Oct 222012
 

On the field, the Hagerstown Suns improved upon a successful 2011 campaign with an 82-55 overall record. They missed the first half by three games with a 42-27 mark, but won the second with slightly worse record of 40-28, only to get swept in the playoffs with a pair of 2-run losses (3-1, 7-5). Some may blame the late promotion of Matt Skole at the very late date of August 15 — two months too late, if you ask some folks — for the quick playoff exit, the more objective take is that the pitching just wasn’t there, much like Auburn.

Off the field, the Suns entered the 2012 season with the spectre of the team leaving for Winchester and the rumblings of a new stadium being built in Hagerstown, culminating in a rather bold move of the team opening the kimono by giving a tour of Municipal Stadium, ostensibly to demonstrate that renovation is a not an option. The move may have prevented the team from losing its PDC through 2014, but it’s hard not to infer that threat of the team leaving is to blame for the huge drop in attendance from 2011 to 2012 (1,931 per game to 1,366 — a 29.3% decrease).

Back to the review… Let’s take a look at how the Suns compared to the rest of the South Atlantic League:
HITTING

PITCHING



Like 2011, the Suns were among the league leaders in runs and homers (2nd), hits and stolen bases (3rd), and walks (1st). I’ll go out on a limb and say this will probably be true for 2013, too. Unfortunately, some of the reason for this is that the team was among the oldest in the league, with multiple players repeating the level.

Pitching, which had been the organization’s strong suit for years, is now becoming one of its weaknesses. This the fourth of the seven affiliates, and all four levels have given up runs above the league average. This is not to say there weren’t bright spots in Hagerstown — obviously, a couple of examples stand, um, head & shoulders above the others — but it does seem like there was a Mr. Hyde for every Dr. Jekyll. When you can outslug your competition, it often goes unnoticed (well, at least until the playoffs), but this the last level where that’s the case.

Turning back to the bats, we now look at the Top 12 hitters in terms of plate appearances. As always, full statistics for the team can be found here, and the key for the asterisks is one * for the 2011 draft picks and two ** for the DSL graduates.
Like Auburn, there is really little to complain about in terms of overall offensive production. Just three of the top 12 produced below the league average, and three produced Nintendo-like numbers for both Gross Production Average and Isolated Power. The problem, of course, is that quite a few of these players were playing a level behind where they should have, as my Hagerstown guy put it in his review.

The only beacon of hope is that maybe, just maybe, one or two of the position players that were promoted from here to Potomac will be challenged with Harrisburg rather than resuming 2013 in Woodbridge. I know that sounds harsh, but perhaps an offseason “leapfrog” might serve as both an incentive to the Low-A guys and reminder to the High-A guys that moving up to the next level isn’t a foregone conclusion. The large number of six-year FA pitchers that were brought in at AA and AAA this year is an example of that line of thinking.

Speaking of pitchers…
For all the bitching and moaning discontent over the lack of promotions in the system, Hagerstown was interesting case when it came to pitchers. Four pitchers were promoted from Hagerstown to Potomac, and four pitchers were promoted to the Hub City — but two of those came not from Auburn but from the GCL. And three were 2012 picks.

It’s the skipping over that’s unusual. Ordinarily, one would expect a sequence like Blake Schwartz going from Viera to Auburn and Blake Monar going from Auburn to Hagerstown. Likewise for Leonard Hollins and, say, Travis Henke. It may be just be an anomaly, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

For the second straight year, eleven pitchers made at least five starts for the Suns. Ineffectiveness and promotions were more to blame than injuries this year, with one starter dropping down from Potomac and two moving up midseason and one very late. Five pitchers went up and back to Viera for fine-tuning (most notably, Turnbull and Estevez) and a sixth went out for the year and under the knife (Brian Dupra).

Once again, I’ll refer you to my eyes on the field for Hagerstown’s hurlers.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Before blasting me for not listing Karns, remember that he pitched more innings for Potomac and I’m trying to avoid double-listing guys, which gets more difficult as we hit the upper levels. There isn’t a set number of spots to fill for the watchlist, after all. If it means fewer guys and shorter lists at the upper levels, so be it.

Position Players
1. Brian Goodwin
2. Matt Skole
3. Billy Burns
4. Jason Martinson
5. Steve Souza
HM: Caleb Ramsey

Pitchers
1. Alex Meyer
2. Christian Meza
3. Aaron Barrett
4. Brian Rauh
5. Blake Schwartz
HM: Ben Hawkins

Oct 192012
 

It was a pitcher’s duel in the desert with the Salt River Rafters falling to the Peoria Javelinas, 3-1.

Four Nationals saw game action:

  • Brian Goodwin led off and played left field, but went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He had two putouts in the field.
  • Matt Skole batted third and played first base, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. He handled all eight defensive chances without an error.
  • Anthony Rendon had his hit streak stopped at five with an 0-for-3 game, batting from the #7 spot while playing 3B. He snagged three foul pops and threw out a runner at first.
  • Cole Kimball threw a scoreless inning and allowed his first hit of the fall. He issued no walks and struck out none.

The Rafters finish out the week with another pair of games at and versus the Scottsdale Scorpions tonight and tomorrow evening.

Oct 172012
 

The Salt River Rafters and Phoenix Desert Dogs played to a 3-3 tie over 11 innings last night.

Three Nats farmhands played in the contest:

  • Brian Goodwin was the DH and led off, but went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.
  • Matt Skole batted third, played first base, and went 1-for-3 with two walks.
  • Aaron Barrett tossed two scoreless innings, giving up two hits, but striking out three

Defensively, Skole played error-free in nine chances and even turned a 3-6-3 DP — not bad for a guy new to the position.

Barrett was the subject of Byron Kerr’s latest missive on the minors, but I have a feeling folks might be more interested to learn that Kerr has confirmed what has long been suspected: Matt Purke has had shoulder surgery.

I’ve put in a couple of questions regarding a couple of other pitchers (Josh Smoker, Manny Rodriguez), though I suspect one or both has been released and the other, if not released, has had surgery.

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Winter leagues have begun in Venezuela, Mexico and the Domnican Republic over the last few days. The Australian Baseball League begins its preseason tomorrow, regular season in 10 days while the Puerto Rican League starts three weeks from tomorrow. I’ll begin weekly updates on the stats for all the offseason leagues starting next week. In the meantime, here’s a look at the Nats players that have been spotted thus far (excluding players that did not play in the Washington minors this past summer):

Venezuela Dominican Republic
• Carlos Rivero • Manny Mayorson
• Tanner Roark • Erik Davis
Mexico • Pat McCoy
• Zech Zinicola • Kevin Pucetas
• Hassan Pena • Atahualpa Severino
Oct 162012
 

Matt Skole’s two-out, two-run single in the 10th snapped a 2-2 tie and ended a… wait for it… two-game losing streak as Salt River triumphed 4-2 over Phoenix yesterday afternoon.

The hit was Skole’s third of the game as the 23-year-old went 3-for-4 with a walk, a double, and two RBI as the Rafters’ DH, batting fifth in the Salt River lineup.

Scoring on the Skole’s game-winning safety was Brian Goodwin, who led off the 10th with a double, his second of the game, as the North Carolina native went 2-for-5 five with two runs scored while playing left field, where he made two putouts.

Anthony Rendon singled and stole a base, extending his hit streak to a modest four games, though he also struck out three times while going 1-for-5 batting behind Skole. Washington’s 2011 first-round pick had a busy game at third base, snagging a liner and assisting four times on groundouts to first.

Cole Kimball’s second outing of the fall was a much better effort as the 27-year-old stranded a runner in the 4th and struck out two in the fifth, retiring all four batters he faced, with 10 of his 13 pitches thrown for strikes.

The two teams rematch tonight, switching venues from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Oct 132012
 

A pair of two-run rallies in the middle innings sunk the Salt River Rafters for a 4-0 loss on Friday.

Five Nationals minor-leaguers got into yesterday’s game:

  • Brian Goodwin led off the first with a walk, but went 0-for-3 with a strikeout for the game. He caught two flyballs in left field.
  • Matt Skole also drew a first-inning walk and singled in the 8th, going 1-for-3 overall. He committed his first error at first base, but also took part in two double plays, a traditional ’round-the-horn and a 4-3-4 where Skole helped catch the runner on second trying to sneak over to third.
  • Anthony Rendon singled in the second and a drew a walk in the 7th, finishing 1-for-3. Defensively, he was the “5″ on the 5-4-3 DP.
  • Cole Kimball retired just one of the five batters he faced, walking the bases loaded in the 5th and letting in two runs on Skole’s error. He threw 20 pitches, seven of which were strikes.
  • Paul Demny relieved Kimball and stranded the two runners he inherited, but also struggled with his control with 12 of 28 pitches missing the zone. He walked two and gave up two hits over two and two-thirds innings.

Salt River falls to 3-1 with the loss and finishes up the first week of the AFL with an afternoon game at the Surprise Saguaros.

Oct 122012
 

The Salt River Rafters walked off with a two-run rally in the 9th for their third straight win on Thursday night, 6-5.

Brian Goodwin led off the the final frame with a solo shot to tie it at 5-5. Two batters later, Anthony Rendon drew a walk to load the the bases and set up the game-winning single by White Sox first baseman Andy Wilkins.

Goodwin would finish the night at 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI while batting out of the #9 spot in the lineup. Rendon walked twice, scored once, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI double. He was #3 in the lineup and #5 on the defensive chart, taking a grounder to third in the 9th for his only defensive chance.

Ryan Perry got the start for the Rafters, but was touched for two runs on four hits and two walks over three innings. He threw 55 pitches, 31 for strikes and faced 14 batters with three strikeouts, three groundouts, a lineout and two flyballs.

Salt River and Scottsdale rematch tonight in the Scorpions’ home field at Scottsdale Stadium.

Oct 112012
 

Highlighted by back-to-back homers from Arizona’s Matt Davidson and Washington’s Matt Skole, a four-run first propelled the Salt River Rafters to an 11-3 win yesterday over the Mesa Solar Sox.

Three Nationals farmhands saw game action:

• Brian Goodwin led off and played centerfield, going 2-for-5 with a walk and two runs scored, including a solo shot in the 9th to cap off Salt River’s offensive onslaught.

• Skole was a triple shy of the cycle with a single and a two-RBI double in his subsequent ABs, finishing the game at 3-for-5 with a walk and a run scored and three RBI while batting fifth.

• Jason Martinson served as the DH, but went 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout while batting ninth.

Defensively, Goodwin had no chances while Skole made his professional debut at first base, catching three groundouts and committing no errors. As noted in the game story on the AFL site, Skole had made 37 errors in 172 games at third base over the past two seasons — a fielding percentage of just .916.

Ryan Perry is expected to take the hill tonight as the Rafters host the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Oct 092012
 

As noted last Friday, Baseball America has done the proverbial double dip, naming centerfielder Brian Goodwin to its 2012 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects List.

Goodwin comes in at #7, a little less than a week after being named the #8 prospect in the Sally League, and he’s immediately compared to Boston Red Sox farmhand Jack Bradley Jr. Here are the highlights from the scouting report (to their credit, it is different than Sally League notes):

A wiry yet strong athlete, he has surprising over-the-fence power, while his speed means he’ll leg out plenty of extra-base hits. His compact lefty stroke gives him a chance to hit for average, especially when combined with his discerning batting eye and willingness to use all fields. Scouts expect Goodwin will become a successful and intuitive basestealer with experience. Plus range and a solid arm suggest that he’ll be able to hold down center field for a while.

I missed the chance to see Goodwin play in June when I stopped in Charleston, finishing up a week-long trip through Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia; He’d been suspended for a home plate argument two nights prior. I did, however, get the chance to see Jackie Bradley Jr. play for Salem against Potomac on several occasions, and if the comp is legitimate (and they concede that Bradley is more refined currently but believe Goodwin has a “tick more raw tools”), then Nats fans have good reason to be excited because JBJ was one of the most exciting players to watch in the Carolina League last season.

BA points to the Washington Nationals CF “instability” as the reason for the two-level jump, referring to the more recent franchise history and not Bryce Harper per se, and noting that his triple slash was .252/.312/.400 after an 8-for-51 start in his first 14 games at AA. Overall, Goodwin hit .223/.306/.373 with 5HR and 14RBI in 42 games for Harrisburg, where he’ll most likely open the 2013 campaign.

Oct 032012
 

As semi-predicted yesterday, three Hagerstown Suns were named to the Baseball America Top 20 prospects for the South Atlantic League — Brian Goodwin (#8), Alex Meyer (#10) and Matt Skole (#19).

All three were promoted from the Sally League, with one leapfrogging to the Eastern League after just 58 games played, another making the jump after 18 starts, and the last getting the call so late that it managed to disappoint fans of both Hagerstown and Potomac, but only after enraging just about the rest of the frequent commenters here first.

Highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…
A hamstring injury that knocked him out for five weeks was the only thing that stopped Goodwin in the SAL. His plus power potential and speed make Goodwin at least a 20-20 candidate once he reaches the majors, though he’s still learning how to read pitchers. His short stroke and disciplined approach should allow him to hit for a high average as well. Defensively, he’s a quality center fielder with solid arm strength.

Meyer battled inconsistency but also dominated at times in his pro debut, lowering his ERA in each of his three months in the SAL, the performed even better after a promotion to High-A. The 6’9″ Meyer has a lot of moving parts, which makes maintaining his mechanics a challenge. When he’s in sync and maintains a consistent release point, he works downhill with a 93-97 mph FB and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s. He also shows some feel for a changeup that could become an average third pitch.

Matt SkoleThe league MVP, Skole led the SAL in homers (27), walks (94), on-base percentage (.438) and slugging (.574). Managers tabbed him as having the best strike-zone judgment in the league after watching him use his disciplined approach to pound pitchers with consistency. While Skole was old for the league, his strength and bat speed give him legitimate power. Almost all of his value is tied up in his bat, however, as he’s a well below-average runner and subpar defender at third base.

Goodwin and Skole, of course, are among the Nats’ Arizona Fall League contigent while Meyer was shut down in late August and should start 2013 with the Harrisburg Senators, along with fellow P-Nat Nathan Karns.

The Carolina League is next up (Friday), with the Eastern League scheduled for next Tuesday (non-spoiler alert: look for Goodwin to get named to the E.L. list, too) and the International League on the 12th.

Sep 282012
 

Not much in the way of news this week, but in yesterday’s transactions post from Baseball America, the Arizona Fall League assignments were made official:
• RHP Aaron Barrett
• RHP Paul Demny
• CF Brian Goodwin
• RHP Cole Kimball
• SS/3B Jason Martinson (taxi)
• RHP Ryan Perry
• 3B/SS Anthony Rendon
• 3B Matt Skole

The biggest change, of course, is the swapping of Christian Garcia and Cole Kimball, who has apparently healed enough from the injury that cut short his rehab tour in early to start throwing again. The 27-year-old is attempting to come back from rotator cuff surgery and could be potentially pitching to keep his spot on the 40-man roster.

When I last saw him, he looked like a shell of his previous self: his fastball like your weird uncle’s wardrobe (stuck in the 80s) and his command, which has never been mistaken for Jordan Zimmermann’s (subject of a prospect retro by John Sickels), even worse. Taking chances on hurt pitchers is what has netted the Nats pitchers like Garcia and Ryan Mattheus, though you could make the argument that Kimball was hurt in the first place when the Nats pushed him (and Adam Carr) in the AFL in the fall of 2010.

Most folks, of course, are curious regarding a rumored position switch of Anthony Rendon to second base. There are two other 2Bs on the roster of the Salt River Rafters (Tyler Bortnick, Diamondbacks; Carlos Sanchez, White Sox) and while one of them is a 25-year-old that appears to be a Rule 5 tryout (Bortnick), it’s only speculation at this point.

Matt Skole and Brian Goodwin will join Rendon as the position players assigned by Washington, with Jason Martinson serving as this year’s taxi squad player, eligible to play twice a week. Bryce Harper (2010) and Zach Walters (2011) served in this capacity over the past two fall campaigns.

Ryan Perry presumably will continue his transition to starting from relief while it appears that Paul Demny is doing the opposite, based on his removal from the Harrisburg Senators rotation in August as well as his struggles all year long (insert obligatory reference to youth and hard-throwing here). Aaron Barrett, who is not Rule 5-eligible, will continue to refine his stuff after posting a 3-2/2.09/0.92 pitcher’s line (if it doesn’t exist, then I’m coining it) with 17 saves in 2012.

The 2012 season begins on Tuesday, October 9th with Salt River hosting the Mesa Solar Sox.