Nov 092011
 


For most of you, this list is hardly new. But the blogging protocol is that I needed Baseball America to officially release its list so I could link to it before mocking discussing it. Without further ado, here’s the list from the home office in Durham, North Carolina…

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, RHP
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, RHP
7. Matt Purke, LHP
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS

So what’s with the picture, Sue? Glad you asked. I’ve put the prospects with zero regular-season pro experience in italics. As the old expression goes, when you’re girl watching the prettiest one is the last one to walk by. It’s a crude metaphor, but we all know there’s some commonality here with ranking prospects.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these four isn’t a prospect. It’s just my personal conviction that placing a guy with no professional track record over a guy that does doesn’t pass the sniff test — especially when two of these four have injury issues, one of which we’ve been tracking from afar in the Arizona Fall League. For example: Which Matt Purke is the real Matt Purke — the one that’s turned in two scoreless innings in his last two outings, or the one that threw in-game BP the two appearances prior?

Maybe that’s just a pet peeve, so forgive me for seizing the chance to rant… I’m not as diplomatic as others have been on the subject.

Like last year, the free article focuses a lot on how the Nationals have spent freely and heavily the past three drafts. Two of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” — Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — while a third went down with a season-ending injury (Cole Kimball). Chris Marrero dropped off the list while Cole, Harper, Norris, Peacock and Solis are repeats from last year.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the “best in the system” lists. Harper remains the best power hitter and best outfield arm, but lost the title of “Best Athlete” to Michael Taylor, who was also named as the best defensive outfielder (disagree, but no argument over naming Steve Lombardozzi as the best defensive infielder). Anthony Rendon with his undefined pro average (zero divided by zero) is the best hitter for average and those zero walks drawn have earned him the system’s best strike-zone discipline, topping Derek Norris’s .403 career OBP in 1,815 more plate appearances (OK, so maybe I’m still ranting). Brad Peacock’s curve was named the best in the system while Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole were said to possess the best slider and heater, respectively.

Among the non-Top 10 tools, Eury Perez retains the title of fastest baserunner (Kobernus is close, but Perez has that proverbial fifth gear). Tommy Milone retains the title of best control and takes the best changeup honors away from Josh Wilkie (which might explain why he’s demoted his bender to a show-me pitch). Deion Williams has the strongest infield arm while Sandy Leon was named the best defensive catcher (agreed).

Lastly, here’s where BA thinks these guys will start the 2012 season:
MLB or AAA – Lombardozzi
AAA – Norris
AA or AAA – Harper
AA – Solis
High-A – Cole, Purke
Low-A – Goodwin, Meyer

BA took no guess at Rendon, but my rule of thumb is to take whatever level you think is about right, and drop back one: In this case, Hagerstown instead of Potomac. If he’s as good as advertised, I’ll get to see him in June or July, presuming that field conditions won’t play a factor in promotions as they allegedly didn’t this past summer.

Byron Kerr will be running a series based on his conversations with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America (author of the article linked in the first graf), beginning with Lombardozzi. I encourage you to take a look, as that’s where we learned that the Nigel Tufnel is Destin Hood.

Nov 092011
 

Make that 14 straight games for Bryce Harper, as the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect went 1-for-4 in the Scottsdale Scorpions’ 2-0 win last night.

Defensively, Harper remains a work in progress, committing his fourth error (throwing) while making no putouts in left field.

Likewise, the other Nationals position player to appear in the game, Zach Walters, notched his fifth “E” (fielding) but did have an assist while playing third base. At the plate, Walters was 1-for-3 with a walk, pushing his average to .209.

Matt Purke made another scoreless appearance, but labored through a 21-pitch inning to do it. He allowed a hit and a walk and struck out two. The according-to-BA #7 prospect was credited with a hold for his efforts.

Nov 082011
 

Let’s get this out of the way: AAA is the highest level of the minors, but it’s not where the best prospects are found. (In a related story, there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Great Pumpkin).

Rather than repeat why this is, I’ll refer you to last year’s Syracuse review and summarize it. Triple-A is now primarily where teams keep their marginal players active and ready to fill in holes, and secondarily to finish prospects until they’re ready and/or needed.

The thing that stands out the most for me about 2011 Chiefs is how the likes of J.D. Martin, Yunesky Maya, Craig Stammen, and Garrett Mock might have been part of the DC rotation in April instead of Syracuse just a year or two ago. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reason why the Washington Nationals were a last-place team for three straight seasons before finishing third in 2011. You don’t win with pitchers that would be unlikely to be starting (or even in the majors) for another organization.

Of course, close behind is how four players are now on the verge of “graduating” from prospect status, even with an improved parent club. Under the previous regime, we might have seen Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, and Chris Marrero playing, if not starting, in August (or even July) instead of September. Granted, this might be an apex of sorts, but it’s certainly pleasing to see young talent making it to Washington more on merit than need.

With that, let’s follow the format I’ve been using for the previous season reviews, 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 players who are league-average age or younger (~27) and in the upper half or so in usage (~150PA or ~30IP).
HITTING

PITCHING

To no one’s surprise, the Chiefs were 13th in runs scored and 14th in hits collected, despite finishing 6th in on-base percentage. As you can deduce from the sub-but-not-far-off-from-.500 record, Syracuse allowed the fifth fewest runs and the least walks in the I.L., which was further aided by having the league’s second-best defense both in terms of errors committed and fielding percentage.

Still, the initial reaction I had was that the numbers were better than expected. Instead, as you can see, most were right around the league norms. I think in some ways, this is what doing these season reviews is for: Checking the final numbers to see how the teams really stacked up. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the team was younger than average for both the bats and the arms, even with 28- and 29-year-olds in the starting lineup and rotation (the aforementioned foursome on the verge was the offset).

With that, let’s examine the 27-and-unders that were in the top half in terms of usage for Syracuse. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

The Matt Antonelli fans may be permitted to crow — offensively, he was well above average with a triple-slash of .297/.393/.460. The problem is that those 19 games at shortstop were the first 19 he played as a pro, and he was definitely substandard there. The majority of his career has been as a second baseman, so one has to wonder if he can remake himself as a third baseman. But I also don’t think we should deduce that the Nats didn’t (or don’t) want him back; it might be more fair to presume that he feels like he’s blocked, and certainly it’s his right as a MLFA to go elsewhere on his quest to make it back to the show.

Marrero and Lombardozzi aside (and to a lesser extent, Jesus Valdez and Jhonatan Solano), you’re mostly looking at a collection of minor-league veterans much like Harrisburg. I know Corey Brown has some supporters here, too, but one has to wonder if he’s merely a younger version of Roger Bernadina in the eyes of the front office. As of this writing, there are six open spots on the 40-man roster and not a lot of tough decisions on who to protect (Norris and Moore seem likely to get added, but for all the others a case can be made for exposing them to next month’s Rule 5 Draft). Given Rizzo’s proclivity to protect the guys he’s acquired via trade (*cough, cough* Mock, Chico) coupled with his unwillingness to make a roster move until forced, Brown will likely be “safe” for the immediate future.

There are a lot of names that people might recognize in this group. That’s because nine of this eleven are homegrown. Three of them were in the Nationals rotation in September and will battle for a spot in April. A couple more have bounced back and forth between AAA and MLB, initially as starters, subsequently as relievers. A couple more are probably wondering what they have to do to get that chance.

This time next year, it wouldn’t surprise me if less than half these guys are still with the organization, majors or minors. I’m not even counting Adam Carr or Cole Kimball, both of whom were in the AFL this time last year, pitching their way onto the 40-man after years in the system. Now, they’re both recovering from surgery, perhaps even wondering if they’ve had their Moonlight Graham moment… even if in all likelihood, they’ll be back in Viera next Spring one way or the other.

THE OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Like last year, I have to do a singular list because they’re just simply aren’t that many candidates. Four of them are pretty damn obvious. The fifth may as well be a coin toss, so I’ll let you know who was the “tails” with an honorable mention, then we can discuss in the comments. Without further ado…

1. Brad Peacock
2. Chris Marrero
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tommy Milone
5. Corey Brown
HM: Brad Meyers

Nov 082011
 

After the entire Nats contingent was trotted out last Friday, just two made into Monday’s night contest, which the Scottsdale Scorpions lost, 9-4.

Derek Norris caught and kept his on-base streak perfect at 17 with a 1-for-5 night. No baserunners attempted to steal against him, and he had no errors or passed balls, assisting on a infield roller and registering six putouts on strikeouts.

Zach Walters played third base and went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI double. Defensively, he had no putouts or errors and assisted on four groundouts.

In an upset of near miniscule proportions, Bryce Harper was not named the AFL Player of the Week last week despite hitting .500 with 2HR and 8RBI. Instead, the honor went to Texas’s Mike Olt, who bested Harper by batting .571 with the same HR and RBI totals. Sammy Solis’s 9K over 4IP outing on Friday did, however, garner him the AFL Pitcher of the Week award.

Nov 062011
 

In the made-for-TV showcase AFL Rising Stars game, the West Division beat the East Divison, 11-2, you know, in case anyone truly cares about the score.

Bryce Harper (DH) and Derek Norris both started (C) and played most of the game, which was over early as the Western squad put up 10 of its 11 runs over the first three innings. Naturally, the MLB.com angle is the great hitting, but I’m inclined to believe what John Sickels wrote hours before the game:

The main thing I have noticed here is the poor quality of pitching compared to hitting. In fact, the pitching… I’ve seen has been so bad that [it's] hard to properly analyze some of the hitters.

Full disclosure: I taped the game and just watched the Harper and Norris at-bats this morning. Those five first-inning runs meant no stealing against Norris, so not much to look for in controlling the running game (though he looked steady in fast-forward ;-). Can’t say that I regret choosing to spend the evening in with the ball-and-chain spouse.

Both Harper and Norris were hitless (0-for-2), but both walked once and I think I saw what Sickels meant. Both walks weren’t from pitching around (remember the West was up big), but from missing with the breaking pitches in the dirt. Both hitters’ highlights came from flyballs, with Harper looping an opposite-field flyball to left for sacrifice fly and Norris driving a 396-footer to dead center, missing a solo HR by about three or four feet.

Harper did strike out twice, but that’s hardly news. It was actually kind of amusing to listen to Dave Valle fake his way through some of questions about the length of Harper’s swing (both Sickels and Law have noted it’s been shortened a bit, with Sickels noting he’s not lost any power in the process), gushing instead about his youth and power. Almost made me wish for Tim McCarver to have been there. Almost.

Scottsdale resumes play tomorrow with evening games from Monday to Thursday and afternoon games on Friday and Saturday. Barring rain or a change in the rotation, Sammy Solis’s next outing is most likely to come in one of those day games.

Nov 052011
 

With solid Solis outing, the Scottsdale Scorpions won 9-2, taking back-to-back games for just the fourth time this fall.

Solis threw four shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks. He struck out nine, hitting 94-96 m.p.h. per Mark Zuckerman, and undoubtedly had his new overhand curve working (first spotted by commenter Ernie Salazar) as Solis threw 40 of his 67 pitches for strikes. He was credited with the win.

Solis was followed in the bullpen by his fellow farmhands Pat Lehman, Matt Purke, and Rafael Martin, while Bryce Harper played left field, Derek Norris caught and Zach Walters played third base. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was reported to be in attendance at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which may explain why every Washington player was playing.

Here’s a rundown on how they did…

  • Lehman pitched a scoreless inning, allowing a hit, but walked none and struck out two.
  • Purke threw a 1-2-3 inning with no hits, walks, or strikeouts.
  • Martin also put up a goose egg, giving up a hit, but no walks, and whiffed one.
  • Harper went 1-for-5 (the streak is now 13 games) with a run scored and an RBI, gunning down a runner at the plate and making a putout.
  • Norris’s safety skein was snapped after 10 games with an 0-for-3 game, but drew two walks to keep his on-base streak a perfect 16-for-16 this fall. He threw out a baserunner and had no errors or passed balls.
  • Walters went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts but had two assists.

Harper and Norris are expected to play in tonight’s AFL Rising Stars game, which will be televised tonight at 8 p.m. on the MLB Network.

Nov 042011
 

Baseball America has released its list of minor-league free agents (H/T to John C. for alerting me) and here’s a breakdown by position:

CATCHERS
AAA – Carlos Maldonado
AA – Devin Ivany, Miguel Perez
High-A – Brian Peacock

INFIELDERS
AAA -Michael Aubrey, Tug Hulett, Matt Antonelli, Seth Bynum
AA – Adam Fox, Tim Pahuta, Josh Johnson

OUTFIELDERS
AAA – Gregor Blanco, Jeff Frazier, Jesus Valdez
AA – Buck Coats, Leonard Davis, Archie Gilbert, Jonathan Tucker

RHPs
AAA – J.D. Martin, Garrett Mock
AA – Luis Atilano, Jimmy Barthmaier, Carlos Martinez, Shairon Martis
Low-A – Sam Brown

LHP
AA – Oliver Perez

That’s 26 for those counting, 537 total (up from 534 last year) ranging from St. Louis (7) to the Phillies and Marlins (both 31). Earlier in the offseason, the Nationals signed Adam Carr and Hector Nelo to minor-league deals. I would expect the next transactions post (last week’s covered Oct. 19-24) to have a handful of veterans listed as I think most of regulars can think of some names that we would have otherwise thought would be on this list.

UPDATE
Two BA transactions posts have been up since this went to virtual press and the only FA signing was that for Josh Johnson. Double-checking both MiLB.com and BA (in case they revised like I’m doing now), Chris Rahl and Chris McConnell re-signed during the Oct. 19-24 period while, as noted in the comments, Adam Carr and Hector Nelo re-sgined during the Sept. 20-26 period.

Nov 042011
 

Is it possible that the hype about Bryce Harper may actually be understated? After yesterday’s 3-for-3 outing with two walks, a run scored, a home run, and three RBI, the recycling of the 2008-era Matt Wieters facts is certainly a possibility. Oh, wait – too late.

Now the question turns to whether or not Bryce Harper can make the 2012 Opening Day rosterfor Washington, not Syracuse. Well, it’s not really a question so much as sportswriters doing what they’re paid to do: write about what’s on their minds while simultaneously catering to their readers.

Bloggers do the same, even if they’re not paid, and so I’ll repeat what I usually write when folks get too excited about a prospect. Wait until the league gets a second crack at him. In this environment, that’s probably not going to happen. There are less a dozen games left on the slate and Harper will sit for some of them. So we’re looking at a winter of heightened expectations.

The more intelligent question: If this kind of performance isn’t unexpected, why should plans change? Those, if you’ll recall, were for Harper to master every level (well, except maybe for High-A, but I digress) before he makes it to The Show. For all his offensive prowess, folks also need to be reminded that Harper has only played outfield full-time for one (1) season.

I do think there are some tea leaves that can be read from his continuing appearances in left field (all 37 games in Harrisburg, for example). Could Harper spend the first two months of the 2012 season delaying his Super Two eligibility honing his defensive skills? Absolutely.

Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about GM Mike Rizzo, it’s that whenever there is a scenario in which something can be plausibly denied, it will be. It has mystified me, by the way, why Rizzo gets the pass from the fans even if he shares that trait with the departed Stan Kasten.

P.S. Zach Walters also appeared in yesterday’s game, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored while playing first base in relief of injured Phillies prospect Darin Ruf, who was removed from the game after trying to beat out a groundout to short. Walters made an error but also made eight putouts. Scottsdale won the game, 10-6. Sorry to bury it so deep, but therein lies my ambivalence with young Mr. Harper.

Nov 032011
 

Derek Norris gave ammunition for both his fans and his haters in a 5-4 Scottsdale loss last night.

The 22-year-old went 2-for-5 at the plate with a run scored and two RBI, extending his hit streak to 10 games. Behind the dish, he allowed a passed ball in the 5th, committed an error while attempting to throw out a runner in the 7th, then gunned down a runner in 9th. The “stuck at .210″ catcher is now batting .358 but is down with OBP (yeah, you know me) at .446 clip.

Zach Walters played third base again and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but drove in a run via the sacrifice fly. He had no defensive chances.

Pat Lehman turned in another scoreless inning, allowing a hit but striking out two and walking none. MASN’s Byron Kerr has the story on the adjustment that pitching coach Paul Menhart helped Lehman make.

Rafael “La Ligua Cerveza” Martin turned in an identical line to Lehman’s, lowering his ERA to 2.25 in his sixth appearance this fall.

The Scorpions rematch against the Saguaros this afternoon in Peoria.