Dec 122013
 

For the third consecutive December, the Nationals have had a player taken in the MLB phase, as the Chicago White Sox selected catcher Adrian Nieto with the No. 3 pick.

The selection is the classic gamble with that the Nationals were able to pull off with Jesus Flores in 2006, as the White Sox will have carry the 24-y.o. as a backup on their 25-man roster for the duration of the season, unless the two teams can work out a trade.

Nieto has yet to play above High-A during the regular season and has only had one year with more than 80 games played (2013), so it’s also a gamble that Nieto’s development won’t be thwarted should he not be returned before the minor-league season begins, which was the case for both of last year’s selections (Danny Rosenbaum, Jeff Kobernus).

In the minor-league phases, the Nationals had no players taken but instead selected two during the AAA phase: OF Theo Bowe from the Reds and RHP Martires Arias from the Mets.

Bowe’s calling card is his speed, as the 23-y.o. rivaled Billy Hamilton for the designation of Fastest in the Organization, winning the title in 2009 when both players turned 19 late in the season. The 23-y.o. Delaware native stole 70 bases between Low-A and High-A in 2012, but posted an anemic .206/.260/.307 line with 13 swipes in 99 games for AA Pensacola.

As Doug Gray of RedsMinorsLeagues.com wrote:

Bowe found himself in a crowded Pensacola outfield and despite hitting very well in the 2012 season, he didn’t get consistent playing time and never really got going in 2013.

Very little can be found on Arias, aside from his statistics from five years in short-season ball — two in the DSL, one in the GCL, two in the Appy League, which is considered a half-step below the likes of the NYPL and the NWL — and his vitals of 6’7″ and 207 lbs and a November 10, 1990 birth date in the Dominican Republic.

Dec 072013
 

This seems to be a trend… for the second straight year, there was a consensus at the top of the list… then a free-for-all afterwards.

The two of the top three guys were each left off at least one ballot, while the number two guy was unanimously named, enabling him to garner the no. 2 spot without a single first-place vote.

A total of 24 players were named on 14 ballots, some of which had less than 10 names and/or an ineligible player. While I adjusted the points accordingly (e.g. #1 on a nine-player ballot = 9 pts vs. 10 pts. on a ten-player), it did not affect the rankings.

Without further ado, ze list:

                              1. Brian Goodwin
                              2. Matt Skole
                              3. Steve Souza
                              4. Billy Burns
                              5. Michael Taylor
                              6. Jeff Kobernus
                              7. Zach Walters
                              8. Drew Ward
                              9. Tony Renda
                              10. Adrian Nieto

Others receiving votes: Corey Brown, Eury Perez, Justin Bloxom, Randy Encarnacion, Narciso Mesa, Pedro Severino, Isaac Ballou, Brandon Miller, Cody Gunter, Rafael Bautista, Josh Johnson, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, Bryan Mejia, Caleb Ramsey

Some observations:

• Goodwin received ten first-place votes, similar to how he was the near-consensus at #2 last year behind Anthony Rendon.

• This year’s #2 is a bit of a shock: Matt Skole was hurt all year long and struggled some in the Arizona Fall League, but moved up a spot from #3 to #2 nevertheless.

• Souza’s strong AFL campaign and addition to the 40-man roster seemed to stick out in many voter’s minds, vaulting him from an also-ran in 2012 to #3 with three first-place votes.

• Burns and Taylor nearly tied despite Taylor being left off two ballots, nearly closing the gap in points by receiving a pair of second-place votes (Burns’s highest was a third-place spot).

As it traditionally has, the list skews towards the upper minors; this year’s exception: Ward, who might have missed the cut — like Skole did in 2011 — were it not for the GCL Nationals’ championship run (likewise for his teammates that were in the “also-rans”). Still, I think a lot of this is simply the bias of familiarity, which also explains why a couple of players aged 27+ players received votes.

Next up: the pitchers, which is always contentious thanks to folks’ biases of starter vs. reliever, lefty vs. righty, fireballer vs. junkballer, floor wax or dessert topping, etc. Plus, with one less no-doubt pick (Robbie Ray), the last couple of spots ought to be closely contested.

Nov 182013
 

2013-AFL-Final
One last look before we close the books, beginning with the stats…

BATTERS

PLAYER G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Brian Goodwin 19 81 9 24 4 1 2 12 4 22 .296 .333 .411 3
Matt Skole 15 49 8 9 1 1 3 7 15 18 .184 .375 .457 0
Adrian Nieto 13 48 6 13 1 1 0 6 6 10 .271 .345 .393 0
Steve Souza Jr. 11 42 8 15 2 0 1 8 5 11 .357 .426 .379 10

PITCHERS

PLAYER W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Sammy Solis 5 2 0 2.29 7 7 29 32 9 7 1 7 29 1.34
Matt Purke 3 1 0 3.91 6 6 23 20 11 10 0 9 17 1.26
Robert Benincasa 0 0 0 4.50 9 0 9 11 4 4 1 4 7 1.67
Richie Mirowski 0 0 1 1.29 9 0 12 8 3 3 0 2 10 0.83


Now for the thoughts…

• The trade for Denard Span a year ago always seemed like a stopgap measure to give Brian Goodwin time to develop, which he seems to be doing, albeit not as quickly as folks seem to think he should be. My inclination is to attribute the recent rumors that Span is on the block to posturing by the market for the free-agent OFs of uber-agent Scott Boras, with whom the Nats have been cozy. In any case, Goodwin seems on track for a AAA year and a possible callup in 2014.

• Let’s not forget two things about Matt Skole: (1) He’s coming off same-year surgery (2) he has very little experience at the AA level (seven PAs in 2013, 74 last AFL season). Yes, his numbers were disappointing compared to his rating as a prospect and the success he had last fall, but he still hit for power and drew walks. The strikeouts? He’s averaged nearly a K per game for nearly professional 200 games. I don’t think there’s that much call for alarm.

• With Sandy Leon’s offense seemingly gone AWOL, Adrian Nieto assumes the mantle of the catching prospect closest to the majors. Nieto’s 2013 was an offensive breakthrough season and it carried over into the AFL. The question is whether the defense can be tightened up enough to justify the bat. Let’s hope that the success he had against LHPs — who stifled him in the regular season (.608 OPS vs. .872) — continues next season.

• Perhaps nobody’s stock rose higher and faster than Steve Souza Jr. His inclusion was curious, given that he was due to be a free agent, though it wasn’t clear if (A) his suspension had disrupted things (B) this was a signal that he intended to re-sign. Now, with hindsight being 20/20, it’s clear that they just wanted to make sure he was healthy before adding what’s been missing from the Washington 40-man for quite some time: a power-hitting OF from the right side who’s not a defensive liability.

• I had missed the fact that Solis is Rule 5 eligible when the rosters were revealed, and after his AFL stint, he may have just pitched his way onto the 40-man if for no other reason that the Nats have kind of signaled that they’re hungry for LHPs, albeit in relief. He turns 26 next August, so there’s always the question as to whether they convert him to relief. Best guess: he’ll be given every chance to succeed as a starter, especially with the option of converting other LHPs elsewhere in the system.

• Matt Purke made six starts — three really good, three not so good. That they came in that order is cause for concern. We can only hope that it’s more attributable to either fatigue or perhaps being a bit overmatched than the shoulder issues that have dogged him for quite some time. The party line will be the former, but it’s really hard not to infer the latter.

• Robert Benincasa did more or less what you ought to expect out of a young (23), two-level (Low- and High-A) reliever in the AFL: some good outings, some bad. Sight unseen, it’s almost impossible to speculate what that means for his 2014 — especially when there is no precedent to refer to. He’s the first reliever assigned to the AFL that didn’t pitch in AA under the current regim, er front office.

• As a 45th-Round Draft pick (which, under the current CBA, would mean he’d be a NDFA) Richie Mirowski is always going to fly under the radar. Given that he spent most of the season at High-A, no one would have been surprised if he’d gotten knocked around — the AFL is notoriously hitter-friendly, after all. Instead, he pitched rather well, allowing no baserunners in five of nine appearances and going multiple innings three times.

Nov 172013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-30
After leading the Eastern Division of the Arizona Fall League for all but one day, the Mesa Solar Sox saw their bid for the 2013 AFL Championship denied with a 2-0 defeat to the Surprise Saguaros.

Steven Souza Jr. was the only National in the starting lineup. The 24-year-old, who was recently added to the Washington 40-man roster, batted fifth and played centerfield. He singled to lead off the 2nd inning but was caught stealing by Ranger backstop Jorge Alfaro, who gunned him down with a reported pop time of 1.78 seconds.

Souza would line out sharply in his second at-bat, but strike out in his final two plate appearances to finish the game at 1-for-4. Defensively, the Nats 2007 3rd-Rd. pick played centerfield, where he had two putouts and an assist, as Alfaro struck again with an RBI single but was gunned down on the 8-2-6 relay.

Brian Goodwin and Adrian also appeared in the game, with Goodwin grounding out to second in the top of the 8th and Nieto catching the bottom half of the inning, but had no putouts or assists.

Mesa finishes 2013 with a record of 19-12 with a Opening Day tie.

                                                                    #                                     #                                     #

Sad-SpicklesWith the completion of the AFL schedule, the 2013 minor-league season — the fourth this site has covered, if you can believe that — now really comes to a close. A shoutout to Lee Magenheim, our photographer in Arizona, who’s provided the AFL pictures for the past two seasons and has plans to do it again in 2014.

Nov 152013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-27Mesa’s 2013 Arizona Fall League season began and ended in Glendale, and Sammy Solis was on the hill for both the 1st and title-clinching 19th wins as the Solar Sox scorched the Desert Dogs, 9-3 to earn a berth in the AFL Championship game.

The 25-y.o. southpaw allowed one run on six hits over five innings to notch his league-leading fifth win. He walked none and struck out four, throwing 68 pitches, 49 for strikes. His 29 K’s also led the circuit.

Brian Goodwin and Adrian Nieto were also in the starting lineup for Mesa.

Goodwin was the DH and went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored, as the 23-y.o. North Carolina native came in from second base on an infield single that the shortstop knocked down just past the infield grass. He also walked and struck out twice.

Nieto caught and batted seventh. He went 1-for-5 with an RBI single and made seven putouts and one assist on a dropped third strike.

Mesa finishes the season at 19-11-1, winning their last six games consecutively to edge Salt River, which fell a half-game short at 19-12 and were winners of seven straight. Surprise was the AFL West title winner with a mark of 18-12-1.

The Solar Sox will face off against the Saguaros, who will send Baltimore prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound in tomorrow’s AFL Championship game. Matt Purke, who has not pitched since last Saturday, is among the possibilities for Mesa, which has not yet announced its starting pitcher.

Nov 132013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-10The Solar Sox scored early and often, scorching the Javelinas by an 8-1 count for their fourth straight win.

Mesa’s victory was only enough to keep pace with Salt River, which took a 7-2 decision from Glendale for their fifth straight trimuph to remain just a ½ game back in the AFL East.

Adrian Nieto was the sole National to appear in the game. The 23-y.o. catcher batted eighth and went 1-for-3 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored to improve his line to .279/.360/.349 in 12 games played.

Defensively, Nieto let up his second passed ball (which accounted for Peoria’s lone run) and recorded nine putouts, including the tag on a 6-3-2 double play in the 8th inning as Delino DeShields Jr. tried to score from second on the grounder with no outs.

It’s the final home game this afternoon for the Solar Sox, as they send the tireless “TBD” to pitch against the Desert Dogs and former Nats farmhand Alex Meyer. Salt River travels to last-place Scottsdale in the evening.

Nov 122013
 

Arizona Fall League #5
The Solar Sox took one step closer to a bid for the AFL Championship with a 4-0 shutout of the Javelinas.

Just two Nats appeared in yesterday’s game…

  • Batting from the #2 spot in the lineup, Brian Goodwin went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts and played centerfield, making a single putout.
  • Adrian Nieto caught and batted eighth, going 1-for-4. Defensively, he he made six putouts, including a play at the plate in the 4th on a wild pitch.

The win improves Mesa to 16-11-1 for the fall, but Salt River also kept pace, winning its fourth straight to keep the margin between the two teams at just a 1/2 game. Surprise finally clinched its berth in the title contest with a win over Scottsdale.

The Solar Sox play in Mesa for two of their three remaining games, rematching against the Javelinas this afternoon, then hosting the Desert Dogs tomorrow. Their final AFL-season game is Thursday in Glendale.

Nov 092013
 

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-19With five runs scored early and another solid outing from Sammy Solis, the Solar Sox snapped a three-game skid with a 6-1 win over the Saguaros.

Solis went four and 1/3rd innings, leaving with one out in the 5th after letting up two of the five singles he allowed. He would finish with one run allowed, one walk, and five strikeouts. He threw 74 pitches, 48 for strikes and earned his fourth win.

Kenny Faulk, the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen couldn’t strand both runners, walking the first two batters he faced to force in the lone Surprise run. Adrian Nieto bailed him out with a pickoff at first to squash the rally as the Tigers farmhand got the final out with a flyball to left.

Brian Goodwin and Matt Skole joined Nieto in the starting lineup.

Goodwin continues to blister the ball, going 3-for-4 with a stand-up triple and two RBIs while playing centerfield, where he played error-free and made three putouts.

Skole was the DH but whiffed three times and walked once. He now has 17K’s in 14 games and is hitting .152 (7-for-46) though he’s drawn 14 walks (tied for 3rd) to maintain a respectable .350 on-base percentage.

Nieto singled once — just his third hit against a LHP — and struck out twice in five ABs. He gave up his first passed ball of the fall but had six putouts.

The Solar Sox finish out the week with rematch against the Saguaros this afternoon in Surprise. Matt Purke (2-1, 3.79) is scheduled to make his sixth and perhaps final start, opposed by Cleveland prospect Will Roberts (0-1, 5.31).

Nov 062013
 

A seven-run 3rd put the Solar Sox up the creek as they were paddled by the Rafters, 7-0 last night in Arizona.

Mesa collected just four singles while committing five errors and hitting into four double plays. Two Nationals position players and one reliever got into the game:

  • Matt Skole started at 3B and batted 5th. He singled in three trips to the plate and collected one assist and one putout (both in the 8th inning)
  • Adrian Nieto started at C and batted 8th. He also went 1-for-3 and picked off a runner at first base in the 2nd inning. He finished with two assists and seven putouts.
  • Richie Mirowski pitched the final two innings, giving up a run on two hits and a walk. He struck out one and threw 35 pitches, 22 for strikes.

With the loss, Mesa’s lead over second-place Salt River returns to 1½ games with eight to play… and no more matchups between the two teams. The Solar Sox host the Desert Dogs this afternoon, then travel to Glendale tomorrow. They return to Mesa on Friday to play against the Surprise Saguaros, which is the next scheduled start for Sammy Solis.

Nov 032013
 

Arizona Fall League #3
Brian Goodwin started while Adrian Nieto came off the bench in the AFL’s cash cow Fall Star game last night in Surprise, Arizona as the AFL West stars pummeled the AFL East contingent, 9-2.

Former National Alex Meyer started and won the game, but gave up a one-out, first-inning single to Goodwin, who turned on 97 m.p.h. offering and pulled it into right field. Goodwin was cut down trying to get into scoring position by Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges for the inning’s second out.

The two rematched in the 3rd with Meyer whiffing his former teammate in Hagerstown as the front end of K-2-6 double play to end the inning and Meyer’s night. The Twins RHP gave up three hits and walked one over three scoreless innings to earn the exhibition win.

Goodwin finished the night at 1-for-5 with two putouts in five innings in center and no chances in four innings in left field.

Nieto, who was named to the AFL East squad as a replacement for Giants backstop Andrew Susac, caught the final three innings in relief of Yankees backstop Pete O’Brien. He went hitless in two plate appearances, getting hit by a pitch but scoring in the top of the 7th and tapping out to the pitcher in the 9th.