Oct 052011
 

Believe it or not, the 2011 GCL Nationals were actually younger than the 2010 edition, which wasn’t exactly a tough achievement. As frequent commenter VladiHondo pointed out, this is largely due to the infusion of players from the D.R. — four bats, three arms — with Deion Williams as the sole American-born teenager.

Despite being nearly a year older than the league average (21.1 vs. 20.4), the G-Nats pitchers were the league’s worst at 5.74 R/G and that goes a long way towards explaining the 20-33 mark. The bats weren’t as proficient as last year’s edition (which led the league), but were fifth-best and pretty close to league average in terms of age (20.0 vs. 19.9).

Breaking it down statistically vs. the rest of the league…
HITTING

PITCHING

A word about the “adjusted” totals… The G-Nats played the fewest games in the league (53) so I adjusted the numbers to the 58-game average for the league. Otherwise, I might say something like “well, they didn’t strike out as often” when in fact, they did. Unfortunately, that would also make the defense the league-worst in terms of total errors committed (actual 111, adjusted 122), which most of you probably already deduced from that huge gap between the team’s ERA and R/G allowed.

Like most losing teams, there are still bright spots to be found when looking at the team individually. The catchers, for example, threw out runners at a 34% rate, which was fifth-best in the league. As I did last year, I’m listing the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2010 or 2011; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2010; Players with an octothorpe(#) are IFAs. The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Unlike last year, none of the batters below the cutoff were 2011 draft picks that were bumped up. Just one notable batter was sent north that couldn’t be considered a rehab (Carlos Alvarez) and two of the remaining 12 batters were 2010 draft picks that were essentially demoted — Rick Hughes (in-season from Auburn) and Chad Mozingo (began and ended in the GCL after playing in Vermont in 2010).

Three of the Top 12 were repeaters from 2010 — Martinez, Ramos, and Rodriguez — with another two bats graduating from the DSL to begin the season (Mesa, Valdez) and a third coming up midseason (Difo). Two IFAs were placed here (Severino and Peguero) instead of in the DR. This is consistent with 2010 usage and placement, which means you’re likely to see Martinez and Ramos in Auburn, and Severino and Peguero repeating. What the Nationals do with Mesa, Valdez and Difo is certainly up for debate. That at least one of those three will repeat the GCL in 2012 is probably not.

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
(**- = Repeat after demotion from Auburn to start year; ^ = Non-Drafted Free Agent; *** = Third Year at GCL)

My first instinct was to skip over Chico and McGeary as “rehabs” until I decided that their usage was emblematic of the GCL season. Had I done that, another NDFA (Scott Williams) and a 38th round draft pick (Nicholas Lee) at 13⅓ and 13 IP, respectively would have made the list. Just one (1) 2011 draftee was among the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched while the four most used pitchers were all repeating the level, including two that began the year in Auburn but were subsequently dropped.

As aforementioned, the pitching was ineffective. Whether you want to write that off to spring-training usage or spring-training mentality is one thing, but one thing’s for sure, it makes no sense to have separate…

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
…for the bats and arms of the GCL. Instead, a simple Top 5 with some honorable mentions should suffice.

1. Wander Ramos
2. Estarlin Martinez
3. Narciso Mesa
4. Wilmer Difo
5. Gregory Baez

Honorable Mentions: Arialdi Peguero, Jean Carlos Valdez

Oct 042011
 

If you think that’s a contrived headline that does a disservice to Brad Peacock and Derek Norris while attempting to leverage a certain prospect’s “juice” to get more attention… you got me!

But it’s been done before, you know.

Harper, of course, was ranked as the #1 Prospect in the Eastern League by virtue of the .256/.329/.395 line he put up in 147 plate appearances with the Harrisburg Senators. As aforementioned, Brad Peacock (#4) and Derek Norris (#12) were the other two Sens to make the list. Will, however, Peacock be another two-fer with the International League’s Top 20? We’ll find out on Friday (unless BA flip-flops its schedule for a third time).

Harper, Norris, and Peacock were all teammates on the 2010 Scottsdale Scorpions, who begin their title defense tonight against Surprise. No, really: They’re playing the Saguaros.

Norris and Harper are back, along with 2010 teammate Sammy Solis, 2011 draftees Matt Purke and Anthony Rendon, and fellow Senators Rafael Martin and Pat Lehman. Zach Walters is listed on the roster without a number, a strong indicator that he is — as commenter Ernie Salazar first noted (H/T) — on the taxi squad.

As before, some highlights from the BA scouting reports…
Harper has excellent strength and bat speed and near-legendary power. He refined his two-strike mindset and learned to spread out and let balls travel deeper, an approach that culminated with a game-winning, 450-foot homer over the batter’s eye in center field against Trenton on Aug. 12. He does have some excessive movement in his swing that gives scouts and managers pause while grading his hit tool, though his fearsome presence ensures that he’ll draw plenty of walks.

Using a fastball that sat at 91-94 mph and touched 97, Peacock was leading the league in strikeouts when he departed for Triple-A in mid-July. He commanded the pitch much better this year than he had in a seven-game EL trial in 2010, thanks in part to working with Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin on keeping his front shoulder closed longer. The adjustment also added to his deception.


Though scouts still consider Norris an offensive catcher, he has improved defensively, so much so that his bat doesn’t completely have to carry the load. His receiving still needs polish, as evidenced by his 15 passed balls, but he doesn’t box nearly as many pitches as he used to. He’s refined his throwing technique and used his average arm strength to throw out a league-best 40 percent of basestealers.


Harper, of course, skipped Potomac so I have nothing to add or detract to the BA report. Methinks there are few other folks that might have an opinion that’s been written elsewhere.

Having watched Peacock last summer and in his September callups, I still maintain that his success as a starter will hinge upon his breaking pitches, particularly the changeup. Next spring should be fun as he, Tommy Milone and Ross Detwiler will be battling for a spot in the rotation.

As we’ve seen in the comments here and on Nats Insider, Norris inspires strong opinions on his future as a catcher, with his supporters pointing to his OBP and SLG and his detractors pointing to his PB and BA. I personally suspect that most of the Norris naysayers have never seen him for more than a game or two (if at all), but would also argue that most of his fans (disclosure: myself included) have seen him a lot and simply like his cut of his jib, as it were. He’ll be 23 in mid-February so time is still on his side, but the “should he shift to first base” question will be with us all winter long, I suspect.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Purke has replaced Rendon on the AFL roster per Adam Kilgore’s post this morning in Nationals Journal.

UPDATE #2: A couple of tidbits from the BA chat, which speak to some of the comments thus far:

Q: [JC (VT)] How much of Derek Norris’s contact issues can be traced to lingering effects of his wrist injury?
A: [John Manuel] Not sure we can blame that anymore, we have a two-year sample size of Norris not hitting for average, and the scouts and managers I talked too attributed it more to not knowing when to be aggressive and when to be selective. I ranked him as high as I did because they all like his swing, athletic ability and improved defensive ability behind the plate. He went from being an American League player to a legit option at C, though his defense is still such that he’s going to have to be an offensive catcher. He’ll never be a plus defender, it seems.

To repeat for the folks that haven’t been reading all along… Norris moves extremely well for his size and IMO, a switch to 1B would not take nearly as long as it did for Marrero.

Q: [Matt (West Chester, PA)]: I was surprised to see Peacock get grouped together with Turner and Banuelos, let alone rank ahead of both. Considering Peacock’s year and development, has his ceiling jumped from #3 to #2?
A: I really like Peacock a lot, and gave him the edge because of my single-minded (probably to a fault) emphasis of guys pitching off their fastball. Peacock went through lineups three times using mostly his heater. I like his fastball command…[it’s] electric… and he’s a good athlete. I like him as a future No. 3 starter, which is convenient as he slots in behind Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman[sic].

Manuel goes on to say that Peacock has “average” fastball command, but I believe he meant it in terms of MLB average, not AA prospect.

Last but not least…

Q: [@Jaypers413 (IL)] If you’re Nats management, do you start Harper back at Harrisburg come April, or bump him to Syracuse?
A: I’m not sure why you wouldn’t include Washington as an option there. He’s probably the best CF in the organization, and I bet they are tempted to put him there. More likely they get a CF this offseason (they made a run at Denard Span in July), keep Harper on the corners and start him back at Harrisburg.

Just when I was starting to have my love/hate disdain with BA dissipate, that first sentence in Manuel’s answer reminds me that I can both respect them and mock them as I see fit ;-)

Sep 302011
 


BA flip-flopping its schedule (again) made for a busy day yesterday… and messed up my plan for having a daily post today. So I’ll pass along some stories that separately wouldn’t warrant a post separately.

…It’s no secret that the Nationals are unhappy with the arrangement in Viera, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the gall to ask for $700K in improvements to Space Coast Stadium. I think most of us don’t much care so long as they stay in Florida for spring training. My personal guess is that they’ll go in with the Mets or Astros on a new or upgraded facility.

…Steve Lombardozzi was the winner of the revived Rawlings Fielding Awards for minor leaguers for his time as the Harrisburg second baseman (though I’m sure his performance at Syracuse didn’t hurt).

…The Arizona Fall League is coming up on us quick. As in next week. MASN’s Byron Kerr files this story as a preview of the action to come. Yours truly will provide AFL updates just like last fall. Still no word on who the taxi squad players for the Nats, if any, will be.

Sep 292011
 

Well, the announcement came a bit sooner than previously reported, but the news is good: Destin Hood (#12) and Sammy Solis (#13) joined the ranks of the players anointed by Baseball America in the year-end prospect rankings by league.

Like last year, this is a bit of a surprise. That’s because I felt like Solis would be passed over because he only made 10 starts and turned 23 during the season, not to mention the high HR rate. Something to keep in mind before complaining about, say, Jeff Kobernus’s omission even if the Potomac 2B had a substandard rates for both OBP and SLG.

As before, the highlights from the scouting reports…

Hood’s bat has come a long ways since he was drafted, but he still has to prove he can catch up to hard fastballs and quality breaking balls. His raw strength should translate into average power, especially now that he has improved his plate discipline. His plus speed plays well on the bases and in right field, where he shows a solid arm.

If, by “solid” BA means accurate, then yes. If, by “solid” BA means strong, then no. I like Destin Hood, but he’s a left fielder playing right field. Regular readers know that I’ve said that all season long.


As a lefty who mixes a 90-93 mph fastball with an average slider and changeup, Solis has the stuff to stick in a big league[sic] rotation. His stuff plays up because he has good feel for pitching. He throws strikes, works both sides of the plate and gets plenty of groundouts thanks to good sink on his fastball.


Solis had his moments where he could get lit when he left his pitches up, which is something he needs to work on. I saw at both Low-A and High-A and AA hitters will make him pay even worse than he did this season. Like Kobernus, the injury history is going to dog him until he puts in a full season as a professional. Otherwise, this report is a decent assessment of the southpaw.

Sep 292011
 

If you just look at wins and losses, the 2011 campaign was a step back from 2010 for the DSL Nationals. If, however, you consider the trend of the team getting younger for the third straight year, then there’s a modicum of success for this year’s crew. The average batter was 18.1 years old, the average pitcher was 18.9 years old; the league averages were 18.5 and 19.0. In 2008, the year the DSL Nationals1 team won the league, those figures were 19.3 and 21.2 respectively.

Of course, the real sign of success is going to be how many of these kids “graduate” to the GCL and beyond. Three bats (four if you count Bowden’s folly) and six arms made the jump from the D.R. to the U.S. from 2010 to 2011. In the 2009 to 2010 offseason, four position players and three pitchers made that leap. Of those seven, only Manny Rivera made it north of Florida for any significant playing time in 2011. That’s not all bad news because among those six are a couple of teenagers (Estarlin Martinez and Gregory Baez, both 19).

Following my size 13B’s from last year, let’s take a look at how the team did as a whole vs. the league averages…

HITTING * GPA = Gross Production Average.

PITCHING




Like last year, the team was slightly above average on offense, though the tradeoff was more hits for fewer walks. The pitching wasn’t quite as good and it wasn’t helped by a defense that was 28th out of 33 teams in terms of errors committed. Sight unseen, I’d attribute many of these things to a younger team, particularly the lower walk totals.

So who were the 2011 DSL Nationals? Using 100PA as the cutoff and defensive games played, here’s how the position players broke down. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.














The fielding percentages are at the position listed (G/GP = Games At The Position/Games Played), except for the utilty/bench guys, for which the percentage is cumulative and the number of games at each position is listed between commas. As aforementioned, this was not a strong fielding club. It is, however, encouraging to see such strong GPAs from some of the teenagers.

Two names that did not make the “cut” but will get some play right here are Algenis Ramirez and Junior Geraldo. The former is a 17-year-old signed from the Dominican Prospect League, the latter we’ve since learned is an 18-year-old but little else can found on him outside of this site. Ramirez had the team’s best walk rate at 17.5%, Geraldo put up a sick .909 OPS — both in admittedly small sample sizes (63 and 71 PAs, respectively).

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…














I purposely included Miguel Navarro as the 12th pitcher even though he was tied for the position to illustrate the following: The D-Nats had four pitchers with four-digit ERAs, responsible for more than 20 percent of the total runs surrendered despite pitching just 37 innings combined, or roughly six percent of the team’s total innings pitched. The point? They were clearly willing to let these kids (three 18 yo’s, one 17-yo) take their lumps.

As you can see from the HBP and WP numbers, this was a wild bunch — even by DSL standards. But you can also see there were some guys that had strong peripherals: Ivan Pineyro, Gilberto Mendez, and Joel Barrientos all had K rates of 24% or better, stranded more than 71% of their baserunners and walked less than three batters per nine. Which of course brings us to our…

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Last year’s #1 picks — Wirkin Estevez and Jean-Carlos Valdez — both “graduated” so a pat on the back. My #5 bat (Paul Chacin) got released, so a facepalm. I don’t feel quite so bad when more than a couple of the draft gurus I follow on Twitter have remarked that getting too excited about the DSL stats is an errand for the foolish. And let’s face it: This is basically looking at those numbers, factoring in age, and going with a gut feeling.

Top 5 Batters
1. Diomedes Eusebio
2. Dionicio Rosario
3. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
4. Wilmer Difo
5. “Fred” Ortega
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Algenis Ramirez and Junior Geraldo

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Gilberto Mendez
2. Ivan Pineyro
3. Joel Barrientos
4. Hector Silvestre
5. Anderson Martinez

Sep 282011
 

OK, so maybe I’m being a little coy. Everybody knows who’s the #1 prospect in the South Atlantic League — Bryce Harper — the real drama is who else might get named.

That would be A.J. Cole.^ranked #11

Before Manno’s minions (see update below) storm the offices in Durham, NC, don’t forget that Baseball America likes ‘em young — twelve of the twenty were teenagers, like Cole & Harper, and six of those eight were 20. Also working against him: He’s a reliever. Every pitcher named was a starter.

That I don’t have a problem with, actually. I always worry about kids being shoved into the LaRussa bullpen model. If anything, I’d love to see the piggyback rotation in use more often in the lower minors because it dovetails with my belief (and others’) that the aforementioned has become a crutch for managers, and it certainly does no favors to minor-leaguers. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Here are the highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…

Primarily a catcher as an amateur, Harper converted to the outfield and put in time to improve his routes on flyballs. With slightly above-average speed and cannon arm, he has all the tools to become a good right fielder and might be able to handle center. Aside from a well-documented incident where he blew a kiss to the pitcher after a homer against Greensboro, his makeup came off as intense more than immature.

While many players hit the wall during their first full pro season, Cole did just the opposite. His fastball went from the low 90s in April to 94-95 mph in August. He also learned how to keep the ball in the yard: after giving up five HRs in his first seven starts, Cole allowed just one over the last 13. His success is often dictated by his fastball, which he commands well and can cut or sink. His breaking ball lacks consistency, and his changeup is a work in progress. He does a nice job of throwing all three pitches for strikes.

Unless BA switches up its schedule like it did with the NYPL, the Carolina League is slated for Friday, the Eastern League on next Tuesday, the International League the Friday after that.

UPDATE: It may not have the same catchet, but Busleaguesbaseball.com did name Chris Manno the second-best reliever in all of minor-league baseball.

Sep 262011
 

As mentioned last week, Baseball America has been running its Top 20 Prospect Lists and after getting shut out from the GCL, Matt Skole becomes the first Nationals farmhand to get recognition as the #13 New York-Penn League prospect.

Skole was the Nationals’ 5th-round pick out of Georgia Tech and led the NYPL in doubles and RBIs while posting a .290/.382/.438 line. He was the starting desginated hitter for the N.L. affiliates in the league’s All-Star game last month.

I was fortunate enough to see Skole twice on my midsummer jaunt to upstate New York and couldn’t agree more with Sean Hogan’s one-sentence analysis of Skole having “the bat to be an average major league 3B [and] the glove to be an average major league 1B.” He’ll be 22 entering the 2012 season, just four months younger than Hagerstown’s 3B-SS Blake Kelso, but the best guess is that he’ll start at Hagerstown while Kelso moves up to Potomac.

Sep 232011
 

I’m still here, waiting for the parent club to finish out a fine September. With any luck, the rains will hold off tomorrow afternoon so I can catch just one more baseball game this year.

I typically make it out to Nationals Park just once or twice a season. Sounds funny, I know, but I’m a bit busy from early April to mid-September. Even before this website was born, that was true. The rhythms and rituals of a major-league game are just different, and as a minors guy, sometimes a bit dissonant.

Today is the first day of Fall on the calendar, but a baseball fan has a different kind of calendar… spring begins when pitchers and catchers report, summer starts on Opening Day, fall is when the rosters expand, and Winter starts the day after World Series ends.

But sometimes it feels like Winter comes a lot faster as I get older. To your right is a poster I bought about 20 years ago in Cooperstown with a quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti’s inimitable essay “The Greenfields of the Mind” that I end up re-reading this time of year that captures that feeling perfectly.

As mentioned in the comments, the Florida Instructional League starts up today. Believe me, I wish I were down there rather than being reminded what it’s like to live in the Pacific Northwest (a hint: weather like this month, but cooler, longer, and a lot less daylight).

Baseball America has been running its Top 20 lists for each minor league, and the hope is that today’s Monday’s entry on the New York-Penn League will include one or two of the Auburn Doubledays (and thus, giving me a news peg for another post!). If not, please make sure you read Mark Zuckerman’s post on the recent sweep of the Phillies and what it might mean in “the big picture.”

As always, feel free to pass along news, rumors, and opinions in the comments so we don’t have to face the Fall alone.

Sep 202011
 

It’s raining right now as I begin to write this; how apropos for looking back on anything related to 2011…

As mentioned in the comments, I’ve frozen the 2011 watchlist and cleaned up the mess associated with the new design that I was forced to choose when my previous theme was no longer compatible with the WordPress software that this site runs on. The new, 2012 watchlist will be built in the course of doing the season reviews, which will begin in the next couple of weeks. I do plan on trying to follow my own footsteps from last offseason, which puts the 2012 edition out in late November/early December.

For the most part, I’m satisfied with what I built last year. Four of the 89 names were released prior to Spring Training. Four were traded away, three in one pop to pick up Tom Gorzelanny. One guy was sent back to his original organization. Two guys spent the majority of the season on the DL, a third (Adam Carr) got hurt and got released — though I expect him to get re-signed to at least get a look-see in Spring Training, unless I’m spot-on about Rizzo’s hard…um, affinity for Matt Chico and Garrett Mock (sorry, haters he’s still in the org) in which case Carr will have to make the choice between retirement or working his way back via the indys.

If I had to categorize my mistakes, I’d say they’d fall into three categories:

• Undervaluing Age (Alaniz, Chacin)
• Overvaluing GCL Gambles (Ott, Serino)
• Overvaluing Rule 5 status (Allen, Ramirez)

Looking over the scouting reports, I was also fairly consistent in being too aggressive with projecting where starting pitchers would begin the year. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to solve that problem because so much of it is dependent on the “inventory” approach that was prevalent this year — recall that Yunesky Maya, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Mock, and J.D. Martin all made stats for Syracuse in April — as well as injuries and/or shelving to guys like Tanner Roark, Shairon Martis, Luis Atilano, Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray.

Of course, that’s a separate issue.

Graduating from the list are Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos by making the 2011 club. Yunesky Maya is off because he no longer has rookie status (130PA, 50IP, 45 days on 25-Man Roster), which in most folks’ opinion, the minimum standard for being considered a prospect. Chris Marrero could come perilously close to the batter’s limit, but I suspect he’ll sit just enough over the next 10 games to stay under the limit.

Other “graduates” will be of the more subjective nature — guys that appear to have hit their ceiling, too old for the level, appear to have missed their window, etc. Doesn’t mean that they can’t play their way back onto a 2013 watchlist, but the odds are against them.

Of course, not being on the watchlist doesn’t mean they’re not useful or valuable — organizational guys (or soldiers, which may be a better metaphor in this context) is a term we bandy about around here, but were Erik Arnesen and Bill Rhinehart not key contributors to the Harrisburg team this season?

Thus, I don’t think serves much useful purpose to name who’s probably going to come off the list. I’d like to think most are fairly obvious, even if I suspect I’ll get more grief for the ones I include than exclude this time. But look back at that list o’ mistakes; I’m probably going to be a lot less sentimental this year, a little harder on the recent draft picks, and much more skeptical about who gets picked in the Rule 5 draft.

Sep 162011
 

The accolades keep coming for the Washington Nationals minor-leaguers, as six farmhands (five current and one former) were named by Baseball America in its roundup of All-Star Teams.

Brad Peacock was named to the first team of the 2011 Minor-League All-Star Team as one of the five starting pitchers, while Bryce Harper was named to the second team as one of three outfielders. Unlike the league awards, this a higher honor because the pool was all of minor-league baseball.

At the classification level (AAA, AA, Hi-A, etc.) the following Nationals were named:

AAA
Tommy Milone, SP

AA
Peacock, SP

High-A
Jeff Kobernus, 2B

Low-A
Harper, OF
Chris Manno, RP*
*Manno was traded along with Bill Rhinehart for Jonny Gomes to Cincinnati

Short-Season A
Matt Skole, 3B