The unexpected success of the 2012 Washington Nationals — those of you who really, really thought they’d win 98 games: How’s the weather today in Colorado? — was fueled in part by the ability of the 2012 Syracuse Chiefs to supply the parent club with replacements when the injury bug bit this year. Carlos Maldonado, Jhonatan Solano, Corey Brown, John Lannan all contributed in spots when needed, while Tyler Moore became a bench player and some teenager became a starter.
The past two Syracuse reviews have alluded to the new world order of AAA — a place for replacements more than a last stop for prospects. As the Nationals cross the rubicon from also-ran to playoff contender, I expect the Chiefs to continue to get older and more experienced, resembling the likes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pawtucket, and Lehigh Valley more than Toledo, Louisville, and Indianapolis.
I hope that we’ll also see longtime Nationals farmhands be part of that equation, but as we saw last December, that might be too much to wish for.
With that, let’s follow the format… taking a look at the team vs. the International League, then drilling down to the players. The one difference, however, is I’ll focus only on the Top 10 players who were 27 or younger (i.e. league-average age) with significant usage (~100AB, 17G). Full statistics for the team can be found here.
As a 70-74 record would suggest, Syracuse was indeed a team that was middle of the pack: pretty much 6th or 7th in virtually every offensive category, 7th in terms of fielding percentage and errors committed, and mostly 7th in all the pitching categories. The exceptions were pitching walks and strikeouts, both of which were the fewest in the league, and complete games and shutouts, which were the most in the league. With all the comings and goings — a total of 64 players donned the Chiefs uniform (including this fugly getup) in 2012 — this is about the best you can reasonably expect.
Let’s take a look at the age-appropriate batters…
For those wondering, Bryce Harper had just 84PA and rather unimpressive line of .243/.325/.365 in 21 games. It’s certainly proof that these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, and if you believe the prospect gurus, a pound in the short-season leagues.
Like last year, and even with with the 28+ folks filtered out, you’re still looking at a collection of veteran minor-leaguers with a handful of prospects mixed in. Unfortunately, only one of those is in his first go ’round in AAA (Eury Perez). Zach Walters missed the cut with 105PA, but both he and Perez are both likely to return in 2013, perhaps with a collection of voodoo dolls to facilitate a call-up.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Corey Brown and Carlos Rivero. Brown, who turns 27 in a couple of weeks, has been stuck at Syracuse now for two seasons. Rivero, who had the kind of comeback year that nicely fits the “change of scenery” narrative, seems likely to be back, too. Joining him may be Chris Marrero, who’s probably wondering what might have been for 2012 had he not gotten hurt in winter ball. It’s a stretch (pun most definitely intended) to think that he might have had the season Tyler Moore had (given his defensive limitations), but he’d certainly be in a better position than he is now.
On to the pitchers…
A year ago I semi-predicted that half of the age-appropriate Chiefs pitchers would no longer be in the organization. Thanks in part to the Gio Gonzalez trade, that turned out to be true. That may very well be true next November, too, though a strong portion of that will simply be because they’ve either aged out or have been granted free agency.
As aforementioned, I expect another wave of FAs to fill out the Syracuse staff. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of the Harrisburg pitchers moving up (my guess: the Ryans Tatusko and Perry) and harder to project anyone other than Christian Garcia making the parent club out of spring training. Of course, that’s not as harsh as that reads when you stop to consider that doing so means cracking the staff that led the National League in ERA and FIP was second in runs allowed.
It’s been a leitmotif while doing the 2012 season reviews that the organization’s strength has shifted from pitchers to position players. Perhaps I’d feel differently if so many weren’t hurt or have had surgery. No. 1 below ought not to be 27 years old and coming off not one but two UCL replacement surgeries, but it’s emblematic of the state of Nationals pitching in the minors… and he certainly looks like a candidate for the 25-man roster next April.
OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Heavy emphasis on the obligatory… As you can see below, these are basically the five guys that either haven’t been ranked previously or have time on their side. Garcia has already been covered. The next three will be 25 by next July but only one of them was fully healthy all season long (Rivero). The last turned 26 last month and could potentially be picked next month in the Rule 5 draft (Lehman). This is when my policy of not naming guys to multiple levels (a.k.a. double-dipping) doesn’t look so good.
1. Christian Garcia
2. Carlos Rivero
3. Chris Marrero
4. Erik Komatsu
5. Pat Lehman
HM: Corey Brown
I struggled over whether or not to name Corey Brown yet again. Has he been stuck at Syracuse due to circumstance (i.e. he’s a younger version of Roger Bernadina)? Is he still with the organization only because Mike Rizzo admits his mistakes as readily as Karl Rove? Or is he indeed the dreaded “4A” player? He turns 27 in two weeks, and may not be on the 40-man next week, but I’ll give him the honorable mention because while he may not be a bench or platoon OF for Washington, he could be for another team.