Oct 192014
 

Saturday Smorgasbord
Post number 2000 is a bit of a smorgasbord, which many of these weekly posts have been and probably will be this offseason. So let’s just jump into it…

AFL UPDATE
Without the daily coverage, and with less-than-stellar performances, the four-game win streak by the Mesa Solar Sox seems a bit anti-climactic to pass along. Felipe Rivero got the Jack Morris win in the 8-4 triumph, allowing three runs in two and 2/3rds innings, though Derek Self would have gotten it in a regular-season contest for his two and 1/3rd scoreless innings of relief. Tony Renda tripled in two while Pedro Severino hit a sac fly. Matt Grace also turned in an efficient outing of five outs on 14 pitches, nine for strikes.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
Michael Taylor was voted the #1 prospect in the Eastern League, which is actually a bit of a shock when you consider that the #2 prospect, Mookie Betts played 52 games for the Red Sox (losing rookie status doesn’t disqualify players from these lists). In the “chat,” others brought up that point, noting how much better Betts performed at AAA and in the majors. Josh Norris defended his decision thusly: “In reality, it’s not 1 and 2 for me, it’s 1 and 1a. The difference for me is Taylor has the potential for more power, is a true center fielder with game-changing range in the outfield and has a well above-average arm.”

A.J. Cole was “only” the #15 E.L. prospect but ranked as the #7 I.L. prospect, which is only dissonant to the folks who mistakenly believe AAA is the highest level for prospects, as opposed to a place for refinement and a holding ground for replacement-level players. While noting his propensity to give up the longball, the scouts project the turns-23-in-January righty as a No. 3 starter, praising improvements in his secondary pitches. Steve Souza was ranked #5 while former farmhands Robbie Ray and Alex Meyer were nos. 8 and 9 respectively.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
It’s not clear which Felix Taveras the Nats signed in the latest missive from BA, but the list of catchers that signed or re-signed is awfully familiar:

  • Jeff Howell
  • Devin Ivany
  • Sean McCauley
  • Andruth Ramirez

Before folks get too excited, recall that McCauley spent 2014 as a player-coach and appears headed towards the same role. Given that Ivany and Ramirez did not play this past season, it might be fair to guess that one or both will be serving in the same capacity.

MORE ON THE MINORS LAWSUIT
One of the ugly truths about the minors is how poorly these guys are paid. At some levels, the guys washing the uniforms make more than the guys wearing them. That’s not news per se, but earlier this summer, a class-action lawsuit was filed by former Giants prospect-turned-lawyer Garrett Broshuis on behalf of former minor-leaguers (a group that includes former Nats farmhands Tim Pahuta and Brett Newsome) has generated headlines and more interest in the subject. This week, Toronto Star reporter Brendan Kennedy filed this story that goes into detail about the economics of minor-league baseball, and makes some rather telling comparisons to minor-league hockey.

THE HAGERSTOWN SUNS
The Suns lost in the Sally League Finals for the second straight year but won 87 regular-season games and nearly took both halves. Despite fielding a winning team with exciting prospects, the locals voted with their feet and stayed away as attendance — which is routinely exaggerated anyway — fell to below 1,000 at 979 per date (also consider that the #13 team averaged 1,925). While the PDC was renewed, it’s doubtful this trend will reverse itself until the team is under new ownership and/or the facilities are renovated or replaced.

As you might expect from the second-best team in the league, the Suns leveraged strong pitching (4.11 R/G; Lg. Avg 4.58) and strong hitting (4.99 R/G) while committing the fewest errors (118 vs. 152). The old-for-the-level report: 22.2 vs. 21.5 for the bats, 21.8 vs. 21.8 for the arms. Expectations for this crew to match the 2013’s effort in the Carolina League will probably be high.

Now, for the obligatory Top 5’s…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS, .280 GPA, 14HR, 49SB 1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, 2.20/3.16/1.00, 10.1 K/9, .196 OBA
2. Spencer Kieboom, C, .283 GPA, .500 SLG% 2. Austin Voth, RHP, 2.45/2.68/1.05, 1HR in 69.2IP
3. Drew Ward, 3B, .257 GPA, 42BB 3. Wander Suero, RHP, 2.13/3.16/0.97, 1.38 BB/9
4. Rafael Bautista, CF, .249 GPA, 69SB 4. Justin Thomas, LHP, 2.78/3.01/1.08, 1.39 BB/9
5. James Yezzo, 1B, .239 GPA, .991FA 5. Jake Walsh, LHP, 1.45/3.33/0.87, .152 OBA


Honorable mentions go to Carlos Lopez and David Napoli, as we hit the point where all things are not equal and performance relative to age takes greater precedence. A couple of the bats were also held back for consideration for the Potomac list. As always, if you’d like to see the entire team’s stats, just click here.

Sep 052014
 

Our final look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues. Repeats from 2013 are in italics.

SYRACUSE CHIEFS
81-62, 1st place International League North, 2½ games ahead

Good Bat: Steve Souza .350/.432/.590, 18HR, 75RBI, 26SB in 96G
Arm: Taylor Hill 11-7, 1SV, 2.81 ERA, 1.56 BB/9, 144 IP
Bad Bat: Josh Johnson .622 OPS in 90G
Arm: Josh Roenicke 5.45 ERA, 1.71 WHIP in 23 appearances, 15 starts (79⅓ IP)
Interesting Bat: Emmanuel Burriss .300/.377/.412, 22SB, 22E in 116G
Arm: Rafael Martin 1-1, 10 SV, 0.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP in 33⅔ IP


HARRISBURG SENATORS
53-89, 6th place Eastern League Western Division, 26 games behind

Good Bat: Michael Taylor .313/.396/.539, 22HR, 34SB in 98G
Arm: A.J. Cole 6-3, 2.92/2.58/1.32, 61K in 14GS (71IP)
Bad Bat: Adrian Sanchez .568 OPS, 11E in 89G
Arm: Zach Kroenke 3-9, 6.72 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 13HR in 83IP
Interesting Bat: Kevin Keyes .740 OPS, 20HR in 114G
Arm: Matt Grace 3-1, 3SV, 1.02 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 22 appearances (35⅓ IP)


POTOMAC NATIONALS
40-27 in 2nd half, 1st place Carolina League Northern Division, 7 games ahead
38-31 in 1st half, 1st place, 4½ games ahead
78-58 overall

Good Bat: Tony Renda .307/.381/.377, 10SB in 107G
Arm: Matt Spann 9-5, 3.81/4.09/1.38, 4HR in 106⅓ IP
Bad Bat: Justin Miller .625 OPS, 53K in 62G
Arm: Brett Mooneyham 2-4, 7.36 ERA, 2.12 WHIP in 33IP (10 appearances, 7 starts)
Interesting Bat: Pedro Severino .308/.379/.477 in 2nd half, .199/.246/.335 in 1st half
Arm: Ian Dickson 3-4, 2.64 ERA in 2nd half, 1-4, 6.25 in 1st half


HAGERSTOWN SUNS
43-27 in 2nd half, T1st place South Atlantic League Northern Division, won on tiebreaker
44-26 in 1st half, T1st place, lost on tiebreaker
87-53 overall

Good Bat: Wilmer Difo .315/.360/.470, 14HR , 49SBs in 136G
Arm: Lucas Giolito 10-2, 2.20/3.16/1.00 in 98IP (20 starts)
Bad Bat: David Masters .522 OPS, 7E in 51G
Arm: Jake Johansen 5-6, 5.19/4.05/1.74 in 100⅔ IP (29 appearances, 18 starts)
Interesting Bat: Rafael Bautista .290/.341/.382, 69SB in 134G
Arm: Reynaldo Lopez 4-1, 1.33/2.91/0.80 in 47&8531; IP (nine starts)


AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
34-41, 3rd Place Pinckney Division of New York-Penn League, 13½ games behind

Good Bat: Raudy Read .281/.332/.462, 6HR in 57G
Arm: Travis Ott 1-2, 3.05/3.98/1.24 in 44&⅓ IP (10 starts)
Bad Bat: Osvaldo Abreu .584 OPS, 20E in 58G
Arm: David Ramos 1-2, 1SV, 7.97 ERA, 1.82 WHIP in 15 appearances
Interesting Bat: Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz .265/.341/.385 in 65G
Arm: 19-y.o. Mario Sanchez 6-1, 3.50 FIP, 1.17WHIP in 35IP (18 appearances)


GCL NATIONALS
25-35, T3rd place Gulf Coast League East Dvision, 12 games behind

Good Bat: 18-y.o. Jakson Reetz .274/.429/.368 in 43G
Arm: 19-y.o. Jean Ramirez 3-1, 1SV, 3.41/3.60/1.45 in 31⅔ IP (14 appearances)
Bad Bat: Darryl Florentino .195/.222/.273 in 43G
Arm: Deibi Yrizarri 2-4, 9.08 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 10HBP in 36⅔ IP
Interesting Bat: 18-y.o. Aldrem Corredor .411 OBP, 25BB, 18K in 32G
Arm: 20-y.o. John Feliz 3-1, 1.08 ERA, 0.72 WHIP in 10 appearances (promoted to Auburn)


DSL NATIONALS
42-28, 3rd place, Boca Chica South Division of Dominican Summer League, 8½ games behind

Good Bat: 17-y.o. Davinson Pimentel .350/.443/.550 in 55G
Arm: 19-y.o. Joan Baez 4-1, 1.15/2.96/1.00 in 71⅓ IP (15 appearances, 14 starts – promoted to GCL)
Bad Bat: 18-y.o. Neivy Pilier .171/.265/.205 in 37G
Arm: 18-y.o. Jose Nunez 0-0, 8.25ERA, 2.50 WHIP in 24IP (12 appearances, 4 starts)
Interesting Bat: 17-y.o. Telmito Agustin .300/.413/.495, 25SB in 60G
Arm: 17-y.o. Yonathan Ramirez 3-0, 2SV, 2.63/2.59/0.91 in 27⅓ IP (11 appearances)
Jul 262014
 


Our weekly look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues.

NOTE: Stats & standings prior to games of July 25
SYRACUSE CHIEFS 61-45, 1st place I.L. North, 2½ games ahead

Good A.J. Cole 3-0, 2.88 ERA, 1.21 WHIP in July (4GS)
Bad Greg Dobbs .194/.219/.258 in last 10 games
Interesting In first place since June 5, 28-19 over that stretch



HARRISBURG SENATORS 42-62, 5th place E.L. West, 21½ games behind

Good Jason Martinson .280/.375/.440 in July (22G)
Bad Zach Kroenke 0-3, 7.48 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, 5HR allowed in July (5 appearances)
Interesting Now up to 55 different players used (record, 61 in 2012 – H/T to Sens PR folks)



POTOMAC NATIONALS 17-15, T1st place C.L. North, 1½ games ahead (55-46 overall)

Good Gilberto Mendez 2-0, 4SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.44 WHIP in last 10 appearances
Bad Stephen Perez .158/.214/.158 in last 10 games
Interesting Jake Walsh 2-0, 1.86 ERA, 0.72 WHIP in first 5 appearances



HAGERSTOWN SUNS 22-12, T1st place Sally North, 3 games ahead (66-38 overall)

Good Rafael Bautista 55-for-63 in SB attempts (87.3% success rate)
Bad Jake Johansen 5.11 BB/9IP
Interesting Isaac Ballou 24-game on-base streak



AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS 18-21, 4th place Pinckney Division, New York-Penn League, 9½ games behind

Good Travis Ott 1-1, 2.27/3.39/1.14 in 7GS
Bad Jeff Gardner .123/.200/.192 in 21G
Interesting Tyler Mapes 3SV, 0R first 5 appearances (9IP)



GCL NATIONALS 17-14, 2nd place East Division, Gulf Coast League, 4 games behind

Good “Fred” Aguero .321/.357/.434 in 19G
Bad D.J. Jauss 7.71 ERA, 2.29 WHIP in 7 appearances
Interesting Jakson Reetz .410 OBP (11BB in 19G)



DSL NATIONALS 25-21, 5th place Boca Chica South, 9 games behind

Good 17-y.o. Victor Robles .312/.410/.478, 21SB in 40G
Bad 18-y.o. Jose Nunez 6.86/5.93/2.33 in 9 appearances, 4GS
Interesting Catchers 51% CS rate (44/86) — 2nd best in DSL
Jun 272014
 

Moving On Up for NPP
The Harrisburg Senators announced today that RHP A.J. Cole has been promoted to Syracuse.

Yesterday, RHP John Simms was “moved on up” from Potomac and today it was announced that he would be starting in place of Cole, who had been listed as today’s starter in Senators media notes. Tomorrow’s starter for Syracuse is officially “TBA,” but it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to suppose that the 22-y.o. Cole will be taking the hill against the Bisons tomorrow night.

Unlike many of the promotions this year, this one appears to be permanent, given Adam Kilgore’s report on Wednesday predicting this move. Cole was the only pitcher to make every start for the Senators since the season began, though he did miss one start with no official explanation.

Since that missed start in early June, Cole has gone 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA over four starts with one homer, five walks and 21 hits allowed over 21⅓ IP while striking out 22. Good, but not dominant numbers… much like his promotion last July that came two starts after getting rocked by Wilmington for seven runs on 11 hits over five innings.

The point? As much as we’d like to think that a player on a hot or cold streak is doing good or bad (*ahem*), the folks that make these decisions are looking for things that most of us are not able to see as readily.

Cole will be entering a rotation, that like much of the full-season affiliates, has been in flux with the semi-constant recalls of pitchers from upstate New York to the District, including Taylor Hill, Blake Treinen, Jordan Taylor, and of course, Xavier “Carry On” Cedeno. The Chiefs are also are in the middle of a 33-day stretch without a scheduled day off with 17 games to go, the last eight on the road.

May 192014
 

A.J. ColeWith seven-inning complete-game shutout in the first game of last Saturday night’s doubleheader, A.J. Cole earned the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Week honors for the period of May 12th to May 18th.

Cole walked none and let up just four hits to earn his fourth win for the Senators. He retired the leadoff batter six times out of seven and allowed just two runners to get into scoring position (single and a double steal in the 1st, a double in the 6th) — both with one out.

Overall, Cole is 4-2 with an ERA of 2.25 (third-best in the E.L.), an FIP of 2.33 (best in the E.L.), and a WHIP of 1.33 with 34 strikeouts (7.65 per 9IP) and seven walks (1.58) in 40 innings pitched.

The 22-year-old was originally drafted in the 4th round of the 2010 draft out of Oviedo HS in Florida. He was traded away in the Gio Gonzalez trade in December 2011 but re-acquired in Mike Morse trade in January 2013. He was rated the No. 2 Nationals prospect by both Baseball America in its 2014 annual book and the MLB Pipeline Top 20.

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.