Nov 082011
 

Let’s get this out of the way: AAA is the highest level of the minors, but it’s not where the best prospects are found. (In a related story, there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Great Pumpkin).

Rather than repeat why this is, I’ll refer you to last year’s Syracuse review and summarize it. Triple-A is now primarily where teams keep their marginal players active and ready to fill in holes, and secondarily to finish prospects until they’re ready and/or needed.

The thing that stands out the most for me about 2011 Chiefs is how the likes of J.D. Martin, Yunesky Maya, Craig Stammen, and Garrett Mock might have been part of the DC rotation in April instead of Syracuse just a year or two ago. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reason why the Washington Nationals were a last-place team for three straight seasons before finishing third in 2011. You don’t win with pitchers that would be unlikely to be starting (or even in the majors) for another organization.

Of course, close behind is how four players are now on the verge of “graduating” from prospect status, even with an improved parent club. Under the previous regime, we might have seen Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, and Chris Marrero playing, if not starting, in August (or even July) instead of September. Granted, this might be an apex of sorts, but it’s certainly pleasing to see young talent making it to Washington more on merit than need.

With that, let’s follow the format I’ve been using for the previous season reviews, 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 players who are league-average age or younger (~27) and in the upper half or so in usage (~150PA or ~30IP).
HITTING

PITCHING

To no one’s surprise, the Chiefs were 13th in runs scored and 14th in hits collected, despite finishing 6th in on-base percentage. As you can deduce from the sub-but-not-far-off-from-.500 record, Syracuse allowed the fifth fewest runs and the least walks in the I.L., which was further aided by having the league’s second-best defense both in terms of errors committed and fielding percentage.

Still, the initial reaction I had was that the numbers were better than expected. Instead, as you can see, most were right around the league norms. I think in some ways, this is what doing these season reviews is for: Checking the final numbers to see how the teams really stacked up. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that the team was younger than average for both the bats and the arms, even with 28- and 29-year-olds in the starting lineup and rotation (the aforementioned foursome on the verge was the offset).

With that, let’s examine the 27-and-unders that were in the top half in terms of usage for Syracuse. Full statistics for the team can be found here.

The Matt Antonelli fans may be permitted to crow — offensively, he was well above average with a triple-slash of .297/.393/.460. The problem is that those 19 games at shortstop were the first 19 he played as a pro, and he was definitely substandard there. The majority of his career has been as a second baseman, so one has to wonder if he can remake himself as a third baseman. But I also don’t think we should deduce that the Nats didn’t (or don’t) want him back; it might be more fair to presume that he feels like he’s blocked, and certainly it’s his right as a MLFA to go elsewhere on his quest to make it back to the show.

Marrero and Lombardozzi aside (and to a lesser extent, Jesus Valdez and Jhonatan Solano), you’re mostly looking at a collection of minor-league veterans much like Harrisburg. I know Corey Brown has some supporters here, too, but one has to wonder if he’s merely a younger version of Roger Bernadina in the eyes of the front office. As of this writing, there are six open spots on the 40-man roster and not a lot of tough decisions on who to protect (Norris and Moore seem likely to get added, but for all the others a case can be made for exposing them to next month’s Rule 5 Draft). Given Rizzo’s proclivity to protect the guys he’s acquired via trade (*cough, cough* Mock, Chico) coupled with his unwillingness to make a roster move until forced, Brown will likely be “safe” for the immediate future.

There are a lot of names that people might recognize in this group. That’s because nine of this eleven are homegrown. Three of them were in the Nationals rotation in September and will battle for a spot in April. A couple more have bounced back and forth between AAA and MLB, initially as starters, subsequently as relievers. A couple more are probably wondering what they have to do to get that chance.

This time next year, it wouldn’t surprise me if less than half these guys are still with the organization, majors or minors. I’m not even counting Adam Carr or Cole Kimball, both of whom were in the AFL this time last year, pitching their way onto the 40-man after years in the system. Now, they’re both recovering from surgery, perhaps even wondering if they’ve had their Moonlight Graham moment… even if in all likelihood, they’ll be back in Viera next Spring one way or the other.

THE OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Like last year, I have to do a singular list because they’re just simply aren’t that many candidates. Four of them are pretty damn obvious. The fifth may as well be a coin toss, so I’ll let you know who was the “tails” with an honorable mention, then we can discuss in the comments. Without further ado…

1. Brad Peacock
2. Chris Marrero
3. Steve Lombardozzi
4. Tommy Milone
5. Corey Brown
HM: Brad Meyers

Aug 052011
 

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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 49-61, 4th place I.L. North, 13½ games behind

Good Chris Marrero .325/.398/.494 since All-Star Break
Bad Yunesky Maya 0-2, 11.30 ERA, 5HR in last 3 starts
Interesting Just three current Chiefs have played more than 50% of the games at their primary defensive position: Marrero, Jesus Valdez, and Corey Brown

HARRISBURG SENATORS 62-50, 1st place E.L. West, ½ game ahead

Good Jimmy Barthmaier 3-0, 1.59 ERA last 10 appearances
Bad Team OBP .326, third-worst in E.L.
Interesting 77 opponents’ SB second fewest in the E.L.

POTOMAC NATIONALS 21-18, 2nd place C.L. North Division, 4 games behind (50-58 overall)

Good Destin Hood .340/.400/.520 in July
Bad Paul Demny 8.70 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 8HR in last 6G
Interesting 147 SB leads Carolina League, on pace for 191 (affiliation record 186 in ’09)

HAGERSTOWN SUNS 20-19, 4th place Sally League North Divison, 3½ games behind (60-49 overall)

Good Paul Applebee as a reliever: 5-1, 3.29 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
Bad 2.19 WHIP by Ps promoted from Auburn/GCL
Interesting 7PB by “hitters at catcher” fewest in Sally League

AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS 28-19, T1st place Pinckney Division, New York-Penn League, 2 games ahead

Good Bryce Ortega .370/.473/.457, 13SB in 30G
Bad Alex Kreis 8.35 ERA, 2.13 WHIP
Interesting Billy Burns .406/.513/.563 in 10G

GCL NATIONALS 12-26, 5th place GCL East, 16½ games behind

Good Jason Smith 1.14 WHIP in 21IP
Bad Johan Rodriguez .496 OPS in 27G
Interesting Brandon King 1.02 WHIP, 5.93 ERA, 11 HBP

DSL NATIONALS 28-27, 4th place, Boca Chica South Division, 5½ games behind

Good Junior Geraldo (18 y.o.) 1.000 OPS in first 6G
Bad Wander Suero (19 y.o.) 9.95 ERA, 2.13 WHIP in last 7 appearances
Interesting J.J. Hernandez 1.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 14G
Jun 242011
 

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

SYRACUSE 29-42, T4th place I.L. North, 13 games behind

Good Chris Marrero .310/.389/.464 in June
Bad Hassan Pena 0-4, 19.29ERA, 2.86WHIP
Interesting Jhonatan Solano .284/.344/.386 in 29G

HARRISBURG 40-31, 1st place E.L. West Division, 3½ games ahead

Good Pat Lehman & Rafael Martin, combined: 13.1IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 8K, 1 win, 2 SVs, 3 holds
Bad Jonathan Tucker .200/.297/.236 in June
Interesting Josh Johnson .291/.360/.468 in June

POTOMAC 1-0, T1st place C.L. North Division, 1 game ahead (29-40, 1st half)

Good Jeff Kobernus .296/.306/.437 in June
Bad Trevor Holder .304 OBA, .449 OSLG
Interesting Steve Souza 16SB: 2 at home, 14 on road

HAGERSTOWN 1-0, T1st place Sally League Northern Division, 1 game ahead (40-30 in 1st half)

Good Wilson Eusebio 7 holds in 20 appearance
Bad Shane McCatty 1.79WHIP, .314 OBA
Interesting Neil Holland 1BB in 23IP

DSL NATIONALS 8-12, 6th place, Boca Chica South Division of Dominican Summer League, 6½ games behind

Good Dionicio Rosario (Age 17) .328/.431/.426 in 19G
Bad Emmanuel De La Cruz (Age 19) 8BB, 8H, 6ER in 7&⅔ IP over 7G
Interesting Wilmer Difo 19BB in 19G
May 272011
 

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

SYRACUSE 16-22, 5th place I.L. North, 7 games behind

Good Chris Marrero .294/.362/.365 in May
Bad Ross Detwiler 1-4, 9.38 ERA, 2.17 WHIP in May
Interesting Josh Wilkie 1.75 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 10.89 K/9

HARRISBURG 23-20, 1st place E.L. West Division, 1 game ahead

Good Brad Peacock 7-1, 2.13 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 75K in 55IP
Bad Jimmy Barthmaier 1.90 WHIP, 4HR in 23⅔ IP
Interesting Bill Rhinehart 8HR, 17RBI

POTOMAC 18-27, 3rd place C.L. North Division, 10 games behind

Good Destin Hood .287/.333/.532 in May
Bad Joe Testa 2.04WHIP
Interesting Hector Nelo, spotted throwing 98mph

HAGERSTOWN 28-18, 1st place Sally League Northern Division, 1 game ahead

Good David Freitas .289/.392/.458
Bad Michael Taylor .280 OBP, 39K in 42G
Interesting Christopher Manno 6SV, 0.54WHIP, 33K in 17G
Mar 172011
 

Four more Nationals were sent packing as Corey Brown, Cole Kimball, Chris Marrero, and Derek Norris were reassigned to minor-league camp today.

Unlike years past, none of these cuts were particularly surprising. Brown, even if he hadn’t been hurt, was unlikely to break camp with the big boys without the benefit of a trade or an injury. Syracuse is his most likely destination unless either the injury lingers or Rizzo opts for a more veteran OF in Syracuse and sends Brown to Harrisburg to play every day.

Kimball received a lot of favorable coverage from the beat writers, but the lack of AAA experience (i.e. none), command issues, and similar relievers without options (e.g. Henry Rodriguez) make this a smart move. Now the focus will be on whether he will supplant Adam Carr (possible) as the Chiefs’ closer or if the powers that be will decide to use both in both roles and let the production (or Knorr) dictate the usage.

Marrero is arguably the most pleasant spring surprise, and perhaps not even on offense. That’s a lot to say for someone that put up a .381/.435/.476 line, but it says more about how much he appears to have improved on defense. He’ll be the everyday first baseman at Syracuse.

Last but not least, Derek Norris was reassigned to Harrisburg, a move that whittles the number of players in the major-league camp to 38. Norris appeared in 11 games and batted .200 but also drew four walks for an impressive OBP of .368 and acquitted himself defensively. Norris could very well follow the development path that Espinosa had in 2010 and be in a position next Spring Training to be battling for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Mar 162011
 

With four injuries in less than five hours, it appears we’ve crossed the line from discussing who’s in shape to who’s hurt.

Prior to the game, Ryan Zimmerman (groin), Ivan Rodriguez (calf), Michael Morse (upset stomach), were pulled from the lineup in what would seem like quick succession thanks to the latest forms of communication. Morse is expected to play today while Zimmerman and Rodriguez are expected to be out longer.

During the game, Danny Espinosa went down after fouling a ball off the top of his right foot, setting the Natmosphere, um, atwitter with tweets about Espinosa being carried to the locker room “unable to put weight on his right leg.” Perhaps that pic above isn’t so inappropriate because first reports are often wrong, as this morning we now know that the injury is the more mundane “bad bruise that will require a precautionary X-ray.”

Prior to the injury, Espinosa had been 1-for-3 with a strikeout.

For the game itself, the Nationals lost to the Mets 5-2, the highlight being fifth-starter candidate Tom Gorzelanny’s four innings pitched, one run allowed on two hits and three walks and four strikeouts to make his case beyond “he’s out of options.”

Unfortunately, the same cannot be written about Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez.

Stammen was torched touched for three runs in his 1⅔ innings of work, allowing three hits and a walk with no strikeouts. Henry Rodriguez managed not to walk anybody but allowed a run on two hits in his one inning pitched.

Competing relievers Collin Balester and Brian Broderick made their cases, with Balester stranding two inherited runners while getting the final out of the sixth and Broderick allowing just a walk while pitching a scoreless eighth.

Other notable prospects…

  • Chris Marrero had an RBI single in his lone at-bat, but continues to impress with his improved defense.
  • Destin Hood went hitless in his lone at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the ninth for Broderick.
  • Derek Norris was 0-for-1 with a walk, catching the final two innings.

The Nationals play again this afternoon in Kissimmee against the Houston Astros, with Ross Detwiler expected to start.

Mar 132011
 

Former prospect Jordan Zimmermann threw five scoreless innings as the Nationals pitchers, save for one, stifled the Marlins for a 5-1 win on Sunday afternoon.

Danny Espinosa was the sole prospect to start, but was once again hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout. He was also hit by a pitch, taking a spun-away shot to the helmet but remained in the game. Wilson Ramos came off the bench but struck out in his only at-bat.

Other notable prospects…

  • Eury Perez was 0-for-1 and got two putouts in the bottom of the ninth.
  • Chris Marrero was caught looking in his lone at-bat and played three error-free innings at first base.
  • Brian Broderick came on in relief of Henry Rodriguez (more later) and pitched 1⅔ innings with no hits, walks or strikeouts.
  • Steve Lombardozzi played the last two innings at 2B and had an assist.
  • Cole Kimball pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with two flyouts and a groundout to second base.

As aforementioned, Rodriguez came on in relief of Zimmermann and had trouble finding the plate, walking three in ⅓ of an inning and was charged for the sole Marlin run. He threw 23 pitches during the outing, and 15 were balls. The velocity was there but the command was not, as the pitches off the plate were in the high 90s while the pitches over the plate were in the low 90s.

With the loss, the Nats improve to 10-5 for the Spring. They return to Viera to host the Tigers tomorrow afternoon, a game which will only be “seen” via MLB Gameday.

Mar 122011
 

Going into the bottom of the ninth, there was a good chance that a top prospect might end the game with a walkoff. After all, Bryce Harper was the third batter due. An error and a sacrifice, brought up the chosen one with a runner on third and one out. Three pitches later he was walking down the line, courtesy of an 0-2 fastball to the right tricep.

Alberto Gonzalez would be intentionally walked when he wouldn’t bite on the first two offerings. After the two managers changed the matchup, up came Derek Norris, who took a strike then blasted the next pitch to the warning track for a very long game-winning single and a 6-5 Nats win.

The knock made a winner out of Yunesky Maya, who pitched the final four innings, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and three walks. He also struck out three, the last coming on nice, sharp curve.

According to multiple tweets from the beat writers, Washington announced that Harper had been sent to minor-league camp, officially optioned to Hagerstown. That, of course, does not necessarily mean that that’s where he’ll start the regular season. Also sent down were Atahualpa Severino, Tim Wood and Ryan Mattheus.

Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos started the game at their usual positions, but both went hitless in three at-bats. Espinosa helped turn a double play while Ramos did not have any baserunners attempt a steal against him.

Chris Marrero drove the ball to the wall the opposite way (the first I’ve seen in a very long time) in his sole plate appearance for a double, the wind aiding it but not causing it. He was then pinch-run for by Destin Hood, who chased down a long foul fly to left to end the top of the ninth.

With the win, the Nats improve to 9-5 for the spring and return to Jupiter to face the Florida Marlins tomorrow afternoon. The game will be televised via MLB.tv and can be heard on MLB Gameday and XM Radio.

Mar 122011
 

A three-run outburst in the ninth made the score look respectable at 7-6, but the Nats were flat again in Viera last night. It’s a bit disturbing for fans of the big boys because last night’s lineup featured what will likely be very close to the Opening Day lineup, as they were missing only Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche from the eight position players.

But this is a site that focuses on the future, so let’s get to how the kids did…

  • Bryce Harper collected his fifth RBI of the spring with a ninth-inning single and was 1-for-2 on the night. He also committed the cardinal sin of getting thrown out at third for the third out on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman.
  • Chris Marrero was 0-for-1 with a run scored, but struck out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
  • Derek Norris was 0-for-2 with a strikeout. No baserunners tried to steal against him.

The loss drops the Nats to 8-5 for the Spring, as they host the Yankees this afternoon, another game which will be televised on MASN live and on tape delay on the MLB Network.

Mar 092011
 

While perhaps misused on defense, there’s no denying the offense of Danny Espinosa, who reached base four times and drove in four runs in an 8-4 romp of the Nats over the Marlins this afternoon in Jupiter.

The 23-year-old singled, doubled, and smacked a two-run HR to raise his spring batting average to .455 and his RBI total to 10, while also turning a double play. He also scored two runs.

Prospects Bryce Harper and Chris Marrero each came off the bench to stroke RBI singles, the fourth and second of the spring respectively, while Steve Lombardozzi popped out in his lone at-bat, the second of the spring. Marrero handled all four defensive chances, while Lombardozzi had none.

Pitchers Ryan Mattheus, Josh Wilkie and Brad Peacock were in the bullpen, but none of them saw game action. Jason Marquis was the starter and threw four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out three.

With the win, the Nationals improve to 7-3 for the spring. The squads split tomorrow, with one team returning to Viera to host a split-squad Mets team in the other and another travelling to Kissimmee to visit Houston tomorrow night. There is no radio or TV for the Mets game, while the Astros game will be broadcast by the Houston affiliate KBME and can be accessed via MLB Gameday or XM Radio.