Season Review: 2011 Potomac Nationals

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

AFL Update: October 25, 2011

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.

Season Review: 2011 Hagerstown Suns

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

AFL Update: October 19, 2011

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.

AFL Update: October 17, 2011

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…

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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.

AFL Update: October 13, 2011

Scottsdale was doubled up 10-5 for its second straight loss.

Sammy Solis was knocked around for four runs on six hits and a walk over his four innings of work, giving up a pair of runs in the first and third innings. He threw 63 pitches, 42 for strikes while getting six outs on the ground and three flyouts.

Derek Norris was the designated hitter and went 0-for-2 with a run scored. He walked twice and struck out once.
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As mentioned earlier this week, winter leagues in Mexico, Venezuela, and the Dominican are starting up this week. The editorial plan is to feature the AFL on a daily basis, but check in on the other Nats on a weekly basis. As expected, just one Nat farmhand is playing in the Mexican League (Pat McCoy) while roughly a dozen or so are in the Venezuelan League.

AFL Update: October 7, 2011


It was a light afternoon yesterday for the Nationals prospects in a 3-2 loss by the Scottsdale Scorpions to the Salt River Rafters.

Sammy Solis started and went three innings, allowing a run on two hits and three walks. He struck out none while throwing 53 pitches, just 30 of which were strikes.

Bryce Harper remains hitless after going 0-for-5 with a strikeout. He once again played LF, making three putouts.

Baseball America is scheduled to release its Top 20 prospects for the International League later today.

Two P-Nats Named To BA’s Top 20 Carolina League Prospects

Well, the announcement came a bit sooner than previously reported, but the news is good: Destin Hood (#12) and Sammy Solis (#13) joined the ranks of the players anointed by Baseball America in the year-end prospect rankings by league.

Like last year, this is a bit of a surprise. That’s because I felt like Solis would be passed over because he only made 10 starts and turned 23 during the season, not to mention the high HR rate. Something to keep in mind before complaining about, say, Jeff Kobernus’s omission even if the Potomac 2B had a substandard rates for both OBP and SLG.

As before, the highlights from the scouting reports…

Hood’s bat has come a long ways since he was drafted, but he still has to prove he can catch up to hard fastballs and quality breaking balls. His raw strength should translate into average power, especially now that he has improved his plate discipline. His plus speed plays well on the bases and in right field, where he shows a solid arm.

If, by “solid” BA means accurate, then yes. If, by “solid” BA means strong, then no. I like Destin Hood, but he’s a left fielder playing right field. Regular readers know that I’ve said that all season long.


As a lefty who mixes a 90-93 mph fastball with an average slider and changeup, Solis has the stuff to stick in a big league[sic] rotation. His stuff plays up because he has good feel for pitching. He throws strikes, works both sides of the plate and gets plenty of groundouts thanks to good sink on his fastball.


Solis had his moments where he could get lit when he left his pitches up, which is something he needs to work on. I saw at both Low-A and High-A and AA hitters will make him pay even worse than he did this season. Like Kobernus, the injury history is going to dog him until he puts in a full season as a professional. Otherwise, this report is a decent assessment of the southpaw.

Last Night In Hagerstown

Suns lose in extras, 4-3

Who's Missing From The Suns Lineup?
Who's Missing From The Suns Lineup?

After driving through rain shower crossing into MD from VA, the sun gave way to blue skies in time for the game in Hagerstown. With baseball being a game of ritual and routine, to your right is what I saw when I went to look at the lineups for the night.

No Bryce Harper?!

With the news coming across Twitter that Craig Stammen had been recalled, the immediate thought was that Harper had been given the bump as part of a chain reaction. Nope. Just a night off.

So it was time to focus on what had been a bonus, but still a treat: seeing Sammy Solis in person.

Unfortunately, while folks may have questioned his placement at Hagerstown after pitching well in the Arizona Fall League, and particularly after the Potomac rotation was in such disarray (though lately, it’s been quite in array after back-to-back CGs). Two long home runs in the first inning were explanation enough. He needs to fine-tune his game before he returns to his level.

Solis would also run into trouble in the third inning, walking the bases loaded to three successive batters, then striking out two of three to get out of it. He even took an infield popup himself for an out. Solis would be done after five innings, the three first inning runs on the two home runs allowed on four hits total with the three walks and six strikeouts. His velocity seemed fine (couldn’t peek at any guns from my vantage point) and his curve, an 11-5 (1 to 7 from the batters viewpoint) had a sharp break to it that the Drive couldn’t touch.

Meanwhile, Greenville’s Kyle Stroup was having the kind of night that one might have otherwise expected from Solis, holding the Suns to just two hits over six innings before giving way to the bullpen. He would walk two and hit a batter but retired the leadoff batter in every inning, something the Drive managed 11 times out of 12 last night.

Despite their problems getting runners on, the Suns broke through in the bottom of the eighth. Adrian Sanchez got a bad-hop single past the vacuum cleaner Drive SS Jose Garcia, who had seven putouts and an assist for the night. Blake Kelso served up his second opposite-field single to right to set up a first and third for catcher Davd Freitas.

The Univ. of Hawaii product fouled off several pitches before he got one he could handle, which he deposited to left-center for a game-tying home run, and perhaps some Greenville Drive bloggers hitting the delete key on the gamer that they thought was safe to start writing.

Unheralded elsewhere, but given a mention here was the three scoreless innings of middle relief that made Freitas’s heroics even possible. Matt Swynenberg may not have been flashy, but he got the job done, enabling the three back-end-of-the-‘pen relievers a chance to get the glory.

Remember that Bryce Harper kid? Well, turns out he may not have started but he got a chance to play. With one out in the ninth, he pinch hit for Kevin Keyes, a chance to be the hero. After working the count full, well, you can see for yourself.

I show you this so you can see for yourself how he handled himself, which was like any other minor-leaguer: a professional.

Ben Graham followed Swynenberg with two solid innings of work, escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the 10th with back-t0-back popups to Kelso and Jason Martinson.

Chris Manno took over in the 11th and got torched a long double to center by Miles Head, who hit the first HR in the first. Manager Brian Daubauch ordered an IBB to Brandon Jacobs, who hit the second HR in the first, and Manno struck out the next two batters and got a grounder to escape the jam.

The lone leadoff hit of the night for the Suns came when Brett Newsome doubled in the 11th. Jason Martinson couldn’t move him over (he swung away) to bring up Harper. Greenville wisely filled the open base at first to go after Mills Rogers instead, who struck out while Michael Taylor lined out to end the threat.

Greenville finally got to the Suns ‘pen in the 12th, as Manno struck out two and walked two before he was lifted for side-arming Neil Holland. With two outs and two strikes, Drive catcher Josue Peley singled sharply to center. Michael Taylor fielded it and gunned it in, but the throw hit the mound and took a bad hop, evening the lucky break Hagerstown got in the 8th for what proved to be the game-winning run.

With the loss, Hagerstown’s lead over second-place Greensboro was shaved to 1½ games, the two teams set to battle for first place over the next three days before the Suns hit the road on Thursday (Wednesday is an off day) for a seven-game swing through Delmarva and Lakewood.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Arms

It’s tilted towards relievers, but two of the top three are ’10 H.S. picks

This is a more difficult list to compile because, as noted in the comments recently, this system does not have much in the way of front-line starters poised for the near term. Of course, I’ve just described at least half the other organizations in MLB. That may not be much comfort, but the lament is common one. There’s a reason why you rarely see a position player traded for a starting pitcher, one for one.

What the Nationals do appear to have is a group of relievers that could make the jump in the next year or so. There’s something to be said for that. Some of you may have seen the MLB Network’s Prime 9 episode “The Most Lopsided Trades in MLB History.” Two of those nine involved relievers (oddly enough both trades involved the Red Sox) and it’s not hard to recall other past trades, particularly in late July, that involve uneven swaps of relievers for prospects.

Last year, the Nats appeared to have pulled off just such a trade (though in fairness to Minnesota, Wilson Ramos was blocked by a perennial All-Star). If just a couple of these prospects pan out, it could give Washington G.M. Mike Rizzo the chips to make another deal… or better yet make one of the team’s few strengths even stronger.

So with that in mind, I’m presenting our Top 10 List of Pitching prospects, a.k.a. “arms”…

  1. Sammy Solis — Struggled some in the AFL, but scouts are nearly in agreement that he can and will rise rapidly.
  2. A.J. Cole  — Tall (6’5″) wiry (190lbs) H.S. RHP but said to possess a plus FB (91-94, top 96) that will likely gain velocity as he gains weight and grows into his frame.
  3. Robbie Ray — A “pitchability” lefty that is projected to command three pitches for strikes (FB, CU, CH).
  4. Adam Carr — Hard-throwing RHRP that had strong finish in AAA and a good AFL and has proven he can throw multiple innings regularly.
  5. Cole Kimball — The surprise of the AFL with outstanding numbers and an improved fastball but lack of AAA track record gives Carr the higher ranking.
  6. A.J. Morris — Noticeable increase in velocity, sharpness, and effectiveness after converting from starting to relief in the last month of the season.
  7. Tom Milone — Outstanding control and plus breaking pitch, but scouts worry it won’t translate to the next level. This has been the refrain since 2008.
  8. Brad Peacock — Hard-throwing RHP that needs to have his changeup working to succeed. When it is, he’s very effective. When it’s not, he can and will get hit hard.
  9. Brad Meyers — 2010 was a lost cause, but folks much more experienced and knowledgeable than I am in prospect-rating still believe in him, so he gets the nod.
  10. Danny Rosenbaum — The sizable gap between his ERA (2.09) and FIP (3.27) is a cause for concern, but like Milone, has a good feel for pitching and can survive on the nights when his breaking ball isn’t working.

The “Nigel Tufnel” goes to Rob Wort. This is a pure “gut” pick based on what I saw down the stretch from him in Potomac: A tendency to pitch remarkably better with runners on base versus the bases empty.

Honorable Mentions go to Tanner Roark and Ryan Tatusko. If I had done Top 10s for both relievers and starters, there’s no doubt they both would have been mentioned. I decided not to include Yunesky Maya because of his advanced age, his international experience, and the small sample size of work, which was less than stellar (e.g. 21BB, 4HR in 46⅓ IP majors and minors combined). All three will be on the watchlist.