Dec 032013
 

In a trade reminiscent of two Decembers ago, the Nationals have traded LHPs Robbie Ray and Ian Krol along with utilityman Steve Lombardozzi for Tigers RHP Doug Fister.

Fister, who was not drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks but rather the Seattle Mariners in the 7th Round of the 2006 Draft, turns 30 in February but is only in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season, providing Washington with a in-his-prime pitcher who’s exceeded 200 innings twice in the past three seasons and averaged more than six innings per appearance for his career.

Trade reaction is generally in the direction of adulation (trust me, I wanted to use a stronger word than that; think Apple fans and Jobs) for Washington GM Mike Rizzo’s latest trade or disdain for Detroit GM Dave Dombrowksi.

Then there are those who take the contrarian point of view:

Have to believe Tigers know something about Fister the rest of us don’t. Dombrowski isn’t dumb.
— David Laurila, Fangraphs via Twitter (@DavidLaurilaQA)

Of course, like a hermaphrodite’s knife, this cuts both ways: maybe Rizzo knows something about Ray or Krol like he presumably did with Brad Peacock, who has underwhelmed relative to the expectations set from his rise from AA to the majors in 2011. This is de rigeur with any trade that seems lopsided at first blush, though ultimately, it’s really hard to say that Rizzo “won” the Gonzalez trade. Oakland GM Billy Beane did get a cost-controlled pitcher and catcher and used Peacock to acquire an underrated everyday third baseman, fulfilling his mission to get talent on the cheap [insert "Moneyball" reference here].

From our perspective, it’s yet another reminder that for all our yearnings to see “our guys” with a curly W cap in DC, there’s always the chance that they’ll make The Show elsewhere. While that may be disappointing to some, it’s the reality of a system that’s not been highly regarded in the aggregate in the past couple of years, yet has been generating major-leaguers nevertheless.

This is actually a good sign, evidence that the organization is in the “Replace/Reload Mode” that ultimately is the most important measure of a system: generating players that can play in MLB.

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.

Oct 052013
 

Ok, so maybe it’s a little easier to place multiple players in an eight-team league, but that should shouldn’t diminish the distinction of four Potomac Nationals making the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects List — A.J. Cole (#10), Michael Taylor (#12), Robbie Ray (#16), and Billy Burns (#19).

Like last year’s contingent of Suns to get the BA badge of approval, three of the four P-Nats were promoted to the next level, led by the two pitchers, with the older of the two position players going last.

Alright, fine, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to see what the folks in Durham had to say, going from highest to lowest, beginning with #10, A.J. Cole…

Cole can command his fastball to both sides of the plate and the pitch can be explosive coming out of his long, lanky frame. The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.

This matches up well with what I saw in Woodbridge, but when Cole racked up W’s in three of his first four starts, such naysaying seemed out of place. Not to mention, the similar success shown by Robbie Ray after his promotion.

Taylor began to tap into his power at the plate but still isn’t disciplined enough in his approach to drive balls with regularity. At his best, he has the bat speed to turn on fastballs and the strength to take breaking balls to the opposite field. Yet he is susceptible to chasing fastballs up in the zone and curveballs off the plate. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Taylor has all-star potential. If not, he figures to be a 4th outfielder [like] Justin Maxwell.

Last year, Taylor couldn’t correct either flaw (bolded) and this year the weaknesses would come and go. No doubt he’ll be challenged with AA in ’14, but those are the kind of holes that pitchers can consistently exploit at the next level.

Ray attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and has the arm strength to add more velocity down the road. His slider grew from more of a slurvy pitch to a power one with good depth that could turn into an above-average offering. He showed feel for a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Ray still struggles with his command at times and gets in trouble when he leaves pitches up — his nine home runs in just 84 innings were the 11th most in the league.

Quite frankly, had Ray been a righty or a year or two older, I’d have dropped him from the ’13 Watchlist — that’s how bad he looked in ’12. But after making some serious adjustments to recover from that debacle, there’s reason to hope that he can refine his game further in ’14.

Burns excels at working counts and putting the ball in play as a slap-and-dash hitter. He’s more than willing to put the ball on the ground and beat throws to first base. The natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting in 2012, but he hit a respectable .312/.418/.383 in 266 at-bats from the left side in the CL. One scout suggested that Burns could be more of a line-drive hitter if he incorporated his powerful legs into his swing.

In his last month or so in Woodbridge, Burns certainly did appear to be working on trying to hit balls into the gaps, but with mixed success (a fair amount of weak flyballs). Given that small-ball skills — aside from speed — have fallen out of favor lately, this is Burns’s next challenge to meet if he’s to proceed beyond AA.

Quite a gap between the next BA Top 20 post for which a National may be named — next Thursday for the International League. It looks like they’re saving the Eastern League for last, on the 14th. Next up: perhaps a morning reading post before we begin following the Arizona Fall League.

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)
Jul 122013
 

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

SYRACUSE CHIEFS 39-55, 6th place I.L. North, 13 games behind

Good Caleb Clay 3-2, 1.62/3.29/0.99 in five appearances
Bad Mike Costanzo .185/.241/.333 in final 10 games before release
Interesting Danny Espinosa .417/.475/.750 over last 10 games



HARRISBURG SENATORS 51-41, 1st place E.L. West, 3frac12; games ahead

Good Robbie Ray (duh) 2-0, 0.64/1.34/1.00 after first two starts in AA
Bad Sandy Leon .172/.226/.172 over last 10 games
Interesting #1 E.L. pitching team in ERA (3.43), fewest runs allowed (3.79), CGs (11) and shutouts (7)



POTOMAC NATIONALS 11-7, T1st place C.L. North, .011 W% ahead (53-34 overall)

Good Billy Burns .375/.419/.450, 6RBI, 6SB in July
Bad 15 relievers used thus far in less than 90 games
Interesting Cole Leonida active team leader with nine HR in 36 games


HAGERSTOWN SUNS 13-8, 2nd place Sally North, ½ game behind (51-37 overall)

Good Shawn Pleffner .343/.415/.514 since All-Star break (currently on DL)
Bad Brett Mooneyham 32BB in 46⅔ IP
Interesting Brett Mooneyham 2.31 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 5.2 H/9IP


AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS 8-15, 5th place Pinckney Division, New York-Penn League, 7½games behind

Good Jake Johansen 0.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in 1st four starts (12⅔ IP)
Bad David Masters .179/.220/.232 in 14 games
Interesting 151 batting strikeouts 3rd fewest in NYPL


GCL NATIONALS 14-4, 1st place East Division, Gulf Coast League, 4½ games ahead

Good Bryan Mejia .385/.396/.596 in 15G
Bad David Ramos 7.56 ERA, 1.44 WHIP in 4 appearances
Interesting Drew Ward 12BB in 17G


DSL NATIONALS 17-15, 4th place Boca Chica South, 5 games behind

Good 18-y.o. Deibi Yrizarri 2-1, 1.99/3.07/1.26 in seven appearances (six starts)
Bad 19-y.o. Brayan Serrata .194/.254/.194 in 22 games
Interesting Luis Reyes 2-1, 2.28ERA, 18H, 8HBP, 12BB in 27⅔ IP
Jul 042013
 

Moving On Up for NPP
The Potomac Nationals announced today that LHP Robbie Ray has been promoted to the Harrisburg Senators.

This is a bit of surprise, given the hammering (7HR, .245OBA) he took in June (vs 2HR, .184OBA in April/May) but apparently the powers that be are satisfied that he has made enough progress to be challenged with the next level.

Indeed, compared to the pitcher he was a year ago (especially in the second half, when he would get hit early, often, and hard), the 21-year-old southpaw has improved by leaps and bounds, getting more ground balls overall and converting more of the long counts (which are still a little too frequent to not glaze over) into strikeouts.

For the season, Ray is 6-3 with a 3.11 ERA, 3.82 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.20 with 100 strikeouts and 41 walks in 84 innings. That’s 4.39 BB/9 and 10.71 K/9. The walk rate is actually a career high, while the home run rate is only down slightly (0.96 vs. 1.19).

While not officially confirmed yet by the Senators PR folks, it would appear that Ray is the “TBA” listed in yesterday’s media notes for the probable pitcher of first game in tomorrow’s doubleheader in Harrisburg.

Jun 072013
 

For the first time since 2009, Potomac has multiple representatives named to the Carolina League All-Star team, as the rosters for the 2013 contingent were announced today.

OF Billy Burns, LHP Robbie Ray, and RHP Blake Schwartz were among those named on the roster. It’s believed to be the first All-Star appearance for all three players.

Burns will be among the starting outfielders, most likely in center. The 23-year-old Georgia native leads the Carolina League with 28 steals, while his .418 on-base percentage is second in the league.

Ray leads the Carolina League with 81 strikeouts in 62 innings, but is also third in most walks allowed with 29. After a disastrous 2012 (4-12, 6.56), the 21-year-old from Tennessee will take it as he’s also third in ERA at 2.32 and has posted a won-loss mark of 4-2.

Schwartz is a bit of a surprise, given that he began the season in Hagerstown and in the bullpen. Since his promotion in late April he’s won five of eight starts (5-1 for Potomac, 7-1 overall) and posted a league-best ERA of 1.29. The 23-year-old Minnesotan has risen rapidly up the Nationals ladder, going from a 17-round pick from Okalahoma City College to High-A in less than a calendar year.

The 2013 Carolina-California All-Star game is scheduled for June 18th with the San Jose Giants as the host city for the California League. The game will be televised locally as well as on MiLB.tv.

As aforementioned, the P-Nats have had only one player named the past three seasons with OF Michael Burgess the sole representative in 2010 and 2011 and C David Freitas in 2012 (RHP Rob Wort was named as an injury replacement). The previous multiple-player representation came in 2009, when RHPs Brad Meyers and Jeff Mandel were named to the Carolina League’s pitching staff.

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
Apr 212013
 

Adrian Nieto’s flare to shallow left with two outs in the 8th plated two to break a 1-1 tie and help the P-Nats return to .500 with a 3-1 win over Frederick.

Three Potomac pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts, though they also walked six. Starter Robbie Ray went six-plus innings allowing one run on two hits, with four walks and ten strikeouts — four of them looking. He was working with slightly lower velocity, but his command (the four free passes not withstanding) was significantly better as he worked with well with the fastball, curve, and change.

Indeed, the “plus” was the one time Ray did not retire a leadoff batter in seven innings. Matt Grace, the first man out of the Potomac ‘pen, was greeted with by Frederick’s Travis Adair with a single that first-year first baseman Kevin Keyes couldn’t snare and which pushed the runner Grace inherited to third.

Though it won’t show up in the box score, Billy Burns snagged the next batter’s liner on the run for a sacrifice fly that tied things up at 1-1. Grace stranded his runner with a groundout and the first of his four K’s over two innings.

Potomac got on the board first in the fourth with a near repeat of yesterday’s game one, leading off with a single and trotting home on Michael Taylor double as the 22-year-old again waited on a curve and served it down the left field line for an RBI double.

The gamewinner came in dramatic, almost bipolar fashion in the last if the 8th for what we like to call a “sportswriter’s win.” Pinch-hitter Caleb Ramsey led off with a walk and was pushed to second on a picture-perfect bunt by Burns that went justpast the pitcher and died on the grass before the second baseman, who could see it coming… but couldn’t stop it.

An errant pickoff throw took away the need for Taylor to bunt, and instead he walked to load the bases with nobody out. Cutter Dykstra flew out to shallow right, then Jason Martinson, who had two infield hits on a 2-for-3 afternoon, struck out. But before folks could lament the missed opportunity, Nieto saved the day — none too late after striking four times in his last six at-bats.

Richie Mirowski came on in the top of the 9th to close things out and issued a two-out walk but got pinch-hitter Brenden Webb to ground out to short to end it.

It’s a swing down 95 to Zebulon and Myrtle Beach this week for the 8-8 Potomac squad, as they play four against the Mudcats and three against the Pelicans before returning home to face the same two teams for the same number of games next week.