Nov 092011
 


For most of you, this list is hardly new. But the blogging protocol is that I needed Baseball America to officially release its list so I could link to it before mocking discussing it. Without further ado, here’s the list from the home office in Durham, North Carolina…

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, RHP
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, RHP
7. Matt Purke, LHP
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS

So what’s with the picture, Sue? Glad you asked. I’ve put the prospects with zero regular-season pro experience in italics. As the old expression goes, when you’re girl watching the prettiest one is the last one to walk by. It’s a crude metaphor, but we all know there’s some commonality here with ranking prospects.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these four isn’t a prospect. It’s just my personal conviction that placing a guy with no professional track record over a guy that does doesn’t pass the sniff test — especially when two of these four have injury issues, one of which we’ve been tracking from afar in the Arizona Fall League. For example: Which Matt Purke is the real Matt Purke — the one that’s turned in two scoreless innings in his last two outings, or the one that threw in-game BP the two appearances prior?

Maybe that’s just a pet peeve, so forgive me for seizing the chance to rant… I’m not as diplomatic as others have been on the subject.

Like last year, the free article focuses a lot on how the Nationals have spent freely and heavily the past three drafts. Two of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” — Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — while a third went down with a season-ending injury (Cole Kimball). Chris Marrero dropped off the list while Cole, Harper, Norris, Peacock and Solis are repeats from last year.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the “best in the system” lists. Harper remains the best power hitter and best outfield arm, but lost the title of “Best Athlete” to Michael Taylor, who was also named as the best defensive outfielder (disagree, but no argument over naming Steve Lombardozzi as the best defensive infielder). Anthony Rendon with his undefined pro average (zero divided by zero) is the best hitter for average and those zero walks drawn have earned him the system’s best strike-zone discipline, topping Derek Norris’s .403 career OBP in 1,815 more plate appearances (OK, so maybe I’m still ranting). Brad Peacock’s curve was named the best in the system while Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole were said to possess the best slider and heater, respectively.

Among the non-Top 10 tools, Eury Perez retains the title of fastest baserunner (Kobernus is close, but Perez has that proverbial fifth gear). Tommy Milone retains the title of best control and takes the best changeup honors away from Josh Wilkie (which might explain why he’s demoted his bender to a show-me pitch). Deion Williams has the strongest infield arm while Sandy Leon was named the best defensive catcher (agreed).

Lastly, here’s where BA thinks these guys will start the 2012 season:
MLB or AAA – Lombardozzi
AAA – Norris
AA or AAA – Harper
AA – Solis
High-A – Cole, Purke
Low-A – Goodwin, Meyer

BA took no guess at Rendon, but my rule of thumb is to take whatever level you think is about right, and drop back one: In this case, Hagerstown instead of Potomac. If he’s as good as advertised, I’ll get to see him in June or July, presuming that field conditions won’t play a factor in promotions as they allegedly didn’t this past summer.

Byron Kerr will be running a series based on his conversations with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America (author of the article linked in the first graf), beginning with Lombardozzi. I encourage you to take a look, as that’s where we learned that the Nigel Tufnel is Destin Hood.

Nov 082011
 

After the entire Nats contingent was trotted out last Friday, just two made into Monday’s night contest, which the Scottsdale Scorpions lost, 9-4.

Derek Norris caught and kept his on-base streak perfect at 17 with a 1-for-5 night. No baserunners attempted to steal against him, and he had no errors or passed balls, assisting on a infield roller and registering six putouts on strikeouts.

Zach Walters played third base and went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI double. Defensively, he had no putouts or errors and assisted on four groundouts.

In an upset of near miniscule proportions, Bryce Harper was not named the AFL Player of the Week last week despite hitting .500 with 2HR and 8RBI. Instead, the honor went to Texas’s Mike Olt, who bested Harper by batting .571 with the same HR and RBI totals. Sammy Solis’s 9K over 4IP outing on Friday did, however, garner him the AFL Pitcher of the Week award.

Nov 052011
 

With solid Solis outing, the Scottsdale Scorpions won 9-2, taking back-to-back games for just the fourth time this fall.

Solis threw four shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks. He struck out nine, hitting 94-96 m.p.h. per Mark Zuckerman, and undoubtedly had his new overhand curve working (first spotted by commenter Ernie Salazar) as Solis threw 40 of his 67 pitches for strikes. He was credited with the win.

Solis was followed in the bullpen by his fellow farmhands Pat Lehman, Matt Purke, and Rafael Martin, while Bryce Harper played left field, Derek Norris caught and Zach Walters played third base. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was reported to be in attendance at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which may explain why every Washington player was playing.

Here’s a rundown on how they did…

  • Lehman pitched a scoreless inning, allowing a hit, but walked none and struck out two.
  • Purke threw a 1-2-3 inning with no hits, walks, or strikeouts.
  • Martin also put up a goose egg, giving up a hit, but no walks, and whiffed one.
  • Harper went 1-for-5 (the streak is now 13 games) with a run scored and an RBI, gunning down a runner at the plate and making a putout.
  • Norris’s safety skein was snapped after 10 games with an 0-for-3 game, but drew two walks to keep his on-base streak a perfect 16-for-16 this fall. He threw out a baserunner and had no errors or passed balls.
  • Walters went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts but had two assists.

Harper and Norris are expected to play in tonight’s AFL Rising Stars game, which will be televised tonight at 8 p.m. on the MLB Network.

Oct 302011
 

The Scottsdale Scorpions couldn’t make it three in a row, falling 4-3 to Salt River.

Derek Norris pushed the safety skein to eight games (hey, that rhymes!) while going 2-for-5 with a strikeout. Defensively, it was a mixed bag: a passed ball, 1-for-2 in runners caught stealing.

Sammy Solis scattered five hits over four innings, but needed 71 pitches to do it. He walked two and allowed an unearned run (Norris PB) while striking out five.

Pat Lehman ended his in-game BP tendencies with a scoreless inning — his first in more than three weeks — retiring all three batters he faced in the 6th, two by way of the K.

Unfortunately, Rafael Martin’s fifth appearance was marred by a 9th-inning solo HR that gave the Rafters its fourth and deciding run. Martin was tagged with the loss and had no walks and no strikeouts.

It’s a five-game this week as the AFL holds its “Rising Stars” game on Saturday, which will be televised on MLB Network at 8 p.m. Rosters are expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Oct 292011
 

Bryce Harper homered for the third straight game in a 9-5 win by Scottsdale over Salt River, just the second time this fall the Scorpions have won consecutive games in consecutive days.

Harper also drew a walk and scored two runs for his 1-for-4 game. He drove in two with home run #4 and struck out twice while playing left field (no putouts, errors, or assists). The hit extended his streak to nine games.

Derek Norris was the designated hitter and extended his hit streak to seven games with single in the 7th inning. He drew a walk but struck out three times for his 1-for-4 game.

Zach Walters played third base and snapped an 0-for-10 skid with an RBI double in the 4th. He later drove in runs a la Homer Simpson (HBP) and via sacrifice fly to finish the game 1-for-3 with 3RBI. Defensively, he had two putouts and an assist.

Sammy Solis is expected to make his fifth start tonight as the Scorpions rematch against River Rafters to close out the week.

Oct 262011
 

There are some parallels to the 2010 season and the 2011 season for the Potomac Nationals. Both teams started slowly…VERY slowly, getting into offensive funks that saw both teams get shut out seven times. The 2010 edition finished the first half at 31-39, ten games behind Frederick; the ’11 guys were 29-40 and twelve games behind the Keys at the break.

Given that the core of the team was the 2010 Hagerstown Suns that faded fast in the second half, it was natural to think that a second-half rally was unlikely, particularly since it seemed rather unlikely that much come in the way of reinforcements. The whispers that Bryce Harper would skip the level turned out to be true, but what the team really needed at that point was pitching.

Oddly enough, both the hitting and the pitching did improve in the second half with basically just one starter (Solis) and one reliever (Holland) added to the mix. But while 2010 was largely the hitting getting much better down the stretch, the story of the 2011 second half was the stabilizing of the pitching. Essentially, it went from league worst (5.01 team ERA on June 1st) to slightly higher than league average (3.79 vs. 3.77) the rest of the way.

Coupled with an improved offense (4.00 R/G before July 1, 4.44 after), the P-Nats turned in a 39-31 second half that became good enough to win second-half Northern Division title when the Keys lost the last three regular-season games (and eight of the last ten). Thanks to league bylaws, Frederick’s 39-31 mark down the stretch still earned them the home-field advantage in the first round of the Mills Cup playoffs. That turned out to be the difference as the Keys beat the P-Nats 3-2 for the fifth game and 3-2 for the series to send Potomac packing and end any hopes of defending the 2010 title.

So let’s take a look at how the 2011 edition stacked up against the rest of Carolina League…
HITTING

PITCHING

Having watched these guys day in and day out, I was bit surprised to see that the team finished third in walks drawn — in my mind, there were only a handful of players that seemed willing to take the walk, and too many that weren’t. But those that did walk, walked a lot (Francisco Soriano and Steve Souza were 2nd and 3rd in walk rate for players with 200+ PA in the Carolina League).

That 215 steals led the league by 63 and was the most by the team in its affiliation with Washington and the most in the league since the 2008 Wilmington Blue Rocks. They were only caught 66 times, which works out to an efficiency rate of 76.5 percent. Yes, Eury Perez and Jeff Kobernus accounted for the bulk of it (88 steals combined) but even big men such as Souza (25) and Destin Hood (21) stole 20+ bases. The thievery helped offset the team’s lack of doubles, but otherwise, this squad was mostly right around league averages. Not bad when you consider the position players were the second-youngest in the league.

As aforementioned, the pitching went from horrid early to serviceable late. They still finished last in nearly every rate or total statistic, but let’s not forget that the Carolina League tends to be a pitcher’s league despite the launching pads in Frederick and the Salems. For those that may have missed it or were wondering, the Pfitz usually comes out neutral in ballpark-effect studies.

You can argue over how much of it came from reshuffling the deck and removing failed starters from the rotation (Mitchell Clegg, Marcos Frias, Trevor Holder) or how the unsung work of swingmen (Adam Olbrychowski, Evan Bronson) filled in the gaps, or how the team’s top two starters improved over the course of the season — one steadily (Danny Rosenbaum), the other in fits (Paul Demny) — but the bottom line: it did get better.

Now, in our little dance, we take a look at the Top 12′s for the batters and pitchers in terms of PAs and IPs.
Full statistics for the team can be found here. (* 2009 Draft Pick, ** DSL Graduate).

I chose to highlight the ’09 picks and DSL grads to illustrate the counterpoint to drafting ‘em young: It takes time. In this subset, there are four ’08 picks (Hood, Higley, Lozada, and Ramirez) and fifth that was traded for (Dykstra). Only one 2010 position-player draft pick saw playing time, and that was four games before his shoulder went out (Rick Hague) — two, if you want to count Zach Walters.

What I personally like about High-A is that it’s the true litmus test for a prospect. I’ve seen varying percentages that break down once a prospect plays at level X, his chances of ever playing in MLB are now Y, but almost all of them jump from single digits to double digits when it comes to High-A vs. AA. Anecdotally, I can tell you that this where many players stall: The bridge over the Susquehannah in Harrisburg may as well be the bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem, so to speak. Seems like every April I fill in the lineups and think to myself “This guy is still here?” — and the thought occurs on both sides of the scorebook.

So while some folks have expressed great dismay over the lack of development of some guys, it bears repeating that this happens all the time. And in my mind, that disappointment is offset by guys breaking out (Hood) and/or shaking off the proverbial primates (Kobernus). Not to mention my personal favorite: seeing a pitcher start to “get it.”

How’s that for a segue?
Just to expand upon what I wrote earlier, Olbrychowski was terrible as a reliever but found his groove as a starter (5.63 vs. 3.71 ERA) and the reverse was true for Frias (1.67 vs. 5.06). Bronson was actually better as a reliever when you look at the season as a whole, but unlike Olbrychowski and Frias, kept bouncing between roles (and levels) until he was given a spot in the rotation in mid-August and turned in quality starts in two of his four starts down the stretch.

Demny, as aforementioned, improved over the course of the season but take a look at the ERAs by month:
April – 2.08, May – 6.93, June – 2.55, July – 8.42, Aug/Sep – 2.72. He’s young (22 in August), throws hard (~93-95), and durable (100+ IP the past three seasons). Clearly, he made his adjustments and the league adjusted back, but you have to like that he was able to rebound not once but twice from rough patches of pitching.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS
The upside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys the most. The downside to rating Potomac is that I’ve seen these guys so much. Looking over last year’s season review I can see that invariably, I’m either going to overvalue some guys as a fan (e.g. Chris Curran), and undervalue others in an effort to overcompensate for being a fan (e.g. Tyler Moore last year). So bear that in mind as I fire from the hip and make the lists that folks love so much…

Batters
1. Destin Hood
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Steve Souza
5. Justin Bloxom
HM: Zach Walters

Pitchers
1. Danny Rosenbaum
2. Sammy Solis
3. Paul Demny
4. Josh Smoker
5. Marcos Frias

Oct 252011
 

This has not been a good fall for Pat Lehman. The 25-year-old was charged with his third loss and first blown save in an 8-4 loss by the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Lehman was greeted with a single and an RBI double in the sixth before he got his first out, a grounder to short. A stolen base and another singled plated the second run of the inning and turned the Scorpions’ 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit. Lehman finished with two runs allowed on three hits with no walks and no strikeouts.

Sammy Solis put in his longest outing this October with five innings pitched. He walked just one while giving up two runs on four hits, throwing 44 of his 63 pitches for strikes — an encouraging sign after a 37-for-67 outing last Tuesday.

Derek Norris continues to swing a hot bat, doubling and homering while drawing a walk. He also drove in a run via a sacrifice fly. His 2-for-2 afternoon moves his batting average to .333 for the fall, his three times on base has lifted his OBP to .429, and the six total bases moves his slugging percentage to .576.

Finally, Zach Walters was the designated hitter but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

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

Oct 192011
 

Scottsdale’s skid ends at five with an 11-10 win in 10 innings that featured a breakout performance by Bryce Harper.

Playing left field, Harper was a triple shy of the cycle while going 3-for-4 with a single, double, homer, two walks, two runs scored, and three RBI. Defensively, Harper had no putouts and made a throwing error, his second of the AFL season.

Derek Norris started off slow, striking out twice and flying out to center before drawing two walks and singling in the game-tying run in the top of the ninth. He was the Scorpions’ designated hitter.

Sammy Solis continues to struggle, allowing four runs on five hits (including a home run) and four walks while striking out four over three innings. After three starts, opponents are batting .325 against him and he’s walked eight in 10 innings.

Lastly, in a non-AFL note, the Nationals returned Rule 5 pick Elvin Ramirez to the Mets after spending the season on the D.L. after shoulder surgery.

Oct 172011
 

As was brought up in the comments from yesterday’s post, the early numbers from the Arizona Fall League aren’t pretty. But they’re not quite 9-of-22 with 4 INT, either. So we lift the coffee mug of small sample size and take a look…

                                          #                                     #                                     #

The Domninican Winter League started up on Friday and a handful of Nats players have been spotted in the box scores:

  • Eury Perez – Escogido
  • Wilman Rodriguez – Escogido
  • Jhonatan Solano – Licey
  • Atahualpa Severino – Licey

A couple of other notes…

…Chris Marrero is supposedly on the Licey Tigres as well, but is not listed on the roster and/or has not appeared in a game.

…Wilman Rodriguez played outfield for the D-Nats this past summer, but has appeared as a pitcher thus far. Considering that this was in a game that was 1-1 at the time, and that he is no longer a teenager, the deduction is that a conversion to the mound may be in the process.