Nov 132011
 

The streak is over for Bryce Harper as the Nationals’ 19-year-old wunderkind went 0-for-3 in a 6-4 Scottsdale loss on Saturday.

Harper also committed an error, his fifth of the fall, and made a putout while playing left field. Here’s how the rest of the Nats fared:

…Zach Walters played third base again and notched four assists, but was also hitless at 0-for-2.

…Matt Purke made his third straight scoreless appearance, tossing a 1-2-3 inning for his second hold of the fall with six of his 11 pitches registering as strikes.

…Pat Lehman’s troubles returned as the 25-year-old was torched for four runs on four hits and a walk while striking out two.

…Rafael Martin labored through a 28-pitch inning, throwing just 12 strikes, but stranded all three walks he issued.

Just four games remain on the slate for Scottsdale, as they host then visit Salt River on Monday and Tuesday, host Peoria on Wednesday, and finish up on the road at Mesa on Thursday.

Nov 122011
 

Bryce Harper extended his hit streak to 16 games as Scottsdale defeated Phoenix, 3-2 in a scheduled seven-inning contest.

Harper went 2-for-3 with an RBI double while playing left field. The two hits pushed his batting average to .321 while the RBI was #25, which is third-best in the AFL. Defensively, he had two putouts and no assists.

Derek Norris was the only other National to appear in the contest, but had a dismal 0-for-4 game with no walks or strikeouts. It was the first time he failed to reach base this fall. Defensively, it wasn’t any better: Error #6 on a throw following a wild pitch, allowing the runner on first to reach third.

Scottsdale finishes up the week this afternoon with a game against Surprise.
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Thankfully, there will be no references to either Thurman Munson or Lyman Bostick Bostock as Wilson Ramos was rescued from his kidnappers yesterday afternoon by Venezuelan authorities. Cheryl Nichols has the pics and the human-interest angle on District Sports Page.

As you might have guessed, Ryan Tatusko will remain in Venezuela despite the incident. And for the haters (e.g. Chris Needham and Kevin Reiss), Tatusko won’t be going home anytime soon on account of his pitching, either. In his fourth outing last night, the 26-year-old righthander tossed six shutout innings and struck out five while allowing just one hit and walking two.

Nov 102011
 

Sammy Solis wasn’t as sharp as his last outing, getting touched for three runs (and the loss) in the first as the Scottsdal Scorpions would go on to lose, 5-0.

The southpaw would finish with three innings pitched, four hits allowed, two walks surrendered, and two strikeouts while throwing just 33 of his 63 pitches for strikes. The loss evened his AFL mark at 1-1.

Pat Lehman would receive a similar greeting in the fourth, giving up two runs and finishing with four hits allowed over his two innings pitched. He walked none and struck out two.

Rafael Martin appeared in the 7th and tossed a 1-2-3 frame with a strikeout.

Nats bats Bryce Harper, Derek Norris and Zach Walters appeared in the game in left field, catcher and third base respectively…

…Harper extended his hit streak to 15 games with a second-inning double, and committed the cardinal sin of making the first out of the inning by getting thrown out at third. He struck out twice and made two putouts on defense.

…Norris reached base for the 18th time in as many games with a sixth-inning single. The Desert Dogs were successful in both steal attempts against him.

…Walters went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and had no defensive chances.
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By now, many of you have heard that Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in his native Venezuela — it was first brought to my attention by Jeff550 via the comments — and as of this writing there’s still no word as to his fate.

Despite being decidedly closer to the scene, farmhand Ryan Tatusko said via Twitter that he found out about it via the Washington Post. Fortunately, the young man had the presence of mind to write something about it on his blog, giving us some perspective on what it’s like as a jugador de béisbol americano.

Nov 092011
 


For most of you, this list is hardly new. But the blogging protocol is that I needed Baseball America to officially release its list so I could link to it before mocking discussing it. Without further ado, here’s the list from the home office in Durham, North Carolina…

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, RHP
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, RHP
7. Matt Purke, LHP
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS

So what’s with the picture, Sue? Glad you asked. I’ve put the prospects with zero regular-season pro experience in italics. As the old expression goes, when you’re girl watching the prettiest one is the last one to walk by. It’s a crude metaphor, but we all know there’s some commonality here with ranking prospects.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these four isn’t a prospect. It’s just my personal conviction that placing a guy with no professional track record over a guy that does doesn’t pass the sniff test — especially when two of these four have injury issues, one of which we’ve been tracking from afar in the Arizona Fall League. For example: Which Matt Purke is the real Matt Purke — the one that’s turned in two scoreless innings in his last two outings, or the one that threw in-game BP the two appearances prior?

Maybe that’s just a pet peeve, so forgive me for seizing the chance to rant… I’m not as diplomatic as others have been on the subject.

Like last year, the free article focuses a lot on how the Nationals have spent freely and heavily the past three drafts. Two of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” — Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — while a third went down with a season-ending injury (Cole Kimball). Chris Marrero dropped off the list while Cole, Harper, Norris, Peacock and Solis are repeats from last year.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the “best in the system” lists. Harper remains the best power hitter and best outfield arm, but lost the title of “Best Athlete” to Michael Taylor, who was also named as the best defensive outfielder (disagree, but no argument over naming Steve Lombardozzi as the best defensive infielder). Anthony Rendon with his undefined pro average (zero divided by zero) is the best hitter for average and those zero walks drawn have earned him the system’s best strike-zone discipline, topping Derek Norris’s .403 career OBP in 1,815 more plate appearances (OK, so maybe I’m still ranting). Brad Peacock’s curve was named the best in the system while Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole were said to possess the best slider and heater, respectively.

Among the non-Top 10 tools, Eury Perez retains the title of fastest baserunner (Kobernus is close, but Perez has that proverbial fifth gear). Tommy Milone retains the title of best control and takes the best changeup honors away from Josh Wilkie (which might explain why he’s demoted his bender to a show-me pitch). Deion Williams has the strongest infield arm while Sandy Leon was named the best defensive catcher (agreed).

Lastly, here’s where BA thinks these guys will start the 2012 season:
MLB or AAA – Lombardozzi
AAA – Norris
AA or AAA – Harper
AA – Solis
High-A – Cole, Purke
Low-A – Goodwin, Meyer

BA took no guess at Rendon, but my rule of thumb is to take whatever level you think is about right, and drop back one: In this case, Hagerstown instead of Potomac. If he’s as good as advertised, I’ll get to see him in June or July, presuming that field conditions won’t play a factor in promotions as they allegedly didn’t this past summer.

Byron Kerr will be running a series based on his conversations with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America (author of the article linked in the first graf), beginning with Lombardozzi. I encourage you to take a look, as that’s where we learned that the Nigel Tufnel is Destin Hood.

Nov 092011
 

Make that 14 straight games for Bryce Harper, as the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect went 1-for-4 in the Scottsdale Scorpions’ 2-0 win last night.

Defensively, Harper remains a work in progress, committing his fourth error (throwing) while making no putouts in left field.

Likewise, the other Nationals position player to appear in the game, Zach Walters, notched his fifth “E” (fielding) but did have an assist while playing third base. At the plate, Walters was 1-for-3 with a walk, pushing his average to .209.

Matt Purke made another scoreless appearance, but labored through a 21-pitch inning to do it. He allowed a hit and a walk and struck out two. The according-to-BA #7 prospect was credited with a hold for his efforts.

Nov 082011
 

After the entire Nats contingent was trotted out last Friday, just two made into Monday’s night contest, which the Scottsdale Scorpions lost, 9-4.

Derek Norris caught and kept his on-base streak perfect at 17 with a 1-for-5 night. No baserunners attempted to steal against him, and he had no errors or passed balls, assisting on a infield roller and registering six putouts on strikeouts.

Zach Walters played third base and went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI double. Defensively, he had no putouts or errors and assisted on four groundouts.

In an upset of near miniscule proportions, Bryce Harper was not named the AFL Player of the Week last week despite hitting .500 with 2HR and 8RBI. Instead, the honor went to Texas’s Mike Olt, who bested Harper by batting .571 with the same HR and RBI totals. Sammy Solis’s 9K over 4IP outing on Friday did, however, garner him the AFL Pitcher of the Week award.

Nov 062011
 

In the made-for-TV showcase AFL Rising Stars game, the West Division beat the East Divison, 11-2, you know, in case anyone truly cares about the score.

Bryce Harper (DH) and Derek Norris both started (C) and played most of the game, which was over early as the Western squad put up 10 of its 11 runs over the first three innings. Naturally, the MLB.com angle is the great hitting, but I’m inclined to believe what John Sickels wrote hours before the game:

The main thing I have noticed here is the poor quality of pitching compared to hitting. In fact, the pitching… I’ve seen has been so bad that [it’s] hard to properly analyze some of the hitters.

Full disclosure: I taped the game and just watched the Harper and Norris at-bats this morning. Those five first-inning runs meant no stealing against Norris, so not much to look for in controlling the running game (though he looked steady in fast-forward ;-). Can’t say that I regret choosing to spend the evening in with the ball-and-chain spouse.

Both Harper and Norris were hitless (0-for-2), but both walked once and I think I saw what Sickels meant. Both walks weren’t from pitching around (remember the West was up big), but from missing with the breaking pitches in the dirt. Both hitters’ highlights came from flyballs, with Harper looping an opposite-field flyball to left for sacrifice fly and Norris driving a 396-footer to dead center, missing a solo HR by about three or four feet.

Harper did strike out twice, but that’s hardly news. It was actually kind of amusing to listen to Dave Valle fake his way through some of questions about the length of Harper’s swing (both Sickels and Law have noted it’s been shortened a bit, with Sickels noting he’s not lost any power in the process), gushing instead about his youth and power. Almost made me wish for Tim McCarver to have been there. Almost.

Scottsdale resumes play tomorrow with evening games from Monday to Thursday and afternoon games on Friday and Saturday. Barring rain or a change in the rotation, Sammy Solis’s next outing is most likely to come in one of those day games.

Nov 052011
 

With solid Solis outing, the Scottsdale Scorpions won 9-2, taking back-to-back games for just the fourth time this fall.

Solis threw four shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks. He struck out nine, hitting 94-96 m.p.h. per Mark Zuckerman, and undoubtedly had his new overhand curve working (first spotted by commenter Ernie Salazar) as Solis threw 40 of his 67 pitches for strikes. He was credited with the win.

Solis was followed in the bullpen by his fellow farmhands Pat Lehman, Matt Purke, and Rafael Martin, while Bryce Harper played left field, Derek Norris caught and Zach Walters played third base. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was reported to be in attendance at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which may explain why every Washington player was playing.

Here’s a rundown on how they did…

  • Lehman pitched a scoreless inning, allowing a hit, but walked none and struck out two.
  • Purke threw a 1-2-3 inning with no hits, walks, or strikeouts.
  • Martin also put up a goose egg, giving up a hit, but no walks, and whiffed one.
  • Harper went 1-for-5 (the streak is now 13 games) with a run scored and an RBI, gunning down a runner at the plate and making a putout.
  • Norris’s safety skein was snapped after 10 games with an 0-for-3 game, but drew two walks to keep his on-base streak a perfect 16-for-16 this fall. He threw out a baserunner and had no errors or passed balls.
  • Walters went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts but had two assists.

Harper and Norris are expected to play in tonight’s AFL Rising Stars game, which will be televised tonight at 8 p.m. on the MLB Network.

Nov 042011
 

Is it possible that the hype about Bryce Harper may actually be understated? After yesterday’s 3-for-3 outing with two walks, a run scored, a home run, and three RBI, the recycling of the 2008-era Matt Wieters facts is certainly a possibility. Oh, wait – too late.

Now the question turns to whether or not Bryce Harper can make the 2012 Opening Day rosterfor Washington, not Syracuse. Well, it’s not really a question so much as sportswriters doing what they’re paid to do: write about what’s on their minds while simultaneously catering to their readers.

Bloggers do the same, even if they’re not paid, and so I’ll repeat what I usually write when folks get too excited about a prospect. Wait until the league gets a second crack at him. In this environment, that’s probably not going to happen. There are less a dozen games left on the slate and Harper will sit for some of them. So we’re looking at a winter of heightened expectations.

The more intelligent question: If this kind of performance isn’t unexpected, why should plans change? Those, if you’ll recall, were for Harper to master every level (well, except maybe for High-A, but I digress) before he makes it to The Show. For all his offensive prowess, folks also need to be reminded that Harper has only played outfield full-time for one (1) season.

I do think there are some tea leaves that can be read from his continuing appearances in left field (all 37 games in Harrisburg, for example). Could Harper spend the first two months of the 2012 season delaying his Super Two eligibility honing his defensive skills? Absolutely.

Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about GM Mike Rizzo, it’s that whenever there is a scenario in which something can be plausibly denied, it will be. It has mystified me, by the way, why Rizzo gets the pass from the fans even if he shares that trait with the departed Stan Kasten.

P.S. Zach Walters also appeared in yesterday’s game, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored while playing first base in relief of injured Phillies prospect Darin Ruf, who was removed from the game after trying to beat out a groundout to short. Walters made an error but also made eight putouts. Scottsdale won the game, 10-6. Sorry to bury it so deep, but therein lies my ambivalence with young Mr. Harper.

Nov 022011
 

For some, the memory of the 2011 Harrisburg Senators will not be how the team took first place in late April and won the division, leading nearly wire-to-wire, despite losing its ace pitcher, its all-star second baseman, and its #3 hitter to promotions and a trade. Nope. It will be this and the wondering if things might have turned out differently if that hadn’t happened.

The more painful reality is that probably didn’t make that big of a difference. The Flying Squirrels won 13 of 21 regular-season meetings and just seemed to have the Senators’ number whenever they matched up. They lost eight of their last 11 games, scoring more than two runs just three times, and scored a total of three runs in three playoff games. Simply put: The Senators were cold going into a short series against a team they had trouble with even when they were playing their best baseball.

This is not to dismiss the disappointment — it’s funny to me to see proclamations each September about how winning in the minors is overrated… or underrated, though it does seem to depend on how your organization is doing at the time — but to remind folks that it was quite a journey to get to the playoffs, as one of our contributors first wrote on this site a few weeks ago.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 Harrisburg team compared to the rest of the Eastern League, shall we?
HITTING

PITCHING

The Senators were 9th in runs scored despite leading the league in home runs. Likewise, they were 11th in on-base percentage but third in stolen bases and triples. It’s an unusual combination, though I think we’re seeing a trend across the organization when it comes to running (GCL, 5th; NYPL, 3rd; Sally, 3rd; Carolina, 1st) and getting on base (6th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd). Unfortunately, the closest player to possessing both skills is Steve Lombardozzi, so the folks reading this site looking for the answer to the problem with Ian Desmond at leadoff might be disappointed.

Pitching was this team’s strength, as they were first in strikeouts and WHIP, second in ERA, walks and HRs allowed, third in runs allowed. The defense wasn’t so bad either, finishing fifth in terms of percentage and seventh in terms of errors committed, and second in terms of stolen bases allowed. Admittedly, some of this can be chalked up to the veteran nature of the pitching staff (e.g. Erik Arnesen, Oliver Perez), but it should be noted that 24-year-olds (the league average age) accounted for 31.5% of the innings thrown and 62 of the 142 games started. Until the likes of Wirkin Estevez, A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray come to town, an older pitching staff is probably going to be the norm for the forseeable future.

Now, let’s drill down to the Top 16’s for the batters and pitchers — an expansion from the Top 12’s so as to include notables such as Bryce Harper and Erik Komatsu as well as Danny Rosenbaum and Pat Lehman. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

Now when I say that we’re hurting for age-appropriate position prospects at AA and AAA will folks believe me? Just six of the Top 16 batters were 24 or younger. This is why when I see folks elsewhere chiming that the farm has been rebuilt, intimating the job is complete, I cringe. It’s true that three of those six are likely to be in DC by Opening Day 2013, but need I remind folks that unfortunate incidents occasionally occur?

Age aside, you can see from the totals that the team compensated for its low OBP with some serious slugging (.316 ISO for Dolla?!) while nearly everybody was a decent fielder and/or had above-average speed — perfect complements to the aforementioned veteran pitching.

Lastly, in case anyone was wondering… 18-year-old Bryce Harper “struggled” to only reach the league averages for the triple-slash rate stats, hitting it on the nose for OBP and SLG, and missing BA by .003. I’m not prone to fanboy one-handed typing, but that’s pretty damn impressive.
Quite a few extremes, no? That’s part of the reason I like to drill down to the individual stats: Because the guys that were good, were really good — offsetting the guys that weren’t up to snuff, though one thing I did notice is that nearly all of the high ERA guys had significantly lower FIPs (e.g. Ryan Tatusko, 5.94 ERA, 3.97 FIP), which make sense with a team that’s in the upper half of the league in terms of defense.

Like the hitters, one gets the feeling that Washington is building the uppermost levels of the farm to be interchangeable between AA and AAA, creating an environment in which prospects bubble up to the bigs while surrounded by veterans. That’s just what jumps at me when I look at this list of guys that seemed to be either 24 or 27. Of course, that inference could be drawn into a comic like this.

OBLIGATORY TOP FOUR LISTS
That’s no typo. I just can’t pick a #5 for either the batters or the pitchers with a straight face. I’m already including a couple of guys that may be voting for president next year for the third time. Pat McCoy, Stephen King, Erik Komatsu, Tanner Roark are the requisite ages, but none really had that good of a season. I’m already sure that next week it’ll be a Top 5 for the entire Syracuse team (that’s what I did last year), but I felt like doing that here and now might be misconstrued. This is what I mean when I say that the rebuilding job is not complete: There simply aren’t 10 guys at the so-called marquee level of prospects that fit the bill.

Batters
1. Bryce Harper
2. Derek Norris
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tyler Moore

Pitchers
1. Brad Peacock
2. Danny Rosenbaum
3. Brad Meyers
4. Pat Lehman