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

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

Jun 032011
 

For the newer Twitter followers, this is an homage to Demetri Martin’s segments of the same name

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

SYRACUSE 22-29, 5th place I.L. North, 10 games behind

Good Tom Milone 2-1, 2.55ERA, 0.74WHIP, 42K last 5 GS
Bad Gregor Blanco .560 OPS
Interesting Matt Antonelli .359/.432/.538 in 11G since callup

HARRISBURG 30-21, 1st place E.L. West Division, 3 games ahead

Good Tyler Moore .312, 11-2B, 3B, 6HR since May 1
Bad Matt Chico 23H, 7BB, in 12IP since demotion
Interesting Team FA .981, 3rd best in E.L.

POTOMAC 19-34, 4th place C.L. North Division, 12 games behind

Good Jeff Kobernus .351/.400/.432 in last 10G
Bad Paul Demny 6HR allowed in last 6GS
Interesting 41% CS by C’s, 2nd best in Carolina League

HAGERSTOWN 33-21, 1st place Sally League Northern Division, 2½ games ahead

Good Blake Kelso .348/.417/.446
Bad Matt Grace 1.60 WHIP
Interesting 82SBs, 1st in Sally League
Oct 122010
 

With the decided shift towards college players in the Rule 4 draft (a.k.a. First-Year Players), it’s no surprise that the 2010 GCL Nationals were among the oldest in the league (batters, 20.4; pitchers, 21.5). Unfortunately, like the proverbial trailer park, if they weren’t putting a hurt a somebody (league-leading 5.21 R/G scored), they were getting hammered (third-worst 5.27 R/G allowed). Hence, a losing record at 24-32 that was four games under the 28-28 pythagorean projection.

Here’s a look at how they compared to the rest of the league…

HITTING

TEAM AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA SB
GCL Nats 1895 292 505 18 194 404 .266 .343 .370 .247 76
Lg. Avg. 1887 253 466 23 174 432 .247 .321 .349 .232 64

Bold = League Leader

PITCHING

TEAM IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
GCL Nats 483.0 4.29 5.27 1.346 30 167 412 9.0 3.1 7.7 2.47
Lg. Avg. 496.0 3.62 4.39 1.289 23 174 432 8.4 3.2 7.8 2.48

For an organization that’s been hurting for offense, leading the league in runs scored per game, RBI, hits, batting average, and on-base percentage is a good thing. They also drew the third-most walks and struck out at the fourth-lowest rate, and stole bases at a league-best 76% (76-for-100) success rate.

Unfortunately, the pitching wasn’t there and neither was the defense; both were third-worst on a rate basis (runs per game, fielding percentage). Even worse: Three of the bottom five in terms of runs allowed are DSL grads (Gregory Baez, Pedro Encarnacion, and Miguel Navarro).

Playing time was split much more evenly in the GCL vs. the DSL, so I’m listing the top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, assigning positions by games appeared. The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err PA GPA
Angelberth Montilla 21 LF/CF/RF 20/20/11 .953 4 222 .253
Randolph Oduber 21 CF/LF 20/10 .986 1 175 .338
Mills Rogers 22 1B/3B/SS 26/13/2 .985 4 154 .249
Michael Taylor 19 SS/3B/2B 19/9/9 .882 22 149 .196
Hector Taveras 21 C 12 .978 2 145 .246
Wander Nunez 20 RF/LF 31/5 1.000 0 139 .220
Roberto Perez 19 2B/3B 31/4 .955 7 137 .223
Tyler Oliver 21 1B 25 .995 1 133 .220
Jeremy Mayo 22 C/1B 27/3 .991 2 133 .298
Adrian Sanchez 19 3B/2B/SS 14/8/7 .927 8 127 .312
Johan Rodriguez 19 SS/2B 18/11 .863 16 114 .191
Estarlin Martinez 18 3B/2B 24/1 .823 14 1 .231

Bold = 2010 Draftee (Notables not included above = Rick Hague, Rick Hughes, Rashad Hatcher)
Italics = 2010 IFA

Like the DSL, players were rotated defensively, with most positions having two or three primary starters. As VladiHondo pointed out in the DSL season review, the showing of ’09 DSL “graduates” was weak, with Martinez and Wander Ramos he only two getting significant playing time at 106 and 99 PAs respectively.

As the parenthetical indicates, there were three 2010 draftees that got playing time in the GCL but were not in the Top 12. Hague obviously impressed in his limited playing time to get the bump to Hagerstown, posting a .275/.380/.300 line in 50PA but Hughes was actually a little better with a .293/.359/.448 in 65 PA. Rashad Hatcher posted just a .200/241/.218 line in 59 PA.

On to the pitchers, listing the top 12 in terms of innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Kelvin Lopez 20 11/8 4-4, 0 4.44 46⅔ 54 12 26 1.414 3 6
Gregory Baez 18 11/6 1-2, 0 2.61 38 44 23 40 1.763 4 5
Tyler Hanks 20 10/4 4-1, 1 3.51 33⅓ 37 6 25 1.290 3 4
Nick Serino 21 14/1 2-2, 0 3.16 25⅔ 21 5 25 1.013 1 3
Pedro Encarnacion 19 8/6 0-3, 0 6.48 25 28 12 15 1.600 2 3
Christian Meza 19 9/2 1-2, 0 1.52 23⅔ 16 10 23 1.099 2 5
Billy Ott 22 7/0 1-0, 1 1.17 23 16 3 19 0.826 4 0
Manuel Rivera 22 13/0 2-2, 0 2.61 20⅔ 15 12 21 1.306 5 2
Tim Dupuis 21 16/0 3-1, 3 4.79 20⅔ 23 5 21 1.355 0 1
Miguel Navarro 17 14/1 1-1, 0 8.10 20 19 21 11 2.000 10 6
Mike Gallo 23 12/0 0-2, 0 8.38 19⅓ 25 11 11 1.862 1 1
Matt Grace 21 8/5 1-1, 0 4.32 18⅔ 23 3 14 1.393 1 1

The spring-training usage of pitchers in the GCL makes it impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions. This particular year saw a lot of rehab activity (seven full-season minor-leaguers, four major-leaguers) as thirty pitchers threw at least one inning, and as you can see the cutoff for the Top 12 was 18 innings (Chris Manno was #13)

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
The same caveat applies to the GCL as it does the DSL (sight unseen) and with the pitchers, it’s even more shaky, but folks love lists so here goes, along with some honorable mentions to account for the guesswork smaller sample sizes here.

Top 5 Batters
1. Randolph Oduber
2. Adrian Sanchez
3. Rick Hague
4. Mills Rogers
5. Michael Taylor

Honorable mentions: Estarlin Martinez, Angelberth Montilla

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Tyler Hanks
2. Nick Serino
3. Christian Meza
4. Matthew Grace
5. Christopher Manno

Honorable mentions: Billy Ott, Manuel Rivera

Jul 302010
 

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

SYRACUSE 54-52, 2nd place IL North, 7 games back

Good Jason Bergmann 2.19ERA, 1.16WHIP, .212OBA
Bad Chase Lambin .216BA, 31K in July
Interesting Adam Carr 4K in 2⅔ IP in AAA debut

HARRISBURG 53-53, 4th place, 8 games behind

Good Danny Espinosa .287/.324/.545 in July
Bad John Lannan 1 quality start in 7 AA games
Interesting Brad Peacock 7 scoreless innings in AA debut

POTOMAC
17-14 2nd Half; 48-53 Overall

Good Daniel Rosenbaum 2-0, 0.69ERA in first two A+ starts
Bad Jimmy Barthmaier 4H, 5R, BB, HR in return to A+
Interesting Tyler Moore 17HR, 73RBI leads all Nats affiliates (Pahuta tied in HR)

HAGERSTOWN
12-21 2nd Half; 48-55 Overall

Good Rob Wort 4-0, 5SV, 28K in 24IP in June/July
Bad Adrian Nieto .097BA in July
Interesting Paul Demny’s .240OBA is second-best

VERMONT
23-16, 1st Place Stedler Division of NY-Penn League

Good Chad Jenkins .192OBA, 1.11WHIP system-best for SPs
Bad Jason Martinson 10E in 35G
Interesting Wade Moore’s 12SB is 4th highest total in NYPL

GCL NATIONALS
13-19, 5th place GCL East Division, 7½ games back

Good Randolph Oduber .366/.418/.620 in 17G
Bad Matthew Grace 22.09ERA, 3.55WHIP in first 3 appearances
Interesting Mills Rogers .393OBP, 16BB in 26G

DSL NATIONALS
24-25, 5th place B.C. South Division, 9 games back

Good Jorge Hernandez 0.98WHIP, 2.05ERA
Bad Jose Arismendy .196BA .208OBP
Interesting Juan Pena 4 OF assists in 13G as CF