Dec 292013
 


It’s always interesting to me to do this piece and see what stories emerged from a given year. I look over the archives, letting chronology dictate a few of my choices, but by the end of the list it becomes thematic. Likewise, what begins as a list of names starts to morph into narratives, for which the name becomes emblematic (sorry, sometimes the rhyming thing just happens).

As I wrote after the (minor league) season’s end, the Nationals have reached a point where they can replace and reload on a regular basis, though it may not be quite the way folks want it to be. I’d explain further, but I think I’ve just written the segue for the first and last story of 2013…

The Re-Acquisition of A.J. Cole
Cole was dealt away in December 2011 in what was a shock then, but would become a shrug by the end of this year. For the casual fan, this was the trade of a favorite son (Mike Morse) for one GM Mike Rizzo’s former draft picks and a couple of roster-fillers. Instead, it was the classic value play as Morse suffered his worst year at the MLB level while Cole rebounded to match the hype, one of “other guys” started 20 games for AA Harrisburg, and the other made 32 appearances for the big club.

The Rule 5 Draft
What used to be an exercise in who the Nats would get has since changed to worry about who would be lost, despite the track record. Last year’s “losses” (Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus) were returned this year in spring training, which is the smart money for the fate of this year’s draftee, Adrian Nieto, in March.

Anthony Rendon Comes To Town
Twice, actually. The first time was as an injury replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, who by the way, was the last Nats position player in recent memory to spend less than 80 games in the minors before making it to “The Show.” The second time was to effectively replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa, begging the question of whether that was the plan all along — even if both players entered 2013 with significant health questions (shoulder for Espinosa, ankles for Rendon).

Taylor Jordan
A year ago, Jordan was a 23-y.o. who had yet to pitch above Low-A and one of several pitchers in the system that had had his UCL replaced. At best, he might replicate the 2012 season of Nathan Karns, who was drafted three rounds later in 2009. Instead, Jordan topped it, steamrolling the competition at High-A and AA with a line of 1.00/2.25/0.92 in 90⅓ innings and leapfrogging Karns as the proverbial #6 starter with a callup at the end of June.

Billy Burns
About the only award that escaped the pint-sized speedster was the Player of the Week as the 74-steal man garnered nods for midseason and postseason All-Star teams in the Carolina League and the Nationals Player of the Year award. The switch-hitting outfielder still led the Carolina League in steals despite only playing in 91 games. Alas, for all his accolades, he was traded to Oakland along with…

Robbie Ray
While he may have only been 20 during his disastrous 2012 season, the turnaround Ray made in 2013 was nevertheless impressive. He cut his ERA from 6.56 to 3.36, his WHIP from 1.62 to 1.25 and increased his K rate from 7.3 to 10.1. The walks and HRs weren’t lowered as sharply (only slightly), which is something his fans will have to watch for in 2014.

The GCL Nationals
Maybe they were simply beating on three weaklings over and over again, but the G-Nats set the standard for dominance that will be used as a measuring stick for the Gulf Coast League for years to come. More important is the inference that the Nats pipeline from the Dominican has recovered, if not improved, from the depths of the 2009 scandal that led to the ouster of the previous GM.

Outfield Depth
This was the year when the hype matched the production for Michael Taylor and Steve Souza Jr., just in time for both men to be added to the 40-man roster. Brian Goodwin held his own at AA, a year after skipping High-A, which gave the Nats enough depth to part with Burns and still have four OFs in the upper minors aged 24 or younger. It may be the only part of the farm where there is true depth, which if any beat writers are reading, includes catcher.

Hagerstown
On the field, the Suns made the playoffs for the second straight season by the thinnest margin possible — a 1/2 game, thanks to three cancellations. While they shorted the West Virginia Power by taking two of three in the semifinals, they were swept away in the Finals. Off the field, the franchise continued to suffer attendance losses as folks seem to be fed up with the constant threat of leaving while also campaigning for a new facility. Given that MiLB has yet to issue a waiver to allow a team to play in temporary facility, Fredericksburg may miss the boat, allowing for a third city to make a move.

Potomac Bats Go Dead In The Finals
Perhaps that’s not giving either the Hillcats or the Red Sox pitchers enough credit, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of fans (*ahem*) who watched the team obliterate the Carolina League during the regular season. Indeed, they would set franchise records for wins and attendance while winning both halves handily. They had the league’s best pitching and second-best offense, which was built upon on speed but not overly reliant on the longball, walks, or avoiding strikeouts.

Harrisburg Makes The Eastern League Finals
After making a similar run in the summer of 2011, the 2013 Senators made it past the first hurdle with a 3-1 semifinals win against the Seawolves but like the P-Nats and Suns, ran into a buzzsaw in the finals. Developmentally, the team was a resounding winner — sending Rendon, Jordan, and Krol up to D.C. to stay while further polishing Karns, Aaron Barrett, Goodwin, and Souza.

Promotions
After conservative promotions in 2010 and 2011, 2013 continued the 2012 trend of more aggressive promotions, particularly the pitchers between High-A and AA as 4/5ths of the P-Nats April rotation were given the bump. No doubt some of this was by design with the activation of two pitchers (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) who were coming off surgery. But it’s enough to no longer summarily dismiss the idea of someone moving up sooner rather than later.

Trades
Jokes about A’s aside, GM Mike Rizzo has no qualms about trading to get the players he wants (Fister, Blevins) or recoup value on players he doesn’t intend to keep (Morse, DeJesus). As alluded earlier, A.J. Cole has been involved in both types of trades, which serves as a reminder that the notion of any player being the next X in Washington is far from certain. Even though this has been true for quite some time, I get the sense that many folks still aren’t used to it.

Oct 142013
 

Despite both having exhausted their rookie eligibility during the season, Baseball America has named Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Taylor Jordan to its postseason 2013 Eastern League Top 20.

Obviously, both were key injury replacements for the “Big Nats,” in 2013 with Rendon perhaps even displacing second baseman Danny Espinosa while Jordan is a strong candidate to return to the starting rotation next April, with the nos. 4 and 5 spots unsettled for 2014.

Long-term, BA believes No. 9 prospect Rendon’s future could still be at 3B while scouts still type one-handed marvel at the power:

Rendon has Gold Glove abilities at the hot corner and is more than capable at second base. Because of the vast strength in his wrists and forearms, he’s also got the potential for more than 20 homers annually and a solid average.

No. 12 E.L. guy Taylor Jordan was given props for his pitching motion — which is often compared to Angels ace Jered Weaver:

Jordan employs a sneaky delivery that includes long arm action and a stab on the back end. That deception helps his arsenal, [which] includes a low-90s heater with plenty of run, as well as a slider and a changeup, play up.

All total, eight Nationals were named in these top 20 lists, though no prospects were named at the Low-A and AAA levels. Last year, that figure was five, with Brian Goodwin named to the Top 20 of both the Sally League and the Eastern League.

Sep 132013
 

The Washington Nationals have announced that Billy Burns and Taylor Jordan have been named the organization’s 2013 Player and Pitcher of the Year while Tony Renda will be the inaugural Bob Boone Award winner.

Burns and Jordan were teammates in Potomac for about a month before the latter began his unexpected and meteoric rise from High-A in April to the Majors in July. Burns was promoted in August and was a key cog in the Senators run to the Eastern League Finals that ended last night. Renda has been a stalwart in the Hagerstown Suns lineup, playing in 135 of 137 games in the regular season and all six in the postseason thus far.

Burns, who turned 24 in late August, was an All-Star for Potomac in both the midseason game in San Jose and the postseason all-league team. He hung a combined line of .315/.425/.383 in 121 games between High-A and AA with a whopping 74 steals in 81 attempts. Burns was originally drafted by the Braves coming out of high school in Marietta, GA but the diminutive speedster opted for college and played 154 games with Mercer University. He signed with the Nats after being drafted in the 32nd round in 2011, playing sparingly for Auburn before moving up to Hagerstown in 2012.

Burns broke out in 2012, returning to switch hitting after abandoning it in college, and hit .322 with “only” 38 steals in 113 games. If there’s a knock on Burns it’s that he’s a “slash and burn” type hitter that often gets caught on his front foot (H/T to Zach Mortimer) which could be troublesome because he has very little power to begin with.

Jordan came into 2012 as a question mark. He had his 2011 season cut short by Tommy John surgery and didn’t exactly light a fire in 2012, going 3-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 15 starts between Auburn and Hagerstown. Still, the first season back from TJ is generally considered a success simply if a player doesn’t reinjure himself and given his relative youth (24) and the promise he showed in 2011, he became part of this site’s M*A*S*H unit for the 2013 watchlist.

Instead, Jordan blew through two levels of the minors — going 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA win six starts for A+ Potomac, then 7-0 with an 0.83 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) for AA Harrisburg. After comically trying to pretend they weren’t, the Nats recalled Jordan on the last day in June. Jordan then went 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts for the “Big Nats,” becoming one of two four farmhands to graduate (Anthony Rendon, Ian Krol, and Chris Marrero were the others).

Finally, the Nats have created a new honor — The Bob Boone Award, which goes to the player “who best demonstrates professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, makeup, intangibles and a tremendous work ethic.” No word on the requisite of “grit.”

As aforementioned, that honor went to Tony Renda, the Suns second baseman. Like Burns, Renda was a both a midseason and postseason All-Star. He led the Sally League with 43 doubles 99 runs scored while going .294/.380/.405 with 30 steals and 51 RBI. Renda was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 First Year Player Draft out of the Univ. California.

May 262013
 
Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Won, 2-1 (10 inn.) @ Columbus,
6:05 p.m.

Young (1-2, 7.26) vs.
J. Martinez (1-2, 4.97)
Harrisburg Lost, 5-1 vs. Reading,
6:30 p.m.
Demny (3-4, 4.60) vs.
Biddle (3-3, 2.50)
Potomac Won, 3-1 @ Lynchburg,
2:05 p.m.
Ray (3-2, 2.42) vs.
Holland (3-2, 3.18)
Hagerstown Lost, 6-0 vs. Lexington,
1:05 p.m.
Pena (2-2, 3.47) vs.
Almonte (2-4, 2.91)



Syracuse 2 Columbus 1 (10 inn.)
• Ohlendorf 5⅓ IP, 4H, R, ER, 4BB, 11K
• Accardo (W, 2-0) 2IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 3K
• Davis (SV, 7) 1IP, 0H, 0R, BB, K
• Rahl 1-4, R, HR, RBI
• Perez 1-4, R, BB, RBI

The bookends of the lineup were difference as Syracuse won its fifth straight, 2-1 in extra innings over Columbus. No. 9 batter Chris Rahl homered in the 8th to extend his hit streak to 16 games while leadoff man Eury Perez’s two-out double in the 10th knocked in the game-winner. Starter Ross Ohlendorf struck out 11 in five and a 1/3rd innings but walked four and gave up a run on four hits. Three Syracuse relievers combined to throw four and 2/3rds scoreless innings to enable the comeback win. Jeremy Accardo got his second win while Erik Davis notched his seventh save.

Reading 5 Harrisburg 1
• Treinen (L, 4-5) 6IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 5K, HR, 3WP
• Barrett 1⅓ IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 3K
• Leon 1-3, BB
• Bloxom 1-3, RBI

Four errors and four wild pitches didn’t doom the Senators… but they didn’t help, either as Harrisburg lost to Reading, 5-1. Starter Blake Treinen was errant three times towards the plate and once over to first as he was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks over six innings while taking his fifth loss. Offensively, Treinen went 1-for-2 with a double, the only Harrisburg extra-base hit as the Senators were held to six hits total. Before folks panic (again), Anthony Rendon had his wisdom teeth removed on Friday and is likely to be out until Monday at the earliest, per Geoff Morrow’s latest game notebook.

Potomac 3 Lynchburg 1
• Schwartz (W, 4-1) 8IP, 2H, R, ER, 0BB, 3K
• Selik (SV, 1) 1IP, 0H, 0R, BB, 0K
• Taylor 2-4, R, 2B, RBI
• Leonida 1-3, RBI, SF

Blake Schwartz was perfect for four innings and finished with just two hits given up over eight masterful innings as the P-Nats evened the series with the Hillcats with a 3-1 win. An infield single in the 5th broke up the perfect game while a leadoff triple in the 7th ruined the shutout as Schwartz walked none and struck out three for his fourth win. Cameron Selik pitched a scoreless 9th for his first save of the season. Michael Taylor singled and doubled, scored a run and drove in a run, but left the game with an injury after a groundout in the 8th.

Lexington 6 Hagerstown 0
• Anderson (L, 4-2) 4⅓ IP, 5H, 4R, 3ER, 4BB, 1K
• McKenzie 2⅔ IP, 3H, R, ER, 3BB, 5K, 4WP, 1-1 IR-S
• Renda 1-4
• Pleffner 2-2, 2BB

The worm turned in the Hub City as the Legends limited the Suns to just three hits in a 6-0 shutout. Dixon Anderson took the loss, his second, giving up four runs and five hits and four walks with just one strikeout. Chris McKenzie let in one inherited runner and was just as wild, walking three and misfiring four times for wild pitches. Shawn Pleffner reach base four times with two singles and two walks but the rest of the lineup went 1-for-25 with Tony Renda singling once and Estarlin Martinez walking twice. Roster moves: RHP Brian Rauh reassigned from Harrisburg; OF Wander Ramos placed on the 7-Day DL; RHP Pedro Encarnacion placed on the 3-Day Temporary Inactive list.

May 172013
 

GBI for NPP 2Our weekly look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues.

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 15-25, 6th place I.L. North, 9½ games behind

Good Fernando Abad 1.26 ERA/1.94 FIP/1.05 WHIP, 86.7 LOB% in 16 app.
Bad Mike Costanzo 36K in 29G
Interesting Zach Walters 9HR, 9E, 41K in 38G

HARRISBURG SENATORS 18-22, T5th place E.L. West, 7 games behind

Good Anthony Rendon (duh) .348 (2nd) / .483 (1st) / .620 (1st) in E.L.
Bad 30E by Senator IFs in 40G
Interesting Paul Demny 2-1, 1.50 ERA, 1.111 WHIP in May (3 starts)

POTOMAC NATIONALS 22-18, T1st place C.L. North, .003 W% behind

Good Billy Burns .364/.455/.455 with runners on base (51PA)
Bad Brian Dupra 0-2, 8.25/3.87/1.58 in four appearances (two starts)
Interesting Justin Miller .400/.455/.667 in May with 2HR, 8RBI, 3SB

HAGERSTOWN SUNS 19-12, 1st place Sally North, ½ game ahead

Good Shawn Pleffner .298/.412/.452 with 2HR, 14RBI in 25G
Bad Kylin Turnbull 6HR in 4GS and 18IP
Interesting Ronald Pena starting on two days’ rest (5/15) after 2IP relief (5/12)
Mar 292013
 

Transactions for NPPLate yesterday afternoon, the Nationals announced the reassignment of 1B/LF Micah Owings and UT Carlos Rivero to minor-league camp. Both will presumably begin the season in Syracuse.

MLB.com beat writer Bill “No, I did not play Stevie’s Dad on Malcolm In The Middle” Ladson also had the news of another set of releases:

  • RHP Alex Kreis (Hagerstown)
  • OF Ray Kruml (offseason pickup)
  • LHP Brandon Mann (offseason pickup)
  • RHP Hassan Pena (Syracuse)

With less than a week to go before the minor-league season starts, it’s now a waiting game to see how the rosters shake out. Unfortunately, if there are any more releases, we’re back to relying on MiLB.com and Baseball America (warning: if you haven’t been to the site in a couple of days, it’s been redesigned) as the beat writers have (quite happily) left Viera for this afternoon’s cash cow vs. the New York Yankees.

I’m expecting rosters to be released on Tuesday and Wednesday (e.g. the 3rd is Media Day for Potomac). The past two seasons, the first roster to hit the streets, er, inboxes has been Harrisburg, which is quite apt this year since it’s the most anticipated roster of them all… Matt Skole, Brian Goodwin, Nathan Karns, and newly acquired Ian Krol, for example. Wait: Am I missing anybody?

As in years past, I’ll have a separate post for each roster with some analysis.