Apr 212014
 

As predicted this morning, Kevin Keyes has indeed been named the Carolina League Player of the Week for April 14-20.

Keyes went 9-for-26 with four home runs, 11 RBI, and eight runs scored for a line of .346/.433/.846. Those four homers also represent his season total, for which he is tied for third place in the Carolina League with teammate Brandon Miller while his tally of 15 RBI is good for second place.

The 25-y.o. native of Austin, TX was drafted in 7th Round of the 2010 Draft out of the University of Texas, three years after being drafter out of Connolly High School by the Rangers. Keyes had an abysmal rookie season in Vermont, batting just .175, though he did draw 24 walks in 39 games.

He rose to prominence in 2011 when he posted a mark of .281/.355/.528 in the second half for the Hagerstown Suns. He moved up to Potomac in 2012, but has stalled there since, struggling with a sub-.300 OBP in his two previous seasons for the P-Nats and seeing his slugging percentage drop from .459 to .370.

In 2013, he was converted from the outfield to first base with relative success, as he’s been able to play adequate defense and show decent range for his size and experience at the position, which earned him a place on the 2013 Watchlist as the position of first base is (and remains) relatively thin in the Washington organization.

Apr 092014
 

The game was not as close as the final score would suggest, as the Hillcats defeated the Nationals, 10-7 in Potomac’s home opener.

As is often the case in April games, it was cold and it was sloppy. The two teams combined for four recorded errors, three wild pitches and two passed balls. Consequently, runs came easy, early and often.

The difference was the one really big inning, which knocked P-Nats starter Nick Lee from the box with two outs in the 2nd inning. Lynchburg would send ten men to the plate, six of them would hit safely and six of them would score to take an early 7-1 lead.

Lee, who struck out three of the 13 batters he faced, was (obviously) not sharp despite just walking one. As the old saw goes, the batters will tell you when you’re not hitting your spots as they belted three doubles against the southpaw, jumping on his curve when bent instead of broke.

He would finish with seven runs, all earned, on seven hits over one and 2/3rds.

The P-Nats offense answered the Hillcats with three runs in the second, but like the last single at the bar at closing time, it wasn’t pretty. A walk, a hit batsmen, and an error opened the frame to allow Stephen Perez (RBI single), Tony Renda (sacrifice fly) and Kevin Keyes (RBI single) to cash in the mistakes.

Indeed, walks, errors and misplays led to the next two Potomac runs in the 3rd and 5th innings before they strung together a relatively clean two-out rally in the 6th. Tony Renda reached infield hit, Oscar Tejeda singled, and Keyes delivered another single for the final Potomac run.

Pedro Severino launched a triple off the base of the centerfield wall with two outs in the 7th for the last P-Nat hit. Tejeda led the nine-hit offense with a 3-for-5 night, followed by Keyes with a 2-for-4 effort.

While Brian Dupra and Bryan Harper kept things close for five and a 1/3rd innings, Travis Henke was not as effective, giving up two runs in the 8th to give Lynchburg a 10-7 cushion.

Veteran Hillcats reliever Brandon Cunniff slammed the door on the P-Nats with a pair of 1-2-3 innings, striking out the side in the 8th and four total for the save.

The series continues tonight with Brian Rauh (0-0, 1.80) making his second start, opposed by Lynchburg’s 19-y.o. Lucas Sims (0-1, 6.75).

Jun 072013
 


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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 24-35, 6th place I.L. North, 11 games behind

Good Chris Marrero .301/.348/.500, 10HR, 43RBI in 54G
Bad Ryan Perry 1-4, 7.88 ERA/6.40 FIP/1.85 WHIP
Interesting Michael Broadway .111 OBA in first three appearances



HARRISBURG SENATORS 30-29, 3rd place E.L. West, 3 games behind

Good Sean Nicol .333/.395/.485 in last 10G
Bad Tyler Herron 6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP in six appearances
Interesting 23 pitchers used in 59 games



POTOMAC NATIONALS 34-24, 1st place C.L. North, 2 games ahead

Good Robbie Ray 11.75K/9IP
Bad Robbie Ray 4.2BB/9IP
Interesting Kevin Keyes .302/.373/.415 during current 14-game on-base streak


HAGERSTOWN SUNS 31-25, 2nd place Sally North, 1 games behind

Good Dixon Anderson 2.80 ERA/ 3.53 FIP/ 1.07 WHIP
Bad Tony Renda 11E in 56G
Interesting Pedro Severino 7E, 6PB, 49% CS
May 102013
 


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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 13-20, 6th place I.L. North, 7½ games behind

Good Eury Perez .381/.381/.524 during 9G hit streak
Bad 214 pitching strikeouts, 14th in I.L.
Interesting Home: 3-12, Road: 10-8

HARRISBURG SENATORS 16-18, 4th place E.L. West, 5 games behind

Good Anthony Rendon .364/.500/.682 since return from DC
Bad Marcos Frias 7.50ERA, 1.58WHIP, 38.1% LOB
Interesting Three of four Harrisburg Senator no-hitters have happened in the past four seasons (2010, James/Kimball/Zinicola; 2011, Martis 7inn.; 2013, Demny/Krol)

POTOMAC NATIONALS 17-16, T2nd place C.L. North, 1½ games behind

Good Robbie Ray 3-1, 2.08ERA, 2.94FIP, 1.08WHIP
Bad Kevin Keyes .162/.197/.270, 37K in 28G
Interesting Adrian Nieto .228BA, 9 of 21 hits for extra bases

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

Good Team pitching 3.16 R/G #1 in Sally League
Bad 12HR tied for 10th in 14-team Sally League
Interesting Travis Henke 93.8% LOB rate
Oct 292012
 

The 2012 Potomac Nationals will most likely be remembered by those that watched them closely (*ahem*) for two things: (1) the team that couldn’t win on the road (2) underachievement. You can argue against the latter to a certain extent, but it’s pretty hard to argue against the former: A 10-26 mark in the first half, a 12-21 mark in the second for a combined 22-47 mark that was third-worst in affiliated ball (Louisville, 22-51; N.W. Arkansas, 22-48).

This, of course, would be unremarkable except that in Woodbridge, the 64-win P-Nats were 42-28 — third-best in the Carolina League behind 74-win Myrtle Beach (42-26) and 87-win Winston-Salem (48-23). When I dug into it in early June, I discovered that at least some of it was attributable to the offense hitting nearly 100 points better on the road than at home, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since the Pfitz generally comes up as neutral in ballpark effects. Other factors are surely at play here, but it’s interesting (at least to me) nevertheless.

Underachievement is a little more in the eye of the beholder. It’s often the disconnect between expected and actual performance. While as a fan (disclosure: see first sentence in “About” below), I feel like this team underachieved, as prospect follower I have to allow for the alternate, more objective interpretation that perhaps some of these guys simply hit their ceiling. There just aren’t very many guys that finished in Woodbridge in August that I don’t expect to see again next April; nearly everybody that deserved a bump up to Harrisburg got one.

So let’s take a look at the first P-Nats team to miss the Carolina League playoffs since 2009:
HITTING

PITCHING

There are two things that strike me when I look at these two comparisons: (1) How similar Potomac’s pitching totals were to Hagerstown’s (2) How much better the hitting was than I would have guessed (nearly mediocre vs. subpar). What didn’t shock me was the low OBP. Francisco Soriano, Blake Kelso and Michael Taylor shared the team lead with 40 walks drawn in 87, 106 and 109 games. David Freitas was next with 39 — in 78 games. Seemed like every time I would fill out my scorecard, I’d be filling in OBPs with numbers that looked like batting averages.

That’s a natural segue to the Top 13* batters (* for 2010 Draft Picks, ** for DSL graduates). Full team statistics can be found here. *Another “extra” to catch a notable

There are some bright spots if you look for them — Kevin Keyes and Jason Martinson’s power, for example. Ricky Hague demonstrating he can play second base (.983FA in 35G). Michael Taylor living up to the hype for his defensive skills in center. But there are also things to pick that aren’t nits — Taylor, Martinson, and Keyes whiffed a lot. The team’s left fielders gave the team’s centerfielders ample opportunity to show off their range.

As aforementioned, none of this is unusual — it’s emblematic of the level: players too good for Low-A, but not quite good enough for AA. The question is whether or not there’s a “yet” in that sentence. This is often where some players repeat… and many will stall (see: Peacock, Brian; Martinez, Carlos).

On to the pitchers…

Well, at least there wasn’t much in the way of mediocrity. The pitchers were either good or they were bad. And even some of the “bad” were pitchers had their moments of “good.” The Matts are a good example of this. Swynenberg was terrific in April, pitching one of the best games of the year on the final Sunday of the month. Grace finished the season strong, capping off his season with eight shutout innings against playoff-bound Wilmington on the final Saturday of the season, a game that Steve Souza won with an 11th-inning grand slam.

Enough has been “said” about how good Nathan Karns was this season. Unfortunately, that leaves us with discussing how disappointing Robbie Ray’s season was. Most of the damage was done in the second half — 1-9, 7.67 vs. 3-3, 4.89 — with the southpaw becoming particularly prone to giving up the longball (10 in his last 10 appearances). Perversely, I was almost wishing to learn that he had been hurt; easier to give him a pass, so “speak.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic bullet as to the why (and if I did, I wouldn’t tell ;-) As the season progressed he struggled with his command, issuing nearly double the walks and seemingly always falling into hitter’s counts and it was usually in the early going, not the middle innings. He turned 21 four weeks ago, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s the primary reason he still makes the…

OBLIGATORY TOP FOUR LISTS
I thought about only listing three apiece, but decided to go with four as an acknowledgement of the bias that comes with being a disappointed fan of the team. There’s more projection here than usual, as alluded in the discussion of Ray, and I’m giving some props to the guys that finished the season strong.

Batters
1. Michael Taylor
2. Kevin Keyes
3. Ricky Hague
4. Adrian Sanchez
HM: Randolph Oduber

Pitchers
1. Nathan Karns
2. Neil Holland
3. Rob Wort
4. Robbie Ray
HM: Matt Grace

May 182012
 


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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 19-22, 5th place I.L. North, 7½ games behind

Good Corey Brown .361/.480/.656 in May
Bad John Lannan 6.63 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 4HR in last 3 starts
Interesting Xavier Paul .380/.436/.780 in May

HARRISBURG SENATORS 22-17, 2nd place E.L. West, 2 games behind

Good Eury Perez .316/.328/.386, 4SB in May
Bad Paul Demny 8.29ERA at home (2.57 on road)
Interesting Christian Garcia 5SV, 3H, 19K in last 10 appearances

POTOMAC NATIONALS 16-21, 3rd place C.L. North Division, 5½ games behind

Good Cameron Selik 3SV, 13K in last 5 appearances
Bad Shane McCatty 19H, 9BB in 9⅔IP, 13.03ERA, 2.90WHIP
Interesting Kevin Keyes 22H, 22RBI (.191/.271/.417)

HAGERSTOWN SUNS 22-15, 2nd place Sally League North Divison, 6 games behind

Good Cutter Dykstra .340/.429/.454 in 23G
Bad Brian Dupra 10.98ERA, 2.31WHIP in May (4 appearances)
Interesting Steve Souza 7HR in 13G
Apr 152012
 

Sometimes you need to be reminded that this is still just A-ball.

Don’t get me wrong: There are flashes of brilliance, like Kevin Keyes turning on a 95+ mph first-pitch fastball and knocking over the light tower in left field, or Randolph Oduber ripping a double to left with two outs in the 9th.

Then are moments like the top of the 6th. It started innocently enough with a leadoff walk. Then a stolen base, the third of the night without a runner being caught. A tapper back to the mound, it’s now one out. Then a high popup to shallow right field.

Second baseman Adrian Sanchez, first baseman Justin Bloxom and the right fielder (Oduber) all converged, but the ball fell fair. It could have been scored an error, probably should have been. But that’s not the point.

Lynchburg took advantage of the extra out to score their fifth run with a mere sacrifice fly that should have been the third out of the inning.

With a final score of 6-4, that extra run probably didn’t cost the Potomac Nationals the win — 12 strikeouts is a much better culprit — but on another night, it might have.

Lynchburg’s J.R. Graham should also get some credit. Aside from the big boys, the 3-4-5 batters Bloxom, David Freitas and Keyes, who combined to go 4-for-8 with a walk, a home run, two doubles, and a strikeout against him, the 5’11″ fireballer handled the rest of the lineup with ease (0-for-12, 5Ks).

Adam Oblrychowski took the loss, pitching 5⅓ innings and giving up five runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four. Paul Applebee followed, giving a solo shot in the top of the 7th for a run over 1⅔ innings while Neil Holland tossed two scoreless to finish the game, retiring all six batters he faced.

The loss denied the P-Nats a chance to even their season record, instead, the Potomac Nine are 3-5 — three games behind the 6-2 Hillcats in the Carolina League’s Northern Division.

Matt Grace (1-0, 1.80) gets the start this afternoon with 21-year-old Aaron Northcraft (1-0, 1.59) taking the hill for Lynchburg.

Apr 142012
 

With four walks and five runs in the first inning, Potomac took advantage of Lynchburg’s wildness to score five runs and built a 7-0 lead as the P-Nats cruised to an 11-4 win in the home opener.

The worry, of course, is that when a pitcher struggles like Ronan Pacheco did at the start is that a lucky break will enable him to survive. Walks to Michael Taylor, Blake Kelso, and Justin Bloxom loaded the bases with one out for Kevin Keyes. One sharp ground ball could end the threat.

Instead, a 10-foot swinging bunt that Pacheco couldn’t field cleanly, as the catcher had to leave home plate and throw out Keyes for the second out and the first Potomac run. But there were still two out and the big inning could be stopped.

No such luck for Pacheco on this Friday the 13th.

The “Groovin’ Aruban” (Randolph Oduber) followed with a single up the middle to score two more. SS Nick Ahmed got to it but couldn’t knock it down. After another walk to doorstop catcher James Skelton, Adrian Sanchez doubled in Oduber and Skelton to extend the lead to 5-0. Francisco Soriano grounded out to end the inning: nine batters up, four walks, two hits, one left on.

Meanwhile, P-Nats starter Bobby Hansen worked around his miscues in the early going. A one-out double in the first. A hit batsmen and a walk with two out in the second.

Veteran catcher Evan Gattis worked a walk from Hansen in the first but hammered him for a solo shot in the third. Evan Salcedo blasted a double over Michael Taylor’s head. On another night, one that wasn’t in the low-to-mid-50s after sundown, it might have went out. If there’s one troubling aspect to this start, it’s that five of the eight hits he gave up were for extra bases.

Still, after getting knocked from the box after two in his first outing by these Hillcats, Hansen lasted six innings and gave up three runs on the eight hits and three walks and struck out three for his first win of the season. The defense came up big in his final inning with Skelton scampering up the line to swipe a tag on throw from Taylor for the second out of the inning and Soriano ranging deep in the hole to gun down a runner at second to end the inning.

Until the seventh inning, Lynchburg was still outhitting Potomac. The lead was still comfortable, but Kevin Keyes made the outcome all but certain with a three-run shot off the top tier of billboards in right-centerfield. An impressive shot on its own, never mind on a cold night.

Wilson Eusebio pitched the seventh and eighth innings, retiring six batters but walking three. Josh Smoker worked the ninth, but fell victim to his own wildness, uncorking a wild pitch on a strikeout to the leadoff batter then hitting a batter after erasing that mistake with double play ball. Salcedo struck for another double for the fourth and final Hillcat run.

The three-game series continues tonight with Adam Olbrychowski slated to pitch for Potomac against Lynchburg’s J.R. Graham.

Oct 202011
 

The 2011 season was the first winning season in the five years that Washington has been affiliated with Hagerstown. The 75-64 record was a 10½ game improvement over the 2010 season. But ultimately, the curse of high expectations that surrounds all things Bryce Harper made the 2011 season a disappointment in many fans’ eyes.

It may also surprise you to learn that for all for the rehab stints (Strasburg, Zimmerman, Wang, the immortal Doug Slaten) and the presence of Bryce Harper, attendance still fell by 126 per game over 2010 (2,057 vs. 1,931). Times are hard in Washington County, no doubt, but that’s still a bit of a shock to me. So I’ll leave it to you as to whether we should blame it on the economy, the rain, or the bossa nova.

Considering that, as a team, the Suns were mostly middle of the pack in the 14-team South Atlantic League — 6th in offense, 8th in pitching, 7th in defense — to have been in contention in both halves for most of the way should be considered a success. As we’ve done the past three weeks, let’s take a look at how Hagerstown compared to the rest of the league…
HITTING

PITCHING

The most encouraging thing to take away from the 2011 Suns is that this team was not afraid to take a walk or give up a walk — second in the league on both counts. It was also a team that could run (3rd), but unlike last season, they did it without a single 30-steal player and were successful 73.5% of the time. That’s encouraging if you’re a proponent of having a team that’s capable of playing it both big and small.

The pitching was a mixed bag. The starter that gave up the most hits had the most wins (Matt Grace). There were a couple of relievers with ERAs in the 1′s (Chris Manno, Neil Holland)… and a couple of relievers with ERAs in the 6′s (Shane McCatty, Greg Holt), while the team’s two swingmen (Paul Applebee and Matt Swynenberg) gave up the second- and third-most HRs on the team, yet were among the team’s more effective pitchers. Finally, two pitchers had their season cut short by unspecified injuries (Taylor Jordan and Bobby Hansen), and a third (Chris McKenzie) spent six weeks on the DL midseason and more than two months away from the Suns total.

Now it’s time to drill down to look at the top 12′s for the hitters. The full statistics for the team can be found here. (* = 2010 Draft Pick ** = DSL Graduate)
Bryce Harper’s numbers speak for themselves, with his rate statistics close to 100 points above the league average despite being barely old enough to vote. His removal from the lineup on the 4th of July, however, was largely covered by the emergence of Kevin Keyes, who hit .281/.355/.528 after the Sally League All-Star break. As you can see, the cluster of 2010 draft picks were the heart of this team. What remains to be seen is how they’ll develop. Thankfully, one of my spies in Hagerstown wrote about the Suns batters earlier this month, and I encourage folks to click on over to see what he had to say.

Next up, the pitchers, which I’m expanding to the top 15 to include three notables…
Eleven different pitchers made at least five starts for the Suns, thanks in part to the injuries to Jordan, Hansen and McKenzie and the delayed debuts of Cole and Ray, both of whom were held back until the first full weekend in May. Injury also delayed the start of Sammy Solis’s season until Memorial Day Weekend, which kept his inning count down and is arguably the primary reason why he’s repeating the AFL as a starter.

If Auburn is a barometer for the 2011 draft, then Hagerstown might be the same for 2010 (and to a certain extent, 2009). If the expression is that there three kinds of pitchers — young, old, and hurt — well, that pretty much sums up the draft class thus far.

The ground on the “young” Cole and Ray has been pretty much covered (though again, I point folks to my friend Shawn’s take). Old, of course is a relative term, but Grace and Solis will enter the 2012 campaign as 23-year-olds and the latter was touted as being ready for prime time in ’12. The same is true for ’09ers Swynenberg and Jordan. And of course, the “hurt” applies to Jordan, Solis and McKenzie (Hansen was an ’08 pick). Solis and McKenzie have since recovered from their injuries, but the outcome for Jordan, who appeared to be headed for Potomac a la Danny Rosenbuam in 2010, won’t be known until next spring.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
We’re into crossover territory and I’m trying to avoid double-listing guys. Thus, a couple of honorable mentions to answer the question “Well, who would make it onto the list if X were rated at the next level instead of this level?”

Hitters
1. Bryce Harper
2. David Freitas
3. Kevin Keyes
4. Michael Taylor
5. Adrian Sanchez
HM: Jason Martinson

Pitchers
1. A.J. Cole
2. Robbie Ray
3. Taylor Jordan
4. Sammy Solis
5. Matt Swynenberg
HM: Matt Grace

Aug 262011
 

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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 60-69, 4th place I.L. North, 12½ games behind (eliminated)

Good Tom Milone 11-6, 3.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
Bad Jeff Frazier .221/.285/.359
Interesting Garrett Mock 0.87 ERA, 0.48 WHIP in August

HARRISBURG SENATORS 74-57, 1st place E.L. West, 2 games ahead

Good Archie Gilbert .386/.413/.523 in August
Bad Leonard Davis .150/.227/.250 in last 10G
Interesting Shairon Martis 134K in 121IP

POTOMAC NATIONALS 32-27, 2nd place C.L. North Division, 4½ games behind (61-67 overall)

Good Francisco Soriano .303/.418/.421 in August
Bad Rob Wort 5.40 ERA, 1.75 WHIP since All-Star Game
Interesting Sandy Leon .492 SLG in August

HAGERSTOWN SUNS 31-28, 2nd place Sally League North Divison, 4 games behind (71-58 overall)

Good Adrian Nieto .333/.382/.587 in 17G
Bad Sam Brown 1-4, 6.23 ERA since All-Star Game
Interesting Kevin Keyes .298/.372/.546 since All-Star Game

AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS 40-25, 1st place Pinckney Division, New York-Penn League, 3½ games ahead

Good Taylor Hill 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP as a starter
Bad Matt Skole 11E in 56G at 3B
Interesting Caleb Ramsey 28BB in 55G (.376 OBP)

GCL Nationals 20-32, 4th place GCL East, 17½ games behind (Eliminated)

Good Wander Ramos .315/.405/.643
Bad Inocencio Heredia 0-2, 7.08 ERA, 1.92 WHIP
Interesting 19 y.o. Gregory Baez 1-2, 3.65 ERA in 12G, 10GS