Feb 132014
 

So Long
RHP Nathan Karns was dealt away today to the Tampa Bay Rays for backup catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF Drew Vettleson. The move is expected to put an end to one of the few position battles this spring and clouding the future for a pair of longtime backstops, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, who both have one option left.

To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Erik Davis was placed on the 60-man DL with what Washington officials are calling an elbow sprain.

Karns (2012) also becomes the sixth minors’ player or pitcher of the year to be traded since GM Mike Rizzo assumed the helm in 2009, following Derek Norris (2009), Tommy Milone (2010), Brad Peacock and Steve Lombrdozzi (2011), and Billy Burns (2013). (Perhaps the award should be nicknamed Kemmerich’s Cleats?)

Rivero was signed as an IFA in 2008 out of Venezuela and was ranked as Tampa Bay’s #17 prospect overall in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. He was 9-7 in 23 starts with pitcher’s line of 3.40/3.88/1.37 for High-A Charlotte (FL) in the (usually) pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

He works off a 91-94 FB and features a sharp 12-6 curve and changeup. Both BA and this guy have noted that he has trouble maintaining his speed, which could signal a move to the bullpen. BA was projecting him to pitch for AA Montgomery, so the logical extension is a ticket to Harrisburg this summer.

Vettleson is a 2010 HS pick (1st Rd., supplemental) out of Silverdale, WA and has moved up steadily in his first three years, progressing from advanced rookie Princeton in 2011 to Low-A Bowling Green in 2012 to High-A Charlotte in 2013. He suffered a bit of a power outage in FSL, which both BA and Sickels attributed to issues with plate discipline.

Defensively, Vettleson’s arm is considered above-average but his footwork is considered substandard. Like Rivero, Vettleson was considered on track to play at AA Montgomery, which could force either Caleb Ramsey or Randolph Oduber to repeat Potomac.

Dec 112013
 

Like the bats, folks were overwhelmingly in agreement about the top three arms in the Washington Nationals minors. Unlike a year ago, though, the range was smaller — just 22 different pitchers versus 30 — and there were four guys that were named on every ballot.

OK, enough vamping. Let’s rock this, pitch:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Sammy Solis
                              4. Nathan Karns
                              5. Jake Johansen
                              6. Aaron Barrett
                              7. Matt Purke
                              8. Austin Voth
                              9. Christian Garcia
                              10. Richie Mirowski

Others receiving votes: Blake Schwartz, Jefry Rodriguez, Taylor Hill, Hector Silvestre, Travis Ott, Erik Davis, Pedro Encarnacion, Brett Mooneyham, Wander Suero, Nick Lee, Neil Holland, Blake Treinen

Now the observations…

• Giolito was the top dog on 12 of the 13 ballots, with Cole getting the other first-place vote. Giolito was the #1 last year, too, despite coming off UCL-replacement surgery in August 2012.

• Cole was the Mary Ann to Ging, er… Giolito on 11 of the possible 12 second-place votes. It would have been interesting to see if that would have been true had Robbie Ray not been traded away.

• Voth and Garcia tied in raw points, but I broke the tie by the pitcher who was named on more ballots (nine vs. seven).

• Two of the top three old maids (i.e. the near misses) were righthanded control artists who don’t throw in the mid-90s. Not sure if the bias is against the lower velocity, the low K rate, or the soap-opera first name (just kidding).

The list continues to skews older (five are 25+) and upper minors (also five), which has been a consistent bias since this experiment in crowdsourcing began in 2011. But like all things hot stove, the point is to pass the time — none of this is really significant, statistically or otherwise — while winter sets its claws in and local schools overreact to snowfall that wouldn’t get a chihuahua’s belly wet.

Next up: The Rule 5 draft, which for the Nationals, has become an exercise of wondering who’s going versus who’s arriving.

Nov 062013
 

Baseball America for NPPNo sense vamping when this list has probably been tweeted dozens of times by now. (Last year’s revised ranking in parentheses.)

1. Lucas Giolio, RHP (2)
2. A.J. Cole, RHP (4)
3. Brian Goodwin, CF (3)
4. Matt Skole, 1B/3B (5)
5. Robbie Ray, LHP (–)
6. Sammy Solis, LHP (9)
7. Michael Taylor, CF (–)
8. Jake Johansen, RHP (’13 Draft Pick)
9. Nathan Karns, RHP (6)
10. Steve Souza, OF (–)

Frankly, I was initially confused as to how an injured position player and a coming-off-surgery pitcher could move up in the rankings. This, of course, is no disrespect to them, but simple logic dictates that getting hurt and/or losing a year of development is the kind of thing that drops your stock, not improves it. This was Fitt’s answer to my question about that rationale for ranking them higher in 2014 than 2013:

I think Skole is in the same No. 4* slot he was last year (and remember that Anthony Rendon graduated to the big leagues). I did not dock Skole for being hurt — it was a fluke injury, and he returned strong this fall. I still think he’s a quality power-hitting prospect, and I ranked him accordingly. As for Solis, I got very encouraging reports on him coming off that surgery, and I expect him to move very quickly next year (assuming he can stay healthy — which is a legitimate question, given his track record). At this point, I think he has a better chance to stick as a big league starter than Karns, who strikes me as more of a power reliever ultimately. So I moved Solis ahead of Karns. I can’t say I’m overly excited about any of those guys — Solis is 25 now and still has yet to reach Double-A, after all. I don’t think this is a great top 10 after the top of the list, although I do like some of the depth in the 11-30 range.
* Skole was initially ranked #4 in December 2012, then moved to #5 when BA revised the list in March 2013

I give Fitt credit answering honestly, particularly in remarking about how the talent thins out rapidly after the first few guys, which has been the case for about two years now. For those wondering, Fitt said that he wrestled with a cluster of Tony Renda, Matt Purke, Billy Burns, and Zach Walters before deciding upon Souza for the #10 spot. There are certainly arguments that can be made for any of those five against the other four and it may be bit revealing of your personal biases, too. Fitt, it appears, likes Souza’s five-tool promise over Burns’s speed, Purke’s LHSP capabilities, Renda’s bat/eye, Walter’s power, etc.

One new wrinkle to this year’s rankings is a list of the Top 15 players under the age of 25, which you can find in the free article along with a list of the best tools, prospects of the year and top draft picks from the past 10 years. And of course, the top bonuses paid, for which Robin Leach Fitt remains enamored of the decision of the Nationals to spend heavily just as they were hitting rock bottom.

The projections for where the 2014 Top 10 will begin (or finish) next season were as follows:
AAA – Cole, Goodwin, Karns, Souza
AA – Skole, Ray, Solis, Taylor
Low-A – Giolito
Not specified – Johansen

I personally believe Cole will probably return to Harrisburg and be moved up in May or June; likewise for Johansen with Hagerstown as his starting point — but lately the Nats have been more aggressive, so it could be Syracuse and Potomac, respectively. As mentioned in the comments, where a prospect starts is not nearly as important as where he finishes.

Sep 062013
 

Our final look at the leaders, trailers, and outliers in the Washington Nationals minor leagues. Repeats from 2012 are in italics.

SYRACUSE CHIEFS
66-78, 6th place International League North, 14½ games back

Good Bat: Zach Walters .253/.286/.517, 29HR, 77RBI in 134G
Arm: Tanner Roark 9-3, 2SV, 3.15 ERA, 33 appearances, 11 starts, 105⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Danny Espinosa 101K in 75G, .566 OPS
Arm: Chris Young 1-2, 7.88 ERA / 7.17 FIP / 2.00 WHIP, 9HR in 32IP
Interesting Bat: Chris Rahl .293/.308/.431, 14SB in 111G
Arm: Caleb Clay 5-2, 2.49/3.37/0.99 in 14 appearances (13 starts):

HARRISBURG SENATORS
77-65, 1st place Eastern League Western Division, 1 game ahead

Good Bat: Steve Souza .300/.396/.557, 15HR, 20SB in 77G
Arm: Nathan Karns 10-6, 3.26/3.48/1.18, 155K in 132⅔ IP
Bad Bat: Jose Lozada .529 OPS, 11E in 81G
Arm: Ryan Perry 2-5, 4.43/4.86/1.21 in 22⅓ IP (18 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Billy Burns .325/.434/.360, 20SB in 30G
Arm: A.J. Cole 4-2, 2.18/2.56/0.90 in 45⅓ IP (7 starts)

POTOMAC NATIONALS
42-28 in 2nd half, 1st place Carolina League Northern Division, 9 games ahead
42-27 in 1st half, 1st place, 6 games ahead
84-55 overall

Good Bats: Michael Taylor .263/.340/.426, 51SB, 87RBI, .986FA, 21 assists in 133G
Adrian Nieto .285/.373/.449, 11HR, 53 RBI in 110G
Arm: Robbie Ray 6-3, 3.11/3.82/1.20, 100K in 84IP (16 starts)
Bad Bat: Adrian Sanchez .278OBP (17BB in 120G)
Arm: Derek Self 4-2, 4SV, 6.29/4.52/1.66, 4BS in 23 appearances
Interesting Bats: Cutter Dykstra .308/.459/.456, 50BB in 55G
Arm: Blake Schwartz 11-4, 2.65/3.52/1.08

HAGERSTOWN SUNS
42-28 in 2nd half, 2nd place South Atlantic League Northern Division, 3 games behind
38-29 in 1st half, 1st place, ½ game ahead
80-57 overall

Good Bats: Tony Renda .294/.380/.405, 43 doubles, 30SBs in 135G
Brandon Miller .243/.308/.456, 18HR, 72RBI in 103G
Arm: Brett Mooneyham 10-3, 1.94/3.65/0.98 in 93IP (17 starts)
Bad Bat: Pedro Severino .608 OPS in 84G
Arm: Will Hudgins 2-1, 4.79/5.96/1.60 in 20⅔ IP (16 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Shawn Pleffner .288/.386/.399 in 101G
Arm: Gilberto Mendez 3-2, 7SV 0.91/2.53/0.94 in 29⅔ IP (24 appearances)

AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
26-49, 6th Place Pinckney Division of New York-Penn League, 22 games behind

Good Bat: Isaac Ballou .294/.405/.398, 20RBI in 59G
Arm: Jake Johansen 1-1, 1.06/2.77/0.92 in 42⅓ IP (10 starts)
Bad Bat: David Masters .183/.254/.242 in 45G
Arm: Deion Williams 0-6, 9.42/4.35/1.99 in 28⅔ IP (8 starts)
Interesting Bat: Jean-Carlos Valdez .374 SLG as a 20-y.o. in 48G
Arm: Austin Voth 2-0, 1.47/0.95/0.82 in 30⅔ IP (7 starts)

GCL NATIONALS
49-9, 1st place Gulf Coast League East Dvision, 24½ games ahead

Good Bat: Randy Encarnacion .349/.437/.523 in 34G
Arm: Wander Suero 8-1, 1.65/2.77/0.82 in 49IP (13 appearances, 3 starts)
Bad Bat: 17-y.o. Luis Guzman .222/.278/.265 in 36G
Arm: 23-y.o. Michael Boyden 0-0, 4.61/5.25/2.27 in 13⅔ IP (13 appearances)
Interesting Bat: Drew Ward .292/.402/.387, 28RBI in 49G (turns 19 in Nov.)
Arm: Nick Pivetta 1-0, 2.13/2.41/1.03 in 3GS (promoted to Auburn)

DSL NATIONALS
38-32, 3rd place, Boca Chica South Division of Dominican Summer League, 11 games behind

Good Bat: 19-y.o. Kelvin Gutierrez .255/.333/.337 in 60G
Arm: 18-y.o. Deibi Yrizarri 5-3, 1.99/2.66/1.10 in 68IP (14 appearances, 13 starts)
Bad Bat: 18-y.o. Miguel Atencio .183/.246/.183 in 23G
Arm: 22-y.o. Adrian Green 0-2, 5.40ERA, 2.00 WHIP in 10IP (12 appearances)
Interesting Bat: 17-y.o. Oliver Ortiz .307/.402/.386 in 26G
Arm: 18-y.o. Luis Reyes 5-3, 2.82/2.76/1.07 in 54⅓ IP (promoted to GCL)
May 272013
 

No, I Said The White PhoneIt may just be an up and back, but Nathan Karns got the call this afternoon to make his MLB debut tomorrow night against the Baltimore Orioles.

Earlier this afternoon, there was a clue when Nathan Karns was bumped from his scheduled start today vs. Reading to tomorrow with Caleb Clay taking his place at the last minute. Others felt like the short outing of Chris Young yesterday was a hint, however, that seemed unlikely given how ineffective the veteran had been in seven starts (9HR, 50H in 32IP).

Karns has been up and down all season long for Harrisburg, posting a 4-2, 4.60 ERA mark in nine starts but includes outings of five, six, and seven runs surrendered (two of those coming in his last three starts) as well as a 13K, two-hit, seven-inning complete game on April 20th. He’s also given up five HRs in nine starts, after having three career longballs surrendered in 171⅓ innings prior to this season.

Two years removed from labrum surgery, Washignton’s 2009 12th-round pick put together a career year in 2012, going from from the Hagerstown Suns bullpen in April to the Nationals’ Minors Pitcher of the Year in September to a spot on the 40-man roster in November.

He’s a two-time watchlist player and longtime subject of speculation in the comments — heard but not seen for nearly 18 months before he emerged in Auburn in the summer of 2011, when he blew away the GCL with 26K in 18⅔ innings and then posted a modest 3-2, 3.44 mark in eight starts for the Doubledays.

The Nats No. 5 prospect per Baseball America features a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, a hard (low-80s) curve and a changeup that most scouts say will make or break him as a starter. If he can’t harness it, the feeling is that he’ll still have great upside as a late-inning relief option, a la Christian Garcia.

May 032013
 

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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 9-17, 6th place I.L. North, 8½ games behind

Good Chris Marrero .337/.385/.614, 6HR, 20RBI
Bad Yunesky Maya 0-3, 7.45 ERA, 1.62WHIP .310 OBA
Interesting Danny Rosenbaum 1.14ERA, 5K, 45GO in 23⅔ IP

HARRISBURG SENATORS 13-14, T2nd place E.L. West, 2 games behind

Good Nathan Karns 2-0, 1.13ERA, 0.88 WHIP in last four starts
Bad Brian Goodwin 36K in 27G
Interesting Justin Bloxom .325/.341/.500 in last 10G

POTOMAC NATIONALS 13-14, T2nd place C.L. North, 2 games behind

Good Michael Taylor .270/.341/.486, 2HR, 5SB, 8RBI in last 10G
Bad Christian Meza 2.28WHIP, 9.31ERA in six appearances
Interesting Blake Schwartz 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 11K in 11IP over first two High-A starts

HAGERSTOWN SUNS 15-11, T1st place Sally North, 2½ games ahead

Good Pedro Encarnacion 1.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .207 OBA
Bad Hunter Bailey .528 OPS
Interesting Wes Schill 18BB in 18G, team-best .455 OBP
Apr 222013
 

On the strength of their Saturday night performances, Nathan Karns and Taylor Hill were named the Pitchers of the Week for the Eastern and Carolina Leagues respectively while Jason Martinson repeated as the Player of the Week for the Carolina League for the period of April 15-21.

Nathan KarnsKarns pitched just once during the week, but was masterful: In a 7-inning complete game to open Harrisburg’s doubleheader, Karns settled down from giving up back-to-back doubles with two outs in the first to retire 19 of 20 and the last 15 batters straight while racking up a career-high 13 strikeouts. For the season, the Franklin, PA native is a modest 1-1 with an ERA of 4.60 ERA but has an FIP of 2.94 and a WHIP of 1.09 despite giving up seven runs and seven hits in his first outing.

Taylor HillHill pitched twice during the week, allowing one run on four hits to in a win against Salem last Monday and a one-hit, seven-inning shutout in the opening game of Potomac’s doubleheader on Saturday night. Hill struck out seven and walked none in his masterpiece. The Vanderbilt alum is 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 0.79WHIP (second-best in the Carolina League) and a 2.52 FIP (fifth-best) in three starts and one relief appearance.

Jason MartinsonMartinson took home player of the week honors for the second straight week, punishing opposing pitchers for a .400 average (10-for-25) including a double, a home run and four RBI in a 12-inning game last Thursday. The 24-year-old Texan is batting .328/.425/.656 overall and is tied for the league lead in HRs with five and leads the Carolina circuit with 15RBI.

Mar 272013
 

Baseball America for NPPLike slideshows of cheerleaders and WAGs for Bleacher Report*, Baseball America can’t resist another chance to re-issue a list, which it did today with the 2013 Organizational Talent Rankings.
*Full disclosure: I can’t resist bulldogs or visual puns.

As a system, the Nats came in at #13 — up three spots from the #16 ranking last December — but perhaps of more interest is the “new” Top 10 list, which is as follows:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (AA)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP (XST)
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (AA)
4. A.J. Cole, RHP (A+)
5. Matt Skole, 1B-3B (AA)
6. Nathan Karns, RHP (AA)
7. Christan Garcia, RHP (MLB D.L.)
8. Eury Perez, OF (AAA)
9. Sammy Solis, LHP (XST)
10. Matt Purke, LHP (XST)

In a nutshell, A.J. Cole was inserted at #4 and the “old” nos. 4-9 were moved down one spot. Zach Walters was the “bumped” #10 prospect. My projected destinations for where they’ll be for Opening Day are in parentheses.

The Washington farm was ranked #12 last year in this revision, following a brief moment on paper when the system was rated #1 prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade.

Mar 142013
 

More ST cutsThis morning the Nationals announced the second major cutdown, sending seven guys to the backfields, including top prospects Nathan Karns, Anthony Rendon, and Matt Skole. Also sent packing: Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Pat McCoy, and Will Rhymes.

Officially, Perez was optioned to AAA Syracuse, Leon and Rendon were optioned to AA Harrisburg, while the rest were reassigned to minor-league camp.

Karns was an unsurprising cut, especially considering his recent leg injury. After an impressive two-inning stint against the Mets on February 25 struggled in his next two appearances — both versus the St. Louis Cardinals — including seven runs in 2/3rds of an inning last Friday.

While perhaps some folks may have thought Rendon’s torrid spring thus far (.375BA, 4HR, 11RBI) may have earned him more time with “the big boys,” manager Davey Johnson has been consistent in his stance that all the 22-year-old Texan needs is “some reps.”

There is, of course, nothing to prevent Washington from reassigning Rendon to Syracuse later this month. Wherever he does end up starting the season, Rendon is expected to split time playing 3B and SS and will occasionally play at 2B, Johnson told reporters this morning.

Finally, Matt Skole, who spent less than a month at a High-A Potomac after obliterating the South Atlantic League for most of 2012, is probably not going back to Woodbridge next month; not after leading the Nationals with seven walks drawn in 14 games for an impressive .406 OBP.

As predicted earlier this week, the trio of Carlos Rivero, Corey Brown, and Chris Marrero were kept in the major-league camp, which now stands at 42 players

Mar 092013
 

A seven-run 9th fattened some meaningless spring training stats, but wasn’t enough to overcome the earlier mistakes as the Nats lost 16-10 to the Cards yesterday afternoon.

Jordan Zimmermann was lit up for eight runs on nine hits and two weeks, the bulk of the damage coming in a six-run 3rd inning. The proverbial “dead arm” was cited for his troubles.

More concerning, however, was the beating that Nathan Karns took two innings later. While just one of the seven runs he allowed were earned — thanks to an error by Anthony Rendon to the first batter he faced. In the space of eight batters Karns walked two, gave up a pair of singles, a double, and was lifted after a grand slam to journeyman Shane Robinson. He struck out one and got a flyball out.

As noted on Twitter, Karns’s command was noticeably amiss, with pitches sailing up in the zone. He fell behind nearly every batter, enabling them to sit on the get-it-over fastball, which was a bit slower than usual (low-90s/high-80s, when you consider that Zimmermann had similar readings on the MASN telecast and was reportedly hitting 92-94).

After the game, beat writers Nathan Fenno and Dan Kolko reported that Karns had been battling tightness in his right (push-off) leg and will be seeking further medical attention. Coincidentally (or ironically, if you believe in curses), Byron Kerr’s feature story yesterday was on the health of the 25-year-old Texan.

Back to the debacle in Viera… after falling behind 16-3, the Nats struck seven times on six hits in the final frame. Left fielder Micah Owings (1-3, R, RBI) and shortstop Zach Walters (1-3, R, 2RBI) both homered while first baseman Chris Marrero (1-3, R, 2K) had an RBI double and DH Matt Skole (1-1, R, BB) drove in two with a single.

A rundown of the notable minor-leaguers:
• RF Carlos Rivero 0-2, K
• CF Corey Brown 1-3, R
• C Jhonatan Solano 2-3, R
• 3B Anthony Rendon 0-2, R, HBP
• RHP Cole Kimball ⅓ IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 0K
• LHP Pat McCoy 2IP, 3H, R, ER, BB, K

The Nats stay on the Space Coast for another tilt today against the Marlins. There is no broadcast, home or away.