Mar 312014
 

As it has been historically, the Harrisburg Senators were the first of the four full-season affiliates to release their 2014 Opening Day Roster (2014 watchlist players in bold, 2014 notables in italics):

PITCHERS INFIELDERS OUTFIELDERS CATCHERS
Gabriel Alfaro Justin Bloxom Destin Hood Mitch Canham
Colin Bates Cutter Dykstra Caleb Ramsey Sandy Leon
A.J. Cole Ricky Hague Michael Taylor
Rob Gilliam Jason Martinson Drew Vettleson
Matt Grace Sean Nicol
Tyler Herron Matt Skole
Neil Holland
Zach Jackson
Richie Mirowksi
Ryan Perry
Matt Purke
Felipe Rivero
Blake Schwartz


As it should be, this is a roster laden with the organization’s top talent — 17 of the 25 are on this site’s 2014 Watchlist along three of the Baseball America Top 10 prospects (Cole, Skole, & Taylor) and three more that were ranked in the Top 20 for the Nationals (Purke) and Tampa Bay (Rivero & Vettleson).

Busy day today, so I’m off to write up the next roster release…

Jan 242014
 

Mayo 2Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has released the 2014 edition of his Top 100 prospects with two Nationals making the cut.

Coming in at #44, it’s a kid from Southern California, and the Nats’ #1 pick in the 2012 Draft, Lucas Giolito(sorry for the Casey Kasem lead-in; kids have been watching Scooby Doo a lot lately)
He was ranked #74 last year despite having thrown just two innings and was in recovery from Tommy John surgery. As reported by MASN’s Byron Kerr earlier this month, Giolito is expected to begin 2014 in Hagerstown, though it’s less clear that he’ll pitch immediately. Previous HS picks Robbie Ray and the next guy were held back until May at the same age/stage without having had surgery. Taylor Jordan did start his second season after TJ surgery in April 2013 though he was much older (24 vs. 19) and much more experienced (248⅔ IP vs. 38⅔ IP).

A.J. Cole moved up 22 spots from #91 to #69 after the Nationals re-acquired him a year ago in the Michael Morse trade. Cole had gotten lit like a sailor on leave (7.82/4.99/1.84) in the High-A California League the previous summer, forcing a demotion to Low-A Burlington (IA) where he rebounded to a 2.07/2.74/1.01 line and a 6-3 record. Cole fulfilled Washington GM Mike Rizzo’s assertion that the Nats “pitching people will straighten out his delivery” as the 22-y.o. made 18 starts for Potomac and seven for Harrisburg for a combined record of 10-5 with a line of 3.60/2.91/1.12 and peripherals of 2.1 BB/9 and 9.5 K/9. Cole will most likely return to Harrisburg for more seasoning, as scouts believe his secondary offerings (CH, CV) still need further development.

Last year, four Nationals were ranked. Anthony Rendon (#28) graduated to the parent club while Brian Goodwin (#52) fell from the list, which saw 35 new names thanks to injuries, underperformance, and of course, the next wave of draftees.

Dec 112013
 

Like the bats, folks were overwhelmingly in agreement about the top three arms in the Washington Nationals minors. Unlike a year ago, though, the range was smaller — just 22 different pitchers versus 30 — and there were four guys that were named on every ballot.

OK, enough vamping. Let’s rock this, pitch:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Sammy Solis
                              4. Nathan Karns
                              5. Jake Johansen
                              6. Aaron Barrett
                              7. Matt Purke
                              8. Austin Voth
                              9. Christian Garcia
                              10. Richie Mirowski

Others receiving votes: Blake Schwartz, Jefry Rodriguez, Taylor Hill, Hector Silvestre, Travis Ott, Erik Davis, Pedro Encarnacion, Brett Mooneyham, Wander Suero, Nick Lee, Neil Holland, Blake Treinen

Now the observations…

• Giolito was the top dog on 12 of the 13 ballots, with Cole getting the other first-place vote. Giolito was the #1 last year, too, despite coming off UCL-replacement surgery in August 2012.

• Cole was the Mary Ann to Ging, er… Giolito on 11 of the possible 12 second-place votes. It would have been interesting to see if that would have been true had Robbie Ray not been traded away.

• Voth and Garcia tied in raw points, but I broke the tie by the pitcher who was named on more ballots (nine vs. seven).

• Two of the top three old maids (i.e. the near misses) were righthanded control artists who don’t throw in the mid-90s. Not sure if the bias is against the lower velocity, the low K rate, or the soap-opera first name (just kidding).

The list continues to skews older (five are 25+) and upper minors (also five), which has been a consistent bias since this experiment in crowdsourcing began in 2011. But like all things hot stove, the point is to pass the time — none of this is really significant, statistically or otherwise — while winter sets its claws in and local schools overreact to snowfall that wouldn’t get a chihuahua’s belly wet.

Next up: The Rule 5 draft, which for the Nationals, has become an exercise of wondering who’s going versus who’s arriving.

Nov 062013
 

Baseball America for NPPNo sense vamping when this list has probably been tweeted dozens of times by now. (Last year’s revised ranking in parentheses.)

1. Lucas Giolio, RHP (2)
2. A.J. Cole, RHP (4)
3. Brian Goodwin, CF (3)
4. Matt Skole, 1B/3B (5)
5. Robbie Ray, LHP (–)
6. Sammy Solis, LHP (9)
7. Michael Taylor, CF (–)
8. Jake Johansen, RHP (’13 Draft Pick)
9. Nathan Karns, RHP (6)
10. Steve Souza, OF (–)

Frankly, I was initially confused as to how an injured position player and a coming-off-surgery pitcher could move up in the rankings. This, of course, is no disrespect to them, but simple logic dictates that getting hurt and/or losing a year of development is the kind of thing that drops your stock, not improves it. This was Fitt’s answer to my question about that rationale for ranking them higher in 2014 than 2013:

I think Skole is in the same No. 4* slot he was last year (and remember that Anthony Rendon graduated to the big leagues). I did not dock Skole for being hurt — it was a fluke injury, and he returned strong this fall. I still think he’s a quality power-hitting prospect, and I ranked him accordingly. As for Solis, I got very encouraging reports on him coming off that surgery, and I expect him to move very quickly next year (assuming he can stay healthy — which is a legitimate question, given his track record). At this point, I think he has a better chance to stick as a big league starter than Karns, who strikes me as more of a power reliever ultimately. So I moved Solis ahead of Karns. I can’t say I’m overly excited about any of those guys — Solis is 25 now and still has yet to reach Double-A, after all. I don’t think this is a great top 10 after the top of the list, although I do like some of the depth in the 11-30 range.
* Skole was initially ranked #4 in December 2012, then moved to #5 when BA revised the list in March 2013

I give Fitt credit answering honestly, particularly in remarking about how the talent thins out rapidly after the first few guys, which has been the case for about two years now. For those wondering, Fitt said that he wrestled with a cluster of Tony Renda, Matt Purke, Billy Burns, and Zach Walters before deciding upon Souza for the #10 spot. There are certainly arguments that can be made for any of those five against the other four and it may be bit revealing of your personal biases, too. Fitt, it appears, likes Souza’s five-tool promise over Burns’s speed, Purke’s LHSP capabilities, Renda’s bat/eye, Walter’s power, etc.

One new wrinkle to this year’s rankings is a list of the Top 15 players under the age of 25, which you can find in the free article along with a list of the best tools, prospects of the year and top draft picks from the past 10 years. And of course, the top bonuses paid, for which Robin Leach Fitt remains enamored of the decision of the Nationals to spend heavily just as they were hitting rock bottom.

The projections for where the 2014 Top 10 will begin (or finish) next season were as follows:
AAA – Cole, Goodwin, Karns, Souza
AA – Skole, Ray, Solis, Taylor
Low-A – Giolito
Not specified – Johansen

I personally believe Cole will probably return to Harrisburg and be moved up in May or June; likewise for Johansen with Hagerstown as his starting point — but lately the Nats have been more aggressive, so it could be Syracuse and Potomac, respectively. As mentioned in the comments, where a prospect starts is not nearly as important as where he finishes.

Oct 052013
 

Ok, so maybe it’s a little easier to place multiple players in an eight-team league, but that should shouldn’t diminish the distinction of four Potomac Nationals making the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects List — A.J. Cole (#10), Michael Taylor (#12), Robbie Ray (#16), and Billy Burns (#19).

Like last year’s contingent of Suns to get the BA badge of approval, three of the four P-Nats were promoted to the next level, led by the two pitchers, with the older of the two position players going last.

Alright, fine, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to see what the folks in Durham had to say, going from highest to lowest, beginning with #10, A.J. Cole…

Cole can command his fastball to both sides of the plate and the pitch can be explosive coming out of his long, lanky frame. The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.

This matches up well with what I saw in Woodbridge, but when Cole racked up W’s in three of his first four starts, such naysaying seemed out of place. Not to mention, the similar success shown by Robbie Ray after his promotion.

Taylor began to tap into his power at the plate but still isn’t disciplined enough in his approach to drive balls with regularity. At his best, he has the bat speed to turn on fastballs and the strength to take breaking balls to the opposite field. Yet he is susceptible to chasing fastballs up in the zone and curveballs off the plate. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Taylor has all-star potential. If not, he figures to be a 4th outfielder [like] Justin Maxwell.

Last year, Taylor couldn’t correct either flaw (bolded) and this year the weaknesses would come and go. No doubt he’ll be challenged with AA in ’14, but those are the kind of holes that pitchers can consistently exploit at the next level.

Ray attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and has the arm strength to add more velocity down the road. His slider grew from more of a slurvy pitch to a power one with good depth that could turn into an above-average offering. He showed feel for a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Ray still struggles with his command at times and gets in trouble when he leaves pitches up — his nine home runs in just 84 innings were the 11th most in the league.

Quite frankly, had Ray been a righty or a year or two older, I’d have dropped him from the ’13 Watchlist — that’s how bad he looked in ’12. But after making some serious adjustments to recover from that debacle, there’s reason to hope that he can refine his game further in ’14.

Burns excels at working counts and putting the ball in play as a slap-and-dash hitter. He’s more than willing to put the ball on the ground and beat throws to first base. The natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting in 2012, but he hit a respectable .312/.418/.383 in 266 at-bats from the left side in the CL. One scout suggested that Burns could be more of a line-drive hitter if he incorporated his powerful legs into his swing.

In his last month or so in Woodbridge, Burns certainly did appear to be working on trying to hit balls into the gaps, but with mixed success (a fair amount of weak flyballs). Given that small-ball skills — aside from speed — have fallen out of favor lately, this is Burns’s next challenge to meet if he’s to proceed beyond AA.

Quite a gap between the next BA Top 20 post for which a National may be named — next Thursday for the International League. It looks like they’re saving the Eastern League for last, on the 14th. Next up: perhaps a morning reading post before we begin following the Arizona Fall League.

Sep 062013
 

Our final look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues. Repeats from 2012 are in italics.

SYRACUSE CHIEFS
66-78, 6th place International League North, 14½ games back

Good Bat: Zach Walters .253/.286/.517, 29HR, 77RBI in 134G
Arm: Tanner Roark 9-3, 2SV, 3.15 ERA, 33 appearances, 11 starts, 105⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Danny Espinosa 101K in 75G, .566 OPS
Arm: Chris Young 1-2, 7.88 ERA / 7.17 FIP / 2.00 WHIP, 9HR in 32IP
Interesting Bat: Chris Rahl .293/.308/.431, 14SB in 111G
Arm: Caleb Clay 5-2, 2.49/3.37/0.99 in 14 appearances (13 starts):

HARRISBURG SENATORS
77-65, 1st place Eastern League Western Division, 1 game ahead

Good Bat: Steve Souza .300/.396/.557, 15HR, 20SB in 77G
Arm: Nathan Karns 10-6, 3.26/3.48/1.18, 155K in 132⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Jose Lozada .529 OPS, 11E in 81G
Arm: Ryan Perry 2-5, 4.43/4.86/1.21 in 22⅓ IP (18 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Billy Burns .325/.434/.360, 20SB in 30G
Arm: A.J. Cole 4-2, 2.18/2.56/0.90 in 45⅓ IP (7 starts)

POTOMAC NATIONALS
42-28 in 2nd half, 1st place Carolina League Northern Division, 9 games ahead
42-27 in 1st half, 1st place, 6 games ahead
84-55 overall

Good Bats: Michael Taylor .263/.340/.426, 51SB, 87RBI, .986FA, 21 assists in 133G
Adrian Nieto .285/.373/.449, 11HR, 53 RBI in 110G
Arm: Robbie Ray 6-3, 3.11/3.82/1.20, 100K in 84IP (16 starts)
Bad Bat: Adrian Sanchez .278OBP (17BB in 120G)
Arm: Derek Self 4-2, 4SV, 6.29/4.52/1.66, 4BS in 23 appearances
Interesting Bats: Cutter Dykstra .308/.459/.456, 50BB in 55G
Arm: Blake Schwartz 11-4, 2.65/3.52/1.08

HAGERSTOWN SUNS
42-28 in 2nd half, 2nd place South Atlantic League Northern Division, 3 games behind
38-29 in 1st half, 1st place, ½ game ahead
80-57 overall

Good Bats: Tony Renda .294/.380/.405, 43 doubles, 30SBs in 135G
Brandon Miller .243/.308/.456, 18HR, 72RBI in 103G
Arm: Brett Mooneyham 10-3, 1.94/3.65/0.98 in 93IP (17 starts)
Bad Bat: Pedro Severino .608 OPS in 84G
Arm: Will Hudgins 2-1, 4.79/5.96/1.60 in 20⅔ IP (16 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Shawn Pleffner .288/.386/.399 in 101G
Arm: Gilberto Mendez 3-2, 7SV 0.91/2.53/0.94 in 29⅔ IP (24 appearances)

AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
26-49, 6th Place Pinckney Division of New York-Penn League, 22 games behind

Good Bat: Isaac Ballou .294/.405/.398, 20RBI in 59G
Arm: Jake Johansen 1-1, 1.06/2.77/0.92 in 42⅓ IP (10 starts)
Bad Bat: David Masters .183/.254/.242 in 45G
Arm: Deion Williams 0-6, 9.42/4.35/1.99 in 28⅔ IP (8 starts)
Interesting Bat: Jean-Carlos Valdez .374 SLG as a 20-y.o. in 48G
Arm: Austin Voth 2-0, 1.47/0.95/0.82 in 30⅔ IP (7 starts)

GCL NATIONALS
49-9, 1st place Gulf Coast League East Dvision, 24½ games ahead

Good Bat: Randy Encarnacion .349/.437/.523 in 34G
Arm: Wander Suero 8-1, 1.65/2.77/0.82 in 49IP (13 appearances, 3 starts)
Bad Bat: 17-y.o. Luis Guzman .222/.278/.265 in 36G
Arm: 23-y.o. Michael Boyden 0-0, 4.61/5.25/2.27 in 13⅔ IP (13 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Drew Ward .292/.402/.387, 28RBI in 49G (turns 19 in Nov.)
Arm: Nick Pivetta 1-0, 2.13/2.41/1.03 in 3GS (promoted to Auburn)

DSL NATIONALS
38-32, 3rd place, Boca Chica South Division of Dominican Summer League, 11 games behind

Good Bat: 19-y.o. Kelvin Gutierrez .255/.333/.337 in 60G
Arm: 18-y.o. Deibi Yrizarri 5-3, 1.99/2.66/1.10 in 68IP (14 appearances, 13 starts)
Bad Bat: 18-y.o. Miguel Atencio .183/.246/.183 in 23G
Arm: 22-y.o. Adrian Green 0-2, 5.40ERA, 2.00 WHIP in 10IP (12 appearances)
Interesting Bat: 17-y.o. Oliver Ortiz .307/.402/.386 in 26G
Arm: 18-y.o. Luis Reyes 5-3, 2.82/2.76/1.07 in 54⅓ IP (promoted to GCL)
Jul 232013
 

Moving On Up for NPPThe Potomac Nationals announced today that RHP A.J. Cole has been promoted to Harrisburg.

Also “movin’ on up” is RHP Richie Mirowski, while slidin’ on down is RHP Paul Demny, per the team release.

Cole becomes the third starting pitcher to make the jump this season, following Robbie Ray earlier this month, Taylor Hill last month, and Jordan Taylor in May — movement not seen since 2008 when Adrian Alaniz, Jordan Zimmermann, and Craig Stammen were all promoted during the season’s first half.

Unlike Ray, Hill, or Taylor, Cole’s success has been much more sporadic, which one would expect with “stuff” that’s electric but inconsistent. There’s not much doubt the 21-y.o. can bring the heat — reports of mid-90s readings have been personally spotted on radar guns — but the secondary pitches have been far behind. The feeling here is that the organization now wants him under the tutelage of Paul Menhart, who’s considered one of the best teachers of the changeup in the system.

Mirowski has suffered from bouts with the long ball (6 in 48IP) but has led the team in appearances (32) and wins (8) and posted strong peripherals (2.1 BB/9, 11.1 K/9, 6.0 H/9) in addition to pitcher’s triple-slash of 1.50 ERA / 3.05 FIP / 0.90 WHIP. He’ll be joining the Eastern LEague’s best pitching staff, one that’s already been fortified with a former Potomac pitcher, Matt Grace.

Demny continues a tradition of sorts in which a AA pitcher is dropped down in July, which began with Erik Davis in 2011 and continued last summer with Rob Gilliam. The redheaded Texan has been workhorse for most of his career (23+ starts annually from 2009-2012) with the Nationals, but has been relegated to the bullpen twice now in two seasons with the Senators and recently spent time on the disabled list.

It’s not immediately clear if Demny will start for Potomac, especially with the P-Nats roster down a man and corresponding moves above and/or below Potomac have not yet been announced.

As always, if those moves made today, this space will be updated.

UPDATE: No word from Potomac yet on who will fill the empty slot in either the roster or rotation, but the Senators have announced that Blake Treinen has been placed on the DL. Perhaps not coincidentally, Treinen last pitched on Saturday, the same day as Cole. Treinen is still officially listed as the starter for Thursday’s game in Portland. Thus, the logical deduction is that Cole will most likely make his AA debut on Thursday.

Jun 172013
 

For the second time this season, three Nationals farmhands earned weekly honors as the pitcher or player of the week for the period of June 10-16.

Zach WaltersZach Walters broke the Syracuse shutout for weekly awards as he won the I.L. Player of the Week award with 11 hits in six games, including three home runs, three doubles and seven RBI for a .579 batting average and an 1.157 slugging percentage. For the season, Walters is hitting .233/.265/.483 with 14HR (4th best in the I.L.) and 32RBI (2nd to Chris Marrero’s 44 for the team lead). The 23-y.o. Wyoming native was originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and acquired by the Nationals in July 2011 in exchange for RHP Jason Marquis.

Taylor JordanTaylor Jordan kept the E.L. Pitcher of the Week Honors in Harrisburg with five-hit shutout last Thursday against Richmond. The 24-y.o. Floridian walked one and struck out a career-best 11 batters. His season ERA between Potomac and Harrisburg is 0.93, the lowest in minor-league baseball, thanks in no small part to his streak of 19 scoreless innings. His 2013 ascendance mirrors, if not exceeds, that of Nathan Karns in 2012 in his second season since having TJ surgery in the summer of 2011. Jordan was drafted by Washington in the 9th Round in 2009 out of Brevard Community College (Cocoa, FL).

A.J. ColeA.J. Cole “only” struck out 10, and “only” went seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, during his Thursday-night start against Frederick. But it was good enough for the 21-y.o. to earn the Carolina League Pitcher of the Week award for the second time this season. For the season, Cole has an overall ERA of 4.16 (an FIP of 3.38, which is slightly worse than league average), having given up four or more runs five times in 13 starts. However, he’s also turned in six quality starts, three in his four appearances. Cole was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 4th round of the 2010 Draft out of Oviedo HS in Florida, then famously traded away in December 2011 as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. He returned to the organization this past January as part of the Michael Morse trade.

May 062013
 

A.J. ColeWith six shutout innings and nine K’s last Friday night, A.J. Cole earned the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week honors for the period of April 29th to May 5th.

Cole walked none and let up just four hits to earn his first High-A win for the Washington organization. He retired the leadoff batter fives times out of six and allowed just one runner to get into scoring position (he was stranded at third after a double play and a strikeout).

Overall, Cole is 1-1 with an ERA of 3.94, an FIP of 2.46, and a WHIP of 1.25 with 34 strikeouts (9.56 per 9IP) and six walks (1.69) in 32 innings pitched.

The 21-year-old was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft out of Oviedo HS in… wait for it… Oviedo, FL but traded away to Oakland as part of a four-for-two transaction more commonly known as the Gio Gonzalez trade. Cole was re-acquired this past January in a three-team trade between Seattle, Washington and Oakland.

May 042013
 

Don’t look now. But these P-Nats are starting to gel into something that might just be a contender.

Of course, that’s easy to think when, for a third straight night, the starting pitcher turns in a stellar outing and the offense breaks into double digits in both runs and hits.

It was A.J. Cole’s turn to shine as the 21-year-old struck out nine over six shutout innings. He walked none and allowed just four hits, retiring the leadoff man five times out six.

That one time the first batter wasn’t retired was a pool-cue single that skipped past Cole and Adrian Sanchez couldn’t scamper in and sling it over in time. Another single put runners on first and second, but Sanchez, who wasn’t really to blame for not getting the 80-foot dribbler, teamed up with Jason Martinson for the 4-6-3 DP to clip the Pelicans’ rally with Cole delivering the killshot with a strikeout.

Backup catcher Cole Leonida, who usually spells Adrian Nieto (the DH last night) behind the plate, made the case for more playing time with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second that started the P-Nats scoring binge.

It was also the first of three innings in which Potomac had multiple runners reach base, albeit with a little help. A hit batsmen in the 6th got the bases loaded for Randolph Oduber, who cashed in the second big chance as the Groovin’ Aruban drilled a three-run triple to right-center. In the 7th, a Sanchez and Leonida went back-to-back with RBI singles to take advantage when Caleb Ramsey reached on an error following a one-out single by Nieto.

Potomac would get their tenth run in the 8th when Myrtle Beach once again couldn’t quite execute (it should be noted that the Pelicans have just eight players that aren’t 22 or younger, a byproduct of the Rangers tendency towards HS players and IFAs, not to mention being Thirsty-Thursday-Night loaded with talent) as Michael Taylor scored on a wild pitch on a Nieto strikeout with runners on the corners.

Christian Meza followed Cole with two innings of relief, allowing an unearned run on a double that followed a missed catch as Sanchez attempted to complete a 6-4-3 double play without the baseball. Colin Bates finished out the game, giving up two unearned runs on a Ramsey error in the 9th.

The win evens Potomac at 14-14 for the season, one game behind Lynchburg (14-12) and Frederick (15-13) as the Carolina League remains bunched up like a cheap pair of und…er, tube socks with all eight teams within five games of one another.

Thanks to Monday’s rainout, Brian Dupra (1-2, 3.72 at Hagerstown, scoreless IP for Potomac on Wednesday) makes the spot start tonight. Victor Payano (1-2, 4.76) is his counterpart for Myrtle Beach.