Oct 172012
 

The Salt River Rafters and Phoenix Desert Dogs played to a 3-3 tie over 11 innings last night.

Three Nats farmhands played in the contest:

  • Brian Goodwin was the DH and led off, but went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.
  • Matt Skole batted third, played first base, and went 1-for-3 with two walks.
  • Aaron Barrett tossed two scoreless innings, giving up two hits, but striking out three

Defensively, Skole played error-free in nine chances and even turned a 3-6-3 DP — not bad for a guy new to the position.

Barrett was the subject of Byron Kerr’s latest missive on the minors, but I have a feeling folks might be more interested to learn that Kerr has confirmed what has long been suspected: Matt Purke has had shoulder surgery.

I’ve put in a couple of questions regarding a couple of other pitchers (Josh Smoker, Manny Rodriguez), though I suspect one or both has been released and the other, if not released, has had surgery.

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Winter leagues have begun in Venezuela, Mexico and the Domnican Republic over the last few days. The Australian Baseball League begins its preseason tomorrow, regular season in 10 days while the Puerto Rican League starts three weeks from tomorrow. I’ll begin weekly updates on the stats for all the offseason leagues starting next week. In the meantime, here’s a look at the Nats players that have been spotted thus far (excluding players that did not play in the Washington minors this past summer):

Venezuela Dominican Republic
• Carlos Rivero • Manny Mayorson
• Tanner Roark • Erik Davis
Mexico • Pat McCoy
• Zech Zinicola • Kevin Pucetas
• Hassan Pena • Atahualpa Severino
Oct 162012
 

Lost in the big club’s playoff run late last week was the announcement from Baseball America for its International League Top 20 prospects. Coming in at #20 was the formerly enigmatic Christian Garcia.

Garcia was first spotted here last August, a line item if were he not a former New York Yankee farmhand (hence the post, natch). After a stellar two-level 2012 (combined 2-1, 0.86 with 21 saves), Garcia was first named to the Arizona Fall League, then pitched well enough as a September call-up to earn a postseason roster spot.

From the BA Scouting Report:

Garcia brings frontline-starter stuff to the back of the bullpen… starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that touches 97 regularly. His curveball was better earlier in his career but still has late break and some power in the low 80s. His changeup has late sink and has become his best secondary pitch. He throws all three pitches from the same arm slot and with similar arm speed.

It should be noted that while there’s chatter about Garcia returning to the rotation, the Nationals carefully monitored his workload in 2012, working him on back-to-back nights just twice. Much will obviously depend on how things turn out in the offseason, though the guess here and now is that Garcia will stick in the ‘pen where he can contribute in 2013 in DC versus going to back to starting where he’d have to be stretched out in Syracuse over several weeks (i.e. how Ryan Perry was dropped down a level when the decision was made to make him a starter this past summer).

Oct 162012
 

Matt Skole’s two-out, two-run single in the 10th snapped a 2-2 tie and ended a… wait for it… two-game losing streak as Salt River triumphed 4-2 over Phoenix yesterday afternoon.

The hit was Skole’s third of the game as the 23-year-old went 3-for-4 with a walk, a double, and two RBI as the Rafters’ DH, batting fifth in the Salt River lineup.

Scoring on the Skole’s game-winning safety was Brian Goodwin, who led off the 10th with a double, his second of the game, as the North Carolina native went 2-for-5 five with two runs scored while playing left field, where he made two putouts.

Anthony Rendon singled and stole a base, extending his hit streak to a modest four games, though he also struck out three times while going 1-for-5 batting behind Skole. Washington’s 2011 first-round pick had a busy game at third base, snagging a liner and assisting four times on groundouts to first.

Cole Kimball’s second outing of the fall was a much better effort as the 27-year-old stranded a runner in the 4th and struck out two in the fifth, retiring all four batters he faced, with 10 of his 13 pitches thrown for strikes.

The two teams rematch tonight, switching venues from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Oct 152012
 

For the second straight season, the Auburn Doubledays won the Pinckney Division and racked up a .600+ winning percentage. Alas, for the second straight season they fell short of the league championship, losing in the Divisional round this year instead of the Finals last year, two games to one.

As the year prior, the lion’s share of the Doubledays roster was 2012 draftees — seven of the top 12 batters in terms of PAs, five of the top 12 pitchers in terms of IPs. This, of course, is a product of the Washington focus on drafting collegiate players (26 of 40) in general and seniors in particular (16 of 24 signees). Not to, um, beat a dead horse, but my stance from last year that the Nats should consider drafting more HS players in light of the large number of 22-24-y.o.’s in the system remains the same.

That the parent club is now in a window of opportunity that has come sooner than most reasonable people would have expected (most of the “Natmosphere” pegged them winning about 85-87 games) solidifies that opinion. In other words, the organizatiom can afford to spend more time developing a hidden gem rather than playing it safe and hoping that a collegiate player can be pushed from a serviceable backup to an everyday player.

Continuing with our format, let’s examine how Auburn compared to the rest of the N.Y. Penn League…
HITTING

PITCHING

Like last season, the 2012 Auburn Doubledays could hit, leading the league in runs scored, hits, and batting average and were second in on-base percentage and slugging. They weren’t quite as proficient in stealing bases in terms of quantity, but were successful nearly 79% of the time, a slight dip from last year’s insane rate of 85.5 percent.

On the flip side, however, the pitching needed all that offense because it wasn’t up to snuff: 10th in runs allowed and hit batsman, 13th in ERA and home runs allowed, 14th in hits allowed. There are a couple of caveats worth noting. Just two starting pitchers were below league-average in terms of ERA, though it should be noted that a couple pitchers had huge ERA-FIP differentials, which is not uncommon in short-season ball, and roughly a half-dozen pitchers had better than a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

I’m listing the Top 13* hitters and pitchers in terms of plate appearances and innings pitched and using defensive games played for the listing of position. The full statistics for the team can be found here.
(# = 2011 Draft Pick   ** = DSL Graduate)   *One extra because the #13 guy on both lists is worth noting

There is really little to complain about when it came to the offense — 10 of these 13 were above league average in GPA (link for those unfamiliar) and seven had isolated power rates (likewise) above the norm. Yes, you can write off some of this in the aggregate to age, but this was true last year and that carried over to Hagerstown this year (as predicted).

Defensively, the team was middle-of-the pack with one rather notable exception: catchers. Kieboom and Manuel (along with third-stringer Andruth Ramirez) combined to throw out 45% of the runners that attempted to steal against them and allowed a league-low 38 in 76 games, which is phenomenal when you consider how many opportunities teams had to run against them. Plus, the trio committed just six errors (four by Ramirez) for an aggregate fielding percentage of .991.

It’s not all sunny though, as we move along to the pitchers…

To be sure, there are some bright spots to be found here. Robert Benincasa’s outstanding walk and strikeout rates (1.2 BB/9and 12.3 K/9 for a ratio of 10.67 to 1) Derek Self’s 2.50 FIP, Nick Lee and Blake Monar’s HR rates (0.29 and 0.16 respectively). But you can also see a some high walk totals and as aforementioned, the team gave up the second-most HRs in the league. There are also quite a few innings there thrown by middle-relief/swingmen that had ERAs close to 5.00 (121⅓ between Medina, Waterman and Fischer, which sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?).
OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
For the third straight year, I was able to make it to an Auburn contest, albeit a single game in Aberdeen. Still, this mostly sight-unseen, like the GCL and DSL and prone to the same problems that lead to the same misjudgments in rankings. For example, I put Bryce Ortega ahead of Matt Skole last year and didn’t rank Nathan Karns as a Top 5 for Auburn (though in my defense, Karns had a WHIP of 1.473 over eight starts after blowing through the GCL). So I expect to be wrong on a couple of these, too (hence the honorable mentions, natch).

Top 5 Batters
1. Estarlin Martinez
2. Wander Ramos
3. Brandon Miller
4. Shawn Pleffner
5. Mike McQuillan
HMs: Spencer Kieboom, Narciso Mesa

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Nick Lee
2. Robert Benincasa
3. Derek Self
4. Brett Mooneyham
5. Pedro Encarnacion
HMs: Ivan Pineyro, Cody Davis

Oct 142012
 

The Rafters pitchers had few surprises as the Saguaros pounded out 20 hits en route to a 10-2 win yesterday.

Potomac and Hagerstown teammates Aaron Barrett and Jason Martinson were the only two Nationals to see game action.

Martinson batted sixth as the DH and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

Barrett pitched the 7th inning and was knocked for two unearned runs on three hits, tossing 23 pitches with 15 going for strikes.

With the loss, Salt River falls to 3-2 and has the day off today. This week it’s a pair of games against Phoenix, Peoria, and Scottsdale with home games on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Oct 132012
 

A pair of two-run rallies in the middle innings sunk the Salt River Rafters for a 4-0 loss on Friday.

Five Nationals minor-leaguers got into yesterday’s game:

  • Brian Goodwin led off the first with a walk, but went 0-for-3 with a strikeout for the game. He caught two flyballs in left field.
  • Matt Skole also drew a first-inning walk and singled in the 8th, going 1-for-3 overall. He committed his first error at first base, but also took part in two double plays, a traditional ’round-the-horn and a 4-3-4 where Skole helped catch the runner on second trying to sneak over to third.
  • Anthony Rendon singled in the second and a drew a walk in the 7th, finishing 1-for-3. Defensively, he was the “5” on the 5-4-3 DP.
  • Cole Kimball retired just one of the five batters he faced, walking the bases loaded in the 5th and letting in two runs on Skole’s error. He threw 20 pitches, seven of which were strikes.
  • Paul Demny relieved Kimball and stranded the two runners he inherited, but also struggled with his control with 12 of 28 pitches missing the zone. He walked two and gave up two hits over two and two-thirds innings.

Salt River falls to 3-1 with the loss and finishes up the first week of the AFL with an afternoon game at the Surprise Saguaros.

Oct 122012
 

The Salt River Rafters walked off with a two-run rally in the 9th for their third straight win on Thursday night, 6-5.

Brian Goodwin led off the the final frame with a solo shot to tie it at 5-5. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon drew a walk to load the the bases and set up the game-winning single by White Sox first baseman Andy Wilkins.

Goodwin would finish the night at 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI while batting out of the #9 spot in the lineup. Rendon walked twice, scored once, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI double. He was #3 in the lineup and #5 on the defensive chart, taking a grounder to third in the 9th for his only defensive chance.

Ryan Perry got the start for the Rafters, but was touched for two runs on four hits and two walks over three innings. He threw 55 pitches, 31 for strikes and faced 14 batters with three strikeouts, three groundouts, a lineout and two flyballs.

Salt River and Scottsdale rematch tonight in the Scorpions’ home field at Scottsdale Stadium.

Oct 112012
 

Ed. note: Another on-the-ground report from frequent commenter TBRFan.
Yesterday’s game was not very good for the Nats’ farmhands, losing 7-0 to the Astros’ minor-leaguers.

The Nats were never seemingly in this game, and you could tell that they were ready to go home, as this was the last game of the instructional league program. Even the umpires were “late” to the show, pulling in on a utility vehicle through the centerfield wall at exactly 10 a.m., the players waiting on the field for them to show up. Since the bats did little or nothing, I’ll focus on the pitchers.

Taylor Jordan pitched the first two innings. He allowed two singles and a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the first. In the second, he gave up a double, with that runner scored on a crazy broken-bat single with flying shards of wood that almost cleaned out the entire Nats’ coaching staff, who were sitting in folding chairs outside of the dugout. The Nats were able to nail him trying to stretch it into a double. Jordan struck out the next two to finish his outing strong.

Robbie Ray pitched the 3rd and 4th innings, giving up a HUGE home run. The Houston batter put it about 30 feet past the 404 mark on the left-center field wall, nearly hitting the team bus while traveling through a bunch of palm trees. Ray also notched two K’s, with one coming when he was down in the count 3-0, and walked one.

Pedro Encarnacion pitched the 5th and 6th innings, giving up no runs and only allowing one single. He got a big caught-looking whiff in the 6th. The batter was not pleased and stood in the box for a good 10 seconds before slowly moving out.

Kylin Turnbull pitched in the 7th, and the wheels started to fall off the bus for the Nats — single, error, infield single, sacrifice hit… it just kept on coming as the ‘Stros tacked on their fifth run.

It got no better in the 8th with Michael Boyden pitching. He got two flyouts to start, then a double, a walk, and a two-run triple. It wasn’t pretty.

By the 9th inning, the sidearm pitcher Hollins came in and closed out the game, giving up a double to the first batter, but getting a fly ball that send the runner to third and then stranded him there with tapper back to the mound and a grounder to third.

As for hitting, as previously mentioned, the bats were mostly silent: two-out singles for starters Michael Taylor and Adrian Sanchez; a walk and a leadoff double for Randolph Oduber; a one-out single for Tony Renda in the 7th and a leadoff walk for Shawn Pleffner in the 9th.

For anyone that is a minor-league baseball fan, I still believe the instructional league is where you want to be. I was one of TWO fans, the other a retiree from Orlando – nice guy! Cheering is, well, not really needed –- if you let out a hoot or holler, EVERYONE hears you. Plus, there are no foul balls to be had. Players collect them up and throw them back on the field. Players not in the game? They shag foul balls, sing songs, mock the other players, run the radar guns, chat with other players, or play batboy (really)! Heck, they were mowing the grass today during the game. Imagine pitching to the sound of the leaf blower coming out of the tunnel.

For the purists/junkies, it’s almost like a “field of dreams” type of game. You see all the players you love, minus all the screaming kids, drunk fans, and people that are just disinterested in what’s going on. Today’s game had NO scoreboard, NO music, no concessions. If you don’t keep score, you’d have no idea the inning, score, anything. It’s just a game… and that’s the way (at least in my little world) it should be.

At the end of the game, the coaches gave a pep talk, told the players to clean out lockers and turn in their gear. And that was it… the players went out the same gate I did, and they walked the 200 yards to the training complex and went home. I was delighted to get a thank-you and a wave from a bunch of players that recognized me from the games I attend at Memorial Stadium. That’s why I keep coming, and cross my fingers for each of them to get a taste of the big leagues some day.

Oct 112012
 

Highlighted by back-to-back homers from Arizona’s Matt Davidson and Washington’s Matt Skole, a four-run first propelled the Salt River Rafters to an 11-3 win yesterday over the Mesa Solar Sox.

Three Nationals farmhands saw game action:

• Brian Goodwin led off and played centerfield, going 2-for-5 with a walk and two runs scored, including a solo shot in the 9th to cap off Salt River’s offensive onslaught.

• Skole was a triple shy of the cycle with a single and a two-RBI double in his subsequent ABs, finishing the game at 3-for-5 with a walk and a run scored and three RBI while batting fifth.

• Jason Martinson served as the DH, but went 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout while batting ninth.

Defensively, Goodwin had no chances while Skole made his professional debut at first base, catching three groundouts and committing no errors. As noted in the game story on the AFL site, Skole had made 37 errors in 172 games at third base over the past two seasons — a fielding percentage of just .916.

Ryan Perry is expected to take the hill tonight as the Rafters host the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Oct 102012
 

Editor’s note: Frequent commenter TBRFan is Florida and here are some observations from yesterday’s Nationals-Braves game, which the Nats won, 6-2

I showed up at noon for what I had been told was a 1 p.m. and it was already in the 4th inning. There were about five fans and eight-to-ten scouts; the rest were players and grounds crew. The most entertaining part of the day was the scoreboard crew (yes, this time there was a scoreboard!) playing Earth, Wind and Fire between innings, which drew rave reviews from the Nats coaches, who were saluting their caps to the booth and dancing on the field (Tony Tarasco, in particular, had the hips a-swingin’). A close second was the home plate umpire calling a balk on a Braves pitcher, and the Atlanta coaches from yelling from the dugout “it’s instructional league, let it go man!” which drew some chuckles.

So let’s get down to what I saw…
The Braves had NO names on their jerseys, and there were no rosters to be had. The inning I got there, a #50 for ATL was pitching, and he was throwing pitches so hard you’d think he was going to break the catchers hand. Control was good and within reason for this level.

Nick Lee was the pitcher in the top of the 5th, he got a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout with a wicked hard* slider that froze the batter and got “ooohhh’s” from the minimal crowd. I was impressed with what I saw, considering Luke’s report of not Lee being a hard thrower. The catcher’s glove was popping from his pitches.*Original wording, and an excellent New England-style double adjective. Very smahht.

Batting in the bottom of the 5th, Tony Renda laid down a nice bunt to get to first. Mike McQuillan walked. Destin Hood doubled to score Renda while McQuillan took third. Kevin Keyes struck out swinging for the first out. Michael Taylor had a sac fly to center, then Caleb Ramsey walked. Raudy Read then grounded out to third to end the inning, the Nats now up 3-1.

In the 6th, Stephen Perez walked, then Wilmer Difo had a sacrifice bunt. Renda got a RBI ground-rule double over the right fielder’s head that was hit a TON, but Perez was stopped at third. Mcquillan got a sac fly to plate Perez, then Estarlin Martinez blooped double to left that drove in Renda. Keyes got a walk, which I like to see for the big guy, then Randolph Oduber came up and struck out to end the inning. The Nats scored twice in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.

It was Miller time in the 7th, as Brandon went into LF and Justin went behind the plate. Offensively, they walked and doubled to push the sixth and final Nats run across. After a strikeout, a walk put runners on 1st and 2nd, but a the Nats flew out and grounded out to strand two and go up 6-1. The eighth was also a 1-2-3 affair for the Nats.

After Lee, Casey Selsor pitched the 6th and part of the 7th. He gave a walk and a HR to account for the second Atlanta run and was pulled with one. Robert Benicasa followed, getting two quick outs to finish the inning. He struck out the first batter in the 8th, but then loaded the bases with a walk and two singles. Derek Self ended the threat with a double play to end the 8th but then proceeded to create a one-out jam of his own in the 9th with a hit batsman and a single before rolling two groundouts to end the game.

Justin Miller caught the last three innings of the game and had some the growing pains you’d expect from a convert to the position, but was otherwise serviceable. Keyes caught everything that was thrown his way. Surprisingly, there were no errors during the six innings that I saw.

Next up: the Nats vs. the Astros.