdez
4. Wilmer Difo
5. Greg Zebrack
HM: Matt Reistetter

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Austin Voth
2. Jake Johansen
3. R.C. Orlan
4. L.J. Hollins
5. John Simms*
HM: Nick Pivetta

* I made a choice like this in 2011 with Christian Meza based on a similar disconnect between ERA (5.79) and FIP (2.38) as well as strong perhiperals (2.25 BB/9, 9.96 K/9) and an unusually high BABIP of .438. Robert Benincasa had a similar mark last year (.409) which normalized this year to roughly .313.

AFL Update: Oct. 11, 2013

The Solar Sox scored five in the 9th on Thursday night to float away from the Rafters for an 8-1 victory.

Matt Purke allowed an unearned run on two hits and a walk while striking out two. He threw 46 pitches (30 for strikes) and was awarded the win after his teammates scored twice in the top of the 4th to take a 2-1 lead.

Matt Skole made his first appearance on defense as he played first base, handling all 12 chances without an error. At the plate, he batted eighth and went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.

Brian Goodwin drove in two on fielder’s choice in the 5th and an RBI single in the 9th, finishing at 1-for-5 with a run scored. He made two putouts as the Mesa centerfielder.

The Solar Sox visit the Saguaros tonight in Surprise to finish their first week of AFL action, as the league will hold the Inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge on Saturday night in Salt River. Steve Souza is scheduled to take part in the “zany home run derby,” details for which can be found here.