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.

Oct 292011
 

Bryce Harper homered for the third straight game in a 9-5 win by Scottsdale over Salt River, just the second time this fall the Scorpions have won consecutive games in consecutive days.

Harper also drew a walk and scored two runs for his 1-for-4 game. He drove in two with home run #4 and struck out twice while playing left field (no putouts, errors, or assists). The hit extended his streak to nine games.

Derek Norris was the designated hitter and extended his hit streak to seven games with single in the 7th inning. He drew a walk but struck out three times for his 1-for-4 game.

Zach Walters played third base and snapped an 0-for-10 skid with an RBI double in the 4th. He later drove in runs a la Homer Simpson (HBP) and via sacrifice fly to finish the game 1-for-3 with 3RBI. Defensively, he had two putouts and an assist.

Sammy Solis is expected to make his fifth start tonight as the Scorpions rematch against River Rafters to close out the week.

Oct 282011
 

Ho hum. Another day, another four RBIs for Bryce Harper.

Granted, the last three did come on a walkoff home run that turned a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 win for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Harper went 2-for-5 overall while once again playing left field. Defensively, he was charged with his third error of the fall on an errant throw but made three putouts.

The news was not all good though as Matt Purke had yet another rough outing, giving up three runs on four hits in the 5th inning. He walked none but struck out one and also threw a wild pitch. As the old saw goes, you know things are going bad when such an outing lowers a pitcher’s ERA — from 30.86 to 29.70

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Brad Peacock was chosen the best AA starter in the 2011 MiLBYs, minor-league baseball’s desperate attempt to feed the PR beast postseason awards. It’s the second award given to a Nationals farmhand since its inception in 2005, when it was known as “This Year in Minor League Baseball Awards,” with Tyler Moore named the best Class-A Advanced hitter last season.

In transaction news, the Nationals have released Johan Rodriguez (GCL) while resigning veterans Chris McConnell and Chris Rahl. Rodriguez appeared in 66 games over two years in Viera, but posted an OPS of just .510 while committing 20 errors on defense. McConnell and Rahl were both key cogs for the Senators in 2011 and will likely be asked to be role players in either Harrisburg in Syracuse in 2012.

Oct 272011
 

Bryce Harper drove in four of the five Scorpions runs, but it wasn’t enough to prevent another Scottsdale loss, this one by a 10-5 count to Mesa.

Harper connected for his second AFL longball, a three-run shot in the top of the fourth that sliced the Solar Sox lead to 8-3, and singled in the sixth. He drove in Derek Norris for his fourth RBI with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. Harper once again was in left, and made three putouts.

Norris, however, was not as adept defensively yesterday with two errors and a passed ball (though he did catch a runner stealing). But like Harper, Norris has found his groove at the plate and was also 2-for-3 with a run scored. He drove in none, but walked once and struck out once.

Conversely, Zach Walters still appears to be overmatched, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout while playing third base (one assist). The 22-year-old is 1-for-17 over his last four games with six strikeouts and no walks.

Rafael Martin made his fourth appearance, tossing two scoreless innings while allowing just one hit. He walked none and struck out one, lowering his ERA for the AFL to 1.50.

Scottsdale plays host as the two teams rematch this afternoon, then Scorpions hit the road to face the Rafters tomorrow night, then return home for another matchup against Salt River to finish out the week on Saturday.

Oct 262011
 

There are some parallels to the 2010 season and the 2011 season for the Potomac Nationals. Both teams started slowly…VERY slowly, getting into offensive funks that saw both teams get shut out seven times. The 2010 edition finished the first half at 31-39, ten games behind Frederick; the ’11 guys were 29-40 and twelve games behind the Keys at the break.

Given that the core of the team was the 2010 Hagerstown Suns that faded fast in the second half, it was natural to think that a second-half rally was unlikely, particularly since it seemed rather unlikely that much come in the way of reinforcements. The whispers that Bryce Harper would skip the level turned out to be true, but what the team really needed at that point was pitching.

Oddly enough, both the hitting and the pitching did improve in the second half with basically just one starter (Solis) and one reliever (Holland) added to the mix. But while 2010 was largely the hitting getting much better down the stretch, the story of the 2011 second half was the stabilizing of the pitching. Essentially, it went from league worst (5.01 team ERA on June 1st) to slightly higher than league average (3.79 vs. 3.77) the rest of the way.

Coupled with an improved offense (4.00 R/G before July 1, 4.44 after), the P-Nats turned in a 39-31 second half that became good enough to win second-half Northern Division title when the Keys lost the last three regular-season games (and eight of the last ten). Thanks to league bylaws, Frederick’s 39-31 mark down the stretch still earned them the home-field advantage in the first round of the Mills Cup playoffs. That turned out to be the difference as the Keys beat the P-Nats 3-2 for the fifth game and 3-2 for the series to send Potomac packing and end any hopes of defending the 2010 title.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 edition stacked up against the rest of Carolina League…
HITTING

PITCHING

Having watched these guys day in and day out, I was bit surprised to see that the team finished third in walks drawn — in my mind, there were only a handful of players that seemed willing to take the walk, and too many that weren’t. But those that did walk, walked a lot (Francisco Soriano and Steve Souza were 2nd and 3rd in walk rate for players with 200+ PA in the Carolina League).

That 215 steals led the league by 63 and was the most by the team in its affiliation with Washington and the most in the league since the 2008 Wilmington Blue Rocks. They were only caught 66 times, which works out to an efficiency rate of 76.5 percent. Yes, Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus accounted for the bulk of it (88 steals combined) but even big men such as Souza (25) and Destin Hood (21) stole 20+ bases. The thievery helped offset the team’s lack of doubles, but otherwise, this squad was mostly right around league averages. Not bad when you consider the position players were the second-youngest in the league.

As aforementioned, the pitching went from horrid early to serviceable late. They still finished last in nearly every rate or total statistic, but let’s not forget that the Carolina League tends to be a pitcher’s league despite the launching pads in Frederick and the Salems. For those that may have missed it or were wondering, the Pfitz usually comes out neutral in ballpark-effect studies.

You can argue over how much of it came from reshuffling the deck and removing failed starters from the rotation (Mitchell Clegg, Marcos Frias, Trevor Holder) or how the unsung work of swingmen (Adam Olbrychowski, Evan Bronson) filled in the gaps, or how the team’s top two starters improved over the course of the season — one steadily (Danny Rosenbaum), the other in fits (Paul Demny) — but the bottom line: it did get better.

Now, in our little dance, we take a look at the Top 12’s for the batters and pitchers in terms of PAs and IPs.
Full statistics for the team can be found here. (* 2009 Draft Pick, ** DSL Graduate).

I chose to highlight the ’09 picks and DSL grads to illustrate the counterpoint to drafting ‘em young: It takes time. In this subset, there are four ’08 picks (Hood, Higley, Lozada, and Ramirez) and fifth that was traded for (Dykstra). Only one 2010 position-player draft pick saw playing time, and that was four games before his shoulder went out (Rick Hague) — two, if you want to count Zach Walters.

What I personally like about High-A is that it’s the true litmus test for a prospect. I’ve seen varying percentages that break down once a prospect plays at level X, his chances of ever playing in MLB are now Y, but almost all of them jump from single digits to double digits when it comes to High-A vs. AA. Anecdotally, I can tell you that this where many players stall: The bridge over the Susquehannah in Harrisburg may as well be the bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem, so to speak. Seems like every April I fill in the lineups and think to myself “This guy is still here?” — and the thought occurs on both sides of the scorebook.

So while some folks have expressed great dismay over the lack of development of some guys, it bears repeating that this happens all the time. And in my mind, that disappointment is offset by guys breaking out (Hood) and/or shaking off the proverbial primates (Kobernus). Not to mention my personal favorite: seeing a pitcher start to “get it.”

How’s that for a segue?
Just to expand upon what I wrote earlier, Olbrychowski was terrible as a reliever but found his groove as a starter (5.63 vs. 3.71 ERA) and the reverse was true for Frias (1.67 vs. 5.06). Bronson was actually better as a reliever when you look at the season as a whole, but unlike Olbrychowski and Frias, kept bouncing between roles (and levels) until he was given a spot in the rotation in mid-August and turned in quality starts in two of his four starts down the stretch.

Demny, as aforementioned, improved over the course of the season but take a look at the ERAs by month:
April – 2.08, May – 6.93, June – 2.55, July – 8.42, Aug/Sep – 2.72. He’s young (22 in August), throws hard (~93-95), and durable (100+ IP the past three seasons). Clearly, he made his adjustments and the league adjusted back, but you have to like that he was able to rebound not once but twice from rough patches of pitching.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS
The upside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys the most. The downside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys so much. Looking over last year’s season review I can see that invariably, I’m either going to overvalue some guys as a fan (e.g. Chris Curran), and undervalue others in an effort to overcompensate for being a fan (e.g. Tyler Moore last year). So bear that in mind as I fire from the hip and make the lists that folks love so much…

Batters
1. Destin Hood
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Steve Souza
5. Justin Bloxom
HM: Zach Walters

Pitchers
1. Danny Rosenbaum
2. Sammy Solis
3. Paul Demny
4. Josh Smoker
5. Marcos Frias

Oct 252011
 

This has not been a good fall for Pat Lehman. The 25-year-old was charged with his third loss and first blown save in an 8-4 loss by the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Lehman was greeted with a single and an RBI double in the sixth before he got his first out, a grounder to short. A stolen base and another singled plated the second run of the inning and turned the Scorpions’ 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit. Lehman finished with two runs allowed on three hits with no walks and no strikeouts.

Sammy Solis put in his longest outing this October with five innings pitched. He walked just one while giving up two runs on four hits, throwing 44 of his 63 pitches for strikes — an encouraging sign after a 37-for-67 outing last Tuesday.

Derek Norris continues to swing a hot bat, doubling and homering while drawing a walk. He also drove in a run via a sacrifice fly. His 2-for-2 afternoon moves his batting average to .333 for the fall, his three times on base has lifted his OBP to .429, and the six total bases moves his slugging percentage to .576.

Finally, Zach Walters was the designated hitter but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Oct 242011
 

As promised, here’s a look at how the Nationals are doing in the various winter leagues, starting with the Arizona Fall League. All statistics as of October 23rd as 2:19 a.m. EDT.

AFL HITTERS





AFL PITCHERS






DWL HITTERS




DWL PITCHERS





VWL HITTERS







VWL PITCHERS





MWL PITCHERS




For the most part, the numbers here aren’t stunning, but most of us can’t help but look, even when we know that none of the players here will get enough at-bats or innings to make an meaningful conclusions.

Oct 232011
 

Zach Walters’ two-run shot in the top of the 8th broke a 4-4 tie as the Scottsdale Scorpions scored five times over the final two innings for a 9-4 win over the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

Walters had been 0-for-4 for the afternoon and finished 1-for-5 with a run scored and two RBI. Defensively, he played third base and had a putout, an assist, but made his second error.

Derek Norris went 1-for-3 and walked twice and had 11 putouts (all Ks) while playing catcher. Phoenix did not attempt to steal a base.

With the win, Scottsdale’s record stands at 5-11. This week it’s home-and-home games against Peoria, Mesa and Salt River with night games on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

Oct 222011
 

Friday was not a good day for the Nats pitchers in the AFL, as they gave up 12 runs in a 13-8 loss by Scottsdale to Surprise.

Matt Purke made his first AFL start but, as the pic suggests, was knocked around and retired just one of the eight batters he faced. The final damages: a third of inning pitched, seven runs, one walk, no strikeouts, and five hits given up, including a two-run homer.

Pat Lehman took the loss, his second of the AFL campaign, with five runs charged to him in one and a third innings. He pitched a scoreless sixth, but gave up all five hits in a stretch of six batters in the seventh, suffering one error behind him but also committing a balk.

Rafael Martin let in two of those runs charged to Lehman on a two-out double but pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning for a line of one and two-thirds innings pitched, one hit, no runs, one walk, and one strikeout.

Just one Nats bat was in the lineup, and yes, it was Bryce Harper. He wowed the scouts by pushing a bunt to second baseman and getting down the line in 3.83 seconds, according to Keith Law (times on bunts are always lower than a full swing, but consider that 4.1 seconds is considered “above average”). It was his sole hit in a 1-for-4 afternoon, in which he also walked and scored a run. Harper played left field and made three putouts.

Oct 212011
 

Another light afternoon for the Nats farmhands in Arizona Fall League as the Scottsdale Scorpions fell for the 10th time by a 4-1 count.

Bryce Harper returned to the lineup and went 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout while playing left field, where he made two putouts. After 10 games, Harper is working a .211/.302/.395 line.

Zach Walters was the designated hitter but went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, lowering his triple-slash stats to .200/.250/.267.

Scottsdale finishes out the week with afternoon tilts against Surprise today and Phoenix tomorrow.