In keeping with the new world order, I’m dropping back down to the more prototypical ten stories in the fifth annual edition of this piece. Naturally, they’re not ranked; I went through each month and started writing down ideas until I got there.
I’m sure I may have overlooked something or somebody; 2014 was a tough year for me personally, though I believe this site was something that helped distract from that fact, which is why I’m still holding on to it.
Without further vamping, here are ten stories that marked 2014 for the Washington Nationals minor leagues…
Long-Term Extensions For Syracuse, Harrisburg
I’m cheating a little here (Syracuse re-upped in December 2013), but instead of the usual two-year extensions, Washington doubled that with its AAA and AA affiliates. This will ensure an eight-year run for the top five rungs on the ladder after four switches in the first six seasons (two at AAA, one at Low-A, one at SS-A), which helps to offset the tiresome threat of relocation in Hagerstown and the tedious talk of a new stadium in Potomac.
After years of tumult and torment, Souza put up a career year in 2014 and earned the International League’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards at the not-so-tender age of 25. However, with only a bench spot open for 2015, GM Mike Rizzo horned in on a three-way (trade) and sold high on Souza, who will be remembered for a good catch and not his 3-for-23 mark over 21 games last summer.
Taylor wasted no time making it known that his time had come, smacking the game-winning triple in the Grapefruit League opener and then putting together an amazing campaign at AA — a .313/.396/.539 line with 22 homers and 34 steals while racking up 10 assists in CF. However, it did come at a cost of 161 whiffs over 127 total games. With just 12 games of AAA experience, the smart money is on him returning to Syracuse for more seasoning.
Perhaps I’m giving short shrift to fellow Dominican Wilmer Difo, or taking his teammate Lucas Giolito for granted, but the ascendance of Reynaldo Lopez in 2014 is simply a better story. He signed for just $17,000 in 2012 and missed most of 2013 with arm soreness, reportedly due to bone weakness. After two poor starts in late May for the Suns, Lopez dropped to Auburn and dominated the NYPL for a 3-2, 0.75 mark over seven starts before returning to Hagerstown and dominating (15H, 1ER in 39⅔ IP).
Hapless In Harrisburg
They barely escaped being the worst Senators team ever in terms of wins and losses, but considering that they opened the season with six Top 20 prospects according to Baseball America, a dead-last finish seemed rather unlikely. Obviously, injuries were a factor all summer long it felt like watching a demolition in slow motion with each boxscore.
After finally putting in a full season in 2013, the hopes were high for Purke to build upon it and start producing. Instead, his season ended in May after just eight starts. He joined the legion of Nationals pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery and was ultimately released in November to make room on the 40-man roster. While he re-signed and will perhaps make a handful of starts in 2015, thus far he represents a Mike Rizzo injury gamble that didn’t pan out.
John Simms, Austin Voth Rise From Low-A to AA
In general, 2014 saw the Nationals promote early and often. A lot of this was necessitated by injuries and ineffectiveness, but two pitchers who could have arguably been kept to just two levels made it from Hagerstown to Harrisburg with a stay at Potomac. John Simms spent April in the Suns bullpen but then started 10 games for Potomac before finishing up in Harrisburg. Voth, who is six months younger, stuck around longer in Hub City (13 starts), but blew through the Carolina League before joining Simms. Neither pitcher was effective at AA, which begs the question: were they pushed up too soon? How they do in 2015 could be the answer.
Potomac Wins The Mills Cup
After dominating wire-to-wire in 2013, Potomac matched the feat in 2014, taking the first half crown by 4½ games and the second by seven games. Still, their counterparts in the Southern Division, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans also won both halves and dominated them in their final two series, taking five of six games. Unlike 2013, the bats did not go dead and the team fired on all cylinders to win three straight after dropping Game One, 2-0.
Chiefs Make The Playoffs
For most of this site’s existence, Syracuse has been an also-ran with few homegrown players. In 2014, the Chiefs put up the league’s best record and made the playoffs with an 81-62 mark. Alas, the parent club called up six players including Souza and Blake Treinen while shutting down A.J. Cole as they were swept in the first round, losing 2-1 in 10 innings, 8-2, and 7-6.
Suns Fall Short In Sally League Finals
Hagerstown and Greensboro tied each other in wins and losses over both halves, with the Grasshoppers winning the first half and the Suns taking the second. After rallying for three in the 9th in Game One of the semis, Hagerstown took the series with a 6-2 win in Game Two. In the finals, the Suns were pounded 16-7 in Game One but battled back to tie the series twice before falling 4-1 in Game Five, the second straight year Hagerstown lost the Sally League Championship.