Nov 132012
 

A pair of crooked numbers in the 5th and 6th innings broke open a 2-1 game as the Salt River Rafters doubled up the Mesa Solar Sox, 8-4.

Ryan Perry got the win with a run (solo HR) on three hits given up over four innings, along with three walks and two strikeouts. Perry struggled to find the plate with just 35 of 67 pitches going for strikes.

Matt Skole once again batted third and played first, stroking two singles, drawing two walks, driving in two (including a sac fly) and scoring twice to push his numbers to .321/.429/.554. Defensively, the Georgian racked up eight putouts without an error.

Anthony Rendon shook off Saturday’s oh-fer with a pair of doubles and a walk to improve his line to .319/.488/.686. Rendon played third but had no assists or putouts.

Cole Kimball was scorched for the second time in three outings, surrendering three runs on two hits two walks over an inning and 2/3rds. He did strikeout three, but his ERA ballooned to 4.85 and the 27-year-old has as many walks (8) as strikeouts (8) in 13 innings this fall.

The win puts Salt River in the driver’s seat for a spot in the AFL Championship game on Saturday, as the Rafters lead the AFL East by 2½ games with three to play. They can eliminate second-place Scottsdale with a win today as the two teams meet at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick this afternoon.

Nov 122012
 

The unexpected success of the 2012 Washington Nationals — those of you who really, really thought they’d win 98 games: How’s the weather today in Colorado? — was fueled in part by the ability of the 2012 Syracuse Chiefs to supply the parent club with replacements when the injury bug bit this year. Carlos Maldonado, Jhonatan Solano, Corey Brown, John Lannan all contributed in spots when needed, while Tyler Moore became a bench player and some teenager became a starter.

The past two Syracuse reviews have alluded to the new world order of AAA — a place for replacements more than a last stop for prospects. As the Nationals cross the rubicon from also-ran to playoff contender, I expect the Chiefs to continue to get older and more experienced, resembling the likes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pawtucket, and Lehigh Valley more than Toledo, Louisville, and Indianapolis.

I hope that we’ll also see longtime Nationals farmhands be part of that equation, but as we saw last December, that might be too much to wish for.

With that, let’s follow the format… taking a look at the team vs. the International League, then drilling down to the players. The one difference, however, is I’ll focus only on the Top 10 players who were 27 or younger (i.e. league-average age) with significant usage (~100AB, 17G). Full statistics for the team can be found here.
HITTING

PITCHING
 As a 70-74 record would suggest, Syracuse was indeed a team that was middle of the pack: pretty much 6th or 7th in virtually every offensive category, 7th in terms of fielding percentage and errors committed, and mostly 7th in all the pitching categories. The exceptions were pitching walks and strikeouts, both of which were the fewest in the league, and complete games and shutouts, which were the most in the league. With all the comings and goings — a total of 64 players donned the Chiefs uniform (including this fugly getup) in 2012 — this is about the best you can reasonably expect.

Let’s take a look at the age-appropriate batters…
For those wondering, Bryce Harper had just 84PA and rather unimpressive line of .243/.325/.365 in 21 games. It’s certainly proof that these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, and if you believe the prospect gurus, a pound in the short-season leagues.

Like last year, and even with with the 28+ folks filtered out, you’re still looking at a collection of veteran minor-leaguers with a handful of prospects mixed in. Unfortunately, only one of those is in his first go ’round in AAA (Eury Perez). Zach Walters missed the cut with 105PA, but both he and Perez are both likely to return in 2013, perhaps with a collection of voodoo dolls to facilitate a call-up.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Corey Brown and Carlos Rivero. Brown, who turns 27 in a couple of weeks, has been stuck at Syracuse now for two seasons. Rivero, who had the kind of comeback year that nicely fits the “change of scenery” narrative, seems likely to be back, too. Joining him may be Chris Marrero, who’s probably wondering what might have been for 2012 had he not gotten hurt in winter ball. It’s a stretch (pun most definitely intended) to think that he might have had the season Tyler Moore had (given his defensive limitations), but he’d certainly be in a better position than he is now.

On to the pitchers…
  A year ago I semi-predicted that half of the age-appropriate Chiefs pitchers would no longer be in the organization. Thanks in part to the Gio Gonzalez trade, that turned out to be true. That may very well be true next November, too, though a strong portion of that will simply be because they’ve either aged out or have been granted free agency.

As aforementioned, I expect another wave of FAs to fill out the Syracuse staff. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of the Harrisburg pitchers moving up (my guess: the Ryans Tatusko and Perry) and harder to project anyone other than Christian Garcia making the parent club out of spring training. Of course, that’s not as harsh as that reads when you stop to consider that doing so means cracking the staff that led the National League in ERA and FIP was second in runs allowed.

It’s been a leitmotif while doing the 2012 season reviews that the organization’s strength has shifted from pitchers to position players. Perhaps I’d feel differently if so many weren’t hurt or have had surgery. No. 1 below ought not to be 27 years old and coming off not one but two UCL replacement surgeries, but it’s emblematic of the state of Nationals pitching in the minors… and he certainly looks like a candidate for the 25-man roster next April.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Heavy emphasis on the obligatory… As you can see below, these are basically the five guys that either haven’t been ranked previously or have time on their side. Garcia has already been covered. The next three will be 25 by next July but only one of them was fully healthy all season long (Rivero). The last turned 26 last month and could potentially be picked next month in the Rule 5 draft (Lehman). This is when my policy of not naming guys to multiple levels (a.k.a. double-dipping) doesn’t look so good.

1. Christian Garcia
2. Carlos Rivero
3. Chris Marrero
4. Erik Komatsu
5. Pat Lehman
HM: Corey Brown

I struggled over whether or not to name Corey Brown yet again. Has he been stuck at Syracuse due to circumstance (i.e. he’s a younger version of Roger Bernadina)? Is he still with the organization only because Mike Rizzo admits his mistakes as readily as Karl Rove? Or is he indeed the dreaded “4A” player? He turns 27 in two weeks, and may not be on the 40-man next week, but I’ll give him the honorable mention because while he may not be a bench or platoon OF for Washington, he could be for another team.

Nov 112012
 

What's With The Flowers? Click to find outSalt River scored five unanswered runs in the final three innings for an 11-5 win over Phoenix that stopped a three-game skid.

Brian Goodwin and Jason Martinson sandwiched the top and the bottom of the Rafters’ batting order. Goodwin, who made two putouts in centerfield, went 1-for-4 with two walks and two runs scored. Martinson hit safely for the fifth straight game, smacking an RBI double, drawing two walks, and getting away with a two-out steal of third. He had no defensive chances.

Aaron Barrett had another 1-2-3 inning, breezing through the eighth inning on six pitches with two groundouts and a strikeout. The 24-year-old Hoosier lowered his ERA to 2.70 and has nine strikeouts in 10 innings this fall.

Salt River’s win kept pace with Scottsdale, which broke its five-game slide with a 4-3 win over Surprise. The two teams remain separated by a game and a half in the AFL East with just four games left — including a head-to-head matchup on Tuesday afternoon.

Nov 102012
 

The Solar Sox scorched the Rafters for two in the 7th to break a 4-4 tie and held on for a 7-5 win, sending Salt River to its third straight loss.

Four Nationals saw game action:

  • Brian Goodwin was the DH and went 1-for-5 with an RBI double, a run scored, but whiffed twice.
  • Matt Skole also had an RBI double and drew a walk while going 1-for-3. He handled all four defensive chances without an error.
  • Anthony Rendon saw his 10-game on-base streak snapped with an 0-for-4 effort and two strikeouts. Defensively, he had a putout and two assists.
  • Cole Kimball went two scoreless innings and allowed a hit and a walk while fanning one, with 17 of 27 pitches thrown for strikes.

Scottsdale lost its fifth in a row, and still trails Salt River by 1½ games with five games left to play and just one more head-to-head matchup (Tuesday). The Rafters finish the penultimate week of the 2012 AFL season with a game against Phoenix this afternoon.

Nov 092012
 

Salt River rallied for three in bottom of the ninth, but it was too little, too late as the Surprise Saguaros handed the Rafters a 4-3 loss.

Just two Nationals made it into the game…

…Anthony Rendon moved up to the No. 2 spot and went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, hitting safely in eight of nine and extending his on-base streak to 10 games. Defensively, Rendon had no official chances but got a glove on an infield single and a double to left field.

…Paul Demny was the first man out of the ‘pen but was greeted with an RBI double to let in an inherited runner in the 5th, then gave up another double to lead off the 6th; the run scoring two batters later on a sacrifice fly. The final line was one run on two hits, no walks, and two strikeouts over an inning and a third.

Despite the loss, Salt River held on to its 1½-game lead in the AFL East, thanks to Scottsdale’s fourth straight loss. The Rafters host the last-place Solar Sox this afternoon, while the Scorpions head for Phoenix to face the Desert Dogs.

Nov 082012
 

Matt Skole’s two-run homer in the 5th broke open a 4-3 game as Salt River ultimately spoiled Surprise, 8-3.

An inning later, the 23-year-old struck again with a two-run single for a total of four RBIs while going 2-for-4 to boost his line to .300/.410/.540 for the fall campaign. Defensively, he was error-free at first, handling all seven chances.

Brian Goodwin remains hitless since the Rising Stars games, but still scored a run and hit a sacrifice fly from the leadoff spot. He manned center field and caught three flyouts.

Jason Martinson spelled Anthony Rendon third base and hit safely for the fourth straight game. The fellow Texan doubled and scored a run, but also struck out twice.

Aaron Barrett pitched the eighth and pounded the strike zone (7-of-8) while setting down the side in order, lowering his ERA to an even 3.00.

The Rafters win combined with a Scorpions loss opens up a 1½-game lead in the AFL East for Salt River with seven games to play. The two teams rematch tonight with the Rafters playing host.

Nov 072012
 

Powered by Anthony Rendon’s 3-for-3 evening, the Salt River Rafters reclaimed first place in the AFL East with a 14-12 win over the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Rendon singled, doubled twice, scored twice, stole a base, drew a walk, delivered a baby between innings and drove in four while batting seventh and playing third base. The outburst improved the 2011 first-rounder’s line to .317/.411/.467. Defensively, the 22-year-old snagged another foul pop for his only putout.

The other Nats were not so fortunate…
• Brian Goodwin led off and was the Rafters DH, but went 0-for-3 with a walk and was hit by a pitch.
• Ryan Perry got the start and was stung for four runs on five hits and a walk over three and 2/3rds innings, giving up two home runs.
• Cole Kimball gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits and no walks, and struck out one over two innings. He was charged with a blown save.

Salt River and Scottsdale rematch next Tuesday, still separated by a ½ game in the AFL East with eight games left in the season.

Nov 062012
 

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, ans some will move on. Without further ado…

CATCHERS
AAA – James Skelton

INFIELDERS
AAA – Mark Teahen, Jarrett Hoffpauir, Manny Mayorson, Jim Negrych
AA – Tim Pahuta, Seth Bynum
High-A – Brent Greer

OUTFIELDERS

AAA – Jason Michaels, Jesus Valdez
Low-A – Angelberth Montilla

LHPs
AAA – Atahualpa Severino
AA – Michael Ballard, Cory VanAllen

RHPs
AAA – Erik Arnesen, Mitch Atkins, Jeff Fulchino, Waldis Joaquin, Mike MacDougal
AA – Jimmy Barthmaier, Kevin Pucetas, Zech Zinicola
High-A – Adam Carr
Low-A – Wilson Eusebio

That’s 24 this year, down slightly from last year’s 26. Overall, some 549 players became FAs, up from 537 last year and 534 in 2010. This year’s first-time free agents include Nats 2006 draft picks Arnesen, VanAllen, Zinicola, ’06 IFAs Montilla and Eusebio (originally signed by Pittsburgh), and a 2004 NDFA (Severino).

Earlier this offseason, the Nats resigned veteran backstops Carlos Maldonado and Jeff Howell. It’s possible that one or two others have been signed, as the last transactions post from Baseball America covered the period of Oct. 16-23, and the granting of free agency took place on November 3rd.

UPDATE
As predicted, there were a couple of organizational soldiers re-enlisting in the latest transaction post from Baseball America:
• OF Chris Rahl
• IF Josh R. Johnson

Also in that dispatch, the signing of RHRP Francisco Samuel, a turning-26-in-December former prospect from the St. Louis organization who was released this past March after posting a 12.21 ERA in an injury-shortened 2011. If you haven’t guessed it by now, when healthy the Dominican throws in the mid-90s (touching 98), piles up the K’s (11.4/9IP) but has had control problems (career 8.6 BB/9IP) and an array of injuries (hip, lat).

Nov 062012
 

A seven-run 4th proved to be too much for Salt River to overcome as the Rafters dropped a 10-7 decision to the Javelinas. It was Salt River’s third straight loss, and AFL West-leading Peoria’s third straight win.

Three Nationals saw game action:

• Matt Skole batted third and played first base, going 0-for-4 with a walk while making seven putouts and two assists on defense.
• Anthony Rendon hit sixth and manned third base. He drew two walks and scored a run, but went hitless in two ABs to halt his hit streak of six games. He caught a foul pop in the 4th for his sole defensive chance.
• Paul Demny pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning, needing just 11 pitches to retire three batters.

The loss drops the Rafters to 11-10, but with a loss by Scottsdale they remain a ½ game behind the Desert Dogs in the AFL East with nine games left to play.

Nov 052012
 

Going into the Eastern League All-Star Game, Harrisburg was 48-40 — good for second place in its division, having had an eight-game win streak broken with a 4-1 loss on July 9th.

It would be nearly a month before the Senators won back-to-back games again.

They went 16-38 in the second half, falling from second place to fifth place by the end of July for their worst finish (64-78) since the ghastly 2007 edition that went 55-86.

Injuries, as you might expect, were a factor. Twenty-nine-year-old Tim Pahuta led the team in games played with 121. Starters Destin Hood, Chris Rahl, and Jeff Kobernus — none of whom were promoted — played in 94, 92, and 82 games respectively. But as Geoff Morrow pointed out in his final of four segments on the team, the inability to hit when it mattered most is what truly killed the Senators in 2012:

The Senators’ .202 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position wasn’t just dead last in the 12-team EL, it easily ranked last among all 30 Class AA teams (including the Southern and Texas League teams). Their .239 average with runners in scoring position was last in the EL and 28th overall.

Perhaps that might be enough said, but let’s do the dance anyway, starting with how Harrisburg’s team totals compared to the rest of the Eastern League:
HITTING

PITCHING

Not too hard to figure out what the problem was. The pitching wasn’t great, a notch below the league average. But the hitting was atrocious — 11th in runs, RBIs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Take away the power from graybeards Pahuta and Jimmy Van Ostrand and the legs of Eury Perez and Kobernus, along with Rahl who provided both, and this team would have probably finished 11th or 12th in HRs and SBs, too (somehow, they finished dead-last in doubles).

Perhaps more disturbing is looking at the pitchers by age. As a group, the 24 and unders were 28-32 with two saves, but with a 4.92 ERA and 1.492 WHIP over 488⅓ innings. Contrast that to the 26+ group, and you get marks of 20-29 and 12, 4.13 and 1.335 over 468⅓ innings. The league average age was 24.5, so when you add in the 25-year-olds, those numbers improve to 44-49, 27 and 4.22 and 1.399 over 775 innings.

The problem is that those 25-year-olds were 16-17, 25 and 3.01 and 1.238 over 286⅔ innings. That’s pretty good, but look at who those pitchers are: Erik Davis, Ryan Perry, Hector Nelo, Trevor Holder and Brian Broderick. In other words, guys that for the most part either were or should have been in AAA. Maybe it’s just an anomaly, but it’s something I noticed that I thought was worth passing along.

Now, a look at the Top 14’s — my semi-arbitrary cutoff in order to capture the most notable — for the position players and pitchers. Full statistics for the team can be found here.
Were it not for the injuries, we might have seen a slight improvement in terms of more plate appearances going to age-appropriate players. Jeff Kobernus, for example, might have gotten the bump to Syracause that went to Zach Walters instead — he was hanging a .306/.355/.341 line in July after struggling for much of May and June. Destin Hood probably would have played the whole year for the Senators, but can we write off both the declines in power and patience to his being hurt?

As it was a year ago, the lack of walks is really striking. Without the likes of Derek Norris, Bill Rhinehart, and Josh Johnson, it’s especially noticeable. It’s a testament to Brian Goodwin that he led the above group with a 9.7% walk rate and an indictment on the several players that didn’t break 7.0%. With another wave of free swingers coming from Potomac (Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon excluded), it’s something to watch for in 2013 and beyond.
The story of 2012 for the Harrisburg pitchers was Danny Rosenbaum. His overall numbers aren’t so bad, but that’s a function of arithmetic. After eight starts, he was 5-0 with a 0.62 ERA with six walks, one home run allowed and two complete games, only one of which required more than 100 pitches (109). Halfway through the season (13 starts), he had fallen to 7-2, 1.94 with 13 walks and three HR allowed over 88 innings. After that, the wheels fell off the bus — 1-8 with a 6.54 ERA and a 1.693 WHIP in his final 13 starts.

How much of that is the league adjusting to Rosenbaum and him not adjusting back is up for debate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart offered a clue in this dispatch from Geoff Morrow’s Sunday column in early July, noting that a lot stemmed from frustration, which in turn led to pressing, which even the casual observer knows leads to grooved pitches. Morrow would continually note via Twitter during Rosenbaum’s starts about how much more hittable he’d become as the season progressed.

As noted above, other age-appropriate pitchers struggled. Paul Demny, who had made 98 starts between April 2009 and July 2012, was moved to the bullpen in August. Robert Gilliam was dropped down to Potomac after failing as both a starter and a reliever. Marcos Frias saw his usage cut in half while his ERA rose nearly two runs before and after the All-Star break — though some of the innings drop may be attributable to Ryan Tatusko, Pat McCoy and Davis, all repeating the level, excelling in middle relief and leaving Frias the odd man out.

OBLIGATORY TOP EIGHT LIST
As much as I hate combining lists, with just two pitchers to list, there’s not much else to be done.

On to the caveats… Hood still has time on his side (turns 23 in April), Kobernus doesn’t (turns 25 in June); but both are getting the benefit of the doubt due to injury… Rosenbaum is still left-handed, mechanically sound, and durable (76 starts, 6.19 IP per from ’10-’12)… There are reports that Demny has a lost a some m.p.h. off his fastball (high 80s vs. low-to-mid 90s) in the AFL, but those are likely to come back with a shift to the bullpen… Bloxom plays a position in which the organization is not deep and can switch-hit… Ryan Perry has already made 156 appearances as a major-leaguer (by definition, a prospect must also be a rookie)… and, of course, Brian Goodwin has already been picked (#1 position player for Hagerstown).

1. Eury Perez
2. Sandy Leon
3. Zach Walters
4. Destin Hood
5. Danny Rosenbuam
6. Paul Demny
7. Jeff Kobernus
8. Justin Bloxom