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.

Nov 022011
 

For some, the memory of the 2011 Harrisburg Senators will not be how the team took first place in late April and won the division, leading nearly wire-to-wire, despite losing its ace pitcher, its all-star second baseman, and its #3 hitter to promotions and a trade. Nope. It will be this and the wondering if things might have turned out differently if that hadn’t happened.

The more painful reality is that probably didn’t make that big of a difference. The Flying Squirrels won 13 of 21 regular-season meetings and just seemed to have the Senators’ number whenever they matched up. They lost eight of their last 11 games, scoring more than two runs just three times, and scored a total of three runs in three playoff games. Simply put: The Senators were cold going into a short series against a team they had trouble with even when they were playing their best baseball.

This is not to dismiss the disappointment — it’s funny to me to see proclamations each September about how winning in the minors is overrated… or underrated, though it does seem to depend on how your organization is doing at the time — but to remind folks that it was quite a journey to get to the playoffs, as one of our contributors first wrote on this site a few weeks ago.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 Harrisburg team compared to the rest of the Eastern League, shall we?
HITTING

PITCHING

The Senators were 9th in runs scored despite leading the league in home runs. Likewise, they were 11th in on-base percentage but third in stolen bases and triples. It’s an unusual combination, though I think we’re seeing a trend across the organization when it comes to running (GCL, 5th; NYPL, 3rd; Sally, 3rd; Carolina, 1st) and getting on base (6th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd). Unfortunately, the closest player to possessing both skills is Steve Lombardozzi, so the folks reading this site looking for the answer to the problem with Ian Desmond at leadoff might be disappointed.

Pitching was this team’s strength, as they were first in strikeouts and WHIP, second in ERA, walks and HRs allowed, third in runs allowed. The defense wasn’t so bad either, finishing fifth in terms of percentage and seventh in terms of errors committed, and second in terms of stolen bases allowed. Admittedly, some of this can be chalked up to the veteran nature of the pitching staff (e.g. Erik Arnesen, Oliver Perez), but it should be noted that 24-year-olds (the league average age) accounted for 31.5% of the innings thrown and 62 of the 142 games started. Until the likes of Wirkin Estevez, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray come to town, an older pitching staff is probably going to be the norm for the forseeable future.

Now, let’s drill down to the Top 16’s for the batters and pitchers — an expansion from the Top 12’s so as to include notables such as Bryce Harper and Erik Komatsu as well as Danny Rosenbaum and Pat Lehman. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

Now when I say that we’re hurting for age-appropriate position prospects at AA and AAA will folks believe me? Just six of the Top 16 batters were 24 or younger. This is why when I see folks elsewhere chiming that the farm has been rebuilt, intimating the job is complete, I cringe. It’s true that three of those six are likely to be in DC by Opening Day 2013, but need I remind folks that unfortunate incidents occasionally occur?

Age aside, you can see from the totals that the team compensated for its low OBP with some serious slugging (.316 ISO for Dolla?!) while nearly everybody was a decent fielder and/or had above-average speed — perfect complements to the aforementioned veteran pitching.

Lastly, in case anyone was wondering… 18-year-old Bryce Harper “struggled” to only reach the league averages for the triple-slash rate stats, hitting it on the nose for OBP and SLG, and missing BA by .003. I’m not prone to fanboy one-handed typing, but that’s pretty damn impressive.
Quite a few extremes, no? That’s part of the reason I like to drill down to the individual stats: Because the guys that were good, were really good — offsetting the guys that weren’t up to snuff, though one thing I did notice is that nearly all of the high ERA guys had significantly lower FIPs (e.g. Ryan Tatusko, 5.94 ERA, 3.97 FIP), which make sense with a team that’s in the upper half of the league in terms of defense.

Like the hitters, one gets the feeling that Washington is building the uppermost levels of the farm to be interchangeable between AA and AAA, creating an environment in which prospects bubble up to the bigs while surrounded by veterans. That’s just what jumps at me when I look at this list of guys that seemed to be either 24 or 27. Of course, that inference could be drawn into a comic like this.

OBLIGATORY TOP FOUR LISTS
That’s no typo. I just can’t pick a #5 for either the batters or the pitchers with a straight face. I’m already including a couple of guys that may be voting for president next year for the third time. Pat McCoy, Stephen King, Erik Komatsu, Tanner Roark are the requisite ages, but none really had that good of a season. I’m already sure that next week it’ll be a Top 5 for the entire Syracuse team (that’s what I did last year), but I felt like doing that here and now might be misconstrued. This is what I mean when I say that the rebuilding job is not complete: There simply aren’t 10 guys at the so-called marquee level of prospects that fit the bill.

Batters
1. Bryce Harper
2. Derek Norris
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tyler Moore

Pitchers
1. Brad Peacock
2. Danny Rosenbaum
3. Brad Meyers
4. Pat Lehman

Nov 022011
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions got off the schneid while AFL Rising Stars Game participants Bryce Harper and Derek Norris both extended their hit streaks in a 6-4 win over the Peoria Javelinas.

Like yesterday, Harper hit safely in his first two at-bats to extend his hit streak, which now stands at 11 games. He singled in the 1st and bashed a two-run HR in the 3rd and finished the game 2-for-4 with 2RBI, a run scored, and a strikeout. He played LF again and had one putout.

Norris was the designated hitter and went 1-for-3 to extend his hit streak to nine games, driving in a run on a 1st-inning groundout and also drawing a walk (#10 in 14 games). His OBP is now .450, sixth-best in the AFL.

Zach Walters was the third National to appear in the game, playing third base, where he had an error and an assist, and went 1-for-3 with a strikeout at the plate.
                                          #                                     #                                     #

Harper and Norris were both named to the AFL East squad for the 2011 Rising Stars game, a de facto all-star game that will be televised live on the MLB Network at 8 p.m. this Saturday night. Neither player was named last year, as former farmhand Michael Burgess and Cole Kimball were Washington’s representatives in the 2010 game, which the Western division won 3-2.

Nov 012011
 

Two trends continued on Monday — Scottsdale lost while Bryce Harper hit safely (2-for-4, 2RBI).

The Scorpions led twice in this one, as Harper extended his hit streak to ten games with a two-out RBI single in the 1st that gave the Scorpions a 2-0 lead. He tied the game with an RBI double in the 4th, an inning in which Scottsdale reclaimed the lead at 4-3. Defensively, Harper made one putout and had no assists or errors.

The Scorpions ‘pen coughed up three in the 6th to give back the lead and single runs in the 8th and 9th innings as they would go on to lose this one by a count of 9-5. After 22 games, the Scottsdale record stands at 7-15 with an elimination number of seven. The defending champions are dead last in ERA, runs allowed, runs scored, hits, and total bases.

Zach Walters was the only other National to appear in the game, flying out to CF in the bottom of the 8th and playing 3B in the top of the 9th with no defensive chances.

Oct 312011
 

Our weekly look at the Nationals players in the Winter Leagues continues, with all statistics as 12:59 a.m.
on October 30, 2011.

AFL HITTERS





AFL PITCHERS






DWL HITTERS





DWL PITCHERS




VWL HITTERS







VWL PITCHERS





MWL PITCHERS




      The hot streaks by Derek Norris and Bryce Harper certainly take the edge off the numbers as they looked a week ago. Chris Marrero has finally gotten into a couple of games for the Licey Tigers, while it appears a couple of farmhands have been buried in the famously malleable rosters (or released — hard to tell with the sparse/uneven online coverage).

The Puerto Rican League starts up on Friday, which as previously reported, seems to be absorbing a lot of the Americans that would have otherwise gone to Mexico, while the Australian Baseball starts up on Thursday. Neither league has much in the way of rosters, so we’ll have to wait until the games begin to see who surfaces in the boxscores.

UPDATE: One notable name that came to light after the above images were cut* was Shairon Martis, who took the loss in his first VWL start after giving up two runs on one hit (a home run) while walking four and striking out three over five and a 1/3rd innings yesterday.

*The current theme isn’t terribly friendly to HTML tables; creating images of the tables instead has been my workaround.

Oct 302011
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions couldn’t make it three in a row, falling 4-3 to Salt River.

Derek Norris pushed the safety skein to eight games (hey, that rhymes!) while going 2-for-5 with a strikeout. Defensively, it was a mixed bag: a passed ball, 1-for-2 in runners caught stealing.

Sammy Solis scattered five hits over four innings, but needed 71 pitches to do it. He walked two and allowed an unearned run (Norris PB) while striking out five.

Pat Lehman ended his in-game BP tendencies with a scoreless inning — his first in more than three weeks — retiring all three batters he faced in the 6th, two by way of the K.

Unfortunately, Rafael Martin’s fifth appearance was marred by a 9th-inning solo HR that gave the Rafters its fourth and deciding run. Martin was tagged with the loss and had no walks and no strikeouts.

It’s a five-game this week as the AFL holds its “Rising Stars” game on Saturday, which will be televised on MLB Network at 8 p.m. Rosters are expected to be announced on Tuesday.